In Dolores Park, tens of thousands have gathered for the sixth annual Dyke March and tea dance. House music and funk bounce off the surrounding buildings, rainbow banners flutter in the wind, and a row of burly motorcycles gleams under the verdant light penetrating a canopy of palm trees. Children run through a maze of placards reading "Dyke Moms Rock," "We Are Not Confused," and "Pussy Power." Women dance and swap spit in the warm grass.
"It's the girls," says one of the peach-blond threesome after catching sight of a pair of grappling femmes. Despite a note of disappointment, he and his friends decide to stay and "party with the lezzies." They are not alone. A good number of men are spending Pink Saturday with the women, showing support and warming up for later festivities. It is an indication of the lesbian community's swelling presence.
"We used to march with them; now they march with us," says Dina Nestalik, a 27-year-old market analyst. "It's not like we need them -- our numbers just keep growing -- but it definitely shows how much the atmosphere has changed. They will always have the Castro, but we have the Mission. We're strong and can't be ignored."
Strength affords grace. While the first few Dyke Marches were dominated by an air of defiance, this year's gathering seems guided by a pleasure principle that is expressed in flamboyant costumes, ceaseless laughter, and relaxed attitudes.
"Just look at all these beautiful women," says 16-year-old Tanya Shell, a very stylish and shapely femme who says she has never felt the need to fetter her sexuality. "I could just gobble them all up right now."
"I think we'll see a lot more of that," says Jona Turnin, a 52-year-old leather dyke with two grandkids. "At least in the Bay Area, we may have women who grow up unburdened by the shit I faced. There's a large, highly visible community growing up here. The march has really helped that."
From the grandstand, local club promoter and stage personality Fairy Butch asks to hear all the lesbians. The crowd roars.
"OK, where are all the dykes?" An-other roar.
"Now, where are all the single dykes?" Hands waving hopefully in the air.
"Damn, I never knew there were so many of them," says Gary Nunes, an Indiana native who turned out to watch his best friend march. "No wonder I can't get laid in this town."
Other reasons are suggested.
The march, which began six years ago with less than a block of gals, now stretches over four blocks, winding its way up 16th Street, where sympathetic signs have been draped out of apartment windows. Once in the Castro, the numbers swell from a conservative 20,000 marchers to over 50,000, as party boys and voyeurs join in the fun. Music pumps from the grandstand, booze is passed around, and folks begin dropping Ecstasy. The atmosphere is delightfully hedonistic -- the way Halloween used to feel 10 years ago -- with bodies pressing against each other, clouds of glitter, twirling drag queens, stalking drag kings, angel wings, cowboy hats, and glow-in-the-dark Afros. A U-Haul truck pulls up on Market Street, offering lads a private peep show for five bucks. Two buxom young women fuck their way into history on top of a bus-stop shelter, wearing nothing but combat boots. Inspired, two men slip into an alley. The crowd applauds with soft, unfocused eyes.
On Polk, the Fauxgirls of Kimo's are celebrating in their own way, entertaining visiting Pride Weekend queers in the bar's delightful windowed theater.
"How long you been married, honey?" asks the currently ginger-haired Miss Carriage of a pair of men in the audience.
"Twenty-two years?" gasps Carriage's willowy co-MC, Sexilya Luvseat. "That's like 3,000 years in straight time."
Lively banter about tasteful size 13 shoes and proper tucking is followed by Sexilya performing "Snapshot" in a skimpy camisole. Miss Alexandra, a former Miss Gay Tennessee U.S.A. who couldn't walk through the door for under $1,500 during her competing days, performs "Color of My Money" while the crowd offers appreciation in the form of hard cash.
"First things first," says Alexandra, draping an elegant fur-wrapped arm across the back of a chair. "Not all drag queens want to live as women. We're not confused. Everyone performing here has an outside profession. This is an art form and an outlet, and we're not all catty."
Miss Kimo's 1997, a stunning child-psychology student with high cheekbones named Platinum Foxx, performs "1000 Dances"; 51-year-old Harlow performs "Harper Valley PTA"; show director Victoria Secret performs "I'm a Blonde"; and Alexandra's longtime lover performs as Pinky Bubbles for only the third time in her life.
Pinky is a big hit, very charming and demure. But during the guest performances -- Christa Armani, Holly Summers, and Bette Davis (returned from the grave) -- she scurries away to the dressing room, shedding wig, heels, and corset, and returns in cutoff shorts and a T-shirt. On Sunday, while their colleagues sweat it out on the outdoor stage, Pinky and Alexandra will be attending the parade as boys.
"We don't look that great in bright light," laughs Pinky, "and those pantyhose are hell."
At "Freedom '98," held in the old waterfront Colossal Studios (now Central Studios), party promoters Audrey Joseph and Jito Garcia show they know a lot about lighting -- enough to fly Miguel Denavidas up from Los Angeles. The surrounding abandoned buildings are washed in green and blue lights; mirror balls send stars spinning through waist-high weeds and urban graffiti; strings of blue lights illuminate the waterside patio, where muscular silhouettes are caught in embraces against industrial shipyard equipment; black drapes enfold the foyer, where growing patterns lead revelers into the lounge; Grecian columns frame the calming bar zone, where dancers dry their bodies under several high-power fans; on the dance floor, sheer swaths of cloth catch laser shows in midair, and the floor vibrates with a ceaseless thumping rhythm.
The air is heavy with sweet-smelling sweat. The room is filled by a rolling ocean of flesh -- shirtless men with muscle cuffs and smooth chests, undulating, grinding, moving to the beat. The strobes are intoxicating, the atmosphere charged. Having thrown seven parties in the course of three days -- including "Club Universe" and "Pleasuredome" -- Joseph and her partner, Ty Dakota, have more than established their talent. The aesthetic is undeniable.
"Look at all those men," says a beautiful boy with glitter-speckled features. "This is just how Gay Pride Weekend should look. Just like this."
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By Silke Tudor