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Rainbow Pride (Part Two)

Pride for Queerkind, a Tribe of Meaning-Makers (For the first installment of this entry, click here.) Seven years after having come out, and three years as a college graduate later, I discovered myself at the distracted peak of a digressive productivity as I remained motionless in Kalamazoo, paralyzed by the notion of the unknown as read more..

 

Pride for Queerkind, a Tribe of Meaning-Makers

(For the first installment of this entry, click here.)

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Seven years after having come out, and three years as a college graduate later, I discovered myself at the distracted peak of a digressive productivity as I remained motionless in Kalamazoo, paralyzed by the notion of the unknown as I entertained the idea of parting. This found me hijacking the burgeoning concept of a local LGBT Pride from the then disorganized Kalamazoo Gay Lesbian Resource Center, anticipating its humiliation of itself and the community as a whole.

A gloriously complicated story greatly simplified… However justified I was in steering the course of an occasion that continues to this day, I had also hit the height of arrogance in my ignorance of the historical hints and distinctions of the Gay Liberation Movement. In forsaking the big, long process, the perfectionist in me got caught up in the putting on of another event – the biggest one yet! – as I sanctioned an ecosystem of egotism, forgetting how secure that “big, long rainbow” and its flaming flag made me feel during those delicate young years.

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Adamant in my conviction that the nurturing of self-esteem didn’t necessitate pride, and unflagging in commanding that “Pride” in the aughts ought to be a result of action on behalf of one’s neighbors, I adopted an assimilationist posturing as I floundered in leading an ensemble of mostly 20somethings, along with a handful of hesitant older volunteers, in founding the touted “First Annual Kalamazoo Pride.”

A week before its debut, as the whole kit and kaboodle was quickly coming undone, a congregation of all stripes and I exploited so much of what makes queer sorts so exceptional while being the sole source of satire in reflagging our Wizard of Oz-themed float to K-zoo’s yearly Doo Dah Parade. The overall irony of the undertaking lost on us all, the late Bryan Higgins (or Feather Lynn, the Fearless Lion), Adam Carter (a theatrical fundamental, and Dorothy Herself), Dale Charbeneau (otherwise known as The Jewelry Queen), Justin Hubbs (ever the modest advocate) and Terry Kuseske (a force of support for Michigan’s gay, bi, and trans community) – and numberless others still with us who are sprinkled across the country – conflictingly coaxed the globe’s only gay-themed “Community Pride” into an inaugural reality.

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In our painful, playful transition from survival as individuals and as a subculture to coexisting with/in mainstream society, we looked, lived, and loved like queers, but sought to fit in with a bought-into, socially-enforced expectation of ourselves in the 21st century as opposed to allowing for an experience of always having belonged – just as we are.

The concept for our unbeflagged float was “Kalamazoo Pride is OVER the Rainbow!” Broadly brush-struck wood streaked o’er creaking wheels, nothing was flown above us as I proved a somewhat underhanded figurehead in the form of Postmodern Tin Man, full of heart, but secretly harboring a hardened resolve to appear upstanding while falling apart at the seams behind the scenes as the succeeding week’s event – the fruit of my labor that escaped my flagging yank – was commandeered from my control.

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And in my disgrace – a profligate prodigal in my sense of service – I confronted an old shame. This encounter with my boyhood self would pave the way for a new day when I as a gay guy could be but one of a collective that wouldn’t conform and contort to a culture at large as much as inform it in some grand old way.

I now envision Gilbert Baker as being there with us, in the colorfulness of our “otherness,” as we endeavored for something integrated, knowing that in the messy magnificence of our becoming, our belonging is a guarantee. Hidden in the hullabaloo, the conception of community – of valuing the process over the product, and allowing purpose to supersede reputation – tipped our movement further into a cultural coup of queer consciousness.

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As Mr. Baker noted in an illuminating interview on our Rainbow Flag, “Gay people – we’re tribal, we’re wildly creative and individualistic – and flags are very opposite of that. They’re very nationalistic and there’s a lot of… protocol and a lot of rules and regulations. So for us… in the beginning… it was kind of the anti-flag – something that reached across genders… something that represented who we were as a sexual liberation movement in the sense that we were every gender, every race, every class.”

Like the motion of a banner in the breeze, this notion of fierce beings seizing this golden moment as a tribe that ascribes to that cosmic something greater than ourselves as we utilize our talents to tilt the times we’re in off balance and into a global awareness and acknowledgement – and appreciation! – of human heterogeneity and hetero, homo, and that undefined “in between”’s nuances.

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So that is why I cried and sighed last week – laughed out loud, and loved, all proud that somehow I came again to let my freak flag soar! From socially-imposed shame to an arrived-at pride in a marriage of celebration and solidarity. Ahh… Gratitude!

And I wish I could hug that swishing boy of 17 who so joyfully located the varicolored marker of a queer-affirmative office that led him on a yellow-bricked welcoming of activist comrades and sexual companions and shameless inquisitors – so I offer locked lips with men of all sorts and sizes in my own safe place from the grid-locked public space of the “Capital of the World.”

And I aspire to impart some advice to that militant man of 24 who so mindlessly, myopically heaped his self-stigma onto a perplexed perception of pride instead of respecting the freaks in the forefront who harbingered these unparalleled freedoms – so in my sylvan haven I encourage each fellow to be present to the practice of living and take advantage of his given privileges. And we allow those who have passed on to live on in a New York minute that will extend forevermore.

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And I hope I get to hold Gilbert, my fellow Midwesterner-and-wayfarer-turned-New-Yorker, one of these days in a grateful embrace. More than a vexillographer merely vexed at social oppression, this rainbow emblem-maker and radical accord-creator is an exemplar of humbled humanity in service to himself by serving humankind with all epochs and peoples in mind. In this youthful truth-teller’s wisdom-fueled flair, he widens our definitions of ourselves and develops our worldview as we locate the myriad epiphanies of life on its many-hued periphery.

I must trust in this time of oft-tacit acceptance and tepid compliance that we wisen to the reality that the world requires the uniqueness of queer insight.

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I consider Gilbert Baker as encapsulating in his art and being what we who make up the whole of queerkind are best off cultivating in joyously, lovingly – flagrantly! – locating our extraordinary voices so as to allow for ourselves what we can meaningfully impart on a waiting world. Once looked through or down upon, it is now on us to take pride in guiding humankind toward a brighter future as vibrant livers of life and voracious lovers of love!

With the struggles and sensibilities of the past and the possibilities and puzzlements of the forthcoming, I wonder if we will come to choose presence in this preciously shared instant in a kind of pride that colors our sense of ourselves as uncommon healers, enlarging our hearts and creation at large.

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Add a Response 4 thoughts on “Rainbow Pride (Part Two)

  1. Like Dennis I’m struck that you chose to be the Tin Man. A little online research was informative, and here’s an abbreviated version of what I discovered about how he was once human, and this is how he became a tin man—it’s gruesome:

    “A vengeful witch made a woodman’s axe enchanted, and it started to chop off each of his limbs, one by one. Each time he lost a limb, a tinsmith replaced it with a prosthetic one made of tin. Finally, nothing was left of him but tin. And the tinsmith who helped the woodman, forgot to replace the Woodman’s heart. Because he was now only tin, he could not love.”

    Great metaphor for an assimilationist strategy. And perhaps a cautionary tale. To wit, two big things happened this week that both have to do with the story of the Tin Man.

    Today, we, as a community, have, of all things, been granted a “heart” by those wizards on the Supreme Court. Perhaps they’ll ride the wave and get around to our other inalienable rights in the next decade or so.

    And then this other thing happened: an LGBT immigration activist was thrown out of the White House for being, uh, rude.

    The, by now, traditional White House Pride Reception was bigger and better, and brimming with self-congratulation on Wednesday. LGBT community leaders, chosen LGBT celebrity heroes, LGBT politicos, etc., had all of course vied for invitations. You can imagine that thousands were disappointed. I was even piqued, in a Walter Mitty way—where was my engraved invite?

    Among the “winners” was a trans man, Senior Airman Logan Ireland, who was granted an exception so that he could wear a man’s uniform for the occasion, since, of course, this is not allowed in the military, which can still discharge (and does) trans military personnel. A recent television special showed him proudly suiting up in flak jacket and automatic weapon during his service in Afghanistan. A shiny, smiling warrior.

    However, that day there was another warrior ,of a different sort, invited to the White House Pride Reception. And she was none too happy. Immigration activist Jennicet Gutiérrez, who is a trans woman, interrupted the President’s Pride Speech, by shouting repeatedly, “No more LGBT deportation.” Of course the President was upset, who wouldn’t be when they’re talking so glowingly about themselves? But he lost his cool and scolded her, saying, “You are in my house. Shame on you!” Which, when you think about it, kind of states the problem baldly, as she is, reportedly, an undocumented immigrant!

    But what was really troubling, even despicable, was the reaction of the other guests, who loudly booed Ms. Gutierrez, shouted her down with chants of “Obama! Obama!” and actually laughed in her face as she was told by the President to leave, then escorted out. The video of this event reveals a room of mostly men, mostly white, in suits and ties. One man shouted angrily at her, “this is for all of us, not just you!” Well, from her perspective, I’d say a truer thing was never said.

    Who, there, in that room had a heart? At that very moment an entire community had forgotten theirs, except for this one woman, still shouting, as she was taken away for disrupting what was essentially, for Chrissake, a cocktail party.

    Adam, your self reflection on your younger self: “Arrogant.” “Egotistical,” and “wanting to put on another event—the biggest one ever,” kind of fits the big, fat, White House Pride Reception better than it does “The First Annual Kalamazoo Pride,” which looks like it must have been a whole lot more fun. Come to think of it, why weren’t you invited to the White House Pride Reception (see, I’m still cranky about the guest list)?

    As for your choice to be the Tin Man, it turns out this was the biggest conceit ever; I just know for certain that wherever you find yourself, you’ll always have the biggest heart in the room.

    • When our notion of diversity will extend to “different sorts” – when we can allow, really allow for another’s experience – is when LOVE will truly rule. 🙂 Once again, you’ve supported me in understand my own process – and writing! – better, Chris. Thank you. (And I was elected to be the Tin Man by the man who hijacked Kalamazoo Pride from my controls, who used to proudly proclaim, “I have no soul.” It was a telling time. As Amy Grant once stated, “You live in a dangerous place when you sacrifice integrity for security.” In this case, when I was bending to live up to an ideal, truer things were never said.)

      To nuance! To inclusiveness! To LOVE! 🙂

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