Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
July 7, 1998

Partying for pride.
Author/s: Bruce Vilanch

Gay pride's bustin' out all over. By the time you read this, there will have been lavish parades replete with drag queens, porn stars, local politicians, Motown has-beens, hordes of lesbian gynecologists marching in lockstep, buffed numbers snaking out of their Speedos as they dance with abandon high atop papier-mache representations of the Emerald City. If this sounds like the ringmaster's spiel at Ringling Bros., that's because a circus is a circus, no matter how you dress it up. No minority as theatrical as ours could be expected to celebrate itself with anything less than a show business extravaganza.

Could it? Sure, we show up for serious--minded marches on Washington. But it's the parades and the weekends where we really pat ourselves on the ass ... I mean, back. It's all dutifully covered by the media. To their credit, where they used to show only the bechained and beplumed, they've now gotten around to focusing on PFLAG contingents and beaming politicos in our midst. The TV audience gets some sense of balance, I suppose. Except we all know that TV is about images, and we remember the wild ones.

I used to have a big thing about gay pride parades. They struck me as tacky pseudoevents--Mardi Gras for people who couldn't get to New Orleans. They were a terrific excuse for people to get drunk and throw up in the middle of the afternoon. They were a great place to show off newly acquired abs, cutoffs, and boyfriends. Performers whose big talent was that they were openly gay got to strut their stuff for probably the biggest crowds they would ever encounter. Purveyors of crappy jewelry and incense burners could take a day off from the swap meets, raise their prices, and appeal to lesbians and gay men as if they were doing us a favor by selling us remainders that had fallen off a truck in Taiwan.

Couples who otherwise maintained a discreet distance in public could go topless and deep-tongue each other. People who were so thoroughly into their alternative lifestyle that they couldn't appear anywhere ordinary without being harassed would come out of their warrens to display all their piercings, tattoos, and torture devices turned into necklaces and bracelets.

"It wasn't like this in the old days," I would murmur as I skulked around, sidestepping the rivers of God-knows-what oozing down the street. Why, when I was an itty-bitty queen, back before Stonewall, there wasn't any pride, but by whillikers, there was dignity. We hid in dark bars listening to Judy Garland records, wondering if anybody was safe to come on to or if every other person in the room was a vice cop. We spoke in code. You weren't out, you weren't even gay--you were a friend of Dorothy. You wore a red kerchief in your back left pocket or a blue kerchief in your right: I couldn't remember which, which explains some early bruises.

We all had short hair and wore ties, the concept being not to call attention to yourself. "Sissy" was what you didn't want to be. Yet bodybuilders were the only ones who had bodies. There were no periodontists with pecs. If there were lipstick lesbians, they pretty much stuck to the cosmetics counters at the smaller drugstores. "Mannish" was a polite way of casting doubt on a woman's sexuality. So there was no pride, but there was the glamour of a shared secret, and that kept many a miserable invert going. The self-hatred that came with the burden of maintaining the secret also did more than a few of them in.

The world began changing after Stonewall, of course, and later it changed again when we galvanized around the issue of AIDS. A group that has suffered so much loss needs to remind itself it still exists. So we celebrate survival, which we translate into pride.

Every Jewish holiday (and I celebrate them all) can be described thusly: They persecuted us. We beat them. Let's eat. Gay pride is the same thing, except instead of eating, we substitute ... oh, what the hell. Show the world where you've pierced yourself. You've earned it. Just save me a bottle of whatever beer we're not boycotting.