Wednesday, April 24, 2013

ON YOUR LEFT!!! MS 150 Breakaway to Key Largo

A few months ago Jose, my barber, showed me his new bike. It was a sleek road bike with a carbon fiber frame that was white, black and neon green. Just beautiful.  He asked me to lift it and all 13lbs of carbon fiber, steel and aluminum caused my heart to melt. Since then I've had some serious bike envy.  That bike inspired me to ride in South Florida's premier bike event: the MS 150 Breakaway to Key Largo. The event was last weekend.

Prior to the ride, I collected a few intrepid bikers to ride the ride with me.  All of us had what in the bike world would be considered "beaters".  Older bikes, hybrids and road bikes that are clearly "recreational" bikes.  I began to see the pecking order of the biking world.

Like any community defined by the machines they use, the pecking order is clear: expensive new bikes at the top, everyone else below.  Concordantly, the nicer and more expensive the bike...the bigger the ego (dare I say: asshole) who rides it. Let's get one thing clear, the MS is a RIDE, not a race. Which is open to ALL cyclists regardless of bike or ability. You pay your entry fee, you raise $400 for a good cause and you ride.  No Lycra, no carbon fiber frame or Shimano Dura Ace components required.

So our intrepid little band started the ride and happily pedaled away at the leisurely pace of 15 to 18mph.  We thought we were towards the back of the ride as the faster cyclists, teams and groups were to the front. We were wrong. As we laughed and sang our way along 80 miles of Florida roads through suburbs, farm fields and mangrove, groups of "elite" riders would pass us(wait weren't we in the back?) and literally scream "ON YOUR LEFT!!!" in my ear.

Next year pink bicycle lady "on your left" will be me!

What kind of jerk yells at someone putting along on a country road which is deserted and closed off for the "ride". Go around...there's nobody here but you and me and an empty road.  One person yelled at me while I was resting on the side of the road not even moving. ON YOUR LEFT she screeched from her $3000 10lb pink Quintana Roo road bike, followed by a peloton of 20 bikers wearing acres of matching Lycra spandex shorts. (Rest assured very few people can pull that look off very well.)

So we finished our ride and as we walked away a "biker prince" said to my friend in a halfway rude, halfway pick up line kinda way "you rode 80 miles on THAT?"  Yes we replied, surprisingly her bike was the most "road" of all the bikes we had. She had tricked it out with some cool leather handle grips. We still couldn't figure out if he was just not good at conversing or a jerk.
So despite the "elite" riders, the RIDE (not a race) was amazing. The chance to see parts of my community from the best vantage point possible, on a bike.  America's winter garden in South Dade, Everglades, Mangrove swamps, waterways just pedaling away for a good cause.  It was fun, it was healthy and it felt good to push ourselves beyond what we thought we were capable of.

The MS 150 Breakaway to Key Largo was awesome fun.  Yeah it hurt physically. Yeah, my ego took some serious bruising not having some sleek road machine. Like showing up to the Indy 500 in an AMC Rambler.  Ouch, each time some jerk yelled ON YOUR LEFT! not as a safety warning but as a victory cry. I was glad to help our for a worthy cause. I was glad to challenge myself to something extraordinary and survive. Next year, I will be the one screaming ON YOUR LEFT!

Monday, April 15, 2013

The New "Normal"(Gay Pride redux 2013)

Crazy weekend past. I was swamped with Gay Pride, attending a wedding by two dear friends and executing Miami's Gay Swim team float.  After last year's debacle at gay pride, I was sure the Nadadores, colloquially known as the "Nads", would represent this year. Even if it was just me wearing my Speedo's.
But I'll get back to the Parade soon.  First I want to briefly describe the lovely wedding I went the night before. Two friends from the swim team finally tied the knot.  Attractive, successful these two are the poster boys for Marriage Equality. More importantly the ceremony was both poignant and beautiful. Set on a beachside terrace at a South Beach hotel the wedding guests sat outside waiting for the couple to walk down the aisle. Attending were both men's families (a Mexican and a Argentinian union). There was crying, there were flower girls, there were mothers-in-law and it all seemed so lovely, beautiful, exactly the way a wedding should be. Hotel guests could see  from the beach and pool the wedding going on. Strangely, there seemed no reaction to see these two striking men walking down the aisle.  Tears, dancing, love....the new normal.
So, the next day I'm scrambling to find hot young guys to be on the swim team float for  Miami Beach Gay Pride.  This year's crop of swimmers are a far cry from what the team had when I started swimming five years ago. (See "Gay Swim Team blog 6/12/08).  While the team has  it's fair share of hot young gay guys, the demographics have switched up a bit.  Now there are significantly more women, parents,seniors and oddly, straight young male professionals. Who, much to the chagrin of the gay guys, are actually extremely attractive.  
As I cast out calls for people to be on our float, of course I was hoping the hot young ones would heed the call. But like anything young and pretty, they need to wooed, begged and convinced that strutting themselves in a Gay Pride parade in Speedos is not going to make them seem uncool and/or slutty.  That somehow if their young nubile male flesh exposed to the world (they are on a swim team after all!) would make them damaged goods on Grndr or some other social media outlet.  That somehow being seen on a Gay Pride float in a pool would make them seem.......god forbid...."un masc"(non-masculine).
2010 Young hot and wet.....

The straight guys, the women, their kids, the seniors were like "hell yeah" let's do it! That's the new normal.  Yes we had a few young hotties on the float. What shocked me was that we had a lot of older ones too. There were kids (youngest was 3), there were women, and there were seniors: oldest person on float was 71. No, it wasn't the hot young crew we had in year's past. But isn't that the new normal?  Isn't that what we want for our community? That an event called Gay Pride, can hopefully be called "community pride".    An event that in the past (in other cities) that was known for R-rated frottage in public by people in just the minimal amount of leather clothing is now known for PG-13 strippers dressed as firemen and churches' bringing their entire youth groups to march in support of marriage equality.

That our allies, their families, our seniors are there for us.  Holding our hands, standing by our sides, in Speedos on a float and saying yes, I will be there for you. I want for your family the protections that I have. I am glad to see that the new normal.
2013 Diverse hot and wet

Visit the website

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Before the (Gay) Parade Passes By,

It's Gay Pride time in Miami again and of course I feel like writing my annual "angry gay" column. I've just spent an evening with several bickering homosexuals, a homosexual ally and two 14 year old girls.  The teens and I danced to gay anthems while the rest of them bickered of Gay Pride signage.  My slogans were: "Can't Pray Away the GAY" and "Fabulous by Choice, Gay by the Grace of God". There were several others as well.

That being said, I'm not going write the "angry gay" Pride column. I really want people to understand why this event is important to gay identity.  Why we do this. Is seems frivolous,  pointless even.  It's core roots forgotten and it's overt sexuality misunderstood. Why do gays want this, why do we NEED this and why it might all just go away.

At it's core it's a protest.
How do you piss off a nun? Well I know from experience, not much. However, to really anger a "moral" "God fearing Christian" you wiggle your firm male buttocks in their faces to thumping dance music. It get's them fired up, angers them, forces them to pray....pray hard. Even if you're 2000 miles away in San Francisco, your hot bod is going anger someone in Tupelo, Mississppi at the Family Research Council. Really piss them off. 

It's a protest about moral oppression. Back in the day, the Stonewall riots lasted for three days. Gays were tired of being brutalized and humiliated by police.  It's a protest about societal rules that kept gay sex hidden, in the darkness,  where someone's natural inclinations were to be ashamed of.  To the point somebody would wish you incarcerated, hospitalized or dead.  It's about taking that shame and shining it in the sunshine and, I won't hide anymore, my love, my body, my person. 
This is the kind of thing that pisses off the biblicals

It's a Celebration!
The media says it, we know it. No other movement has come so far so fast. This year 2013 could be the chance that marriage equality could become real for all. In 50 years we have moved from the fringes of society. Arrested, incarcerated, institutionalized for who we were. We can serve openly in the Military! We can marry in several states! Travel companies fight for the gay dollar! 

 Soon we will the most boring neighbors with the nicest begonias and rose bushes on the block.  We will be normal! We will be like the middle class black couple down the street, seemingly out of place, but here nonetheless.  We will become one more denizen of the potpourri of American life...and it will be no big deal.

It's a Remembrance.
600,000 gay men died in the AIDS epidemic.  No other group of people outside of the Vietnam generation can understand what it's like to lose an entire generation of people.  The epidemic taught us the lesson of uniting in the face of adversity, to advocate for ourselves in the face of government oppression, to understand the we, as gays, have something unique to offer this American experience. 

There's no real account of the thousands of teens who have committed suicide because of bullying and non-supportive families. We remember them and fight for the end of intolerance and bullying. It does get better.
Parade beauty queens....that should have been me. 

It's Passe.
Maybe, maybe not.  Aren't all parades passe? When is the last time you went to a parade? All the parades are fading, St. Patrick's Day, Fourth of July, New Year's Day, Orange Bowl.....I remember when Miami had all of those. Why does Gay Pride still bring out over 30,000 people to Miami Beach.  

Younger gays are moving on.  As our battle for rights getting closer to victory, in-your-face displays of homosexual lust seem a bit 20th century. Hot muscular men writhing against each other is just one mouse click away....who needs a parade for it?

  I mean for those of us who grew up playing "smear the queer", the world has moved on to Gay-Straight Alliance clubs, sensitivity courses for bullies and real acceptance in their personal and professional lives.  Gay marriage polls at 80% for those under 30....

Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
Why keep pissing off the nun, when she's already in the Parade?

Before the parade passes by 
Before it goes on, and only I'm left 
Before the parade passes by 
I've gotta get in step while there's still time left 

I wanna hold my head up high 
I need a goal again, I need a drive again 
I wanna feel my heart coming alive again 
Before the parade passes by 

I'm gonna carry on 
Give me an old trombone 
Give me an old baton 
Before the parade passes by

Lyrics by Gerry Herman.

Friday, April 5, 2013

"Thin Places"

Recently my church celebrated a "Celtic lent".  When I was told about this I rolled my eyes and thought "let the white people have their voodoo too."  Next year I hope we have a "Santeria Lent" or an "Afro-Cuban Lent".  That being said, the pastor defended Celtic beliefs and described the concept of "Thin Places". 
Now I know you thought this was going to be another rant about the morbidly obese.  Somehow the concept of "Thin Places" stuck in my head.  In Celtic spirituality, "Thin Places" are places where the wall between heaven and earth are blurred. Where you feel a sense of spirituality, of magic.
I try to be a pragmatic spiritualist. I mean I go to church every Sunday, I have just a bare mustard seed of faith, but it's enough to keep me going to church with a healthy dose of skepticism. Yet I wanted to be a geography major in college because of a love of maps and places. So the concept of "Thin Places" stayed with me.  I knew in my memory that I had experienced such places but couldn't quite remember where.
For Holy Week this year I chose to go to Guatemala. I chose this place because my husband is a devout ex-catholic (like a guy who still loves his ex-wife) and despite being an avowed main-line protestant, the siren call of the mother church still beckons him.  New Pope and all I thought I'd go to the most medieval, ├╝ber-catholic place I could think of for Holy Week: Antigua Guatemala.
Full disclosure: I lived in Guatemala for several years as a little boy. We arrived in "Guate" as the locals call it with my entire family in tow...2 brothers, mother, niece, husband. I won't get into family dynamics here, but it turned out fine.
Yavin 4, Rebel Base

Our first stop was Tikal.  You might recognize Tikal as the fictional moon of Yavin 4 in Star Wars. Tikal is an ancient Mayan City.....and a Thin Place. Even George Lucas could understand that the "Force" is strong here.  Nestled in a deep jungle with gigantic Ceiba trees which my niece compared to the "Home Tree in Avatar." You trek for a few kilometers through the Jungle and come up to these amazing ancient ruins that were uncovered in the last century and the magic is palpable. Monkeys are the full time residents now but it's not hard to imagine why the Maya picked this place as their capital.  My husband claimed that taking his shoes off in the temple courtyard cured his gout as proof the spiritual power of the place. I think the concept of "Thin Places" best describes the locale. Beyond the majesty of the temples and jungle, a feeling here, a tingling...who knows. But it felt nice.
Tikal circa 2013
Flew back to Antigua, Guatemala for the second part of the vacation. Antigua is the old capital of Guatemala. It was abandoned in the 1500s after a series of earthquakes rocked the city.  Also I think the Guatemalans realized that the valley was going to be too small for a capital city. Yet they managed to build 35 churches, monasteries and convents.  Antigua's Holy Week is famous for its "carpets".  Every day during holy week there is a procession of Jesus. Passion Plays are acted out across the town. Celebrants come from around region to participate. Antiguans lay out amazingly detailed "carpets" made from colored sawdust, flowers, and fruits for the processions to cross upon.  During this time, I believe, Antigua becomes a "Thin Place." Tens of thousands of indigenous people come to celebrate their faith. 
I don't think so many religious sites concentrated in a such a small area is an accident.  A lush valley in the shadow of three volcanoes, one named "Fuego" which belches smoke and lava on a daily basis, how can it not be a "Thin Place"?  Spiritual centers must be drawn to some type of feeling or energy or beauty. There must be something in the geography that tells humans....this is a special place. This is a place of worship.  This is a little piece of heaven. I'm happy to say Thin Places exist. I found mine in the Jungles, mountains and volcanoes of Guatemala.

Ceiba or "home tree"?