You know, honestly, the first time I went to Pride was in San Francisco, and I was AFRAID. Seriously, I'd been out for years and even dated a guy or two, but just wasn't comfortable with it still. Wouldn't be comfortable with PDA. Wasn't really comfortable in my own skin.
Pride in SF scared the shit out of me. Dancing in the huge crowds, and being ogled because I'm tall and kind of hard to miss, made me so self-conscious. But my friends were there with me and so was beer, and so eventually I danced, and took my shirt off, lost an expensive jacket (oops!) and had a great time. And a bad hangover the next day.
The next year, I went and just hung out at a friends' offices right off Market street where we could watch the parade from the balcony. I sat with a good group of people up in that office, had some mimosas and cheese, and had a really great afternoon. It still took some liquor to get me dancing, but I did, and I loved it.
I particularly appreciate Pride because every time I go it's like a milestone. I can note my own level of comfort. I'm really an introverted guy who has taught himself to be gregarious (and honestly most of that's just an act to avoid the discomfort of being an introvert in social situations!) and so while it was easy for me to tell my parents "I'm gay" (I actually told my mom, "I think I'm bi," and she said, "I always thought you were gay,") being comfortable in my own skin is ongoing work. It's a LOT better than it used to be, and I attribute a lot of that to Pride.
I remember seeing the guys in glitter and speedos on floats and thinking the kinds of negative thoughts a lot of people say. "That's so shameless," or whatever. Then I stopped and thought, am I really just thinking that because I'm secretly jealous they're confident enough to be up there?
Even if I'm not going to make a career out of dancing on Pride floats, I think it's good practice to try all the extremes. If someone asked me to put on a chrome speedo and glitter and dance on a Pride float... well, it'd still take some liquor (I swear, I'm not an alcoholic. I just use it as a little liquid self-confidence sometimes) but I think I'd do it.
A big philosophy of mine is experiencing as much as I can, in life. When faced with a decision, I find if I haven't actually tested out both options, a lot of the time I think I'm being dispassionate but I'm not, I'm really afraid of the one I haven't tried, and I justify it. "I wouldn't even WANT to be up on that float," I might say.
In that case, I try to think to myself, well, would it kill me to get up there once? If not, I should just do it. Then whether I decide it's for me or not, I can say it's really a measured decision. Not fear.
Pride will always hold a special place in my heart as a wonderful symbol of fearlessness and a mile-marker of my own progress out of this shell I'm slowly sloughing off.