I'm about to write a sentence that I'm sure I've never written before: We went to Gay Day at Dollywood today. The annual event is similar to the unofficial gay days at other parks, like Disneyland, Disney World and such. It's an unofficial, word-of-mouth event where gays and lesbians show up en masse to a park, wear red shirts and spend the day having a blast and raising visibility of the gay community in a fun environment.
We've been to gay days at Disneyland and Disney World. Both are huge events bringing in thousands of attendees. Dollywood's crowd was quite a bit smaller, which made it seem all the more important for us to be there. This is Pigeon Forge, Tennessee we're talking about here. Being out and visible here is very different from being out in Orlando or Anaheim. We went with a couple of new friends, rode rides, enjoyed junk food and basked in the down-home glam of Dolly Parton's world.
We had just finished up lunch and were chatting about what to do next, when all of a sudden, an employee was standing next to our table. I only noticed him out of the corner of my eye. Then he spoke, "You gonna be a hairdresser?" We are four gay men from wildly different backgrounds and experiences, but we all had the same reaction. Eyes narrowed. Fists clenched. Backs straightened. It's the gay "fight or flight" reaction. What was this guy trying to pull? Was this lame attempt to bully a group of gay guys really all he could come up with? We all focused on him. There was safety in numbers. We had each other's backs. Plus, we had brothers and sisters all around us. He picked the wrong day to make some Archie Bunker era joke about gay hairdressers.
That's when we noticed the little girl at the table next to us...braiding her friend's hair. She smiled at the employee and shrugged, and he went on his way. We all exchanged glances and broke up, laughing.
"I thought he was talking to you!"
"No, he was talking to you!"
It never goes away, that survival instinct we develop as gay children, then pretend we don't need as out and proud gay adults. But it's there, just beneath the surface, waiting to make fists, put shields up or tell us to run, run as fast as you can. A shared moment among comrades, each willing to take on the perceived enemy, willing to raise holy hell in the middle of the food court in Dollywood.
We decided to ride the roller coaster again.