“Red,” I said, motioning to the bottle of Malbec that my friend Jason already had a good grip on. “Thanks, man, I needed that after the week I’ve had.”
Both of us were at a meeting for our progressive Catholic parish’s LGBT ministry, a gathering where we all take hospitality seriously. I think it’s because there was wine at the Last Supper. Or water that eventually became wine—something like that. Bless me, oh Lord, for I have mixed my parables.
As I got ready to return the favor for Jason, he turned to me and said, “Oh, no thanks—I gave up alcohol for Lent.” I immediately gasped upon hearing this. I should probably spend my Friday nights doing the Stations of the Cross a bit more often and the Stumbles of the Sloshed a bit less.
“Oh…well…good for you!” I responded, raising the now half-empty glass sitting before me to toast my sober buddy.
“What about you—what did you give up for Lent?” Jason asked, as he took a sip of sparkling water.
“Hmmm, to be honest, I never really chose anything,” I said, as I reached over three fellow parishioners to grab both a chocolate chip cookie and a cube of cheddar cheese. “I know we’re already a couple weeks in, but I guess I can still find something.” And it’s not a Lent thing, but I would fully support sainthood for whoever is in charge at Pepperidge Farm.
As someone who grew up in an devout Catholic household, your Lenten sacrifice is viewed as an important part of the liturgical season’s observance, which ultimately ends with the Easter celebration. Over the years, I’ve given up candy, red meat, and carbs, all for the sake of an oftentimes superficial tradition designed to help parishioners, like myself, understand our Savior’s struggles as He walked through the desert for forty days. And yes, Jesus loves that I didn’t eat Skittles that one time!
But now, as a 28-year-old out man living in New York City, what would God find acceptable as a Lenten offering? I mean, I’m still downing tequila, watching porn, reaching for the potato chips, and stuffing my face with bread. I see the light, but it’s coming from the fridge. Surely there’s something else I could live without for another month.
Then it hit me like a stack of Bibles: shade. I could give up the kind of shade once described to me as “Palm Sunday Shade,” or shade so deep that it could actually move you spiritually. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a regular worshipper at the altar of Paris Is Burning’s Dorian Corey, and have been for a few years now. (Can I get an “Amen” or is your mouth full, as usual, my dear?)
Though the art of shading one’s friends and foes is nothing new, there’s no denying that the act has now permeated the cultural zeitgeist and has become the de facto mode of communication for the LGBT community—particularly gay men, who do it inadvertently. Our sharp tongues have almost become requirements for daily conversations. Consequently, we are often expected to utter the most outrageous, hilarious statement at someone else’s expense. We’ve officially taken gossip and judgment, both frowned-upon activities, and turned them into a queer pastime whose main goal is to elicit the most “yaas!” shrieks at brunch.
Now I distinctly remember my catechism teacher saying that it’s inherently sinful to speak ill of others because, in her words, we were killing their character with complete disregard for their feelings and, ultimately, taking pleasure in their demise. And I suppose I still believe that, or else I wouldn’t feel bad every time I say something funny, yet harsh, about another human. I just can’t help that I, like most of us, have become obsessed with tearing people down and with outdoing others with wit and snark, just so I can enjoy retweets, favorites, and likes. And let’s be real: every viral post today on social media consists of someone else getting read for filth for society’s entertainment.
Perhaps it all goes back to the modern origins of shade, perfected in the underground ballroom scene and exported into popular culture. We’ve always tried extremely hard to elevate ourselves against our opponents and will say, or do, anything that proves we’re a cut above the rest. Shade is meant to hurt—that’s where its power lies. We don’t call each other “shady bitches” for nothing. I’m not saying you shouldn’t relish in such a title, if you choose to do so. Indeed, there is something to admire in those who have a strong command of language.
But if it’s between eliminating shade or milkshakes this Lenten season, I’ve got to go with the former since I know I’ll always find comfort in the latter. Unless I let myself go like Patty from Accounting. Fuck. OK, I’m starting now.