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The World Pride Experience

July 14, 2014

Its been two weeks since I participated in the World Pride parade in Toronto and I’m still marvelling about the experience.  While I’ve been to many Pride celebrations in the past and have participated in a few, this experience outshone anything I’ve ever done.  I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough to the ladies of RAW (Raging Asian Women) taiko drummers for allowing us to participate with them.2014-06-29 10.43.57

Katy and I had intended to skip World Pride even though it was in my hometown and likely the closest we’ll ever geographically be to the event. The hotel prices were ridiculously high near the village and the crowds were going to be insane. Even the lure of Melissa Etheridge and various other great LGBT performers wasn’t swaying us to fork out a huge amount of money for one weekend. The opportunity to BE in the parade was another thing altogether.

By chance, I happened to stumble across a posting from RAW on their Facebook page, looking for volunteers to be flagbearers with them in the parade. Having heard them perform a number of times in the past, it sounded interesting. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that it would be a tremendous opportunity.  I inquired further, as it was an old post (from April, and this was late May), and also because my partner is not Asian and I wasn’t sure how that would work out.

Fortunately, as I’m sure you’ve gathered, RAW were more than happy to accept us both as flagbearers. Instead of skipping the festivities entirely, we would be immersed in them! I was so excited that I couldn’t wait until I got home from work to let Katy know.  All we had to do was make ourselves available for weekend rehearsals. In Toronto. So much for saving some money by not going to World Pride – we found ourselves travelling to Toronto every weekend in June!

Katy found us a reasonably priced hotel in downtown Toronto and we booked train tickets for every weekend. On our first trip in for rehearsal, we were a little nervous as we were not sure where the venue was (despite GoogleMaps) nor were we sure of what to expect. Happily, we found ourselves in the middle of Chinatown with lots of time to spare and relaxed with a huge plate of what amounts to Chinese ‘fast food’. I have no idea how Chinese people stay thin if these are the amounts of food they typically eat for a meal – there was enough on the one plate to fill both Katy and I.

We finished up and wandered over to the community centre, looking around for the rest of the group.  Did we look out of place? Possibly just confused, as a member of the troupe picked us out immediately and invited us into the gymnasium.  Although Katy couldn’t help but stand out, being the only non-Asian in the room, we couldn’t have expected a warmer welcome than we received that night.

It turned out that the flagbearer gig was more of a concept than anything at that point and the flagbearers tried to spin bamboo flagstaffs in time to the different beats of the drums.  One of the things I love about taiko is that the deep, low frequency beats really resonate in your body, even if you aren’t playing. In a small room, they resonate right up through the floor. Its kind of amazing.

The flagbearers were sent homework for the next rehearsal in order to learn the beats, sounds and lack of sounds that we would have to be aware of for the parade.  Suddenly, the idea that it was going to be some ‘simple’ movements and choreography seemed a little more complex. Its a lot harder than it sounds – the only thing I really took in was that we were to ‘holster’ the flag when the  O-Daiko (big drum) was played and move to the back of the float at that time.

What I did take home from the first rehearsal was something more amazing. Not only was my appreciation for taiko drummers increased, but I learned that I had been missing something integral in my life.  I had one of those moments when you say ‘I never even knew what I was missing.’ I had never been amidst a large group of Asian women who were not primarily family members. And the feeling was kind of awesome.

Here was a group of people that I fit in with in all sorts of ways, instead of being the different one. I have found myself to be a minority within a minority more often than not.  A female engineer amongst the majority of men, an Asian lesbian in (at least here) a primarily caucasian community. While being unique is great, being the part of a group is also important.

To not have to explain things because you share some common background. These people just know. And you’re not even aware how comfortable that is, until you experience it.  The only thing was, I felt a little sad for my partner, because she couldn’t feel what I felt and has yet to find the group of peers that can make her feel that sameness. In fact, if I totally overlooked how you felt because of how amazingly in-tune I felt, I’m sorry.  Being overwhelmed is not an excuse for making you feel how I have unknowingly felt.

Despite the extra travel and the cost of hotel etc. for the weekend of the parade, I will forever be changed by this experience and regret none of the money or time involved. Even though it took forever to get the parade marshalled and ready to go, despite the heat and the length of the march – I will never forget the exhilaration of marching proudly with and for the Raging Asian Women taiko drummers. You may not understand how much this meant to me, but I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for letting me find one of the parts of me that I have been missing without even knowing I was missing it.

EDIT: August 19, 2014 – RAW was awarded Best Overall Contingent at the World Pride Parade! Yay us!

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