Nowhere Fast

Commentary: In Exile

Every day in America, on some dogwood-lined street beneath wistful cirrus clouds and past independent bookstores and cafes, without a hint of cynicism or irony, a parade is flowing bravely toward some sort of conclusion.

It’s impossible for me to even picture a parade without picturing a Midwestern swing state that raises its girls with batons and its boys with footballs. Dairy Queens and barbeques and church. The definition of the word parade, according to Merriam-Webster, is twofold: “An organized public procession on a festive or ceremonial occasion,” which sounds just fine, or, “A line or extended group of moving persons or things,” which, to me, sounds more grueling and more accurate. Something forced at the tip of a bayonet across drought-wracked plains under a dusty, orange sun.

This weekend, we gays will form our extended group of moving persons and things and wind through the streets of D.C. at a slow pace, periodically coming to a halt behind a bottleneck of Hummers carrying shirtless men with squirt guns. We’ll showcase our diversity as a community by riding on floats segregated by stereotype and affiliation. When the whole thing’s over, we’ll drink, if we haven’t started drinking already (we have).

I’ve never really been in the gay pride parade. Maybe to understand it, you have to have once been part of it. Certainly, a lot of the people who are in it seem to be having quite a good time. Perhaps rather than spectators, we could just line the parade route with mirrors and everyone could be in it. We could wave to ourselves and see what a happy extended group of moving persons and things we are.

Way back when, the pride parade wasn’t a parade at all. It was a march. A march against things, presumably: Anita Bryant, AIDS, Ron and Nancy. That kind of thing I can see the use in, but at that point, my participation in the gay rights movement was limited to repeatedly dropping my pen in social studies as an excuse to glance at Tim Greeseley’s calves. The march had purpose: defiant visibility. Today, the visibility point is moot. Even I’m starting to believe that the anti-gay alarmists are right: We Are Everywhere.

But the thing about an annual parade is that once you’ve set the precedent, it’s difficult to stop. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade began in 1924 on a lark. The store’s immigrant staff decided to huff it from work to 145th Street one November afternoon. Some Macy’s PR lackey no doubt smelled a publicity stunt and eighty years later, we’re stuck with Harvey Fierstein perched atop a Cadillac as Mrs. Claus in a muff while Katie Couric gives a blow-by-blow of the whole excruciating affair.

When the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade features a drag queen, that’s a sign that our work here is done. Our own parade is no longer necessary. We have infiltrated the highest levels of upright Americana. (I can’t wait to find this paragraph cut-and-pasted onto some anti-gay website, completely free of context).

There’s another issue with the parade, and you know what it is. You’d rather not say it and risk sounding like a square. The issue is leather, and a lot of non-leathery types just don’t want to be associated with it.

As the community rockets toward total assimilation, for many the annual pride parade seems more and more like the least gay day of the year, all straps and zippers and hankies in unlikely places. An increasing number of khaki-colored gays are not happy about all of the whips and chains present in the parade. The khaki gays grumble about it amongst each other, but the debate never seems to make it higher than that. Parades are so infused with wholesome American values — did we really think we could trade the riding crop for the baton just as easy as that?

Intolerance sucks — this much we’ve learned. And yet more groups than would care to admit it would rather not be carrying their banner behind the Highwaymen or the Centaurs. They’d just rather not. “It’s bad for the movement,” the khaki gays say. They mean that it’s not good PR, a little too defiant. After all, this isn’t the eighties, and it isn’t a march. It’s a parade.

What we forget is that the reason it’s a parade and not a march is the very same reason why no gay person should care if a pair of chaps or a codpiece make it onto the local TV news. As a demographic, we’re now plenty strong enough to weather a few shocked well-I-never’s emanating from the direction of Herndon. The elderly are watching Queer Eye. For better or for worse, our shock value is severely diminished.

But the gay pride parade remains relic that needs to be shelved. It’s something that would be more enjoyable to reminisce about than continue to watch and participate in. What’s fun about walking in a straight line?

In fact, about the only redeeming quality still exhibited by the gay pride parade is its annual reminder that we don’t need the parade at all anymore. It’s nice seeing all these gay church groups, gay police officers, gay Republicans (thanks for Iraq, guys!). It shows that we’ve made it into virtually every layer of society, and that the very reasons we started to march in the first place have largely come to pass.

These days, the parade takes place the night before the festival, rather than the morning of. I’ve got to believe that this indicates some near-future death rattle for what increasingly feels like a very long walk. We’re now married in Massachusetts, civil unioned in Vermont and legally sodomizing each other in all fifty states. Mrs. Claus is a man, Ronald Reagan is dead. Rather than pass the baton, let’s just drop it.

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