The Shame and the Pride

I write this just after Toronto Pride weekend. The streets are quiet, the air is soft, the light gentle. It seems most of the G20 overtime cops, all the renta-cops, all the come-from-away-cops have gone home. I finally have time to recoup -- from a week of protesting the G20, police violence, and queer complacency -- and what I find is that I am overwhelmed with feelings of grief, fear, disgust, anxiety -- as well as with feelings of pleasure, excitement, and gratitude.

From my academic research into affect -- the study of embodied feeling within culture -- I know that these feelings are non-rational, preceding speech. In other words, it makes no sense that I should feel anxious and glad at the same time, and that my body should feel so tired and so energized at the same time. There are no words to describe the circuit of feeling. And I also know that affect is contagious, moving and transforming from body to body, and that despite what our culture tells us (sign in Shoppers: "Pride") we can feel many contradictory things at the same time.

The other day at 519 Church, Toronto's queer community centre, I and 70 other queers tried to block Bill Blair, the Chief of Toronto Police, from entering (he got in and we didn't). I carried a small sign with SHAME on one side and a circle with PRIDE crossed out, on the other. My queer pride and my queer shame co-exist in this historical moment as never before.

Minutes earlier, I had strolled into that same centre for a public reception in honour of the Chief of Toronto Police sponsored by Pride Toronto, and watched with horror as police officers in dress uniforms clinked wineglasses with the wealthiest and most privileged queers in this community. We had just come out of a weekend that saw the largest single mass arrest in Canadian history. Queers had been harassed, people had been beaten, peoples' houses raided. The images of cops swarming into our peaceful community-based demonstrations flashed before my eyes. And so did other images. The Pussy Palace raids (the cops wore wigs that night); Stonewall. Nazi Germany. I stood up with a handful of other protesters and shouted "Shame!"

Several gay men started shouting at me. Cops, the heroes of the event, moved towards me. My throat constricted and my skin prickled with anger and fear, none of it rational, all of it justified. As the executive director of the 519, Maura Lawless, escorted me out of the room (cops hovering protectively around her), I admit I lost it. Her eyes flickered impatiently I told her that my father had survived a concentration camp, that all I could see in that room was fascism and that to see cops being celebrated in our name was a travesty. A Toronto Star reporter started taking notes, so for her reluctant benefit I reviewed the history of LGBT struggle -- a history of resistance to police brutality (she stopped writing and glanced anxiously around, waiting for me to finish). Two butches hovered protectively beside me, and then we left, and found our people, our queer activist comrades, outside.

Shame transformed into pride, and love, and gratitude as we chanted, to the increasingly confused and guilty looking Maura, and a grim, unyielding Traci Sandilands (CEO of Pride Toronto), "Let Us In" and "Whose Centre? Our Centre." Ms. Lawless had given me her word that she would not allow any cop to harass or evict us, yet we watched as activist after activist was thrown out of that reception. The protest ended with cops threatening us with arrest, in our community centre in the heart of the Gaybourhood. Shame and pride, alternating, like that little sign of mine, and a sick, hard feeling in my gut.

I want to ask some impossible questions. How did an event that arose out of conscientious protest and civil disobedience and even death, in the face of state violence, come to this? Our symbol was once a pink triangle, acknowledging those queers who died in the Holocaust (my father recalled seeing those triangles, in the camp). And why is our activist resistance so piecemeal, so fragmented and conflicted?

The next day, at the Toronto Pride Gala (Beef sirloin! $350 a plate!) there were tables of gay cops in dress uniforms, basking in community approval. There were cops outside the Carlu, guarding the queer elite. There were eight of us demonstrating outside, in our culture-jamming performance as Lesbian Billionaires ("Can We Buy your Pride?"). No one else from the Gaybourhood was there.

Pride Toronto had reversed its ill-considered ban on the words "Israeli Apartheid" and most felt it was time to celebrate, not protest. That sick hard feeling again. That distressing flipping of my heart, that sickly swinging back and forth between opposing feelings.

Later, at Fran's, the eight of us sipped milkshakes, scarfed down enormous plates of diner food, and had, in our retro lesbian fashion, a "feelings check-in." One of our group, a queer women's studies student in her 20s, said it best (she always does): "This isn't just about the police violence that happened on the weekend. This is about what the cops do to sex workers, to women, to trannies, to kids. This is about history, and about what we go through every single day."

It makes no sense that a young queer, born after Stonewall, after AIDS activism, after the radical years of Gays and Lesbian Against the Right Everywhere, Lesbian Avengers and Queer Nation, should have to remake her activism anew. But she is, and we are -- transforming shame into pride once again.

Cops on our streets, raiding our homes, throwing us in jail, taking over our community spaces? -- this is a wakeup call. But this time, hopefully, we'll do it a little differently: the two (or more) sides of the same story, the triangle and the rainbow, the shame informing the pride.

Marusya Bociurkiw is a filmmaker, academic and author. Her latest book is Feeling Canadian: Television, Nationalism, and Affect.

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