Friday, 4 September 2015

DVDs, Novelties, Men's Underwear

All the time I lived in London I never attended Gay Pride. I had no objection to Gay Pride. I simply dislike public spectacle, the noise, the hullabaloo, the taking four hours to get anywhere. London is a lot of people crammed into a relatively small space, and I never saw the appeal of seeking out pockets of even stronger concentration, regardless of whose flag had been run up the pole this time.

My friend Rob and I both went along to a Latino festival in Burgess Park, Camberwell, drawn by our mutual interest in the culture. He'd lived in Cuba and I had visited Mexico a couple of times. Research undertaken by the University of London back in 2011 reported a figure of around 113,000 Latinos living in the capital, more than enough for a decent festival and the park was accordingly packed. We wandered around for a bit, drank beer, watched a few reggaeton acts, and ate bowls of what was probably sudado, a sort of fishy tomato soup thing Rob had enjoyed in Cuba and which was as delicious as he had promised. It was a nice afternoon, but as usual I always felt I should probably be having more fun than I actually was, and I found myself irritated by the presence of the ubiquitous Time Out subscribers whose presence would always turn any public event into a sea of yapping sandal-footed wankers in felt festival hats and ironic T-shirts.

The same people would have spent the week getting paid far too much, mooning around their absurdly priced glass dwelling boxes in Hoxton or wherever, and just thinking about website design for a living. In the evening they meet up to drink beer with wedges of lime plugging up the necks of their bottles, and they talk about how great it is to live in London, and the richness of their shared cultural experience, and then they all look in the latest issue of Time Out to see which fresh cultural experiences are to be had this coming weekend. I've never understood this need to find events with which to fill one's time. I've never had a problem working out what I want to do, because I'm already interested in things.

The Latino festival was okay, but as I say I've never been a fan of crowds gathered for public spectacle; and yet having said that, public spectacle is a different animal here in San Antonio, possibly because I'm older and less inherently cantankerous than was once the case, but also because Texan population density is a fraction of what it is in London. The crowds are less aggravating, happily bereft of Time Out subscribers, and for most of the year it's too hot for anyone to make a serious nuisance of themselves. It isn't that America doesn't have its own representatives of the annoying community, but thankfully most of them seem to be concentrated in New York.

Anyway, it was the 4th of July and we had already wandered around Alamo Heights waving flags, or else watching neighbours pushing flag waving children along in carts. I wore my Lone Star shirt, sewn from material patterned like the state flag, purchased second hand and almost certainly originating from either a gas station or some restaurant chain. We ate free tacos, petted baby goats, and it was fun. Afternoon rolled around and we decided to go and take a look at the Gay Pride event going on at Crockett Park down on Main.

Reading that paragraph back to myself, I wonder what differentiates me from the overmoneyed London culturevores taking holiday after holiday in other people's life experience, and I suppose nothing at all is the honest answer; but on the other hand I live here, so I have a vested interest in the general level of tolerance and diversity occurring in my adopted city. I like to believe that I live in a place where people are customarily good to each other, regardless of whatever factors may appear to divide them. So far I have found this to be generally true, with those persons to the contrary numbering amongst an unfortunately vocal but thankfully tiny minority. So, having moved to the sort of urban space in which public events aren't always a complete headache, and in some cases may even deliver the sort of fun promised on the flyers, Bess and myself decided to go and see what was happening with Gay Pride.

Just past Hogwild Records, Main Avenue seems to be the gay district - if that's quite the right term - at least in so much as it has a couple of gay clubs identified with rainbow decor. Also there is at least one adult entertainment store selling DVDs, novelties, and mens' underwear. It actually has the words mens' underwear painted on the side of the building, and each time we drive past I hear the words in my mind's ear as though read aloud with a certain lurid intonation by Vic Reeves; and I still can't help but think of novelties as hand-buzzers, whoopee cushions, squirt-flowers and the like. I suppose mens' underwear must refers to studded leather pants as probably sported by that cop from the Village People.

We drove down Main and two muscular young men waved at us from outside another store selling mens' underwear, which by coincidence is all that the young men were wearing. They seemed pretty happy, and so we waved back. Then we couldn't find a parking space and had to return the way we came and retrace our footsteps - or at least our tyre tracks - passing the waving underwear men a second time but now on foot. They still seemed happy, despite the heat, and it dawned on me that they were engaged in drumming up trade for the store. I hoped they were being paid well for it, given the intense heat.

The crowds became more fulsome and more flamboyant as we approached Crockett Park, though mostly sticking to the shade of the buildings on the west side of Main. The Supreme Court had ruled to legalise same-sex marriage across the entire country on Friday, June the 26th, just two weeks earlier. I hadn't really been following either the news or that specific aspect closely, but I had the impression it came somewhat out of the blue. When all you've heard on the subject is a few months of fuckwitted windbags weighing in on how something which affects them in no sense whatsoever is somehow a violation of their human rights, a government body actually doing the right thing can come as quite a shock. It felt like a victory for common sense, specifically a victory against the prevailing expectation of all future news following a downwards and increasingly conservative curve. So there seemed to be an elevated sense of excitement in the air, like we now knew that the fuckers could be beaten, and more importantly that we could once again be considered a valid collective term. We were maybe not so divided after all.

The park was cordoned off behind chain-link fencing with a long queue outside. There was an entrance fee. This initially struck me as surely contrary to the spirit of the enterprise, but we took our place in the line. An old guy in a Stetson stood on the opposite side of the road, squinting at us in the scorching sunlight and holding a placard informing us that homosexual marriage is evil. I looked around, realising I had been expecting worse, truckloads of Westboro Baptist level nutters with megaphones and buckets of human piss ferried in to fight the good fight against basic intelligence, but there was just the one guy. I hoped this was closer to the reality of the opposition than that which is regularly communicated by a hysterical media, but it's sometimes difficult to tell. Some people ducked out of the queue, crossing the street to engage with our token protester, either to see if they could talk some sense into him, or else to take a look at what happens when a person grows up unable to tell the difference between opinion and fact. He smiled and chatted but seemed a little ill at ease, which was nice.

Paying to get in struck me as odd, at least until we were inside and I realised that an entrance fee would at least serve to deter anyone turning up for the sake of causing trouble. The atmosphere in the park was happy and relaxed, with no-one really giving too much of a shit about guys kissing or the more extreme examples of wardrobe surrealism. Stalls were arranged all around the periphery, but most of them seemed to be dull financial concerns, insurance and the like. This is something I have come to expect here in America, where money is much more of a thing than it was on the other side of the Atlantic, at least in my experience. Food and drinks were to be had, both entailing a peculiar system of purchasing vouchers at one stall then exchanging these for beer or tacos at another. I have no idea how this worked or who was to benefit, but I suppose maybe it kept all of the festival cash in one place.

Anyway, not having any great need of specifically homosexual life insurance, we purchased refreshments and found some shade from which to watch what was going on with the stage. It wasn't really anything spectacular - a couple of drag acts lip syncing to hi-energy songs under the scorching midday heat. They weren't even pretending hard enough to come equipped with a fake microphone, and may as well have just been people in the crowd for all the difference it made. Call me conservative, but I tend to think a drag act really has to do something beyond just showing up in a dress, and I am disinclined to applaud anything quite so peripheral as skilled application of eyeliner.

The drag acts were followed by a rap duo - a man and a butch woman. Bass pounded across the stage, slow and low with skittery bounce hi-hats and the two of them prowling back and forth, trading lines, throwing up the signs, and generally they were pretty tight. Unfortunately the crowd didn't quite seem to know what to make of them, but I went to the front regardless and dutifully stood nodding my head like an indulgent uncle. I've been listening to southern rap for nearly two decades, but this was the first time I'd stood in front of it, and it did not disappoint. It was nice to see so many unfortunate stereotypes demolished in the space of a minute. The duo did a couple of numbers, and I failed to catch their names, and next thing they were off the stage.

Now there was to be a mass wedding with numerous couples filling the stage to be conjoined in holy matrimony, or just matrimony if you're either a pronounced atheist or a religious extremist. These were same-sex couples, in case that needs stating. It was a spectacle, and that was the point, to show that despite everything it was really happening. However, regardless of blows struck or flags waved, none of this felt like a deeply political act, at least not to me, which is probably a good thing. Of course, being heterosexual, it might be pointed out that I'd never really had a horse in this particular race, so whatever Gay Pride means to me will probably be negligible if not actually irrelevant. On the other hand, living my daily life in a largely heterosexual world, Gay Pride should seem weird and astonishing, and yet it doesn't because it's really just people, whichever way you look at it. It almost felt ordinary, just as it should.

I'm not sure whether this means I've personally got over some lurking nugget of inner prejudice, or whether society in general has finally grown up, at least in our corner of Texas.

As the wedding wrapped up, Bess and I decided we had seen as much as we needed given how hot the day was turning out, even in the shade. We left the site and walked back up Main with those others who had also had enough of the sun.

'Turn away from your sin,' suggested an old coot perched on a seat outside some eating place, although he suggested it quietly in case anyone heard. It was almost funny to realise that he was the weirdo now, this guy and his ideological ally with the placard. He was the one who had failed to understand the working of our world and human society. He was out of step with the rest of us.

It felt really good to know that.

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