Tag Archives: gay pride

Who Are We Not Seeing?

I spent the weekend celebrating Gay Pride with my friends. The parade gets longer every year, seemingly with more corporate sponsors, which is both a blessing and a curse. Great to have more support, as long as those companies truly work toward equity and not just give lip service about all kinds of diversity just to gain a target market. During the Obama years, the Pride discussions among my friends centered around what the parade had evolved into. Originally started as an angry protest in response to the police raid in 1969 of a gay club called the Stonewall Inn in New York City, the parade had over the years become a fun, social event. Or just like many other parades. Well, at least here in gay Massachusetts. As rights and acceptance were gained, the gay identity also became mainstream, and there was also a loss — less pushing the boundaries, protesting, challenging the status quo. I haven’t seen a really good group of outrageous drag queens at the parade in years.

Cheeto flea changed all that, or perhaps merely gave voice to the fear that was bubbling just under the surface around gays and “other.” For better or worse, showing up to the Gay Pride parade feels essential again. It’s important to continue to be seen and heard.

Indeed, we seem to be spending much more time these days talking and yelling at each other, and not listening very much. I do it too. Because we all seem to have our panties in a twist about something, maybe listening is too high a bar start with — to just shut our pie holes for a few minutes and listen. It’s biological after all, once our panties are twisted, the heart rate increases and the amygdala gets activated, the part of the brain responsible for the instinctive “fight or flight” response, which pretty much reduces us to our caveman/woman state. Lash out first, and ask questions never. Plus, many of us have stopped actually listening to the people we love and like, so what chance does a stranger with an opposite opinion have?

So maybe we should start with something simpler, such as looking. No, strike that. I mean start with seeing. We look at things all day, but do we really see them? Or see them for what they truly are? When a dog crosses your path, do you see that actual dog, or are you seeing the one that nipped you when you were 5 playing on the neighbor’s swing set? Because of a recent pigeon experience, when I see a pigeon, I’m not seeing the one in front of me, I’m seeing that damn one that hit me in the face, and I want to stomp on the one in front of me.

And I think we have all felt invisible to others at some point, but let’s put that in the parking lot, or as we call it round these pahts, the pahking lawt. We do this in some meetings I go to when you’re trying to figure out how to solve one problem and related problems pop up. However, if you try to deal the new problems, you’ll never solve the first one. Let’s jump off one bridge at a time, shall we?

OK, consider these two examples of not being seen:

  1. I work with a doctor who is also a senior leader of our organization, and he was on vacation at a ski resort this winter. He told a story of how he was standing outside of the resort, just getting some fresh air, and not 1, but 5 men in a row tried to hand him their keys, mistaking him for a valet. Never mind that valets tend to have jackets clearly marked with the word “valet” or the name and logo of the resort. These drivers were looking, but not really seeing. Well, what they were seeing was a Black man standing in front of a ski resort. I know, I know. Let’s just put racism in the pahking lawt for now. If 1 guy does it, you can call him out. We like that kind of example, because then we can point to that 1 person, call him or her a bad apple, and declare it isn’t me or the people I know. But 5 White guys in a row? That’s what you call “systemic.” As in, it ain’t just a few bad apples, honey. A good first step would be for them to take 5-10 seconds to collect enough information to not make a jerk out of themselves. We can assume they know how valet works because they freely handed the keys to their expensive cars to an utter stranger. So, c’mon people, go beyond your assumptions and really see the person in front of you. Notice that person has no traditional markings of a valet because he’s wearing a plain ski jacket. Then look around to find the actual valet. See? That took 5 seconds. Easy peasey.
  2. The second story was in the Boston Globe. It’s about how many business people who retired on the Cape have taken jobs parking cars at the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket for something to do. “Beyond paying them minimum wage or just slightly above to stand out in the heat and the rain, the job offers these retirees new insights into how differently low-wage service workers are treated.” These retirees are pleasant and chatty and believe in good customer service, but most people barely acknowledged them. Most of these men are white, so we’ve removed the racism card. What remains is not seeing the person providing a service. Sure, the article says most people trying to catch the ferry are stressed. But what if they took 5-10 seconds to get out of their head and acknowledge the person parking their car? They might have a pleasant exchange (the workers are pretty happy — they are retired and doing this for fun!) that would send them off on their vacation on a happier note. At least some of the business people have had some insight, and we hope are getting better at really seeing the valet and others now.

OK, I can feel myself protesting that I rarely do that, and I’m starting to sputter about all the times I’m not seen, yadda, yadda, yadda. OK, I’m putting myself in the pahking lawt, and asking myself straight up:

Who don’t I see?

The person cleaning the hotel rooms, building cleaners in general? The store clerk? The older person struggling to get up a steep step because I’m in a hurry and helping would take time?

For today, or for this week, as you move through the world, spend 5-10 seconds to consider: who aren’t you seeing?

 

Happy Gay Pride from Boston

I’ve been going to the Gay Pride Parade for about 26 years since my friend and guide Mike first introduced it to me. This year was the 45th anniversary, so I feel privileged to have been to more than half of them.

You see, then and now, I never really wanted the things most straight people seemed to expect me to want. They tolerated my punk wannabe years in college and my post-college pursuit of low-paying, yet highly rewarding nonprofit jobs in the city. But the “you should get married, have kids, and move to the suburbs” track never seemed far from the collective mind, and sometimes it felt as if they were simply waiting for me to come to my senses. Meanwhile I was making friends with unconventional people and plotting how to never, ever make that kind of sense.

And then Mike took me to the Gay Pride Parade, where I saw thousands of people being unconventional and creating new families out of like-minded friends, and forging their own paths. They were forced to, of course, because society discounted them. In a much smaller way, society discounted me too, and I found strength and inspiration in their courage. I would merely get looked down on for my choices, while they lived with the very real risk of persecution or worse every day. How could I refuse that call to find my path and to support the cause of gay rights? And, how could I possibly resist the fabulous creativity of the drag queens?

So, I signed up, and have since met a great circle of friends and have been there every year since—to be an ally, to be a cheerleader, to be inspired, and to be reminded of the courage and strength it takes to live the life you need to live. I did end up falling in love, getting married, and I brought along my then husband. And when I had a kid, I brought him along too. If my son decides to have a kid someday, I’ll bring him or her too, and bore the poor kid to death with my grandma stories: “Back in my day, everyone was half-naked and covered in glitter and pasties. Nowadays, people just look normal. It’s a damn shame.”

It’s true that every year the parade seems to get bigger and more, well, conventional, with school groups, and churches, and big corporations all marching. It’s very cool, and I’ll also admit that I kind of miss the outrageousness, but being accepted is the point. As I watched with my friend Becky this year, she recalled the earlier years when the parade pointedly went by the state house as a protest and political statement. We are here. You can’t ignore us forever. And we were right. Gay marriage laws continue to pass, and the ultimate form of acceptance has also arrived—there are gay characters and gay relationships all over TV.

Or you could judge it from kid’s point of view. A friend of mind was a kid living in Boston where he witnessed the first Gay marches, and they scared him–they were angry protests in response to the raids on gays in the Stonewall Inn in NYC. Fast forward 40 plus years and my friend Gloria’s young daughter was with us and having a grand time gathering up all the candy and the beads and Pride swag being thrown out by happy, smiling people, some in drag, many in street clothes, and a few sporting strategically placed stickers. It reminded me of when my son was that age doing the same thing, perhaps about 10 years ago. She got twice as much stuff as he ever did, and she saw a lot more kids her age than my son ever did. And neither of them were scared by what they saw.

That’s the kind of outrageousness I can get behind.

This One’s for You, Pops

This was a big weekend—Saturday was the Boston Gay Pride Parade and Sunday was Father’s Day. I celebrate both equally—cheering, thanking, and supporting my friends for the past 25 years and doing the same for my dad for about the same amount of time. While I understood gay culture and identified with the feeling of alienation from mainstream fairly quickly, it took me a lot longer to understand my dad. I knew he hated his job in a factory and working 55 hours a week to support a family of six. I just didn’t understand how that got translated into being impatient and angry to us kids until much later. The good thing was he made leaving for college easy, and once I was on my own, it was much easier to see him as a person, rather than a dad who yelled. A lot.

Today I feel lucky to still have him. At age 84, he’s still living life as fully as he can. He paints, thinks deeply about the mystery of life, and rails against the injustices of the world by being a frequent contributor to the newspaper. He’s had a banner year for his painting, which he started in earnest after retiring. He’s been in many juried shows, but this year he was in a three-person show in May and in July is having his first solo show. I’m enjoying his success, but that doesn’t mean I can come up with one of those tear-jerker lists of things people learned from their dad. I can’t undo those first 23 years. I definitely learned things, but chances are you won’t find them in a Hallmark card, paper or electronic:

  1. Fold your towel in threes so it fits on the towel rack. There were six of us and the racks were on the short side, so I guess that made sense, but what really burns me is that when I go to my parent’s house now, the towels are folded in two! I’ve tried to yell at him about it, but he just laughs. The discipline in that house definitely has gone downhill.
  2. Reading books is better than watching TV. If I were reading a book on a Saturday, my dad would let me be. However, watching the TV would be the quickest way to get assigned a chore—usually a nasty one like cleaning out the spider and dust infested crawl space. I still mostly prefer reading to watching TV. I also still dislike chores.
  3. “Get the show on the road.” While this could apply to many situations, mostly it was sternly called out if, god forbid, we kids were lingering after dinner and digesting. This was the signal to start cleaning up, and we ignored it at our peril. I could never understand how our dirty dishes were ever going to be Broadway worthy, but maybe Sondheim could look into it.
  4. You can use philosophy to stay out all night without getting in trouble. My dad gave me a great gift when I was a teen. We had a difficult relationship—he blamed us whether we kids deserved it or not, and I hated him for it. However, when I was a teen, he started learning about Eastern philosophy. He was always calm when he talked about it, so I started to listen. It made a lot more sense to me than my Catholic upbringing, and to this day has shaped how I view the world. However, then I still was a teen. When I stayed out all night after senior prom, I was able to distract his gathering storm of major yelling with a moving description of watching the sun come up on the beach, and how I had, in that brief sunrise moment, felt connected to the universe. He was visibly moved, and to tell the truth, so was I.
  5. Do not go gentle into this good night. My father appreciates every day he has and takes nothing for granted. He takes care of himself and exercises. As a person who prefers to sit around and read, (which he encouraged!) it’s taken me longer to really get behind this one. Being middle-aged and understanding that the end of my “night” is not as far away as it once was helps. But I know now I need to do whatever it takes to fold my towels in three, read, and get the show on the road for many years to come.

Happy Father’s Day, Pops.

Image: Self-portrait by my dad, John Deden.