Pride Parade

In Pittsburgh on June 14, 2009 at 11:04 pm

Pride Parade 022

I took the bus downtown, hoping to catch the last breaths of the Arts Festival before the vendors closed up shop for good. The 71C takes a long, wending route through East Liberty, Shadyside, Oakland, SoHo and Uptown, so by the time I arrived in Market Square, I’d fallen dead asleep. Groggily stepping off the bus, I heard chorus of cheering — not the noisy whistles and screams of concertgoers, but a triumphant wave of voices, like you’d hear at a football game just after a touchdown. I crossed to Penn Avenue and found a parade in progress; some cars floated slowly down the street, their passengers standing and waving at crowds on either side.

It took me a full minute to recognize them as drag queens. Long before I could see the masculine cuts of their jaw-lines, I noticed the thick, bright make-up that layered their faces. For the first time, the drag-queen tableaux echoed, to me, the expressionistic mascara of geishas and ancient Roman housewives (who were mocked by Roman satirists for being unrecognizable to their husbands when the make-up washed off). Unlike the low-lit streets of late-night Key West, or the dim theatre of Hedwig & The Angry Inch, this late-morning parade showed off these drag-queens in powerful sunlight, so that the subtle patterns of color looked resplendant.

When I met my friend Lee, we strolled the sidewalk, cutting through the crowds of out-and-proud spectactors who clapped along to throbbing rock music. Gay life never looked so diverse: Lesbians of every shape and size leaned against each other and smirked. A troupe of tamboritzans twirled rainbow flags in synchronous salute. Wigs and bead-necklaces abounded, as well as pink shirts, political signs, army boots and bare feet. Men let their hands fall limp; women wore crew-cuts; some petite participants required second and third glances to guess their gender. Every expectation was surprised by clothing and body-language. Even a rollypolly man in a wheelchair, perched on the sidelines, looked fearsome in his goatee and red mohawk. Here, a thousand people flaunted their every decorous whim, from nose-rings to mini-skirts and the gamut of padded busts.

As Lee and I moved toward a side-street, so we could return to the Arts Festival and leave the Priders to their revelry, we spotted a gang of motorcyclists mounted on racing bikes. For a split-second, I feared this might be some posse of protesting Hell’s Angels; bikers are notorious for swinging in every direction, from leather-sporting bisexual S&M to gay-bashing neo-Nazism. But as the first rider rode up to a red light, I saw that his full-body black riding gear was counter-balanced by a pink boa, wrapped expertly around his neck. The bikers revved their engines; pedestrians skuttled across the street; the audience cheered. Love never looked so many-splendored.


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