When I had my first boyfriend, I was still in the closet. I remember very specifically one time driving through Hollywood with him when he put his hand on my leg. With survival-skill reflexes, my brain instantly remembered that a coworker of mine lived in the neighborhood. What if she happened to be walking by at that exact moment and looked into the car and saw another guy’s hand on my leg!? I began to panic, but as always, I kept my cool and found some way of temporarily resolving the issue while avoiding the underlying problem; I asked him to adjust the air conditioning vent, then I quickly put my hand on the gear shift and blocked his access to my leg.
Appearance of straightness, accomplished.
There’s all sorts of things wrong with the fact that my brain was wired to react that way. First of all, my boyfriend’s hand was at the wrong angle to be seen from the sidewalk, my coworker actually lived over a mile away from where we were, and even in the incredibly unlikely event that she had taken a long walk that day, climbed a step latter on the sidewalk of Hollywood Blvd, and turned to look into traffic at that exact moment… I already knew she had no problem with gay people and neither would anyone else at my job!
In hindsight, it wasn’t my proudest moment.
My relationship with gay pride festivals has been about as complicated as my relationship with my own gay pride. The socially progressive church I grew up in was located in San Diego’s gay neighborhood of Hillcrest. Every time San Diego Gay Pride came around, our church would organize groups to go support the festivities and for a few years even had a float that ran in the parade, but I never attended. Although it’s a bit disconcerting to know that my parents have participated in more gay pride festivals in my lifetime than I have, I do have a justification.
One of the major reasons for having gay pride festivals is to increase gay visibility – the idea being that more exposure will result in more acceptance – but I think gay pride festivals can do the gay community a real disservice in this regard.
Ignorant people and homophobes figure all gays are either depraved leather-daddy sex fiends or prissy rainbow-flag-waving flamers, and they use those stereotypes to define us as “others” who they can be justified in hating and wanting nothing to do with. So after every pride parade, what sort of images do the media outlets feature in order to open these people’s minds about the gay community and redefine harmful stereotypes?
Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a leather daddy or femme twink, but why can’t the media ALSO show the average, everyday (and clothed) gays who comprise the majority of the crowd?
Since this type of media coverage can contribute to a potentially harmful and inaccurate representation of the gay community, I avoided pride festivals completely… until a few years ago.
I was driving to pick up my leg-touching boyfriend for dinner in the week leading up to LA’s gay pride weekend, when I passed by a marquee outside of one of the clubs on Sunset Blvd with a message that really stuck with me.
I never saw the sign again, nor did I mention it to my boyfriend, but as we drove to dinner tother that night, I put my hand on his leg.
It was a simple slogan that I’ve since discovered was actually part of an advertisement for LA Weekly. But those two small words had a very real impact on me; they’d made me more comfortable about my sexuality and more proud of who I was. It begged the question, what could an entire parade do!?
It was then I realized that I had been thinking of gay pride the wrong way. While it is an attempt to raise acceptance outside of the gay community (and I still think my complaints in that department are valid), its even more important role is to raise acceptance inside each individual member of the community.
I’ve attended pride festivals ever since. Last year I was even lucky enough to be accompanied by my parents at San Diego’s pride parade where I saw another sign that made me even prouder.
Now I am a big advocate for pride parades, and I encourage everyone to attend their local festival, because you never know how even the smallest thing you might see or do can have a significant positive impact on your life. Hell, I went from being the guy who’s afraid to let his boyfriend touch his leg in the privacy of a car to the guy who spent the last LA Gay Pride wearing only these: