Sunday, May 09, 2004

When I called them this morning, one of the first things both my Mom and Dad asked me was "Did you go to Gay Day?"

In case you haven't heard, Tennessee's Rhea County recently passed a resolution that gays living in their area could be "tried for crimes against nature." This is the same county where the Scopes "Monkey Trial" was held, regarding the lawfulness of teaching evolution in schools. Seems like this East Tennessee county likes to be cutting edge in its quest for backwardness.

Yesterday, people protesting this resolution organized Gay Day, a peaceful protest of sorts, with speakers and vendors on the Dayton TN town square. I think my parents assumed I was going because I live in Tennessee. However, contrary to "popular" belief, just because something's happening in Tennessee or the South, living in Nashville I still could be a good three hours away from it. (It's a big country down here guys!)

It would have made cool road trip, and I would have loved to go, even though it meant venturing into territory where people assume I don't speak English.

However, I already had plans for at day at the races at the Steeplechase. My friend David bought a spot in the midfield, where we drove in one of our cars and set up chairs and coolers, etc. (Last year we took a VW Beetle. This year we had an SUV. I hate that it's true, but gas guzzlers do provide a great advantage for tailgating as opposed to their more environmentally friendly counterparts.) The horse racing-jumping track goes around the midfield and infield, and being in the midfield, we were right on the fence, very amenable to screaming at the horses as they gallop past. (It makes them go faster, really.) From there we could also amble down to the frat-party-like atmosphere of the infield, where most of the beer-guzzling/ice-block shot-taking goes on.
There's no officiated gambling, but we had our own betting pool by drawing names from the program. (I won $16 on one race! It's more about bragging rights than money.)

So I spent the vast majority of Saturday in the sun, drinking from the wide variety of cocktails (margaritas, screwdrivers, daiquris, Cape Cods, etc.) we mixed up at 9 that morning. By about 6PM, we called it a day and went to a fellow tailgater's nearby condo for a casual dinner party with more food, more drinks, some etcetera, and chilling out in the cooling evening on his deck, by the light of a mini patio torch.

A first-time Steeplechase attendee in our group was surprised at how cool it was to be there, but also noted that there were no gay people or non-white people there. The census statistics of our group defied that, as we roughly broke down to a 3.5:1 gay-straight ratio, consisting of 35% ethnic minorities. (~42% if you want to consider my Italian half as an ethnic minority, which it quite possibly is here.)

Don't try to resolve the math on that, I'm guesstimating.

Anyway, once it was pointed out, though, I noticed Steeplechase really does draw a particular breed of Nashvillian, namely white, blonde, preppy, society-minded and Old South. If you told me that and asked me ten years ago about attending the Steeplechase, I would have given an emphatic Hell No. More because of the "society" aspect than anything else. Now that I'm older and wiser, (or just older and ignorant/oblivious, depending on your POV) I realize that there's everything fun about dressing up and spending a day at the races, in the sunshine, drinking and schmoozing with friends and strangers, no matter how racially, socioeconomically, etc.-ly, skewed this event is.

And totally unintended it turned out that my little group of tailgaters did add a significant amount of diversity to this event. Thinking about this made me feel in some screwy way I was doing my part for integration. I told my parents that in a way I had my own local version of Gay Day. Regardless of the fact that I was too pooped to hang with the extreme-partyers who went out at midnight to go dancing at the Connection.

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