Back in 2007, I went to the Pride Parade in San Francisco. I saw drag queens in feather boas and old ladies in matching vests and bears in leather and fishnet shirts and two men holding hands, screaming and yelling, wearing Old Navy cargo pants and Niners jerseys, pushing their baby through the crowd in a stroller. I was so happy to be there I shelled out three bucks for a noisemaker.
I'd just moved back to the Bay Area from upstate New York, where I'd gone to grad school for two years and lived for the first time as a fully out bi man. You didn't see things like San Francisco Pride in Syracuse. I was thrilled to move back home, thrilled to be bi in the Bay. I figured it'd be so easy, so fun, so full of opportunity.
People cheered a group of drag queens floating by on a float. "You look beautiful, honey!" yelled a man standing to my left. There was a contingent for every type of gay and every type of ally: Women in leather. The Mayor. PFLAG. Bears. Toyota. Cheerleaders. Unitarians. As each float went by, the screams were almost deafening.
Then came a floatless, ragtag group, with huge, tired smiles on their faces. I think one of them had a drum, and a few in the front were holding bi flags and a banner that read something like "San Francisco Bay Area Bi Pride." I cheered as loud as I could. The people around me looked at the ground and made polite noises. I blew into my noisemaker. Someone across the street yelled "Ayayayayayayay!" But aside from the two of us, it felt like the whole crowd had broken into a spontaneous golf clap.
And then my cell phone buzzed. Finally, a friend — a bi woman who was dating a straight man. We met up and bought overpriced shitty beer. Then we bought more overpriced shitty beer. Then the margaritas started.
"Don't you feel," my friend asked, "Like you don't belong here?"
I grunted, dizzy from the sun, and got up to wait in the long, long line to pee. A guy with a mohawk and a dozen piercings put his arms around a built guy with no shirt. I was alone and drunk with a cell phone.
So I took it out and pulled up the number of a guy I had dated at Syracuse. He picked up without even a ring.
"I…," I said, jarred, expecting voicemail. "I'm at Pride."
"How is it?" He sounded a little amused, a little perplexed. We'd ended it awkwardly, but without ill will.
"Good," I said, yelling over the crowd. "I'm drunk."
"Okay," he said. There was another pause. I could see him sitting in his room in upstate New York, petting one of his cats.
I missed him so much.
"I think I might be gay, just gay," I said, as I watched two shirtless overweight men fondling under a tree. I was hoping he'd say he knew it, and that it was time to see if we could make it work, and that he'd be on the next flight. Instead, he told me that I might be right, and that it was totally fine if I was, and it was totally fine if I wasn't.
About eight months after Pride, I met a girl on OKCupid. Her profile said she liked cats and politics and music, and I liked cats and politics and music. Both of us were intrigued with the late schizophrenic street musician Wesley Willis, and for our first date, on leap year day, 2008, we went to see a film devoted to his life.
I'd been dating her for a little over a year when I was invited to a party sure to be full of queer luminaries. It'd been awhile since I'd been to a queer event. At the party, I started smoking outside with some brilliant lesbian writers who'd just gotten back from a retreat that was full of queer artists. They encouraged me to apply to attend the retreat in the future.
But all I could think was, "My girlfriend is five blocks away watching Law and Order."
So what did I do? I called someone "honey." My wrists went a little limper, my voice sang a little more. I started acting like I had at so many gay bars over the years. It felt wrong because I had a girlfriend, but it also didn't feel dishonest, because this is a part of me that I'd been denying, and I feel natural doing it, just like I feel natural acting straight. I started talking to an older guy and we hit it off. We talked writing and San Francisco. He touched me on the shoulder, just so. I wanted to say, "I really want to keep talking, but I have a girlfriend." I couldn't. I didn't know for sure, but I feared that people would start treating me differently at this party that was turning into a helluva lot of fun, because then I'd be kicked out of this club, out of this club I belonged to a couple years ago but now no longer did.
The man and I talked more, and he touched my elbow. I told him this story about how we used to get together in Syracuse and take over this straight bar every Tuesday night and terrorize straight people. And he laughed and laughed and kept on with the elbow, and finally, I said, "Yes, my boyfriend and I live just a couple blocks away."
"Oh," he said, and the elbow touching stopped. I chatted with him and so many others for the rest of the night. I had a great time. I never felt more lonely. I never felt more guilty. It was lovely and pleasant and a relief to be in a community I'd missed so much.
Then I went home to my girlfriend and felt guilty, even though there was no reason to.