This weekend is Atlanta's annual gay Pride celebration. Tens of thousands of people will gather in the city in remembrance of the so-called Stonewall Rebellion.
The rebellion occurred during the early morning of June 28, 1969, when police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City. Customers fought back for two days. The event is regarded as the birth of the modern gay-rights movement and the shift from passive to active resistance to oppression.
This year's Pride occurs just as it's been learned that the Pentagon seriously considered trying to develop a hormone bomb that would cause enemy soldiers to give up fighting to fuck one another. Make love, not war, dude. A friend says it's too bad the Pentagon abandoned the plan because the substance could also be bottled as cologne or a spray. Imagine gay men spritzing random straight men with such a love potion.
Of course, Pride has grown into something quite larger than a political statement remembering a band of enraged drag queens. Today, with corporate sponsors, the event is a raucous parade and party that is still controversial with a lot of gay people themselves.
Some think the commercialization of the event violates its founding spirit as a commemoration of civil disobedience. Even more complain, year after year, that some of the more outré participants in the parade – men in leather, shirtless dykes, drag queens – give homosexuality a bad name. Of course, nobody draws a conclusion about all heterosexuals based on their behavior at Mardi Gras or the Super Bowl, but the argument has amazing sticking power with a lot of gay people.
The specific objection is usually the sexual openness of such participants. Many seem to forget that their oppression is specifically about the nature of their sex and love. In fact, the early gay liberation movement was allied with the '60s feminist movement. Women burned their bras and gay men mounted Pride floats in Speedos (or less). It's not even remotely surprising, given this, that an event such as Pride would feature in-your-face sexual display.
The same people who complain that Pride makes all gays look bad also overlook how many straight people show up for the parade. One reason the topic of gay rights has such widespread volatility is that all of us, regardless of sexual orientation, are inhibited by a puritanical culture that forces sexual adventurism into the shadows of porn, prostitution, criminality and shame. Remember: Religion (like the Pentagon) regards homosexuality as a sin because it is so tempting.
Pride is also an occasion for people to remember their own "coming out" -- the step out of the closet to claim one's right to love without fear and shame. That occurred for me in Augusta after a five-year marriage. My feelings of attraction to other men were so repressed that I never thought much of them until I was divorced.
As remains true for many gay men, coming out meant hanging out at a bar – but things are a bit nicer now than they were at the gay juke joint called the Peacock Lounge on the Fort Gordon Highway. There, an alcoholic owner routinely interrupted the juke box to rant on a microphone about someone who annoyed him. Once, I was singled out for declining to have sex with the ugliest person alive.
I hung out with a couple of drag queens there and spent several evenings cruising North Augusta with them late at night in a van. Their mission was to steal porch furniture, with which their entire house was furnished. By day I edited the weekly newspaper in a nearby town. By night I was a criminal accomplice.
My coming out was not easy. I drank way too much and played a lot of pinball at the Peacock. One night, I was playing with two portly lesbians from Fort Gordon. "The only way you're going to win this game is if I let you add your weight to your score," I snarled. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor soaked in beer.
I still have pictures of that year. I compulsively recorded everything I saw at the Peacock, realizing, I guess, that my life was undergoing dramatic change. It wasn't long after that I moved back to Atlanta with the man who became my first partner.
Now, several decades later, it both amazes and horrifies me to see young gay people still tormented because of their sexuality. Until everyone can be converted to homosexuality with, say, a Pentagon spray, Pride celebrations are as needed as ever.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. For information on his private practice, go to www.cliffbostock.com.
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