Wednesday, July 16, 2014
You Kids Get Off My Parade!
Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be…and it most likely never was.
At the end of June, as is my longstanding tradition, I went to San Francisco’s LGBTQI Pride Parade. I’ve been doing it for decades, since back in those pre-inclusive days when it was known simply as “Gay Freedom Day” and nobody had heard of HIV, marriage equality, or Grindr. Back when “lube” meant Vaseline or spit. Back when I had hair.
Lately, I’ve been marching with the American Civil Liberties Union. Not the most radical organization on the block, maybe, but hey, the ACLU can make a rightwinger’s hair burst into flames. They’re the nice bunch who went to bat before the Supreme Court for that delightful Edie Windsor so she could take down DOMA. Plus: cool parade T-shirts.
This year, we got stuck toward the back of the parade and set off three hours after the Dykes on Bikes roared down Market Street right in front of the Airbnb float. Now, when I was picketing Greenwich Village police stations way back in the early 1970s, I didn’t realize I was fighting for the right of techies to rent out their overpriced apartments. But, you know, times change.
And I’ve changed too. It’s something of a myth that age brings wisdom. Sometimes it just brings grumpiness. I did try my best not to resent all the young parade-goers draped in rainbow-colored plastic dreck, flouncing around like they were entitled to the fruits of half a century of queer activism. Because, well, all those LGBTQIwhatever young ‘uns are entitled to precisely that.
Sure, kids, you will never know or understand the isolation of growing up gay pre-Stonewall, wondering if you’re the only one like you in your whole town. You won’t search in vain for images of folks like you in the mass media. Nor will you wake up at the height of the AIDS pandemic, wondering which of your friends will be diagnosed that day. And that means that, in very significant ways, we queer old farts did our job. I might almost be tempted to dub my cohort The Greatest Gay Generation…if that didn’t seem so smarmily self-glorifying.
Sure, it’s tempting to look at the well-waxed young gym bunnies gyrating on corporate floats and wonder where gay politics took a hard right turn into assimilationism. Once we wanted to change the world, now we just want to be accepted by the status quo. Turn on, buy in, work out!
Which is not to say that we’re not changing the world—at least the developed Western world—just by being our own queer selves. But, well, sometimes shallow homos can give superficiality a bad name. Life does consist of more than apps, drugs, and shaving your balls, remember?
But then, queer folks don’t enjoy the generation-to-generation continuity found in many other subgroups. Most of our parents were straight, and most of the kids whom same-sex couples are raising will turn out that way, too. Traditionally, queer folkways have been handed down through our cultural institutions, everything from drag shows to Death in Venice. We used to speak in codes and whispers, often from deep in the closet.
But that seems so very long ago. Nowadays, it’s getting tough to even find a good closet. Drag is just another pretext for reality TV competitions. Stonewall has gone from a radical riot to an Upcoming Major Motion Picture, directed by the guy who made Independence Day…and who’s quite openly gay himself. Hell, even dick piercing seems decidedly old hat.
And, you know, that’s really a good, even an amazing, thing. Was it really so wonderful to sneak into mafia-run bars, worry about blackmail, marry a beard, live a lie? Well, no; I doubt even the most nostalgic among us long for that.
So it turns out that plenty of you gay guys are more interested in raising kids with your husbands than deconstructing the patriarchy? Well, cool! Just as long as you don’t disavow those who are less gender conforming, less monogamously inclined, or more radical in their politics, then go for that white picket fence, guys!
Because, as every year’s parade increasingly indicates, queerdom is now a club that just about anyone can join. LGBTI people are more diverse than might have been imagined a decade or three ago, and we’re getting more diverse all the time. No matter who you are or what you’re into, there’s a place for you out there, and a Tumblr or Instagram site where you can flaunt it.
Maybe we are indeed well on our way to a post-“gay” society with room for a wide spectrum of sexualities and genders, and that sounds pretty fucking cool. History does, indeed, keep right on a-moving, and some changes really are for the best. OK, maybe we do live in a security-state oligarchy, but it is a place where you can order a cocksucker on Craigslist in minutes…and sometimes they’ll even show up. Want to get spanked? There’s an app for that!
Sure, San Francisco may not be paradise, but compared to Kampala, Riyadh, or even Hog Wallow, Tennessee, it’s pretty damn close. And if the Good Old Days of Gay Radicalism are long gone, well…I recently ran across a rather wonderful quote. Author Gideon Lewis-Kraus wrote, “What the word ‘over’ really means is that your expectations of a place, your fantasies of who you might have become there, have been confounded by the persistence of you.”
And I think that goes for the gay movement. Whatever queer theory’s utopian notions of reshaping human relations, of (as an old piece of agitprop quaintly put it) “cock sucking as an act of revolution,” our fondest dreams eventually run smack dab against the reality of ourselves.
Or so I mused while I was waiting for the ACLU to march down Market Street. That is, when I wasn’t being distracted by a head-turning array of manhood—from skinny nerd to leather hunk—clothed, shirtless, or buck naked. And then we were off, on yet another march, right after the revolutionaries at Uber.
For as our Great Gay Tunesmith, Stephen Sondheim, wrote, “Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all. And my dear, I’m still here.”
And that’s something to celebrate.
Simon Sheppard is the author of Man on Man: The Best of Simon Sheppard, The Dirty Boys' Club, Sex Parties 101 and Jockboys. Visit him at www.simonsheppard.com, and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.