06/28/2012 05:21 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

My Pride Catharsis

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.