Monday, June 30, 2008

Welcoming and affirming

Yesterday, I marched in the gay pride parade with my church. My friend Rachel posted some background to the organization that we were marching with.

It was an interesting experience both for what it taught me about myself and what it taught me about the gay community.

You see, I would generally see myself as worldly when it comes to exposure to gay rights and gay issues. I have honest-to-goodness gay friends, I've always believed that people were born that way so I've never really fallen for the "it's an abomination" line. By the time I started thinking about the issue, I was already thinking about translations of the Bible as a means of preservation for the social order so "the Bible says it's wrong" can be argued against a hundred different ways, in my book. I've never let my students use "gay" as an insult and actually converted some over to believing that's harmful, rather than simply obeying the authority figure. I worked at the Renaissance Faire for five years and witnessed all manner of after-hours flamboyance. Hell, Susan made me watch Priscilla when I was 17 years old and I loved it.

But for some reason, I was overwhelmed when confronted with so much flamboyance when I arrived at the parade site. Beautiful drag queens, fantastic costumes, glitter all over bodies, young and old. But there were also men in just their underwear and a pair of boots or women naked from the waist up except for stickers on their nipples.

I'm a fan of public nudity. I've had some great experiences on the island, learning that nudity is not always equivalent to sex but it sometimes simply an expression of the friendship intimacy you feel or hope to feel with other people. It says, "I'm comfortable that you won't judge me for how funny I look without any of my clothing supports that put my parts in the right places." Because everyone looks ungainly hauling themselves out of a hot tub. Everyone looks goofy naked because of all that unchoreographed motion. Being naked in the bright sunlight or even the dim light of the sauna is really not very sexy at all if it is devoid of sexual context.

But when I encountered public nudity at the gay pride parade, I found myself tucking my attention inside the safe sphere of my feet and my chest. I felt nervous and didn't want to make eye contact with anyone. Plus, it seemed a little gauche to look. I found my group but since I didn't know anyone, I leaned against a building and waited for a familiar face. I was overwhelmed but also moved powerfully and fought back tears at the huge show of support for people that have been so oppressed. It's so different when you are actually there in person. It's amazing that so many people can love so many other people all at one time.

But when talking with Nanette to give her directions, I found myself addressing her as Pastor Nanette, which I've never done before. As if her position of authority would protect me.

Because it wasn't just public nudity. It was public sex. Of course, not all of the parade is like this. A lot of it is just like every other parade that I've been to. And I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I've ended up making out with a strange guy in a bar by the end of some South Side Irish parades, so it's not like I expect parades to be chaste. But this was often explicit. A woman wearing only her skimpy underwear and a strap-on. Lots of spanking, bumping, grinding, and bondage.

I suppose that for centuries, gay people have been told that they are deviant. So, to empower oneself, one flaunts everything that society considers deviant to eliminate the internal shame that has been impressed into one's soul. By going tot he extreme, what should be normal no longer feels extreme anymore.

While I was in Miami, I wore all my new sundresses. One is very low cut and several are strapless. Camilla exclaimed that I looked like the woman that she and Ruth (my boss at the Faire) always knew I could be but never was while I was married to Dennis. They used to marvel at how reserved and pure I seemed to be. (of course, this is part of why I was so successful at selling to little girls.) But my ex-husband wanted me to be sweet and innocent and so I was. As I've grown up since then, dated men who actually expressed an attraction to me and learned that I possess power because of their attraction, I wear outfits that are more and more revealing. I'm fairly certain that I stay within the bounds of appropriateness and good taste but my newfound power gets expressed to the world through the decisions I make about what to wear.

I suppose that some of the people in the parade are expressing their power by displaying sex in addition to sexuality.

As the parade went on, my nervousness faded. This was helped by the vodka lemonade that was offered to me out of a 5-gallon office-style water cooler when the parade was stalled because of an injury. Also, once we got started again, my group reached the main drag and I began observing the responses people had to a group of 50 Christians marching and handing out buttons that said, "God loves all of us." People would call out. "I'm a Lutheran!" or "I like churches!" When we would stop briefly, we were almost always engaged in conversation immediately by someone in the crowd, asking somewhat incredulously about our church.

What caused me to tear up if I thought too long about it as I marched was the sheer number of people that made eye contact with me and said, "Thank you." I must have heard it 40 or 50 times over the course of the parade.

Can you imagine what it is like to come out of the closet? I'm certain that every person who has was approached by at least one Christian who felt it was his or her duty to inform the person that homosexuality was a sin or that the person was broken or that the person was going to hell.

Whatever the context, those words hurt.

And I'm sure that plenty of queer people have heard much worse.

So, when a bunch of self-proclaimed Christians marched amidst the latex and the whips and the feather boas to say that God loves all of us, they said "Thank you."

Wicker Park Grace is what's called a "welcoming and affirming" church, which means that we believe that God gave all of us the mental and spiritual faculties to determine her will for our lives. Many of us do not believe homosexuality is a sin. Those of us who do are working too hard getting the plank out of our own eyes to worry about the speck in someone else's.

I am grateful to the people who came out to the parade, including my friend Amanda from school and my friend Monique (who saved me from a spanking of my own) ;-), because they mirrored back to me my own value in this world. In Genesis, God says to Abraham, "I'll make you a great nation and bless you. I'll make you famous; you'll be a blessing. I'll bless those who bless you; those who curse you I'll curse. All the families of the Earth will be blessed through you." The result of God's blessing is that Abraham must turn around and be a blessing to "all the families of the Earth." He is not allowed to keep it to himself.

I have been blessed by being allowed to bless others. They thanked me for that blessing but I wish that I could have thanked them without seeming trite for allowing me express the power that I have because I am trying to learn to love everyone, just like God commands both Abraham and me.


Christy said...

I marched in the gay pride parade with my church.

Hell yeah!

Amanda said...

It was great to see you -- I thought I was going to be overwhelmed too, but once I got out there, it was nice just to see people have fun and love themselves (and a lot of other people).

Rachel said...

"thank you"

+ little orange dress