Have Some Pride

mood: cheery | drinking: juice
rainbow-flag

It’s Pride weekend here in San Francisco. The rainbows are out in full force.

And although I’m not attending the parade (or the Backstreet Boys concert to follow), I’ve got my pride on all the same.

Today my friend Sarah B. wrote down some thoughts about Pride, and I asked her if I could borrow them to share here. I don’t know where you stand on the issue of gay rights, and this is not intended to be a soapbox. Just one person’s view of things, from a very personal perspective…

Shine on, you homosexual diamond

“Years ago, before I finagled my first design job, I worked a horrible gig as an Administrative Assistant for a temp firm in downtown San Francisco. Most of the women who worked there were Marina Girls — you know the type: plucky little boobs, skirt-suits, and those ubiquitous drink-cups with the oversized straws. They were nice, for the most part, except for one — Melanie — who once asked me about my father, who she’d heard was semi-sorta-famous in some obscure way.

She said “Someone told me your father is gay, is that true?” I said yes, yes it was. She said “Oh my god, what was THAT like?”

I told her, “I didn’t mind his being gay at all. What I minded was that he was born in 1931, when it was forbidden to be gay, and that made him hate himself, which made him an alcoholic, and an alcoholic self-loathing father is no fun. But the gay part was fine, really, once I got over the surprise… he just liked other men, that’s basically it.”

Melanie replied, scornfully: “You mean, he just liked a big dick up his ass.”

I can’t remember how long I sat there staring at her in disbelief. Never mind that we were in SAN FRANCISCO, somewhere in the early ’90s. I just couldn’t believe how rude she was. It was almost admirable, in a weird way. Finally I said “No, actually, he was more of a top,” which was, I’m sorry to say, completely lost on her, but I’m glad I thought to say it.

There is so much hatred and meanness in the world. Another adorable homosexual, Morrissey, said it in one of his many witty songs — “It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate, it takes guts to be gentle and kind.”

Raised around gay people in San Francisco, going to Pride marches with my dad and his boyfriend Randy (real name!), I think I was in a privileged little bubble. I assumed homophobia was a thing of the past. I was young and naive.

Since then, years of hearing about Fred Phelps, or the recent anti-gay legislation in Africa, or oh, so many horrible incidences of some poor, terrified boy or girl being bullied or beaten or killed, have cured me of the misapprehension that Those Days are Over.

I’ve heard some people lately asking whether we still need a Pride Week. What’s the point? Everyone knows they exist — why must they keep “shoving it in our faces” (a bizarre turn of phrase, when all you have to do is not look, if it bothers you that much)?

And why DO they keep looking? I think it’s because insecure people need someone else to kick and abuse. It is a shameful but true thing, that looking down on other people, mocking them, asserting your superiority to them, feels good. We’ve all done it, in one way or another. It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate, it takes guts to be gentle and kind.

My father died in 1996, of alcohol-related cirrhosis. I remember many nights, alone with him at the dinner table in his SF house, when he’d get so drunk he’d break down and sob and tell me how much he hated himself — how he was a disgusting freak and didn’t deserve to live. Years of inculcation into the society of gay hatred had done that to him.

He knew he loved men from as far back as he could remember having romantic thoughts about anybody. He married my mother because he loved her and desperately wanted to be straight, but that fell apart pretty much the day I was born. He tried so hard — he dated women, and snuck off to have illicit romances with men, and hated himself for it, and drank himself to death.

Fred Phelps and his mob would applaud my dad’s self-hatred as appropriate. What it was was terribly, desperately sad. He had a few lovely years, when the Castro scene started up and he became friends with Harvey Milk, when he felt better about himself, and I remember those times as being a huge relief. He was happy! He came out (to Dave MacElhatton, in his living room, on Channel Five, a scene I walked in on with my little Monkees lunchbox, coming home from school — surreal).

He had boyfriends, and hung out at the Twin Peaks, and in misguided solidarity, even bought a gross (!) of The Village People’s first album (I gave them out as Christmas presents for years). He wrote embarrassing masturbatory fiction for First Hand Magazine under the pseudonym of Jack Hoff. And yes — this was all a little weird, but what wasn’t, in those days?

It was enough, for me, to see happiness replace the constant, haunted misery in his eyes. It was enough when I would come down on my motorcycle for a visit, and me, my dad, and Randy would all go to lunch on our bikes, like some kind of ultra-PC Hell’s Angel’s. Dad was much more affectionate with me and Dylan, because he was okay with being who he was, and didn’t see us as evidence of failure as much anymore. How is that not preferable?

Ultimately, though, he died because the drinking habit that had gotten him through the years of self-hatred in the closet had become a real addiction, and it ate up his liver.

He was a brilliant, weird, talented man, who could play twenty-some-odd musical instruments, had gone to Paris on a Fulbright, sang opera, was a Stormtrooper and the Voice of the Death Star in Star Wars, acted, emceed, made musical instruments, and so many other things… what a waste, for someone that talented and full of possibility to hate himself for so long.

I think of him every Pride Week, and also of his boyfriend Randy, and the various young men who traipsed in and out of his Victorian house on Waller Street. I miss him. I wish the world had been different when he was born and growing up, even if that would mean I wouldn’t have been born.

Pride Week makes me think of all the hundreds of thousands of young people out there right now, maybe not lucky enough to live in a relatively enlightened town, maybe hiding who they are from everyone, or braving it out and suffering the hell of being shunned during the time of life when social approval is most important. I wish I could scoop you all up and tell you to be okay with yourselves…

We definitely do still need Pride Week. Every rainbow-painted set of boobs on a Harley, every wiggling butt on a float, every shiny happy face, gives that terrified kid in Oklahoma hope.

Okay, I’ll stop now, but I love you, Gay People. Have a great Pride Week.”

-written by Sarah B.

-and Lo, wishing a very happy Pride to all her gay peeps out there.