Last weekend, I finally had the opportunity — and more importantly, the courage — to do what I had long hoped to do: March as Allison in a LGBT pride parade.
Sunday was the day of the OutReach Pride Parade & Rally (the above logo is from the event website). As you may recall my telling you in this post about last year’s parade, the event has been put on since 2014 by OutReach, which is the LGBT community resource and support center here in Madison. As it has since 2015, the parade and rally was held downtown, with the parade going up State Street and circling Capitol Square before ending at a rally point where State Street meets the square. The OutReach Pride Parade & Rally has grown each year since its establishment. In fact, this year organizers had to cut off the number of registered parade entrants at 77, since there was just no room for any more.
As I previously recounted on here, last year I attended OutReach Pride as a humble spectator. The year before, I had hoped to attend as Allison and was literallythisclose to doing so before being called out of Madison on a familial matter. This year, however, I was bound and determined to dress up en femme and participate in the festivities. And there were quite a few ancillary events in the days leading up to the parade: Drag performances at the local clubs. A Saturday afternoon block party. A showing of a documentary about the marriage equality fight. Even a sing-along to the movie musical Hairspray. But, admittedly, I was more set on marching in the parade with one particular entrant: The transgender support group I’ve become a part of over the past year.
Our support group not only was registered to march in the parade, we also had plans for a float. And on Saturday morning, one day before the parade, members of our group gathered at a supporter’s house to design and construct… well, more like brainstorm and construct our float. Ours was quite a democratic process, I think. We had already settled on a theme (support of trans personnel in the military, an issue You Know Who has shamelessly turned into an unnecessary firestorm), we had the materiel for the float (including flags for the major US Armed Forces branches), and we had the trailer hitch on which to construct it. But we had to figure out the whole what-goes-where thing. That’s where the brainstorming and collaborating came in handy. And by early afternoon, we had a float we were darn proud of, with a few finishing touches put on Sunday morning before the parade stepped off. (A side note: Our float was the third in order in the parade, right behind OutReach’s lead-off banner and another group. How amazing is that?!)
Some other notes about the construction party. First off, we could wear whatever clothes we wished. For me, I could have appeared as either Allison or Male Mode Me… but I chose to appear in an understated, rather simple version of Allison: A denim skirt, a pair of shiny leggings (since I hadn’t shaved my legs yet), and a short-sleeved workout shirt with one of those cute sayings I’m always a sucker for. Top it off with a simple hairstyle and a ball cap, and it kind of looked like… well, this:
Secondly, before attending a post-float constructing group meeting, I ventured out on an errand in this very outfit (gassing up the car at the convenience store, to be exact). I had to purchase the gas and a bottle of water inside… and the clerk at the counter returned change to me with the following:
“Thirty-six cents is your change, sir.”
“Sir”? “Sir”?! Now, in the clerk’s defense, I did not present any noticeable attempt at a feminine voice when greeting him, and I wasn’t wearing too much in the way of facial makeup. Heck, I would’ve considered myself a hot mess at that point. *LOL* But, yeah, my heart sank just a little bit when being mis-gendered like that. A great many in the transgender/crossdresser community take pride and gain confidence in identifying themselves and being referred to with their pronouns of choice (examples: she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/theirs). I’m on the record as preferring feminine pronouns and references to myself when I’m dressed up as Allison as it increases my self-confidence, but I’m also not one to feel too crossed when being mis-gendered. So, on this occasion, I politely forgave the clerk with a facial expression that said, “Actually, it’s ‘ma’am.'” But I didn’t give him a verbal scolding; I kind of had the feeling his mind was more on ringing up a purchase than anything else.
After our support meeting, I headed back home for the evening. Yeah, there was a happenin’ block party going on that night that sounded interesting (the one I referred to a few paragraphs back), but I was more interested in just relaxing at home, watching the Packers game on TV, shaving my legs, psyching myself up for Sunday’s parade, and soothing any nervous feelings I may have had yet. Well truth be told, I didn’t have too much in the way of nervous feelings about marching as Allison. I kept reassuring myself that there would be many hundreds of open-minded people who wouldn’t think twice about applauding a crossdresser and the group of trans people she was with. Indeed, the only two real worries I had were the warm weather being predicted Sunday afternoon and getting a good night’s sleep Sunday night. (Spoiler alert on the latter: I slept like a rock.)
Bright and early Sunday morning, I got up, had some breakfast… and shaved again. And I’m not talking about my face either. Yeah, let’s just say that I missed a few spots Saturday night. What’s more, I had to re-lace new shoestrings through my most comfortable pair of walking shoes. And not just any shoelaces: Just three days earlier, I saw these laces on Amazon and thought they’d be the perfect touch to my outfit for the day. Thank goodness for quick delivery, for despite the added cost, they arrived in the mail Saturday while I was away working on our float.
I arrived downtown about a quarter to 12 noon, the time all parade entrants had to begin assembly. Before then, many of the participants were already trickling in. We had an hour before stepping off, which allowed me plenty of time to ask one of my cohorts to snap a couple of pictures of yours truly.
Yes, this was the outfit I wore to the pride parade: Let’s give it a run-down, shall we?
- A lacy pattern top that’s been in my closet for a while (I can’t remember when nor where I bought it, though I want to think Target).
- A denim skirt that I did buy a couple of days earlier at Target. It’s medium size yet fit a little loose on me. Guess I’ve lost a few more inches around the waist this year than I had thought.
- A sun hat I also bought a couple of days earlier at Target for $14.99. I bought the hat for two reasons: [A] sunny and warm was the weather forecast, and [B] it helped hid my face a little bit, because I’m not entirely out of the closet and I wasn’t sure if people who only know me as Male Mode Me would be there and would recognize me through my feminine appearance (“Hey, isn’t that..?”).
- A new blonde wig, and if it appears a little bit cheap and stringy to some of you, well, I did buy it at Party City (I must be honest, it’s not worth as much as the $19.99 they priced it). Had I not shopped on such short notice, and if they still had a brick-and-mortar presence, I would’ve bought a new wig at Mallatt’s.
- The above shown rainbow laces and also a pair of rainbow socks I spotted at a… let’s just say a place where one can find not only a sleek dress but also some other *ahem* adult accoutrements.
In this second photo, I want to point a couple of non-adult accoutrements I brought with me to the parade: First the sunglasses on my noggin, which after this photo I left in my purse for the balance of the day. I rely on my regular male-mode glasses (which you can see in the previous photo), I don’t have prescription sunglasses or transitional lenses, and wearing sunglasses over my regular glasses can be bulky and cumbersome for me. At least the sun wasn’t too bothersome on this particular Sunday, so leaving the sunglasses in my purse turned out to be a smart choice. The second is what’s in my left hand, the blue-pink-white-pink-blue transgender pride flag I proudly and vigorously waived throughout the parade.
Then there was one other accessory you did not see in the above photos and I did not yet have in my possession, and with that I bring up the significant reason I included the words “more cowbell” in this post’s title. (Don’t worry, I won’t include any animated GIF from Saturday Night Live for the sake of accenting this post.) After posing for the above photos, there was still about an hour or so before the parade stepped off. That was more than plenty of time for me to venture up and down the parade line to check out some of the other participants. One of the entrants was a group from American Family Insurance, and as I was walking past them, one of AmFam’s volunteers (a little girl around 7 or 8, I want to believe) offered me a cowbell. At first, I somewhat hesitated to accept her offer, thinking cowbells were only for the spectators and not the marchers. But how could I turn down this kid’s sweet offer? So, I accepted the cowbell, checked out the rest of the entrants, and made my way back to our group’s float.
Now, you’re probably wondering whether or not I waived that cowbell during our parade march. Well… do you realize how much noise a cowbell can make? Wowzers, that bell can get you a lot of notice when that clapper strikes the inside. And I thought it would be perfect to waive my flag and the cowbell to help bring the spectators’ attention to our group and our all-so-important float. Sure enough, I waived both my flag and my new cowbell almost from the parade’s start to the finish, a move not lost on one or two other people in our group (“Come on, Allison! This parade needs more cowbell!!”).
This, ladies and gentlemen and gender-nonconforming, is that very cowbell:
After getting home Sunday afternoon, I immediately placed this cowbell on the knickknack shelf in my living room, and not too long after that took one of the extra rainbow laces (my order from Amazon included 3 pairs of laces) and threaded it through the handle. And that’s how it will permanently remain on my shelf, where it will remind me of the awesome day Allison marched in a pride parade for the first time (and, Lord in Heaven willing, not the last).
Oh, the day at OutReach Pride didn’t go without a couple of relatively small regrets. The first is that since I was a parade marcher and not a parade spectator, I was prevented the chance to capture every single moment, or almost every single moment, of the parade as if I were on a TV riser observing every single band, float, and marcher that passed by my spot. (“Isn’t it a lovely float, Betty?” “It certainly is, Lorne.”)
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t capture as much of the atmosphere with my camera as possible. As noted above, I arrived quite a bit early, allowing me to snap photos of some of the other participants, such as this not-yet-manned float from FIVE Nightclub:
Or this even more colorful float from (I think) UnityPoint Health:
Or anything during the post-parade rally, in which Dylan Dix, “Mr. Madison Pride 2017,” sang a lovely rendition of “Dancing On My Own” and told the story of his coming out to his family and the lack of acceptance from his father:
At least there is still a lot of images online from not only the OutReach Pride parade’s website but also from Our Lives Magazine‘s Facebook page. There’s also the local media coverage, the best of what I came across being this day-after write-up from the Wisconsin State Journal.
The other regret about the day was… and is… *sigh* the regret that I did not do this sooner. I turned 48 years old earlier this month, and only now did I get the fortitude and gumption to put on a wig and makeup, slip on a skirt and heels (well, walking shoes), and put Allison on full display in front of what was an estimate 6,000-7,000 people. Heck, only in the past few months have I gained the courage to even begin to regularly present my feminine side to a world not confined by internet pixels and keyboard strokes. That’s something I never had the courage to do before, nor did I have the privilege or opportunity to do so when I lived in Green Bay. But at least before I leave this mortal coil, I can proudly say that I can finally cross “blow my closet door wide open” off my bucket list by attending something that, to me at least, was bigger than any private group meeting, street fair, trip to the store, video recording, or poetry reading. Those all felt like nudges against the door; last Sunday’s pride parade was kicking the door out.
Personal mission accomplished, you ask? No, more like personal mission still in progress. Oh, I’m certainly not done with displaying Allison to the world. There will still be poetry presentations, group meetings, street fairs, maybe even makeover sessions at a beauty shop. And there will still be pride parades. Heck, it’s going to be a whole 52 weeks or so until the 2018 OutReach Pride Parade & Rally takes place. And I can’t wait until then, when I can say once again with confidence to the world, or at least all of Madison: