Saturday, August 2, 2008

True Pride Is but a Ferry Away

It's Gay Pride Weekend in Vancouver. I stopped going for many years. I did not feel a renewed sense of pride and affirmation from watching twenty-year-old go-go boys toss chains of colored plastic beads. Women in pasties on motorcycles did not do it either. With Amy Winehouse prominent in the press these days, I do not think drag queens with four foot high beehives will do it either. (Really...never did. At least they would make me crack a smile.)

Last year I took the ferry over and attended with a friend. We did not watch with the masses on a street curb. In the wisdom that comes with maturity--and, you might say, sucks the fun out of everything--we made brunch reservations at a trendy restaurant on the parade route. As I took dainty bites of multigrain French toast with blueberry coulis, shirtless boys (some scrawny, some enviously buff) and men (some sporting middle-aged muffin tops in the midriff, all lacking a sense of acting with proper restraint) waved and danced from floats. I smiled with satisfaction, knowing that I could watch without inhaling secondhand cigarette smoke and without having to hear a stranger named Bertha loudly give a parade play-by-play. ("Oh, look. I think that's Meg's float coming next. No, it's another group of men with leis and hula skirts.")

When we had finished our meal, the parade was still in full procession. We decided to brave the elements and mix with the street folk. Being tall, I had the advantage of looking over walls of people and having a full view of the parade from any spot on the route. My friend is shorter so we walked along until finding a slight opening for full viewing.

It was there that I recalled the power of a Gay Pride Parade. As young boys whooped it up on floats, I looked at their faces instead of their bodies. Grins. Eyes dancing. They looked truly proud. The obscure act of standing in a flatbed and chucking beads or condoms or promotional fliers for a bar was an act of freedom. Look at me. Look at me. Yes, I'm gay. In your face! After the struggles with identity during adolescence and the harshness of gay taunts before these boys had fully understood or accepted their gayness, this was a time for holding nothing back. The crowd was friendly and the cheers a resounding sign that, in this place and in this moment, any lingering self-doubt or angst had no place. Even an uncomfortable gawker in the crowd could not and would not rain on the parade. This is my moment.

I flashed back to Los Angeles, September 1990, my first Gay Pride Parade. I watched alone. As one in the crowd, I felt an affinity with the Berthas, Bettys and Howards near me. I eavesdropped and lapped up their comments as the parade passed by.  My eyes must have bulged in awe at the daringness of the (lack of) costumes sported by gays and lesbians in convertibles, on floats, in marching groups. I breathed in the air of acceptance, knowing I was witnessing a gay event with tens of thousands of supporters. Gay was okay. No, gay was It. That night, I watched the local news to catch its coverage which was mainly limited to shots of flamboyant drag queens. At that time, I had no objections. I did not worry that the viewing public would generalize based on a limited representation. Basically, I did not think. I felt.