We’re a diverse bunch here at Notes, or an ill-assorted one if you like, and I love that, but once in a while it means I second-guess myself before I post something. To be specific, how’s a more conservative subsection of readers going to feel if I talk about a Gay Pride celebration? Am I going to run anyone off?
When I worry about running someone off it’s not about numbers. Sure, I check my stats as obsessively (and pointlessly) as any other blogger, but mostly it’s because I don’t want Notes to turn into an echo chamber for voices who all agree on a 674-point charter that we argued over until we all hate each other. I value the comments I get, and the people behind the comments. I don’t want to lose contact.
But that can’t come at the expense of being who I am. If I shut myself up every time I might drag a reader outside their comfort zone, I’ll bore us all to tears. And right after that I’ll stop writing altogether, because good writing carries an element of risk. You’ll have to judge whether the writing here is that good, but as a goal? It’s what I aim for.
All that long-windedness leads up to this: I went to Cornwall’s Gay Pride Day last weekend, and if that makes anyone uncomfortable, I hope you’ll stay with me anyway. If you don’t, I regret it but that’s what I’m writing about today.
After all that rigmarole, of course, I’ve made myself wonder if anyone who’d be uncomfortable with Gay Pride Day is still around. If you are you’re more than welcome and if you left quietly by the side door I’m sorry to hear it. Thanks for not letting it slam.
Wild Thing and I been in together for 38 years now, which is long enough to have seen a lot of changes in the way same-sex couples are received in the larger world, and a lot of changes in Gay Pride celebrations as well. Here’s what struck me about this one:
First, Cornwall’s a rural county, so it wasn’t a huge gathering, but it was bigger than I expected. It was very much a family celebration: gay people and their families and friends, transsexuals and their families and friends, straight people who weren’t related to anyone but turned out to show support or buy a burger, sit on the grass, and enjoy the entertainment. Little kids, including one girl in a rainbow tutu. And dogs. Lots of dogs.
Organizations had set up booths promoting themselves—hotlines, political parties, the environment agency (!), the fire department (more exclamation marks), the police (multiple exclamation marks). Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians had a booth, and they always leave me with a lump in my throat. They were started by a woman whose gay son had been beaten up while distributing gay-related leaflets. First she wrote a letter protesting police inaction. Then she went on the radio and TV, then she joined a Gay Pride March. Soon she had an organization on her hands, and it’s been going ever since.
When so many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual young people have been rejected by their families, it means the world to see families stepping forward in this way, embracing their relatives and their right to live in the open. Which leads me to this: To the families of the gay etc. kids in my life, I hope you know how spectacular you are, and how much you mean to me.
And here I have to stop and say a word or seventeen about that phrase gay etc. For a while the most common phrase was simply gay, then it was gay and lesbian, then it was gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, which was unwieldy enough that it was usually shortened to GLBT, which I can’t help thinking of that as gay, lesbian, bacon, and tomato. Recently I’ve seen a bunch of other letters added to the string, probably standing for pickles and mayonnaise and a side of chips, which in Britain are crisps, just in case this was in danger of sounding simple.
The world insists on getting more complicated. I’m as baffled as anyone else.
With the possible exception of mayonnaise, adding all these categories does make our language more accurate, and people get both passionate and political about it when they go to name an organization or write a leaflet. But it does make for a lot of words. Or letters. So for the moment, let’s settle for gay etc. I won’t argue that it’s the best phrase or the most accurate one, but it is the shortest.
With that out of the way, let’s go back to the involvement of the police. To understand why this struck me, you need two pieces of background.
One: Back in the day, when gay etc. sex was illegal (note: in Britain only sex between men was illegal, I’ve read, because Queen Victoria refused to believe that women would carry on that way), bars were one of the few places people could meet. The police could raid them at any time, though, because by definition what went on in there was illegal. Not that people were having sex on the premises necessarily. Dancing together was enough. Touching someone was enough. Being there was enough. People would be arrested, lose their jobs, lose their families. Lives were ruined.
Ah, the good old days.
Two, and this isn’t about the politics of being gay etc.: During one of the New York blackouts, a friend’s parents were in Grand Central Station. The friend’s father had MS, and when everything went dark and people started running around in a panic, his wife was struggling to keep him from getting knocked over. She saw a cop and went to him, saying, “Excuse me, but my husband has MS. Can you help us?”
To which the cop said, “Get outta my way, lady, I gotta help the people.”
And they were both straight and white.
God, I love New York.
I had a similar experience with a New York cop after a fender bender, but it wasn’t quite as outrageously absurd, so let’s stay with this as an example of what I expect from cops. I’m not even going to get into Ferguson, Staten Island, and black lives matter, but they’re not unrelated. When you’re outside the mainstream, you don’t assume the policeman is your friend. The history of the police and the gay community? Not friendly. And here they were, setting up booths about diversity, asking us to sign a petition to restore funding that’s been cut from the Devon and Cornwall police budget.
Wild Thing and I had been to a Cornwall Gay Pride Day before, so this wasn’t a complete surprise. That helps explain my final story.
On our way to the park, Wild Thing and I ran into friends, one of them in a wheelchair. We knew the name of the park but weren’t sure how to find it, and we asked a cop if he could point us in the right direction. You can’t do that just anywhere. But he offered to walk with us, and when the way got steep he took over pushing the wheelchair. He was young. We were once, but it was a long time ago. The pride I once took in doing that sort of thing myself has taken second place to the practical problems of bad backs and creaky shoulder joints and the need not to set that wheelchair rolling downhill when it’s supposed to be going up.
I did take responsibility for the liter of milk he’d been carrying.
So there we were, a young cop pushing a woman in a wheelchair to a Gay Pride gathering and three of us following behind with his liter of milk. I won’t argue that the world’s problems are over, but a few things have changed, and it gives me hope to see it.
People risked a lot to make that happen—their jobs, their families, their education, their peace of mind, sometimes their lives. In places around the world, they’re still taking those risks. Here’s a moment of silence to acknowledge them all.