Never Done: I spent (Gay) Pride at the (gay) beach
For years I've attended Pride celebrations, and for years I've felt like they lacked authenticity. I think there's something about the level of organization it takes to assemble thousands of people into essentially a long line that breaks my spirit a little bit, and then when thousands more people line up to watch, it starts to feel like we're on display in a giant urban terrarium, rather than taking over the streets in an assertion of cultural and political presence.
This year, with the passage of marriage equality in the New York senate, I was more inclined to go celebrate -- particularly to support the steadfast vision and hard work of my friend Evan Wolfson, director of Freedom To Marry. But I had already made plans with friends to avoid the island for an adjacent island: Long Island -- and to spend the day at Riis Beach. (First with a stop at Rockaway Taco, which I had never done, which I can't evaluate because we waited to eat our food until we got to the beach, at which point it the tortillas had stiffened up because the tacos were no longer hot. The grapefruit and pineapple ices I tried while standing in line for tacos were glorious though, and worth returning for.)
So about a dozen of my friends and I joined about 3 dozen of my acquaintances at the beach, to celebrate Pride by celebrating community. In the past, one of the things I loved about queer community is that it tended to be clothing-optional space. In recent years, I haven't actually loved that so much, but hadn't taken the time to articulate why. Upon reflection and discussion, I realized it's that the judgment and competition and admiration of youth that permeate New York culture even make their way into New York queer culture, so I just don't feel the kind of freedom from fashion that I have felt in the past, at women's music festivals for example, or just on remote beaches with friends. Also, I find bathing fashion to be even more challenging than street fashion -- bikini or full-piece? Function or fashion? I like a bikini to sunbathe in, but I don't like a bikini for swimming. Top or topless? Print or solid? Do I want attention for how I look or do I want to blend in? If I could find a bathing suit that I thought was truly good-looking, I think I would love the attention, the way I do when I wear a particularly beautiful dress, but mostly all the suits I see are either ugly sports prints or ugly tropical prints. Where is the good beach fashion?
And then I discovered something. I brought my wetsuit to the beach to get an open water practice in -- and people loved seeing me in my wetsuit. They wanted to touch it, to look at it, to see me swim in it. And suddenly thing that is for me 100% about function was being transformed into fashion -- even being reframed as sexy -- and I noticed that I didn't mind the attention, because it was organic -- not about my body, but about my actions. That sexy is what we do, and not what we look like. That's a sex appeal I can get behind! That's Lori Petty in Point Break. That's transforming normative culture into radical culture. That's the pride I came out into, and the pride I was delighted to rediscover at the beach.