I’ve never been to Pride in Des Moines. It’s just a short drive from home, but instead, I’ve managed to celebrate in London and in Berlin. Both of these Pride experiences were memorable and lovely. That seems appropriate for me. Always looking on the horizon for something bigger and better and more thrilling and more beautiful and rarely enjoying the moment. (I’ve been working on that. I’m loving being housebound because the country is deranged and I refuse to be part of the coronavirus problem. So I sit at home and work on restoring it. There are new windows and new floors and it is starting to feel like a holiday retreat. I don’t know if it’ll ever get done. Probably not, I’ll always be daydreaming about the next decadent change.)
Berlin was particularly marvelous. There’s something indescribably beautiful about waving a rainbow flag emblazoned with the Star of David at a drag queen doing the splits, especially when this happens a short walk from the infamous bunker where Hitler offed himself. At times such as these, well you really feel like you’re on the right side of history. (And I hope the right side of history hurries back. I’m tired of this America. It’s cruel.) Berlin Pride was really a stark reminder, too, of those who lost their lives to the vision of that demagogue. History is vicious, but when you’re unashamedly dancing atop the memories of evil, it’s rather lovely. Triumphant actually. I don’t know if Des Moines’ celebration is anything like that, but around the world, the gays know how to party, so I’m assuming it’s a hoot. It’s rather refreshing for the spirit to celebrate something that was vilified until quite recently.
While I was in Mexico City, I was thrilled to learn that the Pride celebrations would be happening, and I decided it was my civic duty to investigate.
Viewing Mexico as an American, I didn’t expect a strong acceptance of proud LGBTQ celebrations. I have been exposed to Latinx-American culture all my life, and my understanding of the culture was that homosexuality was something that was not to be mentioned. I’m much more accustomed to machismo, conversion tactics, prayer as a supposed remedy to homosexuality. And you should always have a prayer card in your wallet to remind you of Jesus when you’re feeling down.
Mexico, blissfully, is a nation of contradictions. All at once, it’s conservative, deeply religious, beautiful, violent, intoxicating, rebellious, and free-spirited. It’s all interwoven and deeply rooted in Mexican culture. There’s a gorgeous Catholic church every few blocks, the devout aren’t hard to find…and yet…Mexico City is the gayest place I’ve ever been. I’ve been to San Francisco. I’ve been to Europe. But Mexico City is like…really gay.
With that background, you’ll understand the confusion I felt going down to the Metro to find it literally stuffed to bursting with people wearing rainbows and crowns and boas. Snapping fans were literally everywhere raising a ruckus. It was the gayest thing I’ve ever seen. And this was just the beginning, y’all. I could just feel that it was going to be an interesting day.
Once I squeezed in the train, we chugged along to the Insurgentes stop. I swear the train audibly puffed as it lugged us underground, the weight of all the revelers straining the overused tracks. If I had been shocked before, I was stunned now.
Words don’t do justice to the scene that spread out before me. Thousands of beaming men and women and children. The elderly, children, drag queens, people dressed in their most revealing attire, and others in their most formal. It was an eclectic assemblage unified by the festive spirit that was, honestly, palpable in the air.
It was impossible to make any quick progress through the crowd, and once we were on the streets, we were funneled in, tightly pressed together, the Burger King throwing down rainbow crowns from the balcony. I caught one, and I just couldn’t get over it. I felt the same way I did when I saw that Jewish Pride flag in Berlin. It was so opposed to what I thought could be real.
And to my utter shock, there was a notch big enough in the crown for my dumb old head. So I crowned myself and carried on my way, seriously contemplating the purchase of a boa as we slowly edged toward the Paseo de la Reforma. (Ultimately I went against it because I was wearing my favorite pineapple shirt, which is a yellow sensation that the crown really accentuated, but I felt the boa would detract too much from the elegance of the simple look I had cultivated. I’m a gay for sure.)
After a delightful walk, ogling people left and right, I made my way relatively near to the front where the parade would be coming by shortly. It had taken much longer than anticipated for me to reach the street so I could hear the music and the honking long before I saw the action. I had hoped to get down to the Olive Garden and watch from their balcony with a cheeky little alfredo, but there was no hope of getting down a single block, let alone four or five. And I would have missed out on so much of the up-close delight had I done that.
Soon the parade began. Rainbows everywhere, I was blinded by sequins, every gay anthem you’ve ever heard, everybody in the tiniest shorts you’ve ever seen, more sequins, painted ladies, dancing, dancing, and then my favorite of them all, this cowboy who danced on his horse. He looked like any rancher from a typecast movie with his snakeskin shoes and Stetson, a remarkable enough look, but he had become something of a centaur. He swayed and bent backwards and the horse would occasionally mimic his movements. It was really rather spellbinding, especially as the gays hooted and hollered. We really know how to liven up any situation, don’t we? I had expected to see many things when I came to Mexico City, but I couldn’t have expected this.
Nor did I expect a little old lady on a float that was imploring her compatriots and people everywhere to give up their prejudices. She had to have been over ninety years old as she waved to her adoring crowd. She was dressed up in a gorgeous embroidered dress and looked like a true queen. I would never want to disappoint her.
Teachers passed and people from all walks of life were there. Drag queens lip synced for their lives as their vans drove along. The traffic jammed constantly, and if you were lucky, there would be a really good act in front of you for awhile. This could be strippers or it could be enormously popular Mexican pop artists.
Eventually, the line between parade and crowd blurred, and I’m still not entirely sure how it happened, but the crowds began to melt into the parade and we joined it as if we had been a part of it from the very beginning. I was behind a reporter from MTV Mexico for ages and I’m sure there’s footage of me looking confused and delighted on MTV somewhere.
I couldn’t have dreamed how long the parade would go on for. It seemed an eternity, and each step brought something new and unexpected to the senses.
I think I was most impressed by the strippers if I’m honest. I’m not the kind of man to go to strip clubs. The entire concept makes me cackle. No, I think I admire the men and women who choose to go into this line of work more than anything. I would never. Can you imagine the dieting that would be required to be a gogo boy? Please! I can barely convince myself to go for a walk some days let alone keep my body a temple. I met a gogo dancer once in West Hollywood at an underwear shop, which is, I assume, one of the more likely places to meet a gogo boy. I realize, only years later, that he was flirting with me, but I was far too impressed that he had the desire and audacity to hop up on a stage across the street at The Abbey. I’ve still never gone there even though he invited me. I don’t think it’s for me. I’m a museum gay at heart.
(I’m reminded of a joke by our dearly departed Joan Rivers, I’ll paraphrase it. “I wasn’t a great gogo dancer, they kept telling me to Go! Go away!” Oh, Joan.)
I remember thinking something similar when I saw one of the first blatantly gay things in my life. In the Marais, there’s a whole area dedicated to the gays that I was unaware of as I was, unironically, comparing baguettes one evening. Later at night, after the bakeries had shuttered, I was startled by an incredibly muscly man in a window, taking a shower on the street. It was wild. Later, I learned it was a gay bar — obviously. I was once again most impressed that he had the inclination and the ability to dance. I can barely walk in a straight line and his hips were doing things that would break mine.
So I admire strippers. Not for their sexual appeal, just for their life choices. I admit that I admire their whatever attitude towards life and what people think. I have that attitude, but for absolutely no reason. They’ve at least worked for something. I think I might be jealous of that.
Needless to say, I was behind a float of strippers for a very long time. Never did manage to catch one of their calendars, though, and I was in a small war for one with this old queen for awhile.
The parade route took me to places I did not expect, and this helped connect my mental map of Mexico City more than anything. We went from the Olive Garden all the way back to the Zocalo, which I had never dreamed were close enough to walk between. I didn’t even think it was possible! I’ve done that walk dozens of times since. It’s enormously rewarding.
My favorite walk is one that takes a bit of preparation. You walk from the Zocalo all the way to the Walmart on Insurgentes, but you don’t go there for a shopping trip, you only go there to grab a drink and an ice cream cone at the McDonald’s before resting in the parking garage and then hoofing it to Olive Garden. After Olive Garden, you have a choice to make. Are you weak or are you an absolute icon? I never know until I’m on the elevator down to the street — after a huge four course Olive Garden meal. Why do anything less? Life is not something you can save up like it’s money in a bank. Use it or lose it!
I could take an Uber home, but that would be cowardly. I could take the Metro, and I could convince myself that it was an anthropological exercise, but at heart I knew that too was a failure. Or, if you were strong mentally and physically, you could wander through the winding and seemingly endless streets back to your rented apartment.
This was and will always be my favorite thing to do on vacation. There comes a time when your feet are absolutely past the point of no return, but you have to force them onwards. You have no backup. There’s no alternative but to keep walking.
Of course, there’s always a backup. That’s the fun part of Mexico City. There’s always an Uber or a taxi or a train or a bus or a tram or a lucky encounter with some kind of transportation service. You’re never really lost in Mexico City even though there are times when you have absolutely no idea where you are. There’s nothing so dreamy as that. I once unwittingly found myself on the borders of Tepito, reader, and let me assure you, I have rarely felt so ALIVE.
A senseless walk is one of life’s true treats. You pass by gorgeous apartment buildings and stalls selling pirated DVDs of the latest new releases. I only bought one once, though, because the quality was atrocious. There are stands selling foods that smell incredible and you’d never dream of eating. A delicacy that I’ve never tried and never intend to try and am quite happy never tasting is a fungus that grows on corn. They put it in quesadillas and on top of pozole, these huge kernels of gray-green fungus that look menacingly like a corn kernel from hell. I guess it’s a gastronomic treasure. I’ll leave that to my imagination.
There are stores selling things you’d never expect, like one that I passed a few times because I couldn’t believe it, that was apparently selling ancient computer monitors. They lined the street with them. There were old IBM screens flickering in windows. They separated parking spaces with computer screens. Why should anybody want one? I never dared ask because I didn’t want some kind of pedestrian answer. I’d much rather have the mystery. The enigma is much more delicious, don’t you think?
Well, I see that I’ve gotten distracted in my reveries. My apologies. One of the most beautiful spots in Mexico City — which is saying something in a city that positively drips with elegance — is the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The Alameda extends past with jacaranda blossoms erupting in a forest of purple blooms. It’s sensational.
Right in front of the Palacio, before the parade dissolved and we all made disparate routes to the concerts at the Zocalo, something odd happened that I think about every single day. I’m not being hyperbolic. I wonder constantly. I dream up scenarios and backstories and I wonder if it’s nothing or if it’s something. As the parade slowed, the man beside me gestured to his camera. For whatever reason, people often approach me to take photos of them when I’m abroad. I don’t understand the reason. I mean, I have won awards for photography, but I sincerely doubt that these people know that. Why would they? So I nodded and held out my hand for the camera to take a picture of him and his boyfriend. He shook his head “no” and explained that his friend wanted to take a picture with me.
Immediately I consented because…how flattering! Fans, you know? We smiled and he took the picture and then they were off. And my mind has been racing ever since. Why? Why did they do that? What was the point of a picture of me in my pineapple shirt and Burger King crown? I’ve looked more attractive, so I didn’t think it was that. Was it a fetish? A dare? Did these two gays collect pictures of men for some nefarious purpose? Is that picture being used for fake identification papers? Am I a porn bot now? Can you buy my image for some reason? If I’m honest, I doubt it would be great to have an ID with a rainbow cardboard crown, but you never know what those clever youths can do on the computer these days.
Perhaps the photograph wasn’t that dark. Maybe it was just plain admiration? Maybe they were interested to see an American in their midst? Maybe they captured street looks for a fashion blog? Maybe they just liked taking pictures? Maybe they were making fun of me? Maybe this or maybe that but I tell you what, reader, few things in life have unsettled me so much as that brief interaction in the middle of the road. Would you ever take a picture of a stranger, pose with a stranger, for no apparent reason? There’s no reason to do it for no reason, you know?
I put these thoughts out of my mind momentarily as I took in the madcap chaos of the Zocalo. I’ve never seen it before or since so packed with people. How wonderful that everybody here was ready to party and celebrate the gays. Like I said earlier, I never could have dreamed it. I never would have believed it.
Times are dark, reader, but the world is a wonderful place. And if you ever see me somewhere that’s not me, please let me know. I have to understand why that picture was taken. I’m incredibly vain and endlessly curious.