Gay spirit alive in rough 'n' ready hamilton
hamilton — there is an electric moment in times of revolution when all involved succumb to a dizzying sense of shared purpose. Moments like these crystallize epochs. It’s the feeling that probably galvanized France on the day they emptied the Bastille.In the early 90s, when I first started going to Pride Day in Toronto, my feelings, I imagine, were like those of the sans-culottes in 18th-century France.
The air du temps was filled with the idea of revolution — men kissing and women donning phalluses on the street smacked of Old World decadence. I remember marching once after the police had worn rubber gloves during an imbroglio with gays and lesbians. As the parade passed police headquarters on College, gloved hands gave a collective finger to the cops.
It must still be so elsewhere. In search of revolution, I’ve headed to Hamilton to celebrate queer living alongside the steelworkers. I’ve never been much of a leatherman, although I do have a cute pair of leather jeans, but I imagine Hamilton as a city devoted to coloured hankies and men who look like they’ve stepped out of a Tom of Finland pictorial. The titillation I feel on the bus ride down turns to bewilderment as I pull into the downtown, but I hope my gaydar will lead me to the area containing the highest density of homosexuals.
Since it seems to be out of order, I ask the lone couple walking toward me. One of them is wearing old, torn jeans. His friend looks like a club-kid version of Chris Tucker. I’m certain that if these guys aren’t friends of Dorothy they’re at least on my side of the rainbow. I ask if they’re also going to the Gay Pride opening ceremonies. No, they say, they’re heading to the Air Show, but they know some people who are going. Oh — sorry, boys.
The opening ceremony has a certain minimalism to it. There are two kilt-wearing boys, two drag queens, one flag and two banners. Two signature fetishes are missing: there are no men of either cloth, be it religious or leather. In total, there are more people on Wilde Oscar’s patio on an off night than at this launch. No matter — what it lacks in size it makes up for in spirit.
In Toronto, Pride Day seems like little more than an outdoor rave. In our era of Will And Grace, gay and lesbian church marriages and over-marketed gay lifestyle shows, this other time — before queers were rushing out to William Ashley’s to register their china patterns — seems a very exciting one.
Some very good things have come out of the general acceptance of the gay and lesbian lifestyle, but when did we become so tediously suburban? After revolution there’s supposed to be terror, but the only terror I sense is related to an encroaching prosaic feeling in what was supposed to be a provocative gay life. Somebody call Martha Stewart — she may just know what cake I should bake for the occasion.
Gay Pride in Toronto gets larger every year. One million people, it is proclaimed, celebrated in the tiny region of Church from Wellesley south to Carlton last year. In Hamilton, the parade is a small affair. We walk through town on the side of the road while cars zoom past. There’s no music, and only two banners that I can see.
Although this is a far cry from sans-culottes singing the Marseillaise, there is a grassroots feeling and nothing of an inferiority complex next to Toronto’s upcoming goliath. The very size of T.O.’s celebrations does provoke a backlash within the community. Some gays skip town and head for the hills to avoid the sight of a 6-foot Tinky Winky followed by a gaggle of bitched-out drag queens.
When I started coming out, I partied alongside floats for El Convento Rico, St. Marc’s Spa and Boots. But now I raise my flask of contraband on Yonge in celebration with Bell Canada, the TTC, Rogers and other corporate giants. I wonder if I’m expected to be grateful for the corporate dollars that keep Pride Toronto afloat, or does our community offer back as much, if not more, money to these giants in our own microcosmic sponsorship. Does anyone want to see my Bell Canada phone bills? They should have a Nigel’s Phone Pride Day float just for me.
In Hamilton, they look forward to corporate sponsorship but not to any form of corporate hegemony. “This is a Pride Day celebration for the people,” I hear several times.
The terminus of Hamilton Pride is a large pastoral scene that makes the occasion seem like a church picnic. Vendors hawking tie-dyed T-shirts and homemade banana bread are set up in a field. A man in a green dress is flipping burgers. There is an aw-shucks wholesomeness about it all. No one seems to drink too much, save for the Toronto exile who’s discovered a delicious concoction of lemon and beer.
In years past, I remember a strong activist side to Pride Toronto. I remember lying in the middle of Carlton Street and having my outline drawn in chalk to represent one of the many who have died of AIDS.
Recently, all of this seems forgotten.
We have much to celebrate, that’s for certain. It’s almost as if the social sloganeering of Virginia Slims cigarettes is now whispering in our ears, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” And how true. Gays, lesbians, bis and the transgendered are now so fortunate as to be allowed many of the antiquated traditions once reserved for heteros.
Hamilton’s Pride march has reminded me of what Toronto lacks in spite of all of its bombast. I’m proud for many reasons, but what I think we need to be proudest of is the memory of where we’ve come from.