You spend half the day worrying about what to wear. You spend more time than you’d like to admit applying make-up, which you never use. You make sure your hair is done just right. You want to do it perfectly, this first Pride as yourself. A lesbian. A dyke. But you don’t know who that is yet. You are just coming out to yourself, and the world around you. Everything still feels new, as though you’re young as your kids and trying to figure out how to make friends. You want to be part of the community, but you don’t know where to begin. So you hold your breath and dive in.
The last weekend of June is Pride in San Francisco. Friday is Trans March and Pride, Saturday is the Dyke March and Pink Party, Sunday is the Pride Parade and celebration at the Civic Center. I’ve been living in San Francisco for fifteen years, and I’ve done half a dozen Pride weekends, maybe more. But this is the first year I went fully acknowledging myself, both inwardly and in public. Starting with the Dyke March.
The closer my friend Nina and I drew to Dolores Park, the more women we saw. Women in rainbows, in pink, in no shirts with rainbows over their nipples, in dapper shirt and tie, in punk leather and safety pins. Women with short hair, long hair, crazy wigs. For a moment we stood at the corner of 18th and Dolores and just looked. Dykes and lipstick lesbians, butch, femme and in-between, trans people, older dykes, younger dykes, fat, skinny, alternative and mainstream. A few tourists, a few drunk dudebros there to see topless women, but mostly women. Mostly dykes.
Nina has kids too, and neither of us are exactly party animals anymore. We tend toward the quiet life (except for toddler shrieking, of course), so it took a while for us to take everything in. The sound of a poet sharing her work over the roar of the crowd. The smells of asphalt and patchouli and weed. The shifting kaleidoscope of the crowd. We blinked in the sunlight and the experience and slowly my heart began to open.
As we made our way down Dolores, we saw one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, in full nun-drag regalia, offering a blessing to a thirteen year old girl who had a sign on her back that she had come out to over 100 people this year. I smiled at the girl, at her bravery. At her self-knowledge. She wasn’t living a lie. She wasn’t hiding. She deserved a blessing.
Finally we found a place in the sun to sit and wait for the march to begin, and to listen to Leslie Ewing, the Executive Director of the Pacific Center for Human Growth, give her speech. At first I just closed my eyes, lifted my face to the sun and reminded myself to be present, in that moment. This was a moment for me, a woman, surrounded by other women. No longer alone. And then Leslie’s words began to penetrate.
The theme for this year’s Dyke March was “My body, my business, my power”, but she began by talking about shame. Shame of our bodies, our sexuality, ourselves. She spoke of women who could not meet her eyes, hesitated to be seen with her because by doing so they were coming out. She spoke to my own fear, my hiding from myself. She spoke of rapes on college campuses, the danger to women, queer women, trans women. She spoke of the violence that is done to so many women’s bodies. That was done to my body, though in a more limited way.
And then she spoke of hope, of change. She spoke of her dream that we could all ‘look each other in the eyes… secure in our personal power and not threatened by those whom feel threatened by us. Coming out – and staying out – is the first step to reclaiming our bodies and taking personal responsibility for our lives. Coming out is how we take back the power taken from us all our lives.” Her words reminded me of my power. She reminded me that when I speak up to my family, to acquaintances and tell them my truth as a queer woman I am working for change. I am making a difference, though it feels so small to me.
Leslie Ewing has been working in the LGBTQ community for over twenty-five years. She is an older dyke. She is who I hope one day to be. As I listened and watched, I felt hope spreading its wings in my heart. It has been so long since I have felt the power of women together. I felt the edges of it in birthing classes, and in giving birth to my kids. Before that I felt it in women’s studies classes and when I worked with other women to start a feminist organization on my college campus. I want my daughter to feel this power all of her life. I want her to hold tight to her power, her voice, her truth. Whoever she is, whoever she loves, I want her to know that it is her body, her business, her power.
Then, as I was still basking in the glow of the speech, I heard the rumble of many Harleys. Engines revving and the sound shook the air, shivered in my chest. The Dykes on Bikes were getting ready and the crowd surged forward to begin the march and I surged with them.