So Pride Week just happened here in Stockholm last week. The week of festivities is culminated by a huge parade. Word is, there were 60,000 people at the parade this year! That's a lot of pride. I had to work on Saturday, so I was unable to attend. I hadn't thought about attending, though. I didn't know how big it is here. I didn't know the level of support that the gay community gets here. I must say, it's remarkable.
While I was working, Young Cousin called me to see what I was doing. I told him I was working. He said that was unfortunate. He was calling to invite me to watch the parade from his friend's balcony. He said they were having fun and the view of the parade was awesome. I tried to hide my surprise. Young Cousin is 23. At 23, a gay pride parade would probably have been one of the last places I would have gone to. I wasn't homophobic or anything (or was I?), but I was more ignorant back then and I didn't realize the importance of showing my support for equality. That's all it's about, right? That and being proud of who you are.
I've worked on myself a lot since my earlier and more ignorant days. I used to be one of those people that used the term "gay" to mean something was bad or stupid. I didn't even think of how ignorant that was. Combine that with the macho environment in the military and the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy (that thankfully has been repealed), and my/our homophobic comments went unchecked. I would have been pissed if someone said, "That's black" to mean it was bad or stupid. But "gay" was the punchline. I didn't even think about the people.
I used to scoff at the notion that the plight of gays paralleled the plight of Blacks in America. My argument was that you can hide the fact that you're gay, but you can't hide your skin color. But discrimination is discrimination. One shouldn't have to hide anything about one's self for fear of discrimination. Civil rights is civil rights. Everyone should be treated equal. That truth was lost on me due to my religious upbringing and my refusal to admit that it's impossible to "choose" your sexual orientation. Just 44 years ago, it would have been illegal for me to marry Swedie. I think about how devastating that would be for me and I wonder how anyone could be against any two human beings marrying each other. It's funny how it's so simple for me now. I've come a long way since my early 20's.
Enter Gary. Gary is a very good friend of mine that helped me get to where I am on this subject. I was 25 when I met Gary. My views had been changing since spending some quality time with my older sister who was going through her own journey of self-discovery. I still wasn't where I needed to be yet (though I didn't know it). Gary and I semi-bonded over the fact that we are both military veterans. Then he helped me get on in management with FedEx. I'm still thankful to him for that. We worked together for about three years and we became really good friends over that time. I had never been so close to someone that was a homosexual before. We would joke and laugh and dance and hug. Stuff friends do. What was there to be afraid of? He's met my immediate family (not Bash yet) and even some of my folks in Miami.
So when Gary invited me and Swedie to a club for his birthday, I couldn't decline. I was honored. I assumed it would be a regular dance club because he was inviting us. Maybe he wanted to make sure I was comfortable. But this is Gary I'm talking about.
- Bitch it's MY birthday!
We went to a gay club. This was a big step for me. I had partied at a lesbian club before (good times) with my big sis, but this was different. This was a gay club. I had a great time. There was only one occasion where someone tried to express his affection. It was through a very aggressive ass grab. This guy got a manly handful of my ENTIRE left butt cheek and kept walking by. Then as I looked over to see who assaulted me, he was looking back... into my eyes... seductively. I would have thought before this night that this situation would have had me ready to fight. But I was... flattered? And surprised. I didn't want to be the straight guy in the gay club beating on my chest.
- I'm straight! (growl, grunt, grunt) Don't grab my ass, gay man! (growl, grunt)
Then I'm the stereotype. So I just stood there in my awkward, flattered state for a couple of seconds. I then looked around and saw that everyone was having a BLAST. I can only describe it as free. No one stood against the wall waiting to dance. The entire room was dancing and singing along to the music and flickering in the strobe lights. We had a great time. Thanks Gary! AND I left there knowing that I was desirable to yet another person! Take that boost, self esteem!
That wasn't my last trip to a gay club with Gary. We're still friends and we will probably be friends forever. That's right, Gary. You're stuck with me! I'm thankful for our friendship and the fact that I am now where I (and everyone) should be on gay rights. Thanks to him, it stings whenever I hear the "f-word". He told me that for him that word is more painful than the "n-word" is to some Blacks. That's all it took for me to ban it from my vocabulary and correct people who say it around me. I care about my friend and if something hurts him, it hurts me.
Now I live in Sweden. 23 year-old me would have been in for a culture shock. There is an unbelievable amount of support for gays here. On Pride Week, the city buses fly rainbow flags. My Instagram account was flooded with Pride-related pictures and rainbow flags. Even a rainbow lipstick design. On the day of the Pride Parade, Swedie and I saw an old couple walking together holding hands. They were a straight couple. In the old man's right hand was his wife's hand. In his left hand was a rainbow flag. That was one of the most touching things I've ever seen. Normally I see old couples and imagine that being Swedie and me in the future. This time I hoped that would be us. Walking along the dock supporting our gay brothers and sisters.
As a parent, I think about the reality that Bash could be gay. 23 year-old me would have been disappointed if my son was gay. Now I don't care either way. I don't want him to be gay. I don't want him to be straight either. I just want him to be himself and love himself. Isn't that what Pride is all about? Until next time...