PRIDE

Iconic rainbow flags, rainbow socks, rainbow unitards, rainbow tutus.. blouses.. headbands.. pants.. dressesrainbow-everything flicker my eyes in different directions. Rainbows fall from clear-blue skies; rainbows sprout up from underneath Market Street; endless colors adorn me me gaily. If you haven’t guessed already, it’s Pride Weekend in San Francisco.

I step off Caltrain with Giants fans heading to AT&T Park in jerseys, baseball caps, and black-n-orange with a mix of colorful and eccentrically dressed parade-goers walking the opposite direction. As I get closer to downtown, people in face paint, boas, and flags used as capes become more plentiful. I’m wearing the same tie-dye sports bra I made for last year’s parade with black high-waisted velvet pants. Pink, gold, and purple glitter shines above my left eyebrow down to my cheek bone, accented by transparent sequins. Face jewels are enough to draw interest from strangers and a couple people ask to take pictures with me. Of course, I oblige – “Happy Pride!” [our salutations].

Searching for my friends in the crowd is only challenging because I’m distracted by beautiful people and the fun everyone is having marching and/or onlooking. One of my best friends is dancing  in the middle of the block with a crowd of her colleagues, all wearing uniform Tesla pride t-shirts. A talented Tesla employee DJs on a podium at the back of a hand built trailer, pulled by the Model X. As we approach the start of the parade, we jump aboard the make-shift stage, our bodies in unison with the rhythm of the music.

The trailer emerges on Market Street and we jump higher from the energy of the crowd. We didn’t even make it one block. The front wheel of the trailer breaks from everyone dancing too hard, so we jump ship. Not being on the trailer allows us to run, skip, dance our way down the street, hollering and shouting, waving to the people pressed against the barricades on the sidewalk and handing them mini rainbow flags.  Paper confetti shoots out the back of the car and I truly feel like a celebrity.

Pride month means a lot to me. I used to love attending the parade as an ally to the gay community. I’ve trekked a long and [at times] unforgiving road through self-discovery; eventually, surrendering my resistance to whom I was forcing myself to be, to who I actually am. It’s hard to explain to straight people that “I didn’t know I was gay until I knew.” In fact, the topic has so many layers of complexity I could write an entirely separate blog post about the epiphany of my sexuality (and probably will sometime in the future). At first, I didn’t want to be known as “The Lesbian” to my friends or strangers. I was under the impression that the term would be the only descriptive feature one learns about me during first impressions, as if it has an undesirable connotation. Yet, in time, I realized that being gay is such an integral part of who I am as a person that being “The Lesbian” isn’t something I should shy away from, but be proud of.

As much as I’ve overcome obstacles, being gay is still difficult (maybe only gay people understand how I feel), which is why Pride is such an important event in my life. June is the month that this community shines in a spotlight, as if we are allowed to creep out of the shadows discrimination. Sometimes I feel estranged or lonely because I’m different, almost like alienation (most of my close friends and others I know are straight). I love this particular weekend of the Pride Parade in San Francisco when I can take public transportation without a shirt, glitter all over my face, and not receive confused or distained looks. Above dressing up (or down) and the superficiality of what everyone is wearing, Pride Parade brings together people just like me. I am surrounded by openly proud and extremely gay strangers, but they make me feel connected; these are my brothers and sisters. I feel less alone.

This is my third year attending the parade as a self-accepted lezzer but the first I was able to march the entirety of. This parade is not just a march, it’s a massive city-wide celebration. This is a fucken party to rejoice in acceptance of ourselves and revel in the support from our allies. We celebrate how proud we are to be who we are, or what makes us different than the remainder of the population. To me, this is more than a two-day bender just drinking and dancing in the streets. Being here is the reason I’m alive; it’s times like these that keep me alive; this is a lifeforce.

Dancing in this year’s parade isn’t happiness, no, better…this is NIRVANA.

Dykes on Bikes

pride.JPGWomen in bright t-shirts stand in front of barricades blocking the streets surrounding Dolores Park. The green of the grass is almost unseen as people stumble over blankets, bottles, umbrellas, beer pong tables, and popup tents covering the field between 18th to 20th Street. A female MC, with a soft afro and denim overalls hooked on one shoulder, introduces the next guest on a small stage near the lower west side; speaking into a microphone, her voice hardly travels to the middle of the park over the music, the commotion, the party.

The public rager continues to attract more festive attendees as the Saturday afternoon progresses. By 4:30, the park is lightyears past maximum capacity as people spill over the sidewalks, pour onto streets, drunkenly flooding the three blocks along Dolores. This is when the rev of motorcycle engines begin to roar and echo off houses between the Castro and Mission district. I throw on a neon-yellow safety vest and follow the sound, lining up along a bus disguised as an old-fashioned trolley. Behind me is a street-wide banner held by countless women and a crowd behind them, holding signs, blowing whistles, spreading love and cheer.

Believe it or not, this beautiful pandemonium is a day-long rally ending with a march known as Dykes on Bikes. (Hence the motorcycles).  The Dyke March spans Valencia to Castro Street and a couple blocks in between. This year, I volunteer as a safety monitor, keeping an eye on the jubilant crowd. Volunteering is not new to me; I began volunteering at a young age, an experience I love for being “hands-on,” and sharing my time with people, communities, and organizations in need. What I love most about volunteering at events by myself is the opportunity to meet new people.

Since it’s my first year volunteering at the Dyke March, I’m paired with a volunteer-veteran named Emma (if you’ve volunteered for a few years, you’re assigned a walkie-talkie and headset). We monitor the crowd and I stay on Emma’s left side so she can hear the communications on the headset in her right ear and hear me with her other. She explains what to look out for and the other duties we have as floaters.  As we walk the park, Emma tells me about experiences she’s had being trans and about how the Trans March doesn’t get as large a turn out as the Dyke March, but (of course) always loves going. We make it to the perimeter of the north side, where a vintage firetruck is parked and a small crowd of pedestrians and firefighters in uniform are gathered. Emma says “there’s the Fire Department recruiting every year at the Dyke March…they’re looking for strong women,” I giggle in agreement. Emma repeats a new report on the headset, a child has gone missing. As the safety team, we search. Luckily the missing child was found shortly, playing in the sandbox. After this tense bit, we retreat to the volunteer tent to take our break, resting our feet and snacking on pizza.

My second volunteer shift I’m paired with an energetic twenty-year-old named Kaleigh, who exclaims June is her most favorite month. Why? It’s Pride Month (duh, she adds). Kaleigh and I roam the park, each holding one side of a giant bucket with dollar signs written with thick sharpie. Kaleigh enthusiastically informs people that the Dyke March paid eleven grand to clean up the park after last year’s kick-off; we raise forty-six dollars in donations in merely thirty minutes. I’m not sure if it’s encouraging people to clean up their trash or Kaleigh’s slogan that drew money out of people’s pockets…She went around shouting “if you’re not gay, you owe us a dollar!” Some may not have donated, but they definitely laughed. If we aren’t collecting money, at least we’re entertaining.

Volunteering allows me to walk at the front of the parade to maintain order (what little order there is at an enormous gathering for gays). This, by far, is the best feeling, dancing in a line of volunteers, waving to the crowd, and being part of the human race, who have so much in common, but the immaculate similarity here is positivity and homosexuality. Accepting myself has been one of the most challenging aspects of my young life, but now I stand as an integral member of the lezzer community. I’ve never been so proud to be myself, never felt more connected, than I do now marching.

This is what happiness is. Spending the day volunteering for an event, which supports a cause I am deeply passionate about. These are the moments I live for; meeting and gathering with people who extinguish the feeling I have of being the alone or different. We are all one in the same. These moments are so exhilarating that I’m drained! Although I’m completely exhausted from all the walking (26, 003 steps in total), the amount of joy that fills me witnessing such amazing support from the LGBTQQ community and our allies gives me life. I have enough adrenaline to walk another five blocks to Mission. Nachos and cerveza replenish my body for the journey home and an even larger fiesta the following day…