Coming To Terms With Gay Pride

If you want to know what a 14-year-old closeted gay kid’s worst nightmare looks like, I can tell you that being taken to San Francisco’s Gay Pride Celebration for the first time by your parents is pretty high up on the list (maybe tied with one where you show up to high school naked, in nothing but socks and sandals). But, exactly 10 years ago, this was not so much a bad dream as it was a reality: my Dad announced that we’d be going to the parade as a family because “it would be fun to watch” and “sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone.” I pointed out that we were already having a blast watching TV at home, and if we wanted to get out of our comfort zone later, we could visit a slaughterhouse or a prison. But it was too late; we were going and I decided to shut my mouth so as not to be the guy who “doth protest too much,” if you know what I mean.

At the parade, it was complete sensory overload: rainbows, glitter, balloons, feathers, go-go boots, leather underwear, pasties, tassels, sailor outfits, dog collars, assless chaps galore! I spent equal amounts of time taking it all in as I did focusing on not making eye-contact with strangers. Logically, I knew nobody was going to come up to my parents and yell, “Hey, your son is gay!” but I couldn’t shake the irrational feeling that if it could happen, it would be then and there. At the time, my game-plan regarding my sexuality was to never tell a soul and if I was ever discovered (via an uncleared internet history or something) I would stage my death and start a new life abroad, probably in Paris. I may not have been comfortable being gay at the time, but I was very comfortable with a flair for the dramatic.

Unsurprisingly, I survived and afterward we went to lunch and talked about what we’d seen. When it was my turn to say something, I expressed that I didn’t really like the parade because I thought if gay people (certainly not me!) wanted others to treat them normally, then they should act normally. “Yes, there were teachers and politicians and that one couple who had been together for sixty years,” I explained, “but who will remember any of that next to a drag queen on stilts or the fetishists wielding their ridding crops in mesh thongs?” I recall my Dad laughing and dismissing my cynicism with an “Oh Wes, don’t be such a homophobe!” I wish I could say the comment shamed me in some way, but mostly I was just happy I seemed more homophobic and less homosexual. Maybe nobody really could hear me when I sang “Hit Me Baby One More Time” in the shower?

Fast-forward a decade and a lot of growing up, and I was in my car heading to San Francisco Pride once more, still singing along to Britney Spears. This time, however, instead of dread, all I could feel was excitement and anticipation. Soon, I would be with my sister and some of her coworkers, as well as a friend from college, all of whom consistently deliver on fun nights out. It was going to be a nice break from reality and I was more than ready to spend 72 hours in party-mode, but I was still having reservations about the whole notion of celebrating “Gay Pride.”

In general, I reserve feelings of pride for my achievements and my abilities; for example, my achievement of paying my rent on time every month, or my ability to recite every line of the 1993 film Hocus Pocus. While I am certainly not ashamed of my sexual orientation, I am no more proud of being gay than I am proud that I have brown hair. My same-sex attraction is an unchangeable fact of life, and while I no longer feel the need to hide it, I also don’t feel the need to flaunt it. And I really don’t feel the need to march down the street in a thong and feather boa. I was planning to use Pride as an excuse for a three-day bender, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t justified in doing it.

Friday and Saturday went by in a blur of rainbows, vodka, and pop music. Pride was everything I remembered and more, only this time I wasn’t afraid to be there. I had conversations with countless people throughout the weekend and was reminded just how diverse the LGBT community truly is. People wished each other “Happy Pride” in the streets, as casually and merrily as one might wish someone “Happy Holidays” in the month of December and spirits were generally high throughout the weekend. I ended up putting aside my skepticism regarding the validity of the whole event and just let myself have fun — there wasn’t a whole lot of time to sit and contemplate anyway.

Saturday night, after attending ‘The Pink Party’ in the streets of Castro, we returned to a friend’s apartment to unwind; have a few more drinks, listen to music, play cards around the coffee table, and it was here that I finally had the chance to take a breath and reflect. I looked at all the faces in the room, everyone looking so comfortable, so at ease, and that’s when I realized it: I felt at ease too. And as soon as I become conscious of just how relaxed I felt, in a room full of gay men, straight men, gay girls, and straight girls and realizing just how little it actually mattered, that’s when I started to feel… well, proud.

In the last ten years the gay community has come a long way. Gay marriage has been legalized in eight states; we have seen the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and California’s Proposition 8. Gallup polls now report over 50 percent of the American population believes “that being gay is morally acceptable, that gay relations ought to be legal and that gay or lesbian couples should have the right to legally marry” and finally, we have a President who believes the same, and I’m proud of the LGBT activists who made that possible. But, on a much, much smaller scale, down to a personal level that nobody really cares about but me, I am proud of how far I’ve come, too. Sometimes we get so caught up in moving forward, we forget to look back to where we started to gain perspective. At fourteen, so close-minded and so scared of seemingly everything, I could never have imagined just how confident and happy I would be today. So no, I may not feel comfortable in assless chaps, but that’s not really what Pride is all about. It’s about feeling comfortable in your own skin, no matter who you are, and that’s what I was celebrating last weekend. That’s what I was proud of. TC mark


image – Doug


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  • pat

    Wow. I’ve been thinking about my time at SF Pride for a few days now, and damn, you really hit the nail on the head. This was pretty much everything I was thinking but wasn’t able to put down. Pride forever.

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  • KT

    I’m really happy for you. I hope someday everyone can come to these same realizations and be comfortable in their own skin, no matter their sexual orientation.

  • alisonwisneski (@alisonwisneski)

    I love. Thank you. :)

  • diana salier (@dianasalier)

    a thousand times yes. i’ve always been weird about “gay pride” too, but it’s not a popular notion so i don’t say it out loud much.

  • diana salier (@dianasalier)

    also, YES to this: ” While I am certainly not ashamed of my sexual orientation, I am no more proud of being gay than I am proud that I have brown hair. “

  • Craigory

    Great article, thanks! What great parents you have.

    I remember whenever I was with my parents and anything remotely gay walked by or came on TV, my parents would clue in and turn to me and ask if I was gay. Thankfully that never happened and I lived long enough to outgrow my gay suicidal tendencies and now I’m a somewhat well adjusted gay man.

    Puh-ride for ever!

  • Grant Sorenson (@bleedingmadras)

    This made me laugh out loud so many times. Very well written, and honestly, it’s like you were reading my mind the entire time. I’ve had all of these same experiences (except my conservative WASP parents would never have brought me to a Pride parade.) I loved this piece.

  • Jesse

    I LOVED EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS!!! Truly amazing. I’m glad to see, that just like in any good holiday special, you found the meaning of Pride.

  • duncansomerside

    Hmm maybe you realize at the end what pride is about for yourself… Hopefully soon you wont discredit those queer people who do feel their pride is walking down the street in ass-less chaps just because it isn’t yours. Maybe you were saying that by the end, but I didn’t get that exactly. For me, pride is about being proud of yourself, but more so, being proud of your community as a whole.

  • Chelo

    Wow this really helped me get my mood back , after I read the vice guide to being gay(one of ryan´s tweets) I really thought of myself and all of the gay community as shallow , but now I can see what it takes to be proud

  • Terron Moore

    this kinda bums me out that i didn’t go to pride for the exact same reasons you talk about–i dont feel the need to celebrate it anymore than the other completely normal things about myself–but you introduced me to a different, completely true, outlook on things. i’m definitely not uncomfortable with my sexuality, and i’m in full support of people being free to be whoever they want to be, assless chaps and all.

  • Rob Clay

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I always had the same mindset, that I wasn’t *proud* of being gay, but neither was I ashamed. I was just me. However, like you, I am proud of the great strides we all have made, and also on a personal level, how incredibly uninterested I am in anyone who cannot accept me for who I am.

  • lyndseymckenna1213ellemac

    best thing I’ve ever read on here. Can really relate to it and I feel proud in the same way the writer does. Thanks for sharing this I really enjoyed reading it

  • pureseoul

    Have you ever considered that you feel so blase about pride stems from the notion that you didn’t live during the stonewall days? In a time where anything that deviated from staunch heteronormativity laid grounds for arrest (and to make it, you know, hilarious, have your head repeatedly submerged in a bucket of fetid water in public while cuffed)?

    You are a child. You are BEYOND lucky to grow up in an era where western culture has stared to accept queerness. It’s hasn’t been “great progress” for the “last 10 years,” it’s been revolutionary for four decades. Want a rude awakening? Go to Japan. Or South Korea.

    Where they don’t recognize homosexuality.
    And passed a law banning any and all gay-related internet searches in 2000.
    Because the country decreed that homosexuality was a threat to children.

    It was a Drag Queen who through the first brick at stonewall, that started gay-rights history.
    So the next time you see someone sashying girlishly down castro, donned in their feather boa and go-go boots, remember where your history comes from.

    They were the brick throwers.

    That is why we’re proud.

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