Under the sweltering heat of a hot July day in Portland, a day in which no solace could be found from a soft, puffy cloud or spontaneous rain storm, two men waited patiently at a crosswalk. They wore cut off jean shorts, and long threads of denim tightly clutched their legs, damp with sweat. They both wore muscle shirts; one a bright pastel blue, the other white and black stripes. Their strong arms glinted in the summer’s blinding light. As they stood at the corner, the one in blue grew impatient. He walked quickly in little circles until the other reached out and grabbed his belt. He gently pulled him closer and wrapped his arms around him. He stared into his eyes and their lips met. His partner grew still, his impatience seemingly drained with a single kiss. Nearby, the crosswalk light flashed green, and the two departed, hand in hand, to destinations unknown.
And across the street, I solemnly stood mouth agape. My face twitched with pain from a raised eyebrow that had been at attention for far too long. My face flushed, my heart raced and my mind fervently sought resolution for what I had witnessed, not because of what I had seen, but because I had seen it at all.
I’m from Idaho, a place where you’re more likely to get stuck behind a tractor, a truck with a horse trailer and a van full of Mormons than you are to see such an interaction. Outside of clubs or the safety of a friend’s party in college, what I witnessed was the first public display of affection I had seen between two gay people in a place full of passersby.
When you spend your life in a place that voices disdain at your very presence, these moments are indeed milestones.
When I regained myself, admiration had replaced my shock, which quickly turned to envy. What did these men possess that I didn’t which allowed them to act so openly with each other, even while existing in a world of ignorance and hatred? Either they were stronger, more courageous than I — unabashed, unashamed of their love — or that dense, oppressive atmosphere simply didn’t linger in the air waiting to crush them to dust.
I had a few gay friends, and while I wasn’t ashamed of myself — I phrased it as situational awareness; a half-truth — I didn’t have pride. My interactions with gay people outside my circle (a failed relationship, the stereotypical, one-dimensional, drunken sex-monger) didn’t exactly fill me with pride. But that kiss — so open, so honest, so real — left me hopeful. A year and a cynicism-ectomy later found me in a serious relationship and standing outside the gate to Boise’s 2011 Pride.
Although permanently residing in Portland at that point, I just happened to be in the area at the same time as the parade. I had never attended any sort of gay pride event in the past, primarily because of my past experiences. I fully expected shallowness to pervade the event and my expectations went decidedly unfulfilled.
I’ve always maintained that the focus of such events should be on people and not sex. Perhaps the media focuses on the sensationalized aspects of the parades because, while there were some people who, to me, fit the bill, it was just like any other gathering I’d ever been to before, just with GLBT people and their allies. I had no idea there were so many of us here. The sense of community fostered by the crowd outweighed the few stereotypical moments. I felt so at ease that, if he had been there, I would have gladly held my boyfriend’s hand. In a crowd of strangers, I felt safe and connected in a way I had never before.
I understand that Pride is not only a celebration, but also a reinforcement of our rights as humans. And while I do object to the sexual moments that seem inherent to any parade, it’s merely the context. Just like my evolution, Pride has evolved and as it continues to evolve, maybe these ostentatious moments will be shed as well. Perhaps it is now less, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it,” fighting to even be acknowledged — and more, “We’re still here and we’re still just like you,” fighting for our rights.
I am still new to Portland, but it’s impossible not to feel the community’s presence. The flags that adorn store windows, the incredible outpouring for this year’s Pride (that I unfortunately missed, but read endlessly about) and the supportive atmosphere; it’s impossible not to feel welcome and supported.
And every now and again, when I feel like not too many people are around, I let myself enjoy the simple pleasure of kissing my boyfriend in public. And I relish every second of it.