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Dolling up the old queen
Five easy makeover tips for bringing Pride back to life


DEAR GOD, PRIDE is upon us again. This Saturday, June 9, crowds will line the streets of the South End and Back Bay, craning their sunburned necks for a glimpse of the spectacle so outré, so terrifyingly cutting-edge that Republicans refer to it as evidence that Sodom survived the flames. What form, exactly, will this display take? A fleet of Fleet employees in matching T-shirts, ambling along in docile harmony, evidence of our grand cultural progress, the thrilling proof of corporate approval, a stirring embodiment of ... zzzzzz. Sorry, I fell asleep just thinking about it.

What the hell happened to Pride? How is it that it became such a deeply vanilla event? When was its heady mix of camping and cruising so thoroughly replaced by dutiful civic-mindedness? I find myself actually missing the old debate about whether Pride is a march or a parade — at least those options were active. One is fueled by angst and the other by sequins, but both feature a kind of nervy energy sorely lacking in recent Beantown fiestas. Pride, venerable old queen that she is, is teetering on the brink of forgettability. Or, in that most potent of bitchy insults, Pride is tired.

Clearly, it’s time for an intervention. My credentials for festival therapy are impeccable: I have crashed Pride several times over the years, dressing up with friends for the sheer joy of dressing up. One year, we carried a giant toucan puppet and threw Froot Loops. Another year, we acted out the would-be children’s classic Make Way for Dykelings. Why do we do this? Because the streets are closed to everyone but us this one goddamn day a year and the mayor himself gives us permission to dance down the boulevard looking as silly as we like.

And dance we shall — as soon as we get Pride back on her regal feet. The first step in recovery, of course, is admitting she has a problem: “Hi, I’m Pride and I’m having an identity crisis.” That sad truth is nowhere more apparent than in the event’s name: Boston Pride. The hot debate on the Boston Pride Committee (hereafter, BPC) Web site is whether to rename the darn thing “New England Pride.” Uh, hello, has it occurred to anyone that we are not celebrating clam chowder here? If our name is going to trade away our emotional and physical lives for an emphasis on our regionalism, why not just call it Puritan Pride? At least that would evoke images of tall leather boots and fashionable black ensembles.

Seriously, the very first thing the BPC should do is jettison this tourist-bureau moniker in favor of something punchier, something that more colorfully evokes our history: Queer Pride. That way, every damn freak (for me, a term of affection) who doesn’t obey the rules of society — straight boys who’ve always wanted to dance in dirndls, late-blooming grandpa-to-grandma trannies — would be covered, along with, oh yes, gays and lesbians. And all this could be accomplished without resorting to labor-intensive acronyms or verbal gymnastics. A certain set will balk at this solution — “I’m not queer! I’m perfectly normal!” — but the shrieking will do them good, and the rest of us could use a break from aspiring to “normalcy.”

What should we aspire to in this, our most public celebration? Thanks for asking. Since I care about the old gal, I have thoughtfully compiled a list of five rules that, if applied religiously, will save Pride from slipping into a coma. And I’ve also provided counter-arguments for use with naysayers. If you are marching, I implore you to take these rules to heart as gospel; if someone you love is marching, slip a copy into his or her wallet. Yes, I know I sound like a Jehovah’s Witness, but I swear it’s okay to proselytize for Queer Pride. Consider the alternative: if we don’t act now, it won’t be long before the Boy Scouts provide our parade uniforms and John Tesh scores the soundtrack. Be afraid, be very afraid — or you could just obey me.

Rule #1: No matching corporate shirts without an attendant drag drum-and-bugle corps. The first year I saw a bank contingent, I was touched: “Look — they’re not afraid of being fired by the Ruthless Capitalist Machine!” By the next year, multiple banks were represented by larger numbers wearing matching shirts. I realized suddenly that this was another form of corporate takeover. Furtive employees risking their jobs are charming; company shills are not.

And just what do corporate contingents generally contribute to the event? They stroll. That’s right, the use of two legs in leisurely forward motion. Now, walking is not a crime, and some of my best friends are bipeds, but come on: you can do better than that. The BPC should require that, in order to earn their parade berth, all contingents must demonstrate evidence of: a) whimsy, b) sleaze, or c) a pulse.

No matter how dull a company is, a drag-queen drum-and-bugle corps playing show tunes would really perk things up. Account managers and supply clerks alike would rediscover the spring in their steps — hell, spontaneous kick lines might even form. With such a lift, perhaps fewer of these khaki-and-polo-clad celebrants would resemble veal calves just freed from tiny pens, startled by the sunlight.

You well might carp, “But my company’s image would never allow for such a thing.” If that’s the case, sweetie-pie, is your company really progressive enough to march for? And isn’t 40 hours of your week enough — do you really need to work Pride?

Rule #2: No product placement unless enormous puppets are involved. Bad enough that office culture has its hooks in Pride; sheer product placement is even worse, as I discovered several years ago. I remember the nadir of Boston Pride clearly: a white van rolled along the route, with no music, no giveaways, no decoration, no nothing. It was simply emblazoned with the logo of a realtor, presumably the parasite driving the damn thing. So little effort was made to connect this shamelessness to Pride, I’m surprised he sprang for gas. I believe I actually booed.

If Pride is going to permit such overt advertising as a billboard on wheels, the advertiser should be forced to make a proportionate contribution to the carnival atmosphere. The BPC should have required that realtor to top his van with a two-story puppet of Lea Delaria or, at the very least, an enormous blow-up doll.

Should business owners object to such rules, fearful that their “message” will get muddied, I have two words: tough titty. The world isn’t fair: cigarette ads are banned from TV, as a service to public health; humorless product placement should be banned from Pride, as a service to gay public aesthetics.

Rule #3: No politicians without costumes they’ll regret in the morning. There are advertisers and then there are self-advertisers: politicians. The marginalized know they’ve arrived when pols begin to turn up at their events, and I’ll allow that this is a form of social advancement in its way. But the politicos aren’t earning my vote until they stop being such insufferable yawners. I’m unlikely to be convinced of the trustworthiness of anyone who remains doggedly suit-clad on a 90-degree day, hauling his or her ass through the Back Bay in full campaign attire, while grad-student flaks keep the fringier spectators at bay.

A politician who wants to earn my vote needs to walk on the wild side, get into the spirit of Queer Pride. A few years back, Marjorie Clapprood strode the whole route in stiletto heels and Day-Glo makeup, a shimmering tribute to the universal influence of transvestites. I vote we go a step further: require all politicians to dress like a lost Mardi Gras reveler. Wouldn’t Boston city councilor and mayoral candidate Peggy Davis-Mullen look delicious as the Chiquita Banana lady? Wouldn’t you just eat up openly gay Cambridge state rep Jarrett Barrios in a G-string and dog collar? We could even create a costume design scale: the more naked the ambition, the more naked the politician!

I know what you’re thinking: fewer pols would march under these restrictions. Huzzah — it’ll be easier to spot our real friends at voting time.

Rule #4: No baby buggies without baubles, bangles, and beads. It used to be that Dykes on Bikes got the biggest cheers, but these days it’s the babies. Don’t get me wrong — I love other people’s babies (they’re the very best kind), and I hoot ’n’ holler to see kiddos rolling by with their two moms or two dads or infinite variations thereof. But at about the 200th tricycle, my attention wanders. Why? Because babies with boring parents are boring. This could be solved easily enough with a strictly enforced sequin-to-stroller ratio.

How much work would it be to cover a stroller in plastic daisies or top it with a dozen sparklers? Why not dress up infants in bedazzling T-shirts that read formula queen or i’ve got the gene? I say if a child is old enough to cycle through Pride, that child is damn well old enough to dress like one of the Village People while doing it.

Before righteous parents huff that I’m encouraging the exploitation of children or urging their use as props, let me ask a question: why are you dragging your kid into a parade in the first place? To be seen! And if they’re going to be seen, shouldn’t they look stunning?

Rule #5: No gaggle of saints without a little devil in them. When more churches than nightclubs are represented at Pride, it is indeed a very different world. I know how deeply affirming it can be to reclaim one’s formerly homophobic denomination in the name of sex-positive goodness. But when you organize a group of people under a colorful banner — all of them wearing sun hats and looking enormously pleased with themselves — what you have is the makings of an Easter service, not a zingy Pride contingent.

What these flocks really need is a little more pitchfork to go with their halos. Dearly beloved, if you truly want to show me that churches have changed, you’ll have to cut loose: swap choir robes for chaps, or ditch Sunday suits for Speedos, and the Back Bay congregation is sure to shout hallelujah! Here’s an idea: make floats with living tableaus of Bible stories gone queer — 10 wise virgins meeting 10 foolish virgins at a Simmons mixer, or David and Jonathan’s civil-union ceremony.

If those suggestions sound a wee bit irreverent, somebody say “Amen”: that’s the point.

Maybe the BPC should offer incentives for applying my rules. There could be swell prizes for “Most Whimsical,” “Sleaziest,” or “Least Likely To Be Invited to a State Dinner During the Bush Administration.” At the very least, the BPC needs to hire a festivity marshal: someone who would see to it that anyone marching without overtly adding to the carnival atmosphere would be yanked from the route and forced to stand on the sidelines cheering on those who pass muster. Lesson learned, they could then earn their place in next year’s line-up by demonstrating newfound creativity and vowing never to lapse into dullness again.

Imagine the result: a march-parade-party that you can’t take your eyes off, for fear of what you might miss. I get misty-eyed just imagining the day when Pride is herself again: queer old broad in a gaudy dress with a good heart and a foul mouth — fabulous.

Issue Date: June 7 - 14, 2001

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