There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda… You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…
-Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
I lost my faith in a unified, collective good, at a very early age. That’s not to say that anything dramatic happened, or that I didn’t have it better than a lot of people growing up. I experienced a lot of white, cis privilege, and even though I was lower income, I was still pretty fortunate. But I realized that the revolutions and the rebellions are actually orchestrated by those who want to look good in the public eye.
I worshiped the words of Hunter Thompson, my literary idol, and Ozzy Osbourne and Johnny Rotten, my musical muses. The collective message they shared was that the 60s had failed; peace and love became a commodity, sold to us in the form of Levi jeans, peasant tops, and beer. As soon as I become old enough to experience the world for myself, tried drugs, made friends, and learned more about politics, I had to agree with them.
During my high school years (a lady never reveals her age, but Bush Jr. was in office), it was easy to agree with the fact that The Man and capitalism had totally won, snuffing out almost all the good in the world. During college, I made friends with one idealistic group of people, then another, and was disappointed by them all. The hippy kids were still clinging to the idea that if everyone did enough acid, peace and love would prevail. The anarcho-punks were really trust fund kids who had mommy and daddy to fall back on if they got tired of hopping trains or playing music. And those who protested Occupy Wall Street may not have been the 1 percent, but they certainly weren’t in the same economic class as my family, or even most of my friends.
Meanwhile, separately, there was the issue of my sexual identity, something that was often shoved to the back of my mind due to all that I had going on, working multiple jobs and going to school. I always knew I was also attracted to women, but I ignored it or wrote it off as hormones or a phase, since I was also attracted to men. Eventually, when I accepted my sexuality, I started to own it, but still didn’t feel like “bisexual,” “pansexual,” or “polysexual” were the words I wanted to live, die, and define myself by. They seemed a bit clinical, like a term I would have to get diagnosed with to make sure it fit.
Then, I discovered the word queer, a term that can be applied to pretty much anyone who doesn’t identify as straight or heterosexual. It was a term that fit well, that was comfortable, that both seemed radical and also safe, because, as an umbrella term, it allows one to identify as LGBTQ without going into a lot of personal detail.
And, as I got older and wiser, I became more familiar with the queer community, first in Gender Studies classes, then from talking to people and living life, and now as associate editor of OUT FRONT.
We are a flawed community. There are divisions; there are race and class issues; there are those who feel asexuals, bisexuals, trans people, should not be welcome in our queer spaces. PrideFest in Denver is essentially sponsored by corporations, and certain organizations are priced out, a fact that some people cash in on and others reject to the point of revolt.
But, as I get older and wiser, I’ve come to realize being flawed is OK. Absolutes like saying the 60s failed don’t really work. Of course, on a lot of levels, the peace and love era was doomed because there were too many drugs, too many young, naive kids, too many prejudices still in place. But, on the other hand, if that era hadn’t paved the way for today, there would be no Pride, no millenials with the internet and iPhones, and no angry punk music or literature to revolt against the 60s.
As I looked around Pride this year, it was evident that we still have a long way to go, but it also felt like what I imagined the 60s in San Francisco must have felt like, what Hunter Thompson was talking about on that nervous night in Las Vegas when he remembered the good times a little too fondly, and bitterly. Trump may be in office, and there may be terror across the country, but the free love shared by queer folks, the legal cannabis in many states across the nation, the glitter and colors present every June, feel a lot like magic.
Except now, that magic isn’t passed with a joint to someone while the squares aren’t looking, or sung about in a folk song. It’s there when the Supreme Court fails a couple who want a queer wedding cake, but bakeries and businesses around the world stand with that couple and they become celebrated, just for their love and conviction to their cause. It’s around whenever a young trans person feels confident enough to go to Pride and show off who he, she, or they really are. And you can see it when a couple who usually refrains from PDA because of their presenting genders bravely holds hands.
It’s easy to see Pride as a bunch of corporate sponsorships, rainbow colors, and campy performers. But queer folks who have lived in the closet or faced prejudice know it’s so much more than that. It may not be perfect, and it’s certainly not without flaws, but this queer revolution is ours, and it’s a moment in history that won’t be forgotten, and that we won’t be able to recreate.