On Saturday morning at the KKK meetup, the hooded outfits came in a variety of flavors, from milky white to tea green. One guy wore a Confederate flag that made him look like a Southern-fried Statue of Liberty. His headband bore the slogan RAHOWA. Cyrus said that stood for “Racial Holy War.” Half the marchers covered their faces. The ones who didn’t had fugly moustaches, their shrunken heads topped with the standard wizard hat or a checkered hunting cap, which tended to clash with their linens.
All of them were Boy Scouts, their uniforms modified with badges, swastikas, iron crosses or the popular W beneath a haloed crown in a circle of WBWs (“Whiter Brighter World”). Another common motto was “Sic Semper Tyrannis” (Thus Always to Tyrants), a nod to John Wilkes Booth’s shout-out before capping the Great Emancipator at Beach Blanket Babylon.
Gay Pride the next day was a more colorful affair. The standout fashions: rainbow-scaled leotards, radioactive farmgirl frocks, and fluorescent goddess gowns, elaborate headdresses of yellow, red and orange feathers. The players: sequined belly dancers, buff leather daddies, barkers in jackets with shining epaulets, bare-chested body builders in red-white-and-blue Speedos. The genders were sometimes mix-matched beyond recognition.
At first, this made me uncomfortable, but by nightfall, I had warmed up to the notion. Perhaps gender’s as much a farce as ideals of perfection or the games we play with God. Opting in or out is a contract with oneself, subject to fad, whim, intestinal fortitude. Masks and face paint veiled identities, evoking the fancy of fairy tales or animation come to life. On Bebe’s suggestion, I wore a purple bouffant wig, mime makeup and giant swirly sunglasses to foil any First Church brethren who happened into the crossfire.
Bebe dressed up in pink fur earmuffs, choker, bikini top, mini skirt, bracelets and anklets. Her bare arms, legs and midriff showed off her gym-toned body and the sharp curling abstractions inked on her skin. She designed them herself, called them The Path. To me, they appeared to be barbed wire and jungle vines. To complete her kitty metamorphosis, she’d given herself a black button nose with dainty whiskers that looked like sideways teardrops.
Aside from his plastic crown of thorns, Cyrus dressed down, shirtless, flexing the wings on his back, wearing only tight jeans and his trademark gator boots. His torso was taut and tan, the arrowhead above his J.C. belt buckle an invitation.
When he first told me I not only had to go with him and Bebe to this gig but get out in the street with them, I asked if he was gay.
“Homophobic much?” he said.
“No!” I remember saying too loudly, too quickly. Maybe I was trying to convince myself. It wasn’t that I ever had a problem with homosexuality as a biological condition or lifestyle choice. I just never knew anyone personally who shaded that way until I met Bebe, so I hadn’t given it much thought. When Cyrus put it in my face, I felt uneasy. I wanted to know where he stood. Just to know.
There was such preaching from all sides, we might as well have been at church. Chief among the Klan banners: White Is Right, This Land Is Our Land, Now’s the Hour for White Power! There were cartoon pics on posterboards of Mexicans, Arabs and blacks with captions like “Ax the Wetbacks,” “Go Home, Mañuel,” the familiar “A Friend Indeed Is a Towel Head That Bleeds” and “Bury the Mud Races!” Among the group’s supporters lined along the sidewalk: Buy American, ICE ICE Baby, There’s a Border for a Reason, Harboring Aliens Smells like Treason. From our counterperch on the opposite side of the street: Hate Is Not Great, We Are All God’s Creation, Aliens Do Not Exist.
I don’t remember raising any signs myself, but I did respond to chants for “White power!” with “Mice glower?” and “More golden showers, less baby powder!” That riled the hoodies, who were so moved, they tore off their face masks to better scream at us, their pale cheeks going red like boils on the bum of Frosty the Snowman.
At the Gay Pride rally, the rainbows were splashed with messages lifted from song lyrics: Peace Love & Understanding, Equal Rights & Justice, Give Peace a Chance. There were the biblical appropriations Love Your Neighbor as Yourself and Who Among You Can Cast the First Stone? The haters fired back: petty (Unnatural Unclean, Bad Bad Bad), brutal (AIDS Is Natural Selection), apocalyptic (Repent Today or Pay the Price Tomorrow) and absurd (Sodomy Is a Threat to National Security).
I didn’t advertise at this gathering either. I thought of myself as an active spectator, a passive participant. For me, these events were high times with friends, a chance to goof in public and maybe meet some girls. Like I said, I’m not political—and I’m not gay—so I didn’t feel right waving somebody else’s flag.
RIGHT, LEFT . . . LEFT RIGHT LEFT
Both demonstrations took place in the same part of town, starting on Jordan Drive, about a mile out from city hall, winding onto the streets that circled the seat of local government, convening in Peter & Paul Park, a small square of green outside the mayor’s office. The Klan processional was led by a pointy-headed knight on a white horse trailed by his foot soldiers. Spearheading Gay Pride was a team of pony boys, saddled and harnessed, silver bits in their mouths. At the reins, a king and queen in swapped gender roles steered an outsized red wagon straight down the roads of Gethsemane.
The white supremacists raised Confederate and W flags, while stars-and-stripes and rainbows flew the following day. The Klansmen marched with the discipline of a militia, lapping around the government building before settling in for hate speech at the plaza. Dykes and fairies and their straight allies, advocates for broadmindedness and equality like myself, rolled down the street on sparkly floats, bikes and unicycles. The rest of us ambled along or flitted like fireflies around the costumed vehicles.
As you would expect, brother, I walked normally.
There were more folks on the sidelines than in the streets at each demonstration. The KKK marchers totaled no more than three dozen, while the Gay Proud probably maxed out at a couple hundred. Nazi sympathizers, the ones I talked to anyhow, argued that they were “God-fearing Christians, tolerant of individual differences and in no way racist, but the scourge of illegal immigration” had brought them out “to defend the American way of life.” Their numbers matched ours on the opposite side of the avenue at about a thousand or so, all told. A sizable crowd, but not overwhelming.
The Pride parade was far more out of hand, with maybe ten times as many counterdemonstrators: Bible thumpers one and all, most of them hysterical, as if the Wrath of God would smite the whole town for the shameless exhibitionism of a few immoralists. Some must have showed for kicks, to gawk at the outfits, jeer at the queers. The majority likely turned out under orders from their Lord and Savior as conveyed from the pulpits of the region’s megachurches.
To my surprise, our First Church reverend rejected the bandwagon. He believed ignoring the rally would send a more appropriate message, not giving credence to what he called “perversion akin to pornography.”
The white supremacist agenda seemed so out of touch with the times it was laughable. Outside the shooting range, the racism I’d observed since moving to the Dirty South was largely contained, integrated into daily routines, as if segregation by skin color was a choice agreed upon by all parties. Cyrus explained how most folks leaned toward their own kind to dial down the potential for trouble with the law. All anybody wanted, he said, was to do their own thing without interference from the busybodies who would never understand “the culture of selective kinship.” Even among the counterdemonstrators, there were divisions between blacks, whites and Latinos. Bebe’s wide-angle snapshot of the crowd looks like a neatly divided, triple-layer cake of chocolate, vanilla and mocha.
The political issues at the Klan march were immigration policy, border security and the rights of U.S.-born citizens versus the rights of immigrants (“legal” and “illegal”). There was a lot of poofed-up talk about jobs, schools and healthcare, and how the taxpayer was footing the bill for an “alien invasion.”
Even though I don’t identify as Latino, I get it that Mexican blood flows through my veins. But I’m not sure what this means, brother. I know nothing of mom’s side of the family. She said she was an only child, both of her parents dead. I still find this hard to believe. I’ve never been south of the border. I don’t speak Spanish. Burritos funk up my insides. Mariachi is wack. But I have to admit, hearing all that trash laid on the Latinos made me ball up my fists.
At the Pride rally, there were calls for same-sex marriage, though these seemed like token gestures with no hope of changing the system. The opposition had public support by a wide margin. Feeling their power, the holy rollers got missionary, collecting signatures to place an anti-sodomy measure on the local ballot. This would buck the recent Supreme Court ruling that such laws were unconstitutional. “God’s law,” they said, “is the only one that matters.” Their hue and cry against choice in the bedroom made me want to fuck them all up the ass.
It seemed like every cop in the county and gangs of state troopers had been summoned to keep the peace. Armed with clubs, tear gas, stun guns and high-powered rifles that shot rubber bullets, they formed human barricades to separate the factions and enable the demonstrators to pass by. I overheard “fuckin freaks” at each event, the consensus among the law enforcers, though they did their jobs without incident.
A couple of Nazi youths were arrested for assaulting a mixed-race kid during one of the golden shower chants. A Klansman was pelted with beans while burning a Mexican flag. When he argued with police—he could have had an eye poked out!—he was cited for lighting a fire on public property without a permit. A half-dozen or so Christian Crusaders were detained but later released without charges, a local blog reported the next day, after hurling what they said was holy water at boys in chaps on one of the floats. A church whose members littered the street with pamphlets on cleaning up the city was fined.
Otherwise, the confrontations were limited to big noise, posturing and threats of God’s Almighty Wrath. Just another weekend in Gethsemane.