Friday, October 30, 2009

Going Gaga in D.C.

The National Equality March took place on a beautiful day. It was sunny and dry, with a hint of fall in the air. It was a perfect day for a stroll to the Capitol Building with 100,000 or so of my closest gay friends.

I’m guessing wildly at the number of people in the crowd, of course. As with most protest marches, estimates varied wildly depending on who was doing the estimating. I heard everything from tens of thousands to 200,000. I have no gift for crowd counts myself. All I know is that it was a huge swathe of people that stretched for blocks and blocks.

The march started at McPherson Square, circled Lafayette Park, passed by the White House (I seemed to be the only person in the crowd alarmed by the snipers on the roof—apparently they’re old news to Washingtonians), and then headed down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Building lawn.

Although the route covered more than two miles, the march was over more quickly than I expected. The crowd was very well behaved, and if there were any counter protesters, they behaved themselves, too. It was a nice day, and I think everyone was in too good of a mood to get testy with anyone.

When I was younger, I almost never stuck around for the speakers after pride parades and protest marches. They were usually the least interesting part of the day for me, far overshadowed by the people-watching, sunbathing, and public consumption of alcohol. On this day, however, Pipi and I, happy to sit down for a while, listened to most of the speeches. I’m glad we did. Matthew Shepard’s mother spoke briefly, and I honestly don’t remember much of what she said, because she could just stand there silently and we would still love her to pieces. Cynthia Nixon spoke, which excited me in a star-struck kind of way. Lieutenant Dan Choi, a West Point-educated Arab linguist who is currently being discharged from the army for being gay spoke incredibly movingly and eloquently about the need to be brave and love whom you must no matter what the consequences—and he should know.

The biggest surprise of the afternoon was the musician Lady Gaga. Before traveling to Washington, D.C., I was only dimly aware of her. In the days before the march, I got a crash course in all things Gaga from Pipi’s fabulous 16-year-old cousin, who is a big fan, but I still wasn’t overly impressed.

It turns out that music is probably the least interesting thing about Lady Gaga. The musician, who is all of 23 years old and sings pop songs that are no more intellectually challenging than Madonna’s early hits, is an incredible ally to the gays. She wasn’t the most gifted speaker that day, but she was one of the most earnest. She just loves her gay fans and wants nothing but the best for us. So bless God, bless the gays, and bless Lady Gaga, who is doing what the HRC, Barney Frank, and even older pop stars like Melissa Etheridge and Elton John can’t do: Bringing a message of tolerance to the future voters of America.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs

Although the National Equality march was scheduled for a leisurely noon start (the Queer Nation does like its brunch), Pipi and I were up early perfecting our signs. We each came up with a double-sided sign on foamcore with a sturdy handle. I can’t tell you how many newbies there were out there holding floppy pieces of cardboard over their heads with both hands. Handles, people! Your arms will thank you later.

I didn’t feel up to trying to out-fab the crowd, so my signs were fairly straight-forward. One side said: “What’s the Hold-Up? End Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and the other said: “Obama, If Not Now, When?” Both were inspired by the president’s speech the night before where he promised to abolish both policies, but gave no hint about a timetable.

Pipi’s messages were more inspired. On one side, her sign said: “Help Gays Be Patriots—End Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” The other said: “Repeal DOMA—Don’t Let Canada Make us Look Bad.” (DOMA is the Defense of Marriage Act—please don’t ask me how anyone thinks they can defend marriage by prohibiting it.)

You can usually count on the gay community to come up with good signs. This crowd didn’t disappoint. The cheekiest one, one that I might not have had the guts to carry even if I’d thought of it, read: “Jesus hung out with 12 guys and a prostitute. He was more like me than you.” Another creative one said: “Jesus had two daddies, and someday so will my kids.”

Our signs didn’t get us on the evening news, but that’s okay. I think we did a pretty good job with them. We didn’t try to use them to address the haters. (Good thing, too. They’ve twisted Jesus’ words so much I’d hate to see what they’d do with mine.) We just stated what we wanted, plainly and simply.

Plus : Handles.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More Unlikely Allies

See, you just never know who your friends are.

(Actually, I think it was well known that Bea Arthur was a friend of the Friends of Dorothy, but still, $300,000 is above and beyond.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Unexpected Allies

The renaissance revels were just the beginning of our Saturday. We still had some serious work to do, including stalking the cast of Glee and making a scene in front of the president.

Let me back up. We timed our trip to Washington, D.C. to coincide with the big National Equality March on Sunday, October 11. But of course, that wasn’t the only big event in town that weekend. Saturday night, there was a gala dinner in D.C. hosted by the Human Rights Campaign. President Obama was scheduled to speak, which was cool, but if Pipi and I were being honest with ourselves, we’d have admitted that the people we were really hoping to catch a glimpse of were the cast of the show Glee, some of whom were supposed to be attending the dinner. (I like this show so much more than I want to!)

Quick glimpses of these stars were about all we could hope for, because we were not guests at the dinner. We were just part of the motley crowd standing outside the venue with signs.

It would be unfair to describe us as protesters, because that would imply some sort of unified message. We were more of an accrual of people with assorted gripes. A few people were protesting the dinner itself, feeling that the time and money might be better spent doing….well, that part of the message wasn’t clear. Abolishing formal wear, maybe.

Most of the one hundred or so people milling around with signs were, like us, there to urge Obama, whom we generally support, to get moving on promises he made during his campaign. These would include ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. The gathering felt more like a constructive criticism session than an angry, confrontational protest.

Then there were the people that I suspect show up at most events where the president might see them. These included an anti-war contingent, and some pro-life protesters. There was also a crazy van circling the block plastered with pictures of the twin towers burning, New Orleans under water, and the tsunami-ravaged coast of Samoa. Captions blamed all these things on gays. The rumor was that this van was driven by, if not Fred Phelps himself, then by some of his people. We were not able to confirm this, however, which is a shame, because there’s a guy I’d really love the opportunity to personally scream at.

We never did see the cast of Glee—they either got there very early or else they slipped in another entrance. But we did see the presidential motorcade, which was exciting.

I saw one other thing made it all worthwhile: Two women in dresses who just happened to be walking down the street asked Pipi and I what the crowd was all about. We told them it was a pro gay-rights protest, and they said that they supported us and wished us well.

That was a nice moment, but I probably would have forgotten about it right away if I hadn’t noticed them again about 10 minutes later. They had by this time somehow gotten ahold of a large rainbow flag, and were holding it up proudly as they marched around in a circle with a knot of protesters.

My gut feeling is that these two women were straight, but of course, it doesn’t matter. What I take from the encounter is that issues like gay marriage and defeating Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell have a lot of mainstream support. Fifteen years ago, gay rights were the sole provenance of severely coiffed people who yelled a lot. Now we get help from sitcom stars and people on their way to cocktail parties.

They say love conquers all. Consider yourself warned, crazy van guy.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Renaissance Festival

Pipi’s 16-year-old cousin took us to Maryland for what was, remarkably, our first renaissance festival.

I admit that I was a little apprehensive. It’s not that I shy away from the nerdier things in life. I actually was worried that I wouldn’t be nerd enough. I had an idea that this would be a place where Dungeons and Dragons freaks and drama geeks would rule, making life difficult for anyone who didn’t have a costume or who doesn’t have perfect facility with Shakespearian insults. (I also just don’t have the build for the serving-wench look—this was also a concern.)

It wasn’t like that at all. William said that we weren’t expected to come in costume, so, like at least half the spectators, we didn’t. It soon became clear that the event was more about bawdy fun than historical accuracy. Just about everything else, though, was what I expected. There really was jousting (although nobody got knocked off a horse—disappointing); you really could purchase various bone-in, hand-held meats to gnaw on; and people really did address me as “M’lady.” There were lutes, and jesters, and all the runic knives anyone could ask for.

After about 15 minutes, when I realized nobody was going to yell at me for anachronistic dress and speech (and having noted that there were a wide variety of fried things for sale), I relaxed and enjoyed myself.


Friday, October 23, 2009


One day Pipi and I went to the National Zoo with Pipi’s aunt. Highlights were the pandas (three of them!), a baby gorilla, and these little guys. They are Asian small-clawed otters, the world’s smallest otter species. They’re awfully cute, and if you like the still photo, you can watch them in action on the zoo’s otter cam.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


One other interesting find we made in D.C. was a gay sports bar. Who knew there was such a thing?

It’s called Nellie’s Sports Bar, and it’s located at 900 U Street, NW. It was in some ways very much like every sports bar I’ve ever been to, which is admittedly not that many. There were TVs everywhere, each tuned to a different channel. Every one seemed to be showing a mainstream sporting event. Really the only difference between what was going on here compared to a regular sports bar was that the set showing the men’s diving competition was getting the most attention.

One other difference is that the food was really good. They have the burgers, wings, and nachos you’d expect, but they also have a few South/Central American specialties, including empanadas and arepas. I’d never had, or even heard of an arepa, so I had to try it. The outside is something like a tamale casing, but chewier. This is folded over two fillings of your choice. I had ropa vieja and queso blanco in mine. It was like a Venezuelan cheese steak, served with fried plantains and sour cream.

I guess there were a few other differences between Nellie’s and conventional sports bars, but they were subtle. For instance, there’s bingo every Tuesday, but the caller is a drag queen. Card night is called “Pokerface,” after the Lady Gaga song. And they sponsor teams just like any other popular bar, but those teams have names like D.C. Divas and the Washington Wetskins.

To top it all off, I also determined that Nellie’s often shows women’s soccer games on TV, so now I officially like everything about Nellie’s. I know exactly where I’ll be going if I ever happen to be in Washington when there’s a big sports event going on.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Time out for Chocolate

For part of our trip, we stayed with my grandparents, and the other nights we spent at Pipi’s aunt’s house. Both families live in the Northern Virginia suburbs, so it was easy to get into Washington, D. C. during the day.

On one free day we went to the spy museum. This was fun, but a little bit overwhelming. Exhibits told the story of spying from biblical times until today, and I barely made it through the Cold War. My brain was full long before I got to cyberspying, so I’ll have to go back someday to find out how the Internet changed sleuthing.

Another fun discovery is the fact that Washington is a great chocolate city. We went to three different chocolate shops. The first one, Locolat wasn’t bad—I had very good hot chocolate and a yummy truffle—but the guy running the place was inexplicably cranky. How can you be in a bad mood surrounded by chocolate? Something strange was going on there.

The second place, Biagio Fine Chocolate, was a gourmet shop that carried some truffles (we were surprised to see our favorite Oakland chocolate maker, Michael Mischer, represented there), but it specialized in chocolate bars. They’re big on single-origin chocolate, and even bigger on free samples. They had a number of bowls out, each containing pieces of chocolate with various cocoa levels. We knew we were supposed to start with the mild stuff and work our way up to 85%, but Pipi’s cousin William discovered that if you taste one of the really intense dark squares and then eat one of the mild ones, it’s like popping butter into your mouth. This kept us amused for quite some time, but don’t worry, we did buy some.

ACKC Cocoa Gallery, which we went to the next day, sold not just house-made chocolates, but also chocolate drinks. It reminded us of our Australian obsession, Max Brenner. ACKC is located near Dupont Circle, and we spent the better part of an afternoon nursing caramel cocoa, buying rounds of chocolate, and just basking in the general fabulousness of the place.

(Yes, we managed to eat dinner both nights. We’re pros.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fort Belvoir

Fun fact: I was born on an army base (Fort Knox), but my family moved when I was only a few weeks old, and until just this month, I had not been on an active military installation in the intervening 39 years.

When Pipi and I were in Washington, D.C., my grandparents took us to see Fort Belvoir, in northern Virginia. I’m not sure we could have gotten onto the base on our own, and we almost certainly couldn’t have had coffee at the officers’ club without my grandfather, who was stationed at Fort Belvoir several times over the course of a long military career.

I thought we’d feel like imposters, but everywhere we went—the PX, the officers’ club, the parade ground where my grandfather used to march--we saw a lot of people in civilian clothing and contemporary haircuts. It was all far less mysterious and martial than I expected. It was almost disappointing how normal everything looked, but finding the familiar in the exotic is a big part of travel.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Back From Hiatus

I didn’t mean to take such a long break. I was getting ready for a trip to Washington, D.C. and somehow just didn’t get to my blog…for about three weeks. Anyway, I’m back now, back from D.C. and back from outer space. Posting should resume this week.