Tag Archives: gay

National Coming Out Day’s Offsping

colorized street in DCThe joke when I first started telling people I was queer was that it took a broken leg for me to do it. Truth be told, I started admitting I was pretty darn gay a couple of weeks before my fateful trip around Goldstein Auditorium on roller skates, but it made for a nice chuckle, and who am I to deny anyone a moment of fun? Besides, hobbling around on crutches with plaster caked up to my keister could potentially, I thought at the time, help me get a date. I was one of only a few people I knew (even still) who came out without a relationship as the main motivation.

This was May of 1991. I was about to turn 21, which, as it turned out, was much less a big deal for my life than I presumed it would be at the time. But I felt like freedom was close—I’d finished my junior year of college, and the humongous Real World pressed upon me—and I needed to fully explore it. Which okay, was a little challenging in my then-current condition.  Read More…

Jesus Christ on parade

My premiere gay parade took place in Syracuse, New York, in the early 90s, heralding the theme of Out*Rage*Us, which hopefully is self-explanatory as a message. We were 300 brave-enough-to-march souls: the owner of My Sister’s Words, the feminist bookstore, several students and staff from Syracuse University, a few employees of Carrier air conditioners, a few more from the local Phillips Magnavox factory, and some other locals. We took all morning to ready some jury-rigged floats and signs, and marched down what was likely the shortest parade route I’ve ever seen—four blocks in Syracuse’s downtown. The actual marching was over in minutes. We didn’t even have a chance to get bunched up as paraders, and that never gets avoided. It would be a couple of years before I would march in New York City’s Pride parade and if this was a triumphant moment for a newbie gay, that was like being dropped in the middle of Mecca at pilgrimage time.

Many years later, I moved to DC and grimaced every time I saw the “Capital” Pride signs. It’s Capitol, people, like the place, not like the investment. Whatever, they stick with this egregious error like it’s a tradition. Maybe nobody wants to buy out whoever owns capitolpride.org.

I’ve gone to this DC parade at least a half dozen times since I moved here, and it’s always the same:

  • It’s totally over-commercialized. I swear I have heard an MC at the musical stage, next to the actual Capitol building, proclaim, “Welcome to DC Pride, sponsored by Absolut! and Bank of America! Because every LGBT-identifying person needs to be drunk while wielding a checking account. What? This year they even had a “float” for Frito-Lay. Frito-freakin-Lay, people. This “float” was a Frito-Lay delivery truck with some rainbow flags duct-taped to the sides. This is what Susanne refers to as a “phoned in” float, cuz I know that truck just ditched the flags and turned the corner onto Massachusetts to make deliveries to the Giant Foods store like it’d never been throwing bags of Doritos into the streets for free. Damn closeted Frito-Lay truck.
  • It’s too hot to cheer. I understand the Stonewall Inn riots happened on June 28, 1969. It was New York City’s finests’ problem that they pissed people off in the heat. And now it’s every queermo’s problem, as we stand around fanning ourselves with moist paper, waiting for an interesting float to pass by, or at least the DC Cowboys. They shoulda done better at the America’s Got Talent show. If they can stay synchronized on a moving truck bed, well, that would throw people like Susan Boyle, I bet. The heat melts us all so quickly, even with the parade starting at 6:30, the best we can do is attempt to remain vertical, although clapping does generate a pithy breeze.
  • There are too many straight people. I can tell that DuPont isn’t the gay central it used to be, because I saw a hell of a lot of confused-looking straightniks yesterday, walking across the street, some of them in the middle of say, marching bands. People, that is rude as all get out! Pretend just for this evening that you’re afraid of us, okay? Next thing you know they’ll be pushing their baby strollers through Robert Novak’s funeral procession. I bet that actually happened.
  • Too many politicians come a’calling. Every single person running for every single office in a 40-mile radius was in the parade yesterday. The current mayor. The wannabe mayors. The folks running for council. The council-at-large contenders. Sheesh, I just wanted them to go away. Ain’t nobody gonna vote for them just because they showed up for the Big Gay Parade. It’s a Democratic city, you better be gay-friendly! Walking in a parade is the least you can do, especially when your GLBT Affairs Office does nothing for the community (I’m looking at you, Fenty).
  • Confusion regarding what kind of parade this was. All of the aforementioned politicians brought with them mardi gras beads, each some kind of color that was supposed to indicate which politician one supported. In this regard, it was coincidental that many of the folks running for office had colors for surnames: Orange, Gray, Brown. But clearly, the most gay-friendly pols were the ones who tossed us rainbow-colored necklaces. Susanne remarked that no way was she going to flash anyone for beads.

We watched, we waited, we saw all manner of church groups trolling for more congregants—excuse me, recruiting, excuse me communicating about their services—and we began wondering where the leather-clad men wearing chaps were all at. It’s not a gay parade without furry butts to avoid seeing.

At some point, our feet began signaling their discomfort, but there was nary a bench or spare spot of curb. The parade was in full tilt, bands of PFLAG people, united Methodists, gay foreign service workers (only in DC’s parade), and the always lively Different Drummers. Very few activist groups, and certainly none of the intentional freaks of the April Fool’s Day Parade in San Francisco graced the asphalt. If conservatives like Rush and Ann Coulter are concerned for the revolutionary potential of this assembly, rest assured they need not be.

The parade was drawing down, and I heard someone near me catch their breath. Up in the sky, a rainbow. A real rainbow.

Apparently God showed up at the event!

The more things change

In 2003, I volunteered at DC’s gay film festival, which meant working with some very nice people and a few overly controlling people, but I was willing to take the long view and deal with challenging personalities in order to get passes to other movies for free. One of the films I went to see was Drag Nuns in Tinseltown (rereleased in 2006 as The LA Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence), a documentary about the antics and charity work of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Some of the Sisters attended the screening, laughing along with us and hosting a Q&A afterward.

Unlike other drag performers I’d seen before, the Sisters don’t eschew things like facial hair (a Ru Paul no-no) or insist on lip synching to women-sung songs, but instead will occasionally take on tenor or other “male range” compositions, singing in their own voices.

They also have a tendency to rework lyrics to songs we’d otherwise be able to belt out with them, in order to make a point. I’d forgotten that little bit of Sis-trivia until last night.

Susanne and I trekked to the Tri-Cities yesterday with a few colleagues from the college to see the Seattle chapter of the Sisters host a fundraiser for Walla Walla’s Blue Mountain Heart to Heart organization, a non-profit direct service charity for people with HIV, AIDS, and Hepatitis C. Heart to Heart is, in fact, the only direct service charity of its kind in southeast Washington state, and Franklin County, which it also serves, has the highest HIV infection rate outside of Seattle, so their work is rather desperately needed here. I would have gone to see the Sisters in any case, but knowing it was a fundraiser for Heart to Heart only solidified my commitment to making the 60-mile trip.

We found our way to the only gay bar in these parts which, on the inside, was a series of differently shaped rooms and a hell of a lot of seating: booths, high tables and stools, plain diner tables that looked like they’d been purchased from a going out of business sale from the empinada counter around the corner. A room in the front boasted a stage and short catwalk where the Sisters and local performers belted out everything from Xanadu’s I’m Alive (unfortunately not performed on 70s-style roller skates) to Bjork to School House Rock, Electrify, and some strange German song about genitalia that left me covering my face because I was there with a student from the college. Talk about awkward! Thank goodness there’s no sexual harassment policy at Susanne’s school. (Ironic, I’m being ironic.)

As the performances rolled on, audience members left their seats to slip money into the contribution basket at the end of the catwalk. Here’s where I was reminded of the unofficial rules about gay bars:

  1. No matter how gay the bar is, there will always be a creepy straight guy trying to strut his stuff or hook up with some random lesbian. Persistence of said creepy guy is in an inverse proportion to his level of attractiveness. And creepy guys tend toward creepy props/dress, like a pipe or opened up dress shirt.
  2. As soon as a couple first hooks up, they must stand in a corner or against a wall, making out. It helps if they’re anywhere near a heavily trafficked area, so that more people will notice their coupled upness.
  3. Older couples should feel free to bicker in the bar or stand apart from each other, at turns looking cold or hurt.
  4. There will be an overworked, overtired lesbian bussing tables and shooting daggers out of her eyes at the careless customers who spill their drinks for her to clean up.
  5. Even if the gay bar is occupied by 95 percent gay men and < 5 percent lesbians (the other 1 percent straight allies, transgender people, and lost people who haven’t realized they’re not in a straight bar yet), there will still be a long line for the women’s rest room.
  6. A small group of depressed looking older men will be quietly sitting around a video monitor of gay porn.
  7. A few young or questioning people will be in the bar on any given weekend night, looking astonished at the naughty humor and antics of the other people there.

All of these I saw with my own eyes last night, and nearly 20 years after walking into my first gay bar, I smiled a little to myself, because no matter what else changes, these dynamics are the same. Not that I don’t want all of those to stay the same, certainly not. But it’s kind of like I haven’t aged.

Who’s up for Gay Bar Time Machine? Or the Curious Case of Benjamin Buttman? We can make it happen, people. Actually, maybe I should do an Internet search and see if they’ve been filmed already.

Rice-a-Roni

people on the sidewalk with umbrellasInitially we debated whether to stay up or sleep for three hours, because our flight left at 5:56AM from an airport an hour away. We suspected we had lost our minds somewhere along the way, and then opted to sleep.

For those out there not so educated on this, hearing a clock alarm blare at 3 in the morning is like having a woodpecker attempt to find sustenance in one’s right ear. Definitely not the left ear, and if you feel that, you should call your doctor quickly. I stood up, not sure why, teetering just a little, because I suspect I was only using my lizard brain, waiting for things like my frontal lobe and memory of self to come online.

Susanne was more than happy for me to take the first shower. She’s a clever one.

I remembered to step into the tub, which was orders of magnitude more intelligent of me than I had been just 30 seconds earlier. I knew I was getting on a plane, although I still wasn’t sure why. By the time the water had hit my skin and I realized I needed greatly warmer water, I could recall every second of my life again.

San Francisco, Susanne’s politics wonk conference. My time to explore a place I’d never before seen, but had heard about for years.

It’s mythological, legendary, about lots of people, but certainly for people who have “teh ghey.” Would it be a nonstop Folsom Street Fair, with nary a stitch of clothing because everyone was decked out in leather and rubber and spandex? Would I see lines of rainbow flags, heralding in ships to the Bay? Was there a gay trumpeter? There had to be a gay trumpeter.

I jest, but some of this wondering is serious. When Susanne and I took a weekend trip to New Hope, Pennsylvania in the spring of 2006, I told her to expect a lot of gayness. I’d grown up across the Delaware River and hung out there a lot in high school, usually around the record store and a short line of shops next to the river. I was there for the comradery of friends, true, but I noticed that there were a lot of references to this alternative lifestyle, as I remember it being called then.

Susanne told her friends about our upcoming trip, and one of them who was also from the area, remarked that she’d never noticed any such thing. She was kind enough to stop short of saying I was making it all up, but I’m pretty sure she thought it.

room in new hope, PASo we showed up at the bed and breakfast that was around the corner from the main thoroughfare, The Wishing Well. The manager greeted us with bear hugs and a high-pitched, “Hulloooo! Welcome to New Hope!” He went on to tell us, excitedly, that we were the first guests of the day and if we wanted, we could sneak around the house to check out all of the rooms before settling into ours.

“But of course, you’re in the nicest room,” he said, practically gushing, “the Cathedral Room!”

Before I knew it, I had oohed. I looked at Susanne. Her jaw hung open a little, as she took in the lovely aura of the B&B. The gay aura.

We unpacked and freshened up a little, and still being a new couple at the time, took some time to check each other’s breath. And then we walked to the first cluster of stores. One was charmingly named Suzy’s Hot Shop, so of course I beseeched Susanne to pose for a snapshot, which she was kind enough to do, even as she gave me a withering look, eternally now captured on film. We decided to check out the store.

The proprietor was happy to have customers on what was still a frigid day, and she apparently needed more human contact than she was getting, because she went on about her girlfriend and their two dogs for what seemed like half an hour. We bought a small bottle of Ecuadorian tabasco sauce, and waved goodbye.

“Okay, it’s a pretty gay town,” said Susanne. Next up was a chocolate shop, the man behind the counter flitting and making a happy fuss to show us the freshest chocolates he’d just made that morning. He only seemed bereft of a feather boa, and he could have gone through half the music of La Cage Aux Folles* for us.

We shopped through a few more places, coming back to our B&B for a rest before dinner. I asked our host for recommendations. He led us to The Raven, a fine dining establishment. Many potted plants set near tall mirrors lined the walls, and the two-level dining room was decked out in many, many flower centerpieces and long white tablecloths. We looked around at the diners and it was as if we’d taken the Hot Tub Time Machine to 1976, East Village. I think everyone in there was gay or lesbian. They seemed mostly segregated, the women with each other and the men likewise, although there were a few daring sort who had gone for a mix at their tables. And they were all, every single one of them, over 40. We took our seats and enjoyed a fine, if not fantastic, dinner, a little on the edge of being over-gayed or gayed-out. For those who don’t know what this is like, one wants in these moments, usually, to find a traditional gendered outfit that is also mature or even dowdy (because a pink frilly dress won’t do here), and some country music sung by a man about a woman. Or one could simply make a trip home and all feelings of gay freedom will cease immediately.

But we weren’t quite there yet. We were still amused and to some degree, in shock. I had said the place was gay. I hadn’t say it was a gay explosion.

So I’ve always thought, I suppose, that if New Hope is gay, then San Francisco is sequin-squirting, pink frilly lei, Cher and Madonna GAAAAAAAY. Having gotten to the end of my 30s is as good a time as any to find out, I figured. How nice for Susanne’s discipline to select this city as this year’s conference site.

This, all this, was why I was standing in an off-temperature shower at 3AM. To see if I could surpass New Hope.

We put ourselves together about as well as two people can on three hours of sleep, and I plugged the iPod into the car so that I’d have something other than engine and road to listen to as I drove through utter darkness to the airport. We parked in the long-term lot which is laughably 10 feet and a fence from the short-term lot, and dragged our bags up to the security checkpoint. The TSA officer asked if I needed any help putting my toiletries into a quart-sized bag, and I showed her my pre-made bag. We must have been the only regular travelers that morning, because she visibly relaxed. I wondered if there was anyone left who hasn’t flown post 9/11.

I found out the answer almost immediately.

We boarded our flight, setting our bags on the rack next to the Canadair regional jet, and took our seats, neither of us caring that our necks didn’t like sleeping while sitting. A woman came on after us and clearly had not flown often in her lifetime, and most definitely not in the last 8 years. She had sixteen questions for the stewardess, blocking other people who were trying to board. She sat in her window seat, next to a woman who clearly had difficulty getting up and down. Five minutes later she had another question for the flight attendant, so she got up again. And then she sat down again. And then she got up again, this time to take the open seats behind us. I pretended to be asleep.

Right before we landed in California she tugged on my sleeve from behind. I had actually fallen asleep, apparently.

“Yes,” I asked.

“We’re so low but we’re still over water,” she said anxiously.

“It’s okay,” I said. Again, I wasn’t really in full control of my faculties yet.

“But why,” she asked. She looked mid-30s to me, but maybe she was 6. Maybe she was Benjaminette Button.

“It’s a water approach,” said Susanne, and Susanne is so nice you really have to know her to know she sounds annoyed.

This woman clearly had no idea what water approach meant, and probably figured it meant we were going to pull a Hudson River landing on her.

“The land will start before we touch ground,” I said, smiling so she knew we should all remain calm.

“Oh.”

That little bit of inanity over, we grabbed our bags and cabbed it to the hotel. I saw a sign for San Jose to our south. The song played in my head for the rest of the day.

And now, I’m off to see just how gay this city really is.

*As an aside, I saw La Cage Aux Folles with my mom and sister when I was 15, and I was just amazed that they could get Joan Rivers and Cher in the same performance. And then my mom told me they were all men, and blew my little mind.

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