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TalonRider

Pride 2005

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When I was a child, the Friday morning after Thanksgiving was reserved for my hometown’s annual Christmas parade. With my mother holding the hand that was tucked away in one of those soggy, fingerless mittens, I waved at Santa as he passed by on his sleigh.

Parades started to bore me around the same time I stopped believing that reindeer could fly. What is a parade but a crowd of people standing on the sidewalk watching other people walk in the street?

My interest was revived the year my hometown welcomed its first Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade. I didn’t participate. I didn’t attend as a spectator either. I read about it in the local newspaper. The next year, I watched from the curb. The year after that, I worked up the courage to stroll through the festival that followed the parade. Now I march.

I don’t know what I found so intimidating, but I suppose it was the paranoid fear shared by other gays and lesbians who shy away from Pride events. I thought my picture would find its way onto the front page of the next day’s newspaper under the headline, "BRIAN FAIRBANKS IS A HOMOSEXUAL." All those high school classmates who suspected as much would see it and exclaim in unison: "I KNEW IT!" The local television stations would lead their 6 and 11p.m newscasts with my outing and interview ghosts from my past.

"I’m not surprised that he’s a homosexual," my first grade teacher would say. "He was so quiet and shy. And he had such nice penmanship. Like a girl."

Next up, a fire hydrant. No, the jock only looks like a fire hydrant because he has no neck. "He sucked at sports, man, and he always ended up on my team in gym class, so we sucked, too. It pissed me off." He pauses to scratch his a**, sniffs his fingers, then mumbles on while chewing something picked from his nose. "When we played volleyball, he would just stand there. I told him, ‘You better start hitting the ball, man, or I’ll kick your a**.’ He hit the ball. Like a girl."

And now, the cheerleader. Rolling her eyes and loudly snapping her chewing gum between giggles, she remembers that 10th grade gym class as vividly as I do. "I laughed so hard the time he tried to hit the volleyball. He kind of slapped it with a limp wrist. Like a...hmm, not like a girl because I’m a girl and I didn’t hit the ball that way. No, he hit the ball the way a sissy would do it. Like a fag."

The news would spread. Jocks and cheerleaders would gather outside my home, drag me into the street, force me into a pink tutu, then take turns kicking my a** while laughing and chanting "Fag!"

It didn’t happen.

Before the parade, I helped some girls unfold the banner they were going to carry, and then listened to a pep talk from the director of the Lesbian Gay Community Service Center. The mayor followed, and everyone applauded when he praised the LGBT community for its creativity and contributions to the city’s cultural life. When the parade kicked off at one p.m., I joined the procession, and although I could feel a butterfly or two in my stomach, they had flown off long before we reached our destination. By then, my fears had vanished, replaced with a sense of accomplishment. At the festival that followed, Chastity Bono shared her coming out story, gay and lesbian musicians inspired us and a gay comic made us laugh. I mingled with lesbians and other gay guys, some of whom looked like me, some of whom looked like jocks, and one of whom wore a pink tutu.

For the first time, I understood what a parade is really about. It’s not just a bunch of people watching other people walk in the street. A parade is about pride: pride in one’s heritage, pride in one’s community, and pride in oneself.

If you’ve never attended a Pride parade and you’re reluctant to do so, examine your fears. They’re probably groundless. Are you afraid you’ll cross paths with relatives or co-workers who don’t know you’re gay? If you do, and they’re not wearing a T-shirt that says "Straight, But Not Narrow," you may have something other than YOUR sexuality to discuss with them. If you’re closeted and think you’re the only gay guy or lesbian in your area, it’s likely due to your lack of participation in the event that brings gays and lesbians together.

In these hypersensitive politically correct times, an event without controversy wouldn’t be much of an event, and sure enough, Pride has its critics. They insist the parade serves no purpose other than to perpetuate stereotypes. They’re especially offended that some men cross-dress. But stereotypes exist in every community precisely because such "types" exist. Serving green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, as most taverns do, perpetuates the stereotype that the Irish are fond of drinking. As an Irishman who prefers coffee to beer, should I take offense? The critics who insist that gays be "straight acting" are helping to once more close the door on the closet that the drag queens at Stonewall bravely kicked open. They’re also forgetting that most of the biological males who wear dresses are transgender, the T in LGBT, who deserve the same respect due those represented by the L,G, and B.

I always looked forward to June, even in the days when I still believed in Santa and anticipated the arrival of Christmas. As the first month of summer, it marked the beginning of three months of freedom from textbooks and pencil cases, to say nothing of cheerleaders and jocks. These days, I may grumble about the humidity and sticky perspiration, but I l look forward to June more than I ever did. It’s Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, and it symbolizes a more important and lasting freedom: the freedom for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people to live and love without fear. This year, join the festivities. At least come out of the closet to watch from the curb. Show your PRIDE, then live it every day of the year.

by Brian W. Fairbanks

a writer for Date.Info, a webzine for Date.com

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