On Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., on the northeast corner of Yonge and Wellesley, I lost my virginity. It was hot, it was rowdy, it was public, and there was much shouting and joyous screaming. And it was wet. Very wet. Was it enjoyable? Yes. Was it painful? Actually yeah, a bit. Was it exactly how I imagined? No. It never is when something is so hyped, so notorious, and so mythicized as the annual Toronto Pride Parade.
I’ve been a Toronto resident for nearly four years, and over that time I have been lucky enough to attend a Pride party or two and several Halloweens on Church Street, and I’ve even tagged along to my share of evenings at Crews & Tango or the Buddies in Bad Times after-hours bar. However, during each of those years, due to previous plans, out-of-town engagements, or other unfortunate scheduling conflicts, I have been unable to attend the Pride Parade (I believe last year I was at a cottage—that seems to be a popular excuse). But like most rites of passage that are worthy of the “first time” recognition, the Pride Parade has become so much bigger than the sum of its glittery parts. This year especially, given all the media attention surrounding Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, City funding that is or isn’t happening, GSAs, Post-‘Mos, and one guest whose absence from Pride festivities was glaring. Now seemed to be the time to check out what I believed to be the scandalous, tawdry affair that everyone was getting so worked up over.
So, with anticipation high and expectations unfounded, I arrived at Yonge and Wellesley 90 minutes before the Parade’s 2 p.m. start, to ensure that I nabbed a full-frontal spot up against the barrier. The bashful type, I prepared myself to watch the majority of the Parade through slotted fingers, lest a rogue nipple or errant genitalia of some kind be flung in my direction. Because that’s the sort of thing that happens at the Parade, right? Isn’t it some kind of opportunity, excuse even, for all the liberals of the GTA to come together and relish in their risqué rejection of all things conservative?
As I stood in my spot of choice, and thousands of smiling, scantily-clad Parade-goers slowly milled around me before the Parade began, I watched a group of men across the street, above Garlic Pepper Szechuan Cuisine, scatter handfuls of confetti onto the crowd below, who shrieked in delight. Directly behind me, a group of Parade-watchers on the roof above the Starbucks and Bags-Fashion store used tiny water guns to help those of us down on street level cool off (a mere taste at what they had in store for later). An older man and woman teased each other with short squirts from their water guns. A teenager beside me gabbed about his crush. A drag queen in a neon blue wig and rainbow parasol stood in her platform boots on the rooftop. The crowd’s energy rose and rose as 2 p.m. drew nearer, to the point where an ice truck zipping by was stimulating enough to elicit a “Wooooo!” from my neighbours. By and large, from where I stood, there were no politics, no anger, no negative intentions. Everyone was here, first and foremost, to have fun. Harmless fun.
Not to say the Parade was devoid of more serious connotations—religious and ethnic groups showed their support, AIDS organizations spread their message of awareness, and key political figures were among the most energetic (I’m proud to say I personally received a Green Party condom from Toronto-Danforth candidate Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu and a shot in the face from NDP Ontario Leader Andrea Horwath’s water gun). But their presence only added to the frenzy. And though there was a costume here, and a poster there to remind us that the city’s most important political leader was missing out on the festivities, I began to wonder, “Rob who?” In fact, seeing the image of Rob Ford among the floats made me glad they were only masks, and not Ford himself. I’m sure he didn’t lose sleep on missing the Pride Parade, but I got the sense that neither did most of us who were there.
But if the real reason behind Ford’s absence had, in fact, been the potential proximity of spandex, leather, or, worse, a lack of clothing in general, he might have been surprised. I was. It took an hour into the Parade for me to see my first pair of boobs! And it wasn’t until Toronto Leather Pride’s group walked by that I saw my first bare ass. Of course, then came the nudists and my attempt to keep a boob-and-ball tally went out the window. But really, that was about it. My idea of the Pride Parade as a Picasso-like concoction of body parts, whips, wigs, and spikes was dashed. Far more invasive were my fellow viewers, willing to inflict bodily damage to score a pair of beads. And the fire hose—oh, the fire hose. Note to self: do not bring a leather bag to next year’s Parade and never again attempt to take written notes. My notepad is not what it used to be.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned this year about Pride, it’s that the LGBTTIQQ2SA community is still facing prejudice, discrimination, and homophobia around the world and right here at home. But, as a first-timer, the Pride Parade was mostly a time to party—for people to bare a little skin, get a little wet, and shout a whole lot. For a few hours on Sunday, I saw a different Toronto. A patrolling TPS officer tipped his sopping hat to the water gun–wielding rascals above, a young boy had one hand on his Radio Flyer red wagon and one in his father’s hand as he bared a giant, toothless grin, and the paint-chipped, rough-around-the edges buildings along Yonge Street suddenly looked graceful and beautiful behind a veil of fluttering confetti. No one could argue that those participating in the Pride Parade had any air of pretense or judgment. It was all anyone could ask for from a first time.
Photos by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.