This weekend marked my fourth New York gay pride, always a seasonal reminder that summer is in full swing and my July birthday is right around the corner. Friends become consumed with which party to attend and what outfit to wear. A few have the annual debate of to go or not to the pier dance, a decision influenced by who the performer "might be." By Sunday, Pride has ended and the Fourth of July planning begins, with few of us pausing to ask what Pride really meant, what Pride had done for us.
Someone actually asked me that question earlier this month in a bizarre setting.
Breaking my workaholic ways, I went out the Thursday before last and attended the live performance of Bravo’s reality star (sometimes housewife) Countess LuAnn de Lesseps’s single “Money Can’t Buy You Class.” Having become friendly with a few people close to the show, I found myself sitting in the stuffy green room of New York's young dance haven Splash.
In one corner, the Countess (yes, people must refer to her by her title) quickly changing into her “stage” outfit from her fitted cocktail dress. In the other corner, Bravo’s Andy Cohen sipping drinks with a young record executive, coming straight from the taping of his show, Watch What Happens Live. In the back, a line was forming at what I thought was the bathroom but found out was the “sink.” Apparently there is no bathroom upstairs at Splash. Below were throngs of gay boys waiting for the reality star to take the stage. Once I stopped wondering if the Countess really went to the bathroom in that sink, I took a seat in front of the complimentary vodka and next to a woman who got me thinking.
The woman was apparently the Countess’s childhood friend from Birmingham, Ala. As I’m a Georgia boy myself, we quickly struck up a conversation. She told me how hot she thought her husband was and wondered if you could be straight but “gay-like,” as apparently her husband had tendencies. We chatted about how Luann's fame helped her uncover her true voice, a lifelong dream. We even discussed male grooming and how my eyebrows were perfect but, in her words, “perhaps too girly.”
Then came gay pride — the Countess’s friend’s quick summation gave me pause: “I wish straight people could celebrate how much they love to drink, do drugs, and have sex with each other.” Followed quickly by her question, surely based on my facial expression: “I mean, what has gay pride really done for you?”
I was rendered speechless by the assumed answer. I couldn’t very well agree on all three of her assumptions. I mean, gay pride is a party, but it was said with such flippancy. I knew the answer, but I suddenly found it hard to articulate any respectable answer. How could I be speechless to a random woman in the loft of Splash? It was a big part of my life.
Year after year, gay pride had reinforced the value, need, and importance
of finding my voice, something I took seriously this past year by
publicly disclosing my status as HIV-positive. The Advocate posted my article “Do What Feels Right” on
World AIDS Day, 2009, and Impact Red, the group I formed to support NYC AIDS
Walk, is an example of its continued influence.
My commitment to
keeping the conversation on HIV/AIDS alive has no doubt been influenced
by years of gay pride attendance. Once you see Hillary Clinton, Lady
Bunny, and 300 shirtless men in the same parade, you can’t deny
the impact of a voice. It has taught me that being heard is important and
having a voice is the first step.
By the time I could gather my thoughts
to tell my new found friend the answer, she was gone. It was now time
to go watch LuAnn knock them dead with an awkward, partly spoken
rendition of “Money Can’t Buy You Class.”
As I watched from the
rickety stairs behind the DJ booth, I must say, I was proud of the Countess for finding her voice (figuratively of course), and I couldn’t help but hope
one or two of the screaming gay boys watching her with such intent will
find theirs at a Pride this year or at one down the road.
As on many nights and days, I lived my way through another set of questions.
Some unanswered: Had the Countess in fact
used the “sink”; whether money can or
can’t buy class. Some easy: Yes, my eyebrows are well-
groomed — I prefer girly over unkempt any day — and I think I can confirm
the concept that a man can be “gay-like” but not gay.
Some answers are so
much than just answers, like discovering that even a Countess needs to
find her voice and remembering the importance of finding my own.
look forward to sharing this voice, perspective, and questions in this column, which will focus on real topics, from
my life in advertising to my life as a gay, HIV-positive man.
Questions that don’t always have answers, but are worth talking about.