Chad Grayson

What Pride Means To Me

Young woman in light top waving rainbow flag under blue sky photo credit Adrian Rodriguez on

Step into the wayback machine with me for a moment.

The year is 1995. It’s the middle of summer. I am sitting in a movie theater with my best friend, Jennie, and we are watching one of the most popular films of that year, Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. <I thought you were going to write about Pride, you say? Give me a moment.>

Now, this is an entertaining film, made with obvious passion. It has a moving story and great performances. Its main villain is the English King, Edward I, played by Patrick McGoohan. Amidst all the major and minor characters is the character of Edward’s son, Prince Edward. As a prince, he’s not living up to his father’s expectations. And, though it’s ever really stated on screen, one of the reasons for this is he’s always in the company of his best friend, who is obviously also his gay lover.

The prince and his lover are mewling and foppish, presented without any redeeming qualities. The lover encourages the prince to stick up for himself against his father, and this all comes to a head in one scene in the middle of the film, where Edward is commanding the prince to do something, the prince protests, the lover says something cutting to the king, and the King grabs the lover and throws him out of the nearest window, to his death.

In the film, this moment is played entirely for laughs. And it got a big laugh from the audience I was sitting in. And in all the commentary this film has garnered over the years, I’ve not seen one other person mention this scene, let alone how problematic it is.

Now, clearly Edward II is the villain in this movie. It’s not like the main hero did this. But still, it doesn’t even seem to be added by the narrative to the list of Edward’s crimes. Indeed, the audience sympathizes with his frustration, and supports this casual murder. The prince is given very little further space in the story, merely doing what his father wants the rest of the film, his trauma unremarked upon.

I think I even laughed at this scene the first time that I saw it, because it’s presented as a moment of physical comedy. But I’ve thought about this scene a lot over the years, obviously, since it’s coming up in a blog post 28 years later.

This kind of thing was common in the 90’s. If gay people existed in media at all, we were disposable. The first victims of a murderer. Films that explored our lives focused mainly on the traumatic parts, and usually had one or more characters dying of AIDS (Philadelphia, I’m looking at you).

Now, I am including myself in that group now, but back then I would not have. While I was aware that I was attracted to guys, I kind of buried that deep within myself, sealing it up in a box that I did not dare open. It was my most shameful secret, one that I’d die to keep. And is it any wonder I didn’t want any part of it, given the examples I was seeing? I had no vision of happy gay people, living their truth. Now, I am aware that they existed. There have been gay writers and filmmakers putting out work for a long time. I’m not saying they didn’t exist. But they did not have a large audience or any kind of promotional budget and I, living in a small town in Indiana, was not aware of them.  

I think the first example of a non-traumatized gay character I came across was Matt in Melrose Place. And while Matt was canonically gay, and allowed to have a romantic life on screen, he was forced by the network sensors to say goodnight to every one of his dates with a firm handshake. So, it was technically representation, but was it really …?

I had never heard of Pride month back then, and I wouldn’t have done anything about it if I had. I didn’t say the words, “I am gay” to myself until I was 32. And it would take another 14 years for me to say it to another person.

So, Pride … I think I became aware of Pride around the time the gay marriage supreme court case went through. Now, I was out to myself at the time, but so deep in the closet that I could see Narnia. I was married to a woman and raising my children, and I thought ‘I might be gay, but it doesn’t mean anything because this is the life I chose for myself, and it would hurt too many people to disrupt.’ But when that decision came down, I felt so much joy. I knew why but didn’t say this to anyone. Because I knew it meant that someday, if circumstances changed, I would be able to live as my true self. I would not have to hide forever. And maybe that planted the seed that I wasn’t as trapped as I thought I was.

That year was the first time I noticed Pride going on. And I wanted to be part of it but couldn’t let myself. I wasn’t ready to blow apart my life yet. I wouldn’t be for another four years. So, Pride to me means standing up and being counted. If Braveheart were made today, I don’t think they would casually murder the prince’s lover and play it for laughs. There are popular network shows where gay people get to kiss their boyfriends and girlfriends on screen.  This even happens on so-called ‘family shows,’ (case in point my late, beloved Willow).  Queer people are allowed to live their lives in the open, and in most places in the west, are given equivalent rights to straight people.

Now, in recent years we have been reminded that there are still many people who would gladly throw us out the nearest window. But those people are a minority. A sizable, vocal minority, yes, but a minority. Most people have a ‘live and let live’ attitude toward queer people now. People I once thought would never accept me if I came out of the closet and started living an authentic life have embraced me and welcomed my boyfriend into the family. Being gay has gone from being my most shameful secret to being one of the things I like most about myself. I’ve gone from praying to be straight to realizing that if I had the chance to be straight, I wouldn’t take it. It may not be a choice for me, but if it were, I’d choose to be queer. There’s nothing wrong with me (at least if there is, it’s not this).

So, that’s what Pride means to me. We can be proud of who we are. We can be the people we were created to be, and love the people we were created to love, no matter what gender that person is. It’s a giant middle figure to the people who want to push us back into the closet. We’re Here! We’re Queer! Go Fuck yourself!

I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self that he would one day be able to accept every part of himself, and that it would be okay to be that person. He lived in pain for so many years, hating himself, afraid to even let himself be aware of what he really wanted. But those days are over, and we will stand together as a community and refuse to be forced back into those dark days. That’s what Pride is, a signal that we exist and are valid.

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