I stand on a crowded street corner among baby strollers and lawn chairs as the sun beats down on my pounding head.
It’s the morning of the Pride parade and I haven’t fully recovered from last night’s house party. Behind me, my boyfriend Bryan is chatting with our friends as they sit on pieces of cardboard to protect their Prada-clad butts from the damp grass.
Squinting against the sun, they sip their bottled water and discuss the previous night’s party while taking refuge in the shade of the apartment buildings on Beach Ave.
I stand dazed, my mind empty except for the reverberation of trance music. Then I hear Bryan shout at me from behind.
“What do you want to do after this, hon? There’s a T-dance at Balthazar’s we can go to or would you rather hit the booths at Sunset Beach?”
My worn-out body wants to say neither.
After three days of throwing parties, attending parties, clubbing, barhopping and drinking with friends, there’s not one drop of blood in my system that isn’t 80 proof. I would rather go home and drill holes in my head to let out the evil spirits than endure another event, but I can’t bear to disappoint Bryan.
Pride is his favourite time of year and he attacks it with the energy of a ferret on meth. He embraces the spirit of the season, soaks up every last drop, and lets it carry him through the weekend until it’s time to crash on Monday morning.
It’s a trick I haven’t quite figured out yet and no, it doesn’t involve drugs. It’s simpler than that. It’s fuelled by pride and the sheer exhilaration of being ourselves, fully and completely, openly and publicly, for one weekend a year.
This is our weekend to be a proud gay couple and show the world just how wonderful that can be, and dammit we’re going to show them even if it kills us.
I look at Bryan and vow to push past the pain of excess and revel with him in this weekend’s celebrations by touching, kissing and groping him inappropriately in public the way God intended.
I wipe the sweat away from my eyes and opt for Balthazar’s. At least there’s air conditioning there; when you’re hung over, sun and heat are not your best friends.
As the clock ticks down to parade time, the sun makes its lazy journey across the sky and steals precious inches from my brood’s protective shade. Like vampires they recoil from the light’s painful kiss and swallow more water to make their headaches go away. I think I even hear my friend Aaron hiss.
We’ve been here for hours, having arrived early to stake our claim to a decent parade-watching spot, but we know that our prime location will be overcrowded in moments. The cry of babies will soon feel like daggers in our brains and our patience will be tested by latecomers who push and shove their way through the crowd looking for an empty space.
I look at the rest of the parade goers and recognize a few people. Whether they are close friends, passing acquaintances or online personas, most of them were at the same parties I attended over the last week. Some faces I can match names to, some I can’t. All of them have the same burnt-out look as my sorry crowd.
What we really want is to see an Advil float where pretty people toss free samples into our outstretched arms, followed by water cannons to blast us with their refreshing streams. Alas, Advil floats are much like leprechauns and unicorns, a fanciful notion that would bring much joy to the world but are so far nothing more than mythology, despite the massive amount of financial support our community has invested in their product.
Whoever decided that the end of Pride in Vancouver would be followed by a statutory holiday in BC is a blessed person indeed.
Then the thunder comes.
Even before I can see them, I can feel the rumbling of their motorcycles and the cheers they inspire. We all turn our heads towards the sound and wait for the first appearance of chrome and spinning rubber, of bare-chested, leather-clad dykes on bikes.
Bryan gets up and stands next to me, taking my hand and squeezing it. I look into his eyes and see that bright twinkle that reminds me why I love him.
“It’s starting, hon!” he says. His voice is high and barely audible over the roar. He’s like a child on Christmas morning: excited about everything because it’s all part of the tradition.
They fly past us like Valkyries, waving their arms and yelling, their breasts proudly exposed. What starts with one or two Harleys tearing by becomes a concert of horsepower and mufflers between their legs. The crowd eats it up.
I join in, but my cries are drowned out by the motorcycles’ roars. It doesn’t matter. I’m contributing to the sound of the occasion. We grow louder and louder as our screams mark our presence in to the world.
But there’s something strange about one of these brazen Amazons.
At first she’s just a familiar flash, but it’s enough to break the spell of the moment and pause just long enough to say, “I know her.”
She comes by for another pass and I pinpoint the identity of her cherub face. Her name is Katherine and she was my best friend’s little sister when we were growing up.
Her long brown hair is now done up in dreadlocks and she has traded in her designer jeans and baby doll Ts for black leather pants and a black T-shirt with chains crossing her chest.
Before she ever climbed onto a motorcycle, Katherine was riding horses at a stable in Tsawassen and playing with her Little Mermaid dolls. I used to go on long car trips to the States with her family where she and her brother would argue the whole way down. She was a fighter who wouldn’t submit to the seniority of an older brother.
The ensuing arguments would force their mother to yell “bloody hell” at the top of her lungs in her proper British accent. It’s an expression that has worked its way into my repertoire.
And now she’s a dyke on a bike.
I should have seen the signs. Once her bedroom was a playpen of E-Z Bake Ovens and Disney paraphernalia, but when she entered adolescence she stopped watching Saved by the Bell and started watching Xena: Warrior Princess. The golf lessons, the trips to Home Depot. Oh God, it all makes sense now.
As I watch her tearing down the street on her hog, I can’t take my eyes off the smile that lights up her face, and I know that she’s found her place. She rides fast and free with these angels, still fighting and refusing to surrender to any male authority. She’s found her place of belonging.
“Rock on, you crazy bitch!” I yell.
I’m back in it now. I’m primed for the long train of floats to come, for the many proud declarations of self from all of us who have found the strength to trade in our earlier trappings for the more genuine lives we lead today. Not to mention for the moving sea of hot, gyrating, naked bodies.
I squeeze Bryan’s hand and we cheer with the rest of the crowd, vying to be sprayed by passing water guns and lifting our shirts for free stuff.
Bryan clutches my arms and points to every person in the parade that he recognizes and gives me a small piece of information on each other them. The rest of our group chatters excitedly, making new friends with everyone around us.
We’re all riding the same wave of Pride. There are no strangers here.
After the parade, our group disperses. Some go home to sleep and some head to the booths at Sunset Beach. Bryan and I head to Balthazar’s for another party and more drinking.
Dressed in our tank tops and shorts, we fit right in with the overheated crowd. We make our way to the bar, grab a couple of beers and start scanning the room for more familiar faces.
We aren’t there long before Bryan recognizes someone and we’re immediately thrown into a conversation with Michel, a buff man in his 50s with white hair and a French-Canadian accent.
“Michel used to host love parties,” Bryan tells me. “Everyone would come in and write down what they think love is and hang it up around the apartment. At the end of the night, he would read them all out and burn them in his fireplace so that the love would waft up into the atmosphere. Those parties were so much fun.”
“Everyone needs love,” Michel says.
“When I found Bryan he was such a little innocent. But look what a little love can do,” he smiles. “Now he throws parties that are bigger than mine.”
Michel gives me a big hug and a kiss before excusing himself to greet another friend.
“I love Michel,” Bryan says. “He helped me get into the house party scene and I met some really amazing people through him. He’s just a great guy that way. He’s always trying to help others. I just hope one day I can return the favour.”
He takes a moment to watch Michel work the room and give everyone a hug, whether he knows them or not. This is the first time I’ve seen him pause all day. That’s when it hits me.
We don’t celebrate Pride just so we can get drunk. We don’t go to clubs because we feel we have to. We celebrate Pride to commune with people who are like us, to find and renew our places in the folds of our community.
We celebrate Pride to remember what love means to us, to honour that love, and to make sure it permeates the atmosphere this weekend, and beyond.
The ties that strengthen our community are grounded in celebrations like this one where connections are built and new friendships formed. Pride gives us a sense of belonging. We love and feel loved. It’s a love party on a broader scale, simple but true.
As the T-dance winds down, Bryan and I prepare to meet up with our brood for a final Pride hoorah. We’ve invited a new friend along who we hope will become a regular at our functions throughout the year.
Pride may be a great place to meet new people, to reconnect with ourselves and each other, to forge new connections and recommit to community, but it takes a lot of work to maintain those connections throughout the year.
Bryan and I resolve to do the work, to keep the feeling going.
Pride doesn’t have to fade when the last float rolls by or the last DJ turns out the lights on Monday. That’s when it begins, refreshed and ready for the year to come. The rest is just a damn good party.