June 1, 2013
In 2003, I was in the tail end of an eight-year long-term relationship, the first of my life and the longest LTR I have ever had. The writing was on the wall indicating our relationship was on its dying breath. When you spend your entire 20s with someone, it is almost inevitable that the very act of growing up most often leads to growing apart. In 2003, one of my lesbian friends from high school and early college invited me to go to Atlanta Pride with her and her girlfriend. My partner was away in Berlin, on a European vacation paid for by his sugar daddy. When my friends invited me to go to Pride with them, I did not hesitate to say yes.
In the car on the way from Chattanooga to Atlanta, the girls explained to me that Pride was a huge gathering of gay, lesbian, trans, etc. people gathering together in celebration. The Atlanta Pride celebration was a weekend of parades, concerts, vendors, speakers, and of course the annual Dykes on Bikes pre-parade parade that I was curious to see. (One has not truly lived until one has seen a gaggle of topless lesbians on Harley-Davidson motorcycles coming down the street!) We had already created a loose itinerary so that we were able to see and participate in all the events and places. We were particularly excited to go to The Flying Biscuit restaurant in Midtown Atlanta, co-owned by one of the Indigo Girls.
I had vaguely heard of Pride before, but had never been a part of it, nor did I think too much about it. In my mind, Pride was about just that: pride in one's community, pride to be free in who you are, pride expressed in a "good" way, as opposed to the biblical idea of "pride = sin." To me, the upcoming Pride event was an opportunity to take a deep breath, let my hair down, and spend some time getting in touch with myself again. To me, Pride meant freedom, openness, and hope. Though my relationship was winding down, I didn't feel down in the dumps at the time. I felt more hopeful at what was to come. My feelings about Pride mirrored my feelings of my life at the time.
Throughout the entire weekend, I was faithful to my partner, so debauchery was definitely not a part of my mindset, though I did completely enjoy toeing the line and being the center of everyone's interest. I am naturally effusive and outgoing, so it was crazy-exciting to make so many new friends for the weekend. I danced, I drank, I danced ... at one point, I lost my lesbian friends at Backstreet; I lost track of time and danced until 6 a.m., with just enough time to get back to the hotel room and get ready for the next day's adventures. Needless to say, this was pre-middle age, pre-drug addiction, and pre-HIV, so my energy was as endless as it was innocent.
I came back from Pride in 2003 renewed in spirit and in hope, full of pride.
In 2004, I again attended the Atlanta Pride event with the same lesbian couple. My relationship had indeed ended since the year before and again this year's Pride would mirror my feelings. Instead of making a weekend of Pride, we only went down that Sunday for the parade itself. It rained every moment we were there. It was annoying at first, but then we just went with it, puddle jumping and splashing each other like we were kids. We didn't let the weather bring us down. Until ... I looked up and saw my ex standing right in front of me with his new much younger boyfriend. The rain and time itself went into slow motion as we looked at each other, the pouring rain a metaphor for how my relationship ended up, cold and dreary and like water circling the inevitable drain. I couldn't believe I had run into him there, of all people, and in a city so large. It absolutely killed my high spirits, and me and my friends left soon after. But, in the spirit of Pride, I was cordial and even friendly to him and his new person and I didn't let my feelings show.
In the years since that Pride, I have never attended another one, though it is not for lack of interest. Shortly after that, I became involved in a black hole of meth addiction. And after I became clean (and sane) again, I traded in Pride events for HIV fundraisers, thus becoming involved in a different sort of event that yet engenders the same exact feelings of Pride -- a sense of community, commitment, pride, and hope.
Jason McDonald is 38 years old and has lived in Tennessee since he was 12. He's been in a relationship for almost four years now, with an HIV-negative man.