I was 19 years old and newly out of the closet — not entirely by choice — when I saw my first gay Pride parade. I had driven to D.C. for the weekend as I usually did to get away from my overly conservative southwestern Virginia college, and spent my Saturday night on the town enjoying the fact that I was grandfathered in under the city’s new legal drinking age.
Late the following morning I was sitting in the glass-enclosed patio area of Annie’s for brunch with some older friends — at 19, pretty much all my friends were by definition older — when the Pride parade began its way down 17th Street. Since I was only recently out and, really, not that long off of the farm either, the parade seemed by turns both staid and exotic — political groups marching with placards alternating with drag queens riding atop limos.
Then the PFLAG contingent arrived, filled with the mothers and fathers who were proud enough of their gay and lesbian children that they would parade down the street in celebration. I felt an explosion of joy in my chest, mixed with a touch of sadness at my own distance from my parents. I caught a glimpse of a mother of a friend I had met recently. I jumped up from the table and ran out into the street, surprising her with a hug and a thank you.
It was a hug and a thank you I wanted to be able to give my own mother. I didn’t know then that I would be able to do that in my family’s own time, but I was on the way to making it happen.
Not a bad memory for a first-ever Pride. It came roaring back to mind once again while I was interviewing Chely Wright, when she talked about her first Pride parade in New York — still in the closet, she cried as she watched the PFLAG contingent march past. Judging from other interviews and conversations with both the famous and my friends, the reaction to one’s first sighting of PFLAG in a parade is one of the more formative experiences for so many LGBT people.
It reminds me how much Pride is about telling ourselves what is possible.
I’ll admit that the approach of Pride can be somewhat daunting — it is, after all, the busiest time of the year for those of us who work in and for the community. But each year, the same thing happens: I find myself at the parade and the festival, seeing my own community face-to-face, watching femme boys and butch girls, young twinks and grizzly daddies, assimilated gays and gender queers, all together and celebrating not only what we have achieved but what we know we will achieve.
Those are the moments when the weariness melts away.
I treasure the memory of my first Pride, although I don’t long to experience it again through younger eyes — life at 42 offers just as many wonders to experience if you take the time to look for them. But I hold onto it because it told me what was possible. I hope in some small way I’m able to tell this year’s first-time Pride celebrants the same.