Pride is Gay

Jordan Barber drops by the over-the-top, weekend-long jamboree known as the 2008 Portland Pride Festival and Parade. But is it really a celebration of gay pride or gay stereotypes?

I was a little hesitant to go to Portland’s Pride Festival a couple weekends ago. I can declare myself gay without much discomfort, but the thought of a parade made me a little uneasy. I mean, I’m gay and I know it—-but am I that gay?

Pride festivals are strangely serious and kitschy. While there is some hidden message of equality and rights, pride festivals present themselves in the passé “we’re here, we’re queer” comedic stance that—-to me-—undermines their whole purpose. Can you have a protest and a party without diving into stereotypes?

So, as you might imagine, I was put off when they stuck a pink “PRIDE” sticker on my chest. I mean, that’s so gay. It’s easy to dismiss it as an affirmation of identity–stereotyped cultural baggage and all–but playing into the same stagnant characterizations gay people have followed for decades also confines us to nothing more than a sideshow. I was skeptical.

The festival itself was full of booths ranging from a Bank of America stand (with rainbow lettering) to a sex toy store. An endless number of canvassers begged people to sign up for their causes. I was stopped several times by human rights, gay equality, and socialist organizations. I can’t stand it when people ask me about that stuff, so I tried to ignore them. Eventually though, I caved and gave out my email address. Oddly enough, I signed up for Planned Parenthood, which I could care less about. As a gay male, abortions don’t really affect me.

The emcee of the event was this aberrant creature named Splendora, who was at least 6’4″ and dressed in a skintight cheetah print outfit. When s/he was on stage, s/he was clearly high on something; between catcalls to passing pedestrians, she occasionally gurgled out inspiring phrases like “I’m sooo proud to be gay!” or “Show your pride!” while stripping to bad music. It wasn’t inspiring. With the next show being a gay dog contest, I decided to call it a day.

That night, there was a big block party at one of the local gay clubs. Men (and women) appeared shirtless and drunk, dancing outside in spite of the cold weather. The bar had porn playing on TVs, but people were too busy staring at an impromptu shower in the middle of the stage where a couple of porn stars rubbed each other down in Speedos.

The best part of the night came when the annual naked bicycle ride passed by outside. I think it’s unrelated to Pride, but it always falls on the same night. At around 12:30 a.m., a huge party of nude men and women ride around Portland, screaming and yelling. There didn’t appear to be any purpose to the ride other than sheer insanity.

On our way back to the car, I took a bike-carriage with some friends. It’s like a modern day rickshaw with a bike attached; our lovely driver was wearing a tutu and outrageous Courtney Cox makeup while signing Italian opera while we rode home.

The next day, I slept in and missed the parade. I wouldn’t say that I was particularly proud at any point during that day, but it was certainly amusing. The rest of my life is fairly normal, so I can handle delving into the bedazzled glory of Pride for one day out of the year.

Jordan Barber is proud that the internet allows him to criticize, admonish, and irritate people from his own living room. And though this immense power only comes to the few, he promises to wield his hammer of judgment with a standoffish, thoughtful outlook.