I am home now.
I can tell you why I went to Columbus for the weekend. You’re not going to like it.
The only person I have to show you is Mary Pezzulo, boring or interesting, virtuous or not. The only story I have to tell is mine. If I nuke my career as a Catholic author for telling my story, of my life as a Catholic– well, maybe somebody else would like to hear it. Mary Pezzulo was raised in the strictest of Catholic homes, in a culture of strict Catholic homes. I was taught every rule the Church teaches about sexuality and I followed them to the letter, except for the one that says that homosexuals should be treated with respect and protected from any unjust discrimination. I don’t really like that Catechism rule anyway, truth be told– because when you decry “unjust discrimination,” you leave the back door open for “just” discrimination. But in my little subculture it was discrimination of every color of the rainbow. In any case, I have always followed the rules. No birth control, no condoms. Keep track of your fertility signs. Don’t even take ibuprofen if you think you may be pregnant, just in case. Don’t think about sex until your wedding night. No eyes for anyone but your husband. Go to confession if you make a mistake. I didn’t even admit to myself that I was queer, until recently.
I learned my Catechism from Father France-Kelley, a Dominican priest who was removed from the priesthood at the end of his life for a “credible accusation of abuse.” I came to Franciscan University and was prayed over by the famous Father Mike Scanlan to exorcize my demons, though it didn’t seem to take. Father Scanlan is now famous for having done everything in his power to cover up sexual abuse by the infamous Sam Tiesi, in order to make the university look wholesome. And the more recent news out of Franciscan University is common knowledge. Christ I still love with all my heart. I am trying to believe he doesn’t hate me in return. But I don’t know how I’m supposed to learn morality from people who have none.
This weekend I drove to Columbus, and went to Pride.
I stayed with my dear friend Holly and her wonderful partner Reese, in a gorgeous little house on the south side with each room painted a different color of the rainbow. They dressed me up in a long rainbow hippie skirt to go to the festival on Friday night. They introduced me to all of their friends: “This is Mary. It’s her first Pride.” And all of their friends said “welcome.”
It felt good to be welcome.
The park was lined with food trucks and festival booths that evening, just like any other festival in the park. There were companies giving away bric-a-brac and artists selling jewelry and prints. I saw exactly one stall selling a plastic novelty phallus next to other plastic novelty souvenirs. I saw one stall selling tasteful nude paintings; all the others were selling tamer art.
I saw a few topless women, with stickers over their nipples, and some women wearing skimpy bikini tops. I saw some shirtless men in tight pants. But by far the most people were fully clothed. A lot of men and women wore rainbow tutus or crowns over their normal clothing, or glitter painted on their faces. Everyone was friendly and polite. We complimented each other’s outfits and said “excuse me” if we bumped into one another. My friend Holly asked a woman in mime makeup where she’d bought her bottled water, and the mime just handed her the water for free.
People brought their babies in strollers and walked dogs on leashes. One resourceful man had engineered a dog wheelchair, a kind of two-wheeled cart, so his dog with two bad legs could walk around easily using only his front feet. We fussed over the dog. We fussed over the babies.
I saw a man in the most beautiful purple eye makeup, much better than any makeup I’d ever put on myself. He introduced himself by his real name and his drag name, and I introduced myself by the only name I have.
I saw a drag show in the gazebo without realizing it was a drag show, at first. The queen was in a dress more modest than mine. She announced some kind of dance competition to win a prize, and people began dancing. At one point she stopped the music to sternly scold pot smokers who were smoking close to the gazebo, because there were children dancing there and she didn’t want the children to inhale any smoke. The prize for the dance competition was shot glasses, so she told a dancing child “You’re too young to drink!” and gave him a gift certificate to buy ice cream instead– but first she asked his parents’ permission. It was as wholesome as anything I’d ever seen.
I suppose everyone there was a sinner like me, like everybody.
I didn’t see a single person at the festival who didn’t deserve to exist.
I didn’t see a single person whose name God didn’t know. I didn’t see anyone over whom the Paraclete didn’t hover, and about whom the Father didn’t say “this is my beloved.” I didn’t see a single soul without an angel going before them, proclaiming “Behold the icon of God.”
The next day we went to the parade, the longest parade I’ve ever seen, thousands and thousands of people in a riot of colorful outfits. Only two of the parade floats had anything raunchy enough that I would feel awkward if Rosie had been with me; most were standard parade fare, local businesses advertising in decorated trucks. They threw candy and dental floss and way too many rainbow flags with the logos of banks. A Mercedes Benz dealership was handing out free rainbow Mercedes Benz t-shirts. Someone made a joke about not taking children to Pride because it exposed children to harmful ideas like capitalism. But there were also bands and clubs, schools and churches from all over Columbus.
I was fascinated by the churches– so many different denominations, male and female pastors marching in their clericals with signs that said “God loves you” and “you are welcome here.” There was a Mennonite community with a giant banner reading “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
I have always loved that verse. It’s one of the ones I take to heart as my entire mission in life.
Exactly one person made me feel nervous. He wasn’t a paradegoer but a t-shirt vendor who got in my face and called me sexy, not in a nice way. One of the older lesbians appeared between us instantly as if she could teleport and ordered him to leave me alone, and he fled. They’re used to looking out for each other. I felt safe.
One gentleman handed me a rainbow keychain with a mirror on the back. He held the mirror up and said “So you can look at how beautiful you are every day,” and I blushed.
Several people held up signs that said “Free mom hugs!” and I got a hug from a mom who didn’t despise me, something I’d longed for for years.
At one point, there was a woman in a priest’s collar, with a stole that said “free blessings.”
I said I’d like a blessing, and bowed my head.
She sprinkled a pinch of superfine glitter on my hair, saying “God loves you.”
I made the Sign of the Cross, not as a joke but in earnest, and it felt like being loved.
I don’t know what to make of all of this.
Maybe I don’t need to know, at the moment.
Maybe all that’s needed is that I make the Sign of the Cross and accept whatever blessing rains down like the dewfall.
That’s where I went when I wasn’t here.
That’s where I am right now.
Image via pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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