Yesterday was the 43rd annual Gay Pride Parade in New York City, with celebrities like Cyndi Lauper and politicans like Governor Andrew Cuomo and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn joining thousands of celebratory LGBT community members and their allies. Plenty of floats played Lady Gaga as they rolled down Christopher Street in the West Village (although the most popular parade float soundtrack hit was "Call Me Maybe," natch). But of course, the most important sights were those off the beaten path.
Upon my immediate arrival in the West Village, I was not surprised to see hundreds of proud onlookers trying, like confused hamsters, to navigate the barricaded sidewalks on Sixth Avenue. I made my own way through the maze, finally managing to cross the street so that I could walk over to the nexus of homosexuality: the corner of Christopher and Gay Streets (the gayest intersection on Earth, really). Before I made it through the throngs of tank-topped gays on Waverly, I spotted a skinny blonde girl squatting on the sidewalk, beads hanging from her wrists as she cried into her iPhone. "Happy Pride!" I thought.
Rather than watching the parade, I immediately headed into Pieces to meet my friends. There was a seven-dollar cover which included a free "entry shot," a novelty I by-passed for several full-priced gin and tonics. I suppose the real reason to pay a cover to get into a gay bar on Pride is to be able to use the bathroom, which I guess is worth the money as I am an adult and don’t really like peeing in streets. Also noteworthy: the two times I entered the bathroom, I saw a woman gleefully squatting backward onto a urinal, as there were no toilets in the facility. I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit in the bathrooms of gay bars, but that was probably my favorite sight.
After leaving Pieces and walking back out into the bright daylight, I caught a total of five minutes of the parade. I saw a group holding up signs saying, in all caps, "QUEERS FOR PALESTINE," and then a high-school step team. "I’ve seen everything I wanted!" I thought, as I tipsily wandered back toward Sixth Avenue, where I knew I could find some pizza and avoid being pelted with condoms and tiny rainbow flags.
After scarfing down a pepperoni slice, I headed over to the Thompson LES, which was hosting a party thrown by the hipster gays Gumbo, the bi-weekly dance party that alternates between Brooklyn and Manhattan locations. They had required an RSVP for the event, and then emailed all RSVPers that such an RSVP did not guarantee admission, which makes me wonder why, exactly, parties such as this one request one in the first place. Never has the idea of waiting in line for an over-crowded bar filled with gay guys enticed me to head out at night. Having said that: we were already out, and figured we’d give it a shot.
We stood on Allen Street outside the entrance behind some silently confused twinks in tank tops and shorts, and finally we asked if they were actually waiting in line to get in. "I guessss?" one of them slurred. In response, two of the braver guys in our party just walked in, and then texted me, "Just say you’re going to the bathroom on the second floor and then you can just take the elevator to the third where the pool is." Seemed easy enough! We did just that, smirking as we walked by the party doorman who had floppy hair and a sleeveless denim jacket. (They run a tight ship over there!) Of course, the party was not as fun as the typical Gumbo event; rather, it was just a gathering of random strangers sitting on the sofas around the Andy Warhol filmstrip pool. In the pool were two people: a beefy dude in short blue trunks, and a very giddy topless woman. So proud! We did not stay long.
There was a time when the pride parade was a good excuse to drink all day in the heat and stay out all night. While I did imbibe quite a bit and stayed out until around midnight, it was still a tame affair compared to my years in Chicago, which always seems much more of a debaucherous parade than in New York. (The cops there turned a blind eye to our red solo cups filled with more whiskey than ginger ale, where as I watched as New York’s finest yelled up at parade watchers and instructed them not to stand on their fire escapes.) The New York parade is also soooo long, with most floats and marching organizations sponsored by corporate entities or political groups. It seems like every year there is a debate about the oversexual nature of the parade, and each year sees fewer assless chaps up on those truck beds.
Is the parade getting too soft, too corporate, too family-friendly and lazily political? Are we missing out on the activist spirit behind the origins of the event, which was more of a march and less of a parade of the svelte, the muscular, and the beautiful? Have the years of treating the notion of "gay pride" as a party resulted in the blasé attitude that most (including myself) have of the weekend, which is now just an excuse for an entire community to collectively day-drink and shed layers of clothing? It’s an issue I struggle with at the end of every June, and will likely be reminded of next year. There are no immediate answers, obviously, and what I think most of us are pleased with today are the ability to celebrate so openly—and that our hangovers aren’t completely preventing us from accomplishing anything today.