I was reprimanded by an older friend for casually mocking this year's New York City Gay Pride parade. It's becoming an annual event.
Honestly, I'm beginning to re-think my opinion.
Every since the first one in June of 1970, New York City has hosted a Gay Pride parade. It's one of hundreds -- large and small -- occurring in communities all over the country this month. And, as predictable as June bugs in June, here come the round of eye-rolls, tongue-clicking criticisms, sarcastic blog posts and intellectual rants from "younger" gays about how the current Gay Pride parade is a tired, outdated, boring embarrassment that's outlasted its usefulness or relevance. You know that old chestnut.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm in agreement with most of those critical assessments. It's just that I'm getting as tired of hearing them now as I was originally tired of the parade itself... whenever that happened. It's hard to remember back that far.
Snarky anti-Pride parade critics, with their reusable punchlines, are beginning to sound like last year's comedians in sore need of fresh material.
And it's not just them. Older, pro-Pride parade champions who find criticisms of the parade distasteful make those whiny pundits on Fox News bemoaning the "War on Christmas" look hip by comparison.
Can someone please hit the reboot button? Not on the parade, but on the tired war over it.
Both sides need to face reality: the parade is less uncool than it is unstoppable. Impenetrable to decades of criticism, the Gay Pride parade's "brand" has become as age-old, well-worn and eternal as Kmart, The Miss America Pageant, The 700 Club or Madonna. Enthused participants and spectators still arrive by the bucketful for the event annually, creating a mile-long cavalcade that advances down Fifth Avenue, past countless Duane Reade stores and Subway sandwich shops in a newly corporatized Manhattan.
The reoccurring criticisms of the current Gay Pride parade are: it has become cheap, loud, gaudy, tasteless, uncool. Or, to put it in terms a gay hipster might relate to, it exhibits "unintentional irony." It "naively" succeeds at "dethroning the serious," existing in an "unexamined aesthetic" state. Last I checked those were all numbered rules in Susan Sontag's venerated 1964 essay "Notes on 'Camp,'" a hallowed Bible to gay snobs everywhere. So what excludes the Pride parade from being viewed as "camp?"
And forget the gays themselves for a minute. The Pride parade has outlived even its most stalwart critics. When is the last time you heard a conservative pundit or Republican politician cause a legitimate national stir by citing the S&M-clad dancers, topless lesbians on motorcycles and G-string-wearing muscle boys in their local parade as an affront to public decency? Rush Limbaugh gave up on that tired cliche a decade ago. And he's ancient!
I think it's time to embrace and cherish the parade's jaded, apathetic gay-identified disapprovers as a time-tested subculture of the modern Gay Pride picture itself. They've become part of the parade's "gaudy tastelessness" now too. Perhaps they could register their official non-attendance with the NYC Pride Committee, or march in a kind of conceptual "un-float," with a banner that reads "This Is Tired!" Maybe the parade's "Minute of Silence" could be used for them instead. Let's give them a voice. Let's acknowledge each other. Isn't the point of Gay Pride to be all-inclusive?
Gay-identified haters of the parade aren't "self-loathing" or "anti-gay," they're simply being observant, or even just growing up. Eventually becoming bored by the parade seems to be a gay "rite of passage" more deep-rooted than people realize.
I remember 1991 was the first year I danced in my underwear on a float in the parade, riding high above Fifth Avenue above a sea of screaming tourists.
Days before that year's event, I talked excitedly about it with artist (and early Andy Warhol comrade) Nathan Gluck, a lifetime resident of New York City and an out gay man in his 70's, who was a new friend at my first job in New York City. "Oh gawd," he groaned sardonically, "They still have that parade? What do they need it for now? They have ACT-UP." He apparently saw the successful AIDS activist group as a sort of replacement.
Surprised by his cynicism, I offered, "Well, the parade is a bit staid now, but I'm sure the first one was exciting."
"Must have been before my time," he quipped, age 72.
Days later, as I was jiggling down Fifth Avenue atop the HomoXtra float -- to what seemed like a seven-hour-long house remix of Sabrina Johnson's "Peace in the Valley" -- who did I spy behind dark glasses, waving with his cane and smiling at me as he eyed all the scantily clad boys? Like a lot of gay men, Nathan's political convictions had a line drawn at beefcake.
But I should have seen it coming. After a few years participating in the parade I soon found myself in Nathan's ranks. It was the summer of 1995. I joined friends rebelling against the idea of Gay Pride, which they jokingly re-dubbed "Gay Shame." We delighted spending the day avoiding the parade and festivities, un-celebrating by doing laundry or lounging around our air-conditioned apartments complaining of being bored. It felt fresh and exciting, even dangerous, to distance ourselves from Gay Pride and stake a new identity within the realm of homosexual mores.
That was more than 30 years ago. Last century.
The last I checked my cell phone clock we were still in the first stages of the 2010's. I say stop trying to ignore the Gay Pride parade to death, or strangle it with sarcasm. Give your retro-cynicism the stage hook. The Gay Pride parade isn't going anywhere. If you have to, allow it to become that tradition that you hate to do but do anyway, like Thanksgiving dinner with your family.
Our local upstate New York Pride parade -- held in the small town where I now live with my partner -- is a fairly new event. It was organized three years ago, despite repeated criticism from old-time locals. No, not the local Baptist church, but instead by middle-aged gay locals... refugees who had moved to places like upstate to escape the trappings of the city gay ghetto. "Please! Nooo!" they whined. Their protests fell on deaf ears. Gay Pride parades are like viruses, no matter where you go or what you do, there's always some new strain.
So I'm taking the risk: I've made a promise to join our local town's upstate Pride parade's "kazoo band" section, whatever the hell that is. I'm just showing up. All I know is I'm proudly bringing my own sense of "unintentional irony" to the celebration, and I hope they don't expect me to bring my own kazoo.