It isn’t the threat of rain or the smell of humidity that tells me that summer is bullying spring and it’s the end of May, but the thousands of church folks that stampede my normally quiet neighborhood. I live two blocks from probably one of the biggest black churches in DC. It’s a beautiful building on the corner of 7th and M street in northwest DC. It’s usually mild mannered, almost invisible. I pass it every day to get to the liquor store. Coming back from my evening run, sweating like a thief, I was disturbed by the sweet fragrant of expensive perfume. It was a group of church ladies getting out of their Cadillac cars and ready for the night sermon. They were all dressed in their best furs but it was at least eighty degrees outside, and humid, so I hoped the church had air-conditioning. They all wore black, their diamonds shined in their ears, and their polished pearls clung to their fat necks. But they were sexy, that is if I was forty years older and a straight black man. I couldn’t help but snap my fingers at their tight fitted Neiman Marcus dresses that clung to their hips. They wore sexy high heel shoes you only see on young girls or hookers but somehow they diluted the vileness of the shoes intentions. The seduction of their perfume, and confidence in their stride, I knew back in the day they were all probably fast heffas before they got pregnant and had to settle for learning to perfect their potato salad. But the years made their hips grow wider and they traded in the chasing of men, short skirts and the club for front row seats at the church. If they only knew what was happening just a couple of blocks away. The gay boys were coming. Their grandsons, sons, nephews and probably husbands. They snuck away in the middle of the night, didn’t tell nobody where they were heading.
Memorial Day weekend brings all kind of people into the capital city. The veterans come to pay homage to fallen soldier. The biker gangs come to harass the DC streets with their loud and rude Harleys. And then there are the black church folks and black gay men and women. With the church folks, the buses arrive with hundreds of them, and the gospel music blankets the air, the tents go up, and they raise money with fried catfish, ribs and spice apple cake. But just down the street, the gay kids are also arriving. They come wearing their tight shirts showing off their flat stomachs and hard abs from hitting the gym since January. They wear designer sunshades and carry Gucci bags. They give attitude and try not to look bored. They hope their weekend won’t be a failure like spending too much money or not getting laid. The church folks they are dressed in their Sunday best, little girls wear white doll dresses, all the boys wear suits and ties, and the men keep on their suit jackets and women wear uncomfortable stockings. It seems like its too very different worlds but it isn’t. It’s the same neighborhood. It’s the same language. They know each other but don’t speak. Sometimes they even stay at the same hotel. For years, the Wyndham booked the black church convention with the black gay pride. I remember after a night of drinking and one night stands, I would stumble into the hotel and on the elevator would be all the church folks. I would have on the tightest shirt you can only find in the baby section of Target and they would be dressed like they were going to an interview or an exorcism. I would try not to feel as if I was going to hell because I reeked of alcohol, weed and bad decisions. But I never understood why the church folks and black gay people had to be so damn far apart. They stayed at the same hotel. I never understood why the church people and the black gay kids didn’t speak or make eye contact. I always hoped for that scene in The Color Purple, when Shug Avery bursts into her Daddy’s church singing “God is trying to tell you something.” Except I imagined it to be a black drag queen. I always imagined it would be Tommie Ross. Is she still alive? Maybe for the Hollywood movie it would be Rupaul. But I’ve always imagined it to be overwhelming and dramatic like a Tyler Perry play. I imagined for once that my black gay brothas and sistas would raid the church, and in perfect harmony we would sing, “God is trying to tell you something.” We would cry and shout and hug. We would take back all those years the church made us feel bad about ourselves. We would feel that we’re part of the family again. But I guess that would never happen. I think god is trying to say something that black gay pride and the black church conventions take place in the same weekend.
What is black gay pride?
I don’t know his name, but I know him. And Every time he sees me, the excitement in his eyes diminishes and his face frowns like someone just farted. He always gives me that annoyed stare like “there’s that nigga again.” I try not to get offended. I find it amazing that queens think new gay men are being manufactured everyday to cruise the clubs for their boredom. If you a club queen, and you start seeing the same people it’s only because you are a regular. It’s too obvious that we aren’t friends, but a good heated argument from being enemies. But every Wednesday because it’s shirtless men drink free at the bar, he is there with his shirt off trying not to look desperate for attention. He told me his name once, but that was a year ago and I was drunk and flirting with any man who would make eye contact. So I don’t know his name, and I dare not ask it again since he already thinks I’m shady. Standing next to each other, he asked me what I was going to do for the weekend which at first I thought was odd because I knew he really didn’t care what I did with my life. I told him I wasn’t doing anything special for the weekend and wanted to know why he asked the question. He seemed surprise that I didn’t know it was a Holiday weekend. He didn’t know I didn’t have a real job so everyday for me was like a weekend.
My friend, and I love calling him that because I know it pisses him off because we aren’t friends, we barely speak to each other and that’s only out of boredom. My friend reminded me that it was Memorial Day weekend which meant for the city of DC that it was Black gay pride. I’m older now and not a young queen with a hard dick and a tight ass looking for trouble, so black gay pride doesn’t mean that much to me anymore. I remember when I used to save up all my coins, hit the gym everyday, starve my body just so that I could fit in the tightest shirt and jeans. Black gay pride used to mean three days of hangovers, sex and probably a STD. I didn’t know that black gay pride had film festivals and self esteem seminars because I only saw the hotel and the club and maybe a bathhouse. I figured, like a friend one told me, I’d been “aged out.” The prides were for the young kids now because I was older, and I no longer needed the attention that always came from all the wrong places. And that use to be black gay pride for me, that need for attention. That need for someone to tell me that I existed, that I was cute, that I meant something --even if that meaning was just flesh. It was that need for competition. It was that need to hate anything that was similar to me. And because I was young, and nobody told me better or wasn’t listening, black gay pride was how far I would go for jaded love.
So my friend, he is a very attractive guy and looking at his face I suddenly realized that we were black gay pride. It sounded corny and when I told him, he just thought I was drunk. I knew he was annoyed with me, annoyed with having to deal with the same bar every Wednesday, annoyed looking at the same people, probably annoyed with his life. But wasn’t that black gay pride, the sickening familiarity? It was the annoyance. It was that nothing felt like it was changing so you just have to stomach what was and make the best of it. It was the fact that we weren’t young anymore. It was why we needed pride. The young kids had it all wrong. The pride would come later.
My friend took another sip from his cocktail and said that he wasn’t doing anything for the weekend. He said that he was going to try his best to avoid all the black fags and their attitude. I asked him if he was also going to avoid all mirrors since he was the black fag he so hated. My friend, he just smiled at me and then he said the most brilliant thing. He said, “Maybe next year I won’t be gay.” I thought about the possibility. Every year my friends say they aren’t doing the black gay pride events. Every year they complain because they are getting older and jaded; and say that the crowd is getting younger because they are not young anymore; and they say that it’s not as fun as it used to be because it’s not new anymore; and they say that the clubs overcharge and they do but they always have. And every year at the close of the weekend, they say next year they’re going to stay home, save their money, maybe pick up a hobby. I’m finding getting older is a challenge of not becoming a broken record. I looked into my friend’s face, and I knew he meant his words, that maybe next year he won’t be gay. That maybe next year he would find a cure for his boredom. That maybe next year he would like himself. And I knew that was black gay pride, it was the struggle to like oneself. Every black gay pride I attended, I never left it feeling particular proud. I always went back home feeling conflicted. But wasn’t that black gay pride, that struggle of sex and trying to live right.
So I bid my friend farewell. I knew he just probably circle the bar a couple of more times, get bored or get picked up by someone even more bored and depressing. I knew he would go on and try to solve the equation of his stagnated life. I hoped he find the answer. And wasn’t that black gay pride? The search. The questioning. I didn’t need a parade. I was black gay pride everyday.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Black gay pride is like throwing a party and being surprise that every year people show up. I’m always amazed at the number of people. But some people don’t make the party ever again. I lost two gay friends this past year. One got shot by his lover and the other killed himself. And as I thought about the statement, “maybe next year I won’t be gay” I considered death. I decided instead to bask in life. I thought about the old church ladies and their fierceness. I knew one day, like them, I’d trade in the chasing of cocktails, cock and tail for learning to perfect my own potato salad. We all got to change someday. And wasn’t that black gay pride? The promise of change? I looked around the bar at the same people I see every week, and I just thought, Live, today. And wasn’t that black gay pride?