My first PRIDE: I hate to say it, but Austin's festival left me proud
When I woke up at 11 a.m. Saturday morning, I cleverly convinced myself that the city of Austin's Pride Paradecouldn't start any time before noon because no queer in his right mind would bother waking up that early on a Saturday, but after a phone call from my friend telling me that the parade was already over, I reluctantly anointed myself the only sane homosexual in the city for sleeping in.
By the time I dressed myself and blow-dried my hair, I was reasonable-looking enough to attend the second big gay event of the big gay day, Austin’s PRIDE Festival at Fiesta Gardens. I had not heard of such a thing as Fiesta Gardens in my time in Austin, and was delighted to discover that it was not a second-rate Mexican restaurant as I had initially feared.
It’s not just a bunch of people celebrating and exploiting their own sexuality, it’s a bunch of people celebrating each other in spite of it.
If you’re like me and have never attended a gay festival before, it’s eerily similar to a state fair, except this “state fair” takes place in the state of Queermo where everybody’s too cheap for rides and there aren’t any annoying children and the attendants and the carnies all dress the same.
The HRC made a boisterous appearance, and Google and Facebook even had booths set up handing out sunglasses and stickers.
There were tents for the City of Austin police and tents set up by the United Christian Church, which was awesome because I got handed a Ziploc of rainbow Skittles with a really friendly mission statement that said, “Our faith is 2000 years old… our thinking isn’t.” People were selling gay books and gay bracelets and gay shirts and gay Japanese parasols. There were also musical performances by a gay Nine Inch Nails cover band (maybe?!) and drag shows in the large central pavilion.
But all of these performances paled in comparison to the actual people at the event, who were some of the most – for lack of a better word – colorful folks you’ll meet in the city of Austin. It’s charming to see large, burly men with Pikachu backpacks and painted Chihuahuas wearing tutus. Best of all, it was great getting to see the weirdest of Austin’s weird getting along, chatting it up and paying four dollars for lemonade like one big, happy family.
After about an hour of stomping around the dusty fairgrounds, most of the excitement dried up from the heat and I developed an appetite. I found a stereotypically expected-yet-lifesaving crepe stand in the corner of the festival. As I got closer to the front of the line, however, I noticed something incredible: none of the beret-wearing crepe makers were speaking at all, to each other or to the customers. I initially assumed it was because they were French, but then I spotted one of them wearing an “I *heart* ASL” shirt. Watching four people work together to make dozens of crepes, only communicating with their hands completely blew me away.
It was a beautifully cohesive process, and everyone just knew where to spread the Nutella and basil just by gesturing. I couldn’t help but imagine the crepe stand as an idealized version of America, where nobody asks questions about each other’s intentions and everybody works together for a common good.
As someone who used to bemoan the gay community for attracting too much attention to itself, I’ve changed my perspective a lot from my first pride festival. It’s not just a bunch of people celebrating and exploiting their own sexuality, it’s a bunch of people celebrating each other in spite of it. Sure, I heard and received a few outrageous come-ons—as not everyone was tactful in their friendliness—but they only helped me assert my own self-confidence as a gay person by reminding me of my own boundaries. As long as you have good intentions, I don’t really mind (so long as you don’t touch my blow-dried hair).
The Austin PRIDE Festival was awesome, and I owe it to myself to return with a few friends just to hang out, listen to music, and buy a few more crepes. A couple of hours at the festival is just enough time to remind anyone—gay, weird, or the few of us who are totally normal—that they aren’t alone. Not even the shirtless guy in the wolf mask.
Check out the CultureMap photos of the Austin Pride Parade here.