Monday, September 23, 2013

Provo Pride

Photos stolen from Wade Phillpotts and the Daily Herald. :P

"Christmas stockings!?" I said, in an overexaggerated tone of surprise, smiling all the while.  "What's this all about?"

The older woman with short white hair, seated behind the display of stockings and bibles, said, "Well, my church does a service project every year where we give Christmas stockings to AIDS patients."

"What do you put in them?"

"Basic hygiene and toiletries," she said.  "We've found that with medications being so expensive, little things like deodorant and stuff sometimes fall through the cracks."

It seemed sort of an odd connection to me, and as if she could read my thoughts, she added, "Some of our congregation think we should get a new project, but as long as I'm able, I'm going to keep doing this."

She got emotional here and paused to regain her composure.  She continued on in a choked voice: "I got a call from a woman once.  I don't know how she got our number, but she asked, 'Are you the church who does the stockings?'  I said, 'Well, yes.'  She told me that when she was diagnosed with AIDS her family rejected her.  That Christmas the only thing she got from anyone was our stocking.  She said to me, 'I put on the lotion that was in there... and the new socks... and I crawled into bed and I cried.'"

The woman telling me the story completely broke down.  I found myself tearing up as well, and I said to her, "Can I hug you?"  She nodded and came quickly around her little table and I gave her a hug.

"That's why I've gotta keep on doing this," she said.

I don't even remember the name of her church, but her name was Deb.  That I remember.

Deb and her church group were just one of the organizations participating at Provo's first-ever Gay Pride Festival.  Groups like Affirmation, Understanding Same Gender Attraction, Mormons Building Bridges, Equality Utah, The Human Rights Campaign and many more had informational booths at the event.  The Centro Hispano even provided free HIV testing.

There was face-painting and bouncy houses for the children, as well as bocci ball and croquet and performances by Cheer Salt Lake.  A variety of local musicians like Bat Manors, Joel Pack and the Pops, Batty Blue, Birdie and the Black Sheep, The Troubles and more took to the stage and really made the Pride Festival a lot of fun.

And do you know what?  In what is arguably one of the nation's most conservative cities in one of the most conservative states, thousands of people came out in support of the local LGBT community.  And I was a part of that.

Months ago, a friend of mine mentioned that there was a group of people trying to put on the first gay pride festival in Utah County.  I was very intrigued and I couldn't shake the feeling that I should get involved.  I found the Facebook page and simply wrote a post saying I was willing to help.  I was told of a meeting taking place and before long I was part of the core committee.  We're just a ragtag group of people, meeting in apartments and flower shops, who just want to make a difference in our community.  And on a shoestring budget, we managed to pull off a spectacular event.  Sure there's room for improvement, but for its first year, I'd say the Provo Pride Festival was a huge success and a huge step forward for equality and awareness and acceptance in our community.

If you want to make a difference... go out and make it.  That's what I'm learning.  Deb's doing it with stockings.  We're doing it with festivals.  And you can do it too.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Don't Be a Drag, Just Be a Queen

I must admit that I've never watched an episode of RuPaul's Drag Race.

Nope.  Not even one.  In fact, I can only bring up the haziest of mental images when I try to picture what RuPaul even looks like.  I'm sure a lot of people are thinking, I don't watch that either.  Who cares?  But I've found that in the gay community this statement is met with jaw drops.  Drag queens are a big deal.  When we went to the Utah Pride Festival in Salt Lake City this past June, lots of our friends kept name-dropping drag queens from the show left and right and oohing and ahhing as if they had announced that Lady Gaga herself would be performing at Pride.  But to me those names meant nothing.

And yet, I suddenly find myself Facebook friends with a handful of local queens.  What's more, I spent five hours on a Sunday night shepherding queens from a dressing room down to the stage, zipping up gowns, clasping bracelets, running up and down stairs, encouraging and reassuring and smiling all the while.  I felt like a wide-eyed schoolboy being thrust into a whole new world of wigs and tucks and heels... God, those heels.

Sunday the 15th was Provo Pride's first-annual Righteous Miss Provo Pageant.  My friend David, a.k.a. Cherri Bombb, worked tirelessly to put it all together and I was more than happy to help out "wrangling queens" as he put it.  And although I was exhausted by the end of the night, it really felt great to be a part of it all.  Many of the contestants had never done drag before.  And you know what?  They rocked it.

One of these first-timers, Linnox Green, said afterwards, "For once, I didn't have to put up a masculine facade, I could let my guard down and be who I am.  In Linnox, I had a sense of pride and self love that I find hard to feel other times, especially since I go to BYU.  In many ways, it was a rebirth for me..."

So while I might not identify as personally to the drag scene as those who perform it, I can identify with their desire to express themselves as they wish, to be who they are and to do it without judgment.  That I can understand.  Living life outside the social norm takes a lot of bravery.  Hold your head up high, girls.  Chin up and boobs out.  We got this.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Instant Coffee and the Word "Husband"

I'm sure you all know that I hate the first day of school, mostly because professors feel the need to put us on the spot and share "fun facts" about our lives with random strangers in the hopes that we will all be immediate friends.  Immediate, like instant coffee.  Unfortunately nobody likes instant coffee any more than they like silly get-to-know-you activities.

It was during such an activity that something interesting happened.  Interesting to me at least.  You see, we were paired off and given five minutes to "interview" one another and find out all the cool and fascinating things about our partner so that we might introduce them to the group.  Each pair also had to repeat the names of the people before them and on and on until everybody knew everybody's name.

My assigned partner was named Jaclyn (Jack and Jaclyn, that is interesting, right?  Yes, but that's not it) and she loved Mario video games.  She owned every Mario game on every gaming console.  Her laptop cover had Mario's face on it.  I mean, the girl really loved Mario.  She also loved movies and was minoring in film with a major in writing.  She had spent all summer doing free-lance writing on the internet... in between fierce rounds of Mario Kart that is.  We had a great little conversation and when it was time to introduce her, I felt like I had plenty to go off of.

As far as my half of the conversation went, I talked about the Chihuahua Comics I drew all summer, how I used to work at a movie theater and saw free movies (this was while she was gushing over her love of film) and how my husband and I were married last fall in New York City!  When I mentioned the last part, she was very quick to say, "Oh, that's okay with me" as if I somehow needed her validation.  Straight people do that a lot around here when I mention I'm gay.  "Oh, that's cool."  "Hey, it's a free country."  "I won't judge."  I sometimes have the urge to say those same sorts of phrases when they talk about their heterosexuality.  Can you just picture it?

Sweet Mormon girl:  My boyfriend and I are getting married in the Provo Temple.

Me:  Oh... you're with a boy?  Hey, love is love, I guess.  Your lifestyle choice is fine by me.

Sweet Mormon girl:  Huh?

Anyway.  I'm getting off topic here.  The interesting part came when it was her turn to introduce me.  "So... this is Jack.  He used to work at a movie theater.  We both love movies.  And now he's bummed because he doesn't get free movies anymore."  Yep, that's it.  I was introduced as a guy who used to work at a movie theater.  The professor asked her if there was anything else she could remember about me.  She turned bright red and quietly said, "Oh, and he's married."

The class moved on to the next pair and I was left with this mysterious feeling of déjà vu.  When Brian first told me about the situation, I didn't think much of it.  But now that it's happened to both of us, I can't help but ponder over what this sort of omission might mean.  Both of these students seemed perfectly fine with the idea of us getting married and being in a homosexual relationship, but for some reason they each decided that it wasn't something they should share with the class.  Is it to protect us?  Do they fear that perhaps others might not be as cool with gay marriage as they are?  Are they sparing us from the torch-wielding mob that will inevitably rise up against us if our marital status should be revealed?  Maybe that's it.  In their minds they are guardians of the gays.

Or is it that perhaps they are less comfortable with our relationship than they say they are?  I mean, they do rush into the "It's okay with me" line perhaps a little too emphatically.  Maybe there's still doubt in their mind.  Maybe for some reason they're embarrassed about it, and when it comes time to "out" us, they can't seem to do it.  They can't bear to acknowledge this fact to the group at large.

Maybe.  Or maybe I'm over-analyzing this and it doesn't mean anything at all.  I mean, Jaclyn also left out the part about my comics.  Maybe she just forgot most of what I said.  Maybe her look of embarrassment when she said, "Oh, and he's married," was at her own bad memory.  Or maybe my gayness isn't noteworthy.  Maybe we're at a point in society where saying I'm married is good enough.  It isn't necessary to specify that I'm married to a man.  Maybe I'm putting too much stock into my gay identity.  I don't walk around saying, "Hi, I'm gay," so why should I want Jaclyn to say, "Hi, he's gay" for me?

But that's not what I wanted her to say, is it?  I just wanted her to say, "Jack and his husband were married in New York City."  It's a fun fact.  Not everybody at UVU gets married in New York City.  And my homosexuality is implied--not directly stated--by the word "husband."

Maybe that's what's really bugging me.  The fact that she couldn't say the word "husband."  Like she didn't feel Brian was deserving of the term only straight couples should have.  Which brings me to another case in point.  The other night I had a big birthday party at our apartment and it got too loud.  Some neighbor made a complaint and a police officer arrived at our door.  Brian went to speak with him in the hallway.  He just told us to be quiet.  No harm, no foul.  "Is it somebody's birthday?" he asked.  "Actually, yes," said Brian.  "It's my husband's."  "Well," said the officer, being as nice as possible, "wish your boyfriend... er, fiance... um, partner a 'happy birthday' for me!"

It was very sweet of the officer to wish me a happy birthday instead of slamming us with some sort of citation, but why was it so difficult for him to say the word "husband"?  I mean, I understand he's probably not very familiar with gay couples, but Brian gave him the correct word to use.  He just didn't feel comfortable using it.  And that's what I think happened with my classmate Jaclyn.  Even though I told her all the things to say, she just couldn't bring herself to say them.

As much as Brian and I strive to be as "normal" as possible, we are still perceived as something totally weird and foreign.  What's totally clear in our minds, completely baffles others.  I'm not writing any of this to condemn anybody or anything like that.  Jaclyn and the police officer are both good people.  I just find it interesting.  Interesting and, like instant coffee, a little bit disappointing.


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