Paige Schilt

What I Mean When I Say Family

Filed By Paige Schilt | July 05, 2010 8:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Austin, LGBT families, parents, pride celebration, queer family, QueerBomb, Sandra Bernhard, Silky Shoemaker, Texas

Last month, my hometown of Austin, Texas, had two separate pride celebrations--Austin Pride 2010, organized under the auspices of the Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and QueerBomb, a counter procession dedicated to reclaiming pride's radical, carnal, noncommercial, and transgressive lineage.

qbombhunk.jpgTo this writer, it seemed like the organizers of Austin Pride 2010 were bumbling bullies straight from central casting. Early on, one of the board members publicly queried why "transvestites and bisexuals" couldn't just stop "pissing on our parade." Later, they ousted Sandra Bernhard from the roster of official pride events for being "too vulgar." Rumor has it that a local leather group interpreted the march's rules about "good taste" to mean that they could only participate if they agreed not to wear leather or even vests.

Why, you ask? Why would anyone want to see leather men marching in their business casual attire? Well, the organizers of Austin Pride were quick to answer their critics. They're doing it for the kids, of course. For the families. To ensure that Austin Pride remains a "family-friendly" event.

As someone who has a family in the sense that these people mean when they say "family" (i.e. a reproductive family), I get mad when people use me and my kid as a cover for exclusion and censorship. When "family" is just a convenient screen onto which they project their internalized transphobia, homophobia, and sex phobia, it makes me feel...dirty.

Luckily, the organizers of QueerBomb refused to fall for the divisive politics of family. Queer Bomb provocateur Silky Shoemaker made this refusal explicit in her remarks to the 1,000+ crowd at the alternative pride celebration:

We will be told again and again to make ourselves presentable, to hide behind closed doors, to button up, butch up, hush up, pay up - to sell out our values for mainstream acceptance. BUT this is wrong! And it's also BORING!

They will say we should do it in the name of normalcy or decency or that it's the only way to get it done. And especially they will say, "Do it in the name of families."

But my family is right here. I'm reclaiming that word. (Again!) Because my family is built around respecting and honoring each other in our many facets, in the beauty and dignity of our varied experiences.

My family is right here. As I looked around the crowd of freaks and rabblerousers, I saw my mentors, teachers, sisters, and co-conspirators. I saw people who have helped me through hard times and people who have helped me have a lot of fun.


Sometimes it's easy for queers with kids to lose track of this larger meaning of family. They buy into the narrative that growing up means turning homeward, buying stuff, and leaving behind our queer subcultures. They start to fall for the message that one type of family is more valuable and deserves more space.

So, in the spirit of QueerBomb, I want to affirm that, when this dyke mama says "family," I mean both/and, not either/or.

I mean daddies who are leather daddies.
I mean people whose family is at the bar.
I mean friend family and circles of lovers and exes.
I mean people whose family is their cat.
I mean genderqueer mommies and trans mentors.
I mean gaybies and fairy godchildren.
I mean gay brothers-from-another-mother and lesbian bromancers.
I mean people who make art, justice, outrage, and love together.

It's not just that I couldn't live without this queer family; I wouldn't want to live without this queer family. If I had to choose...well, luckily, I don't. Those who would pit one family against the other are creating a false dichotomy.


QueerBomb crowd and speaker photos by Bruce Wiest. Man with cat and Paige & Katy photo by P.J. Raval. All other photos by Katy Koonce.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Y'know, to be ruthlessly blunt about it, I'm reading a lot of self-aggrandizement on *both* sides of this. Everyone's talking a lot about "respect", but I see as little coming from QueerBomb as I do the Austin Gay Chamber of Commerce.

And I get a tad concerned when a sentence starts off with "Rumour has it..." Did no one find out *which* leather group thought this? Was there no statement of reaction from them? Or, as I suspect, it was simply easier to throw that out there as a piece of red meat?

I dont see any reason why these two groups couldnt have worked together to create something that would appeal to *everyone* in the community. Instead, it appears it all dissolved into a turf war.

Sean, I did confirm the story about the leather group before I repeated it--I just didn't get an on-the-record quote. I think you're right, I should have been clearer about the nature of that claim.

Sean, I don't think a compromise is really what's needed. Queerbomb wanted to, and did, have a celebration that everyone was welcome to participate in. All their messages, on their web site and facebook invites etc., stressed that fact. The official Pride event specifically said that certain "types" of people were not welcome (at the very least, people who couldn't afford 10 bucks to get in).

So, what would a compromise be? Drag queens but no poor people? Bull dykes but no trannies? Bisexuals allowed but only if they are with same-sex partners? The crowd at the Queerbomb event was festive to be sure, but it was very diverse. There were lots of just plain folks there.

Inclusion is inclusion. I don't think it's something you compromise on.

"Working together" doesnt have to mean compromise. I didnt use that term, so I wont take ownership of it, sorry.

But reading accounts now from both sides confirms my belief that this was a turf war and nothing but. Both the AGCoC and Queerbomb wanted to be the top dog at Pride, and both made the conscious choice to belittle the other side. There was no respect on display here, no sense of this being one community. If you went to one, you werent "family friendly"; if you went to the other, you were "boring" and "sexophobic" -- yeah, folks, that's really communicating with each other and working to find a solution that addressed everyone's needs.

Sorry, Sean, I think you're just wrong on this one. The two groups have legitimate philosophical/political differences about what constitutes our community and about what it is we celebrate every June. The larger LGBT community is having the same argument. I don't doubt there's some sniping on both sides, but it's an important conversation, not a turf war.

Great post, Paige. Going to QueerBomb was the most inspiring thing I've done in a while.

Kirk Lammert | July 5, 2010 11:43 PM

Being from the area and having to have dealt with the AGCoC, I can tell you that there was no compromise available from them. If anything was even slightly out of the mainstream, it was censored. I'm sorry, but the main Pride event was bland, boring and just plain... straight. QueerBomb was THE BOMB!

Thank you for posting this. There's a very similar split view of what Pride and Family mean to people in Columbus, Ohio, too. Our Pride theme was "Celebrate our Families" and when one of the leather clubs in town had someone in his Puppy persona on their bar-sponsored float, the outrage and BAWK BAWK BAWK OMG THINK OF THE CHILDRUNZ! squawking that happened? Good lord, you'd think we'd just peed in their living room. So many people forget that family is not limited to those who choose to breed. It goes very far beyond that incredibly narrow and narrow-minded view.

This is the difference between the assimilationist "just fit in" mentality and the militancy of Stonewall.

I can fit in. I can shut up, not make waves, be invisible.

And that alone tells me that I shouldn't.

Paige, this is a wonderful post. I'm really glad to be part of your family.

To me, "family" means precisely those people I wouldn't want to part with even though they sometimes embarrass me horribly.

Chambers of Commerce suck the fun out of everything.

Awesome post, Paige. You really communicated the spirit of the event. I'm proud to know you.

Time to dump Gay, Inc. and partners for pride events. They are ruining our community.

Anna Ravenscroft | July 6, 2010 2:44 PM

My kids thought the human puppies at Pride parades were great. We explained to them that grown-ups like to play pretend just like kids do. As for the leather and whips crowd, we explained that grown-ups sometimes like to play rough, just like kids do.
They totally grokked it.

Andy Campbell | July 6, 2010 7:18 PM

I love this! I LOVE this! Thank you!

What gets me is that here in Indianapolis and other sities I have heard about, the organizers will not even mention that it is a GLBT pride event! It is just the Pride festival or day. I guess if someone is proud of being stupid they should come too? I mean what is wrong with calling it what it is? They used to do that! Not to mention it is more about drinking, partying and national vendors than pride these days. Sad...

spigliatezza | July 6, 2010 5:04 PM

Anna, that's awesome. Your kids are lucky to have you.

Andy Campbell | July 6, 2010 7:16 PM

I agree with Steven on this one. There were quite a few of us who attended both, and got something positive out of the experiences. If it were truly a turf war the events would have been scheduled to directly conflict with one another, instead they became each other's foil. For my queer self - not speaking or projecting for anyone - the Queerbomb festivities made more sense.

Reducing an important and critical political difference to the status of a "turf war" is to ignore the kinds of claims both groups were and still are making about themselves.

This is why I think the discussion must continue... as the issues at its core will never be resolved, everyone gets to hone their senses of self and community. To get us thinking about the deployment of terminology such as "family", as so brilliantly written about by Paige here, is to engage with what makes us queer.

Stacey D. Langley | July 6, 2010 9:48 PM

Paige, thank you SO much for writing this. I was at QueerBomb and it was so cool to be around "family." I felt more at home there than I did at the Pride Festival.

Yeah!! Thanks Paige.
My family . our children and our friends, my lover , my partner. our special world needs more queerbombs. I was in SF at the dyke march that seemed so undykely and crowded w/ striaght pushy voyeurs. i want a safe dyke march a fun safe family feeling queer pride time. not bullets and bullies. thanx for affirming all that I love,
in dykedom,

I can say with all sincerity - Paige's family is the one I'd rather hang out with than a bunch of stuffed shirts afraid of anyone slightly different than they are.

I know Paige's family. And it's a damn good one.