sanfranBinoy Kampmark writes:

Gyrating hips, oiled bodies, many naked and lithe with physical promise. Brilliant shows and incandescent displays of festive colour under an unusually warm sun. Outfits of leather and super hero costumes, underwear prominently displayed. Then, no costumes at all, a site of sheer nakedness. Nose rings and pro-vegan floats. Amazons on stage before City Hall.

Another Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco is in session, and the audiences are brimming with infectious enthusiasm. They are particularly enthusiastic on this occasion: it has been 40 years since the event was inaugurated. Then, a mere 200 enthusiasts gathered for a march of celebration, frowned upon as being the reprobates of a doomed society. Organisers duly capitalised on the anniversary for this event, with the theme appropriately being “40 and Fabulous”.

The entire city centre, sealed off for this festive bonanza, made it impossible to navigate without falling into some sort of rhythm. It may well have been a form of black magic, a species of well-directed hypnosis. Before long, the captivated audience rocked and swayed to the tunes of various performers.

Luscious Latinas such as Maria Jose, a Mexican pop diva, was one of them. Making full use of her bottle-styled figure and striking face (a well-timed pout here and there, a swish of the hips) and the microphone, she does not so much purr into the device as scream. The large Hispanic audience is convinced by the flesh-tuned performance and ecstatically swayed. (Maria could bark and still receive a keen response.) One is reminded that this fruit bowl of nationalities that is San Francisco is very much tied to the Hispanic world.

Sealed off areas before the classically modelled buildings of the Civic Centre act as theatres of unbridled expression, where lone dancers feel they have communed with the spirit (freedom? love?) as enormous speakers destroy any lingering solitude. No, for too long, the existence of minorities (and here, it is not just a matter of sexual persuasion) have maintained silence. Here the silence is expunged in a ceremonial right of Bacchanalian ecstasy before the famed City Hall building.

The city is so individual it can frighten and thrill in its celebratory guise and occasional callousness. (Wither the homeless.) It is also very political: an underlying message of the display was a stab at the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the US military. But the overall message is this: we are here to have fun, and to hell with the rest of you if you don’t understand that. It is reversed Puritanism — a dogma that insists on pleasure before prudence. The paradox of American solidarity lies in an insistence on being ruggedly alone and innovative in facing adversity but being stubbornly communal in the pursuit of pleasure. Comfort is found in numbers. San Francisco is a city of the carnival, and the Gay Pride marches are very much its bricks and mortar. And so, on with the parades, the floats, and the festival of liberated flesh.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge and lectures at RMIT University in Melbourne