It’s been quite the weekend.
After the horror of Friday (when it became clear that the lunatics had taken over the asylum in Britain -Boris Johnson; Michael Gove; Nigel Farage take your bows gentlemen please – after the electorate there decided to punish the next generation for the mistakes made by the current Tory Party) it was a relief to welcome an EU visitor from Germany, to Dublin for the Pride weekend.
After the Orlanda massacre two weeks ago, and the vote for xenophobia in Britain, Pride was very timely.
This year I was marching with the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival group. Having volunteered at this festival in June, I thought it was a good chance to catch up with the group. And quite the bunch of drama queen we were.
Arrival at Parnell Square at about lunchtime on the last Saturday of every June, is always exhilarating. The parade participants are there in all their splendour. Music is blaring, costumes are being admired, participants are preening. Dublin Pride is by no means Ireland’s only Pride celebration – the summer sees celebrations the length and breadth of the country from Cork to Limerick to Galway to Longford to Belfast – but it is by far the largest. It is represented by groups from all over the country, representing every social group and hobby and region of the country. More controversial perhaps is the increasing corporate sponsorship of the festival. On the one hand I suppose it’s a sign of social progress that big companies now consider it good PR to be down with the gays. It’s a sign that society itself might be more accepting. On the other hand these companies don’t recognise people as people, they regard them solely as consumers – brainless, disengaged robots who consume without question. It has led to a more sanitised and homogenised atmosphere where everyone is gay married and will buy, buy, buy.
When the parade kicks of and starts moving, it is a heart in mouth moment. Despite the fact that this year is the twentieth anniversary of my first Pride, I still get a rush of nerves as we begin our walk down the centre of O’Connell Street – what if someone sees me, what if people start throwing things, what if people start booing. These are of course irrelevant concerns and I’m old enough and ugly enough to deal with them, but the start of the parade – even now twenty years later – sends me back to 1996 and my very first parade. Having just arrived off the big green bus from Limerick, a few months earlier, my plan had been to go and watch the parade, with another one of my gayling friends. Neither of us has any intention of walking – we were merely spectators. When we arrived we were given pink plastic masks by organisers. How could they have guessed that we were gay? But hey – if we had these convenient masks then no-one would recognise us. Maybe we’d walk a few hundred metres with them.
This year there was apparently 40,000 people on the parade. In 1996 the numbers were one thousand attendees. A thousand people is a sizeable number, but on a street the size of O’Connell Street it is easily dwarfed. Back then we were given whistles with our facemasks – a thousand whistles amplified the impact of the crowd. After a few hundred metres, back in June 1996 the adrenaline was in overdrive, and the utter terror I was feeling gave way to a feeling of excitement. Off came the pink plastic mask and on with the march.
I still get a little bit of that terror when the parade begins, but these days it really is a party atmosphere. Walking down the middle of O’Connell Street really gives you a different perspective on the city – it is an incredibly grand street, despite the tackiness of the burger joints and amusement arcades polluting the sides.
After the parade ended we stayed around the entertainment areas on Merrion Square for an hour or so. Panti was the compere yet again. Impressive to see that despite his fame he still does this every year. Good on him.
My friend from Germany was marching with the leather boys, so I made plans to meet him at the street party when the parade was over. I’ll probably be excommunicated for saying it, but the leather scene reminds me very much of drag queens – gay boys dressing up in all their finery. I didn’t give voice to this opinion – I need to keep my judgement to myself.
Saturday evening was a late one.
That five hour tech rehearsal for this week’s play was the reward for Saturday’s festivities. Onwards and upwards.