Just as I was beginning to take in the enormity of SF Pride ‘96, we were offered “Parade Brownies” – $10 each and wrapped in rainbow plastic wrap. We were young, but not stupid, and thrilled to further amp up the day. The pot took a while to hit us, but it was worth the wait, when as our sensory experience peaked, cabaret singer Sharon McNight’s float rose up over a hill, eliciting cheers and tears as she vociferously belted out her version of “Over The Rainbow” on a loop.
As a budding New Old Gay, I was delighted with this change in soundtrack from the club hits of 1996 (“And I miss you, like the deserts miss the rain. And I miss you . . . ”). My sense of belonging to this group of people, of this being my Pride, was overwhelming.
I happened to be home in L.A. for Pride 1997, and what my reverie lacked in San Francisco magic, I made up for with substance ingestion. The day started out with me taking a gay friend from college to shroom with straight friends from (straight) High School. Showing up unapologetically in some ridiculous electric blue synthetic fibers, promptly announcing we had to run off to West Hollywood for Gay Pride, and yet, being met with such acceptance, admiration even, by these people, from whom I had felt so alienated growing up gay, was exhilarating. I was Proud!
The wild night that followed, snorting up every amphetamine and horse tranquilizer on Santa Monica Boulevard (and tearfully confessing my undying love to a total stranger), however, left me burnt out cracking “Gay Shame” jokes.
You couldn’t have paid me to spend Pride 1998 anywhere but San Francisco, and my beautiful City by the Bay did not disappoint. At the time, I was directing a production of Paul Rudnick’s Jeffrey in the Castro, so the marketing opportunity of the Parade was a no-brainer. In order to be permitted to march last minute, we had to coordinate our appearance with a U.C. Berkeley campus activist group, and I wound up dating one its leaders for my remaining months in the Bay Area. I’ll always feel romantically nostalgic when I remember how beautiful he looked marching that day, wearing yellow barrettes to match his organization’s yellow t-shirt. The confluence of activism and sexuality and gender play was liberating and empowering and hot. Once I moved to New York, I began hosting an annual Pride brunch for my friends and their friends to kick off the day in style and steak and eggs. The brunch would always begin with us, exfoliated, moisturized and dolled up in our chicest breathable fabrics (Pride is to New Old Gays as Easter is to little Christian girls?), throwing back Bloody Marys and Mimosas and making decreasingly coherent declarations of our friendship and unity. One thought I regularly recycled in my toasts was the idea that our generation is known for its disaffectedness and our community for its lack of leadership, but that when I looked around at the people close to me, I saw the most brilliant, passionate, committed and caring minds and hearts and souls, and how proud I was to know them and know that our future is in our hands. That always played like gangbusters!
Each year, high on hooch and ourselves, we would promenade down Fifth Avenue, stopping here and there for fifteen or fifty minutes to enjoy the parade of hot guys and that triumphant energy unique to the crowds at any Pride, as well as the actual Parade/March itself. The question was always what to do next. We would pool together as many house party invitations as we could for more boozing and cruising and ultimately, the night would wind down as we made our separate ways home or to the bars, always eschewing the Dance on the Pier, as we are not circuit boys.
Last year, though, I once again joined in the commercial side of Pride, riding the HX Magazine float to promote Alec Mapa: America’s Gaysian Sweetheart which I was producing at Joe’s Pub. The float was done up to look like a giant bed with Alec on top, surrounded by a couple dozen underwear-clad porn stars, prostitutes and actor-waiters. Although I assure you my shirt stayed on — I was painfully aware of being the only person aboard without six-pack abs.
I decided to get off the vehicle, reasoning that I would be more useful handing out flyers for Alec’s performance that night, which only made me feel more removed, excluded. Just then, the sky exploded in a torrential downpour. It had been hot and humid so the rain was somewhat welcome, but we all got soaked, drenched, it was almost like drowning – seriously, so much so that my phone, in my pocket, died.
And then, for a moment, I felt as if there were no hotties and notties – we were all just wet people laughing together about our useless cellphones, washed away contact lenses, running mascara. The sun came out, and I let go of my petty vanity and insecurity, and, right there, I felt like a part of something bigger again.
That connected feeling, belonging to a larger whole, has stayed with me, and even been intensified, much of this past year. Although I was a supporter of Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign long after the zeitgeist had abandoned her, I, like many, found my transition to the Obama bandwagon surprisingly seamless and, perhaps unsurprisingly, a tremendous jolt of energy. I will forever treasure my memory of the midnight hour, November 3, 2008, when hundreds of hipsters clinked and clanked down Bedford Avenue, past my apartment window, banging pots and pans and drums and blowing flutes and horns and harmonicas celebrating Obama’s win, our win. I was part of something not just bigger, but big — I was part of a movement.
And the passing of Proposition 8 in California did not deter this feeling of victory, but, rather, called it to duty, to action. Days later, I participated in my first political rally outside the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, marching en masse down to Columbus Circle.
In the last few months, riding the daily rollercoaster of Gay Rights rulings and repudiations, I have marveled at how personal the political not just is, but feels. I used to feel like a Politics dilettante, who could sometimes talk the talk, but would rather re-watch Patti LuPone’s Tony Awards performances than engage in current affairs. Somehow, lately, I have felt directly involved in and affected by everything going on in the world around me. I don’t just feel obligated to care. I care.
And yet, as this year’s Pride approached, I recoiled at the idea of marching, of spending the day expressing something pointed and specific. I yearned for a day to revel in my life as a liberated New Old Gay, so lucky to be living in this city in this century. In this period of taking a stand every day, I wanted Pride to be a celebration and, so, it was back to brunch and boozing and boys with my buddies.