By mid-May, all of Boystown was buzzing about the planned events and the parties. I was amazed at how big it would be. There were parties the night before the parade, parties the morning before the parade, parties right after the parade, parties the night of the parade, parties the day after the parade. Parties, parties, parties. The stores in Boystown had signs up that said, "Get your new Pride outfit here!" "Buy your Pride party supplies here!" Oh great, I needed a new outfit and I needed party supplies. So how does all this relate to Gay Pride and the history of gay people and the fight for civil rights? How in all of this partying, did one celebrate their gay pride? I was conflicted, but excited none-the-less.
I didn't go out the night before the parade because I wanted to be well rested for what I thought would be a great and exhausting day of fun, community, brotherhood, sisterhood, solidarity, and above all hope. I showed up at a Pre-Pride Brunch and was immediately handed a Mimosa. I didn't drink my Mimosa, but I opted for some water and I made a plate of food. I was under the impression that I'd be spending the day with my small group of friends, but there were at least 75 people at this party, most of whom I didn't know. Being so new to all of this, I was immediately intimidated and I felt horribly out of place. To make matters worse, I felt invisible because no one acknowledged me. I tried to say a few hellos here and there, but was usually greeted with a "Who are you?" look. I did manage to find a few of my friends and we left the party and made our way to Halsted Street for the parade.
We arrived at Halsted Street and I stopped dead in my tracks at the sheer number of people there were lining the streets. Within just a few minutes, I realized I had lost my friends and was once again alone. Having just left the Army, I wore my dog tags to show I was a Gay Army veteran. Unbeknownst to me, dog tags had become a fashion accessory to gay men. There's didn't have the required Name, Rank, Serial Number, Religious Preference and Blood Type, but they still looked just like mine. So much for making a statement. I found where I could sit on the curb and I sat down and waited for the parade to start. By this point, Pride was already a huge disappointment to me. The community and hope aspect of it had already been washed away in the huge amounts of alcohol I had seen consumed before the parade even started. I could only imagine what the rest of the day would hold.
Then began the parade. Sure, there were a few groups marching like PFLAG, STOP AIDS, and such, but for every political group there were floats with half naked men, drag queens, strippers, leather daddies and dykes on bikes. It was very extreme. I didn't get what any of this had to do with being proud. I thought to myself, "We get ONE day to show the world that we're normal and deserve to be treated equally and on that one day we show up in gold lame shorts, high-heeled combat boots and body glitter. How in the hell am I ever supposed to convince my family that I'm not a freak when the one day the entire world has it's eyes on us, we look like freaks?"
Later that night I called an older gay friend of mine in another city and complained to him about my day and my opinion of the parade. He said to me, "Look, I know it's confusing for you. You just came out and you have this idea about what being gay means. You're young and hungry and you want to change the world. Don't be mad because we flaunt our sexuality on Pride day. We have to. It's the ONE day we get to cut loose. And forget about it being the one day the rest of the world sees us. It's the one day the rest of the world chooses to see us. And believe you me, even if we all showed up in business suits and ties, they would still see us as freaks of nature. So, loosen up, lighten up, buy a pair of hot shorts and go enjoy yourself."
I didn't say much to him. I understood where he was coming from, but it still didn't make sense to me. I still thought it was a conflicting message and I was conflicted. Did I just make this big deal about coming out to my family for nothing? Did I even want to be a part of the gay community? I didn't want to be a drag queen or a leather man and I didn't want to wear gold lame shorts and a boa. Did I have to change everything about myself to fit in? I thought the point was that I could just finally be myself and the only thing I'd have to change was lying about being gay. Pride Weekend changed my opinion of being gay and I pulled back from the gay community, the social scene and the few gay friends I had. I wasn't sure I wanted to be gay. I had started to wish I hadn't come out at all.
That was 19 years ago and I'm still rather conflicted on the way our community celebrates it's pride. The entire event seems to revolve around alcohol and parties. There are no rallies for rights, no public meetings or forums discussing how far we've come and how far we have to go. For the most part, Pride [here in Portland] is planned by a few older gay men. So our committee doesn't even really plan anything inclusive of the lesbians, bisexuals or trans-gendered people. It's also called Southern Maine Pride, but everything is celebrated in Portland and doesn't include the outlying communities. So how can a community celebrate their pride and solidarity when we are so segregated? And where are the history lessons? Where are the politicians? Where are the activists talking about rights? No where. It's all drag queens, leather daddies, boys in hot shorts, dykes on bikes and everyone is getting hammered. I didn't go out for Pride Weekend this year, but if I learned anything from Facebook it's that people got so drunk they barely remember the weekend or were so hungover they had to start drinking first thing in the morning just to get through the day. Happy Pride.
I'm no angel, that's for sure. I drink my fair share of alcohol and I know how to cut loose. But I also know when it's time to get serious and start talking about civil rights and what Pride truly means. Each year I publish a history lesson on my blog. I am a proud man. However, my pride lies in the sum of my parts and not just one aspect. I would never disassociate myself with being gay. I love and embrace all of my GLBT friends and family. I have friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-gendered, straight, black, white, old and young. To me it's about knowing and surrounding myself with good people. The "what" about them comes second.
I decided that this year I would something on Pride Weekend that I could be proud of. So I climbed the highest mountain in New England. Mount Washington. It was tough, but it felt good. Heck, as some people are still feeling their hangovers from the weekend, I'm still feeling the sore muscles from climbing a mountain. We climbed up past the tree line and then we climbed down in a torrential thunderstorm. It was crazy and amazing all at the same time.
Remember, this is MY opinion about Pride. If you disagree, write your own blog. I'm done censoring myself. I happen to know that many people share this opinion because of the conversations I've had over the last couple weeks. Also, don't think I'm an apathetic homo who sits on the sidelines waiting for someone else to do all the work. I spent my 20's researching gay history and volunteering for AIDS organizations, as well as campaigning for gay politicians. I have worked at Pride, donated my time to help with the festivities. I also offer discounted and free graphic design, writing and photography services to gay and lesbian small business owners. I give back to my community year round and I work hard to try and make a positive difference in the community as well.
Truthfully, I think part of the problem is that we are celebrating Pride in gay friendly cities is kind of redundant. We are free to be who we are every single day of the year. Our civil rights are fought for on election day and we are visible all the time. We have openly gay local celebrities, news anchors, politicians, musicians, etc. So why wouldn't Pride Day be a big party? It's the day we can stop taking things so seriously and just cut loose. However, I can guarantee you that in smaller cities and towns across the country where its not safe to be out, they understand the true meaning of Pride Day and how important it is to make themselves visible and make a good impression on the ONE day they get. Where we usually want small towns to take cues on acceptance from bigger and more liberal cities, maybe the big cities need to take some cues from the smaller towns on the true meaning of gay pride and how to celebrate it.
If you would like to comment on this blog, do so, but understand my conditions. First of all, you offering your opinion on my opinion of Pride is redundant and a waste of space. So I won't publish those comments. I also won't publish comments that are hateful, rude or homophobic in any way. However, if you'd like to offer your OWN opinion about the state of Pride -- good or bad -- do so. I won't publish letters that solely bash the Pride committee or anyone else for that matter. What I will publish is your own experience with Pride. How it effects you and what you like and don't like about it. I do not have to publish your name and email on here, but you have to send it to me so I can verify you are the sender. Completely anonymous comments will never be posted.