First, because it’s a parade, and people do some pretty astounding things when they march.
I watched my first Pride Parade before I marched in one. I was barely out to anyone at the time, and I wasn’t even sure what the parade was. I had seen (usually lurid and shocking) pictures in the papers and during the very brief coverage that would appear on the evening news.
I suspected those representations were highly inaccurate, but I had heard a few conflicting descriptions from gay people I knew.
What struck me most about that first parade was how unexceptional most of the people looked. Oh, yes there were some outrageous costumes, and some people bared a bit more skin than you would normally see on a summer sidewalk, but the vast majority were far more fully clothed than a typical beach crowd.
I understand why a lot of people think there’s a lot more nudity at Pride Parades than other events. It’s mostly because of the men. Our society is so heavily patriarchal that we don’t notice all those women in revealing clothes, provocative poses, and suggestive angles used in advertising, television shows, and the like. Women are allowed to show off their legs, a little cleavage, and much more, to show just how beautiful their bodies are. No one blinks at all the near nudity of women on floats in the Seattle Seafair Family Torchlight Parade, for instance, or the Tournament of Roses Parade, or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade—it’s there! We don’t consciously think about how much of the world is geared around appealing to the sexual desires of straight men.
We are not used to men putting themselves on display in the same way. So when the float covered in go-go boys goes by, instead of realizing that it’s no more nudity or sex appeal than what you might see on, say, the Miss America float in the Tournament of Roses Parade, we’re too busy freaking out at the Naked Boys (who aren’t actually naked)!
But what really struck me that first time, was how ordinary so many of the people looked. The various hobby-based clubs marching by in their matching t-shirts, throwing candy. The men and women, mostly in shorts and short-sleeved shirts, walking in a group with their dogs on leashes. The political groups with matching t-shirts chanting their slogans. The groups with kids—lots of the queer couples and their kids—marching with whichever group they were with. Plus lots of church or other religiously affiliated groups and lots of amateur sports leagues.
There were a multitude of costumes, many feathers, copious amounts of glitter, and a lot of rainbows. The outrageous costumes sometimes had some sort of political message. But often they were just things like big crazy headdresses that you weren’t sure what they were meant to signify, but it was rainbow colored!
Then after all the groups with their banners and fliers and sometimes matching t-shirts had passed, the parade just kept going, just lots and lots of random people. It took a few minutes for us to figure out what was happening. I learned later that it’s a tradition that’s gone from the very first Pride March in 1970 on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. After the parade passes you, you step off the curb and join it.
And that’s why some years I watch. The reason for the parade, ultimately, is simple visibility. We’re here. We’re your daughters, your neighbors, your sons, your co-workers, your friends, your siblings, or your parents. We’re not mysterious monsters lurking in seedy clubs, we’re the person in front of you at the check-out line in the grocery store, or the two gals sitting in that next pew at church, or the grey-haired guy trying to read a label on a bottle of cold tablets in the pharmacy, or that kid on the skateboard going past your bus stop, or that guy sipping a coffee at Starbucks while laughing at something on his computer.
We’re here, we’re everywhere, we’re real, and we have lives just like you.
I watch so that the people who are being brave and marching in their first parade will be seen and cheered for. I watch so that group of teen-agers (half of them straight and there to support their bi, gay, and lesbian friends) will get the applause that their costumes deserve. I watch so the guy who was up all night gluing sequins on his and his boyfriend’s costume will get the cheering that work deserves. I watch so that the older couple walking together holding hands will be seen and their love acknowledged.
I watch so that the ones whose families rejected them and told them never to come back will know they have another family, and we’re clapping for them right now. I watch and applaud so that the trans* gals and trans* men know they are seen for who they are and we think they’re beautiful, wonderful, and I am proud to call them brothers and sisters. I watch so that the ones who are carrying a photo or wearing the name of a deceased loved one will know that we see their grief and share it. I watch so that the straight parents who have spent countless hours explaining to friends and relatives that their queer kids have nothing to be ashamed of, and yes they are very happy, and no those things you’ve heard or read about their health and lifespan are all myths will know their efforts are appreciated by the whole community.
I watch so I can see and be reminded of just how big and wonderful and diverse and amazing our community is.
And finally, I watch so that as the last official entry goes by, I can see all the people who aren’t part of a club or organization who, just like me, stood on the sidewalk cheering and applauding.
And I cheer and applaud for all of them until finally it’s my turn to step off the curb and say to the world, “Me too.”