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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Black Thongs, Leather Pants, & Angel Wings

When you look at this picture, what do you see? Pride? You see an emaciated boy waving a rainbow flag. You see his meaty butt cheeks, strangely disproportional to his toothpick legs. You see a black thong shoved in his crack like a coin in a couch cushion.

Of course, that's not all you can see. It's only what you choose to see. It's what you choose to focus on. That's all anyone wants to focus on at a pride parade – the butts. The nakedness. The showiness. The feathers. The glitter. The surface.

Now look closer. In the background of the photo, to the immediate left of thongboy's head, stands a tiny Asian woman. She's staring at the boy's jiggling crotch-pouch, wearing a horrified expression – the bulge in his Speedo causing her eyes to bulge in shock. Her mouth is wide open, practically lock-jawed. A folded magazine rests atop her head, preventing exposure from the sun – and the shame.

When I finally discovered her in the picture, standing meek and unnoticed inthe background, I realized the tiny Asian woman … is me. Moreover, that tiny Asian woman represents an entire subset of the gay community, mortified and embarrassed by the lewdness of pride parades. Only instead of hiding a face of disapproval under a magazine, I've decided to expose it by writing in one.

The ultimate goal of the parades is to instill a definite sense of self-worth within the gay community, which continues to face oppression and inequality. And yet, many people participating in the parade itself seem to be working against this goal, pushing our progression backwards as the parade marches ahead.

The photo, which I took at a New York City pride parade this summer, illustrates this point. It's a perfect example of false pride. Though the bony boy is "proudly" waving the rainbow flag, a symbol of unity, his conceptualization of pride is deeply cracked – not unlike his own ass.

Not only is his nakedness and showiness pushing social conservatives further to the right, it's causing normal, non-diva gays to disassociate from the celebration.

There are thousands of people who march at the parades (fully-clothed) in support of marital freedom, adoption rights, and equality in the workplace. Unfortunately, because the media focus all of their attention on drag dressers and Harley-riding lesbians, the more conservative demonstrations at the parade are ignored. Their voices are muted by the loud colors and boisterous costumes of the dancing queens, who feel that egotism and whorishness are traits to be proud of.

"It's time to stop parading and start marching," gay columnist Roger Downey says in a June issue of Seattle Weekly. "Sure, let's say it loud: We're gay and proud. Now let's accomplish something we can be proud of."

In Christian theology, pride is said to be the deadliest of all the sins, a trait from which all of the other sins essentially spawn. At the parade in Manhattan, I was reminded of how figuratively fatal pride can be.

I'm on the corner of 50th Street and 5th Avenue – buying a bag of warm nuts from a guy who looks like the Indian version of Alec Baldwin. My friend Kate is across the street buying a hot dog. When she comes back, I notice that – together – it's like we're eating an entire crotch. Appropriate foods for a gay pride parade.

We've just finished shopping at a three-story H&M, and our legs are tired after squirming into countless ill-fitting pairs of skinny jeans. We sit on a bench and watch the floats.

One of the first to pass by is filled with "leather daddies." A group of old men sporting assless leather chaps and shiny dog collars are dancing in locked cages. They're shaking flaps of loose skin to the beat of Britney Spears' "Toxic."

"With a taste of a poison paradise. I'm addicted to you, don't you know that you're toxic?"…

In retrospect, the song seems strangely metaphorical. The leather-clad men in dog collars seemed to be completely unaware of their own toxicity, oblivious of the chemically dangerous effect their actions have on the public perception of the parade.

After all, if the parade is supposed to promote acceptance and equality for the gay community, how could these tacky displays of sexual depravity be thought of as anything other than "toxic?" Is this what we want straight people to see us as? Is this really what we're proud of?

IU senior Peter Hart went to a pride parade in Chicago this year. We discussed the embarrassment of leather daddies over a delicious Grand Slam Breakfast at Denny's.

"They're the reason straight people hate us," he said, balancing a jiggling piece of scrambled egg on his fork. "They're worried that we're all secretly like that – leather-bound, boawearing, sex-crazed freaks.

"I wish the parade were just a whole bunch of gay people dressed normally, nicely," he continued. "Like in suits and dresses and stuff . Nice shoes and cummerbunds … I know it might be really boring in comparison, but it would have such a good message."

At this point in the gay pride movement, the gay community should be focused on moving forward, charging ahead. The fact is if we spend our time dancing in cages, we're not really going anywhere – we're simply locking ourselves out of social acceptance.

I crumble my empty sack o' nuts into a ball and toss it into a trashcan. After making the shot, I focus my attention on an incoming fl oat, which is filled with steroid-pumped men slathered with liquid glitter. They're wearing angel wings, which are strapped tightly to their broad, tanned backs.

Together, they flock towards us – rubbing their bodies sensually from nips to hips.
I'm always worried about how the straight community is affected by what they see at the parades – if it's just throwing more fuel on the Christian fundamentalists' fi re. It wasn't until this past summer, while watching the fallen angels, that I began to wonder about how the parade may be affecting how we see ourselves.

A study published last year in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology shows that gay men report high levels of "body dissatisfaction, body-related stress, eating disorders, and poor body image." Regale this fact to any gay man on campus, and he's bound to give you a hearty laugh. It's like telling Rosie O'Donnell that butter is awesome – the fact is pretty well understood.
Cut to Read Center, fourth floor, freshman year. I walk into the communal restroom to find a gay friend of mine hunched over the toilet, removing the recently eaten chicken dinner from his tummy.

"Are you sick?" I ask him, holding a cupped hand over my mouth.

"No," he says, flushing his purged poultry. "I'm just fat." A growing number of body-conscious gays are tossing their chicken wings to fit into their angel wings. In April, MSNBC published a study on eating disorders within the gay community. Th e results, which were compiled by Columbia University, showed that an estimated 15 percent of gay men suffer from an eating disorder – proving that, once again, this "sinful" obsession with bodily perfection can become deadly.

Kate and I are winding through a maze of tourists, trying to find an entrance to the subway system. As I'm doing this, I walk straight into a large sheet of pink poster board. On the board is a message that reads: "Together 50 Years, Still Not Married."

Holding it is an elderly man, dressed adorably in J. Crew slacks and a blue ball cap. I apologize to the man, who slightly tips his hat in acceptance. When I finally catch up to Kate, I swivel my head around to look back at the man. He's holding the sign with one hand and his partner's hand with the other. The two men are watching the fl oats together, smiling – the glossy number "50" glistening slightly in the sunlight.

Forget black thongs, leather pants, and angel wings.
"That," I think to myself, "is something to be proud of."

Article printed from INside: http://www.idsnews.com/inside

URL to article: http://www.idsnews.com/inside/?p=35


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