When June rolls around, folks start to buzz on their excitement for the arrival of PrideFest and opinions start to fly. While most are excited about it, there are those who act like it is the worst idea since Pepsi tried to go Crystal. They think it comes off as either too mainstream, or just full of weirdos and not mainstream enough. Ironically, these opposing groups are simply landing on the same page… just from opposite ends of the spectrum. And I find this totally and utterly fascinating.
I don’t have any strong opinions as to whether gays need to be radical or conventional, and, to no surprise, my love for pride runs in the middle of the road as well. I love it enough to go to a few parties, throw in a bar or two, and have some cocktails while enjoying the festivities. But I don’t love it so much that I continuously snort bumps of cocaine so that I may continue to burst forth with rainbows all weekend long. Cocaine and I do not mix very well anyway.
Last year, my parents had the brilliant idea of organizing the family to go on a week long cruise in order to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. I loved the idea but it unfortunately meant that I would have to miss PrideFest in my home city of Denver, CO. And to rub some pricey salt on my gay wounds, this cruise would cost $3,000 for my partner, Luke, and I. For that kinda dough, we could’ve gone on a gay cruise and totally lost our gay minds that way. But nonetheless, we couldn’t not join my family on this venture.
Luke also happens to be one of those people who don’t like PrideFest. So missing it didn’t matter as much to him. His dislikes don’t have anything to do with unconventional vs mainstream matters - rather he’s just an introvert who doesn’t like being surrounded by thousands and thousands of people. He’d rather just mow the lawn than go to a bar. This gets tough for an extrovert like me. While he will occasionally go to a bar with me, I miss having a partner in crime.
With the totally not gay cruise leaving port on a Sunday, we decided to get to Orlando that prior Thursday to visit/stay with an old friend and get in some good gay, vacationing that way. We saw alligators and held snakes at Gatorworld. We got to strip down and relax at the nude beach. And we even got soaked running through a rainstorm in the middle of Disney Springs.
Seeing as how two out of three required me to take my clothes off (the second being my drenched clothes once we got out of the rainstorm and into the car), this did seem like a true vacation for us (well, me). But I definitely wanted something with even more shenanigans - the kind that might later require a rear shot of penicillin. We dipped our toes in the local bar scene on Friday so on Saturday, I just wanted to go ahead and dive right in the deep end.
When asking our friends and locals on bar advice, they gave a few recommendations, one of which included a nightclub called Pulse. They said it would be Latin night. This always rings a certain nostalgia for me since, once upon a time, I was an honorary Mexican. Not a latino, but a Mexican. My first serious relationship was with an undocumented worker and I just fell in love with the culture. Then I studied abroad for a summer in Guadalajara becoming totally bilingual in Spanish. I later lost it when I ended up in a job that didn’t require it.
But seeing as how Luke didn’t have any south of the border sentiments of his own, Pulse nightclub didn’t make much sense for us. I felt lucky just to get him out with me. I didn’t want to push my luck any further. Besides, that was a life I had long since left behind. Thus we decided to go bar hopping - meeting up with some guys we had met the night before. They, and their friends, took us to the deep end that I so desired and we found ourselves closing the joints at 2 a.m.
The next morning came quicker than we anticipated with my silenced cellphone vibrating nonstop. I tried my best to ignore it but whoever kept calling deemed it absolutely necessary to disrupt my last ounces of slumber. Finally, I picked it up to look at the screen.
“Who’s calling?” Luke asked, barely lifting his head from the pillow.
“Ugh, it’s my mom,” I said. She’s probably just calling to make sure we wake up in time to meet them at the ship.” They never trust me. So I ignored it again. That’ll teach ‘em how responsible I am!
But she didn’t give up. Normally the woman isn’t this persistent. If I wanted to sleep in any bit more, I would have to answer and assure her that we still had plenty of time.
I picked up, “Hello?”
She gasped. “Oh thank God you’re okay!”
“Of course I’m okay. What are you talking about?”
It was almost as if she didn’t hear me. She sounded panicked. “We couldn’t get ahold of you! I started to get so worried! I knew you guys went out to the bars last night and I didn’t know if you were safe. When you didn’t answer I started...” She paused. “I didn’t know if you had been… if you had been shot.”
Shot? What was she talking about? I could hear her nearly burst into tears as she started to fill me in on all the details. There would be no going back to sleep after this.
Luke and I came out of the guest room to find our friend and his partner awake with their eyes glued to the news. The four of us sat together watching as reporters tried to piece together the horrors of the Pulse nightclub shooting that happened that very evening. Suddenly having “plenty of time” turned into having “barely enough time.”
On the drive from Orlando to Port Canaveral, I got on Facebook and marked ourselves as “safe.” Many of our friends knew we were going to be partying it up at the local bars that night. I tried not to think about the eerie proximity to it all but I couldn’t help it. As haunted brains usually do, mine raced through it all.
What if we had gone to Pulse that night? Or what if the attacker had targeted our bar? It was a huge, crowded space worthy of a mass shooting! What would Luke and I have done the moment we heard the first shots? Would we have found shelter? A place to hide until it was over, hoping the killer just wouldn’t stumble upon us? Or would we try to find a way out of there without getting noticed?
Or worse... What would have happened if I had been shot? What would it be like to lay on the ground, looking up into Luke’s eyes with his excruciating pain being the last thing I see? I only thought of this scenario first because it was slightly (SLIGHTLY) easier to digest than the one where I have to watch the life literally pour out of him. It would have been my fault for forcing him to go out with me. These thoughts twisted my stomach into knots and it took everything I could to not let the floodgates burst open from behind my eyes.
When we arrived to the meet my family, I rushed to hug them a little quicker and a little harder than normal - even my oldest sister who I had been at odds with over the last year. Suddenly my frustrations with her didn’t seem so huge. But oddly, none of us spoke of Pulse - not in that moment anyway. The disconcerting thought of it all just had us too spooked.
Prior to the cruise, people told us that there would be some kind of LGBT meet-up group during that first night. Now while physically on the boat, Luke became just as adamant about attending this as I had been. Though it felt nearly impossible to find. The info had been written on a small place card and then placed on a small placard located in a small spot on this really, really big ship.
The event itself also felt rather disappointing. No signs existed to tell us whether or not we came to the right spot. No cruise staff had been there to orchestrate the meet-up. The gays were just left to fend for themselves on figuring out who each other were and how to strike up conversation with one another. We imagined that Royal Caribbean probably didn’t slack like this when it came to their Alcoholics Anonymous group (also listed on the little placard).
We figured it out anyway and met a small but fairly diverse group of gays. There was Luke and I - the mismatched counterculturist and traditionalist couple with the open relationship. Then there was the handsomely heteronormative couple from Ireland, Andy and Matt, who had just gotten married and decided to take a caribbean cruise for their honeymoon. After that came Jason, the hilarious hipster otter who took amazingly dirty photos with the towel animals left on his bed by the cruise staff. And finally we had Tyler, the twinkiest of all twinks who couldn’t be more of a twink even if he had a twinkle in his eye (which I think he had).
Okay, so there weren’t any lesbians. Plus we were all white. So I guess this actually wasn’t the most diverse group of gays ever. But it was a freakin cruise. What could we expect? The point is that, under any other circumstances, our various fractions of gay men might not have been so quick to click. And even though none of us would actually say it, the Pulse shooting gave us all a need for community and Pride.
This became especially essential after we realized there would be absolutely NO MENTION of the Pulse shooting on the cruise ship at any time. One would think there would have been something - maybe a candle light vigil or even just a small announcement at dinner to keep the victims and their families in people’s thoughts.
As we got to know the gay cruise staff on the boat, we learned of their own great disappointment that the cruise line didn’t take any kind of step. They told us how they asked their employers to do something. But in the end… there’d be nothing. Everyone agreed that had a mass shooting occurred at a non-gay establishment, there would have been some kind of mention to recognize it on the ship. After feeling like vulnerably attacked citizens, Royal Caribbean left us all feeling like second class citizens.
Now, I felt especially awful that we wouldn’t get back in time for Denver’s PrideFest. I bet that even the staunchest of pride-pessimists would’ve felt inspired enough to put their differences aside and show up for their community. But in a group of gay men who, before, could've easily dismissed one another, we made our own community and felt proud to be among each other. Even the Grinch’s heart would surely have exploded.
After going through all of this - being so close to ground zero and then suddenly getting whisked away from it all only to find solace in those who don’t “do gay” the same way each other do - I began to realize that the biggest enemy of the gays isn’t radical terrorists or even Donald Trump. Rather our greatest enemy is that of our own complacency. And the trash-talking of one another is our most nuclear weapon. It weakens us from within.
So what if a guy wants to run around in a jockstrap and angel wings? Who cares if a couple wants to have a monogamous relationship and adopt a bunch of beautiful test tube babies? Our renouncement of each other can do more damage than our outfits or choices ever could. What matters is that we support each others freedom to be who we choose through ideas and concepts like that of “pride.” When we stand stronger together, we can then stand up to those other enemies. And I promise… your beautiful babies won’t get scarred by the jock-strap-angel-wing guy.
Despite the fact that I didn’t get to make it to last year’s suddenly-so-necessary PrideFest, I wouldn’t have traded my time with the fellas from the boat for anything. We’ve kept in touch with all of them - except Tyler. We lost him mid-ship to his love for the straight boys. Otherwise we all joke that one day… we will take a reunion cruise together. This will be the “PrideFest” that we once created ourselves.
It’s funny how we value our connection to something most when it finds itself in crisis or loss. We don’t appreciate our tough jobs until we get laid off. We don’t treasure our introverted partners enough until they get cancer. And we don’t fully respect our community until it’s under siege.
When we get overly critical with those from our own community, the time has come to stop and think of those who lost their lives so that we could even have a community: past, present, and future - Stonewall, Pulse, and TBD. Our ability to prevail in the face of adversity is something certainly worth taking pride in. But we can only continue to succeed as long as we are proud of each other too.
Edited by Glen Trupp
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