It was ten o’clock the night of Pride Sunday, and grrrl, mama was tired.
For those who aren’t blessed with any inkling of homosexual sensibility, here’s what one should know about Pride in San Francisco: It isn’t just a tediously boring parade of quaint little groups carrying banners down Market Street, corporate teams wearing matching t-shirts, and politicians riding atop incredibly underwhelming floats. That’s for the tourists. Rather, Pride is a never-ending series of celebrations—the High Holi-gays, if you will—that begin as early as the start of June and include a march, party, festival, or some other Deeply Important Event designed to meet the needs of every permutation of identity held lovingly under the umbrella of “our diverse LGBT community.”
Like its nondenominational sisters Halloween and New Year’s Eve, Pride weekend is charged with mountains of expectations, and more often than not ends with the disappointing feeling that you’ve missed something. Hours are spent making plans, selecting outfits, and trying to catch a bus or cab, only to arrive somewhere that your friends have just left. Then it’s more texting and schlepping to arrive at a suitable Plan B, where you realize that the boys are not all that cute (but perhaps just cute enough?), and suddenly the night is over.
The night before the parade, I’d consumed an entire bottle of rosé at a block party, so I was restless and unfortunately out of bed before 10am. I decided to head down to the parade to join the contingent for a mayoral candidate I was working for. I had never in a million years thought I would march in the Pride parade, and especially not for a political candidate, but I figured it was probably the most worthwhile thing I could do in the name of Pride. After nearly two hours of waiting in the burning sun, we walked the six blocks of the parade route in just half an hour and I left the group to meet friends for brunch.
As I went to pay for my overpriced Hayes Valley panini, I realized that my wallet was missing. “How could someone have stolen it from me while I was marching in the goddamned Pride Parade?” I shrieked to the Goddess and anyone else who was in earshot. Was this the price I paid for trying to be an upstanding member of my community? Whatever happened to sisterhood? Was nothing sacred anymore?
I was already running late, so I borrowed money from a friend and caught a cab home, where I raced to get my face on while canceling my credit card, and then caught another cab back to the party I was due to perform at later in the evening.
I want to take a minute here to describe the party I walked in to, because it truly falls under the category of Living the Dream. Hosted by Juanita MORE! one of San Francisco’s drag legends, this annual pool party looks like something out of a movie, not least a highly-stylized porn. It’s held every year in a sleezy-turned-boutiquey two-story motel in the Tenderloin where all the rooms face out onto a courtyard featuring the teeny tiniest of pools. It was sunny (it’s always sunny), and everyone (everyone!) is working a Look, from the drag queens to the gym queens to the gay hipsters. I’m talking sequins, sunglasses, speedos, eyeliner, wigs, mustaches—you name it, they are wearing it. Everyone poses as if she’s a fucking celebrity, and it’s both beautiful and completely baffling how much we take for granted.
Fast forward a bit through lots of hellos, kiss-kisses, a couple drinks here and there, the requisite photographs to document that you were indeed present, some friend drama, the slowest bus ride on earth followed by walking barefoot to get to Hard French (the other, cheaper party in the Mission), more friend drama, and half an hour repeating all of the above niceties before yet another cab ride back up the hill to deliver the performance that at this point was the whole reason I was out and about putting up with all this mishegas in the first place. (One year, I skipped out on most of it, and just watched a Golden Girls marathon instead.)
In all of its hip and youthful boutique branding, the motel had requested that this year’s show be “rock-and-roll” themed. To their credit, I think they were imagining epic Joan Jett or Heart numbers, full of big hair and big attitude. But please. Queens do not need rock nor roll to do big hair and big attitude. So I decided to dig a little deeper and rock out to the awkward and unsung mother of it all: Carole fucking King. I’d had a pair of roller skates dying to get out of my closet for the past few years and I thought I could put them to good use feeling the “earth move under my feet.” It was a slapstick but genuine love letter to my community. Well, to all thirty of them who stayed through the 9pm performance – drunk, tired, and unaware that there were other parties just starting to happen elsewhere.
After the show, I gathered up my things, said my goodbyes. Sick of all the cabs and nearly out of my small stash of walletless cash, I realized I still had on my roller skates. And it was literally all downhill from there.
I started down the hill cautiously but quickly gave myself over to gravity and momentum, finally letting go and taking in the freedom that the day was supposed to celebrate. This was what liberation felt like. It was the first moment I’d truly had to myself all weekend—hell, all month—and boy had I needed it. I whizzed past a few people on the street, dodging cracks in the pavement, leaping past curbs, and waving back at drivers who honked to cheer me on. I couldn’t help thinking about the scene in Tales of the City when a group of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence comes barreling down a hill past Michael Tolliver’s bewildered and straightlaced parents.
At the bottom of the hill, I passed City Hall, which was full of crews breaking up the remains of the day and tidying the streets littered with empty bottles and club cards. It was foggy and romantic and a gay wasteland. If there had been a soundtrack to this moment, it would have been a cross between Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and Amélie.
At some point on my way, a nagging thought crept into the back of my mind and I couldn’t quite shake it. It was incredibly presumptuous, so I tried to put it aside, but eventually it overtook me with the clarity of a prophet and I repeated it over and over in my head: I Am the Spirit of San Francisco. Okay fine, that may sound a bit dramatic, not to mention way witchy and woo-woo, so I should clarify that it wasn’t a feeling of superiority but rather of solidarity. I’ve seen the Spirit of San Francisco manifest itself in so many people across this town, from artists and poets, to activists, entrepreneurs, eccentrics, and many others I’ve instantly admired.
It is easy to recognize, but incredibly hard to describe; I can only say I know it when I see it. I see it in a friend of a friend who sells pot brownies in the park, whose house is a particular blend of Buddha statues and Marilyn Monroe posters, and who always has something cooking and a good conversation starter. I see it in my hairdresser/DJ/vintage-shop-clerk/jewelry-maker/cultural-activist friend who always makes time to cut my hair in her kitchen. And I see it all the time in the geniuses who share their talents in bars, on the streets and in alleyways, in the basements of libraries, and in tiny bookstores’ even tinier back rooms.
I stopped skating, no longer tired, but living. And I allowed myself to say it out loud, just once. I didn’t scream it, though it was bursting to come out. Instead chose to mark it quietly. I Am the Spirit of San Francisco. It felt magical to be home.
Lil Miss Hot Mess bedazzles audiences in San Francisco and beyond with a unique blend of camp, choreography, and radical politics. This piece was originally performed at I Live Here: SF reading in Clarion Alley during the LitQuake Lit Crawl. Photo by Julie Michelle.