Sunday, February 7, 2010
June 16, 2007 was Pittsburgh’s first official gay pride festival, called “Pride Fest 2007.” We missed the parade in the afternoon, but showed up in the evening for the festival. They closed down two blocks of Liberty Avenue for it. Initially I was apprehensive about going, as neither my wife nor I are really truly gay. We thought about bugging some of our gay friends to see if they would be there, and go with us. That seemed kind of cowardly though. I don’t need a human shield or chaperone to go investigate something new. It’s not that I was concerned about being seen alone with my wife at a giant gay function, but that I hate to feel like I’m intruding where I don’t belong. We wanted to show our support however, and they were going to have legal drinking in the street. So we went. We circled the perimeter of the event once to check it out before entering. I was shocked that there weren’t any protesters. This is Pittsburgh, after all. I had expected a mob of people in Steelers garb, with crosses and giant homemade signs, explaining why it’s un-Christian and morally wrong to be gay. I thought there would be angry meatheads yelling, “FAGS!” from their pickup trucks as they drove past. There was none of that, and for a moment, I was very pleasantly impressed with my town. There were two entry points, one in the front and one in the back, which I thought was funny and appropriate. If you already had a ticket, there was no line. If you needed a ticket there was a huge line at the front. In the back, however, there was no line at all. We took that route, bought our tickets, and were in. The atmosphere was immediately one of insane and infectious joy. The most obvious spectacle was, of course, the stage, upon which there were dancers. The dancers were fit young men in extra-tight briefs and nothing else, gyrating and thrusting to the pounding club music that filled the scene. The backdrop behind the stage was a huge rainbow banner. There was a giant net full of multi-colored balloons held above the crowd. Not on a stage, but towards the back of the festival area, there was a circle comprised mostly of young black guys doing some hybrid form of vogueing and break-dancing. Some were trannies. Some were not. It was incredible to watch. Before the night came to an end, I would encounter four men that I knew from places that I’ve worked or from the art scene whom I’d had no idea were gay. Though I suppose seeing them there wasn’t necessarily evidence to indicate that they’re gay, as I too was there, and not really very gay. Regardless, everybody was extremely friendly. Everybody was cool, so much so that I felt like an alien. There was no meathead bullshit to be found anywhere. Even the cops were laughing and having a good time. Everybody was so open and suave that I felt like a lame, straight caveman. I felt like I was made of 2x4s, rusty metal and rawhide. I wanted to apologize to everybody I saw for darkening their beautiful event with the pall of my dysfunctional clumsiness. My wife took to it much more naturally than I did. She enjoyed the girls checking her out. I enjoyed the girls checking her out. They, however, didn’t seem to enjoy me checking them out. I felt bad about that, and did my best not to do too much looking at women, not knowing if they’d be receptive to it. My wife thought it was utterly hilarious to watch the men checking me out, which I didn’t anticipate, or notice at all. I was utterly oblivious to that. Certainly it’s positive, though, as I’ll happily accept that sort of endorsement from whichever side of the fence wants to give it to me. As I drank I loosened up, not to such an extent that I would embarrass myself by dancing, but enough that I shed some of my tension and meshed well with the crowd. Some people who weren’t tense in any way, shape or form were: The black man in the sequin panties, sandals, rainbow colored wig, and not a stitch of anything else; the dancing bearded man in a t-shirt reading, “You’ve been a bad bear, go to my room!”; the two young guys that slipped off into a Porta-John together. There was, in fact, quite a large number of people without any self-consciousness whatsoever. I was envious. I was painfully straight. I didn’t want to be gay. I just wanted to be less inhibited and less tightly wound. At that moment it occurred to me that gay people are probably the next natural step in human evolution. They’re a more developed breed of human, without the primitive, standard-issue, boring, straight, middle class, suburban, white, Christian notions of gender roles, sexuality, and inhibitions. The train has left the station, and gay is where it’s headed. Those of us not fortunate or cool enough to live there will do well to at least come and hang out periodically. We stayed until about 12:30, when the aforementioned net full of multi-colored balloons was released on the crowd, and everybody went nuts.