Tag Archives: Motor City Pride

“The Island of Misfit Toys”

Supergay Detroit debriefs us on Motor City Pride, which returned to Detroit for the first time in decades earlier this month:

The most incredible thing about this Pride was that for the first time since I moved to Detroit, I actually really felt like being gay here was totally normal.  I mean as completely normal as it would be in Chicago or Washington, DC or Boston or anywhere else I’ve lived.  Everywhere you went there were gay people or rainbow flags or just people asking how Pride was going.

In my email to business owners for the Pride Project I said that Motor City Pride moving downtown had the potential to change perceptions about Detroit in a way that hasn’t happened since the Superbowl was here in 2006.  In the way Pride exceeded every expectation, I really believe that was the case.  What I didn’t expect was that it was going to change the way *I* thought about Detroit.

The whole weekend left me feeling a little feisty, like maybe it’s OK to say that something can just be GAY for its own sake without people getting defensive or worrying that people will feel left out.  (It’s Detroit, for God’s sake. The Island of Misfit Toys.  Everybody belongs.)

I LOVE his characterization of Detroit here, since it is so apt.  It reminds me of when John Waters was on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!  earlier this year and he talked at length about how living in Baltimore has influenced his film-making.  I totally knew what he was talking about, because Detroit also has a very John Waters feel in a lot of ways, from the ripped-from-the-tabloids city politics, to the endless Youtube videos of ordinary Detroiters behaving badly, the seemingly limitless tolerance of Detroiters for chaos and messiness and squalor.  Remember Edith Massey?  She would have fit right in.  Detroit is just a John Waters kind of town.

(Speaking of which, Waters apparently addressed the U.S. Conference of Mayors last week when they met in Baltimore, which, I don’t even know where to begin, that is so perfect and surprising and hilarious at the same time.   I will have to try to hunt down a transcript.)

Spending a lot of time in Detroit literally alters your vision.  Out of towners tend to react with polite horror when they drive through town after a long absence, nervously eyeing their surroundings and trying to mask their disapproval.  I was the same way — when I first moved to Detroit I was secretly fascinated that there were white people living there still and wondered what their lives were like.  Now that I’ve been coming and going regularly for several years the blight, the poverty, all the things good and bad that make Detroit so exotic for small-town or suburban white people, seem kind of normal to me.

I wasn’t around in the 1970s, but I wonder if that’s kind of how gay ghettoes in our country started out too.  Gay culture started to emerge from the closet at the time when violent crime was peaking.  The gayborhoods often popped up in neighborhoods that were declining, in cities that themselves seemed to be dying.   To your average American, homosexuality was shocking, gay people were dissolute and criminal and dangerous, and you certainly wouldn’t take your kids for a drive through a neighborhood where those kinds of people congregrated.   Now the country’s great gayborhoods are thriving, prosperous and high-density places (though I’m pretty sure most parents still might think twice about taking young kids for a walk through, say, Boystown or the Castro).   I’m not saying that Detroit, even its best neighborhoods, will ever be fortunate enough to enjoy anything near that kind of a turnaround.  But those places had the same naughty, scary, Wild West kind of feel.  Gay people are used to seeking out grimy bars in  questionable neighborhoods, just like rave kids or music scenesters.  We’re used to feeling different and wary of our surroundings.  Frankly, I feel safer in a lot of parts of Detroit than I did in East Lansing on a Saturday night when I was an undergraduate, ignoring drunk fratboys yelling “faggot” or dodging a beer bottle aimed for my skull.

I think I know what Supergay was talking about when he writes about how Motor City Pride felt normal.  You had a lot of random people show up who may or may not have been gay — they just wanted to come check things out.  Lots of moms bringing their young kids, lots of younger teens, way more than I recall ever seeing at Pride when it was in Ferndale.  You had people of all  ages hanging out on the riverwalk, fishing, selling things, Detroit police officers peacefully mingling with the crowd.  And the behavior of attendees certainly seemed better than what you get from white suburban kids a lot of the time after major sports events or, say, the Downtown Hoedown.

I agree with Supergay that press coverage was pretty meager.  I’m not surprised that the Detroit News pretty much ignored it, but I would have expected a little better from the Free Press.

Supergay also pleas, “Someone open a downtown neighborhood gay bar NOW.”   I’ll second that.  We need a second gay bar in Washtenaw County too (Aut Bar could use the competition).   Preferably with a patio, but I’d happily take even a shitty dive bar.  I’ve decided Depot Town in Ypsilanti would be a perfect site.  In the meantime, word on the street is that Necto is making Tuesday its second gay night of the week starting tomorrow.  I’m going to try to sneak over & investigate.   There is also a queer dance party at Live one Saturday each month which I need to check out sooner or later.

Dancing in the Streets: A sample of the springtime social calendar in the D

My dance card is quite busy this weekend and next, and why?  It’s festival time in Detroit!  Indulge me as I brag about my plans.

This weekend (Memorial Day weekend):

Last night I met some friends at the delectable and unbelievably cheap Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño, a Salvadoran restaurant on a rather desolate stretch of Livernois on the Southwest side of Detroit.   It was my second visit.  Among the dishes we shared were yucca frita, platanos fritos, and a number of different pupusas.  There was no wait time, and the waitress was very accommodating of our large party.  Definitely check it out, and don’t be discouraged by the location.

On my way, I found myself driving right behind a Critical Mass event.  Most motorists hate getting stuck behind a hundred or so bicyclists, but I wasn’t in a hurry, the cyclists looked pretty happy, and it’s always cheering to see a crowd materialize out of thin air on an otherwise empty street in an otherwise empty neighborhood in Detroit.

Then we headed over to the Third Street Saloon for the monthly Guerilla Queer Bar.  Music was just OK, and we didn’t stay long because I am old and we had to drive back to Ann Arbor, but there was a reasonable number of cute guys.

Tomorrow, I’m going to try to make it to DEMF for the first time in three years.  I haven’t really listened to any of the Sunday acts, but the people-watching is always good and I could use the physical workout I always get from a full day dancing at DEMF.

Next weekend (June 3-5):

I’ll be back at Hart Plaza for the second weekend in a row.  Motor City Pride, duh!  Which will feature a parade this year.   There will be a Ferndale Pride too, which is somewhat controversial, but we will likely make a cameo at that too.  I was impressed by Detroit blogger Supergay’s effort to gather Detroit businesses to sponsor Pride as a way to show to doubters that Detroit is gay-friendly, too.  As it turns out, he was quite successful, reporting that as of May 6 he had “raised over $6500 from a whole slew of downtown independent merchants who are proud to be sponsors of Pride.”

There are a few Pride evening parties, some official and some not, but I’ll wager the real party is going to be in Royal Oak, where Robyn is singing on Saturday night.  That’s where I’ll be!  (if I can get my hands on my tickets, which still haven’t arrived…)

The weekend after:  I’ll be visiting North Carolina for the first time ever, for a wedding in Durham.  I’ll put on my Urban Adventurer hat so I can report back on Durham, Chapel Hill, & Raleigh.  So stay tuned and if you have any suggestions on what to do or see, or where to eat or drink, leave a comment.