I Want to Have Sex Like… Amsterdam Gay Pride 2015

Rainbow hearts boat

The boat I liked best, because rainbow coloured hearts.

Rainbow flags waved along boulevards and bridges all over the city centre. For ten days, including two weekends, museums had special tours, cafes had special offers and cinemas had special films. There were walks and talks and concerts. Friday was the parade’s eve, with a march to the Gay Monument and the Drag Queen Olympics. Saturday was the finale, with eighty decorated boats in the official parade and many more moored three to five boats thick to the side on some stretches, filled with spectators and students and beer. Locals and visitors and families and tourists mix and bunch together whenever there’s a bridge, one in three wearing a pink shirt.

The LGBT community is part of Amsterdam’s identity and city marketing much like it is for San Francisco. For the average Joe, that means it’s comfortable to live there as member of the LGBT community, the locals won’t stare as much and the tourists come especially to stare. During the Pride, it means the city is proud, the cultural sector colours pink, corporations sponsor a boat in the canal parade. Awareness is raised for the HIV-positive and LGBT minorities abroad but mostly people come to enjoy and relax.

What made it interesting as an event was more intangible, however, which is what I hope to make sense of in this two-parter about the Amsterdam Gay Pride of 2015. This part is more about how it influenced my public identity, the other more about what demisexuality has come to mean to me in private, during.1

What’s with all the heteros?

COC boat

Dutch LGBT organisation, campaigning for same-sex PDA being okay.

A strange question, perhaps, but I wondered what all the heteros who came to Amsterdam got out of the event. To see the parade or enjoy a concert, yes, but… if you walked the streets, they were the ones in the rainbow hats and the pink shirts. People who were gay or bi came to be themselves, albeit with beer and music, so they didn’t dress up… unless they had an additional reason. But no, it was a girl convincing her boyfriend that they both ought to wear a headband with miniature penises waggling on metal coils, and the Korean tourists counting out euros to buy a “Gay For a Day” shirt.

They were, in that little bubble of space-time, outsiders. They needed to wear something special to participate. What love and sexuality was exhibited here was queer, not theirs. For a very short time, it was normal to grab a hand or a kiss from someone with the same gender, not the opposite one. It was, for that matter, normal to mess with gender altogether. So the cisgender heteros felt the need for a souvenir or a costume, the way you do at a Renaissance fair or a carnival, to fit in with a different sort of normal.

Vervreemding

HIV medication boat.

HIV-medication-for-everyone campaign, with a dick joke, “It’s not equal for everyone.”

Art’s main job isn’t decoration or beauty or avant garde, here. In Dutch, the highest praise an art piece can get is that it vervreemds, estranges or makes something other. To break its audience out of the familiarity that blinds them, to refresh and transform their reality. To open minds to what is strange and yes, queer.

During the Gay Pride in Amsterdam, it was love and gender and sexuality that were vervreemd, the more unusual expressions made normal and the norm, heterosexuality, just one of several options. That wasn’t just theoretical, but a lived reality in the streets. You literally weren’t to know what the person in front of you, behind you, beside you, thought of themselves or preferred in their partners. Everyone was just people.

Only those who thought that was strange felt the need to dress up.

And it was to this vervreemding that I could connect. Demisexuality means you might find some people you know attractive, but mostly everyone is just people. Not sexual, not attractive, not beautiful. Just people. And within the asexual community, this is what we’re struggling to label: to us everyone is just people. We choose to act on it in different ways, but at the core of it is the same conflict: people are just folks to meet, when to others they may stand out on a sexual level.

The streets at Gay Pride? They’re the crowd I’d be comfortable in, seeking a partner, no expectations, anyone can be any label. Anyone can desire any relationship on any level, or not.

LGBT(QI), not LGBTQIA

I distinguish between LGBT and LGBTQIA because I think as subculture or umbrella it’s evolving to be more inclusive, and accept asexuality as part of that umbrella. In some places it is already, in some it’s not. Largely because of the creation of communities and activism of local asexual-spectrum individuals… a work in progress. In Holland, we’re not there yet. Though I believe most would welcome us, we are as yet unknown. Literature is scarce, our meeting places still in the process of being created, awareness a dim glow on the horizon of the most open-minded.

So while I felt some kinship, I did feel like a spectator. Because I represent a type of sexuality that isn’t known, let alone accepted. I both was and was not ready to show it.

Private performance in public

Yeah, I know one field's supposed to be white. Try finding white eyeliner.

Yeah, I know one field’s supposed to be white. Try finding white eyeliner.

I decided on a discrete display that fit my budget: buy some eyeliner pencils and draw a demisexual flag on my hand and wear it out in public. It was quite an adventure simply to draw and photograph it in the privacy of my room. Nerve-wracking to step out onto the streets a few days later, flag on my hand. The first few minutes, I hid my hand against my thigh, until I almost fell over in the tram on my way to the canal parade.

No one noticed.

By the end of the day, neither did I.

When I came home, I finally looked at my hand and decided I was okay with this, to wear it as I do any part of myself, invisible to most and relevant to those who care.

Permanence and peace

Two days later, even the thickest black line had nearly washed off my hand. I traced it, knowing it would disappear and missing it. I wanted a souvenir, not of something I am not, like the heteros at Gay Pride, but of something that I discovered I am and was now settling into being a comfortable fact of my life, a cog wheel that smoothed out a big stutter in my self-knowledge.

I bought a silver ring, with a black line in the middle. Not quite an asexual ring, but halfway there, for demisexuality, enough to feel like promise, a private symbol that could sit around the middle finger of my right hand. I had grown comfortable with who I am, in this week, and it was good to wear that openly.

So what’s it taught me about the sex I might like?

Wedding boat

The wedding boat.

I liked the freedom in this crowd, how utterly heteronormativity was gone, any sexual orientation was welcome. This is the type of gathering I feel comfortable in, meeting people, swapping stories about sexualities and being okay to communicate about love and gender and sex because there’s less assumptions than in your average crowd.

At the same time, I was a stranger, asexuality wasn’t here, to the point where I could walk around unrecognized unless I’d literally painted a sign and I’m in no way there yet, may never be. Asexuality got a mention in the summary on TV later, which was already pretty cool, but that’s what I was really missing, peers and a mention somewhere in the material.

Next year’s the big-ass EuroPride in Amsterdam, a two full weeks and probably a festival with activities on an even bigger scale than this year. I’d hope we can get a group together for that and visit.

Until then, I’m back to finding spaces with open-minded people and figuring out what I like as demisexual and how to express that in a heterosexual-normative world. I’ve won another measure of self-acceptance and that, that’s the true treasure I’m taking away from that week.

Further reading

  1. The first part, “I am neither straight nor queer” can be found through the link. More posts in the series can be found via the “demisexual satisfaction” category or the “sex-like” tag.

Images: mine 🙂

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Posted on August 15, 2015, in Demisexual satisfaction and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Whatever positive feelings I have about pride are definitely very similar to yours. It is a space where non-normative sexualities belong and aren’t just an outlier/exception, and it’s amazing how much usually unnoticed tension gets lifted when I enter queer spaces.

    I do want to make one minor note though : the hetero couples you were wondering about at pride may not have consisted of hetero people. Bi and pan and queer people can be in apparently hetero relationships.

    Hell, most straight people mistake me and my spouse-perspn for a hetero couple (which would be funny if it wasn’t so invisibilizing of so much our lives and experiences :/ ). Be careful who you assume to be straight (or for that matter, cis), especially at pride! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Kasey, yup, very good point, I really couldn’t assume anything about anyone specific. That you couldn’t tell, or know about any one person, was one of the big assets of the event.

      And yeah, it’s cool right, and kinda hard to explain when you haven’t actually felt it yourself… so that took me a while :-/

      Liked by 2 people

  2. hey i loved this post (and your blog in general) thank you so much for sharing your journey

    Like

  3. Hi! I live in Amsterdam and have been identifying as asexual for almost a year now. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend pride this summer. But I was wondering, did you see more representation of the ace spectrum this year? Also, do you know of any groups or such for asexuals in the city?

    Like

  4. Great post! I’m also living in the Netherlands and identify as somewhere on the asexual spectrum. Pride last year was spectacular and yes, there was an asexual boat. Not sure if it was some kind of society or what, but I’d like to find out.

    Liked by 1 person

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