Intimate Encounters at PRIDE

Intimate Encounters at PRIDE

I continue to explore what intimacy and sexuality mean in my life. And I keep finding that it’s usually not what I think it will be—I keep getting surprised.

Yesterday, I went to some St. Pete PRIDE events. I had a mixed agenda: to celebrate the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, to be a public witness for human rights, and to have fun.

I started out my day at an interfaith PRIDE worship service in the morning. It was inspiring and opened my heart to the spiritual energy of the day.

After the service, I had  a low key lunch with friends from church.

Then I went to a peaceful little beach on Tampa Bay with my dearest friend to chill out and rest up for the evening parade. We found a shady spot under some palm tress to escape the heat. We talked, we napped, we watched the shore birds and the people. Very refreshing.

We had some brief conversations with passersby. Later, we walked by an old man sitting in a folding chair. We stopped long enough for him to tell us how much he loved the little dog that sat at his feet. We all smiled. It was a sweet moment.

We parked many blocks from the parade staging area. The first people we encountered after we parked were a group of young women all decked out in colorful outfits, colored hair, and glitter. I was taken by surprise when they smiled warmly and said, “Happy PRIDE!”

We arrived at the parade staging area just as the parade was starting. We were immersed in a sea of cheering people, lights, and sounds. One of the first floats was a stage coach drawn by four beautiful horses. Another one was pumping thousands of bubbles into the air. Everywhere I looked I saw people in every imaginable garb, from bikinis and sexy underwear, to fantastic costumes, to ordinary blue jeans. A wide variety of lifestyles, interests, and erotic fantasies were represented. We were in ritual space which was not subject to censorship. Our shadows were free to play—a true carnival!

We found our church group and then wandered around taking it all in. We met some dear friends I haven’t seen in two years. They were going to march with their church group. They were an important part of my support system as I went through my divorce. Oh, how good to hug them and see them again!

By the time our turn to march came up, we had been watching the parade for over an hour. We joined with our group from Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa, carrying arm loads of bead necklaces to throw to the crowds lining the parade route. I was amazed that the onlookers continued to cheer and wave—their excitement had not diminished at all!

People kept reaching out and pleading for beads! As I went along, I started recognizing that this was a ritual—this was a symbolic exchange. They cheered us and begged us and we threw beads to them. The beads were blessings we bestowed. And it was incredibly fun.

We were in mobs of people, thousands and thousands of people. Mostly, it was pretty impersonal. We didn’t know them and they didn’t know us, with the exception of a few dear friends and buddies along the way.

After a few blocks we came to a neighborhood where the homeowners had strung colored lights all over their trees along the street! So festive and welcoming!

By this point, the exuberance of the crowd was getting to me. I started handing beads to people instead of throwing them. But it was more than just the beads. We made eye contact. They were real people.

By the time we got to the main section of the parade route, thousands of people were wall-to-wall behind waist-high barricades. Later, I saw reports that estimated the crowd at 250,000 people!

I ran out of beads pretty fast. I had nothing else to give so I thought they would lose interest in me. But they kept waving and cheering. So I waved back. Then some people reached out their hands for high-fives. So I slapped me some skin! At first it was just for fun. But that also changed as I went.

More and more people put their hands out. Dozens of hands, one right after another, all wanting to touch my hand! People of all ages and races and sizes and shapes. Women, men, gay, straight, and who knows… Hundreds of hands of all sizes and colors reaching out! Hundreds of happy, smiling faces!

I’ve never touched that many people in one day, or even over a couple of months. But here are thousands of hands…

The intensity of these brief encounters varied from person to person. Over and over I saw the emotion in their eyes and I knew they saw it in mine. We were in a sacred space together. We were here to bless and be blessed… Our hearts were connecting and love was flowing… People thanked me. I thanked them.

After several blocks, my hand and arm tingled. I thought maybe I had touched all I could—I was tired and happy—maybe I should stop for awhile. I was overflowing with emotions, almost teary at times, but yet strangely beyond tears. If I would have stopped, I think I would have cried, but I couldn’t stop. The parade kept moving forward. I had to keep moving. I just couldn’t stop… more hands reached out. I had to reach back…

And so it went. Block after block. Hundreds if not thousands of hands. More than I could touch. And each a sweet blessing…

So it was a night of grace. A holy night when strangers opened their hearts to each other.

Let us then try what love will do.
—William Penn



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