I was standing in front of "The Duchess," a lesbian bar in Greenwich Village. I had just moved to New York City. I was 17 years old.
I had found the courage to leave home, but the courage to walk into the Duchess? My feet were frozen to the concrete.
An androgynous woman wearing a leather jacket, her brown hair slicked back, stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. She looked at me and snickered as she sucked her Marlboro. I ran all the way to the Sheridan Square subway station.
By the time I mustered up the courage to enter a women's bar, the Duchess had closed. I went to "Peaches and Cream," a friendly joint on the Upper East Side.
I can't describe the sensation of walking into a bar filled with gay women. It felt a bit like being lost in a candy store where I was too terrified to touch the candy. Thankfully, some of the older women in the bar felt a maternal instinct toward the terrified teenager and welcomed me heartily.
It was like finding a family I didn't know I had lost.
Being gay was something I'd kept on the inside. Being hurt, ostracized, cat-called, or worse, those were all real possibilities for being "out" in the 1980s. But at "Peaches," I felt free to be exactly who I was: a young woman who loved women.
I grew up fast ... joined in gay pride marches, fell in and out of love several times, took part in New York City's first glamour dyke parties, and years later with my bodacious partners threw our own women's parties. We called ourselves "Nasty Girl Productions," and we sure were.
Over those years, the world changed, too. I remember when walking down the street holding my girlfriend's hand risked a gay bashing, now I see young happy women holding hands all the time. They don't think about homophobia. The world is their oyster, and I'm happy for that. I am happy for them.
Gay marriage has become legal in a boatload of states, including New York, and at long last gay marriage has gotten its well-deserved federal rights. Thank you, Edie Windsor!
The gay pride parade is now less a symbol of overcoming oppression and more a great chance for advertisers to make Gay Money.
A lot of my pals don't even go to the parade anymore. "It's too hot. It's too crowded. We're too old."
But I still go.
Every year in Manhattan on the last Sunday in June, I love to cheer the marchers on and wave my handmade signs. "Gay caterers spice it up" was last year's sign. This year, it's "Gay chefs sizzle!" I hoot and holler until I'm hoarse.
All that joy is exhausting.
For me this day, is not just about celebrating, or partying; it's a family reunion for thousands and thousands of relatives I never knew existed.
It's our day.
It is PRIDE.