The Intersex-inclusive Progress Pride Flag (2021)

My First Pride

Culture Jul 16, 2022

This past week was particularly momentous for me because I attended my very first-ever Pride. I happened to be spending the weekend with my friend Cassy during Pride in London (yes, we have to call it that) and he convinced me to go. Now, we don’t exactly do parades here in the UK, so as if the concept wasn’t horrifying enough, I also had some trepidation around the event in general. I don’t do amazingly in crowds, but I’ve also never felt like I belonged in most queer spaces. We would be marching with Recon, so despite my nervousness I was sure to have a good time being surrounded by my kinky ilk. Still, I knew I’d need alcohol in one hand and Cassy to hold the other.

Having never gone to any sort of Pride event before, I wasn’t sure what to expect and still not being fully comfortable in a lot of queer spaces, my hackles were raised. Growing up, I was given a hard time at school for not fitting into any queer boxes and was made to feel ostracised (and was abused by) those who did. As such, I’m always a little worried what ‘the gays’ will make of me and how they will treat me, and I still associate a lot of LGBT-friendly spaces with the people who bullied me at school. Naturally, my first Pride coincided with Pride in London’s 50th Anniversary and the first official Pride in London march since 2019, meaning the turnout was truly overwhelming.

Whilst I’m sure my experience is far from unique, I’ve always found community elusive; hard to find, hard to ‘get into’. I resented the notion that I was supposed to automatically feel part of this invisible community, especially having had labels thrust upon me when I was younger before I had the chance to even consider my sexual identity. That my abuser had the benefit of being surrounded by this blanket of support I couldn’t seem to see and praised for his bravery made me feel so outcast.

Kids at school told me I was bisexual, then that I was gay, then that I wasn’t “gay enough” to be their friend, then that I was “too gay” and “putting it on”, then that I wasn’t “even gay anymore”. I had no idea who I was and was so tired of trying to become whatever I thought other people wanted me to be, because who I was seemed to be the worst, most embarrassing thing I could be. I ended up rejecting the whole notion of trying to fit into a box or label myself and just tried to focus on reclaiming what I felt was my default setting.

It took me nearly ten years to finally come to the conclusion that kink has been the only thing I’ve ever really felt passionate about or pride for. It is the only identity I’ve been able to choose for myself and the only constant I have known about myself since long before the onset of puberty. Only now as a kinkster do I feel as if I’ve ‘found’ my place; that I get to be a part of something, as opposed to being excluded for not fitting in.

Being teased at school for not being ‘gay enough’ may seem absurd, but it is symptomatic, I think, of shifting perceptions in social acceptability. I grew up in central London in the 2000s and while that environment was certainly more accepting than most, the lens of cruelty simply shifted. Not fitting in still attracted ridicule, even if the category you were supposed to fit into was based on a very stereotypical preconception. All of this is not to say I don’t understand Pride’s significance or honour its history.

When I talk about Pride, I specifically talk about its origins and the powerful roles that mostly Black and trans persons, as well as the kink community, played in its genesis and early visibility. NewsieBaby did a fantastic episode on the topic of kink at Pride in Newsie’s Nook, which I will link below, so go and listen to that. Ultimately, kink belongs at Pride because it has always been at Pride. Pride was a protest and still is a protest in many places. It is banned in several countries and you can be arrested and even potentially killed for participating in others.

However, I don’t know that I can say more than this excerpt from an earlier conversation I had, explaining why kink belongs at Pride:

“I think it’s important to remember that when people talk about kink at Pride, no one is talking about visible sex acts. Kink should, however, be visible for the crucial role kinksters have played since the very first Prides, which were not parades, but protests.”
“[…] This annual discussion becomes more crucial since more and more groups have become marginalised [ever] since Pride has become corporately co-opted, especially in the States as an event that’s “family-friendly”, with the expectation of displaying only heteronormatively acceptable behaviour. Which is, you know, the opposite of what Pride is about.”
“[…] I say this because it really is crucial, particularly within kink-friendly spheres, that we acknowledge the importance of the efforts owed to those who fought for the right to be visible - to not be in danger of violence. So that future generations might not just be tolerated, but accepted.”
“Which relates to kink because “alternative” sex acts are what homophobes specifically object to, so expressions of these parts of our identities should be celebrated and not sanitised away or no longer welcome at the one place they always used to be.”
“Also, consent is not required to view someone in gear. A viewer is not engaging in any form of play and can simply avert their gaze or leave if they are offended by what they see. Catering to the sensibilities of such people is exactly what Pride [is] fighting against.”
“If there is something parents feel their kids should not be viewing, it is their responsibility not to bring them to a celebration of sexual identity and liberation from persecution that, lest we forget, still largely persists today.”
“If they want to educate their children, they should be able to view people wearing whatever they want, whether that be leather, rubber, a pup hood or a diaper.”
“Just to be clear, the people who are trying to suppress kink visibility at Pride events are mostly corporate sponsors, or homophobic groups. The argument is whether or not kinksters are allowed to attend in gear, not whether they should be able to do anything sexually explicit.”
“Kinksters should be permitted to maintain the space they have always occupied in the Pride march. At no point was that to suggest any sexually explicit activity would be taking place among those walking, that’s not what anyone meant.”
“Kinksters have always been at Pride. Removing them is not done with any good intention.”

(In response to pups being walked on leashes as an example of the “wrong” way to display kink in a public setting:)

“Of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Even those who do not like acknowledging kinksters as people are perfectly welcome to think that. But as a general rule, if your opinion is to the detriment of others, that’s usually a sign that it is worth fully considering the implications of those opinions and whose agendas you might be supporting by association.”
“For example, by aligning with the intentions of a corporation, regardless of our personal reasoning, we ultimately argue against ourselves. It’s the classic “split up the alphabet soup” strategy that sadly has finally started working, with groups like the ‘LGB Alliance’ forming to distance trans people - one of the most vulnerable groups in our community - from the support of queer communities at large.”
“The same applies for kinksters. The, “we’re the normal gays, get those sex freaks first!” attitude is exactly where this sanitising of our […] right to be seen comes from. Normalising queerness by blanching the colours out of the flag until it’s nothing more than an accessory to heteronormativity is not going to achieve acceptance, but shift the position of otherness to groups who are more at threat.”
“[…] Kids aren’t going to have a negative reaction to something they’ve not been taught to. They’ll only become more open-minded adults.”
“The point of Pride is that everyone is welcome. There is plenty that is not for my personal visual enjoyment, but that does not mean anyone should be unwelcome.”
“[…] There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to be yourself. Expression of one’s identity, kinky or otherwise, is not something that should be censored. Being walked on a leash is not any more inappropriate for a child to see than a circus act doing the same thing for humour.”

The notion of being told how we’re “supposed” to be queer is naturally one that hits home for me. LGBTQIA+ communities were formed to allow us all to be whoever we want to be underneath that expansive umbrella. That’s the entire reason the umbrella is so big and ever-growing. Every identity is valid and finding a flag to wave that feels like you is more important than fitting into pre-described boxes. In fact, that is the whole point. The letters in the acronym, the colours in the flag; these aren’t labels to fit into, they are identities we choose to honour.

There is also no ethereal element that automatically sexualises all situations where kink paraphernalia are on display. There can certainly be sexual aspects to kinks, but for many of us they are more a form of self-expression. Someone else in the conversation, citing the mere appearance of pups at Pride, pointed out that no one tells living statues to get out of public sight because human beings aren't statues and a child may be confused. Nor does anyone lobby against their right to exist. As put by my colleague Casey:

“The goal of Pride is to preach acceptance for who you are. What better way than explaining to your child how people are different and like to do different things[?]”

That there are parents who refuse to teach these things to their children is sad. It lessens their chances of growing up with a better understanding of empathy for others and an awareness of the world. It teaches them that being an ally consists of walking through a parade, that demanding censorship over something alien to them is appropriate, that there are few ways for them to live their lives or find others who may be like them to share in their experiences and support one another.

Showing up to my first Pride in the scorching summer sun wearing full rubber was quite the experience in itself. The pool of sweat that instantly began to drip out of my shorts and sleeves only added to my self-consciousness. But as Cassy led me over to the Recon group and introduced me to my friends for the next few hours, the nerves began to fade. Seeing all of these friendly kinky faces in the most fabulous gear, all being themselves out and proudly, sent a wave of confidence washing over me.

Arriving at our starting position in the march with a water bottle of vodka and a can-do attitude, I was quickly won over by the palpable energy filling the streets. The cheers, the photos, the compliments on my gear - all of it was intoxicating. Never before had I felt so accepted in a group just for being who I am. The host drag queens at every checkpoint screaming that kink will always belong at Pride as we walked by and the cheers of the massive crowds on either side of us were so affirming.

The fun atmosphere and the friendly interest of onlookers added to the experience. I was overwhelmed, but with Cassy checking in and looking out for me, I felt so at ease. With every checkpoint passed, my confidence grew. I started dancing. A kid in the crowd booped my snoot and gave me a high five. I even had to take my pup mask off to prove to a biodog that I was really just a friendly hooman. I got spanked with a paddle in front of the crowd three times by one of the leather Daddies in front of us. The air was filled not with contempt or revile, but with kudos and encouragement.

As always, there were some moments of contention. The army section of the march was ostensibly booed and the London police were protested against by the artistic demonstrators of the LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants). The event was actually stalled by LGSM for 23 minutes - one for every person who has died in Metropolitan Police custody since 2020. Their impactful message left a taste in the air that lingered over the few police officers spread out along the route near ambulance workers, all obliviously waving Pride flags with rainbows on their cheeks.

There was even an extremist Christian group that was apparently allowed closer to the march than usual. They were visible to us from the road, kept from the fences just behind a row of cheering onlookers, silently holding up religious signs dictating things like how our pride had deceived us. I wasn’t sure how to react. I’d never been faced with religious bigotry and even though it seemed comical to me, their solemn expressions gave me momentary chills. Within seconds, however, my comrades were kissing in front of them, to the cheers of the crowd. The row before them jumped and clapped and waved flags and signs that immediately overshadowed their presence and they were out of sight as fast as they had come into view. I was surrounded by a tidal wave of support that carried me on and smiling remained irresistible.

Something I noticed in the moment was how untouchable I felt. I felt so guarded marching alongside other kinky folk. It’s hard not to feel almost celebrity-esque with 150,000 people on either side of you screaming and cheering. I’ve honestly never felt safer. With over a million people gathering for Pride in London, Soho was more packed than I’ve ever seen it. So rammed were Soho’s streets, that you had to physically force your way through the crowds to get to any pub. It was scary navigating through so many people, especially after a good year and a half of being totally locked down.

Throughout the madness, though, was absolute joy. The unadulterated, unhindered glee and friendliness amongst strangers was something so unprecedented in London. Getting taken by the scruff and forced onto my knees by a pup from the Recon group who then shoved my face in his boot and spanked me amongst the crowd was both exhilarating and hilarious. After which he then pulled me up and nonchalantly asked what he could do for me as if nothing had happened. This playful interaction repeated when I asked for his info and I even ended up getting spanked at the bar by various pub-goers.

As mists of drunkenness dawned, people around us began lamenting why they foolishly hadn’t booked the Monday off work. I felt so close to the people around me as the faces of friends came and went. It really was like being amongst one big family. When we finally headed back to Cassy’s, I was hit with the horrific stench of all the trapped sweat as I finally peeled the rubber off of our bodies. He was sound asleep by the time I’d rinsed them off and I silently thanked him for showing me just how wonderful community can be.

Despite my overwhelmingly positive experience, it is important to remember that prejudice, hate, homophobia, bigotry, racism and kink-shaming are sadly not going anywhere anytime soon, even in the safest of spaces. While I drunkenly rinsed out the smelly remnants of our joyous day, two men in rubber gear were attacked and hospitalised.

With the recent events in Oslo and Istanbul, as well as Tbilisi and so many more (to make no mention of Chechnya or Russia at large), demonstrating our right to exist is as crucial as ever. It is important that we all feel safe and supported by one another, to make use of the freedoms we have in order to campaign for the ones lacking.

Honour and treasure yourself. All the parts of yourself. Let the one time a year that corporations pretend to care about queer individuals’ plight be a friendly reminder to enjoy your life. Enjoy it, because you have to live with yourself for every moment that you are alive. So be brave. You shouldn’t have to be, but too many of us who aren’t afforded the luxury of automatic universal acceptance never are. Be brave for everyone who couldn’t be. Only by being who we are can we succeed at spending our time on this planet how we want to. Embrace who you are, because who you are is more wonderful than anyone will tell you.

I suppose I am proud to say that I am queer. I am a demisexual, polygamous aromantic, but first and foremost a kinkster and a fetishist. We are all so much more than just the flags we choose to wave. These aren’t boxes to squeeze each other into and slap with labels. They are our Pride.

Cassy and I at Pride in London, photo by Pup Snap
Cassy and I at Pride in London, photo by Pup Snap

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