Evan Caissie, 18, has some fun shopping for his Pride outfit at American Apparel on Granville Street. He’s carrying ‘infinity’ scarves which reflect every color of the Pride Parade.
By Kim Nursall from the Vancouver Sun
Evan Caissie eyes the racks of bright, colourful tank-tops, shiny shorts and tight-fitting jeans at the American Apparel store on Granville Street. The 18-year-old part-time model takes advantage of any opportunity to shop, but today is special: he’s got Vancouver Pride in mind.
“People express their true inner selves a lot [more at Pride] than they would in normal life.... You can expose yourself to new ideas and recreate yourself if you want to, and have a lot of fun and nobody passes judgment.”
As someone who aspires to work in the fashion industry, Caissie says Pride is an opportunity to wear fantastic clothing while he expresses his views on queer culture and personal style.
“I want to [work] in commercial advertisement and ... show that people can wear pretty much anything,” he says before he heads to the change room to try on a pair of shiny silver shorts.
Pride week is exemplified by the eye-catching, bedazzled (or virtually non-existent) outfits that adorn men, women and those who would prefer not to be labelled — especially during the annual parade on Sunday — all in celebration of one’s individuality and sexuality.
“Pride [invites] a kind of sexual jouissance — a playfulness — a kind of open invitation to sexual energy and to not hide that or be apologetic about it but to really champion it,” said University of B.C. sociology professor Becki Ross.
The outrageous Pride outfits date back to the first Pride demonstration in 1970. The event was a backlash against the 1969 police raid of Stonewall, a New York City bar frequented by the underground gay community. Consequently, Pride fashion has always been replete with political undertones.
One of the main reasons for Pride, Ross said, is to disrupt a culture dominated by heterosexuality. Pride participants carry placards and don T-shirts with slogans such as “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” “silence equals death” and “how dare you presume I’m straight.”
The fashion styles displayed at Pride since 1970 are meant to further this political agenda through outlandish clothing that forces people outside of their comfort zone, she added.
“Early Pride Day marches were attended by lesbian feminist activists wearing bell-bottomed jeans or cut-off jean shorts, Kodiak books and plaid shirts, with hairy armpits, no makeup — especially no lipstick ... and cropped hair,” said Ross in an email.
This “lesbian look” was an angry critique of what Ross called “patriarchal capitalist beauty conventions,” and showcased the women’s rebellion against the beauty industry that “straight-jacketed all women into conformity and subservience.”
Perhaps one of the most memorable female fashion aspects of Pride that continues to this day are the “Dykes on Bikes,” who ride motorcycles topless and deck themselves out in blue jeans, tattoos and everything leather, including vests, motorcycle boots and riding gloves.
Male fashion was very diverse in the early period of Pride, Ross said, a trend that continues today.
Men in the 1970s and ’80s “tended to wear tank tops, leather vests, multi-coloured handkerchiefs in the pockets of tight jeans to communicate sexual appetites and tastes,” Ross added. “At the same time, other gay male members of the ‘Radical Fairies’ sported wings and tutus, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence donned nuns’ habits and square dancers [saddled up with] cowboy hats, boots and fancy neckties.”
One of the great things about Pride, Ross stressed, is that through clothing, props and makeup, Pride participants demonstrate a culture of over-the-top exuberance and excess that cuts across differences of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, disability, region and politics.
This year, Ross predicts Pride will see curlers dressed in kilts wielding plastic brooms; South Asian lesbians in saris; two-spirited Aboriginals wearing button blankets; Latina flamenco dancers; sex workers in glitter, stilettos and tube-tops; transgender folks wearing “Transexual Menace” T-shirts; queer goths in head-to-toe black; queer cops, pilots and firefighters in uniform; and betrothed queer couples in bridal gear, just to name a few.
Such self-expression through fashion has a long history with the LGBTQ community, said UBC professor Amin Ghaziani, who specializes in the sociology of sexuality.
At a 1969 conference leading up to the first Pride demonstration on June 19, 1970, it was specifically mandated that “no dress ... regulations shall be made” for the event, Ghaziani said.
Although thousands of people show up each year to celebrate Pride, Ghaziani noted there is a debate within a small segment of the queer community regarding the event’s loud and outlandish displays.
The discussion, he said, revolves around “to what extent gay men and lesbians should present themselves in ways that resemble straight people or whether they should present themselves instead in a way that is either oppositional or culturally unique.”
Ghaziani argued that this debate showcases how a “post-gay era” is developing, whereby a high degree of acceptance means LGBTQ individuals feel less pressure to define themselves so centrally by their sexuality.
However, Ross rejected entirely the notion that queer culture or Pride should be subdued.
“I’ve always been very unhappy about ... queer people judging those who run around in almost nothing or BDSM [bondage] wear,” she said. “What differentiates queer people from non-queer people is our sexuality.”
“Some folks want to pursue [an] agenda that is really about equality and belonging ... and others want to break apart that argument and challenge it [and] say there’s something more special, spectacular and worth fighting for in terms of sexual diversity and gender diversity,” she said, noting that she’s not certain how much traction the discussion has within the queer community.
For Caissie, the importance of Pride and its political undertones are very personal.
“I fight for gay rights because I want to see my parents happy and myself happy in the future,” he says, noting that he hopes to one day follow in the footsteps of his soon-to-be married father and step-dad.
“Pride is a good [opportunity] to express yourself and say that it’s okay to be who you are, no matter who you are.”