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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Gay Pride: 1970 to 2010

The Stonewall Riots took place on the night of June 27/28, 1969, and subsequent evenings.  The first parade commemorating the event was held in New York on June 28, 1970.  Hence, this year's festivities are the 40th occurrence of public celebrations of Gay Pride.

Your Head Trucker hates to admit it, but he has never once attended any Pride parade or event.  I've always been stuck in some homophobic corner of the Deep South where such things just didn't happen.

And truth to tell, from all the pictures I've seen of such things - not being the party boy type, not at all - it looks like something that might be fun to watch once.  Just to say I'd been there.  Like a visit to your fifth cousin's place back in Oldfuckfield, Mississippi.

Because fellas, and I've never told anyone this, it's always been something of a disappointment to your Head Trucker that we collectively have no stirring anthem (like "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing"), no splendid historical events (like the March on Washington, 1963) to reflect on, no noble leaders (like Dr. King) to inspire and direct our cause.  No grand monuments or lovely statues to remind us of a highminded past.

No, what we have are a few photos of angry kids and drag queens screaming at cops and being hauled off to jail in the middle of the night.  Grainy videos of a few unremarked protestors and some crowds of long-haired youths shouting their way down the streets in a so-what city. 

No, what we have are way too many memories of a dark, crowded barroom, anywhere, with grungy floors and ear-splitting music.  And in the dark, the half-forgotten ache of selfish desires and little intrigues and petty jealousies and the difference between love and what you settle for at 2 a.m.

No, what we have - is it still shown, anywhere? - is the AIDS quilt, which is truly monumental and truly, deeply moving.  But when all is said and done, much more of a heartbreak than an inspiration.

No, all we have is the small, modest memory of the weak standing up to the strong, the few against the many, the despised against the righteous.  And that is our nobility, and our pride.  It is enough; it has to be.

But even though this is not the kind of outfit I would have chosen to join up with, if I had any choice - it's mine, all the good and the bad of it, and it's yours too.  Things are what they are, we have to make the best of them.

And in this little eggshell of space and time we are given - we have to make our lives as true and good and beautiful as possible:  the trinity of supreme values, said the ancient Greeks.  I think we gay people are particularly suited to live out those values, in some ways much more so than our heterosexual neighbors whose minds and hearts are fenced off with barb wire from some very important aspects of life - and utterly deluded about others.

Talking with the ex-roommate a while back, we both agreed that the one commonality all gay men seem to share is a fundamental love of beauty:  creating it, discovering it, expressing it, some way or other.

In spite of all the hate and oppression, while we can let us celebrate what we are.  For of course, we exist only at the sufferance of the enormously larger heterosexual world:  the huge 95 or 97 percent.  The tide is running in our favor now - but having lived a good part of my life near the seashore, I well know that though the tide comes in sometimes, it also goes out.  No current is unchangeable, fellas - remember that.

But we're here now, we're queer now, let's rejoice now.  I don't feel like writing a more profound essay than this jumble of thoughts, forgive me; but here's a couple things to mark this 40th anniversary of Pride.

First, Bryan Safi with a comic take on where we've been and where we are:

Second, a look back at the origins of Pride with people who were there:

Finally, to show how far we have not come, lest anyone be deluded - here's the contrast, the cold, hard difference between most of us and the vast, vast majority of the 97 percent:  here is, all their crocodile-tear protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, what they celebrate and adore and idolize, what they build monuments to, what they glorify with every tribute and sanctify with every prayer, what they will always choose - given a choice, men and women alike - over and instead of us:  from the Rolling Stone interview that just caused an earthquake in Washington:
'How'd I get screwed into going to this dinner?" demands Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It's a Thursday night in mid-April, and the commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is sitting in a four-star suite at the Hôtel Westminster in Paris. He's in France to sell his new war strategy to our NATO allies – to keep up the fiction, in essence, that we actually have allies. Since McChrystal took over a year ago, the Afghan war has become the exclusive property of the United States. Opposition to the war has already toppled the Dutch government, forced the resignation of Germany's president and sparked both Canada and the Netherlands to announce the withdrawal of their 4,500 troops. McChrystal is in Paris to keep the French, who have lost more than 40 soldiers in Afghanistan, from going all wobbly on him.

"The dinner comes with the position, sir," says his chief of staff, Col. Charlie Flynn.

McChrystal turns sharply in his chair.

"Hey, Charlie," he asks, "does this come with the position?"

McChrystal gives him the middle finger. . . .

McChrystal takes a final look around the suite. At 55, he is gaunt and lean, not unlike an older version of Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn. His slate-blue eyes have the unsettling ability to drill down when they lock on you. If you've fucked up or disappointed him, they can destroy your soul without the need for him to raise his voice.

"I'd rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner," McChrystal says.

He pauses a beat.

"Unfortunately," he adds, "no one in this room could do it."

With that, he's out the door.

"Who's he going to dinner with?" I ask one of his aides.

"Some French minister," the aide tells me. "It's fucking gay."


M. Pierre said...

i kind of have to disagree with the cynicism here, even in the little comedy sketch video. i remember 1969, were were queers then, and i didn't quite know what one was but i knew i was one and that, tho' i was young i knew queers were sexual degenerates that lurked around the darkest places... (now i know by neccessity), to be openly gay was unheard of except for hustlers and druggies. where else were gays to go. there were no such things as Gay families with same sex parents, no countries or states recognizing Gay marriage, no openly gay teens. we were at very best a type of psycological illness, pathetically untreatable according to most medical definitions.... i know i read extensively on it trying to cure myself. Maybe you should attend a few gay pride parades and see that it's not all crazy costumes. i was touched once when a methodist church had a float with a rainbow flag hanging on a cross instead of their usual symbol the red robe. and their caption read on the side of their float. "the gospel we follow is the good news about love never hate." the news likes to do something different with it all. yes it's a big party too. but also go to a MLK parade, which iv'e also attended, it's a big party too celebrating all it is to be black. anyway i see a vast advance in representation and the ability to represent ourselves. then again too there's nothing soooo bad about a party.

TomS said...

I still consider Harvey Milk a noble leader and inspiration to our community...

Sebastian said...

I've been to a couple of pride events, and it is moving to see that number of gay men and women - and allies - assembled together. Yes, there are those who's dress or antics will land them on the evening news, but there are the majority who are just there, either marching or watching.

We don't have a Dr. King, but we do have the memory of Harvey Milk. The gay rights movement is a movement from below, a people's movement, in which the major battles are much less relevant to the quiet words spoken in living rooms and workplaces. Unlike the black civil rights movement, the primary act demanding courage, and then demanding respect, is first done within the space of our own souls, and then in the personal encounters with friends and families and coworkers. Only then does it percolate UP to any sort of political action. I think that's why pride events, and internet communication, and signing petitions or writing letters on political issues, has a different quality to it than the struggles of other groups. For us, the first enemy is the voices of self-hate that we were raised with, then the voices of those who actually speak to us in our everyday world. Go to a pride event next year. Visit the Castro in San Francisco and see the gay pride flag that flies every day and listen to your heart. We have so much to be thankful for since those early days of the 1970s - and they were so much more advanced than the 1960s or 1950s. Rejoice in it all. You are right about tides going in and coming out. This is not an inevitable wave we are riding. It requires vigilance and is a sign that will be opposed and will lay bare the thoughts of many hearts. But we are on the right side.

Stan said...

Great post Russ. I haven't been to a Gay Pride event in years but the times I've been I noticed a few factions there among the hordes. Some older gents like me seem to recognize the struggle it has taken to get this far. While the younger kids just want to cruise and party.

Russ Manley said...

Appreciate all you say, fellas.

Sebastian, you are quite right about the first step of courage being taken in our own souls.

One of the differences between our struggle and that of the blacks is that they had their own families and their own churches as a refuge from the hatred of the world.

With many of us, our own families and churches were some of the most hateful antagonists.

dave said...

Aside from the very moving experience of seeing the whole AIDS quilt displayed some years back in DC, I have never been to any gay rally or parade, though my partner has gone a few times. But the experience of community is profound for many and I respect that.

One the whole, though, the wilder aspects of the parades seem to display an antagonistic side to gay people that our str8 counterparts never seem to display in like fashion. That has unfortunate counterproductive consequences that can reinforce the closet.

Mareczku said...

This was excellent, Russ. I have to say Sebastian that I was very moved by what you said in your comment here. I am lucky that I never felt a lot of self hate. I actually never got negative messages about homosexuality from the Church when I was young. I go to a Catholic site now and it amazes me how dehumanizing some of the comments are. Just today someone compared gay people to spiritual prostitutes. We still have a long way to go, sadly.

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