When I was growing up in the tiny town of Gaston, Oregon (population: 325), there was a week-long festival in the "big" town of Forest Grove six miles away.
It was called the "Gay Nineties" and featured a parade with townspeople wearing clothing from the late 1800s. There was plenty of ice cream, a petting zoo, an imported carnival in the shopping center parking lot, and a dunking booth populated by local teachers and business owners.
Back in the 70s, this was seen as the highlight of the year for kids in my town. Sure, we had the Gaston Good 'Ol Days parade, and we were guaranteed a spot by simply showing up with our favorite farm animal, but it was not nearly as elaborate as the Gay Nineties. After all, Forest Grove had over 10,000 people, so their events were much more exciting than ours. They had a marching band and a queen!
I went out of state to attend college in 1978, traveled around the world during my senior year in 1982, and when I came back to Gaston for a visit after graduation, I wasn't
too surprised to learn that the Gay Nineties had been discontinued. You see, "gay" was no longer a word that meant "happy"--it was a word that meant homosexual. Gay Nineties was no longer considered an appropriate name for a town's annual festival.
I moved to Japan, met my wonderful husband-to-be, and after our wedding, we spent time in Palm Springs. My aunt Linda, a divorcee, lived in a charming cottage there and gave us the scoop on her new city. Unimpressed by the pool of eligible males, she told us that Palm Springs was referred to as the Gay Nineties--because all the men were either gay or in their nineties!
In 1988, my half-brother Dennis, a brilliant ex-Foreign Service official and executive director of an international business council, called to tell me that he had been fired by the board for marching in Chicago's Gay Pride parade. An openly gay man, he was stunned that his good work could be viewed as less important than his expression of pride in his sexual identity. He moved to San Francisco, became a high school history teacher, and shortly thereafter, became ill. He was diagnosed with AIDS, and died within a year.
During the 90s, my father--who announced he was homosexual back in 1964, his dumbfounded Mormon wife forced to pack up the three preschoolers to go live with her parents--would vent hostility at the mere mention of the word "gay." Never one to speak honestly about his own sexuality to his children despite the fact that it was stunningly obvious, he felt the word "gay" was somehow demoralizing.
In 2003, my younger brother Lynn, who had struggled mightily since the age of three with depression and an overpowering sense that he was not who he was, took his own life. He had been in counseling to find the courage to explore and embrace the seemingly shameful but unshakable notion that he had been meant to live as a woman. It didn't take.
I never miss the Gay Pride parade here in Portland. Every year, it's held on Father's Day. It is a joyful celebration of diversity and acceptance in all shapes, sizes, colors and preferences. I see a little bit of my loved ones there.
It bears absolutely no resemblance to the Gay Nineties parade of my youth. There may be petting, but no farm animals. It is raucous, bawdy, bittersweet, and full of tremendous affection and humor. There are wild costumes and vivid colors accented by throbbing music and boisterous dancing.
In short, it is gay--in every sense of the word.
Maya Talisman Frost is a mind masseuse in Portland, Oregon. Through her company, Real-World Mindfulness Training, she teaches creative and powerful eyes-wide-open alternatives to meditation. To subscribe to her free weekly ezine, the Friday Mind Massage, please visit http://www.MassageYourMind.com