On a second floor balcony, looking out over heaving flower boxes of red flowers, I watch through a torrential rainstorm as a man in a dress dances on the flat lead roof of a commercial building. It’s the annual pride parade in Chicago, and I’m on my fourth or fifth Mimosa, wondering why we call that beverage a Buck’s Fizz back home in Britain.
I had been down on the street a little earlier, just before this downpour, standing on a kink of Broadway watching the parade go past. Naturally I’m a little ashamed not to have stuck it out, but firstly there were more mimosa’s to drink back inside and secondly I’m not the most obvious person to be at a gay pride parade. However I did try to get into the spirit as alternate floats of social groups, political representatives and commercial enterprises chugged by to varying volumes of cheers. Barack Obama wasn’t in attendance, undoubtedly aware of the bad press being at such a liberal event might have on his appeal to the necessary wavering conservative voters of America. But his Chicago campaign team were there, handing out stickers and enjoying an electric wave of support from the crowd. The importance of a rainbow sticker with ‘Obama Pride’ on it was somewhat undermined when the next float came by, and I was handed a similar rainbow sticker promoting a wholefood supermarket. Every self respecting major corporation in Chicago appeared to be out for pride, forcing smiles and proudly showing off its non-heterosexual employees, as well as its commercial appeal to valuable consumers who wield the pink dollar.
An hour or two later, and the parade was finished. We had an appointment to make up town so we made our excuses and stepped out in the sunshine that had followed the run. The mid-morning to early-afternoon parade had left a wake of debris in its path, and city employees were already out and about attempting to clean the streets of litter, paper cups and beer cans. The normal ban on public consumption of alcohol is lifted (or perhaps ignored) for the duration of the parade, and the apparently repressed drinkers of Chicago were delighted to embrace the opportunity for al fresco drinking.
America often seems to be a repressed nation to me. As I mentioned before in the promo for the (as yet unfinished … but I’m working on it) eigth episode of the podcast, Rennie Sparks of the Handsome Family said at their Birmingham gig that “we’re American… we’re more comfortable with violence than sex.” Chicago saw more than four hundred murders last year, and by the end of my recent visit to the city I was still no less comfortable at the common sight of police officers or even security guards carrying handguns.
As I pegged it north along Broadway, making us more late than ever by stopping for photographs, I considered the importance of Chicago Pride relative to other such events around the world. The last gay pride event I saw was in Montréal in 2006. Admittedly this one was more blatantly American than the multi-lingual event of cosmopolitan Montréal. During the parade we’d seen line dancing cow boys strut past, and hoardes of roaring Harley Davidsons piloted by gay bikers. What better vindication of the gay pride movement than the connection between liberation of sexuality and the ultimate symbol of freedom of movement? Perhaps most admirable, though, were the young black teenage boys who boldly strutted their stuff in the brightest of cross dressing attire. This was, after all, a predominantly white parade in a city that is anything but.
Those sights stuck with me the most. I felt lucky to have witnessed a slice of Chicago Pride’s parade, because in such a masculine country as America it felt so much more vital and liberating to see the bastions of male culture being subverted and ultimately enhanced by the contribution of a homosexual community. In other words, I had no idea there were lesbian biker chicks in America, or even (line dancing) gay farmers. But my respect for American culture and society grows every time I see the stereotypes of modern America challenged and reshaped like that.