This was previously published at Tully’s Page.
I’m 52 years old, and this past weekend was my first “Pride” Parade.
I’m not 100% sure why I never attended, but I know that I always was skeptical about the whole thing. I think I just didn’t understand why there was such a thing to begin with. Outside of a reason to party, these parades merely seemed (to me) to simply give more conservative folk another reason to hate gay men and women: young hardbodies gyrating on floats in speedos, men fabulously dressed up as women, a heavy dose of sexual innuendo … I wasn’t sure what good this would do for anyone.
But this year, I decided not only to attend Boston’s Pride parade—but to march in it. Being older-than-dance-club age, and having a belly that disqualify me from the cover of Men’s Health, the obvious choice was to march with MassBearz, a fairly recent organization of gay men who identify with the “Bears” subculture.
We gathered at 10:00 am in Boston’s back Bay, for a parade that began at 12 Noon, only to find that we were towards the end so we never stepped off until after 1:00 pm. The 30 men gathered blew up balloons and played the “hurry-up-and-wait” game as we watched larger groups of political campaigns, flashy floats, and musical sound systems gather around us.
And then we stepped into the streets, and started along the parade route, smiling and waving and handing out candy gummi-bears to the crowd. And the further along the route we went, the closer we got to Boston City Hall Plaza, the larger the crowds grew—and something amazing happened.
Now, I have experienced parades before—being raised in a fireman’s family, parades where a standard part of the summer, and for a number of those summers I played snare drum in the Baldwin Fire Department Drum & Bugle Corps. But no parade had prepared me for this.
The crowds went crazy for us. Cheering, clapping, yelling out, “We LOVE you, Bears!” and generally going over the top to applaud us. Not a few people here and there, but massive walls of tens of thousands of people lining the streets of Boston. By the time we reached the ‘finish line,’ my partner and I were both in tears. And I now understand the importance of “Pride” parades.
It wasn’t for the press, or the politicians, or the sponsoring companies seeking gay dollars, or the local businesses hawking water and rainbow flags, or the disapproving.
It was for me.
It was for those of us who marched.
It was for those of us who can name a dozen or two kids in high school who made fun of us and called us “faggots,” who could now witness a hundred thousand people cheering us.
It was for those of us who, comparing the short-comings of our less-than-ideal male bodies to pumped-up movie images, could witness thousands of people proclaiming their adoration of those middle-aged bald spots and soft bellies.
It was for those of us who never ‘fit in’ in high school, and could now feel like we were the kings of the city.
It was for those of us who never won an athletic letter (much less get picked for any team sport until no one else was left), but who now felt like we were being held up on the crowd’s shoulders after winning the game.
It was for those of us who felt awkward and unsure and self-conscious speaking with girls, only to have women by the thousands giving us “thumbs-up” signs and asking to have pictures taken with us.
Pride is, indeed, about just that: Pride. Pride in who you are, pride in your skin, pride in your commonality with your fellow humanity.
I get it now. I’m sorry I wasted all these years. But I won’t waste the future … you can bet that I’ll be found at a Pride Parade every June.