by: Patrick Gill
The Pride celebration in Santa Cruz, California is much smaller than the ones in Chicago that I have attended, but it’s foolish to correlate size with power.
The march’s route stretches no more than four blocks, up the main street of Downtown, Pacific Avenue, from Cathcart to Cooper Street. There are floats towed by trucks, marchers on foot, dancers on stilts, women of the local roller derby league weaving and jamming, music, chanting and bikes—both ridden by dykes and not. This year there was a 3 block section from Cooper to Water Street that had booths for local businesses and groups, a rally area. A thigh high stage was at the center of it, in front of it LGBTQ cheer squads did acrobatic routines, on it were performers like Lex, a local spoken word artist.
Every time I step off the plane in San Jose International Airport, I repeat silently to myself a well-worn and constantly adapted saying, from Greek philosopher Heraclitus, it’s most notably quoted by Plato: “You can never step in the same river twice.” Where you were raised is a river, your memory of it may be stones, large and small and of varied textures, or they may be fallen branches that slice or ripple the flow; but the water, the experience, is never the exactly the same.
Deep down, possibly not in the deepest parts of me, I am irrevocably different than I was growing up. Living in a city will do that to you. Life’s experiences will do that to you. People will do that to and with you. I was so happy and in so much pain growing up in Santa Cruz. I felt so many things that it is actually hard for me to even imagine them now.
Beautiful, hurtful, joyful, strange; laying in my old bed, walking through my neighborhood, riding my bike down the coastal roads, drinking the same black coffee, sitting at my kitchen counter, you can never step in the same river twice.
June 1st, I had gotten in the afternoon before Santa Cruz’s Pride Parade. I learn this during the Greek food dinner my parents always order when I come into town. They casually mention over falafel that tomorrow is the big parade and that I might be interested in going.
I twitch for a second and realize that my parents (my parents) are informing me about “gay things.” Over falafel. That doesn’t happen frequently when I am with them. They are incredibly supportive, involved to a great extent in my life, but what we do in private is private. It’s not chastised or shamed or forcibly kept silent, it’s just not the usual conversation. Conversation used to be about my education, now it’s my jobs—which might obliquely reference to the LGBTQ blog I co-manage; it’s always been how family and friends are doing. Never really “gay things” (which I put the quotation marks around in my mind for some reason.)
I tell them maybe I’ll ride the old cruiser down to check it out, get some fresh air. They smile so wide, it’s a double hit: me getting the self-esteem boost of going to Pride and me doing something healthy. Nice work, Gill, I chuckle into the thick glob of taziki on a roasted potato, right before I fork it into my mouth. They are obviously feeling good.
Inside I have no anchor emotion, nothing I can directly feel. I lather all ambiguity of feeling with a shrug, a why not kind of sense. I have never been really visibly gay in my hometown. I mean, I’ve danced at a bar; if someone has never seen me dance, it’s fairly gay. But I never attended Pride. I was closeted for my time on the coast. I avoided events that would cast shadows of doubt on my sexual identity.
I wake up to the sun through a window. I go through a shower, shit, think-about-shaving-but-don’t morning routine. It’s June 2nd, I am getting ready for Pride, but not exactly in the way I would. There are no whiskey or vodka shots with friends.
I do tell my parents, in jest, that I am going to wear the skankiest outfit I can find, doubling-back while realizing I just said “skanky” to my parents when in reference to myself. My dad says something about him wanting to wear a thong or booty shorts, I make a face and he thinks I’m being unfair—I get to dress skanky why can’t he. This is the adult relationship I have with my parents now. Lena Dunham, eat your heart out.
I settle on three-quarter-down-my-thigh, kelly-green shorts and a polo with a small tiger emblem. A Le Tigre polo. I think I’m cute and smart. My parents do raise a small objection to the shorts, the fun and games about skantitude have dropped and as they ever are they want me to look presentable. Read: represent myself in an acceptable manner and in extension represent the family well. One eye is always kept on the family.
I tell them that they raised a family of distance runners, how do they have a fair opinion of how short shorts are? I remind them that my brother in essence ran in semi-flowy bikini briefs for 4 years in college…that were purple. They respect my adult decision to wear short shorts.
I am a sweaty hot mess, more than I usually am. I forgot about bikes, I forgot about hills, I forgot what cotton mouth due to exercise in the sun felt like. Thank all things holy there is a hill that rolls me down into the heart of town. I am not thinking about my hellish ride back. Maybe I will take the coast, take my time. I rode the straight shot down roads from my home to get to the event early.
I lock up my bike in front of the coffee shop that was part stomping grounds, part hub of action/inaction part home away from home for high school Patrick. This is where I feel an unplaceable twinge again, I’m here, I’m different, it’s different, were both the same—same name, same structure for the most part, same heart and soul and mind.
20 ounces of iced coffee, please take me to normalcy; the barista and I recognize each other, I think, but we don’t talk about it. He knew me when I was a kid. I leave to the street.
I am walking up and down Pacific, there are no barriers, save two on either side to shut down the street for the march and rally area, there was also one to help the flow of the march. The sidewalks were open to the street, participants and spectators could exchange places if they pleased. I kept walking around, searching for the right shady spot, no one was really laying claim yet, and step off was in half an out.
I have to admit to feeling a slightly like a stranger. Everyone came in groups. Everyone in this community knew at least someone. Faces painted in NOH8, rainbow stockings climbing their legs, tight t-shirts holding them close and flowy dresses sighing from their calves, everyone looked and acted like they fit together. And I felt like a tumbling rock rippling through an even stream. When I thought I was being read as a straight for the first time, ever– most likely a side effect of the coffee fear and pre-existing anxiety, I went into the closest clothing store looking for a bandana to flag. No luck. I texted a friend, he told me to just flail a limp wrist and yell “FOUCAULT!” at everyone. Instead, I bought a cheap plastic rainbow flag for a dollar and hung it out my back pocket. Subtle butch swag in my kelly green shorts. I saddled up to a shady spot and waited for a parade.
The parade was loose, free and fun. Standing with me and marching in the parade were people who differed in so many ways from me, yet felt unity. The marchers had energy and love in their steps. There were tuba players flanked by the rest of their quartet, fishnet and bodiced women, men playing drums, kids and adults holding banners for churches and synagogues. It steadily trickled and everyone smiled and hollered and sang . Several cheer squads, CHEER SF, Folsom State, the Sacramento Sirens, and UCSC, were moving in unison, doing lifts every time they stopped, and passing around buckets to fund local organizations.
There are minimal corporate floats—Home Depot, Starbucks, I couldn’t recognize any others—the entire parade is funded by the local Diversity Center. Many people are on foot or bike. The AIDS ride has a sizable contigent. Then I see them, bright haired, occasionally clad in hand drawn shirts that read ImPower. They were all young, running from ages 15 to 26 at least. They hold signs that denote them as a local LGBTQ empowerment group, founded by and for the youth.
All the spectators had been cheering for every group that passed, but when the flow tapered and they came to a stop in front of our section, the crowd was at its loudest. And with tasteful tortoise-shell sunglasses down I shed a few tears. Big masculine tears. Who am I kidding — they were like silent strings of pearls being lowered from the inner corner of my eyes. I cried like a fag, the word I and other “less than desirable” people had heard for the years I lived in that town, a word I now keep alive only to turn. This group was the courage I lacked. This was the strength I denied myself.
We weren’t the same, but we were,growing up loving in a way deemed too different, even in a town supposedly know for its eccentricities, and this town was the same, but it wasn’t; there was this space unfolding for people who have always been there but were now making for themselves a community, a sense of safety, and power untapped yet.
My father laments quietly a few times that he wished I he went to Pride with me over the following few days. No matter how many times I say that it was fine. I don’t tell him it was an experience I actually enjoyed more on my own, a public yet personal reconciliation. I don’t tell him it was good for me to stand alone, watching things I denied myself from watching so soon after I had grown to appreciate them. I don’t tell my father he’s a great parent and that showing up to something like that is not the marker of success for raising a gay child. The last one is the only one I regret not saying.
On my ride home along the coast I run into a friend taking his surfboard down from the roof of his car that’s parked along the East Side’s cliffs. I stop to talk, a small flock of groms  are behind my good friend, he is a well know longboarder in the community, people want to talk to him before he paddles out. We briefly catch up, I tell him I was just downtown, “Being super gay.” My friend chuckles and comfortable twists up a smile, its genuine and happy for me. I tell him it was Pride today, hence the word choice, he laughs a little more. The groms behind him bug their eyes a little further open and stare at me. I tell my friend to call me before I leave town, we have some drinking and catching up to do. He agrees, he says even if I don’t see him later that week that it was damn good seeing me again.
I hate sunburns,red hot flesh unraveling and taking a little bit of you with every unintentional scratch you make. but there is nothing more beautiful than having to explain to your grandmother that your forearms and knees are flame red because you forgot sunscreen before biking to a Gay Pride parade. Actually, there is something more beautiful; when your grandmother responds by laughing and tsk-tsks you for not wearing sunscreen.
 This means young surfers, I’m sorry but it wouldn’t have been true if I hadn’t had called them groms up there.
Patrick Gill is the Co-Creator of In Our Words, as well as the Co-Founder and Host of the queer reading series All The Writers I Know. He is a poet, essayist, short story writer and occasional performer. Patrick writes the column “B*tch, I’m Miley Cyrus” for HEAVEMedia, is an alumnus of DePaul, has developed LGBTQ-centered anti-bullying curricula for CPS schools and is currently working on LGBTQ friendly children’s books. Patrick is doing so in order to be cute and endearing once again. He is a semi-professional word-hustler and a burrito hunter. His mother thinks everything he is doing is a fun thing to do.