A breakdown in the instinct for self-preservation: Saddle Sores goes to the not-yet-the-Millenium March on Washington
A chance to write about this one man's view on the march, which I've been wanting to compose since I left the Mall yesterday. Brace yourselves: it's lengthy and wordy, as is typical with what I write.
I entered the weekend with serious misgivings about the march itself. The concerns about why the march had been organized, who had been involved in its planning, who had not been invited to participate, and HRC's general tendency to seem more like an exclusive club of wealthy white donors than a civil rights organization (and, as such, pushing a less-than-inclusive agenda emphasizing "normal" two-parent families and "normal" middle class values and "normal" sexual relationships sanctioned by Al D'Amato) made me weary of what the weekend would be like. In addition, my own disenchantment and dissatisfaction with pride parades in the past suggested to me that I'd be, more than likely, bored and peeved out of my mind. I was, for a good deal of the week, toying with the idea of not going to the March on Sunday at all and going to listen to Ira Glass instead out in Reston, VA (home of AOL, planned communities and heavy traffic).
I met some friends downtown and despite my best judgment surrendered the $5 "donation" (woe to the euphemistic tendencies of MMOW organizers' leadership!) to enter the fenced-in, chicken-coopish quarters of what amounted to a fairly standard street festival with gay people in it. Perhaps it is because I've seen these many times before, perhaps it's my general drive to be hypercritical of our community (I do have higher expectations of what we can accomplish), or perhaps it's because the appeal of cart-grilled pupusas and streetside chicken kebabs has waned for me, but in any event, I can't say I was disappointed because my expectations were fairly low to begin with. The crowd consisted of mostly men, mostly white and mostly shirtless, mostly looking like every other mostly shirtless white man in the group, drinking expensive lemonade and having a fabulous time. It's good to see that as a group, shirtless-gay-white-men-drinking-lemonade tend to have a positive self image when in large groups. Good for them.
Many of the crowd goers walked about, as festival goers are prone to doing, waving around "edgy" cardboard paddles courtesy of Showtime (apparently there are a lot of "Uncut" "Disco Whores" who are "Hung", given the variations on the sign theme), buttons courtesy of AOL, bags of bright yellow plastic courtesy of gay.com, and, fortunately, not-so-occasional stickers for Gore 2000 (politics are not completely dead, thanyouverymuch). The dearth of leather daddies, trannies, drag queens, hard-core dykes, shirtless lesbians and people of color from all origins, North American and otherwise, seemed to confirm my expectations that the weekend would be fairly homogenizing, whitewashed and, well, more along the lines of mild Taco Bell sauce rather than Cholula with Extra Kick. And the fence, I imagine, was to keep the under-21s from going into the party that would be held on Saturday night--so fence probably a result of liquor laws and mandatory donations.
After doing the walk-around-and-eat-kebabs piece with part of the group of friends with whom I would go to the concert, we left the chicken coop and headed towards the meeting place where we'd gather all 9 of us to head to Robert F. Kennedy stadium for the Equality Rocks HRC Media Blitz Performances. Stopped at the Post Office Pavilion for a bathroom break, saw a disco ball so large that it could provide dancing entertainment for at least four developing nations (courtesy of Cherries Jubilee 5, one of the weekend's Circuitous fund-razers) and connected with the rest of the gang.
The trip on the Metro was fantastic. A hefty crowd of very perky dykes, lesbians, crunchy folk, trannies, fags, bi guys and gals, gay men and homosexual people of all walks crammed into the characteristically orange trams of the DC Metro. Of note in the ride was the guy who got off at the Potomac station--earlier, he had asked the couple of lesbians from KC-MO sitting in front of him where all these people were going and what was going on in town. They explained to him what was going on, although a bit in disbelief that despite being surrounded by the aforementioned crowd of DLCTFBGH people he could have remained completely oblivious to what was going on. As he tried to make his way to the door from the end of the train across the crowd of people, he tried to get people to give him wiggle room by saying loudly "I'm coming out!". There was a torrent of applause, and I'm sure that he's probably still wondering why. The sight from the top of the escalators at the Stadium-Armory Metro station was awesome--the platform was packed to the brim, from front to back, with people waving those cute flags with the blue background and the yellow eleven dyed into them. The procession to the stadium was short, punctuated by thousands of concertgoers yelling ugly things at those twelve friendly Fred Phelps dorks holding the "Fags Must Die", "Matthew is in Hell" and "AIDS=cure for homosex" signs...
The concert was very cool, even when seen from our proletarian-yuppie nosebleed seats. Albita couldn't be heard, and stadiums don't do Nathan lane's standup justice (then again, does anything do his standup justice). Rufus Wainwright sang and no one listened... Melissa Etheridge sang and sang some more. KD Lang was what we expected. I was indifferent to the Pet Shop Boys, but people seemed to enjoy their performance. Garth Brooks sang my favorite three songs of his, though he seemed nervous/quiet/let-my-songs-speak-for-themselves-ish. Tipper Gore played the drums, Ellen got a standing O (and cried and said many thank yous), Anne Heche practiced her own brand of rhetorical torture (hearing her speak is as painful as watching Andie McDowell act), George Michael told us about his show in LA to what he thought was a gay audience of one, and was the only one who actually talked about SEX all night... it almost seemed as if everyone else on stage had gone through one giant attack of lesbian bed death (I hear it's contagious). He dared to hold Tipper and Al Gore personally responsible for determining why the fuck "reparative therapy" centers (i.e. Dachau-on-the-Mississippi) can still make a business preying on people's ignorance in this country (go Michael). Tipper spoke and played the drums. Queen Latifah crooned once and made a hasty retreat.
A few thousand people walking back towards Capitol Hill on the dividing line between Northeast and Southeast DC allowed me to take a nocturnal look at a neighborhood that's often described as not-so-safe. Then again, I've never felt too unsafe while biking through there.
After the concert experience, I decided I'd give the rally a good faith attempt at understanding. My friend Albert and I arrived at the mall at around 1PM or so. A pretty hefty number of people sat on blankets and waved flags--not having any previous frames of reference, the crowd seemed large by DC rally standards, but given what some other correspondents to some mail lists I belong to have said, it may not have been as large as in the past.
The crowd in the back was typical of most pride-ish things--mostly white, mostly male, mostly buff guys in shorts with white t-shirts hanging from the right side of their belts and the closely-cropped hair with a Tintin-ish upward swirl that seems en-vogue. My heart skipped in delight when I saw three topless lesbians with blue/purple hair. We moved closer to the stage and finally made it to within a few yards of the speakers--perhaps a signal of how not-as-crowded the event may have been.
I must say, I heard about 4 hours' worth of speeches and all of them were unlike what I had expected. Keith Boykin , former chair of the Natl. Black Gay Lesbian Leadership Forum, Harvard law school grad, same-sex-loving former White House official gave a rousing speech about the status of people of color and people of non-straightness (my words, not his) in the gay and black communities that hit many chords in my white Latin American not-too-thrilled-with-the-gay-world, male-identified faggot mind. I'll let you hear it for yourselves. I warn you that he got many more cheers than you hear there, because they probably compressed out the cheers and applause for all the speakers, probably to save server space...
Finally someone was speaking up against the commercialized, commodified, homogenized, normalized, sanitized, gentrified, whitewashed vision of our collective futures that are thrust upon us, even by organizations purporting to represent all of us. Finally someone addressed the incredible wealth of African American writers, poets, artists, activists, leaders, gay and straight that have made our world all the more interesting yet continue to be ignored in favor of Ellen and Ann (brave souls, is true, but no more than any Latin American hairdresser who tells his patrons how he really wants to wear the dress on New Year's day, and Why always Ellen anyway?).
The remaining speeches were equally confrontational and driving the edge, even criticizing Elizabeth Birch (chair of HRC), which must have rattled her media-savvy feathers. A transsexual teacher who got fired from her position (her name flashed briefly on the JumboTron(TM) and nowhere visible on the MMOW website) wondered why there was no T listed anywhere, and while I didn't hear any comments about it, there was a heavily latent and intense biphobia and inBisibility in the air. Ellen thanked Disney, but she's funny and charming (!), so we'll applaud her for turning around and dropping the 'I don't want to be political' line that she tossed a few weeks while the whole outcoming thing was going on. Ann Heche again rattled my feathers by talking about how she turned gay, was straight for 27 years, and using "you guys have to put up with so much"... if I weren't more free-speech minded I'd consider placing a gag order on her just to avoid having to hear her really poor oratory.
The fact that the two voices of the Native American community that got to go up on stage were almost not allowed up because they "didn't have a platform" should be of particular shame to the organizers of the march, and that they were given their rightful place amongst the speakers only shows how the power of open criticism of inherent exclusion can actually result in inclusion, or at least in tokenizing (what's worse, exclusion or tokenizing?).
I left the march with two general feelings: I'm glad I went and heard the speeches and heard that most of those who spoke while I was there still have that vociferous anger of disenfranchisement. I realize that it's not the rally I should critique, it's the fact that people had to pay $5 to eat streetside kebabs and become targets of marketers. It's the fact that so many groups had to raise a fuss before they'd be included in the table of Elizabeth´s choosing. And I went with the damn purpose of making sure that my company makes clear to me why it is that sexual orientation is not in the non discrimination clause...
Ok. Enough of this rambling. Sum toto: HRC is, as we have known, pretty gosh darn conservative in its ideas of what America will tolerate. And I will continue to fight the push to lump us all into a category of "affluent, well educated, marriage-minded, child-bearing, God-fearing Normal people" who like their entertainment well Disneyed, their travel well American Airlined, their issues well Advocated and their beer well Busched. Oh, and that as much as it may seem so in her mind, this is not about Elizabeth Birch's view of the world, it is about OUR viewS of the worldS.