Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The barricades

So then we came up with the Gay Shame Awards, in which we rewarded the most hypocritical gays for their service to the community, in categories including Exploiting Our Youth, Making More Queers Homeless and Helping Right-Wingers Cope. We held our ceremony in Harvey Milk Plaza, the symbolic heart of the Castro, as if the Castro could possibly have a heart. As with any awards ceremony, we distributed a program with information on all the nominees and a window into our discussions as organizers. Participants passed out other free delicacies like food, homemade patches and artwork, and Gay Shame buttons with the image of Rosie O’Donnell or George Michael. As requested, people dressed to excess, in circus outfits, exaggerated makeup, torn dresses and crumpled dress shirts—one participant arrived wearing a dress made entirely out of shopping bags—the Gap, Starbucks, Abercrombie & Fitch and other gay mainstays—and stiltwalkers dressed in garbage bags added additional flair. As each award was bestowed, we burned a rainbow flag and the crowd howled its approval, yelling “burn baby burn;” as the ceremony came to a close we moved sofas and a sound system into the street for a dance party.

Beforehand, we had worried that we might get attacked by angry gays or cops, but the whole thing went so smoothly it was almost like choreography, the kind where everything looks spontaneous. The crowd included queers both a generation older and a generation younger than most of us, and even straight tourists gaped in disbelief and wondered: is it always like this? In a way, this was really the beginning of Gay Shame, because we actually succeeded at connecting the spectacle with the politics -- it’s also when we went from doing yearly events around Pride to a year-round direct action brigade. Borrowing from club culture, I named it an extravaganza. The Gay Shame Awards were meant to get people excited about confronting the Pride Parade -- we plotted to block the whole thing with sofas, we were in love with sofas now. We planned it out for several months but, due to a last-minute tactical miscalculation on the part of our scouts, we ended up on the wrong side of the barricades. Volunteer parade marshals attacked us and random attendees got arrested; we installed ourselves outside the parade, where most people didn’t notice. But the Gay Shame Awards were a glimpse at an almost-perfect moment that kept us on overdrive for a while.

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