A Parade of Two
San Diego’s annual Gay Pride weekend took place about a week ago. I wasn’t in town for the actual hoopla, but during the days leading up to the big event, my daughter the Mini-Pirate and I watched as the city draped itself in rainbows. It was all very colorful and jubilant and pride-alicious.
As we drove home from the grocery store, my daughter said, “Wow, look at that one house. It’s got, like, ten rainbow flags.”
“Yep, pretty festive,” I replied.
“That house is super proud to be gay, isn’t it?” she said. Heh.
“I believe it is.”
She paused, and then asked, “So… what’s Gay Pride actually about again?”
We’d talked briefly before about what the flags mean, and why the gay community has appropriated the rainbow, copyrighted it, trademarked it, and now uses its many colors as a symbol for embracing diversity. But I hadn’t really gotten into the whole idea of why Gay Pride events exist in the first place. Or rather, we hadn’t discussed why such a commemoration is necessary. As she’s slowly become more attuned to the idea of gay people in the world, and the notion that her father (that would be me) is one of those people, I’ve tried to navigate her down a particular path with care: all along, I’ve wanted her to get the idea that gay people are just like straight people in most ways. That there’s really nothing special or unique about being gay. Gay people in our society are no different than straight people at all.
But the fact is, that’s not really true, is it?
Our culture seems to be embracing the gay community more and more all the time: gay characters on TV, gay superheroes in comic books, openly gay famous people who come out with such casual announcements that one could slip right by without even making the cover of US Weekly. As far as I can tell, absolutely no one cares about who Anderson Cooper might be sleeping with.
And yet actually being gay still means existing on the fringe of the larger collective. It means that when you go out in public, you wonder if people can tell something about you by the way you walk, talk, or dress. Hopefully you don’t care what people think. You shouldn’t. But you’re aware they might be thinking… something.
It means you don’t get to hold your boyfriend’s hand everywhere you want to.
It means you’re part of a group that’s still the focus of jokes, clichés and bullshit parodies by Sacha Baron Cohen.
It means you aren’t particularly welcome in any of the nation’s several fine Chick-fil-A restaurants, even if you’re jonesing for a Spicy Chicken Biscuit. (Which I’m sure is perfectly tasty, especially with that zesty aftertaste of vitriol.)
It means that when some friends say they don’t care whether you’re straight, gay or other, you have to watch them be extra emphatic about it because they're trying to convince themselves more than you.
By designating a specific weekend for the gay community and its supporters, by having a big ol’ parade, we’re saying that there is something unique, something left of center, something other than traditional about being gay. That’s ok – it’s good, of course. It’s about celebrating individuality. It's about saying very clearly that being gay is not something that should merit shame. That statement is valuable and necessary. When you decide to have a special parade about something, you’re declaring that something needs to be accepted and appreciated.
And by saying that, you’re saying it hasn’t always been that way.
I have yet to tell Mini-P about how our society has treated gay people in the past. She does not know that being proud to embrace your orientation is a relatively new phenomenon. She doesn’t know that gay kids used to get beat up in schools. Or that they sometimes still do. She doesn’t know that there are folks out there who think gay people are going to literally burn in Hell. Or who at least think that if gays are allowed to get married, they’ll destroy the institution of marriage for the whole wide world and drag us down into a swamp of immorality oh my God SAVE THE CHILDREN AAAAAAAAGH!
I’m 42 years old. I’m not afraid of getting beat up on the playground. I can hold my own in the face of bigotry, thanks. Not a big concern of mine. But I’m not quite ready for her to know that such bigotry still exists. If she knows that, she’ll worry about me. I know her. She’ll worry that someone will do something mean to her dad, and that something bad will happen to me.
Maybe that’s why I’ve downplayed Gay Pride month, why I haven’t yet explained to her exactly why the flags and parades in July are so important. I’d like her to keep on thinking that there’s really nothing unusual about being gay, that there’s nothing left-of-center about it at all.
She’ll find out on her own. She’s starting Middle School in the Fall, and I plan on being involved. At some point, it’s likely to become known that her dad is gay. Hopefully no one will care. But someone might. Some kid may throw a little hate speech her way that opens her eyes to a new and ugly reality. It could happen.
But: last week, after we drove past the Super Gay House, the Mini-Pirate asked, “So, what’s Gay Pride actually about?” And I had to give her an answer.
I searched a bit for some useful language, and then said, “Well, it’s a time when people can show how proud they are to have gay people in their lives.” (I don’t know – I was trying to stay broad and inclusive, and that’s what I came up with.)
“Oh. Well,” she declared, “I’m proud to have a gay person in MY life.” And she reached forward and patted my head.
I’m not making that up. That happened.
It would seem we are a parade of two.