Once again it's happening, and once again more than a few of us locals are rolling our eyes and clucking our tongues. Now in its 15th year, Gay Days has grown a lot from its origin as a conspicuously red-shirted protest at Disney's Magic Kingdom into a giant pink monster with very expensive tastes. One day of park admission has given way to six days of circuit parties, pool parties, niche events and, yes, The Village People, all expected to draw more than 135,000 participants and put at least $100 million in area coffers. Gay Days has gone way beyond Disney, but it's not about to abandon its roots. All of which should make me feel happy when it's not making me feel had but instead makes me feel precisely nothing. It's all an illusion.
Even the New York Times has jumped on the drag-wagon, this month profiling our humble metropolis with a feature headlined "Gay Orlando Steps Out" (May 13, 2005) that carefully pussyfoots around Gay Days, as well as several touchstones on our local queer climb, to nearly explode with the assertion that "in other words, this is Orlando gone gay." The notice does come with some temperance, noting our distinct lack of any one gay area to rival the Castro district of San Francisco (hell, the closest we have to New York's Christopher Street is a short stretch of ViMi from which you can choose a wig and size-14 pumps, or this season's best lube) and the ever-present threat of gay bashing when venturing outside Orlando. But the conclusion is decidedly in the pink, positively chipper with raised-eyebrow optimism crafted by prominent local gay-business owners.
"Orlando has more than one magical kingdom," Parliament House co-owner Don Granatstein says in the article. And he's not even gay.
The question lies in the magic, though. For years we've endured this reading of the gay mystique, buying halfheartedly into the idea that through the wizardry of animatronics and giant castles, queer intentions can and should be mistaken for childlike wonderment. But while the Disney enthusiasts do make up a nominal portion of Orlando's gay community (we all know at least one), they hardly define it.
The inherent simplification of the gay issue as an emasculated boy's adventure tale, while helpful in terms of palatable assimilation, does little service to the gays who embody it. It just isn't true. Nobody, however, wants to admit that we're not all Peter Pans flying over the straight world with a clever quip or two. To do so would be to admit the sexuality of our situation, and only an irrational fear of pedophilia and AIDS could follow. It's safer in Cinderella's castle.
Or is it? Years ago, when I thought it wise to brave the red (shirted) tide of Gay Days autopilot, my friends and I sat on a tram from the parking lot to the park trying to hold up our heavily dosed gay heads as best we could through the turns. Across from us sat a family of three: mother, father and child. The mother, apparently touched by the whole idea of introducing her young boy to diversity, smiled at us hopefully. Only we had very little by way of consonants and vowels to offer, and could barely smile back. "What's your name?" she asked, looking at me, then her son, then back again.
"Blah," I replied; it was about all I could muster.
Once inside the park, we immediately set our sights on scoring more ketamine, and it wasn't hard. Over by the bathrooms, we made our deal, shot it back and continued on to pollute the magical, fiberglass air with half-tongued witticisms and unnecessary cartwheels before practically passing out in the cultural whirlwind of "It's a Small World." I'd like to say that we were an anomaly simply bad seeds in the presence of a truly valuable event but we weren't.
Frankly, I'm ashamed (though just a little bit amused) by the whole experience, but compared to some of the other stories that I heard throughout the weekend, and have continued to hear from Gay Days since, I consider my own actions boringly tame. At least I was too fucked up to have sex.
But that's a large part of how gay people occupy their time at Gay Days. Maybe it would be better left unsaid to leave the world and the New York Times to their illusions but in reality, Gay Days is largely about sex and drugs. Sure, they're not sanctioned as Gay Days itself is not by Disney but they're there, gleaming from every noticeable corner with every sideways glance. You'll find them in the bathhouses (we have one of those), the groping gardens behind certain bars, the hotel crawls, the circuit-party dance floors, the bathrooms. It's all implied by the lifestyle, but somehow rarely spoken of.
In fact, the bulbous Tom-of-Finland debauchery and the Fire Island bushes have never really left us, but have instead been buried a little deeper by real estate bankrolls and gym memberships. And we wouldn't have it any other way. We are grown-ups, after all.
It isn't magic at all, really. It's just the truth.