photos © 2019 the author
I don’t go to Pride much anymore. I started taking in the parade many years ago when it was just a bunch of queens whooping it up on Christopher Street — no floats, no soundtrucks, just an occasional Marilyn Monroe impersonator crawling on the hood of a convertible. I watched it grow, at first as full of defiance as of joy (my God, in front of St. Pat’s you could feel the rage like infrared waves); then, as treatments improved and the movement’s power grew, a celebration that everyone in New York wanted to be part of. I approved, but I also felt that it was, like the Village Halloween Parade, Wigstock, and Summerstage, one of the things that in my grumpy middle age I was over.
Then I left New York and Pride was just a non-starter because, like pizza and theater, it was bound to be inferior here. Which is ridiculous on its face — the DC gay scene and Capital Pride are massive — but I was by then an even grumpier old man than I had been a middle-aged one.
Well, I don’t know why — maybe I was just sick of being grumpy — but I attended this year and, though I had neither coterie nor margarita pitchers to buoy me, I was nonetheless uplifted. The parade had lots of pep, with politicians pandering and subgroups representing, twerking and queening and leaps of joy — and trans heartthrob Virginia state delegate (13th District) Danica A. Roem riding bitch!
I was surrounded by a largely young crowd and they were goofy with pleasure, cruising and slanging like their comfort zone had expanded like a giant airbag, pushing away all hint of negative vibes. (This was before the gun scare, which I fortunately missed — it was at the other end of the event.)
Maybe that’s how the kids are all the time. I thought of that as I watched them posing for selfies and screaming for the beads and candy thrown from the floats — if they had grown up forty years earlier, being who and what they were, how comfortable would they have been showing themselves like this, even at a gay pride event — assuming they could get to one?
Melted my old frosty heart, it did, which was further liquified by the #ageproud trolley-bus — sponsored by DC’s Department of Aging and Community Living, but reminiscent of SAGE back home, for LGBT elders who need help and, thanks to the strength and remembrance and (it has to be said) the affluence of the community, are getting it.
Some of these would be folks I saw on the scene back in the day — the ones that hadn’t been wiped out. The survivors, who remember the world Tom Duane, HIV+ New York state senator, describes in this 2009 floor speech (thanks to Bryant Park Blog for the transcript):
Every cold, every fever, every virus: I’m gonna die. That’s what it was like. Scared? No. Mad? You bet. Then they were, oh, you know this, this, uh, you know we could put you on this antibiotic for a while -- it will wreck your lungs but we’ll, we’ll, we’ll give you a few more weeks, here, try this, try this, uh, additive, maybe this’ll help. Nothing helped. Hundreds. Hundreds of my friends died and every day I thought that I could be the next one.
If you haven’t had a hard, cold wind up your spine in a while, watch the whole thing. I brushed away tears for the dead: Kid in my car pool in school, black sheep, men I worked with, and thousands that I and the rest of the world would never know.
Do the kids know? They learn them good, I’m told. (The theme of San Francisco Pride this year is “Generations of Resistance.”) They better know: We’re in a time when conservatives are salivating at the prospect of making abortion illegal, and if they’re willing to do that to straight women, imagine what they’ll do to gay people. Ed Kilgore has noticed an effulgence of rightwing rage coinciding with Pride month (evidenced by the loony alt-right Straight Parade) ; in Wisconsin, the first-ever flying of the Pride flag over the state capitol has been denounced by Republicans; at mainstream conservative events, speakers discourse on theocrat themes like “Society Has ‘Exchanged the God of Scripture for the God of Self.’” Yes, it’s 2019.
That’s why the silliness of corporate sponsors pimping for Pride — in evidence here in a rainbow-banner Xfinity logo, a T-Mobile #UnlimitedPride hashtag, and junk like that — which would normally have my cynical hackles busting the back of my t-shirt doesn’t bother me so much now. When a real cultural scholar like Steven Thrasher talks about “Gay Inc.,” he’s criticizing the co-option of the movement for commercial ends; when a theocrat like Rod Dreher of The American Conservative talks about “Woke Corporate Tyranny,” he’s basically giving gays the Jewish Cabal treatment, raging that the powerful are siding with the queers against salt-of-the-earth hets like himself, in hopes of terrorizing the corporations into abandoning gays so he and his boys can have at them.
And that’s another big reason why Pride lifted me up this year. Gay folks in living memory have seen a plague more virulent than even their human enemies. This, along with a history of oppression, has built a resilience that is not only healthy for their community but also attractive to others. I half think that straights have flocked to the cause of gay rights, not so much out of fair-mindedness (come on, these are Americans we’re talking about) or even in hopes that they too may benefit from their freedoms (come on, these are ibid.) as out of fascination with gay people’s vivacity, or what is in some quarters called fierceness. On the one side you have enraged reactionaries mad because social media networks won’t let them make money taunting a “lisping queer”; on the other you have persistence in the face of attempted annihilation, and laughing and singing in its face to boot. Which do you think people will go for? (Hint hint, Democrats.) When I left them in the afternoon they were lining up for shows and dancing in the rain.
Oh, one more picture, in the hope it somehow gets to Dreher and ruins his sacramental meats: