The parade? No, I won’t be there. I’ll be:
a. remulching my garden in Saugerties.
b. hanging out with my cool hetero friend Anika, her husband, and her baby.
c. just sitting at home, listening to music, journaling.
In the month before Gay Pride, I will hear some variation of this at least 15 times. Admittedly, I will say it myself. Last Pride, I sat in Prospect Park and made drawings of flowers in colored pencil like some octogenarian in Sussex. Over the past five years, among my crowd of thirtyish gay guys and lesbians, it’s not just uncool to go to the parade, it’s spiritually unsatisfying. Instead, we turn away, think we must grasp for meaning elsewhere, and end up sounding like homespun, herbal sidebar articles in Oprah: “I decided to stay at home and take charge of my life.” “I organized my CD collection alphabetically.” “I made a scrapbook for my five-year-old niece.”
What happened to us? What happened to me? When did we become so fatigue-gay? I was such a fanatic paradegoer in my past. I went to my first Gay Pride in 1990, marching with Queer Nation and screaming, “Get out of the closet!” while pulling a huge dented metal wardrobe down the street. (There was a bit of a scare when it almost fell on top of that famous quadriplegic lesbian, but otherwise it was a lot of fun.) I’d be up by 8:30 a.m. and on my way to Fifth Avenue, and I would drink in every last lavender drop of the day. One year with squirt guns, one year with my wacked-out dance troupe, the Dazzle Dancers, one year with a boyfriend who got a boner in his retro soccer shorts when we watched the fireworks at the pier. I held up my fist furiously at the minute of silence; I yelped for the Dykes on Bikes; I slipped into the parade when it turned down the trashed asphalt of Christopher Street, feeling the ringing, gladiator-like glory of hundreds. Then, dumped out onto Hudson, I would slowly shuffle through a crowd of people in rainbow hats and half-witty T-shirts, the smell of cheap meat from sausage and hot-dog kiosks wafting into the air. I loved it all and would happily spend all day having my body squashed behind a police barricade and aurally pummeled by a passing disco diva’s ululations.
I am 36 now and can’t think of anything I want to do less, unless someone asks me to his or her really swank apartment with a view. It could be the inevitable curmudgeoning that happens with age. It creeps up on you like vines. The other weekend I went out to an East Village bar and seriously said, “The music is so loud in here I can’t hear myself think!” I feel like I almost used the word criminy!
I have this ’70s porn film in which all these men have sex in one another’s West Village apartments during Gay Pride. It begins with shots of the parade: fags in striped tank tops and beautifully split-ended hair, lezzies in huge sunglasses holding happy hand-painted signs. How different the parade is now.
The last really memorable one for me was 1994, the 25th anniversary of Stonewall. Of course, this was the last time I enjoyed myself on Ecstasy, before I would get in a scribbly mood and just sit on the steps of someone’s pricey West Village brownstone. But that year there was an orgasmic swell of Clintonian inclusion in the air. Safe-sex education among gay men was working. Lesbian chic was a new trend. Anne Heche hadn’t broken Ellen’s heart. Our increasing visibility seemed to be making a difference.
Then, in my memory, the parades blur. Clean banners with trademark-tagged graphics. Those hideous blue-and-yellow equal signs. I would see pectoral men dancing on floats and notice they weren’t just celebrating, they were promoting. Yay the Splash Bacardi float! Wahoo the Absolut Vodka drag queens! Yippee the Entire DVD Collection of Queer as Folk marchers!
Perhaps the shift in my feelings about the Gay Pride parade is a state of shock, a reaction to how quickly gayness has evolved as an identity. To think—just 12 years ago I was stamping pink triangles onto our dollar bills. “Use your Queer Money to buy things! We should be recognized by the mainstream as an economic force!”
Wow, that was easy. Now there are gay realty agencies and TV networks. We’re unable to marry, but Republicans love us when we gentrify.
Our young identity achieved such a compromised acceptance into society with such swiftness that we have barely had time to reflect at what we have become. The fuel of anger behind the event has gradually turned into a marketing technique that dulls us, not unlike liquor stores in low-income neighborhoods. I know that sounds so politically correct, but it’s a metaphor that works.
The parade is at risk of becoming a howling American rite like New Year’s Eve or spring break. In a few short years, we may see college kids in rainbow face paint, puking purple daiquiris.
I know it sounds superficial, especially in this day and age, when we are ruled by moralizing misers who guard their riches like reptile eggs, but we have to try and keep our celebrations fresh. If I may generalize just a little more, I would say one thing we have always been able to hold above our rectally tight opponents is that we have way, way more fun than they do. It is important for us to keep that aspect thriving.
But acts of celebration must continue to be fostered as political statements as well. So all you contingents out there: On Sunday, I want to see more original signage, a curb on the promotional gack, way more drag queens, and a unifying sense of fury. There is a queer kid squashed up against the GNC at Christopher and Seventh who needs you to inspire him.
Mike Albo’s The Underminer: The Best Friend Who Casually Destroys Your Life was published in February by Bloomsbury.