Pride is about many things: community, family, resistance. Here are 15 reminders that Pride is also about sex. It always has been.
1. Pride started with a cruisy gay bar in New York City.
The Stonewall Inn was a prime cruising zone. Young queer hustlers, transgender sex workers, and other marginalized youth hung out there on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. Slut-shamers may want to paint over parts of our history they don’t like, but the seedy sexual backdrop of the birthplace of gay rights must not be erased.
2. Sexual attraction is a vital part of our identities.
There’s a lot of discussion these days about the words we use and the words we should be using, the differences between “gay” and “queer,” and the powerful words we’re building to better understand gender.
In kink, “faggot” now defines a (really hot) submissive sex role. “Homo,” once a slur, is so popular that many prefer it over “gay” — myself included. “Fluid” may now beat “queer” as the term most dependent on individual interpretation.
But in medical offices across the country, I’m MSM — a man who has sex with men. MSM of the past are familiar with white rooms and hospital beds, places where so many of our relationships ended. In these spaces, we are defined by the sex we have, our risk factors, our play partners, our fuck buds. I cannot separate my identity from the sex I love.
3. We are marching for the right to have sex with each other.
Most antisodomy laws in the U.S. were created in the early 19th century and were predominantly invoked in cases involving straight people until the late 1960s and early ’70s. As the young LGBT rights movement got up and running, these laws were literally rewritten by conservatives and the religious right to legally enforce antigay discrimination — an identical tactic to the one our current Republican Party is using with so-called religious freedom bills.
These laws were used to keep same-sex couples from adopting children and as legal defense for firing queer workers. In 1986, Bowers v. Hardwick, which went to the Supreme Court, gave Georgia grounds to establish sodomy as a punishable crime. Chief Justice Warren Burger said gay sex was an “infamous crime against nature.”
Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 invalidated most antisodomy laws (including Georgia’s), but many queer activists smartly warn that conservatives have stooped to dragging out old legislation and reworking it to fit new agendas.
Outside the U.S., the tally of countries with antihomosexuality laws amounts to 78. That number changes depending on who you ask — some say Russia’s “gay propaganda” law doesn’t count. By The Washington Post’s count (updated following the Pulse shooting last year) there are still 10 countries where homosexuality is punishable by death. These include Somalia, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria. That number must now be updated to 11 — Chechnya.
We are marching for the freedom to have sex without fear. We are marching for those who can’t.
4. We are marching because so many of us died — and are dying — of AIDS.
We are marching because so many of us died — and are dying — of AIDS.
Men a generation older than me remember a time when sex with a man was riskier than Russian roulette. Many men went a decade without having sex in order to survive. We’ve lost so many brothers, mentors, lovers, would-be fathers, and would-be husbands.
To fight AIDS, we had to kick down the closet door and invite America into the privacy of our underground sex lives. Pride and marching were part of that uphill battle. Sex once amounted to death; it’s impossible to state the enormity of what our sex means to Pride marches. In 2017, Pride is a time to reflect on how far we’ve come in HIV treatment and the AIDS battle. Pride is a time to highlight our sex and not apologize for it. Pride is a time to remember that, even in America, people (predominantly queer people of color) are still dying.
5. Stigma about sex is still killing members of our community.
Closeted queer men across the Southeast will ignore symptoms and not go into a clinic today for treatment because they’re terrified to admit they’ve had gay sex. Others will go into a clinic only to be met with judgment and discrimination from their doctors. Stigma really kills.
6. Men in Chechnya are being hunted on sex apps.
At least 100 gay men in Chechnya have been captured and tortured in concentration camps. The Russian newspaper that first broke the story, Novaya Gazeta, now reports that 26 have been killed. This number is expected to increase. Gay men in the Russian republic are being targeted via hookup apps like Grindr.
Grindr for Equality, Grindr’s social and campaign arm, has updated app users about developments and worked with the Russian LGBT Network to distribute emergency hotline numbers and email addresses set up for aid and evacuation.
That degree of evil is staggering. Sex is one of the most vital and beautiful things in life. It is how we beat the loneliness. We live for intimacy. We turn to each other in dark places. To take that human need and use it to hunt down our brothers and torture them to death is unimaginable.
7. Thank sex workers for Pride.
Marsha P. Johnson was a sex worker. Many protesters on that historic night at Stonewall were. Queer youth in New York City are still seven times more likely to depend on sex work in order to survive than their heterosexual peers, according to a 2007 report by the Urban Institute. Trans youth are eight times more likely.
This Pride season, recognize how many of your friends and lovers are escorts, paid companions, sex coaches, and porn stars. We’ve carried the LGBT community through dark times and still are the most vocal champions for sex-positivity and access to health care.
Working in adult industries has helped countless queer people survive. Some do it for fun, some do it for spare cash, but many do it to have a place to live when our families kick us out and our churches feed us hate.
8. The leather community was among the first to organize against AIDS.
The leather community — an international body of people literally defined by the kinds of sex we enjoy — was among the first to organize against AIDS. You might clutch pearls at seeing human rubber pups, bare-breasted dominatrixes, and scantily clad biker boys at your local Pride parade, but they are part of a community that acted fast against a plague.
AIDS forced us to suddenly talk about what we were doing sexually — a skill that kinky leather folks have a knack for. Bringing sex into the spotlight is something we did at underground leather bars years before AIDS and will continue to long into the future.
9. Sex, like Pride, will always be politicized.
From its roots, Pride was a political act. Like Pride, human sexuality has always been politicized. The institution of monogamy and “women as property” was born out of trade and war. Hundreds of years later, royals arranged marriages to form political alliances.
Today, women struggle for access to contraceptives while panels of men decide how to organize health care in America. And the greatest plague in recent history was ignored by the American government because our leaders assumed it was simply the result of “unnatural” sex between fags. The history of sex in America and the history of Pride are the same.
10. LGBTQ+ people are champions of sex-positivity.
Above: Sex columnist and writer Dan Savage with his husband, Terry Miller, the Tom of Finland Store’s first official U.S. ambassador.
Because we’ve been fighting this battle so long, we’re the experts. Most of my gay forebears assumed they’d never be able to participate in the conventions of family life. Most of them felt barred from it.
The result? They rejected the social “rules” telling them how much sex they were permitted to have. They rejected sex-negative attitudes. They created circuit culture, dance music, and the most bacchanalian picture of free love ever seen in the United States. That spirit, that simple notion — sex as revelry and reverie — has never left us and never will.
11. Sex happens on Pride weekend.
Even if you don’t want to see it or know it’s there. Many queer people see Pride as a time to come together and play. What more would you have it be?
12. In the age of PrEP and TasP, gay men should start celebrating our sex again.
A lot of PrEP naysayers say the daily dose of Truvada — currently the only drug approved as an HIV preventive — will make gay men less responsible. It’s a silly argument, since taking PrEP is one of the most responsible things you can do as a sexually active gay man.
I disagree with these assertions. I’m poz, so I missed the boat on PrEP, but the only thing PrEP and TasP (treatment as prevention, what I do) will take from gay men is the crippling fear of sex we’ve known for years. We can start playing without fear again.
13. PDAs make Pride authentic.
There is no greater show of Pride than kissing the person you love for everyone to see.
14. Shaming bodies that look different from yours makes you part of a greater problem.
One common complaint in the comments of Pride slideshows is when people want to “let it all hang out.” If you’re fat and want to show off your body at Pride, do it. Your body is welcome. Ignore the naysayers.
Other people get upset when slideshows are filled with traditionally fit, slender bodies. Many more get upset simply because so much skin is on display. Showing skin and feeling sexy, according to some, cheapens Pride or disrespects it.
Here’s a better way to look at skin. Bodies are neither ugly nor beautiful; they are simply incredibly powerful, strong instruments. They are vehicles through which all experience happens. They endure massive amounts of stress and do incredible work.
To celebrate anything in life, whether it’s your identity or your sex or your history, is to celebrate your body, your mechanism. Show it off.
15. It’s time to defend Pride, not tear it down.
There’s always a pushback to progress. Right now we’re in a tough one. We’re outnumbered. Our enemies are kicking at the door.
Many queer people can’t believe the state of affairs. The violence against men in Chechnya and the epidemic of anti-trans violence here paint a bleak picture. There is no greater time to do what we do best. We must march together as one family, undivided, with liberty and justice for all.