I am having the faintest memory, or maybe it was a dream. I am outside. I’m with a friend, sharing a joint, passing from her lips to mine. We aren’t wearing masks. We go out onto the street and everyone is smiling. The sun is shining; we are crowding together. My body is covered in gold glitter and a stranger is covered in silver stars, and we brush past each other, mixing. I become a part of his rainbow and he becomes part of mine.
All of these things would be impossible now. Or, if they did happen, they would be extremely foolish and dangerous. As we are now all stuck inside due to Covid-19, doing our best to keep others safe as well as ourselves, it’s sometimes painful to think back on these memories. But it did happen. Back when the streets of New York City were safe (ish) to roam, we danced and sang and drank at the Pride March.
Every year, the weeks leading up to Pride are all anticipation and energy. What are we going to drink? What are we going to wear? Where should we start? What bar should we go to after? And then, the actual day is magical — right until it’s not. Anyone who has attended the parade knows what I’m talking about. You’re suddenly exhausted and you desperately need to pee. The lines for restrooms stretch through bars and everyone is annoyed that you’re between them and a fresh margarita. I was fortunate enough in this blissful memory Parade to live in the village, where my friend and I could retreat for some shade and a bathroom break.
We shared a joint on the balcony and then walked out onto the teeming streets. The world was vibrant. We went a few blocks and were suddenly crowded by hundreds of people. Cynthia Nixon was in the parade, like magic, standing right in front of me. Being a Sex And The City fan, I couldn’t contain my joy and screamed, “Holy Fucking Shit, it’s the real Cynthia Nixon!” I don’t really know what I had expected as the rumors came down through the crowd, though. A clone? A cardboard cutout? She smiled at me and was shaking hands with people at the barricades. I felt so connected to the world at that moment. She was a reminder that people want to make the world better for those they love.
The floats after Cynthia were what we have come to expect at Pride. They were marketing floats for huge corporations with greased up, muscly men gyrating on top. I always wonder if this is how those banks and tequila companies really think of the community. Do they know this is such a narrow view of a very diverse community? While it’s always fun to cheer at the floats for a while, it was hard to imagine we could top seeing Cynthia Nixon, so we moved on. My friend got overwhelmed by the crowds and the noise, so we stepped down a side street. We were accidentally behind a street stage set up, and sitting there right down the block was Elizabeth Ziff from Betty! I gave her a goofy wave, but by some miracle, I managed not to yell at her.
We moved a respectful distance away so Betty could have privacy at their own backstage and sat on a curb. It was shady, the wind cooled our sweaty bodies. I was regretting my choice of crop top. My midriff was cool but drenched with armpit sweat, which was running down my sides into the waistband of my boxer briefs. As my friend was counting to 10, using some breathing techniques, I started to notice the people walking by.
There was a slow current of Long Island teens. Their jean shorts were tiny, and flip flops smacked their soles. I remembered my first parade when my girlfriend had to tell her parents she was seeing a play. We fought the whole time, but it was still a great memory because we were finally with our tribe. There were queer people who have lived in the city since they could find enough cash to leave their parents’ houses. There were rainbow suspenders, Converse shoes, boas, fedoras, and crop tops. There were shirtless men with big, hairy bellies and even bigger smiles. There were women with their breasts out, enjoying the cool breeze. Older people held hands with their spouses, who have perhaps been going to the parade before it was the cool thing to do.
My heart became full watching these people walk by. This is the real parade, I thought to myself, still buzzed and on the ground. They weren’t sculpted from marble like the men on the floats (though we do love them!). They weren’t all white, pearly toothed clones of Neil Patrick Harris (though we do love Neil Patrick Harris!). There were men and women and neither and both. They were in love or heartbroken or on the prowl. But none of them were hiding, for one beautiful day. Pride isn’t sold by corporations or handed out like a pen at a table. Pride is knowing that you are surrounded by a community of people who get you. Maybe your family doesn’t, or the people at school or work don’t, but we do. We’ve come a long way, and the real Pride knows there is still a long way to go, but we have each other.
This year, we don’t have the Parade. We don’t have the floats. We won’t get drunk out of paper bags on the Long Island Railroad. We won’t smoke a joint on the balcony (or maybe we will). But we still have our people, all of those people who flocked to the center of the party: the short, tall, young, old, white, black, brown, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, asexual, queer — all of our beautiful people. We don’t have the Parade, but we still have plenty of Pride.