My gf and I bought one each, from a gay shop in Sydney. Our $10 went in support of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. We put them on as we left the shop, and to me, it was like now I was ‘branded’, I was wearing a visible sign that acknowledges that I am gay. My gf wondered if wearing rainbow wristbands would attract attention and maybe get us beaten up by some anti-gay hooligans.
It was a big step for me, my small triumph of activism. Declaring to the world ‘Hey, I am gay, and I don’t mind letting you know that either.’ Ordinarily, people would not glance twice at me because my appearance fits the stereotype of ‘straight’, but this time, we both felt somewhat self-conscious as we walked back to the train station.
Then the next day drew around. This was Saturday, the day of the big parade. We trailed down to Oxford Street to watch the spectacle. And as I noticed the other glbt people around, it struck me that they were truly Out and Proud, and no, they didn’t have to wear any wristbands to tell people they were gay. Maybe yes their clothing and hairstyles fit the ‘lesbian’ stereotype; looking at them most people would categorise them as dykes. But it didn’t seem like they cared. They seemed to be saying ‘Yes, I have short hair, tank top and other androgynous clothes, tattoos, so looking at me, you probably assume I am a lesbian, but so what, I am what I am, and I don’t have to pretend to rebel against the way that society has stereotyped dykes’’ though not in so many words.
But it made me question my own dress sense. I have tried all my life to never be a slave to catwalk fashion, nor to conform to stereotypes that society has invented to keep everyone in their neat little categories. But by the very fact that I have so many ‘Don’ts’ in my wardrobe, I am also ‘conforming’ in a reverse sense of having styles that I wish not to wear. Hence I am still hedged in, because by being defined as the opposite of ‘something’, that definition cannot exist by itself without the original ‘something’. Now I am thinking that Hell, if the way I dress enables people to stereotype me, then that is just inevitable. Because people will always try to label you. And if they want to label me LESBIAN, that is not incorrect, so why should I try to pretend otherwise?
This fashion-furore was taking place in the background of my mind while I was actually watching the Mardi Gras Parade. There were literally hundreds of people proudly getting involved, including Dykes on Bikes, PFLAG, church groups and many more. And it really made me cry to see them all, and merely thinking about the word PRIDE made me cry even more. They were all making a huge statement, taking a stand for glbtq people, displaying themselves on National tv. There was not a hint of shame, or disgrace, and that was my first close encounter with the real meaning of ‘Out and Proud’. Being Proud means we do not have to hide who we are. We stand up and be counted. Every single one of the people in the procession was either gay, or pro-gay, and it was no secret, Everyone watching knew that. Now I bet none of the audience bothered noticing if the participants were wearing rainbow wristbands. Well, DUH, it would have been Understatement of the year.
Now I look back and think how at first it seemed to me that wearing a rainbow wristband was such a big activist step for me, but then in the midst of the whole Pride parade, the wristband suddenly faded into the background. These folk were miles and miles ahead of my tiny step. And I was so moved thinking ‘Well, one tiny step forward is still better than no steps or backward steps. And maybe in Singapore, the steps we take are just smaller than the strides that other activists elsewhere achieve. But nonetheless we Do take our own little steps at our own pace, and Hey, you have to start Somewhere!’ And I didn’t dare envision the day that our steps here become strides too, and we have our own Pride parade.
And now, back in Singapore, I wear my rainbow wristband with pride when I go out, I don’t have to say anything, but if people notice it and know what it means, or at least are curious to find out more, then I have accomplished what I set out to achieve. For now.