Covered in My White Body-Armour: Attending Toronto Pride, Interrogating Privilege & Investigating Emotion


I'm a first-time Pride attendee. I'm cisgender, white-settler, able-bodied, and have never been involved in what I have understood or described to be a Queer relationship. I grew up in the suburbs of Ottawa with enough money as a kid that I didn't need to think about it often. My life has become focused on raising social consciousness about issues that I can't fully understand because I don't experience the pain that underpins their existence and perpetuation.

I'm a person of privilege whose very presence at Pride in Toronto is, for a number of reasons complicated, for both me personally and some other folks in attendance, for it is often, though not exclusively, folks of privilege whose ignorance, attitudes, structural power, and sometimes violent overt oppression that necessitates the resistance that is central to events like Pride.

It's complicated, but I came to understand my attendance as important in its own way.

You see, it was never lost on me as we led up to the weekend, during the parade, or even now as I reflect on my experience that Pride isn't about me or for me. Pride is about and for people whose lives and very existence are threatened, ignored, and/or are otherwise marginalized in our society. It's a space for resistance, community building, safety, vibrant expression, art, anger, noise, solidarity, and celebration for these communities.

That said, some of the people I love and am closest to, whose attendance at these festivities was deeply personal and important because of ways in which they identify themselves, found the presence of friends, family members, and supporters of and to their communities to be important and reassuring in different ways. Seeing this as the most important reason to go, I happily and excitedly made my way to Toronto for a weekend of what I anticipated to be fun and energized shenanigans.

I was right, of course, to anticipate the fun and energy, and shenanigans does still feel an appropriate descriptor to some of the wonderfully bizarre and beautiful things I got to witness and experience this past weekend.

I didn't, however, anticipate that I'd spend much of the parade, rather quiet and deep in thought, struggling to fight back tears as I was overwhelmed with emotions that I struggled to process.

If you've never experienced Pride, it feels truly impossible to have you understand what the parade and atmosphere are like. It's not really like anywhere else I've ever been, nor is it like anything I've ever seen, or heard, or been a part of.

I figured this would be the case, but there were so many special moments that struck a chord deep within me that brought a lump to my throat and what felt like billions of thoughts and emotions into my brain and heart.

It was the pair of stunning drag queens, dancing rambunctiously and flawlessly down the street to adoring audiences, being showered with love and applause, putting on a stank face as they owned their space one moment while breaking out into a smile that seemed to be larger than any smile I'd seen before the next, emanating a light and warmth that communicated to me that they felt seen, heard, recognized, loved, happy, and safe in that moment.

It was brimming with joy at their joy, and starting to think about how the violence directed at so many folks within the trans community means these emotions and feelings of validation and celebration are more likely the exception than the rule; that more often than being showered with love and affection from all angles, trans bodies in public spaces are often met with discomfort, ridicule, and violence; that this experience of uninhibited happiness might not possibly translate into more than a temporary space of feeling loved and truly safe and accepted.

It was thinking about how important this day and parade appeared to be to these beautiful people, and how I got to witness their happiness.

It was happiness and sadness.

It was beauty of the human spirit and violence of social structures.

It was filled with love and hope.

It was heartbreaking and frustrating.

It was not understanding how circumstances so commonly existed where these people I was looking at were made to feel anything less than beautiful, less than human.

It was the inspiration at the resilience of people, the likes of which I may never be able to fathom.

It was watching PFLAG march through the streets, with parents and family members walking alongside their children.

It was seeing parents and guardians show up for their kids and loving them so loudly and unconditionally.

It was thinking of people I love whose families didn't respond to their gender or sexuality with love or affection or acceptance.

It was thinking about those who've avoided sharing parts of who they are with their families because of a fear of what it would mean for them.

It was the thought that for every child and parent I saw walking proudly in front of me, there were bound to be dozens queer children, trans children, gender non-conforming children, and beyond, who do not go through life with the support of those whose support might mean the most to their journey.

It was wondering how my own family life might be different if I had of fallen in love with a boy.

It was gratitude towards those who champion their kids.

It was pain for those who needed to find champions elsewhere; for those who needed to be their own champions.

It was experiencing the folks marching with Black Lives Matter, hands in the air, as the people all around me on either side put their own hands above their heads in solidarity.

It was the goosebumps I felt all over my body as I thought about how these folks were literally fighting for their lives.

It was experiencing a social movement whose significance and power was beyond my ability to fully understand at this place and in this moment.

It was looking at my own hand above my head, covered in my white body armour.

It was feeling relieved by my whiteness, and immediately feeling ashamed at my relief.

It was contemplating how anti-black racism still kills innocent people.

It was all of these particular moments and it was none of them. It was the entire experience of being surrounded by people whose energy, resilience, passion, and joy seemed to permeate the space between our bodies and reach the depths of my mind and my heart.

It was going through this day with a best friend, whose happiness and joy infected me and comforted me.

It was understanding, beyond the regular doubts and periods that lacked clarity that I often encounter, that these issues are bigger than you and me, and are important enough to commit a lifetime to work on.

I am still learning, moment to moment, about how to be better. I'm learning histories of social movements. I'm hearing frustrations people have with anti-oppressive activists and actors that they don't feel able to overcome in order to change their behaviour. I engage daily with friends, colleagues, and family about settler-colonialism, or anti-black racism, or gender and sexual diversity, picking up new bits and pieces of knowledge that help me better understand where discourse seems to break down.

Being at Pride was as rich an addition to this ongoing education as I've had access to, and served as wonderfully important reassurance that human beings are capable of the empathy, resistance, and love that so many are fighting for.

Pride was us at our best, and this vibrancy of the human experience needs to become what we expect to find every single day.

Folks who are privileged within social locations that they care about - engage with things like Pride as often as you can. Remembering that these things aren't about you, show up, be mindful of the space you're taking up, and commit to learning and growing as best as you possibly can.

As I close the book on a day fuller than any I can remember in quite some time, I return to a place of immense gratitude. Grateful for the people and things I have. Grateful that so many folks shared themselves, their energy, their communities, and their love with me today. Grateful that I was able to refuel my energy from my experience at Pride in order to continue navigating my privilege, trying to find new ways of using it for good.

Grateful that tears came when they weren't expected.

Grateful to have felt more than I thought I would feel.

Grateful to be reassured that attempting to make sense of the messiness of our world is something that's worth fighting for.

Photo: Mark Blinch/REUTERS