My freshman year at NYU, I walked into my social criticism class and casually tossed my new issue of Ms magazine on the table. The cover–which I can only find now in this little jpeg–showed two girls (young, with short dyed hair, ball chain necklaces, and heavy eyeliner) on the cusp of making out. Later, my friend Molly gaped at my audacity of having it on public display throughout our class. “That is the hottest picture ever,” she said. “Everyone was staring at it.”
I was so tickled pink to be young and queer in New York then. This cover hung on my wall in my freshman dorm, my first apartment, and so many apartments to come.
This weekend, as every last weekend in June goes, is Pride–Friday will be the Trans Day of Action; Saturday is the Dyke March; Sunday is the Gay Pride Parade. And throughout the whole weekend there will been tons of revelry, rainbows, parties and bars. It’s my 8th Pride here in New York, and as I’ve felt for the last year or two, I have some mixed feelings about.
Part of my mixed feelings could be generational, as Mark Harris illustrated in an article on the generation gap among gay men (although the context for the piece was the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, there lacked any perspective of lesbians/trans/queer generational gaps, even though I’m sure there were dykes and trannies who were part of that revolution). And, yes, it was definitely a shock, seeing those opening scenes of Milk, where gay bars are raided and there we are, being put into police wagons–for someone who’s been freely hanging out in gay bars since the moment I moved to New York, it’s a chilling perspective to think that not so long ago, this wasn’t as free a right.
Otherwise: pride rings and rainbows seem kitsch to me, but to my older queer friends, they are a total symbol of identifying as gay (and being able to find other gays in the world). I came out in high school when I was 17, frustrated and isolated in suburban Pennsylvania, but not without the internet. Through the internet I found mailing lists, older out lesbians to talk to (at the time I came out as bi, for me serving as a gateway to identifying as a dyke), gay books, colleges that I could apply to that had LGBT centers and communities. While I was still super eager to meet other queers, I think I was at least founded in the idea that they were out there, and that I wasn’t alone.
Honestly, though, my mixed feelings about Pride come from how I thought, at the tender age of 18, that the queer community existed in bars, and only bars. My first Dyke March when I was 19, I was drinking heavily and rather depressed. The friends I had gathered my freshman year had either left the city for the summer, or were involved in other things the day of the Dyke March–they were working, or with their girlfriends, or at a bar. I remember, not knowing what to do, that I filled a water bottle with vodka and orange juice, donned a ridiculous bikini top shirt (it was pride, after all), and went to the march, walking along 5th Avenue with a slight buzz on, smiling at everyone around me, but inside, totally lonely. I eventually met up with some people I knew, and our night devolved into intoxication and debauchery. The next day, when we went to the West Village for the Pride parade, warm Smirnoff Ices wrapped in brown paper bags, I threw up in the gutter and missed the whole parade, dry heaving in the bathroom of the NYU library.
This, I knew in my heart of hearts, was not what it meant to be gay.
Every June, from then on, I would grow anxious at the approach of Pride. There was this superficial pressure–it’s Pride! Be gay! You’re gay? You should be here!–to be with your friends, to get drunk, to sleep around, to have a ball. For anyone who wasn’t struggling with a drinking problem (as I now can see that I totally was), maybe this was just a joyful weekend of queer-ing it up. For me, though, I always flailed and exploded under the pressure to have SO MUCH FUN, so much so that I began to dread Pride.
I don’t drink any more, but I still get anxious around Pride. My first sober pride, I still felt that insane pressure to have fun, have fun, have fun!!, and ended up instead having a slight panic attack while at dinner with a gaggle of friends post Dyke March. (To admit, navigating the queer bar scene in sobriety is not without its intervals hilarious: such as when I recognized a girl at the Dyke March, and tried to explain this to my friend Emily, saying, ‘I don’t remember her name, but the last time I saw her she was in a bunny suit carrying a toy gun?’ Emily, laughing, steered me away).
Last year on the day of the Dyke March, I stayed in, drew comics, and decided that was queer enough of a day for me. There was still a pang, though, when I knew I had missed it–part of me wanted to be there.
It’s hard to articulate what I want to get out of Pride this year. Do I think visibility is important, that there is power in numbers, that there can be a physical concept of community when trannies and allies or dykes or gays or queers in any way take over 5th Avenue? Of course. I still grin when Le Tigre’s track Dyke March 2001 comes on, with its mix of beats and dykes at the March (“Nine years, for nine years we’ve had four lanes…”).
What it comes down to, I think, is letting go of that 19 year old girl wandering aimlessly through the Dyke March with a screwdriver in a Poland Springs bottle. And while I wouldn’t quite call that Ms magazine cover the hottest picture ever today (I might have to give those accolades to the artwork of Sarah Larnach), I’m still here, living in New York, young and queer. And, hey, if nothing else: it’ll be good to see those drag queens dressed up singing God Is A Dyke.