Mad Pride: What Is Canada Doing?
I’m Mad and I’m proud. Maybe some of you are, too. I’d define Mad Pride as an international movement which celebrates the achievements and experiences of those who acknowledge their mental, spiritual, emotional, cognitive, psychological and behavioural Otherness. We’re not about diagnoses or psychiatry: some of us are against these things, while some are not. Fundamentally, it’s up to individuals to find themselves and represent. Some of us Pridesters are very political, while others have adopted the badge of “Mad” merely in defiance of social convention. It’s all cool, it’s all mulligatawny. Like Queer, Mad means many things to many people.
Now, while Mad Pride is international in scope, it originated in Toronto. So you’d think that we Canadians would be the be-all and end-all of the movement, right? Er, perhaps not. And some of us want to know why.
My great friend, fellow Pridester and blogger/activist/cartoonist extraordinaire Sarafin sent me this link to an Australian Mad Pride event. It was surprising for several reasons, not the least of which was that it indicates a more comprehensive and diverse approach to Mad Pride than you might get close to home. And it’s not just Australia. Mad Pride is huge in many other parts of the world. Take a look.
Our Pride events are somewhat different. (This is us, from last year, doing the closing Bed Push up Queen Street.) Toronto Pride, to the best of my knowledge, seems to have emphasized the political aspects of Madness — legal issues, poverty, housing, social justice. Of course, that’s not a problem. The problem is that under the title of Mad Pride, the Australian video shows many enthusiastic, engaged people participating in a whole range of cultural activities. And while we don’t neglect creativity, it seems that this year’s Pride is in fact going to be a landmark in that it aims to be far more artistic and celebratory of our culture than ever before.
Then note the demographics. If Australia is to be trusted on this, there are quite a few John and Jane Q’s, out, about and proud to be Mentally Interesting. This is nothing like the Toronto experience, which is that of an ardent, but small community, principally of local activists. Case in point: when I attended Mad Pride last year, I was met with pleased astonishment by more than one participant. Seems I was the first out-of-towner to attend since, well, since they could remember….
So, what gives? Why are we so modest? Where’s the full range of Mad experiences? Where are the media? Where are the parents walking hand-in-hand with their kids? Where are the teenagers, testifyin’? Where are the craft tables? I’m not talking about commercialization or trivialization: quite the opposite. I’m talking about spreading our bird-of-paradise wings and living up to our Pride.
I thought deeply on it, and came to the following realizations/conclusions.
1) Outside of a tiny handful of specific issues (the environment, for example, or power generation, or labour relations), Canadians are utterly apathetic. We only seem interested in glamour causes or things which mess with our chequebooks, and anything grass-roots is looked upon as hippie-punk-youth-pinko bullshit. Note that in Oz, voting is mandatory: you’re kind of confronted with politics no matter what. Doesn’t mean they’re more interested or informed, but I suspect that Aussies just might be, if only marginally.
2) Australian Mad Pride obviously has backers, or powerful allies. The video is by Reach Out, an Australian youth mental health campaign affiliated with an organization started by this man. Sure, we too have campaigns like this. The most “famous” is mindyourmind. But how many governmental and non-governmental orgs want to hitch their cart to the Mad Pride pony? Canadians are too wussy and repressed (innate social conservatism?) to ever associate the word “Mad” with any part of a big-time mental health initiative. Our public education campaigns are about “stigma,” bullying, suicide prevention, etc. (more on that below), and officialdom doesn’t want to even consider the idea that some of us have reclaimed the term “Mad,” let alone think of Madfolk as having a culture, let alone one worth celebrating (see above, under “hippie-punk-youth-pinko bullshit,” or below, under “strident, extreme, grubby and too damn weird”).
3) As far as the Mad community is concerned, given that the network of strong, independent, funded and/or assisted(!) grassroots activist organizations was destroyed as part of the restructuring of the various service delivery schemes (i.e., the onset of the notorious CTO), we’re left with OPDI and stuff like that. Not very conducive to independent action. CMHA and OPDI just kinda do the “Relax, we’ll take it from here” thing, and anyone who wants to start a new organization that doesn’t toe the offical line is destined to scrounge. I long for the days when Irit Shimrat, Pat Capponi and their cohort first burst on the scene, kicking asses and taking names.
Sure, many people still have that fire. But I think that it’s a completely different battle now. My fear is that the whole culture of mental health is pitted against us in a more subtle way than before, in a way that we have yet to successfully combat.
In the past, before there was any attention given to Mad issues, and all hospitals were effin’ dungeons, and when you got out you went straight to a rooming house and pretty much automatically lost your job and had to fight like a bastard just to get Welfare and couldn’t expect to qualify for Disability unless you were all-out incapacitated, there were a manageable number of identifiable, substantive issues that hardcore activists could sink their teeth into. But what’s the story nowadays? The old problems are still there, of course, but there are two new fangs to this rattlesnake:
A) The impact of officialdom, or “divide and conquer.” Once the grassroots Mad activists dispersed, the official, officious, technocratic groups were all but installed, with a whole different demographic as a constituency : the “Consumer / Survivors” (ouch!). In other words, the mandate of these groups is not full-on political and legal reform, or social justice, but the fighting of “stigma” and the provision of public education on conditions and symptoms.
Nothing wrong with that – indeed, it’s important. But it’s not a replacement for what we Madfolk devised, and it doesn’t respond to what we need! We represent the poor. The non-conformists. The questioners. The free thinkers. The rejecters who wish to Occupy Psychiatry. The ones the system doesn’t like, can’t figure out, doesn’t know what to do with. Or the ones who want a better system all-round, one which is more progressive and healthy for all of us, should we chose to use the system or not.
B) The impact of the public. The growing awareness of mental health issues has paradoxically hurt those of us who identify as Madfolk, because that awareness is based on psychiatry, which is a very conventional paradigm of health. More than ever, people are talking about mental health issues, and reading up on all their conditions. But they are also being blitz-marketed by Big Pharma and DSM-addled shrinks who are putting everyone and their gerbil in treatment.
But note that the heyday of activism, not uncoincidentally, was during the days before the Net and before the recent explosion in diagnoses. As a result, when once those who identified as Madfolk were pretty much the only ones saying anything at all about mental health, nowadays it’s on everyone’s mind, and with the veritable “normalization” of mental illness, those who identify as Mad activists now come off as strident, extreme, grubby and too damn weird. To use a likely inappropriate analogy, in the world of Queerness, we’re not the fashionable, handsome, perfectly groomed yuppie. We’re a bear. A tranny bear. A diesel tranny bear.
4) Getting back to Canadian Mad Pride. Clearly, if we want to have any breadth, depth, and wow-factor impact, we’d have to become strange bedfollows to someone. We’d have to hit up OPDI or MIAW. Or CMHA. Or CAMH. We’d have to go corporate, and hit up Bell (which has an active programme for mental health issues: it’s one of their pet causes: ferpetesakes, that’s pretty golden, for how many corporations even want to touch our issues?). We’d have to hit up local colleges and universities – York University got the whole Mad Student Society ball rolling (and their faculty includes this man, Geoffrey Reaume), U of T has clout out of sheer size, and Ryerson is the home of Disability Studies (and this man, David Reville). All colleges have nursing; Humber even has a program in Psychosocial Rehab, as does Durham. Even school boards can be brought alongside.
In the end, I’m left only with questions. How should our bird-of-paradise fly? That is, what do we want Mad Pride to be? How FUBU (for us, by us) do we want to be/remain? Is there some sort of standard of authenticity to which we must aspire? Are the Aussies (and others who have backing) sell-outs? We are by definition outside the majority of paradigms. Can we be a part of them, bending them to our will? Do we have the critical mass to Occupy Psychiatry? Is there a solution to toiling away in obscurity? Frankly, I have no answers. That’s because I never have answers, only questions. Yes, that may make me annoying, especially because I really would rather be part of the solution than simply be a gadfly. But of course, there are a lot of mysteries that stump the Ritaler.