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Nudity and The Changing Landscape of Gay Pride Parades

Posted by Julia Hannafin on

I recently attended a Pride Parade, which means my boobies were out all weekend.

gay pride

Pride is defined by many different things: parades and marches, parties and gatherings, of course dancing, and all the happily naked people that walk through the streets of San Francisco. Naturally, there are some who choose not to dress up for the occasion. But there is also a huge amount of people that commit to bearing bras, thongs, pasties, ass-less chaps, rainbow body paint and sometimes no clothes at all. 

Pride is a celebration — of love and equality, of efforts that push us closer to real achievement of those goals. But those sunny days in San Francisco are also, simply, a celebration of bodies. And that's why I go naked (or, let's say naked-ish).

There are young bodies, old bodies and everything in between. There are bodies represented across the gender fluidity spectrum. And there's a safe space for them to wander around in. 

To be a woman in this country automatically means having your body and what you choose to reveal of it sexualized — a justification for catcalling, unwanted advances, and in some cases sexual assault. It means choosing pants over shorts even on the hottest summer night. It means that feeling good about yourself in the clothes you choose may fall as a second priority under safety. It means that even when you're feeling your A-1-Beyoncé-level-blow-the-roof-off-the-joint hottest, you're still considering in the back of your mind, "Am I safe where I am? Will I be safe where I'm going and on my way home?"  

I wish that I could feel safe walking home on a summer night in a small, tight dress. I wish that covering my body didn't have to be a defense mechanism. I wish that putting my body out there didn't stand as an invitation for catcalling — even, and especially, the silent kind

On Pride weekend in San Francisco, I can wear whatever I want. I can feel safe in a crowd of joyous people all under the same rough cause. My body is not an invitation for others to touch without my consent. I'm blessed to live in a country where participants are not brutalized for their sexuality and their celebration.   

 Nudity can be freeing. Nudity can be joyous. Nudity, to me, is feeling the most like myself. Surrounded by bodies at Pride, celebrating a Supreme Court decision that pushes a little more acceptance and love out into the world, I feel hopeful. I can be a woman without being sexualized; I can be a person with my body out; I can be safe and I can be happy. I can feel good as I am.

This year, Pride felt a little different. In a crowd at one of the stages, I saw a girl get onto a guy's shoulders, only to have her ass grabbed by every person who walked by. Groups of straight dudes leered at queer women showing each other affection. There were equal amounts of people who asked me playfully about my nudity and those who slapped or grabbed or pinched without permission.

Is it because, as Jay Barmann of SFist observed, "Pride has morphed into a party for straight teens?" He asks:

 When did LGBT Pride, which was once called Gay Freedom Day and was an actual show of political defiance, turn into a citywide occasion for straight teens and college students to put on a little rainbow face paint and party together, and get in occasional fist or gunfights?

Is it because those down enough for the cause come out to party and don't respect the occasion? Reports of hate attacks, gun shots, and knife fights have sprung out of the woodworks, increasing every year.

As I rode home on Bart alone, I tugged a sweatshirt down over my heart-shaped pasties. I felt the rainbows and sunshine fade as the train pulled into Downtown Berkeley. 

I am blessed to have a body that is not told by society it's unattractive or worthless. I am skinny; I am white; I fall into traditional standards of attractiveness. I have great privilege when it comes to my safety, or what happens when that safety is threatened. 

In a few beautiful moments at Pride, walking around in a see-through, bright pink unitard, I felt free. I felt powerful. I felt as if I lived in a world where I could choose my own presentation and it wouldn't determine what happened to my body. The next second, I'm backing off from a fight breaking out in the middle of a crowd of dancing people.

Pride may be being taken away by the LGBT community who birthed it. It may be being mistranslated by those coming into San Francisco just for the party. I am the child of 2 lesbian mamas, and I was out there dancing for my family. I was dancing for my ability to love whom I choose. I don't want Pride, a celebration and protest, a safe space of joy and progress, to end as I know it.

Such an end would beg a dark question posed by Barmann yet again:

What happens when eventually you throw an LGBT Pride party and no LGBT people show up?

This article was written by Julia Hannafin, a fantastic artist with a passion for defending civil rights.  

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