Beaches Over Bars: I Skipped NYC Pride and Found Something Else To Be Proud Of

Queers on the beach

Queers on the beach

June in New York City signifies the beginning of many things: baking concrete, sweaty brows, strenuous subway walks, New Yorkers that somehow make the heat look effortless in their shorts and sundresses (I don’t understand you, but I APPRECIATE you), birthday season for all the tender Geminis and Cancers in your life (hey, what’s up) and, coinciding with the national tradition, Pride.

New York Pride is, as in most cities, actually a month long celebration consisting of many, smaller, community events. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention things like borough and neighborhood specific events (Brooklyn Pride, Bed-Stuy Pride, Staten Island Pride, etc.), The New York City Drag March, Trans Day of Action, Dyke March, and dozens of independent events organized by activists and artists all over New York City.

However, the Official NYC Pride sanctioned festivities (yes, OFFICIALLY sanctioned– fun fact: Heritage Pride technically retains exclusive trademark over the term “NYC Pride”) take place during one weekend towards the end of June, culminating in The Pride March, which is commonly referred to as The Pride Parade. The Pride March is a massive event that runs dozens of blocks down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, has boasted attendees of over 1.5 million, and is generally what people in New York mean when they ask me if I’m “going to Pride.”

Here’s the answer: NOPE. I didn’t go to Pride. I went to the beach. I went to the beach and had a magical time and it was exactly what I needed to do. Did you go to Pride and have a magical time and it was exactly what you needed to do? That’s totally cool! I didn’t. I don’t know if I mentioned this, but I actually went to the beach that day

Look, here I am on the beach having a great time.

Look, here I am on the beach having a great time.

Every year, a small group of queer people gather on Riis beach as an alternative to NYC’s Pride March. There are a number of reasons that people choose to spend the day this way. The Pride March is too large, overwhelming, mainstream, or corporate; people don’t find their identities, body types, or needs are represented there. Riis Beach (Jacob Riis Park) is a historical place of significance for the NYC LGBTQ community (I could write an entirely separate piece about that, but trust me). Some people just like the beach (who doesn’t like the beach?).

Riis Beach (Jacob Riis Park) is a historical place of significance for the NYC LGBTQ community.

Riis Beach (Jacob Riis Park) is a historical place of significance for the NYC LGBTQ community.

For me, it’s a little bit about feeling overwhelmed by the larger event, sure. I have an anxiety disorder, I don’t revel in large crowds and it’s true that I don’t always feel represented at the larger event. I often feel ambiguously out of place, like I don’t fit squarely under any of the letters in the LGBT acronym or on anybody’s float (I totally feel fine about fitting squarely under a beach umbrella or eating anybody’s chips, don’t worry).

Mostly though, it’s political. We lay on the beach and we talk to each other and make space for each other, literally and figuratively and it feels constructive. A focus on personal wellbeing, body positivity, solidarity between and overlapping of various identities: these things feel like radical principles to me, and prioritizing them on a day that we find complicated, feels important. Like, more important than eating-soft-serve-in-the-ocean-when-you-are-high important

Although, coincidentally, here I am eating soft serve (which I also find to be very important)

Although, coincidentally, here I am eating soft serve (which I also find to be very important)

We lay on the beach and we talk to each other and make space for each other, literally and figuratively

We lay on the beach and we talk to each other and make space for each other, literally and figuratively

Fact is, I used to go to The Pride March every year, starting at age fifteen. I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I started to become disillusioned with it, but I do remember why. A bus barreled past me, a vodka ad plastered across the side of it showcased two men, smiling. The ad’s tagline: out of the closet and into the bar. As a teenager, I didn’t have the words to articulate why this saddened me, wouldn’t still for years, but intuitively my heart already felt heavy.

Now I know. I know that New York City’s Pride March was borne of political resistance, birthed from the historical Stonewall Riots of 1969. I know that the tagline that this company co-opted for its marketing campaign was derivative of the activist slogan “out of the closet and into the streets.” I know that “out of the closet and into the streets” is a brilliant slogan, incorporating both the collective invisibility and pain of the historical United States LGBT movement with the confrontational and unapologetic bravery of radical protest. I know that, thirty years later, this is the slogan that advertising executives tweaked slightly in order to sell vodka to gay people.

I know that alcohol companies don’t actually care about our community members past treating us as a marketable demographic. If they did, perhaps they would care that statistically we’re more likely to abuse substances than non-LGBTQ identified people, but they don’t. Why would they? It’s likely the reason that alcohol brands choose to allocate their advertising dollars towards floats and banners at Pride events.

I know that oftentimes as a young queer person “drinking” is synonymous with “community”, and I hate that. I remember what it’s like to be a kid and how frustrating it is that so many Pride celebrations revolve around getting fucked up and spending money that you might not have. I know that, at any age, visibility in Pride spaces is powerful. But more than that, I know how big the world can feel, particularly when you are young. To tack compulsory substance use and financial inaccessibility on top of it all feels cruel, irresponsible: exclusionary at best and dangerous at worst. I love our young people and I want them to feel like we care about them having space, sharing our space, existing.

Let’s put this aside for a moment, though, and talk about the significance of the vast array of corporations that shell out free goods us at these marches. Is this really where our movement has gone  — where our identities are legitimized based on where we spend our capital? Companies take this grand scale opportunity to market to us. It’s not a value judgment, it’s an economic truth: corporations don’t care about oppression except for the business of selling it back to us. Why do we let them? Am I really supposed to feel validated that TD Bank and Wal-Mart march in a parade that’s intended to be about queer rights, or that Burger King wrapped a Whopper in a rainbow? I don’t. Is our collective bar really that low?

Is our collective bar this low?

ugh

My intention isn’t to generalize or attack people who chooses to attend or finds a fulfilling experience in events like this. There are a lot of different things going on for NYC Pride — hundreds of groups that march along the route, thousands of people that attend. A lot of these people are really great! I’ve marched with some of them and cheered them on in solidarity over the years. This year, in addition to my beach-going on Sunday, I even performed at a Pride-related event — one that was all ages, in a historically radical community space — but it didn’t revolve around drinking and proceeds went directly back into the community. It was such a positive experience, and I wish we could apply more of those principles to the large-scale Official event, but perhaps it’s gotten too large. Perhaps it’s impossible for us all to feel represented at any event of this magnitude.

I also want to say that I recognize the mere existence of some sort of queer visibility on this level as a positive thing, acknowledge that it is a privilege to not be persecuted for organizing. I know that if I find any aspect of the march uncomfortable, I can do exactly what I did, which is choose not to go to it.

Alternately, I can foresee a future of change from within. That, going forward, the march and the festival can be what we make it, that we can represent ourselves by showing up. I just didn’t feel up to it this year. You know what I did feel up to? Rockaway Taco. Sand in my pockets. Contemplating my inconsequential existence and the insignificance/significance of my identities and narratives relative to the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean.

picture9 _like, I just think about how vast this is and how I lie to people and tell them that I'm 5'3_ even though I'm only 5'2_ and how literally none of my 5'2_ body even matters COMPARED TO THE VASTNESS OF THE OCEA

Like, I just think about how vast this is and how I lie to people and tell them that I’m 5’3″ even though I’m only 5’2″ and how literally none of my 5’2″ body even matters COMPARED TO THE VASTNESS OF THE OCEAN AND THE UNIVERSE YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN?

I’m not saying that Pride Sunday, as so many people know and love it, should cease to exist. I just wish that we would revisit its roots and start talking critically about the ways in which it’s serving us versus the ways in which it’s failing us. Until then, I’ll see you at the beach.

Talking critically about Pride. Just kidding, I don't know what we're doing. Sarah's gesturing towards the ocean and I'm flying somewhere.

Talking critically about Pride. Just kidding, I don’t know what we’re doing. Sarah’s gesturing towards the ocean and I’m flying somewhere.

until next year

until next year

Avatar of Mal Blum

Mal Blum is a New Yorker and a musician who has released five albums, tours nationally and mostly sticks to writing songs, but also sometimes writes other things that aren't songs (like the preceding piece and also secret poetry that nobody is allowed to read). Website. Albums. Twitter. Facebook. Tumblr.

Mal has written 1 articles for us.

43 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

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    This was very well written. It’s an interesting idea, going to a beach during pride. I tried to host a game of kickball(in Orange County) with some local straddlers during L.A. pride weekend, but not enough people showed up.

    I have to agree with the commercialism. I noticed it at Dinah when I kept seeing Bud Light everywhere mentioned there.

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    If it makes you feel any better, I had a hanger-related minor meltdown at the Pride parade, also influenced by the near-hour-long mayhem it took us to find a way to the rest of my friends across the street from us during the parade. The hanger was soothed by tacos and my extremely patient girlfriend, my soul was soothed the next day by our trip to watch the sun set at Riis beach. Wish I had known about the alternative gathering before! Next year, mayhaps.

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    I love this so much! I had a similar experience at Chicago Dyke March this year – way more my style than the insanity of the general Pride parade. being at dyke march among all the queer/brown/trans*/beautiful humans felt like being home. Plus, I got to carry around an awesome sign all day.

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    Oh my goddess, I wish I’d known about this beach thing beforehand! what a perfect way to ditch NYC Pride!! This is everything I want and none of the anxiety. I’ll definitely be there next year, if I’m still in NYC!

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    I love it when people make really conscious decisions about what they feel is best for them in that moment and context, whether it’s unusual or not, and then talk about it. I love it when people talk about making inclusive and history-conscious and humanity-conscious (not brand-conscious!) spaces. I love all of this.

    In that vein, my conscious decision re: pride this year was to not miss it. I missed the Cincinnati pride parade so I purposefully drove to Columbus for theirs, because in Ohio visibility is kind of a different animal, and it was important to me. Also, we don’t have beaches. Otherwise I might have gone to the beach. :)

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    I love this so much.

    I’m really frustrated with how so many Pride celebrations, especially in big cities, have become more about capitalism and corporations and stuff like that, when they should be about community and resistance (in my opinion at least). But I have a hard time finding words to express, because I don’t want to demean an event that is so important to so many people.

    I really appreciate this piece because it’s critical and powerful, but also so compassionate. Thank you so much for this.

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    I think this is the first Autostraddle article I have ever shared on Facebook. Thank you for writing this. I don’t go to any pride events because I live in a tiny town in Vermont where I get super excited if I just see another queer person in my general vicinity (not a lot of pride-y options within reasonable driving distance), but I had a lot of bad feelings while watching news coverage of the events. It felt to me (just my feelings. I’m not putting down anyone who finds fulfillment at these events) like a giant misdirected commercial. It’s a little hard to get excited about giant, commercial pride festivities when you are just aching for a little representation in your neck of the woods.

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    I also lie about my height but I, like, super-lie by telling people that I’m 5’4″ on a good day when really I’m 5’3″ on a good day.

    Also I am very saddened by the fact that the beach is 2 HOURS away from my house because this sounds beyond delightful.

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    Yessss. This essay should be animated like the Charlie Brown Christmas special, where Charlie Brown laments the fact that Christmas is all commercial. Except instead of the tiny tree at the end, there’s a beach.

    P.S. I love the beach at Jacob Riis Park! I wasn’t aware it had any queer significance.

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    This year was my first NYC Pride and I have to say I was underwhelmed. The entire parade and street festival felt like one giant advertisement that LGBT acceptance as a marketing ploy. There were even floats to advertise Congress campaigns, which was really off-putting. I really identify with what you said in this (very well-written) piece. Who knows, maybe I’ll see you at Riis Beach next year.

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    As a sober queer I am always looking for other ways to celebrate Pride that does not involve alcohol and tight spaces. An expansive beach sounds like the best possible setting. Thanks for sharing your awesome day of Pride.

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    yay mal! this is really great. i feel like you captured the feel of the day really well.
    this was my first year going to queer beach instead of pride, and i felt similarly that it was an incredibly positive experience. it felt like the best small town. somehow everyone knew everyone, but instead of that feeling you get at parties where it’s suddenly too small and maybe it’s time to move away because everyone in the bar is not quite enough degrees away from someone you’ve slept with? it was like, entirely welcoming feeling.
    i met and had great conversations with people while swimming in the ocean and biking home from the beach with some new friends.
    and what is more soothing than watching the waves?
    i’ll definitely go back.

  13. Thumb up 2

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    You make so many valid points, Mal! I hate corporate greed and marketing BS as much as the next queer. I can totally relate to your wanting to chill out on the beach instead.

    And yet I can’t help but wonder if there is something good about the corporate floats. If nothing else, they are, perhaps, a sort of a litmus test of acceptance of LGBTQ+ rights in society. It is at a certain tipping point in societal attitudes when a company realizes it is better off marketing to their queer clientele even at the risk of alienating their homophobic customers. Corporate floats are cringe-worthy, granted, yet I feel their very existence is proof that things are changing, and for the better. And what’s even more exciting is that once that tipping point is reached and passed, we enter a virtuous cycle: as more and more companies advertise to “the queers”, existence of LGBTQ folks gets normalized in the eyes of average Joe Schmuck, which leads to companies doing more “gay” marketing (even outside of Pride), which further normalizes existence of LGBTQ people in society… Corporate involvement both indicates and promotes tolerance and acceptance that a purely political march would probably never inspire on its own (sadly).

    The fight for our rights, after all, cannot happen in a vacuum. Like it or not, we live in capitalist countries, and capitalism is the economic backdrop against which our lives and our fights unfold. I do hope one day we end up replacing capitalism with a more enlightened economic system, but the way things stand now, having corporations as allies is better than having them as indifferent or hostile entities. And as for their being motivated by money… well, of course they are! They are corporations. That’s how this whole corporation thing works. And given that that’s how it works at the moment, isn’t that a cause for celebration that we queers have enough economic clout to make corporations notice us?

    So, Happy Pride. Or, Happy Day At The Beach. Whatever boats your float :)

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    In Seattle the parade was moved from Capitol Hill, the traditionally gay community, to a downtown route, several years ago, and ever since the parade has feel less to me like a parade for and by the LGBT community, and more like LGBT people on parade. It’s a chance for the wider area to come to the city, look at the gays, and hear from the brands and companies they love say, “see liberal straight people, we, like you, are cool with the gays!”

    I went to the street fair with my partner and saw all the local arts and community groups, then to Cal Anderson park (named for a Seattle gay icon) with my friends and got some sunshine. We then went to one no-cover bar for a drink and one no-cover bar for some dancing. I did not got to the parade.

    p.s.(no cover as opposed to $25 cover at most places – who has $25 for cover? I barely had that much for drinks and a corn-dog drinks for my partner and I)

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    I wish there was this kind of chill alternative in the north of England. Manchester and Leeds Pride, which are in August, are basically run.on the premise of: how many folk can you sell rainbow encrusted stuff to and jam into bars, and there seems to be no alternative at all. No less commercial peripheral events, just hey gays drink stuff and drunk buy stuff. If anyone fancies a gay day out alternative to the coast or even to a big national park somewhere let us know!

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    Great post!

    There’s been so much ‘yay pride’ stuff on AS and I was hoping there could also be a different view represented. Pride here in the UK is super-commercialised and drink-pushy too – it can be hard to explain how many Pride events are both massively important for LGBT visibility and also yet another example of the mainstreaming and commercialisation of queer identities and exploitation of the ‘pink pound’.

    This is also really put into perspective by the Lithuanian comic Propaganda which Mey wrote about recently – the danger and the struggle and the passion involved in organising a Pride event there: http://www.autostraddle.com/joana-estrela-takes-us-to-pride-in-lithuania-in-her-comic-propaganda-240640/

    Thanks for writing this and glad you had an awesome beach party!!

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    I’ve never been to Pride but I have to say it doesn’t really appeal to me. More power to those that do! But I am anxious and hate crowds and anyway I really don’t feel ready to yell from the rooftops about myself yet. (This is also a thing I have a problem with about stuff like National Coming Out Day, and like you said, Burger King. It all just feels sort of… hollow, and it glosses over the various difficulties a lot of queer people have in just BEING.)

    This beach thing you’ve got going, however, sounds perfect.

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    I’ve been to London Pride a few times and there’s definitely a very clubby feel. Last year we couldn’t afford to go and stayed in instead. I’d love to say we drank (weak) rainbow jelly shots instead, but I fucked them but during production.

    This year we went to Oxford Pride which had a very different vibe about it. We skipped the march, but the field was very much a queer fete, mostly populated by queer-made trinkets and non-profit charity stands.

    There also were several inflatable games, a children’s area and a stage which people sat around on the grass to watch. Anyone deemed to drunk was removed by the police.

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    I really dig this article, Mal. Last year I was involved with a peer support group, and by a funny coincidence, we all had ended up attending Big Corporate Pride in NYC, instead of the various other things we usually do. A really diverse group of folks across age and gender and orientation lines, we all agreed that 1) it was really heartwarming to see a ton of young ones about, with a very large makeup of young folks of color, but 2) it was really gross how they were being so, so aggressively marketed to.

    This is why I am glad Bluestockings and Jenny Owens Young and yourself provided that alternative space that Saturday; we need way, way more of them. Right now it feels like, if you’re not a party queer, or you’re not a protest queer, there aren’t a lot of spaces. I’m way into ballroom dance, and I frequent gender-role-free stuff as much as I can–I’d like to bring that sort of activity to the queer community at large.

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    Loved this a lot. I went to the parade this year, yet again, against all better judgment. Ended up feeling not totally terrible about it because I got to see Samira Wiley and consequently have a public meltdown.

    Next year, though: beach, definitely beach.

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    I have some conflicted feelings about the beach thing. I think it’s a great to have Pride alternatives, but I also think they can be really scene-y. Idk, Brooklyn queer things can feel so exclusive, even as they claim to be alternative and inclusive, especially when there is a who-is-the-most-radical contest happening. This isn’t always the case or everyone’s experience, but it can feel just as hard to fit in at alternate Prides as it does at mainstream Prides, especially if you aren’t the “right” kind of cool queer.

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      I totally feel this.

      Like, I LOVE this piece because I feel like Mal was describing an experience that was radical and inclusive and awesome, and that’s what I think Pride should be.

      But I also really relate to “radical” spaces sometimes feeling just as alienating to mainstream ones. It’s a fine like to walk, because it’s I feel like it’s important to critique some of the problematic and exclusive elements of events like Pride, but sometimes that can turn into just hating “mainstream” LGBT culture and events and stuff, and that can feel toxic, especially when people present might have found comfort or empowerment in some of that “mainstream” culture.

      I don’t know, it’s hard to reconcile sometimes. I just wanted to say that I totally resonate with your comment.

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        Thirding this. That’s why I’m pro-diversity of experiences available; I’m not a radical queer and maybe that’s not okay, but it’s also just the truth of the matter. I’ve been in Brooklyn scene spaces and I’ve hung out with the mainstream gays and sometimes, the mainstream gay spaces are easier and friendlier–no preconcieved notions, no drama, no history preceding my name. But they are also inaccessible to a lot of people–the crux of this article.

        Anyway, long story short, there is always space on my beach blanket for weirdos, bad queers, and assorted square pegs.

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