One of the most successful genres of reality television, extreme makeover shows are popular for good reason. Who wouldn’t want a home redone, a business revamped or a body re-sculpted for free? Makeover shows work because they make people feel good. They give us the promise of a new start, a fresh beginning, a second chance.
Perhaps as we reflect on last week’s Pride celebration, it’s not too farfetched to consider a new kind of Extreme Makeover – one unique for gay men, and one in my opinion, long overdue. It’s not about clothes, or how we look, where we work or live. In fact, it has nothing to do with appearances at all. Rather, this makeover is all internal – it’s about how gay men relate to and interact with each other. I call it Extreme Makeover – Pride Edition.
So just how does one do a Pride makeover? And what does that even mean? What does Pride really mean?
Part of the answer was on display at last weekend’s Capital Pride celebration. Pride is what you saw on the faces of those who marched, who mingled, cheered, and simply showed up. There was pride in numbers and in diversity. There was the pride that comes from living with dignity and authenticity.
Indeed, that’s what the first Pride celebrations were all about. In a bygone era where the esteem and self worth of LGBT men and women were perpetually under assault, there was a need to publicly demonstrate gay pride. There was a need to tell the world, through visibility and strength in numbers that the value of human kind could not be trampled by bigotry, hate, shame and exclusion. It was those heady protest marches that formed the basis of the future Pride movement and of the celebrations we know of and partake in today.
However, as the community began to break down societal barriers, to make gains and take its place at the table, gay men lost an understanding of another side to the meaning of Pride. Beyond rainbow flags and bumper decals, Pride should also stem from our actions. We forget that sometimes. Having lived from Boston to Austin, Texas to Toronto, I’ve witnessed and experienced how gay men can behave. It isn’t always pretty. In a culture of “A-lists” and attitude, where chiseled bodies set the standards by which we are judged, some gay men have forgotten that real Pride is born from within, and not in a gym.
Nothing wrong with working out. I do it all the time. But let’s start pushing the boundaries of Pride beyond slogans and superficiality.
With the celebrations having just wrapped up for another year, now’s the time to put Pride to work. Make good on your longstanding intention to volunteer. Donate to a cause that’s dear to you. Say thanks to an LGBT elder for setting in motion the civil rights our community has gained over the past 40 years.
I’m reminded of a line from one of my favorite Carly Simon tunes, “Don’t be afraid to change your attitude.” Fear has never been part of the LGBT lexicon. If it were, there would never have been Pride festivities this past weekend.
So go ahead. Next time you’re at a bar or club, put a new spin on attitude. Smile to someone you don’t even know. Yes, really. It’s just a smile. You can do it. It may not feel like an extreme makeover, but you may just be making someone’s day, and changing someone’s else’s attitude at the same time. And that’s something to feel proud about.
Lorne Opler is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.