I have always been proud to be gay. If you presented me with the chance to flick a switch and turn myself 'straight' at any given moment since coming out of the closet at age 16, I would passionately choose to stay gay every time, no hesitation, no second thoughts. However, since taking that first step out of the closet, one part of gay culture that seemed like such a given and source of community to my fellow fairies, Gay Pride Week, had never interested me in the slightest. In fact, instead of seeing it as a celebration of myself and what it meant to be gay, I had always seen Pride Week and its festivities as somewhat of a relic, further codifying and perpetuating antiquated gay stereotypes and creating a series of images of "gayness" at its most flamboyant, images that I fervently did not identify with. Basically, seeing headdress-adorned drag queens and overly muscular men in speedos and various leather strap-wear dance to early '90s club hits on floats fully laced in rainbow sequins, while fantastic and honorable for anyone who identified with those images and certainly entertaining to watch, did not feel like a celebration of me or my gayness in any capacity. As a result, I had always chosen to steer clear.
As always, in the week leading up to the festivities this year, my gay friends started in with their annual "What are you doing for Pride!?" nag-a-thon. Many of my friends treat Pride week with a level of enthusiasm akin to their wedding day or the night before a new Robyn album drops and have always assumed that I, being gay, am equally over-the-moon-excited about running amok in cut-off booty shorts on a hot June day and possibly having hot alleyway sex with a member of New York's First Gay Soccer League (well, that actually does sound incredibly appealing, but I digress). My answer to them historically was a passive "um, nothing" except when it was a "wait, that's already happening again? I've never been." The absence of squeals of joy on my part had often been taken not just as an utter shock to the person on the receiving end, but even more as an affront to all gay-kind. I also often felt that my lack of interest in Pride Week was seen by my friends as an actual affront to my own gayness. "How are you a gay man who has not been to Gay Pride!?"
Ok, so confession time: I actually started writing this piece on the Friday before Pride kicked off under the title "Do I Have to Care About Gay Pride?" I was planning to raise questions about whether I had to feel connected to or participate in Gay Pride Week as a duty and obligation to my fellow homosexuals. I was conflicted, but set out to write feeling oddly content approaching the subject completely from the outside, convinced as I had always been that going to Pride was against what I stood for as an individual gay man. However, halfway through writing the article I realized what a, for lack of a friendlier term, cynical and ignorant bitch I was sounding like. It suddenly dawned on me that I was judging this annual bonanza of queer-dom without ever having participated in or witnessed it firsthand and that that was unacceptable. "I'll go, affirm that Pride glorifies every gay cliche since the dawn of sodomy, hate it, hate life, and then finish the piece with at least a few first hand-images to prove my point," I figured, acerbically. I called up my friend Patrick, a Pride veteran, and signed myself up to tag along with him and his gaggle of drag-queen roommates through the sweaty, hairy maze of the Sunday that ended Pride Week, the day that featured the infamous Gay Pride Parade down 5th Avenue.
I arrived in the West Village, hungover, bloated and exhausted from too many consecutive nights of work at around 230 p.m., my friend DJ Kalkutta in tow, hating that I was going to Pride more than ever and fully intending to dip within the half-hour. We had been texting Patrick all morning to little avail (he was wasted, obviously), so we just said "fuck it" and parked our worse-for-the-wear DJ caravan on 12th and 5th to watch the parade. Within five minutes, I began to see tons of folks I knew, including a guy who I had a dated a couple times and remained friendly with. I quickly noticed how nice it felt to see so many people from my life all gathering in one place on a Sunday, whatever the reason. Soon, the three of us, Kalkutta, my former paramour and I, were standing by the barricade and began to watch the floats pass by. Almost instantaneously, my shitty mood of that day, and indeed of the entire preceding 10 years regarding being an out-of-the-closet gay man bitterly rallying against Pride Week, began to gently wash away.
I was first struck by the sheer joy of the entire precedings. The spirit of the community, both throughout the vast mobs of people watching the parade from the sidelines and pulsing between us and those proudly marching down 5th Avenue, was utterly palpable. Everyone seemed, in retrospect unsurprisingly, thrilled to be there celebrating what has been a monumental year for gay people in this country, and especially in New York State. I was also pleasantly surprised and moved by the eclecticism of the entire affair. Of course, as expected, the parade featured a high quotient of flamboyance and more than a fair share (Cher?) of drag queens, ranging from the decidedly wretched to the undeniably spectacular (one Amy Winehouse queen was such a dead ringer that my crew was convinced we had seen a ghost). But more than that, there was every other kind of gay person, both witnessing and marching in the parade, that you could possibly want represented. There was the gay basketball league, gay Russian-Americans and groups of high school students both gay and straight all uniting to show support. There were the sons and daughters of gay parents, New York City Councilwoman Christine Quinn, the first openly gay speaker for the council and a float with Veterans of the Stonewall Riots. There were gay and straight families watching from the sidelines and cheering groups of gay teenagers dressed in rainbow tee-shirts and holding up clever signs. There were floats for both the League of Gay Lawyers and the Union of Gay Sex Workers. Even more touching was the open show of support from corporate America: Google had one of the biggest floats, but everyone from Citibank to NBC Universal were also heartily represented. Needless to say, the vitality, warmth, and overarching embrace of the entire affair had us all full-out raving to Rihanna songs with everyone else within five minutes of arriving and before we knew it, we had never even found Patrick and three hours had breezed by. At the expense of sounding like a cheese ball, the whole thing really did fill me with an overwhelming sense of pride: pride in being gay and pride that I lived in a city that fostered all these diverse groups of homos and the straights who supported us. More importantly, I left with the realization of how important it was for everyone to come together and acknowledge and celebrate both how far we've come as a culture and also how pertinent it is for us to stay united for the fight that we, meaning everyone in this country gay and straight, still have ahead of us.
As I left the parade, satisfied and feeling connected to the gay community and to my city in a way that I hadn't in a while, I realized that the stereotypes that I had so vehemently tried to avoid supporting by steering clear of Pride actually existed more in my own head than in reality. I saw how I had been viewing Pride from the same ignorant perspective as the people I feared were misperceiving what it meant to be gay by only being exposed to gayness through gay pride parades. As it turns out, I walked away from 5th Avenue feeling like this gay pride parade absolutely gave a fair and encompassing perspective on the totality of what it means to be gay, including what it was for me and how important it was for everyone to be taking a moment to really celebrate our culture. Later that day, Kalkutta suggested that next year we put together our own Nightlife Pride float during next year's parade. I will be riding front and center.
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