We were pressed in tight together in the warm wind and light sporadic rain, rows of sweaty people with no personal space, the occasional brush of skin or the feel of breath as we reached our hands high, grooving to the music and hollering or whistling as the rainbow colored floats passed in the parade, their lights like fireflies at dusk.
Thousands of us lined the downtown streets, the sidewalk beneath us strung with beads and candy.
I hadn’t really wanted to go, just not sure of my place.
On the other hand, I felt like I should go, that to not go would mean missing something crucial, an experience I needed.
At first, we’d decided not to go actually. I was both relieved and disappointed, a weird inner conflict, laying in my bed at 7:30 in the evening on the brink of tears, not sure what to do. We finally left the house for a walk on the bayou, but five minutes from home, we turned back to park the car and take the train to downtown to the parade after all.
In my mind, the inner wrestling was something about the difference between representation and spectacle, and my fear that Pride was maybe about the latter of the two.
It’s always been my fear actually, not just about Pride but about anytime LGBTQ+ realities are argued about as an issue and not people – that in the need to advocate for access to basic justice, we become victims of the eyes who look too deeply, passing judgment, titillated by our lives, over-sexualizing and perverting all our loves.
We piled off the train with so many others, and walked the block and a half or so to the corner near the beginning of the parade route. As we turned down a sidewalk, a protester with a bullhorn yelled something about unholiness and lifestyles and not pleasing to God. It reminded me why both churches I’m a part of are so important as space that is bullhorn-free and embracing, even empowering.
But a few minutes later, as we squeezed our way through the currents of people, finding our place five-deep along the street edge, I felt like we had arrived somewhere important and that in this new somewhere, something was missing. It was a blessed absence.
I soon realized it was the absence of conflict and contested worth.
My experience of Pride was as a place where the goodness of bodies as they are was settled as an answer, no longer a question. Shame was out of the picture, as bodies in all shapes, colors, and sizes, with relationships in all configurations, were present and accounted for and celebrated.
The small town rural conservative-Christian world I grew up in was hetero-normative, and anyone of a different orientation was a divergence from the norm, an oddity not celebrated. I’m certain I knew queer folks, but they were mostly closeted, at least to me, or the ones I did know about were Christian and trying to convert somehow back to hetero orientation through therapy or Pentecostal healing.
But at Pride, literally thousands of bodies were pressed in proximity to celebrate love, to celebrate being a body, to celebrate skin.
And the performances I witnessed were not of spectacle, but of belovedness, self-acceptance, embrace of others, an elevation of diversity.
I’m introverted, generally reserved, but at some point early in the night, my critical mind receded to the background until I too reached for beads and to be seen and hollered loud in celebration of others.
This spring has been complicated, with the conversations the church has had. After the UMC decision, I was on the brink of despair for at least a solid week, and with shades of pain and hurt and betrayal for weeks afterward. I struggled to hold the incarnation of Jesus together with the contested embrace and worth and value of LGBTQ+ people at the forefront of debate. Even as a person who is seminary trained and of deep faith, it was enough to shake me.
But the Sunday morning after the decision, I also almost didn’t show up in church. And at the last minute, decided to go after all. A beloved friend brought rainbow cookies, this beautiful gift of comfort food and bright celebration in the midst of a day that somehow felt so dim.
The months since then have been difficult, but our congregation was welcomed lavishly into a new home in the Episcopal church. The diocese here in this part of Texas has been an immense gift. At no point along the way have we been let to feel like a burden or anything other than wanted.
In the dark of Pride, we heard familiar voices, and there was our pastor, walking like he owned the streets, and so many dear friends marching past or riding on the float, circling back to reach for us, say our names.
And while it risks looking like a sentimental moment, it felt in that moment as sacred as the table or the waters of baptism, these bodily moments of hospitality and embrace testifying to the truth of the incarnation – that Jesus is God come in our flesh, even in queer flesh, and the body and blood is for us too.