On Birthdays and Rainbows

IMG_2890The day after your birthday sucks. You’re just older, and there are no more presents.

The days leading up to my birthday, on the other hand, were fantastic. There were presents every day. Because he’s a better boyfriend than me, C surprised me with gifts hidden under my pillow. Underwear from the store in NYC that I miss now that we’re no longer there. A new pair of headphones (he’d gotten the not so subtle hints I’d been dropping about how dissatisfied I was with my old ones). A bottle of cologne.

Usually in the weeks leading up to the anniversary of my existence I spiral into a birthday induced depression at having reached another year without having accomplished anything. Whether I’ve finally accepted my life’s mediocrity, or I’ve just mellowed out in my dotage, my birthday this year came and went without the usual panic and despair.

I did still have moments of evaluating my life and the decisions I’ve made and comparing myself to my successful and happy friends, and finding my life wanting. No house. No kids. No career. But even though I haven’t written that novel, and I’m still doing an entry level job, I own nothing, and have nothing but debt to show for my 39 years of existence…I’ve still managed to enter the last year of my thirties on a hopeful note.

I’ve traveled. I’ve lived all over the country. I’ve had adventures. I’ve run a marathon. I’ve been with the man I love for nearly six years and he still hasn’t gotten sick of me. Things are actually…okay, and…most surprisingly of all…I’m okay with things. Just as they are.

This year, my birthday coincided with the Gay Pride Parade here in Chicago. Despite living with my boyfriend, and everything that that entails, my life is otherwise…not all that gay. It’s been years since I went out to clubs hoping to meet someone. When our friend Dean visited from Austin and we went with him to a club in Boystown with Go Go Dancers, I was mostly just mildly embarrassed for the dancers and annoyed by how loud the music was.

We usually don’t do much in the way of celebrating Pride, because our life is already a celebration of who we are and how we feel about one another. But this year, after the Supreme Court Ruling, and gays all over the country being one step closer to actual equality, I felt like celebrating a little more overtly.

The ruling, even though I expected it, left me overwhelmed with joy. Twenty years ago, when I first came out to my parents, I never could have imagined Gay people having the right to marry happening during my lifetime. When I was a teenager, there were no gay, celebrity couples I could use as role models. In my formative years, my classmate in college killed himself after his parents disowned him, an entire generation of men was decimated by the AIDS epidemic, Matthew Shepherd was tortured and left for dead, and I didn’t know it was possible to be gay and be happy.

When I read the news of the ruling in my cubicle at work, I wept.

Because C had to work that afternoon, I walked to the parade by myself. People were thronging the streets of Boystown. A young, black woman with a mohawk wore a t-shirt that said, “You ain’t no queen!”  I smiled just seeing the young people in their rainbow colors, holding hands, excited to be among so many other people, sharing that moment. But the crowds were also overwhelming. I couldn’t see, and the sidewalk wasn’t big enough to accommodate all of the people who turned out. Feeling a panic attack starting, I pushed my way through the crowd and walked back home.

Later, my friend Steven and his boyfriend went with me back to the festivities, where we watched from a less densely populated vantage point near the beginning of the parade route. It felt good to have that solidarity, and that moment of celebration, but at the same time I still felt isolated. I don’t listen to pop music, and I’m not a snappy dresser, I’ve never felt like I really fit in with the gays any more than I did with our heteronormative counterparts.

As a kid I, I couldn’t wait to get to college. Even though I was the only gay I knew in the small town where I grew up, I was sure when I got to college I’d meet other gay people, and I’d finally feel like I belonged. And I did meet other gay people, but it was such a crushing disappointment that I had as little in common with them as I did with the straight people I grew up with. I thought they’d be sensitive, bookish people who talked about philosophy and played video games. Instead they all seemed like body and youth obsessed mannequins who didn’t read for pleasure, who all listened to terrible music, and seemed to exist solely for sex and drugs.

I realized that what really set me apart wasn’t the fact that I was into guys instead of girls, it was that I’m a total nerd. I’m the fringe of the fringe.

So it was with mixed feelings that I attended pride and cheered as the floats with their corporate sponsorships marched down the confetti strewn street. The people watching was fun, (the highlight being a hirsute young man who had pierced nipples who had dyed his underarm hair green). Most of the crowd seemed to be comprised of straight, young girls with face paint and rainbow colored socks.

C ranted extensively about the appropriation of gay culture over a fancy, Italian birthday dinner. I guiltily ate lamb (so tender it was like butter!) and told him about the people I’d seen. He joked that he and I are going to get married in every state now…except Mississippi because he refuses to set foot there.

C doesn’t like parades. He doesn’t like segregation and thinks that everyone should just be able to be themselves, that who you sleep with shouldn’t be any more big a deal than the color of your eyes.

I hope that one day that’s the case. But right now, there are still states where gay people can get fired or evicted by the sheer virtue of being themselves, and places where it isn’t safe to walk down the street holding your boyfriend’s hand, where anyone different is marginalized or made to feel somehow less than human.

So for now, pride parades continue to be a necessary reminder of how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve yet to go.

These are things we talk about over dinner, sitting outside of a bistro on Lincoln avenue as a bee buzzes through the flowers hanging beside our table. Across from us, another gay couple is sitting with a toddler in between them. A passing cloud spatters the people outside with gentle, summer rain. People reach for umbrellas, and couples run beneath the awnings of buildings holding hands. For a moment, it’s nice to feel integrated, to be part of the group, and to be happy with things just the way they are.