During Boston Pride this past weekend, I had a lot of conversations about Gay Pride in general. Many well-meaning, highly-educated people asked, "Is this something that we still need?"
Yes. Now, more than ever, we need pride and Pride.
I've never really thought of Joan Rivers as an inspirational figure. I'm probably not alone in that prejudice. But as I was listening to Terri Gross interview Joan Rivers about her new book, I was absolutely transfixed. Mesmerized. I don't know a lot about Rivers, but listening to her talk about her childhood and self-loathing, I realized that she was right on the money:
"I watch the television show Glee. That wasn't my high school. In my high school, the fat girl was not popular. In my high school, the homosexual was running. But not running and dancing -- he was running for his life. I just find that most of us went through very rough times growing up."
Growing up, I always knew that pride was a sin. My parents were good at keeping me humble whenever I had the gumption to brag. But pride is sometimes a good thing, as Joan Rivers knows, and it doesn't always goeth before the fall. After all, it's easy to fall when you're running for your life.
The paradox of living in a liberal city is that as a city becomes more gay friendly, gays become more integrated. For better or worse, integration means fewer gay businesses, fewer gay events, and a more diffused gay community. But there aren't enough of us to stand out unless we gather together.
And in cities like Boston, the struggle for gay rights can seem far away at times, even though it may be just outside of the city limits, or just around the corner at a middle-school playground. We donate and rally and debate which case will make it to the Supreme Court first, all the while forgetting the small, incremental, painful steps that it took to get us so tantalizingly close to marriage equality.
Gay pride reminds us that we need to gather, annually and unapologetically. Though many of us are trading glowsticks for pacifiers, we should never delude ourselves into thinking that there will be some magical moment when we can melt seamlessly into the fabric of any community.
Take the honest-to-God simple miracle of any average evening. Sam and I -- unabashed mainstreamers from North Carolina -- will probably be having dinner with another couple. Or two. And they probably won't be gay. And we probably won't think for a moment about the fact that our closest friends are straight allies for us. We take them for granted.
Sam and I have grown so comfortable here over the past four years. It's easy to forget the times when we lived in anxiety. Fear. When we walked into a dimly-lit restaurant and got puzzled looks. When someone yelled at us out a car window.
But the importance of pride really crystallized for me when our straight ally's sister came to visit for Boston Pride. Let's call her Bella. She's in high school, as is her friend. Her gay friend. Let's call him Edward (sorry, it was too easy).
Now, when I was 16, the last thing I was thinking about was gay pride. I was more focused on trying to achieve heterosexuality through prayer and some other dubious techniques.
So seeing gay youth at Pride fills me with, well, pride. And a little bit of envy, if I'm being totally honest. Yet Ed comes from a small town on Cape Cod, where there is no gay community. Zilch. There is nothing nearby after school -- nothing for miles. There is only the realization of isolation, and the furtive trips to Boston, where 16-year-olds can't go to bars, but they can walk around and see that there is something else.
Like Joan Rivers said, we are still running for our lives. As 20-somethings with strong careers, Sam and I run for the lives we want to live, unfettered. Sometimes we forget to take a breath. We have built a safe space, financially and professionally and emotionally and lovingly. But we are the lucky ones. It's easy for gays like us to say, "We don't need parades anymore. We don't need Pride."
We aren't the ones still trying to survive.