(All photographs courtesy of Dee Cheng)
After a great deal of kicking and screaming, I ended up giving in and allowing a group of friends to drag me to San Francisco this past weekend for Pride in the big gay city. I’ve only known this group for a very short time, and given my recent less than stellar emotional state, I wasn’t quite sure exactly how the weekend would go. Reflecting on it, I have to say that overall I’m glad I went. And to all my new friends, thanks for letting me join you.
Until this summer, I had never attended Pride. Well, with the exception of the sort-of-Pride my friend Michael and I accidentally stumbled upon while walking the waterfront in Louisville, Kentucky about four or five years ago. That was a strange place, and I don’t really count it (just try to imagine a gay get together in Kentucky… can you?).
I kicked off this year by deciding randomly to hit a club in Long Beach during their Pride. It was… decent. Typical club scene with booze and dancing. I just needed to get out of the house. But I had a good time and ended up running into some friends. However, it did not instill in me the desire to venture out the following day for the parade or other events. I wish I had, though, just so I’d have some sort of reference point to judge by.
A few weekends later, Los Angeles held their Pride within a section of West Hollywood. I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to attend, but again, I needed to get out of the house so decided to make a go of it. That Saturday night I hit one of the lesbian parties at Haute, met up with a few friends, then spent a short time at The Abbey before heading home for the night. Like LB, typical club scene with booze and dancing. Except one of the gogo dancers was a little enamored with me and in an attempt to possibly be cute, put her finger up my nose (FYI, chica, not cute). Sunday was another lesbian party followed by a little walking around. An okay time but nothing too exciting or moving.
San Francisco was a game changer. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the weekend dovetailing on the elation of a same-sex marriage win in New York or if the so-called gay mecca just knows how to treat Family. Either way, Long Beach and Los Angeles don’t even hold a candle to San Francisco Pride.
On Friday evening we rolled into the city in our big group, checked into our rooms, and prepped for the night out. The guys went somewhere by themselves (I have no idea where… somewhere jam packed with men I suspect), and our lesbian posse walked the few blocks to Les Beaux & Flourish’s Pride Friday. I have to say there was nothing too extraordinary about this event other than the sheer volume of drunk women dancing, and my alcohol addled brain remembers the most exciting(?) moments as when I helped a guy gain confidence to use the urinal in front of a huge crowd of gay ladies waiting to pee and when I randomly became overly emotional (fuck you Katy Perry… and alcohol) and burst into sobbing tears in front of everyone. Good times.
Saturday was where things began to pick up. After a nice sleep in, I met up with everyone else in the early afternoon for lunch followed by a short Muni ride to Dolores Park where throngs of people (mostly women) were hanging out with old friends, making new ones, watching performers, and waiting for the 19th Annual Dyke March.
I was a little taken aback by the number of people there. Large crowds tend to make me extremely nervous, and while I was a little hesitant at first, I very quickly was able to settle back and just absorb it all. In Los Angeles, I feel like there’s a sort of homogeneity within the LGBT community. There isn’t a lot of branching out beyond a handful of molds. What I experienced that day in Dolores Park, though, was an eclectic mix of nearly every type of human I could imagine all co-mingling across the green lawn. When the sense of unease vanished, I felt an unexpected sense of belonging within my community, a community of misfits and individuals. As the hordes of women filtered out of the park and took to the streets to march, I felt proud and like I was a part of something bigger than myself. It’s a feeling I hope stays with me always.
Perhaps I was still floating on the vibe from earlier in the day, but that night out at another club didn’t feel as superficial as nights of drinking and dancing generally do. When I danced with different women, it seemed more about enjoying each other’s company rather than hoping to hook up. When the professional dancers stepped in to hype up the crowd, it seemed more about creating a sense of unity than serving as objects of our sexual desire. Of course, I could have been the only person there who felt this way about things, and I could be becoming delusional as my youth ticks away. But for me, what I felt was real.
Our weekend rounded out with Sunday’s Pride parade and the celebration in San Francisco’s Civic Center. There were men and women, gay and straight, old and young, single people and families… even clothed and naked folks. In the simple moments of walking through the crowd and standing back just to people watch, I felt like I’d come home. I’ve never felt this way during any other trip to the bay area, and I attribute a lot of it to the festivities going on. However, if I’d packed more than a few tank tops and a single jacket for the chilly weather, it would have been difficult to drag me back south.
One friend commented that amongst the extreme diversity and proud displays of self we saw that weekend, she somehow felt less gay. I had the exact opposite reaction. I felt part of a community, a sense of camaraderie, and relevance. I haven’t shied away from my identity since childhood, but somehow I found a way to embrace myself even more. To San Francisco Pride 2011, I thank you for helping me find that.