Wednesday, June 25, 2008

1973: Pride (In The Name of Love)

Stashed somewhere in my apartment is an issue of David magazine, dated August 1973. It's really not much more than a glorified national bar rag, a prehistoric version of HX. In fact the ratio of drag queens to naked boys was pretty much the same then as it is today.

On page 19 there's a half-page photograph of that year's Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade Rally in Washington Square Park. Yes, children, that's what it was called way back then. A march down Sixth Avenue, and a rally in the park, attended by oh, perhaps several hundred. It's a beautiful warm and sunny end of June day. The photographer is shooting from the elevated make-shift stage, capturing a panoramic view of the large crowd of attendees enjoying the speakers and entertainment. Sprawled against the police barricades up front are a rather inelegant group of revelers, set slightly apart and thereby in relief from the rest of the mostly young, mostly long-haired throng. They've been caught in mid-cheer!

There's William, my very first boyfriend, standing a little apart from the group, looking bemused and skeptical. He's not sure the libertine sentiment of the day meshes with the conservative rhetoric he usually spouts. There's Peter, the very first human being I came out to, the bright sunlight illuminating his halo of red curls. There's Liz & Eileen, great and good friends from high school who took me to my very first gay bar, and Miles, who I was crushing on real bad for a while back then. I even wrote a song about him. You'll never hear it. Oh yeah, his boyfriend is sitting on the barricades. I forget his name.

A the apex of this group is your correspondent: tall and thin with aviator glasses, horseshoe moustache extending to my chin and that black curly hair. I'm wearing a blue chambray western shirt and my arms are straight up over my head applauding. Can you pick me out?

I have no idea who was on stage at the time the pic was snapped, but I do remember that it WAS a show. The stars of our very small orbit, Alaina Reed, Sally Eaton & Cliff Grishman, our singing buddy Steven Grossman and Miss Bette Midler performed as Sylvia Rivera of S.T.A.R. waged war with Jean O'Leary, sparring for stage time to vent their opposing viewpoints as regards drag.

My very first celebration of Gay Pride and and my personal Liberation.

I marched the next year with Bobby, my second boyfriend. That June we marched up Sixth Avenue to rally in Central Park. The following year I marched solo, but made out in a summer storm with Gary, whom I met at the rally. I remember licking the rain off his teeth. Funny how some details never fade. The next several years fade into a blur, and then I have no recollection of parades or rallies. Robert and I would spend Saturday night deep into Sunday morning at Flamingo, 12West and later The Saint, and would be too wasted from our weekly ritual to partake in the yearly ritual.

Flash forward several years...a much less happy time. I'm completely cut off from anything that resembles a gay community, such as it is. My friends are either in the process of dying or have just up and done it. And I'm feeling the need to re-connect on any level. With anything. In fact, I mentioned this to the woman I worked for at that time. Who told me it wouldn't be good for our business for me to attend the parade, and besides, people like us didn't associate with that riff-raff. Or words to that effect. Needless to say, that Sunday I was down at the corner of 12th and 5th Avenue, watching the parade from start to finish. I stood, all goose flesh, during the minute of silence, and gasped, moved to tears, by the cheer that roared up immediately after. The young Act-Up boys and girls were tremendous; just what my anger needed. Was that the year they lay down in the street at various times throughout the parade route to dramatize our impending deaths? Perhaps their courage planted a seed in me to seek my own freedom again.

I went back to the parade, either by myself or with new-found, hard-won friends in later years. Of course Tim and I got to go for a few years, and had the best time of all. We would marvel at recurrent themes: screaming Hispanic drag queens, topless lesbians in wheel chairs, pneumatic muscle boys in ice cream colored wigs and matching speedos.

But Tim's been working the bar on Sundays for the past several years. And it's PRIDE now. On Christopher Street! Big business. It used to be his best day of the year, even if the work was grueling, and the bar never seemed prepared for the hordes of humanity that would descend, post-parade on the foot of Christopher Street and the river. He still does pretty well, but there are other, more popular bars now, and at least he's out of there at a somewhat decent enough hour.

So Pride has become an excuse for me to spend the day at the gym, clean out my kitchen cupboards, or mope at home. I won't go down to the bar, it's just too insane, and I hate to see Tim so stressed. Valium only helps so far.

I posted this three years ago, found the picture two years ago, and combine them here for you today. It's still a heady rush to see those young people on the barricades. I'm not sure of my Pride schedule this year. I still won't head down to the bar, and the notion of watching the parade appeals in a rather limited fashion. However, I could very much do with an event that reinforces the idea that we might still be a community, something I'm finding difficult to believe these days. I would like to be proven wrong. I'd like to believe that all I fought for, all I marched for, all I protested and all I lost in the battle was not in vain. That the rights we're still trying to attain, are in fact, attainable. That, when push comes to shove, we will storm the barricades again, young and old.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you thank you thank you for this.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those were the days, for real.

My hope is that in the sea of bodies celebrating this weekend, there's at least a handful for whom the experiences you describe are repeated, and that they are every bit as integral to their personal queer evolution as those days were for us.

12:59 PM  
Anonymous KnuckleCrack said...

whether you attend the parade or not or whether you attend the post-parade festivities or not- this story stands as your pride.

Thanks Mark

Happy you.

4:55 AM  
Blogger xiaomi said...

None of that effort and pain was in vain. Not one bit. Not at all. Everything that has improved since then has been as a result of that fighting. Even if it has been a constant 3-steps-forward 2-step-back battle. There's still so much more trouble ahead, but what is right will come to fruition. It is attainable. I spent the weekend encountering so many different kinds of people who have benefited from all the efforts of the past and present decades of queers. The droves of dykes I happened upon at the Library on Saturday, the beautiful smiles of the sweet trans girls I was crowded up against on Christopher St. on Sunday afternoon, the beautiful men I spent Sunday night with at the Eagle. So much suffering and bullshit and awfulness permeates it still but one day it will have burned away. It will be worth it and it already is worth it. THANK YOU

11:21 PM  
Blogger OMO said...

Thank you for sharing this with us.

It's London Pride this weekend, and let me tell you that I shall be thinking of you, and those like you, as I always do. I shall say my quiet thank you to the pioneers, for your battles have allowed my partner and I to walk through central London hand in hand. Trust me, those that fought for our rights aren't forgotten.

Thank you, Mark.

9:09 AM  

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