I missed this weekend's Gay Pride events. That makes twelve years in a row.
Seriously, I haven't partaken of any pride events since 2000. That June I traveled up to Chicago with Jeromy and Scott, and another young fellow whose name I honestly can't remember. He and I had met in a local gay chat room. He was pretty, someone I'd never dreamed would be interested in giving me the time of day, but life sometimes throws you pleasant surprises. We had a brief, but fun, weekend together, and then never saw each other again. No drama. We simply went our separate ways. So it goes.
Gay Pride weekends have been fun times. Four of them in total, all in Chicago. My first was in 1994, when I was 18: an adult, but too young to get into the bars. The group I went with consisted of my mother's then-partner, Catherine, and some lesbian friends. We watched the pride parade on Halsted, and then the older members of our crew stopped-in at a few bars, while I waited. I remember, it was an eye-opening experience: driving up Lakeshore Drive that fine June afternoon, seeing all of the Chicagoans at-play. Seeing, for the first time, men & men and women & women holding hands together.
Three years later, I experienced all of the wonder again. Pride of 1997 was an overnight stay this time. There were, however, matters to attend to first. I was DJing on the radio at the time, Saturday afternoons. After finishing the show, I stopped at Grandma Callie's house. My dad was there with his wife and my half-brother, Dillon. His cancer was advancing. After gaining and maintaining, he was starting to lose weight again. He didn't move much. We conversed a bit, then I left, looking back at him sitting on the couch on grandma's interior porch, looking shrunken and sad. It was the last time I saw him alive.
The rest of the weekend was more jubilant. I met-up with friends in Boystown. We talked, we bar-hopped, we went out to eat, we drank (heavily), we hung out on the lake shore. We were young, and the world was ours. We even held hands. Just friends, you understand, but that's part of what Pride is about. I remember being on the dance-floor of the club Manhole (or whatever it was called at the time), doing things with someone that folks probably shouldn't do on a dance-floor. I also remember wanting to bed a guy whom I knew from Champaign, who was lost on the street. It didn't happen, probably for the best.
Pride of 1998 was very similar to that of 1997, perhaps with a tad less potential sexual intrigue. I spent some time with another friend from Champaign, Terry, and I remember that we went driving around looking for food at around 3am. We had a hotel room in the 'burbs, and were looking for grub in the area. Not even a Denny's was open. We finally ended up dining (I use the term loosely) at a place called The Omega Restaurant that, when you walked in, had signs pointing in opposite directions that read East/West. Remind me to tell you about it someday.
I mentioned Pride 2000 earlier. It was right before I met Ashley. One might argue that I have more to be 'proud' of now, what with a relationship and a life developed around it, but I also think that those early years of being an out gay man were worth their own bit of pride. There's something to be said for surviving years of bullying, part of it due to your perceived sexuality. And then there's the issue of dealing with family, and their reaction to who you are. Coming out, in and of itself, often takes guts. Then there's simply being comfortable and happy with who you are, when much of society actively dislikes you.
The Pet Shop Boys released a cover of Somewhere in the summer of 1997, and it fit the mood of that Pride weekend perfectly. There's a line in the song that goes, "There's a place for us / a time and place for us," and really, isn't that what Pride Weekend is all about? We are gathered together in one place, putting aside any issues we may have (and believe me: gay people have issues), and we celebrate who we are and the strength we've mustered in order to endure the struggles we've encountered in dealing with our sexuality.
There is, indeed, a place for us, and it's called Gay Pride Weekend. Perhaps I'll go next year?