If you are an opposite-gender lover you might not have known that this was Gay Pride Weekend in Montreal, which is known locally as Fierté Montreal.
You should have come for the party. This was my first gay pride parade and a strangely liberating one, a stark reminder of what a fiercely permissive society looks like.
The parade itself was a grand finale to a weeklong collection of picnics, fireworks, music festivals, parties and lots and lots of drinking, that was happening simultaneously all over Montreal’s theater district, otherwise known as the ‘Quartier des Spectacles’ and of course Montreal’s throbbingly alive gay village.
It isn’t so much ‘going to the Gay Pride’ as ‘doing Gay Pride’. And that’s exactly what yours truly did – he did the Gay Pride Parade. And I was not the only straight guy doing the parade. There were many, even families – there were little kids clapping their hands and running into the crowds of dancers and dancing along with them. It was a culture celebrating it’s openness, telling the world that in order to be a good human being, you don’t have to be straight.
I loved the rubbing elbows with all the leather daddies, bull dykes, twinks, alternaqueers, trannies, drag queens, femmes, circuit boys, bois (who are actually girls) and all the other wonderfully gay archetypes. It was like a giant celebration of living somewhere over the rainbow. It was Mardi Gras, Halloween, Christmas and Diwali – all rolled into one.
This is, I guess, the one time of the year when gays feel legit – accepted. It is an occasion when straight folks like me come out and lend their support.
“You don’t realize it but your being here, lustily cheering, is so important for us,” said a middle-aged, gaudily clothed, gay woman whom others might have called a dyke. At that instant I understood what she meant and I resolved to be there every August from now.
I was swigging from a water bottle filled with red wine – I held it out to her and she promptly downed a generous amount, leaving some of her lipstick on the snout. I rubbed it off with my hanky and took a swig myself – solidarity (ugh).
“Are you are a transsexual?” I asked her, curiosity engulfing me.
“You mean a tranny? No, I don’t have a cock – at least not yet.” Trepidation made me not want to know what that ‘not yet’ bit meant. Anyway, by then she had moved on.
There was a gaunt man in high heels, standing right next to me, blowing kisses at the dancers. Probably in his early 40s, he seemed friendly enough and I decided to strike up a conversation with him.
“How did all this begin?” I said to Mr. High Heels after a while.
“Oh, I’m from New York. There are many of us New Yorkers here. The Montreal Gay Pride Week is to us gays what the Haj is to Muslims.” He grinned. I tried to imagine Mr. High Heels in Mecca and burst out laughing, at the analogy. Allah-o-Akbar, maybe it’ll happen – like in the next one thousand years. Perhaps by then everybody will be gay, even God himself. ‘Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife will morph into ‘Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s ass.’
“Well, coming back to your question, which is – how did all this begin – the Gay Pride Parade actually began as a protest march in New York City, 1969, against the treatment of homosexuals by police in Stonewall. We now mark the infamous Stonewall Riots every June with a parade through town. It is no longer anything political.” He blew a kiss, said toodle-oo and pranced off in an exaggerated, effeminate gait, swaying his bony ass at the world.
That was when I met Tooth Fairy. At least that’s what she gleefully said she was for the day, breaking into a wide grin, bristling with shiny white teeth. I told her she looked like a slightly overgrown Justin Bieber. ‘I’m Spunkybong,’ I said to her. She liked that, “Spunky….cool.”
Tooth Fairy had a hard, jaded look that most lesbians appear ta have – a look that mirrors a lifetime of scorn and discrimination. Yeah, Canadian society may be permissive but at the same time it has enough straight folks, mostly deeply religious folks, who deride gays and lesbians.
I came upon Toothy while she was rolling a joint with weed that appeared a mite dry and crumbly. “Want some?” She put a pinch of the stuff on my palm and I sniffed it. I haven’t tried the stuff since I was twennie but even I could see that it was low-grade, filled with dried seeds, the kind that you would throw away in Trichy or Ernakulam, back home in India. The Trichy weed used to be damp, sticky and pungent and one hell of a ride.
“So, did you meet many straight folks taday?” I always like to leave a question in my conversation.
“Sure,” she said,” Most straights at the parade are half-assed. There’s a ton of semi-drunk gay guys out here, looking to get it on, y’know. If you come here in tights or skinny t-shirts, muscles bulging and all, thinking that you’re showing your support, you’re asking for it. Straight men may not get turned on by gays, but boy-o-boy, gays really have the hots for straight men. So, my advice to you straights is – dress plain and unobtrusive.”
Toothy was unstoppable – here are some nuggets that I still recollect – her advice to straight folks at the parade..….
– If a gay comes up and kisses you or envelops you in a hug today, try not to cringe, just bear it with a smile. He is just being exuberant, that’s all. But if you want ta make out with him, if you are here for your first gay encounter – that is completely acceptable, go right ahead. Who knows, you might discover you’re in fact gay or maybe bi. The parade could turn out to be a life-changing experience for ya.
– Remember, this day is all about gays. It’s like you’re an Allouette in the Saputo Stadium. You need to just go along with what’s happening. Even if you don’t like it or get uncomfortable, take a deep breath and try to fit in. Every other day of the year is Straight Pride Day, but today you play by our rules.
– Feel free to stare. That’s what the Pride Parade is all about. If we were ashamed, we wouldn’t be out in public like this in the first place.
Toothy had been rolling her joint, looking around surreptitiously, every once in a while.
“Afraid of cops?” I said
“Nah,” she said,” They are a sweetheart on this one day. They might be hard-nosed, devoid of humor and all, but taday, even though they’re all over, they just let go. It’s like as if they have been told ta leave us alone.”
By now Toothy had finished rolling three spindly joints. She dusted her palms against her jeans and rose and then, just like that, she gave me a kiss on the cheek and left with a grin and a parting shot –
‘And please, Spunky, don’t tell us we look like Justin Bieber.’
Ps: Mr. High Heels and Tooth Fairy are in the photos but I don’t wish to point them out to ya. Somehow that wouldn’t be right