Patriotism is Gay
July 4th, 2013. The District of Columbia radiated a sticky heat from all directions as thousands of patriots dressed in red, white, and blue came swarmed to celebrate the origin story of the Greatest Empire the Earth has seen.
Weeks earlier, Edward Snowden’s revelations on the scope of the NSA’s spying had started to drop.
A rally was organized to protest mass surveillance on McPherson Square, in the heart of D.C.. “Restore the Fourth!” it demanded, pointing to the “unreasonable search and seizure” of our data that had just been confirmed by Snowden’s treasure trove of documents.
I strapped my rollerblades on, and tightened my backpack’s straps. The journey from Virginia to the District was my meditative solace while living in the Swamp. The bike trail ran along woody creeks and then by the Potomac itself, offering majestic views of white marbled monuments as a bridge brought me over the river and onto the tidal basin.
A few blocks later, I hit a police checkpoint, halting any further progress towards the rally.
“Ugh. I hope I didn’t bring any weed…” I thought to myself, possibly for the first time ever, before getting in line to have my backpack poked and prodded. The irony of this unreasonable search wasn’t lost on me. Anyone with a mind towards terrorizing the festivities would have countless other means of ingress; this was clearly just surveillance theater.
“Pffeww.” They waved me through and I rolled onward, towards the peculiar trails encircling the Washington Monument. When I made it up the hill supporting the stony phallic assault on the skies, another obstacle presented itself.
A parade stretched up and down Constitution Boulevard, as far as I could see from my vantage point. Metal barricades and humans rolling six deep blocked both sides of the major artery.
I approached the barricade, and I rolled to the right, and I rolled to the left. In front of me, Uncle Sams on stilts, derby girls, and steampunks on big wheels paraded in front of me as the masses cheered. Did no one care that it was all a lie? That the rights afforded to us, supposedly from the Divine, had been gradually eroded? That our supposed independence from a sprawling empire had circled back so far that we were now the global oppressors?
Just a couple blocks beyond this caricature of patriotism, there were actual citizens concerned gathering to air their grievances. But I was blocked by this mindless horde.
A feeling crept into my awareness:
“The 4th of July is Gay”
As someone who identifies as “pretty gay”, this feeling was just as vexing as the police checkpoint and the preposterous parade. I try to avoid using the term negatively, but I couldn’t shake this sensation even as I bladed to the Smithsonian metro station in order to take the short trip to the rally, under-passing the parade.
When I reached McPherson square, the rally was already in full swing. While it was a relief to be with “my tribe”; I knew intuitively that all of this fervent bluster would amount to little. No laws would change; no spy chiefs would be jailed. Surveillance is a profitable enterprise supported by both parties. Just as the police checked bags for the sake of appearances, it seemed these activists gathered to alleviate their guilt from simply existing in this regime.
The range of feelings from the day washed over me. Something had to be done; the impetus was undeniable. Mindless masses cheered as the bombs dropped and the all seeing eye keeps watch over any potential adversary.
Through some intuitive act of sublimation, an idea was conceived in the emotional storm that gripped my cognition.
The Big Gay American Bike Ride for Freedom
Directly attacking a militant idea such as patriotism is a foolish endeavor. Any external pressure simply solidifies the convictions of those hosting the meme. Subversion is preferable in these instances.
The Big Gay American Bike Ride for Freedom does not attempt to collide with patriotism: rather, it rolls with it.
The Ride is the synthesis of two seemingly oppositional forces: queerness and patriotism. Mixed together, they form a frothy potion capable of transmuting the subconscious of onlookers.
Allow me to explain:
Patriotism is useful for rulers so long as it is taken seriously. To some degree in the U.S., it has been declawed: people are more interested in getting drunk and enjoying barbecue than they are re-avowing their civic responsibilities, as my experience on that 4th taught me.
That being said, there are still plenty of people who are utterly convinced that their country is an infallible gift from God to Earth, and July 4th helps to cement this meme.
It just so happens that those who take patriotism signaling seriously are generally in the same camp of those who are bothered by queerness.
By juxtaposing patriotism with queerness, onlookers are left to reconcile their ideological underpinnings. For those who believe that “Patriotism = Good” and “Queerness = Bad”, this flagrant faggotry attached to their beloved symbols creates cognitive dissonance. Is queerness… good? Or is patriotism bad?
I admit to not sticking around long enough to help those we passed work through their feelings, but considering the cheers we received, it seemed like most people were already on board to push the popular conception of patriotism towards the absurd, where it rightly belongs.
“Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate.” ~ Edward Said
Patriotism had its role in human history. But as the nation-state becomes increasingly untenable as a mode of governance, we must seek out new ways of building community. We must share our intentions in a way that goes beyond simple survival and instead towards transcendence.
Just as importantly though, biking and rollerblading with friends is simply more enjoyable than assembling to yell at a bunch of people who already agree with you, over issues that you all know aren’t going to change.
Transmuting the bad feels I experienced on July 4th, 2013 into a thought-provoking gathering of friends is about the best I’m gonna get… until the economic system underpinning Western imperialism collapses anyways.