I’m not connecting to Pride the way I used to, Ted Mason confides to me, standing on the sidelines as the last floats roll by.
I know what he means.
It’s Pride Sunday and I’ve been covering the parade for three hours. My T-shirt is soaked through with sweat and I’ve already made at least a dozen mental notes to bring water next year. Mason is wearing a black kilt and a leather vest in the heat; he doesn’t seem to mind.
He tells me about the first Pride Parade he ever attended.
It was 1977, he says, and everyone was expected to walk. “My big fear was, ‘oh my god, what if I’m on TV?'”
Times have changed, he says. “It just feels so different now.”
His friend, Jamie Simpson, agrees.
Coming to Pride used to feel riskier, he says. It was once a powerful political statement. Now it’s more of a celebration, a time to get together with friends, a chance to reflect on all the changes we’ve fought for and won.
“It may be a marker of how far we’ve come,” he muses.
Though it “used to be kind of fun to be a sexual outlaw living on the fringe,” he adds kind of wistfully.
Pride is more mainstream now, Mason notes.
Is that a good thing? I ask.
He pauses. “Yeah, it’s good,” he says at last. “We’ve made incredible progress. If that changes the parade, that’s fine.”
I’m not so sure.
The truth is, I’m not connecting to Pride the way I used to, either.
Maybe it’s because I now live and work in a gay oasis, so I no longer need the Pride Parade to help me connect with my community and feel strong and confident in my gayness.
Maybe it’s because these days the parade is as much a rolling stream of thinly veiled ads as a courageous expression of community culture.
Probably some combination of both.
Don’t get me wrong, my eyes still tear up at the sight of my people lining up behind the starting line, putting the finishing touches on their floats and preparing to share their Pride, their strength and their joy with one another.
It’s just not as powerful as my first Pride.
I’ll never forget that parade. I was 23 years old. My jaw dropped as my friends and I stepped off Toronto’s subway and I was suddenly surrounded by gay. It was all so new and so breathtaking-and, yes, just a little bit risky.
When I moved to Vancouver a few years later, I couldn’t believe the parade route wound right by my block. I felt like I had arrived.
And I had. I’ve spent the last few years soaking up that pride, that confidence to carve out my own unique place in the world.
I no longer wait for the annual floats to help me feel buoyed in my daily resistance to straight assimilation. I no longer need any corporate affirmation to feel entitled to my share of society’s services.
But others do.
In fact, most of the people I met on Pride Day seemed to need that parade the way I once did. Some had just come out, some still lived in a place where gays and lesbians are regularly discriminated against, others just needed a big dose of Pride to get them through their less-than-affirming daily lives.
All of them seemed to draw strength and joy from the community around them.
“It’s the one day that we can all come together and be proud of who we are,” Sabrina Michel told me. “It’s your day where you can just be you. I wish every day could just be like this.”
Maybe my turn has passed. Maybe I had my Pride Parades when I most needed them and now it’s my turn to reach out and share that strength with others.
Maybe it’s my turn to help them take that strength back to their own lives, until they no longer tear up the same way they used to and we can both reach out to the next batch who do.
Maybe this is how we build community.
I could do without some of those corporate floats, though.