‘This might just be one of the most joyous experiences of my life.’ I’m up on a nightclub stage in West Hollywood dressed as Marge Simpson when the thought lodges itself.
Strands of cobalt-blue nylon hair are sticking to my neck in the heat, I’ve laughed so hard that day-old sun cream is pooling at the corners of my eyes and the column of lime-green material I’m passing off as a dress keeps slipping down as I dance. It’s day two of Gay Pride LA and clothing seems to be becoming optional.
Two male models in zip-up leather thongs are hanging upside down from the ceiling doing what can only be described as the world’s most torturous abs session to the beat of Big Freedia’s Booty-Whop.
The party of sunburnt men at the bar have replaced their ‘Make America Gay Again’ T-shirts with aloha wreaths, and I’m fairly sure that the blonde wrapped around a
Outside, the streets are festooned with heart-shaped balloons and any heaviness in my heart has been magicked away by the Donald Trump piñata hanging from a lamp post on Santa Monica Boulevard and the compliments I keep getting from the drag queen dancing beside me.
Suddenly I can picture myself, like Elizabeth Taylor, getting old surrounded by gay men and wearing a set of false eyelashes heavy enough to ripple my dirty martini when I blink. Yet everything was stacked against tonight being a success.
I’m not a fan of crowds and my experience of clubbing in London mostly involved standing in the rain and being ritually humiliated by bovine bouncers before spending the rest of the night trying to avoid both reptilian male specimens and having my bank account emptied by the barman.
Oh, and these high jinks would usually be laced with the unnerving sensation that you might be caught up in a random act of violence at any time. I don’t ever recall being hugged and praised by strangers.
And I certainly don’t recall basking in an inclusiveness that has men and women – gay, straight, young and old, bi, intersexual, pansexual, polyamory or two-spirit – dancing and joking with one another.
By the time the sun rose on West Hollywood the next morning, the balloons were in need of Botox, the confetti had been ground into the tarmac, and news was filtering through from Orlando, where a lone gunman had just killed 49 people in a gay nightclub: the worst mass shooting in modern US history.
When police arrested a man heading to day three of LA Pride with assault rifles and a five-gallon bucket of explosive chemicals, their first thought was to cancel the parade.
Instead, FBI officers flooded the streets and I watched them walk side by side with the drag queens and the ‘Dykes on Bikes’ as the procession made its way across the city. Any trace of joy had gone, but in its place was something more important: a determination to keep moving forward.