Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Gay Pride - The Start of Something Big

With June being the official Gay Pride month, and parades and festivals popping up in big cities and small towns across America, I pause to reflect on my very first Gay Pride Parade. It was summer 1990 and my two best friends, Matt and Jeff, and I traveled the 3-hour car drive from our town in rural western Maryland. We had all found each other while teaching tennis at the local country club back home during the end of summer 1989. We became constant companions from that point on for about 5 years. But back to Pride:

We had been so excited to attend this event - our first official "fag function". The weather was perfect that day - sunny, clear and warm - a typical June day in DC. We had driven as far as the Gaithersburg Metro stop and took the subway in to the city to avoid eventual parking catastrophes. If you've never gotten off the Metro at the Dupont Circle exit, it is underground with a huge escalator taking you to the surface (which from the bottom of the escalator, looks like a small bright hole). When looking up from the bottom, the only thought that ever comes to my mind is "Carol Ann, run into the light!"

The boys and I stood on Dupont Circle at Massachusetts Avenue to watch the parade go by. The floats were colorful and loaded with disco bunnies. The biggest cheers came for PFLAG, the TRACKS float, and Gays In The Military. In every other car was perched a drag queen. I remember one particular float with two older "ladies" riding on the back of a convertible. They must have been Miss Gay Pride Bathrobe 1946 and '53 respectively. There they sat, beaming from earring to earring in their low cut evening gowns with chest hair spewing all over the place. Obviously these girls were late for the parade because they both forgot to shave their moustaches off. After one look at them, I turned to the boys and said, "Now that's Italian."

We stood near a very active group of people and whooped and hollered with them. Our first friends of the day had been made. We followed the parade to the carnival grounds (which back then were held at the School near the "Connie Francis Pool") all the while renewing old acquaintances and making new ones. Our theme song for that summer was, "Use It Up and Wear It Out!" So when it came blasting across the P.A.system, they boys and I hit the tennis court, which had been turned into a dance floor al fresco. We walked around the exhibits, signed petitions, bought funnel cakes, and cruised men. But by 3:00 in the afternoon, I was beginning to get weary of the whole scene. The boys and I were standing on the bridge on P Street that over looks P Street Beach deciding what to do next. Jeff said that he wanted to see one drag show that started at 4:00. All three of us agreed because one thing we loved as much as a good man was a bad drag queen.

We went back down to the grounds and placed ourselves in a prime location for the show. We were joined by Randy and Tony, two friends from our foray into the DC Sports Softball League, and Tony's roommate, Glenn. This is where it all got started. We watched two "girls" perform "Escapade" and "Vogue" respectively. The sea of gay men and lesbians was cheering for the performers. Now that we were pumped, it was decided that the six of us would go to a bar called Rascals (it used to be located in the now Riggs Bank complex on Dupont Circle) and have a cocktail or two or fifteen.

Rascals proved to be one of the best times we can remember. The place was kinda small, so it wasn't difficult for a loud group to take over the place. The six of us (now joined by two more friends: Joe, the captain of our softball team, and David, his very wiry, very hysterical companion) strategically placed ourselves in prime real estate in the bar in a corner where our voices were magnified 150 decibels. Since our softball team was knows as the "B" team (I swear, that was the actual name), David and I created a cheer: "Gimme a B, B!.....okay?" which resounded throughout the bar at various intervals (one man came to me and gave me five dollars to shut up).

Then the bar started playing videos and we saw Jennifer Holliday belt out her famous rendition of "And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going". This big ol' girl who sorta resembled Jennifer, joined her lookalike and started singing along with the video. We bowed to this woman.

After a trip upstairs to witness the infamous strippers in action, we realized that it was time to get home since we had a three hour drive ahead of us and tomorrow was Monday morning. We were shocked to discover that the sun was still shining after we had spent what seemed like all night in that bar. The original six of us bid our adieus to Joe and David at that infamous Metro escalator and we descended to the Metro. I think this is where all the alcohol we had consumed finally started to kick in. Aside from three young Asian men, we were the only ones heading north, leaving the city. However, the side going into the city was filled with people. And did we put a show on for them: leapfrog, cartwheels, singing, laughing, snapping, and every other word out of our mouths was "Mary!" People on the other side were actually photographing us as we posed in a variety of positions for pictures. When our train finally came, our admirers on the opposite platform gave us a standing ovation. We curtsied, entered the train and waved good-bye to our adoring, new-found groupies.

Happy Pride, Everyone!