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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-09-06



A Straight View on Gay Pride
by John Carruthers

This article shared 2491 times since Wed Jul 6, 2005
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Pictured John Carruthers and Uncle Victor Brandt

'Next stop, Addison,' the mechanical conductor's voice rang out. I got ready to disembark the el and looked one last time at my notepad. I had a minor journalistic crisis as I eyed the only thing I had written. 'Lots of tank tops.'

Lots of tank tops? An ever-expanding culture of people, it's premier day, a million things to observe and people to talk to, and all I can come up with is 'lots of tank tops?' I suck.

But it was still early. The parade hadn't even started yet.

I tried to reassure and refocus myself as I walked up Addison towards the muffled bass beats and cheering, then parallel to Halsted to try and get where I could stand close to the road. I saw a split in the crowd, and realized the bass was emanating from Cher's 'Believe.' I fought to get to the street, and the first thing I see is a skinny twentysomething guy in a tiny Speedo thrusting his hips at just about eye level. Hmm, I think, maybe I've gotten in a bit deep.

But let me go back to the beginning.

About a month ago, I was packing up my things for the summer and moving from my home in a fraternity house at the University of Tennessee to my home in the northwest suburbs. I'd been studying to be a writer, and they tell me you need to have new experiences to be a writer. All I'd been doing was concert reviews for the campus paper. I needed something new and different, but what?

Luckily, next time I talked to my uncle, he solved that problem for me. He mentioned he would be marching in Chicago's Gay Pride parade for the first time. 'Of course,' I thought, 'I should have done this years ago.' Not only would I be supporting him, but I could get experience far outside of my straight, frat boy existence.

He came out to me when I was in eighth grade ( more of a formality, since he made dolls and quilts ) , and ever since, I've been learning more and more about gay culture. But this wasn't watching The Bird Cage or listening to the Rent soundtrack. This was the big one, the annual Pride parade.

My day-to-day life is pretty much that of a 21-year-old whitebread straight guy. I drink hard, watch baseball, and have to put up with the fact that many of the people I know are either ignorant of, or slightly hostile to, gay culture. My back-door neighbors ( perhaps I should rephrase that ) are a home-schooling family that used to espouse the evils of Halloween, so I didn't have to ask their thoughts on this subject.

Furthermore, living in Tennessee means I get to see at least one red-faced street preacher on campus per week. And that's on a slow week. Their favorite topic seems to be the rather Old-Testament subject of who and what God hates. The gay community seems to be a favorite target, and trying to argue with them is like arguing with a brick wall, provided that the brick wall is wearing cheap aftershave.

Coming out of that oft-homophobic background, I was eager to see the other side of things; the acceptance and celebration that brings thousands upon thousands to the North Side of Chicago every year.

More than just an experience, it seemed like fun. When the 10 o'clock news shows their obligatory five seconds of parade footage each year, it always makes the event look like an outrageous spectacle of drag and disco.

But here I was, staring straight at my insecurities, and they looked a whole lot like a wiggling crotch. I needed to settle down, take a breath, and possibly work on my metaphor.

I had brought my sister with me, who at 17 is a fledgling AIDS activist and a favorite of any gay man she runs across, with her 1950s style and love of show tunes. I hoped that she might help me navigate this unfamiliar sea of people. She pulled me through the crowd, and we found a spot between a young lesbian couple and a troll-like older woman who, later in the day, would knock over her own grandkid for a free key chain.

We got to our spot within the first 10 floats, and a lot of the floats we saw at first were those for politicians. Try as I might, I couldn't get really excited about the Cook County Recorder of Deeds. It gave me an opportunity to take out my notepad and become the huge dork who was taking notes.

I couldn't figure out why everyone was cheering so hard for a Circuit Court Clerk, until my sister pointed out that her name was Dorothy.

Now, I hate crowds. Standing-room concerts make me hate life, and personal space is my personal motto. I was also more than a little bit hung over, thanks to bottom-shelf gin the night before.

Despite all of this, and the gnawing worry that I wouldn't know how to write about all of this, I had a great time, and had a whole lot of firsts.

For the first time, a dominatrix asked me how hard to hit the man on her lap with a whip ( my response: WHOOP HIS ASS! ) .

For the first time, I was somewhere where a guy on a float who was only wearing boxer shorts seemed a bit overdressed for the occasion.

For the first time, I saw leather gear worn with Converse All-Stars.

For the first time, I realized I could admit my secret love of disco and sing along to 'It's Not Alright, But It's Okay.'

More than that, I actually learned something. It wasn't just about celebrating unity and the lifestyle. Of course that was important, but so were the issues being raised here. Groups raising awareness about AIDS, equal rights, and the movement against mainstreaming gay culture would often be in front of or behind a float full of heeled drag queens or scantily clad nightclub employees. This juxtaposition was apparent to me when the friends and family of murder victim Kevin Clewer were followed by the Kit Kat Club review, complete with mermaid.

The point is, there's so much more to the parade, and the culture itself, than most straight people know, because many can't see past the platform heels and Rocky Horror homages. This isn't exactly a revelation, but it is a shame.

Of course, not all my lessons were as serious. I learned of a gay hockey league, which nearly blew my mind. I also came to respect drag queens as athletes. I played varsity sports in high school, but there's no way I could march the parade route in heels and a headdress on a 90-degree day. Those girls deserve some respect, or at least a drink of water.

Around the middle of the parade, I finally saw my uncle, marching with the Kraft people next to the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile. Even for the Pride parade, this was Freudian. I got a Weenie Whistle to commemorate the occasion.

I also saw the gay community's fraternity, and had to explain to someone next to me why their letters were Phi Alpha Gamma.

As the last float sped down the street, I turned to walk back to the car. The three hours had gone by quickly, and I was wearing beads and a rainbow bracelet that promised me a free domestic beer. My sister and I resolved to look into marching next year with the AIDS activists.

The whole week, I'd been worrying about fitting in at the parade. I finally figured out that the parade wasn't about fitting in, it was about being who you are. Of course, I could have learned a lesson like that in a Dr. Seuss book, but it seemed relevant at the time.

As I got in the car to drive back to my everyday apple-pie life in the suburbs, The Vengaboys' 'Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!!' came on the radio. Usually, I'd switch the station to classic rock or talk, but today, it didn't seem so bad. I turned it up and let the spirit of the day last a little longer.

This article shared 2491 times since Wed Jul 6, 2005
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