What’s A Parade Without It?

June 20th, 2016 Posted by A Writer's Life 12 comments

The Orlando massacre is barely in my rear view window, and I’m already seeing it.  My LGBT family is doing what it does best.  We’re dusting ourselves off, reaching out a hand to lift one another up, and getting ready for the next round, because, let’s be honest, when it comes to the queer community, there’s always another round.

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may tread me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Thank you, Ms. Angelou, thank you.  You know.

It’s happening as I type—our stubborn refusal to be erased—though, by God, there are a lot of people trying.  It started quietly, unremarkably, but has built quite a head of steam.  It’s a grassroots groundswell that is best illustrated through an example that’s repeating itself around the world like some queer, universal ditto.

My husband called me during my stateside visit the day the heartbreak made the news to tell me he’d attended a vigil back home in Auckland, New Zealand.  A single call had gone out—one—and before the sun had fully set that same evening, in a local park on the other side of the planet, seven hundred people had gathered.  They embraced, lit candles, and raised their flames overhead to memorialize our dead and console the living, while trying to make sense of the senseless—the nature of hate, and our role in it.  Words were spoken afterward, some in the form of prayer, others an acknowledgement that while we are not victims, neither are we the cause to hate’s effect.

Seven hundred flames to counter a pastor in Sacramento and another in Tempe who both lamented that not more of us had died.

How many, I wonder, in Paris, then?  In Seattle?  London?  How many calls?  How many thousands and thousands of flames to illuminate a path for the “peaceful migration” of our brothers’ and sisters’ souls*, even as the Twitterverse erupted with countless versions of the following from one Jonathan Howell: “Florida Pulse gay club attacked I’m so happy someone decided to start shooting perverts instead of innocent people.”  Or this one from Drew (last name blocked out): “Nothing wrong with shooting a few gays.”

Drew added a laughter emoji to impress upon everyone that he thinks killing us is… funny.

To these people, we’re not headlines.  We’re punchlines.

The truth is we’re old campaigners when it comes to hate, all of us in the LGBT community; battle scarred veterans who are forever dusting ourselves before stretching out a hand to those of us still on our knees.  We’re a team, but never more so than after a tragedy; a bloodied, big hearted amalgam of the little engine that could, no one left behind, and the ugly duckling.

Not so long ago, it was the fight for marriage equality.  Before that, the big bugaboo—AIDS.  Sixteen thousand died—among them my partner and twenty-odd friends—before President Reagan even acknowledged its existence publicly.

My participation in this larger cycle began with Anita Bryant.  I was a teenager, all of sixteen, and while I should have been addressing issues no more grave than acne, I had to grow into my sexual awareness as she marched across America to “save the children” from those animals.  Which was I, Ms. Bryant?  The child or the animal?  It doesn’t matter, I guess.  Your lesson plan, with its orange juice wholesomeness, big teeth, and talk of God’s will, was effective.  I learned to hate myself and to fear everyone.

And that, my friend, is why Gay Pride Month is so necessary.

Somewhere within all these battles, and within my personal recovery, lies its essence, at least to my eyes.  Triumph.  Indomitability. Perseverance.  Self-worth.

Pride.

So it shouldn’t come as any surprise when I say I’ve been thinking about the connection between the Orlando atrocity, Gay Pride Month, perseverance, and, more to the point, parades.

My thoughts, though, have taken a decided departure.  I’ve not been thinking of these things from the perspective of a gay man in a straight world. Rather, I’ve been thinking about my LGBT siblings who find our celebrations embarrassing, even mortifying.  Strip away the pretty words, and their arguments are all variations on a simple theme:  We must fit in.

No.

The truth is that we must not, especially now, and for three reasons I can immediately see.  Though I’m sure others will come to mind.

Fear.  It’s not an argument.  It’s a reaction.  And it’s the last thing we should succumb to.  Its focus is survival, which is, despite what just happened in Orlando, the antithesis of Gay Pride.  We’re not throwing on the paint and glitter bomb to survive.  We’re doing the bloody opposite and thumbing our noses at it with as much leather, chenille, and theatre as possible.

Beyond their wayward concern over how others may perceive us when we throw caution to the wind for a single day and unleash the full force of our fabulous differentness, our square-peg-in-a-round-holeness, the people who subscribe to the conformity argument are missing the point altogether.  Our parades are for us, and us alone.  If the world wants to join, it’s more than welcome, but this is our playground, and while you may not understand the rules, they must be respected.

You see, we’re celebrating the fact that we’re the every-colored polka dots in a world of hole-punch tabs.  And that makes us a gift the world has yet to open.

We’re defined by our theatrics, and we should be, but what does it say about those who are blind to our other qualities; the patience, the compassion, the empathy, the right-brained, left-handed brush stroke of the master, the insistent tap at the door of the world’s conscience, the paradoxical shaking-in-our-boots courage that marches relentlessly forward, the collective will to forgive, and now the NRA’s worst nightmare, because, what the hell, we’ll be your knights in shining armor, if you’d only let us.

If you’d only let us.

A little love goes a long way with my crowd.  We can ration that shit like there’s no tomorrow, because, as Orlando proved, there may not be one.  Yet, even in the face of all that—and here’s the main point—we remain the Ever-Ready Bunnies, staring the world down from behind our Ray-Bans, our lips set in a grim line, as we beat our drums on and on and on.  We’re Matthew Shepard.  We’re Virginia Woolf.  We’re Bayard Rustin, Jane Addams, Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde, Alice Walker, Alan Turing, Michelangelo, Cole Porter, Frida Kahlo.

We’re confetti.

And let me ask you.

What is a parade without it?

 

*Thank you for the reference, Lucy.  I’d attribute it to the author, but I don’t remember her name.

 

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12 comments

Kelly says:

Beautiful, Scott. I found this that I thought you might find interesting. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/keshet/from-a-rabbi-an-open-letter-to-people-who-are-lgbtq/#

And particularly THIS paragraph: One of the biggest problems with religion is that people stubbornly, insistently reduce God to their own size; they imagine that God loves the same people they love, and that God hates the people they hate. This is not just insidious theology; it’s actually idolatry, because people are just worshiping a blown up version of themselves. So let me say it simply: God’s love transcends all of that.

Scott Wilbanks says:

I’m going to use that one, Kelly. Thanks!

Hope life is treating you well. I’ll be sitting in a window seat at my favorite San Francisco cafe to make a major dent in my sophomore effort.

Well said, my friend. I’m so grateful you’re around to say it.

Scott Wilbanks says:

Hiya Michele!

And thank you. It was an honest response, which made it a difficult one. I had to take a couple days to think about what I wanted to say.

All the best to you.

RENEE GENTRY says:

Thank you, Scott. You have enlightened me. I am not a member of your colorful community, but I have many friends who are. I can say of all of them that they are kind, compassionate, and caring people. I can’t say the same of all of my straight friends, some of which may be falling by the wayside due to the reactions to the atrocity of the Orlando shooting. Keep writing. Can’t wait to read your next book.

Scott Wilbanks says:

Thank you! I’ve sequestered myself in a window seat at my favorite San Francisco cafe to make a major dent in it. After dumping five premises and oodles of writing (over 300 pages. It’s a case of my publisher wanting one thing, my agent another, and, well, me a third…), It’s finally coming along.

K. L. Romo says:

So eloquently written, Scott. Thank you for this essay, and thank you for fighting the fight. I try to be the best Ally I can be – my 18 year old daughter came out to me about a year and a half ago. Just as you’ve done, I had to write about it. To try to come to terms with the guilt I felt at being her mother and not really knowing her for her first 17 years. And the fact that she felt scared and ashamed to be herself.

I told her I was so happy she shared her true self with us. No one should ever have to hide who they are. I told her she might have a hard road ahead (as you know, Texas has some real charismatic left-wing haters) but she should never, ever deny who she is. I will always stand with her and the LGBTQ community, who, as you so beautifully said, is all too familiar with picking yourselves up and again joining the parade.

Stay safe.

Scott Wilbanks says:

That is exactly why I gave Christian (a character in Lemoncholy) a past in Texas. Growing up gay in the Lone Star State is a trial by fire, for sure.

Thank you for the lovely words, Kirsche, and give my best to your daughter. (My baby sister is also gay. She took me to my first gay bar. )

Hi Scott, I’m a WFWA member and found your moving and right on post on the FB page. Thank you for your honesty. I hope you don’t mind. I have taken the liberty of linking your website to my post on Orlando. Also your book. I’m new at blogging and hope I’m not stepping on your toes. If so, let me know. .

Scott Wilbanks says:

Not at all, Lori! I’m honored, actually. I’ll look for you on Facebook.

Kat Goetz says:

What an excellent and eloquent post, Scott. The world would be a darker and greyer place without the LGBT community and the friends I’ve known and loved within it – I wouldn’t be who I am without their presence in my life. Love is love is love is love no matter what guise it wears and it’s tragic that there are, still, people unable to understand this. Tragic that we, as a society, haven’t evolved beyond the prejudices given voice to by people who call themselves the representatives of a loving God.

Here’s to all the pride you and yours can muster, despite the hatred directed against you.
————–
On another note, I just finished your book and enjoyed it, and your writing style, very much. All the best on your next one.
K.

Scott Wilbanks says:

“Listen to me.” She sounded almost angry. “You can spend all the time given you on earth making terrible sacrifices for others who, without ever having walked in your shoes, presume to decide right and from on your behalf–people who want the world only on their terms, parading their intolerance, their ignorance and narrow-mindedness while calling it morality.”

I wrote those words for myself. I’m Christian, though I’ve managed to overcome the social stutter over time.

Annie punctuates her commentary to Christian–to me–by saying, “Find your courage, Christian. To hell with everyone else.”

To me, Gay Pride is equally as much about my community finding it’s courage. I wrote that line for everyone. 🙂

Thank you for letting me know that you read and enjoyed my book. I’m hard at work on the next one, despite a few hiccups and a HUGE learning curve that bogged me down before finally settling on a premise I really like.

All the best to you, Kat. And if you’re of a mind, Lemoncholy is closing in on 200 Amazon reviews. I’d dearly love for that benchmark to be represented by an exuberant one! 🙂

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