Marching with the Sex School
“Next year, I want a float,” I yelled in Dr. Zientara’s ear.
“What? I can’t hear you!” he yelled back.
I took a deep breath and e-nun-ci-ated, “I WANT A FLOAT!”
“Okay,” he said. (Wow, that was easy! ) That’s what I like about the folks at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, they’re always game. Especially Dr. Zientara, bewigged and dressed as a graduate in an electric blue robe.
We were sweltering on Beale Street, in various states of dress and undress, waiting for our turn to move into the parade lineup. At #121, we were right behind the Lusty Lady Theater - which was blasting out some wicked beats - and in front of the Rainbow Community Theater. Sandwiched as we were between two groups of ardent performers, the Institute contingent was compelled to be more than usually “on” this year. And topless.
I suspect that this year’s group would have been “on” - and topless - no matter what, but back to that in a moment.
For over three decades, the Institute (IASHS) has offered its eight-day summer SAR (sexual attitude restructuring) program to students and helping professionals, but it’s only been since 2005 that the Institute and the SAR participants have participated in San Francisco’s PRIDE parade.
Dr. Thomas Gertz, Dean of Students at IASHS, is in charge of creating the SAR program each year. He says that “the approbation that the students experience from the crowd as they are marching validates their choice of sexology as a career and the diversity of the PRIDE festivities exposes them to what people actually do sexually and how they feel about it.”
This year was my third year marching with the SAR group: in 2006 as a student, 2009 as a co-facilitator, and this year as a graduate of the Institute who simply elected to show up. It’s been a peak experience each time, in spite of the lack of easy access to bathroom facilities (long lines!) and the strain of standing for hours waiting to actually march.
The first year I marched, my oldest child was among the spectators and we had a quick hug as I went by. This year, I managed to embarrass him as I stumbled through the San Francisco Leather Pride Contingent (#114). “Uh, hi, Mom...” No matter, I’d already seen him in action in 2009’s parade. I’m quite, quite comfortable with kink.
Being in the parade is very different from watching it. Beale Street, where all the different groups and floats and vehicles line up, is the most phenomenal backstage experience you could imagine. Feathers and balloons waft in the breeze. Everyone is either taking pictures or posing for them. You can wander freely and watch people work themselves up (or make themselves up) for the big moment when they’ll burst out into the adoring crowd. Floggers are flogging. Dancers are writhing or clogging. Harnessed human ponies paw the ground with anticipation (none actually whinnied, but how I wish they had!). Other participants simply lounge, squat, or squeeze themselves into precious square inches of shade, conserving their energy for the trek down Market Street.