A couple of weeks ago, I got an e-mail message from a sender I didn’t recognize. Here’s how it started out:
Initially, I thought this was a targeted mass mailing (which I get all the time), and I almost deleted the message. But then I read the next line:
We recently received an advance copy of your new book and WE LOVE IT!!
No way!!! They love it!!! That’s exactly what every author wants to hear – especially when all caps and exclamation points are involved.
But then . . . the other shoe dropped:
Would you be able to join us at the Family Garden at SF Pride 2014? We thought it would be nice to have your book for sale at the event this year, and even nicer if you were there too!
I should have seen it coming. If you write a book about Pride, then people are going to expect to see you at Pride, right? Somehow, I hadn’t fully connected those dots. (I may be bookish and intelligent, but I’m not always smart.) You’d think I’d be jumping for joy – I mean, I got invited to sell my book at one of the largest Pride celebrations in the world! But I wasn’t jumping for joy – in fact, I went from feeling totally excited (They love my book!) to feeling totally anxious.
I have a love-hate relationship with Pride. I love the idea of Pride – the festive, celebratory atmosphere; the people cheering as they watch the parade (and crying when PFLAG parents are marching in full support of their LGBTQ kids); the rainbows, the glitter, the balloons, the costumes. However, actually going to Pride is a different story. It’s usually hot. (Well, maybe not so much in San Francisco.) It’s crowded – like 1.5-millon-people crowded. People get really drunk – and I don’t love hanging around drunk people. And getting there is a Pain. In. The. Ass. (Picture thousands of hot, drunk people squishing themselves into the BART train.) For an introverted homebody like me, this is like being thrown into Room 101. (If you don’t know what Room 101 is, Google it, and click on the Wikipedia link that comes up.)
When I’m really honest with myself, though, it’s clear that my ambivalence about Pride isn’t really about the heat, the crowds, or the drunkenness. It’s about feeling like I don’t belong. And that’s the feeling I had when I attended my first Pride celebration.
I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area back in 1994. I had known for a little while that I was bisexual, and I had divulged this information to just a few friends. In 1995, when I went to my first San Francisco Pride celebration, I had high hopes – in retrospect, I can see that they were unrealistic. I didn’t know a lot of people in the LGBTQ community, and I desperately wanted to meet people, to make friends, to find my place in the community. And it didn’t happen – at least, not at Pride. In fact, although I found the parade to be entertaining and festive, I felt like I was watching it through a glass window, unable to connect with the people on the other side. People talk about “feeling alone in a crowded room” – imagine having that feeling among 500,000 people, all of whom are supposedly part of your “community.” There’s nothing worse than that.
I’ve been to several Pride celebrations since then. In the late 1990s, I went to a few Pride events in the Bay Area, including Sonoma Pride, San Jose Pride, and Santa Cruz Pride, to recruit participants for my dissertation research. In these last couple of years, I’ve attended smaller Pride events in the Bay Area and the Central Valley – Stockton Pride, Castro Valley Pride, Sacramento Pride, Fresno Pride, Modesto Pride. I’ve discovered that every Pride event has its own character. There were handmade quilts for sale at Sonoma Pride. Castro Valley Pride had a lot of teenagers, probably because it was held at on a high school campus. Lots of children were at Stockton Pride. Fresno Pride had a strong Latino presence – and a lot of HIV awareness tables. At these events, I felt much more connected than I did at San Francisco Pride – probably because they were smaller (my introverted self does a lot better in small-group situations). Plus it was easier to get involved at these smaller events, and that’s always a good way to feel like part of a larger community – especially in places like Stockton or Modesto, where there’s a strong “all-hands-on-deck” ethos.
But I didn’t get invited to Fresno, or Modesto, or these other smaller events. I got invited to big, huge, San Francisco. And I’m hearing a little voice inside me ask, “Will I find people who are like me? Will I see myself reflected in this event?”
One thing I love about the LGBTQ community is that it grows, and changes, and responds to our community’s needs. Our community is not perfect, and it definitely has its share of infighting (read “One big happy family” for some insight on this). But Pride celebrations have changed over the years, in ways that better meet the needs of the community. For people in recovery, many Pride celebrations have Clean and Sober spaces. Most Pride festivals have children’s play and entertainment areas. This year, San Francisco Pride has a 60+ Space, a Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Gathering Space, an HIV Pavilion, a TRANS: THRIVE Pavilion, a Leather Alley, an Asian Pacific Islander Community Pride Stand, a Women’s Stage, and an African Diaspora Stage, among others. If I were attending San Francisco Pride for the first time this year, I think I’d have an easier time plugging in. They’ve created spaces where you’re more likely to find your reflection, honoring the fact that we are truly a diverse collection of communities. And finding connections is how we keep ourselves strong, and keep our communities thriving.
Today is June 1st, the kickoff of Pride month. Pride celebrations are taking place every weekend in June, and at other times throughout the year. If you’ve never been to Pride before, consider going – and find a way to actually get involved, and not just watch from the sidelines. If you have been to Pride, and it’s really not your thing, consider giving it another try. I have a feeling that my second go-around with San Francisco Pride will be much more rewarding than the first time.