Monday, June 30, 2008

Gay Day, 2008

So I went to Gay Day yesterday. Bought the camera, aforementioned, the Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ-50K with Leica 35-420 mm equivalent lens. I jest a little, but the strategy was exactly that ... when one finds himself in the status of "immanent agoraphobia", well, you gotta do something to get your royal Canadian rear end out of the house.

I left with high hopes and returned low and a little disappointed. I am not particularly happy with the photos, and I only met one person whom I knew notwithstanding a set-up with a group that had, objectively, no possibility of working. All that said, the day was a great success for me personally, and I am glad that I challenged myself to revisit old haunts that have been occupied somewhat inelegantly, I would aver, by uncomely newcomers.

I will try to make that last statement the summit of sanctimoniousness for this post as I promised myself honesty here and a refraining from pontification or ponderous rumination. So off my pedestal and into the street ...

... or leastwise onto the curb. Over the course of four and half hours of wondering around, I sat twice on the curb, the first time to eat a ponderous twelve-inch Polish with fried onions and peppers. I did not add any mustard in deference to the freakishly white German soccer jersey I chose as my fashion statement. The other curb sitting was in aid of a "Cape Cod" which is a large amount of cranberry juice, a bunch of ice, and undetectable Smirnoff vodka. In each of the curb sittings, I was next to a gaggle of young dykes, cooing and jumping around and showing off and trumpeting their presence to any other young dykes that passed ... where does this tribe of young dykes come from? They hardly make an impression on everyday living in San Francisco, but they are a mighty and frankly vivacious presence at the fair. The femmy ones seem to affect a rather Latina style, and the butch ones are, well, butch. They clearly have a communal affect, and they look inwards to it. I see them as a modern counterpart to the much more angry lesbian separatism of the 70s that had such a deleterious effect on the relationship between gay liberation and the very hostile feminism of the period. This unadvertised separatism is more of the de facto type ... they have codes and signs and ways of being, and they just do it as a unity, not seeing their apparent separatism negatively as against the other, but positively as in their own name. I liked it, albeit forming my impression from not a lot of evidence ... the perquisite of a blogger, I suppose.

I did not see as many young gay guys in gaggles at the fair ... most of the young gay guys I saw were in couples. I think the unattached who might in previous years have tribed around nowadays just go straight to the big parties of sundry descriptions and skip the celebration on the mall. Lots of middle-aged gay guys and dykes in all manner of groupings. Young guys, though, don't seem to get the need to be seen on the square.

But the most salient visual impression of the celebration part of the day was this: where are all the attractive people? Now it is true that the younger one is the easier it is to be attractive. But adjusting for age, the dominant impression is a long dragging conga line of self-absorbed slobs who mark themselves with visages of flat unconcern and too-cool boredom. (Again, the young dykes were the most salient counterpoise to that.) The sackcloth and ashes male fashion du jour does nothing to undercut that impression. The "celebration" had the moral cast of a shopping mall rather than some collective exercise in statement and presence and unity. The underlying me-me-me-ness of our society in these Weimarish days was just too visible. Self-absorption puckers the face, and the face of our society is contorted. We have given up, we have surrendered to the pleasures of consuming and greed. You see it everywhere, you expect it all the time, you cannot be surprised. But when you bathe in it on Gay Day at Civic Center, it is deflating.

Parenthetically, I do not consider that view sanctimonious. I had to remind myself to smile and beam "having a good time" as well. It is hard to admit that one has given up, but the old activist, the self-consciously retired activist, made himself go to Gay Day through the device of consuming a new camera. I want to break into solidarity, but I am trapped in the culture of the me-me-me too, and perhaps just as innocently or connivingly as most people are. That got me thinking a lot about that particular tribe of gay men, the gay fairies, and how they resist collectively, and yet are fundamentally separatists just as the young dykes appear to be. Their de facto separatist communalism seems the only way not to be trapped into plainness by our ideological greed. It is attractive, but it is dangerous.

Back to the fair. When I shoot candid people photos, I like to find a pole or some other immobile object, lean against it with the sun at my back, and pick out faces. It helps if there is clot of people nearby as it tends to disguise the ghoulishnss of the photographer out to steal souls, as it were. At one point, as I sat on the stone edge of a dry fountain, a group of amply fed black youth, obviously straight, performed this function for me. They milled about and crowded in on me. The key term of the day seemed to be "nasty". Everything was nasty this, nasty that. At one point, the largest of the boys asked one of the girls to take his picture, and she refused loudly saying that would be "nasty." So he turned to the only white kid among them and handed him the camera silently, and the picture was made. I heard one kid say, "Don't let him touch you, he's gay." The only homophobic comment of the afternoon ... although I think they meant "gay" in the same way they meant "nasty" ... just another in a long string of words with which they can express their overweening posture of contempt for everything, their own company included. I was happy when they vanished into the mob.

The parade itself was considerably more moving. Next year, I must get down to the staging area early as that is where the enthusiasm is concentrated. The parade folks really do a good job of getting the thing up and moving. I ambled the length of the parade route on the Market Street sidewalk behind the cheering and involved crowds lined 3 to 10 deep, and the float that entered the route at the time when I started exited the route at the time when I finished. That's moving along. Probably the best place to photograph the actual parade would either be as they enter Market Street or as they leave it at 8th Street.

There were the bands and the floats of semi-naked men dancing, and the cable cars and politician-mobiles. Lots of Latino guys and gals in feathers and balloons. Leather strutting, and friends of gays, and entreaties for support especially for marriage. But no particular overarching theme, which is strange considering te marriage politics. The speeches from the main stage were mostly endless recitals of the names of committee members. The audience applauded by rote.

But the overwhelming impression of the celebration remains the uncommitted boisterousness and the underlying sullenness. O, lots of exceptions ... the plump middle-aged men being married, obviously transported in their tent-sized matching Hawaiian shirts. I felt a tear too. And the proud demonstrations of the various enthusiasts ... the get-vaccinate-for-hep folks, the SM practitioners, every manner of religious we're-for-you-too types. But these particular enthusiasms were like little islands bobbing up and down in a sea of unconcern.

Of course, I am being a bastard ... people were partying. Who am I to grump it up. I kept trying to smile.

But the end result for me was the feeling of no way out. That is what I referred to in my immediately previous post when I said that I feel like our best historical referent is the German Jews of 1920 (not to mention the German homos of the same epoch). Things look good, people are having a good time. Things are getting better all the time. But the forces gathering, the unspent energies, the unresolved contradictions are gathering too. One is left with the sinking feeling of the darkness ahead. One wonders why we have let go of the urgency of working together, why we have passed to others the responsibility for our fate. One wonders if all the "Obama Pride" stickers being handed out ... I actually sported one ... meant anything, if they might save us in a pinch.

One wonders, wonders, when one walks home up Market Street, pleased with oneself but deflated. Not sure what to make of it all. Wondering.

Photos by Arod. More here. Here's what I wrote last year.


Matte Gray said...

Another reason for not seeing so many young gay men at the parade this year is that there are not nearly as many young gay men in the city as there were. The gentrification process makes it increasingly difficult for the young to move here.

Anonymous said...

Arod, You're pictures were great. I enjoyed the different faces and poses that you captured. Yes, we're in the midst of some strange times indeed. Obama fever...well, we'll have to wait and see if Obama does anything different for the U.S. i agree with Louis' last post--I was in SF last summer (live near Vancouver, BC) I hadn't been to SF since 9/11. Based on what I saw last summer, I agree with Louis' observations: the gentification process makes it increasing difficult for the young (and old) to move to SF or indeed to even visit. Perhaps that fact accounts for some of the changes you're seeing in SF's gay pride day.

Regardless, you're pictures are wonderful...and I enjoyed them alot.