The pre-Pride parade marches down Congress Street toward Monument Square, in May 1993.
Photo courtesy of the Annette Dragon Papers, LGBT Collection, Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine, USM Libraries.
5 years ago
No longer invisible
In 2004, I was "fresh out of the box" gay — shiny and new, with the plastic wrap still on. I grew up in Coral Springs, Florida, which isn't far from Fort Lauderdale. (Yes, people grow up there.) Being young in what's essentially urban-southern-sprawl makes for little opportunity to "be out." Even though I'd been "intellectually queer" for years, I'd never so much as (knowingly!) been in the same room as other gay people.
When I came to Portland, I had only one year of away-from-home living under my belt. I know you can relate — there are many things college freshmen embark on in that first year: drinking, drugs, sex, chosen homelessness, vegetarianism, veganism (to name a few). All the "stuff" that our families and parents and friends from home might frown upon or shudder uncomfortably at. Mine happened to be being queer.
Looking back, the most exciting thing that happened to me in my underage glory was sneaking into the bar Somewhere Else, currently Flask and once-upon-a-time Spring Street Piano Bar. I didn't go to drink — I went to dance and be absolutely surrounded by queers.
This was new terrain for me. Women being openly affectionate with other women; men dancing up on other men; and folks who could have been either or both or neither — there was something about it that was starkly surreal to me. Yes, in Florida, every once in a while, I'd encounter an older woman who "looked" like she was a dyke. That always elicited a certain internal response that as a child I didn't understand, and as a teenager made me feel like I was in a secret society. But here, in Portland, on the dance floor of Somewhere Else, there was nothing secret about this society at all. We were open, and out, and in each other's comfort and presence. We were seen. And it was the first time I felt truly visible.
This is what Portland has done for me in the past few years — it's allowed me to feel visible, and feel comfortable being visible. It isn't too out of the ordinary to see other folks who look and walk and talk like me wandering down Congress Street. And there's something to be said for that reflection. When we see ourselves, we are empowered. We rise up. We create community. Portland in 2004 made me realize I was part of a greater context — and it continues to do so every day.