This fall I returned to Syracuse for a weekend of reunions: a family reunion and my 50th Catholic high school reunion. Cosmically there was a lot going on in my house of reunion.
I made plans to meet up with an old friend who was a year behind me in school. She asked, “Can’t you come early and go to the Fair with me? Thursday is Gay Day at the State Fair. Melissa Etheridge is headlining.”
“Gay Day at the State Fair.” Said in an un-ironic way. It was like hearing, “5 to 4 in favor of marriage equality,’” but somehow more visceral and incredible.
My hometown, Syracuse, is the site of the New York State Fair. We Salt City folks are quite proud to be the host city. Everybody goes.
In my early years, I went to The Fair with my mother who favored the quilt shows, the baking and canning contests. I wanted to go to the tractor pull.
In my teens, after a deliriously sexy swoon of a summer at a Catholic girls camp, I went with my counselor galpals to the Fairgrounds. To prolong the delirium of being together, we all lied about our ages and got jobs.
I got a job at a hot dog stand on the Midway. When my first customer ordered a hot dog and “a Bud,” I had absolutely no idea what ‘a bud’ was and got fired.
Empire State LGBTs had been gathering informally at the Fair for years, but August 27, 2015 was the first formally-recognized, Governor-proclaimed, widely-advertised Pride Day. The morning started with a ceremony raising the Rainbow Flag over the Main Gate. The LGBT info booth was at the center of the Center of Progress Building. Melissa rocked the main stage for thee hours for 17,000 people. I wish I’d been there.
I had my own Gay Day at my 50th high school reunion. I banged from one vaguely familiar older face to another as if I were in a pinball machine. I tried to flush out another kindred LGBT soul. Tilt! Sadly, no luck. My former classmates, most still practicing Catholics, all good people, all white and all retired – teachers, nurses, cops – greeted me warmly. Who am I to judge?
The Gay Days continued at my family reunion. There it is no longer about coming out. After the initial tsuris, my siblings have come around. Each has had his own journey. Some were fine from the start. Some shunned me. Some were guilt-tripped by their kids. I opened more of my life to them. It takes time.
All have been won over by my dear partner, now the official deejay of the family reunion dance party, a joyful, sweaty multi-generational jitterbugging, shagging, voguing, bhangra mash-up.
Right now, in an otherwise mad, mean world, I feel re-uned, whole and hopeful. I am happy to be out in my family and now to my old classmates. Sad to find no one else. Amazed that in my old stomping grounds, where once gay people marched in the small pride parade with paper bags on their heads, there are now Gay Days.