How two members from across the generations are finding their pride

How two members from across the generations are finding their pride | Soho House

Marco Alessi is a 29-year-old film director and screenwriter; Quinton Jenkins is a 65-year-old community activist. Here, they tell us what pride means to them

Monday 5 June 2023    By David Levesley

Throughout its fraught and vital history, Pride as an event has worn many hats: as a riot, as a celebration, and is often accused in recent years of becoming overly capitalist. But when we sat down with two of our queer members from different continents and different generations, it turned out to be a crisis that Pride has had for decades. 

Marco Alessi is a 29-year-old film director and screenwriter; Quinton Jenkins is a 65-year-old community activist, event coordination consultant, and also plays globally as DJ Nathan Quinn. They sat down to discuss how 1980s Arizona and 21st-century London compare, and how pride can be sought both internally and externally.

Quinton Jenkins: ‘I came out to my parents as bi when I was 13 years old and they were really cool about it. My first Pride – in my late twenties, early thirties – was in Phoenix, Arizona in the early 1980s. Everything I saw on the parade upset me: there were people with seven foot dildos. People who were scantily clad. As a dancer I never had a lot of body shame, but I didn’t like it at all, because I didn’t see me. And, of course, it was in Arizona – so I didn’t see any little chocolate drops, or any little caramel drops along the way. 

‘At first, I didn’t know if I could find much pride in that. But that made me do a deeper level dive into why these people were marching and what the whole thing was all about. And then I understood – because that was during the era of act up – it was a protest, and it was meant to be in your face. And it was allegorical, but at the time it was everything that I didn’t want to be.’

How two members from across the generations are finding their pride | Soho House

Marco Alessi: ‘Hearing you talk about that I had a flashback to my first moment at Pride. I was probably 15, and me and my friend broke into the party in Trafalgar Square. 

‘Everyone was wasted, and they were having the most fun. I remember feeling an enormous gulf between what I was trying to find by being there and what this event was. I didn’t want to undo or change the nature of the fun people were having, but I had quite a tender, nascent thing happening.

‘I think what you articulated so beautifully was my experience of pride through an organisation. When I was walking with The Food Chain in 2019, which is an HIV charity, it had recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, and it was on the brink of financial collapse. And so the motivation behind the walk was to help save The Food Chain. We were walking on foot and we had a megaphone to shout at people, as well as buckets and leaflets to invite people to donate and learn more about it. But in front of us was a massive float for a corporate entity, and behind us was another one, both on lorries with boom boxes, music, 40 absolutely wasted people that were just there to party, and no one could hear us. And we were walking between these two lorries, inaudible. I was absolutely fuming.’

‘All that matters is we’re a contextualisation of humanity that confronts societal norms’
Quinton Jenkins

QJ: ‘One of the few positive things that I did take away from it, even then, was that I was surprised to see corporations and I thought, “Oh, I didn’t know they had gay people who worked at American Express.’ I did see that there was some representation, even if in a poorly configured context.

MA: ‘That’s really interesting, because it continues to be a question: what’s the purpose of the Met Police having a float? I don’t want to dismantle other people’s Pride to create more space for my own – everyone’s need for a self-realized space is really important, but there’s probably just smarter ways to negotiate it.’

QJ: ‘Pride has a higher responsibility, in my opinion, to be an example, to do some real good in the community. In Phoenix we have a scholarship fund that benefits the youth – and the money is raised by the contestants for Mr. and Mrs. Pride here.

‘Why is it that we’re free to be the most debaucherous, the lesser angels of our nature? I don’t think that’s indicative of the reason people are coming out to march. This is the thing that people forget – they think it’s just, “Oh, I need to put on my angel wings and be the fiercest fag I can be.” Well, darling, I mean, that’s a part of the lens, but it’s not the whole enchilada.’

MA: ‘I guess to push back, that’s why it’s great when people turn up to Pride in fetish wear, because then we can say, ‘OK, corporate entity that wants the pink pound, you can have that money but you’ve got to acknowledge this pup who is wearing nothing but a jockstrap and a mask around your employees as a customer.’ If you’re gonna rinse us for our alleged expendable income, you need to be happy with those people, too.’ 

QJ: ‘I was a song and dance man, which gave me a way to live around the planet and get some of the perspective that just being in a city wouldn't have afforded me. It proved to me the value of Prides and what they do when they’re in their ideal configuration. What they can stand for and how they are able to massage society at large in ways that are helpful to the entire society. 

‘We as humans – this is the thing that just really irks me – we have been forced into these boxes: guys have to be guys, girls have to be girls, and then all of these subcategories.’

How two members from across the generations are finding their pride | Soho House

‘At 15, I remember feeling an enormous gulf between what I was trying to find by being at Pride and what this event was’ 
Marco Alessi

MA: ‘We come at this from very different worlds of experience – and also breadths of experience, in terms of the life you’ve lived. But the way you’re speaking, there’s a beautiful structural parallel in what stepping into identifying as non-binary meant for me.

‘I felt these moments of friction, where I saw gayness manifest in someone else and the power with which they embodied that gayness, and I felt aping it would give me some of their power. I always felt the conditioning of being a particular type of gay person, or a particular type of male person, or a particular type of effeminate person. 

‘There’s a beauty in people I think ultimately asking for so many different categories that they are purposefully exploding it all. It’s getting us to a point where they’re making the idea of identity so diffuse, and hyper-gradated, that it becomes meaningless. What we’re saying about identity and experience is that it’s infinite and ongoing, and intensely personal. And also a product of constantly evolving and changing intersections, and constellations of experience and selfhood.’

QJ: ‘I’m trying to keep my pride torch burning by uplifting my other LGBTQIA+s. I think that’s a part of my mission in life – to help assist other people’s joy, within the context of what I know is helpful and good for me as well. That’s how I would try to invite people to focus on their better angels and use that at the forefront of their interactions with the greater world. Pride is an internal disposition, not an external gift.’

MA: ‘I think I have landed on a fairly well articulated idea of who I am. On the way there have been stepping stones – friendships and interactions with people of a different generation. Initially, quite small ones: a gay teacher at my school called Benedict, who acted as a kind of figurehead for a certain version of queerness and unapologetic queerness. Then there are significant allies: my dad used to run bars in the 1990s, and would proudly hire gay people in the knowledge that they weren’t being hired elsewhere because of AIDS stigma. 

‘Even more recently, I’ve had the enormous privilege and joy of working a lot with four members of The London Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, each of whom has left an incredible fingerprint on some aspect of British queer history. It’s made my queerness feel storied. I feel I owe something back to it and I feel held by it, even when I’m not in close proximity to those people that I’m talking about. It makes me feel part of a legacy and a community. And that’s been one of the most nourishing and important things in my life.’

QJ: ‘My husband and I are Founder members at Soho House Barcelona. From the moment I started going I felt embraced, I felt acknowledged, and that’s the same in every House we visited. I always felt like I didn’t have to have any blinders on or guards up. I could just be. But in the gay community itself, there’s all of these gradations. All that matters is we’re a contextualisation of humanity that confronts societal norms. There’s never been a real acknowledgement of the uniqueness that each one of us possesses. We are all unprecedented. So why continue to try to say I need to fit in a box?’

Read our article on the radical power of finding your pride.