I’ll never forget my first Gay Pride. It was just a few summers ago.
“A few summers ago? You’ve been out for years, though. Didn’t you come out in 199…?” Shhh! A diva never reveals his true age in public. But alas, yes, I had managed to go through several years of being out, loud and proud without stepping foot into a gay festival or parade (unless you count that wet underwear party a friend of mine threw in his dorm room, but that’s neither here nor there.)
It’s not that I never had an interest in going to one, you see. Every year something seemed to take precedent over me actually attending. You know the drill. You’re either working, sleeping (preferably with some hottie), or working. And besides, I really didn’t need to go to a park to hang out with a thousand gay men and lesbians, did I? Isn’t that what college life was for?
Well, the summer of 2003 was the year all that changed.
My best friend was in the process of getting married, and after nearly a year of helping her plan her special day, I was suffocating on, no offense, the straight fumes. I was dying to be among my own tribe. My salvation came in the form of a work assignment. I was friends with a pair that happened to own and run a local gay themed business. And like many local gay merchants during Pride, they closed the store those days, and took it on location, setting up booths at the festivities. My friends asked if I would be interested in tagging along and helping out. I couldn’t think of a reason not to, so I said sure.
So there I was that bright, sunny day in July, decked out in my flashiest summer wear, a bright red sequined shirt, jean shorts that gave the illusion that my ass is not as wide as the Grande Canyon (just the illusion, mind you, I’m not totally oblivious to the truth), pride beads, and my blonde hair piled high up on my head, curled, teased and sprayed within an inch of its life, topped off with a rainbow scarf. To some, I could have been mistaken as one of the floats traveling the parade route, but I didn’t care. I had gotten myself pumped up and was exited to be there.
My excitement was only rivaled by amazement. I had no idea just how spectacular Pride really could be. To see so many of my gay brothers and sisters out there celebrating was quite a sight. And so many different facets of gay life as well. Big, small, old, young, nelly, butch, black, white, what have you. Everyone was represented and it was a beautiful thing.
I danced along to the thumpa-thumpa blasting from the speakers. I sang along with the drag queens performing on the main stage. I laughed and frolicked through the sea of smiling gay faces around me. I met new friends, and ran into some old ones I hadn’t seen in a while. I even managed to actually help the friends that invited me. It was such an uplifting experience.
At the end of the day, I found myself sitting on a bench, drenched in sweat, my big blonde hair shot all to hell from all the heat and activity (note to self: humidity, hairspray, and bleached hair can only lead to bad, bad things), smoking a cigarette, beaming from ear to ear. I finally understood what all the fuss was about. I couldn’t help but regret that it took me so many years to be a part of it. If I had only known, I would have made attending Pride a priority.
Some people might not understand what the need for Gay Pride is. You often hear the joke, “What about Straight Pride?” Well, considering we live in a world built for straight folk, what about it? I think my straight counterparts have reasons to celebrate everyday. It’s not my fault they choose not to.
The reality is, Gay Pride is not just a party. It is and can be a personal celebration. I will choose my right to celebrate the Pride I do have for myself and the group I am proud to be among. And in doing so, not only might I feel a little better about myself, I will remember and acknowledge the gay men and women before me that risked their lives to provide me such an outlet. To me, that is need enough.
Essential Download: "As Long As He Needs Me"
Artisit: Judy Garland.
Available On: That Old Feeling
Originally published in the July 2005 issue of The Empty Closet, New York State’s Oldest Continuously-Published GLBT Newspaper, published since 1973 by the Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley.