Celebrants of the holiday sometimes refer to it as “Festivus for the rest of us,” a saying taken from the O’Keefe family traditions and popularized in the Seinfeld episode to describe Festivus as “another way” to celebrate the holiday season without participating in its pressures and commercialism.
The year 2010 marks the 41st celebration of Pride. Our celebratory practices have changed little over the years. We, as Gay and Lesbian citizens of this nation (and the world) still take to the streets with the spirit of Festivus and liberation where it all began. My observation is that each year we still “come out” with our real selves after years of denial and living in the shadows. Street celebrations, marches, parades, and block festivals mark this rite of passage that most of us have gone through in our journey to find our tribe(s) of choice.
I came out in 1974 (I was 16) with just a suitcase, low-rise hip-huggers, platform shoes and enough train fare to get me to the large urban center nearest me. I no longer felt that I could masquerade as something else and the inner desire to run with my pack was just too hypnotic to resist. I left home and never looked back until 25 when a death in the family called to me almost as compellingly to return to my tribe of origin.
I now find myself moving through yet another quadrant in the medicine wheel of life. My needs for celebration and homage have gentrified. I will be 36 years openly gay and feel no struggles or challenges with most of the accessories of that lifestyle. My Queer sensibility is no surprise to anyone in my life- work, family, neighbors, friends, business associates. I have worked diligently to acquire this peace of mind in my life.
The same is true for my HIV Positive status. I seroconverted in 1985. It is no one’s business, I understand. And if people don’t want to know, then they should forget it or not listen. But I have learned living in Denver that if I don’t speak its name (HIV) then perhaps very few people will. And I don’t believe this is healthy or helpful to new persons testing positive every year or those putting themselves in at-risk situations. People acquire HIV mostly by NOT discussing it, so supporting THAT practice of silence seems incredibly foolhardy and negligent.
Besides, HIV Positive Americans have contributed greatly to the LGBT movement. I think to GMHC, ACT-UP, Pedro Zamora, Peter Staley, Larry Kramer, Rock Hudson (albeit without intention) to name a few. These brave and determined individuals moved us as a culture from victims to empowerment with anger, desperation, and determination as the fuel. The intimate doctor visit forever changed because of the concept of individual responsibility when dealing with one’s provider. Activities such as asking specific diagnostic and treatment option questions, waiting for explanations, and offering feedback to primary care physicians were rarely seen pre-AIDS, but are now commonplace due to these groundbreaking predecessors. They believed and saw often that Silence most certainly Equaled Death.
I have co-existed with a culture of silence both about homosexuality, HIV, mental health issues, and substance abuse and seen that silence create great damage. This year as I partake of Festivus, there will be room for not only LGBT citizens of all shapes and colors, but room for these others too. I expect my community to stand with my family of choice around issues very personal, just as I stand in solidarity with them. Pride represents a world with NO STIGMA and NO SHAME for both lgbt citizens AND for my poz brothers and sisters as well as those in recovery. And I celebrate this wondrous occasion without the sponsorship of a corporation or a product. Happy Pride…I will celebrate with Pride the legacy I enjoy that was left so graciously by my predecessors. Those brave and bigger-than-life souls that paved the way for my easy path did not face their fears so that I would be afraid to move forward. They fought back and shouted and marched in the streets so that they might live and that I might live too. And it worked beautifully in some cases! This is where I find Pride this year!