Sunday, June 29, 2014

Message of Love chapter excerpt: Reid and Everett's First Pride

This year I ducked out of SF LGBT Pride events a little early, not because of any sense of shame or fatigue (well, a little fatigue). I've attended Pride marches, and marched myself, with several groups over the years, even rode a bicycle several times –now, that was fun.

photo: Andy Warhol
But in fictionalizing the first Pride event for my characters Reid and Everett in Message of Love, I had to re-remember the naiveté, innocence and sense of being overwhelmed to be in the company of thousands of out LGBT people. 

Do you recall your very first Pride event? Were you scared, nervous, afraid, overwhelmed? My first time, in 1988, New York City, I was. I snuck out of a job that required me to work that Sunday. Wearing a button-down shirt and pants, I was quite overwhelmed to see so many smiling happy people. By the next year, I was marching with ACT UP, protesting, chanting, and in the company of a tribe of like-minded activists.

The included photos are from various sources, but the best is from Gay Day: The Golden Age of the Christopher Street Parade, with photographs by Hank O'Neal (Harry N. Abrams, Inc.). The beautiful book includes many amazing photos from 1974 to 1983.

photo: Winston Vargas
Even with this valuable visual resource, it took some fictional rethinking to recall who it might have been for Everett and Reid, at the invitation of a former prep school buddy of Everett's, for these two 20-year-old young men to train to New York from Philadelphia for the weekend, and experience Manhattan and all its early 1980s funky impediments for Everett. That chapter includes some very pivotal events, but you'll have to read the book to understand its impact.  But I also tried to capture the somewhat restrained Reid's reactions to seeing so many gay people. 

Here's an excerpt: Chapter 30, June 1982:

The next morning, we packed for the day, and I carried our small duffel bag hoisted over my shoulder. Everett rolled ahead of me along the crowded streets, until we came upon a loose line of people standing, watching as a stream of marching people, floats, balloons, banners and smiling men, women, even some kids hoisted on parents’ shoulders, poured along Fifth Avenue.
photo: Tobias Herbert
We managed to appreciate this shared joy, this buoyant display of openness. Wasn’t this what we wanted, what we tried to emulate in our small way? At some point, standing beside Everett, I had taken his hand, finally comfortable enough to do that on the street. Then I just leaned behind him, my arms draped over his shoulders like a sweater.
 Some cute guy in shorts and a cut-off T-shirt that showed off his thin waist and belly button called out for us to join him.
I didn’t need to ask Everett. His look up to me, those eager dark eyes sparkling in the sunlight, pleaded for a day of desperately needed joy.
“I don’t know if we’ll get a cab back uptown,” I said. “And I want to see Central Park.”
“Okay, but I want to try the subway again. Here. Get out my map,” he leaned his shoulder around as I unzipped his backpack.
“There’s gotta be a station with an elevator downtown that doesn’t stink of pee. We could just take the sidewalk. Besides, I want to see it. Christopher Street, homo central.”
“Lead on.”
And, after a minute of perusing the map, he handed it to me and I stuffed it into his backpack. We joined the slow-moving parade on the street. In between the banners and balloons, the strolling men in shorts, the women with signs who chanted slogans, I felt a growing elation and was able to put aside our concerns for Wesley.
At one point, the parade slowed to a halt as a distant siren echoed a few blocks south. Mustached men casually draped their arms over each others’ shoulders, until someone called out a spontaneous, “Kiss In!”
All around us, people embraced, smooched, and I felt a rush of emotion as I leaned down, took in Everett’s smiling face as he squinted under the sun, and kissed him, there, in the middle of a New York City street, surrounded by others.
Then, the parade continued to scattered cheers and applause.
“Take my hand,” he said.
“But you can’t–”
“I’ll manage.”
With his left hand in mine, he began a sort of cross-stitch push on his wheels, his path veering a bit from side to side. It became a sort of wavering dance, a bit awkward but worth the effort. We continued on our path, and for me, as usual, Everett led the way.

No comments:

Post a Comment