I look forward to Pride each year the way that I look forward to Christmas, with a mixture of giddy excitement and mordant dread. Gay Christmas, my friends, is exactly what happens at the end of June. The rainbow stockings are hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that a sponsoring airline soon will be there. This Pride phenomenon is our most embarrassing Frankenstein.
The Pride guide was just published here in San Francisco, all 304 pages of it. It looks like an issue of Cosmo, basically, except that its design is more along the lines of Wired. And it's full of advertising with stylish queer people kicking back with cocktails, lifting weights, and disco dancing. The guides are printed, natch, on heavy high gloss paper. If we get into a street altercation with religious wackos, we can mortally wound them by hurling Pride guides at them.
As for content, features include "Together," a Mark Veltman photo spread of five committed white couples, a feature on collectible antiques, a section subtitled "photos from all the right parties" and the requisite celebrity profiles. Our hometown heroes, this time around, include comedienne Margaret Cho, Wilson Cruz (from My So Called Life), and Kimberly Pierce (director of Boy's Don't Cry).
Once again, the message is that the people we should really be proud of are the queers and straight but not narrow people in Hollywood. The people who are battling for change inside the Chrysler factory, getting elected to city councils, and getting beaten in high school locker rooms, as usual, are absent. The magazine makes obvious swipes at racial diversity in its photo composition. Someone, quick, tell these designers that diversity is more than putting a buffed-up black body next to all the buffed-up white bodies.
This is the official Pride guide for Los Angeles, New York, D.C. AND San Francisco, mind you. Because it's all about unity and celebrating what we have in common: BMW, Bud Light, and Clairol.
As for politics, the editors rounded up about a dozen people like Log Cabin's Rich Tafel and LGNY's very smart Ann Northrup to answer the question "Will there be Pride in 2100?" Those answers, as well as smooshy public relations blurb letters from Bill Clinton and Al Gore, are about it for political consciousness.
No 1999 year-end wrap up, no forecast for legislative or social progress. Yes, this is essentially a fashion magazine, but if we don't start expecting more from the publications and gatherings that claim to summarize our "community," then fashionable gatherings are all that will remain. Or has it already come to that? This is our iconography, and it's up to each of us to hold up every alleged gay community magazine and say loudly "I do not see myself in this magazine."
It's not about crass commercialism everywhere. Many towns and cities across the country actually have Pride gatherings without beer trucks and the obligatory lesbian comedienne headliner. "How in the world do they do it?" you ask. Imagine! A pride gathering where you don't need plastic beer bracelets or food tickets; you don't even have to worry about your name being sold fifteen times by the vendor who, in exchange for your address, gave you a foam squeeze ball emblazoned with their dot.com address. Valhalla!
At 1998 Pride in Greenville, South Carolina, the humble march continued amidst bomb threats and city council spasms. On one street corner, you could glimpse a pack of fire breathing Lesbian Avengers, a few archetypal Bible thumpers, and a contingent of P-FLAG parents, all facing off. It was chilling. It was beautiful. It was about something.
When I lived in Virginia, I attended Pride gatherings in four different cities each year. They were organized like big family reunions with softball, horseshoes, and barbecue pits galore. My favorite Pride memory is from Roanoke, Virginia, where a funky drag queen set up shop in a dome tent, reading fortunes for one dollar a throw. I don't know where the slim proceeds went, but I certainly hope they went toward keeping this glittery child in mascara for the summer. I'd spent the morning working the crowd, giving away copies of the newspaper I edited, and interviewing various members of the community, so I was exhausted when I got to her. She stubbed out her long menthol cigarette, took my hand and moved her crookedly painted lips to say "You're gonna get a boyfriend, girl. Not soon, but eventually. You deserve it."
All the circuit parties, all the gym memberships, all the airbrushed celebrities, all the liquor ads, all the Hollywood glamour...even if this empty fashion circus filled a million slick pages, it wouldn't come close to the mad pageantry of one middle-aged drag queen in a tent, imparting her considerable wisdom for singles. When I think of pride, I think of her.
Kirk Read lives in San Francisco and can be reached at KirkRead@aol.com and www.temenos.net/kirkread