Chicago Pride (June 26, 2011)

 

 

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For members of the LGBT community, their friends, partners and loved ones (so basically, everyone in America), this is a great weekend. Not only did the nation’s most populous state, New York, pass 11th hour legislation on Friday night that certified equal marriage rights for all of its citizens, but throughout the country, there was some serious partying already planned in the form of various Pride parades and festivals.

This morning Chicagoans awoke to the second day of a two-day reprieve from cool temperatures and consistent storms, and took to the streets for the City’s annual gay Pride parade. Even without a high of nearly 80 degrees, half-naked, beautiful, intoxicated bodies would have filled the roads and alleyways of Boys’ Town, but tolerable conditions promised to take the revelry up a notch. Locals and out of town visitors felt the enhanced giddiness in the air. Pride festivities in the town with the second highest concentration of gays by density, coming in third place in overall population, are never a dour affair. But New York’s bipartisan acknowledgement of the community’s civil rights, coupled with the waffling President’s “evolvement” make clear that momentum is finally on the right side.

As I booted up my laptop this morning and accessed the New York Times online, I was reduced to a puddle by a columnist with whom I was hitherto unfamiliar, a writer by the name of Frank Bruni. He wrote this touching piece, which cogently expresses the collective intuition that New York’s law might be on its way to becoming the national paradigm sooner than we might anticipate. Hell, even a right-wing ideologue like Rick Santorum has had to go easy on the gay bashing. It’s increasingly socially unacceptable for one thing, and for another, proponents of discrimination are becoming aware that they have a hard time publicly articulating a rational viewpoint. Homophobia is falling out of favor in the mainstream in supremely rapid fashion, and even those who sit on the fence share a discomfort with speaking about it while the cameras roll.

In 2011, the marketing acronym WIFM (What’s in It For Me?) fails the litmus test when politicians adopt an intolerant social stance. People want jobs, they want an end to staggering, endless defense spending overseas while things fall apart at home, they want to pay less at the pump. They don’t want to see their sister (like hockey player Sean Avery), daughter (I am looking at YOU Dick Cheney) or best friend (me) hamstrung from enjoying everything citizenship has to offer because of who they love. Where is the need to protect the “sanctity” of marriage while Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani walk down the aisle three times?

Yep, change is in the air. When you have professional athletes, a stereotypically homophobic bunch, publicly defending the right of gays and lesbians to marry, pay joint taxes and raise healthy families, I have to tell you Intolerance, your days are numbered.

Earlier this month, the state of Illinois took its own imperfect step forward by passing legislation that permits civil unions for same-sex couples. There’s more work to be done, locally and elsewhere. But we can do it after running wild through the streets today. We’ve earned it.

Dancing With Myself (August 10, 2010)

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I had the oddest and oftentimes, the loneliest birthday weekend I can recall. But that seems fitting as we are collectively in the midst of one of the oddest, most lonely epochs confronting the nation. I saw the apprehension and confusion of the country reflected on the faces of my network of friends and family – more of whom are searching for work than actively employed.

The festivities got off to a rough start on Friday evening. Eddie unveiled the news that he has six to eight weeks before his services are no longer needed at the Chicago company where he works as a contractor. Instead of keeping IT development in-house, they are going to outsource to a consulting company in order to conserve cash. Two months is plenty of cushion for Eddie to find a new job, and we are used to this sort of uncertainty in his field, but of course the big question is whether or not he’ll be forced to travel again. We don’t like that prospect much at all, having spent the nine months of our engagement apart, the first year and a half of our marriage, etc.

So Eddie had the weekend away from being the slave to work he has been recently, and for all those hours of devotion, he was rewarded with a hearty “thanks” and the need to start the hustle all over again. The market is still awful as we all know, but as contractors are glorified, overpaid gypsies willing to board a plane to anywhere, they always land on their feet. They just may not know where their feet actually are when they wake up in the morning, and this pattern is certainly disruptive to marital harmony.

Though I am well aware that we’re luckier than many, I was a little bummed. Then some ridiculous family drama occurred that isn’t even worth laying out in detail. But I do have a question: why can’t dilemmas in my family be of the usual kind: pregnancy, divorce, he said/she said arguments. Must they ALWAYS involve one or more felonies?

But I digress. Friday was definitely draining and killed the buzz I started with my friend David, when we left the office early at 3:00 to grab an early birthday drink.

In fact I spent most of the weekend drunk, an idea that would have left me satisfied in my 20s, but this year rendered me bloated, dehydrated, depressed and feeling rather unaccomplished. Sunday the 8th was my actual birthday, and I made plans to duck out with a group of friends to the annual Market Days festival in Boys Town, so Eddie could job hunt in peace. I tried to regain my birthday momentum that morning, feeling I owed it to the gay community. After all, last week saw the empowering strike down of Prop 8 by a Federal court. The weather in Chicago was hot and humid, and with the thrill of victory, the LGBT community was more prepared than usual to party half naked.

My friends and I arrived separately, leaving me with over an hour to wander the festival grounds solo, admiring for the first time in many years the wonderful, colorful, sexy spectacle of it all. It was over 90 degrees at 6:30 PM and I was surrounded by beautiful, dancing men. Things could definitely be worse. I pulled my wild curly hair off my neck, got a class of cold champagne and let my senses be inundated.

Ostensibly, I had called my pals to Market Days to catch the closing musical act of the weekend – Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Ms. Jett has lost absolutely nothing since her 80s heyday in terms of look, magnetism and talent. A free concert starring a real rock star on my birthday. How could I resist? The set was due to start at 8:00, and around 7:30, I started needling my buddies that we should head over to the main stage. For a variety of reasons, my pleas went unheeded.

By 8:15, the time we finally begin to migrate toward the stage, trying to shuffle more than a few inches reminded me very much of trying to walk a straight line though the streets of Mumbai – sweaty, claustrophobic work. I held hands with my mates and wanted very much to steer the group toward the perimeter, where we could breathe and at least listen to the music. We couldn’t see anything pinned against a dense row of bodies anyway. But there was no appetite for this amongst my (by now) heavily intoxicated friends. At some point, I found myself separated from the group and waited for a reunion call or text message from the right side of the overflowing portable toilets, but this call never came. I finished my current drink to the wailing strains of “Bad Reputation” and “Cherry Bomb” before catching a cab back home.

When I arrived home at 9:30 PM, I thought Eddie might be free. He said he was getting to work when I walked out the door at 4:30. Later, he claimed an early case of “writer’s block,” that rendered him useless until 7:30, but I suspect this “block” arrived in the form of a nap or a Bollywood movie from Netflix. In any case, it seemed my return home was an ill-timed irritant.

By now truly intoxicated and disgruntled (can’t a girl get a little attention on her birthday!?), I poured myself another glass of wine and strapped on my iPod. I made my way to the balcony toward the rear of our apartment, and as I walked, inspiration struck! I had been denied companionship, affection and live music this weekend, but I would after all have the celebration of my life I sought. I made a playlist that began with the first songs I could remember loving as a child: “Xanadu” (Olivia Newton-John), “Celebration” (Kool & The Gang) and “Ride Like the Wind” (Christopher Cross). I worked my way through the decades: through Madonna, Whitney Houston, Survivor, Patty Smyth, Dr. Dre, New Kids on the Block, TLC and ended up at Justin Bieber (yes, I adore “Somebody to Love” – suck it), Rihanna and Kings of Leon.

Did I mention that this musical retrospective of my life came replete with dancing? Oh yeah baby. I was getting down on my balcony and lip synching as though my very life depended upon it. After awhile, I started noticing blinds being drawn up on a few of the windows across the street. Fine. I was not going to let self-consciousness end the first truly good, abandoned time of the weekend. So on I danced, and as I did so, snatches of memory flashed through my mind, each new song bringing its own associations. Some made me laugh and smile. More than a few brought tears. I am certain that I appeared for the entire world to be in the midst of a schizophrenic breakdown, but it was cathartic and reminded me that I had lived. Despite the loneliness that currently threatened to overtake my spirit, I existed. I had been places and done things – all of which took up valuable real estate in my consciousness. I could recall these associations and wade in them through the medium of interpretive dance.

After two hours of this mad reminiscing, I wore myself out (naturally), drank a Gatorade, popped a couple Advil and went to sleep. I wasn’t worried about what I had done without any longer. I was raring to get up the next morning to begin the next 32 years of my life. What would the soundtrack to those years sound like?