Sharing with other HRC Orlando Expo booth volunteers, I said, “This sure isn’t anything like Exodus ever had an exhibit booth at before!” It’s true. I used to travel the country and staff the Exodus International booth at various religious conferences.
That said, there were similarities. At religious convention expos/vendor hall events, you could also get a bag full of cheap free pens, brochures, cards, key chains and kitchen magnets. BUT, you could not get free vodka shots and buy a “Madonna Made Me Gay” t-shirt at the National Religious Broadcasters, Focus On The Family or Assembly of God conferences.
Don’t think that would have gone over well in those venues.
On the flip side, I couldn’t find any breath mints wrapped in scripture references or quote calendars from your beloved Mega-church leader at the Gay Days Expo either.
We all have our thing(s) I guess.
The Gay Days Expo
Truthfully, the Gay Days Expo was all very typical in most respects. Local and national businesses and organizations promoting their products or ideas, sign-up for a free trip to wherever, newsletters, get married here, start a new bank account there, people sticking alleged “back” massage electrodes to your shoulders without asking, some lady showing up with a full-grown “domesticated” wolf and a Drag Queen hosting a trivia challenge and raffle drawing.
Ok…fine … it is our version of a normal expo.
I am having a bit of fun here by highlighting some of the stand-out moments, but the entire day was filled with meeting lovely people and having wonderful conversations. I was at the HRC booth to help promote new membership and hand out merch to those who signed up. I have no previous experience in helping along these lines, but it seemed like we were very busy and had a lot of people join the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). It was fun and felt good, right, to help explain what the HRC is doing and why it is important to support their work across the country.
I will share some more personal thoughts about this and the day to sum up this post. For now, though, let’s talk about …
The Nearly Bare Bears
I had a friend unexpectedly, and very kindly, give me a pass to the Bear Cave Lagoon pool party. After a fun, busy 6+ hours at the HRC booth in the Gay Days Expo, I headed over toward the incredibly loud thumping music.
It was an adventure getting there, because … well, there is incredibly loud thumping music in every direction. With so many gay people mass migrating in every direction, I quickly obtained guidance.
Pack of almost naked Twinks walking by: “They’re over there sweetie…”
Me: “Thank you!”
I showed up to the pool wearing what I had worn at the booth because I didn’t bring a change of clothes. Who knew this was going to happen? I was in my favorite stylish (I think at least) sandals, khaki shorts (not cargo or pleated), black t-shirt and
man purse… I mean security blanket … I mean satchel. As I waited for the friend who got me the ticket, I was simply amazed and very entertained with the sights, sounds, and organized chaos unfolding in front of me.
I have never seen so many speedos, in so many colors, on so many body types, in one place, in my entire life! Of course, there was the random dude dressed as a female Bollywood Dancer, but with that guy taking the cake, I was the second most overdressed person there.
The man who gave me the pass is a friend that I haven’t seen in a good 18 years. We met up at the Expo right after I got there and decided to do more talking at the pool party. We had a splendid conversation. Near the end, with his big handsome grin he said,
“Randy, your kind of a square. You are. It’s very endearing, but you still have your boundaries you bounce around in and off of, which isn’t surprising because you came from such an uptight life.”
My handsome friend went on to tell me that he recognized I was pushing my boundaries and in time things won’t be so wide-eyed for me and just be normal “it is what it is” kind of stuff. Of course, I am paraphrasing him to an extent, and we talked about plenty of other stuff. But, that kind of sums up how I felt on my way home from a busy day at the 2016 Gay Day’s Expo and after a bit at the Bear Cave Pool Party.
On Being An “Endearing Square”
I am ok with being a square; an endearing square is even better. I can see the continued need to shed some of my religious uptightness at times. At the same time, I am quite ok with never ever never never wearing a speedo or diving headlong into this or that party. Not for religious reasons; it’s because that’s not how I roll reasons.
I know my friend was encouraging me. I received his opinion as such. But what I think he is picking up on the most is that at times I still feel like I don’t deserve to be there because of my past in the “ex-gay” world. Sometimes I feel like an interloper and shouldn’t get to enjoy or take part in our community’s passion for equality and in our Pride festivities.
It’s not religious fear or uptightness that I struggle with. That’s done and closed; no more legalism. What I struggle with is in extending grace and forgiveness to myself for my past. The knife in the gut feeling that happens from time to time isn’t the scantily clad masses, it’s the man who joyfully shared with me that he married his partner 13 years ago in Massachusetts as soon as it was legal there to do so. His tone changed though when he shared that it was so stressful because of Romney and all the religious people were trying to deny he and his husband their right to marry. The pain that shot through his eyes with that memory broke my heart and again, was like a knife to the gut.
I was literally one of the religious people working against this man and husband. Back in 2003, I sat in a committee meeting at the Massachusetts state capital and lobbied against marriage equality. When this man told me his story at the Expo booth, I felt horrible. He was there to have fun, not deal with my need to make amends so I didn’t foist my issues on him in front of the crowd at the HRC booth. Instead, I thanked him for sharing his story and said I was happy for him and his husband. He may never know this, but I will never forget his face and story as I move forward to do the right thing today.
This year, my overall sense of feeling like an interloper isn’t anywhere near as bad as last year. I did enjoy my day yesterday from beginning to end. I look forward to experiencing what is put before me and seek to do the best I can to contribute positively and enjoy our community(ies) along the way.
Next year, after a long day volunteering at the HRC booth, I may just leave my
man-purse satchel at home. Instead, I will wear my “Madonna Made Me Gay” t-shirt, bring a beach towel, sunblock, cheap rubber flip flops, full bathing suit and go dance with the Bollywood Bear at the Bear Cave Lagoon.
Check out the gallery below with my photos from yesterday 🙂