The first of two stylists arrived in the morning. His name was Bernard and he was a tall, willowy black man with close-cropped bleached hair, which was a striking contrast to his brown skin. I gathered from the banter going on between him and Ziggy that he was a drag queen who wasn’t in his drag yet, but he would be getting into it soon enough, after he was done with us.
Every queer in New York would be getting into their drag or finery or marching boots or whatever that day. It was the day of the Pride parade.
This is the problem with mostly seeing the city from behind tinted limo windows: you don’t see the huge banners proclaiming the dance and rally even though they’re only a matter of several blocks away from where you’re living. Not that tinted windows were the only reason for my obliviousness, of course.
Blame my focus on the work if you have to blame it on anything.
I looked into the mirror while Bernard ran his fingers through my hair, fluffing it and examining it. “It’s in fairly good shape. Split ends here and there but I can trim those well enough. The real question is what do you want to do with it.”
I caught Ziggy’s eye in his reflection. “Won’t the Aesthetician be upset if we do something she didn’t approve?”
“My idea is something temporary or reversible. Bern, I think he needs some color.”
“Well, the ultimate in reversible is let’s do it with extensions.” He lifted a chunk of my hair up. “What do you think? I can put a bunch of them in along here. Rainbow? Or just fire engine red? Or electric blue?” He let my hair drop and dug in a bag.
“Red or blue would be fine with me,” I said. “Red is more my color.”
“Is it?” He had every color of the rainbow of fake hair in plastic bags, including Day-Glo green, screaming pink, and hunter orange. “The blue might just disappear completely in your dark tresses, my dear. Red it is, then. Zig, who’d you say is coming to do makeup?”
“Leo. He did the stardust makeup for the photo shoot I told you about and I want him to do that again.”
“Mm-hm. That gives me an idea.” He went into the kitchen to use the phone.
The process that followed included me washing my hair (I needed a shower anyway) and getting trimmed while sitting on a stool in the kitchen area (the bathroom wasn’t the best spot for this, apparently) and then a sort of painstaking process of attaching the extensions to my own hair at various points that were determined either scientifically or artistically–I’m not sure. And blow dry and spritzing with more of that stuff that made my hair specially glossy.
“These’ll last for four to six months for the average person,” Bernard told me while the blow-drying was going on. “Try to keep out of chlorine pools or hot tubs, and don’t yank on them too hard. Brush from the bottom up when dry, comb with a wide-tooth comb when wet. Try not to get it all into a matted sweaty tangled mess.”
“That might be difficult,” I said. “You know what I do for a living?”
“What, are you a rentboy or something?” he quipped.
I blushed as red as the extensions. “No. I’m–”
“I know who you are, sweet pea. If you’re going to do a lot of head-banging, my advice is try not to pass out with your head in a pool of cum, vomit, or vodka afterward.”
That made Ziggy snicker.
“I’ll try,” I said.
By then the makeup artist had arrived and had worked on Ziggy, but I hadn’t seen the results. They’d been in the bathroom while I’d been in the kitchen.
Bernard let me off the stool and I turned around. The sight of Ziggy took my breath away. They’d created a lot of what I had imagined in that dream, where it was like a galaxy of glittering stars crossed his eyes. His face looked airbrushed, making it longer and more angular than it actually was, his skin as white as paper and a rosy hollow under each cheekbone, and bold blue eyeliner. Blue. I had never thought of that. I didn’t even know you could do that. With blue lipstick.
Honestly it was hard to recognize him except for the fact that I knew it was him.
The makeup artist exchanged cheek kisses with Bernard, then stood next to me, his arms crossed. “What do you think? Does it work?”
“It works,” I croaked. I cleared my throat. “Definitely.”
“Daron.” We shook hands and he tugged me toward the bathroom.
Ziggy came with us. “The big question is how recognizable or unrecognizable you want to be.”
“I–” I stopped short, catching sight of myself in the mirror. I ran my fingers through my hair. The red flashed as I did. I tossed it. Neat.
“You like it?”
“I do.” It wasn’t a drastic change, but it was sort of like when I’d first gotten the tattoo: it was just enough of a change that every time I caught sight of it, it was like I had to reformulate what I looked like in my mind. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it was right aroun when I got that first tat that I finally settled on liking how I looked. I think it accelerated the process.
Maybe that was why Ziggy changed his hair color and look so often? Was it because every time he did, he got to…well…fall in love with himself all over again?
Leo did my makeup smoky and dark, concentrating on my eyes.
A kind of motif had emerged by the time Courtney arrived: Ziggy was an angel. I was a devil. Bernard had called someone else to bring over something: small white feathery wings for Ziggy’s back and small black leathery ones for me. I wore black jeans and boots, Ziggy wore white Spandex and white boots, and neither of us wore shirts. I would’ve been skeptical about this except for the typically hot and muggy weather.
I confess I was slightly skeptical about the whole thing, but it was obvious to me that for everyone else this was standard operating procedure so it was probably best just to roll with it instead of being a moron about it. When in Rome, right?
Court was in a purple T-shirt with the words Bisexual Pride in white letters across the chest. She snapped photos of us in the kitchen with her camera before we went out.
“So who are we marching with?” she asked while we were walking.
“I think it might be a bit much to actually march,” Ziggy said, sounding much more calm and reasonable than I was expecting, almost like he was doing an impression of Barrett or someone. “It might be a bit more prudent to spectate this time around.”
“But you guys look so cute.”
“And if we watch the parade there will merely be hundreds of photos of us taken my bystanders instead of thousands and thousands,” he pointed out. “I feel strongly that Daron would probably prefer we not take that risk.”
He was holding my hand. I felt pretty completely disconnected from reality already at that point. “Uh, yeah,” I said.
“Besides, I promised Barrett we wouldn’t make a scene,” Ziggy said. “I promised we’d keep a low-ish profile.”
“Good luck with that. You’re the cutest couple on the island of Manhattan right now,” Courtney said.
The word couple echoed through my head, bouncing all around inside my chest and making me feel funny, like I’d taken a hit of nitrous or something.
I kept getting glimpses of us in storefront windows as we walked, in the subway doors as we got into a car about half-packed with other people obviously going to the same place we were. I didn’t let go of Ziggy’s hand except when I had to.
And the one time someone gave us a dirty look, a middle-aged guy on the platform, I remembered clobbering the guy in the men’s room during the riot at the Paradise. I felt I had a choice in that moment. I could confront the guy and prepare to attack, or I could ignore him. I felt…a weird sort of pity for the guy. It was strange, like the world had turned inside out, and I realized the only choice that made sense was to ignore him because he was just a sad little human who would never know the grandeur or richness or beauty of the experience I had lived.
It was almost like I was tripping, except there were no drugs involved. And like tripping, I lost track of where we were and what direction we were going. Fortunately Court and Zig had some destination worked out. We ended up on the curb on one of the avenues (it had to be Fifth Avenue, right? I don’t even know…) watching group after group go by.
I had what is probably a cliched thought, i.e. how did I not know this happened every year? This parade had been going on for over twenty years already at that point.
Court had picked up some kind of guide from someone along the way. She kept up a running commentary, telling me stuff like how many hundreds of groups were in the parade. I admit my mind boggled at stuff like a group of gay police officers–a LARGE group, mind you–marching down the street. “That was real, right? Not some kind of ironic Village People reference?”
“They’re real,” Court assured me.
“Have you been to one of these before? One of these parades?” I thought to ask at one point.
“Yeah, last year. In Boston. They’ve been having them up there since before I was born, too.”
And there was music. There were floats with loud disco and house pumping from the speakers and there were convertibles with drag queens waving while movie themes played and there were odd ragtag marching bands of various kinds including one that was all kazoos as well as a group of Brazilians who made a segment of the parade into a mini-Carnival with a small but intense percussion section, and there were groups holding hands singing protest songs or chanting protest chants like “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”
We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.
Thousands and thousands and thousands of people marched past us. I don’t know how many. More than lived in the entire town where we grew up. More than could fit in the largest venue we ever played. More than bought the 1989 album on cassette or vinyl and possibly more than bought it on CD.
The point isn’t what the number was. The point was it felt to me like it was impossible that so many thousands of people right there were gay, but since they obviously were, my entire concept of what was possible and what was impossible had to change.
Suddenly everything was possible. Suddenly my rage, which I normally kept buried so deep I didn’t even acknowledge it was there, didn’t feel like a lump of poison anymore, it felt like… the bedrock of justice.
And then the most extraordinary thing happened, made all the more extraordinary because I had no idea that it was coming. Have you every heard cheering start far away and then had it sweep through a crowd like wildfire until you were caught up in the roar?
This was the opposite. This was a wave of cold silence that emanated from wherever the parade was headed and moved backward, and I could hear it coming, like a bubble of a freeze ray from a UFO expanding outward and turning everyone to stone. The constant background noise of the music and chanting and cheering and clapping falling away to dead silence until the only thing that could be heard was the sound of a lone car honking from several blocks away. In the middle of the noisiest city in America, in the midst of ten thousand people within earshot, no one made a sound. The wind didn’t even blow, as if everyone were holding their breath.
Silence. People around us had held up their hands, holding ribbons with the names of the dead written on them, and I understood it suddenly as a moment of silence for our dead. I held my breath trying not to cry, my eyes burning, my lungs burning.
I had a flashback to the moment of silence for John Lennon, after he was shot, when a huge memorial was held in Central Park. I wasn’t there. I’d watched it on TV. The “moment” of silence was actually something like ten minutes long. All the radio stations went silent, too. I sat there crosslegged in front of our living room TV, my mouth clamped shut and my face as stoic as I could make it. I think it was Digger who made the snarky comment, but maybe it was one of my older sisters, “That’s it? That’s all they’re going to do?” Utterly missing the point of the whole thing.
How could you miss the immense power in silence? In the collective will of hundreds of thousands of people doing something together? On television it had felt like my soul was being yanked hard.
Here on the street in the middle of the stillness I think my soul left my body entirely. I could hold in the tears but every part of me was cracked and seeping. I’m just a shell for the idea of who I am, you know? Just a shell.
And then the cheering reached us, not somber at all, an energetic roar of outrage and ecstasy all mixed together. Time moved forward again. The parade moved forward again. And I felt alive in a way I’d only ever felt alive on a stage before, only this time it was because I was one of the mass of people cheering. I threw back my head and screamed to proclaim to the universe: I am alive.
I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it.