BUAPEST — It is Sunday afternoon and I am trying to get my coffeemaker to work. It is such a piece of junk. The design is so marvelously crappy that it makes me wonder who approved this idea and which ones they rejected. Suffice it to say that there seem to be no way of getting the glass urn thingy off the coffeemaker without pouring coffee all over the counter and yourself. On the bright side, a crotchful of hot coffee actually wakes you up faster than drinking it would.
Yesterday was the Gay Pride Parade in Budapest. I love Pride. I was going to go visit my friend Gabor's hometown, Vesprem, which is supposedly beautiful, but then my friends Adam and Tamas called to ask if I wanted to march with them during the parade. Hell yes. So I called Gabor and he was disappointed, but to me it would be totally inexcusable not to march in Budapest's Gay Pride Parade.
Why? I grew up in the Bay Area. A sizable chunk of my friends came out in high school, and I had good talks with them that cleared up some basic teenager questions like "Why are you gay?" or "How long did you know it?" or "Er.so.you wanna go see a movie?" And some of my other friends' parents came out, or their uncles, or my teacher, or my girlfriend. (That sucked. Nothing beats "It isn't you. It is your dangly parts. I just wish you didn't have them.") Anyway, gay pride and homosexuality are just personal to me in a way that can only come from growing up in a certain community like San Francisco's.
Before Pride, I had been having a few drinks with Tamas and Adam and others when the subject of sexuality came up. We got into a huge discussion about how Hungarian culture is changing in regards to sex and homosexuality in light of the advance of the European Union (i.e., the West and all the values associated with it) and getting out of the shadow of post-communism. Everyone participating in this discussion, except for me, was getting a Ph.D. in either political science, economics, public policy, or sociology. So they actually knew what they were talking about to the best extent possible considering the theme.
They all agreed that Hungarian culture is a traditional society governed by social norms rather than by a particular morality. This means that Hungarians do not view sex as evil, but see sexual violence and vulgarity and porn and whatnot as being in exceptionally poor taste and reflecting the person's intellectual capacity and dignity (or lack thereof). This is not a puritanical culture like ours. Overt displays of sexuality on billboards or television are viewed as simply in bad taste. No one really cares what individuals do so long as they don't do it brazenly in public because that would be being selfish.
Therefore homosexuality, male or female, continual or occasional, is just looked on as something that you do at home, that has no place in public. To be honest, I like this type of discrimination a lot more than the "You Will Go To Hell" type. I'm not condoning discrimination of any kind, but the Hungarian version seems to be less violent and sanctimonious. I see a difference between someone who doesn't want to talk about an issue and someone who is already screaming that you are wrong and pushing you around. Which one would you rather talk to?
On the other hand, homosexuality in Hungary is such a closeted issue that there is not much public discussion at all. This, of course, leads to the kind of "soft" discrimination that makes life a living hell for people. My friends Tamas and Adam lead very happy lives and have no desire to leave Budapest for the Netherlands or somewhere more socially tolerant. However, they both fall into the upper echelon of the socioeducational (and eventually, socioeconomic) classes, and work in academia. In the United States, that tends to go hand in hand with liberal social values, demographically, and it appears to be true here as well.
Tamas and Adam said that they don't have to be very closeted at all. They both have told their immediate family and friends. They said they don't really talk about sex with their coworkers, but they assume that their coworkers know and just don't care (or their coworkers just have not been paying attention at all, which Adam thinks is a definite possibility). I asked them if they marched in Pride every year. Adam said no and Tamas said he did a few years ago. They shrugged their shoulders in unison, and Tamas said that they have always been busy. So I kind of admonished them a bit.
(Full disclosure: I haven't marched in San Francisco in a while myself, but that's because I think that the march there has a little less social significance than in Budapest. Sure, there's discrimination in the States as a whole, and I would assume that it even happens in San Francisco. But no one can deny that homosexuality is socially accepted in San Francisco, so to me, a Pride march in Okalahoma City is a bigger deal.)
A march in Budapest, where soft discrimination is totally pervasive, is exceptionally significant. Marching is a tactic used to force an issue to a certain point. In this case, the issue is, "We are a part of society and always have been. Nothing will change in your life if you can just acknowledge us and begin talking about issues." In a culture where the tactic of discrimination is to ignore gay people, I think that Gay Pride marches are the best thing ever. I mean, Gay Pride marches in general are hard to ignore. They should do them weekly.
I was expecting about 500 to 750 people at Budapest's Pride March, based on having heard Tamas and Gabor and everyone else say "We are different, but the rest of society is very, very conservative." I think I underestimated by about a factor of 10.
There was a different energy about the crowd. It felt much more urgent. People were also partying and drinking, but the marches in San Francisco have more of a big block-party feel to them. Here, there was much less "Ho-hum, marching is soooooo 1987." Maybe this is related to the soft discrimination or maybe it is just part of mainstream Hungarian society, but there were very few public displays of affection other than quick kisses and hand holding. The march wasn't somber, but there was the recognition that you were marching and you couldn't just dance off down the alley for whatever reason. Not that people were scared of violence or anything - in fact, the police had everything under control. It was the most professional I have ever seen Eastern European cops act. Bar none.
In a weird way, Budapest's Pride march was the best time I've had so far here - I felt like I was back home again, and the constant ache of missing summer in San Francisco lifted for a bit.