Warning: Contains nostalgia
This summer marks an occasion for me. It is my 10 year Pride-i-versary. Not ten years since I’ve been out (omg i wish), but since the first time I attended a pride parade. Ten years ago I had just finished my first year of college at a snooty music/theater conservatory in Chicago. My friend J and I stayed in town that summer and we went to the parade together. I’ll talk more about that first Chicago Pride in Part 2 (when I compare it to this year’s Chicago Pride), but pretty much as soon as June hit I started to get really nostalgic about the whole situation. Much more than I did last spring when my 10 year high school reunion came around. (I didn’t go) I mean, 10 years is a long time. I’ve come a long way in ten years.
Ten years ago that first Pride parade was all shiny and amazing. I’d never seen anything like that before. I’d never felt like that before. Felt like part of something that big. In the years that have happened since, I’ve gone to many Prides in many cities. I’ve gone to big fancy elaborate Prides in Chicago and D.C., and I’ve gone to small town Prides. This year will be a 3 Pride summer. Starting with the Iowa City Pride and ending with the Cedar Falls Pride with Chicago sandwiched in the middle like the delicious part of the sandwich in between two fairly bland-tasting pieces of bread.
Except that I was reminded yesterday that small town prides can be really endearing. The parade was literally about 7 floats long. Blink and you’d have missed it. The festival took up only a small area of the pedestrian mall. But there was an infectious joy in between those booths. People were just happy to be celebrating who they were. And maybe because there are just fewer queer people to choose from, the IC pride festival was less focused on white, cis, homo- men in perfect physical shape. Which is pretty nice for the rest of us. I saw this on Tumblr the other day and wanted to ❤ about 48 times:
Because the older and more educated I get, the more mixed feelings I have about Pride festivals. Especially the big ones put white, cis, pretty, half naked people up on a pedestal, and while– don’t get me wrong, I like looking at them– it doesn’t do much for my own body image. It’s not okay that I have actually had the thought “I’m so not in good shape right now, I might as well not even go at all if I can’t wear a bikini top.” Like, SERIOUSLY not okay. But knowing so many hot women will be there in bikini tops with their perfect six packs and tanned skin make me self conscious– and that’s not what this shit is about!
But in a small town Pride you see people performing who don’t look like models. You see celebration of burlesque dancers whose bodies have curves and *gasp* even fat. Maybe it’s just because there are so fewer of us and we can’t be as choosy. Or maybe we have some bigger grasp on the idea that when we spew shit about how everyone is perfect and beautiful as they are we don’t mean, unless they don’t spend 2 hours a day in the gym and $100 on a haircut. We mean, like, actually as they are. I don’t know, really.
As much as we like to pretend to be one united community for the parade, the queer community is fractured. We aren’t nearly as nice to each other as we like to pretend we are. There are tensions between the letters, between races, between economic statuses. It bothers me. There are reasons for the tensions. Reasons for the animosity. But still, it bothers me.
Now there is plenty of that at small town Pride, too, but less. At the Iowa City Pride, there was less public drunkenness (at least in the afternoon) and more kids. And yeah, there were plenty of straight people there to admire those funny sparkly gay people as if we were exhibits in a zoo, but there were genuine allies there too, and we need those. There were people there who probably didn’t know that Drag Kings were a thing until that day, and if we educate people at all, then maybe it’s all worth it.
It’s nice, for one god-damned day, to not feel powerless and disenfranchised. It’s nice to be able to assume for one evening that the people around you are gay, instead of assuming that they aren’t. It’s nice to belt out “Firework” by Katy Perry right along with this Queen and dance along with the kids that she pulled on stage with her.