Three days of Pride in progressive gay-friendly Sweden.

Stockholm, Sweden. What does anyone know about “the capital of Scandinavia” besides the stereotypes of beautiful blondes, unbridled liberalism, meatballs and massage?

A few weeks ago, I headed to enchantingly unfamiliar Stockholm with one simple idea in mind: Sweden is an advanced society. They set the gold standard in equality (including gay marriage), healthcare, transportation, and peaceful neutrality—all while enjoying one of the strongest economies on the planet.

I was invited to visit the city with my girlfriend and creative partner Lauren LoGiudice, who would twice perform her one-woman play Queens Girl for Stockholm Pride 2009. My preliminary research showed that we were in for an unrivaled cultural and political festival. The 2009 theme, “HETERO” which according to “focuses on heteronormativity and how it affects homosexuals, bisexuals and transperson’s every day life, what consequences it brings and how it affects society as a whole,” got me even more excited.

“Heteronormativity” alone is a great topic, and is even more intriguing when a highly tolerant culture pushes homos and heteros alike to question their social conditioning. One example of this awareness campaign is featured on the website,  in an article that focuses on the country’s notoriously straight government offices and Armed Forces hosting Pride booths to promote “thinking beyond the heteronorm.” In an even more striking display, the Prime Minister’s Moderate Party hung a giant rainbow flag on his headquarters.

For this twelfth year of Stockholm Pride, I was privileged to experience the city at its queerest, and was fascinated by how an already liberal metropolis showcases its LGBT pride. Here’s a travel diary of my trip.

Wednesday, July 29th

The festival officially began Monday, but due to scheduling issues Lauren and I l don’t leave New York until Wednesday. Her first show is tomorrow, right after our plane lands. We sit, antsy, in Newark Airport waiting for thunderstorms to pass, during which time I follow the advice of a well-traveled friend to buy liquor at the duty-free shop to bring to Stockholm. Her advice will go on to save me many Swedish kroner on very expensive cocktails, and impress some new friends who appreciate my flask. (FYI, the rule is you can enter Sweden with up to one liter of liquor.)

The storms pass, and finally our SAS flight full of beautiful blonde flight attendants takes off.

Thursday, July 30th

Our plane lands at Arlanda Airport and the first gay thing we notice are taxis and city buses flagged with rainbow stickers. We head to the Kulturhuset, home to theaters and community spaces, and dubbed “Pride House” for the week.

I get my hands on a program and regret missing Monday’s Pride kickoff event, consisting of “snogging, flags and speeches.” That’s right, the Swedes gathered in the city’s largest public square to snog for a bit before heading to the Pride House roof terrace for opening speeches. I fall in love with Sweden.

Lauren takes the stage for her afternoon show. Pride programming consists of events in both Swedish and English, and thankfully for us many Swedes speak our native language with better grammar than the average American. The thick New York accents of Queens Girl are largely understood by the fabulously sharp audience, which laughs at all the right parts.

Post-show we meet our host Frederik, a trans guy Lauren knows through a friend. We join him for a panel discussion that, unfortunately for us, is in Swedish. But since it’s about sex toys we figure it will be entertaining nonetheless. After about 20 minutes, all three of us decide the lecture is too introductory for our skill levels and we head out. Frederik sets us up with unlimited-ride transit passes (good for subway, bus, ferry, commuter train, and tram) and takes us to his place in outer-Stockholm via subway—which by the way, was super quiet, clean and timely.

That night, though tempted to join Frederik at the big Tranny Olympics party, we decide to go to the 3-story Tjejfesten girl party to dance disco, ’80s and ’90s and check out some Swedish burlesque. Within an hour of opening, the place is packed with several hundred of the most stylish and friendly women. One empirically hot butchy sort of gal flirts with and kisses Lauren on the cheek, which we both react to like giddy teenagers. We make friends with two 18-year-old Icelandic women on holiday, who tell us that even though they live in their own liberal country, Sweden impresses them especially for its gamut of Pride activities.

These blowout (and pricey, at about $40 a pop) Pride-week parties are taking place every night, catering to every niche. A sampling of party themes: leather, Middle Eastern, Latin/hip-hop, 1990s, femme women over 30, military girls, decadent electronic, members-only SM, a lesbian cruise, salvation boy, Miss and Mister Gay Sweden (separate parties), underwear only, and lesbian BDSM.

Friday, July 31st

After recovering somewhat from jet lag and the Tjejfesten party, this morning I get a few hours to explore Pride House while Lauren warms up for her second show. I discover my favorite exhibit, Hannes Fossbo’s “Heterospective,” a series of drawings of famous people framed according to their sexuality.

Soon after I realize that there’s no way I can behold all of the Pride events I’d like to, either because they’re scheduled simultaneously or are in impossible physical locations. This is the tricky part of Stockholm Pride—you have too make choices.

The Festival consists of three primary locations: Pride House, the nearby Pride Garden in Kungstradgarden (the largest park downtown), and Pride Park in the Tantolunden (the city’s enormous festival grounds). Plus, there are “Pride and the City” art exhibits, parties, movies, free HIV testing, and queer cafés sprinkled around Stockholm.

We end up roaming around Pride Garden, hearing some live music and then head home to change for the Club Caliente party. There we meet a few familiar festival programmers and volunteers—one of whom took a vacation week from her paid job to donate time to Pride—and make a few new friends.

One enlightening tidbit is that none of the lesbians we chatted with “came out” to their families. They didn’t have to. They just brought home the women they were dating without issue.

Club Caliente’s music is straight out of a Brooklyn club, so we dance, and by 2 a.m. Lauren and I realize we’re like the only two people in this trippy basement bar not making out. So we do.

But then Stockholm’s not all roses. Later on we face our first slap of “heteronormativity” in the subway, when some guys, possibly African immigrants, heckle us as we hold hands. We then duck over to a straight bar with our new pals for a nightcap. It’s a standard-issue straight bar with neon beer signs in the windows, but the bouncer stops us at the door. He says something in Swedish, which our friends translate as “we can go in but Hannah can’t because he says she’s too drunk already.”

Huh? Hannah was the only one not drinking. Though she does have a slight disability in her gait. We easily blew off that joint, but we never figured out if that’s what the oafish bouncer really said. As always, discrimination takes many forms, even in Sweden, but at least here it seems the extreme exception, not the rule.

Saturday, August 1st

We wake up to a beautiful sunny day—the final one in our incredibly concise trip to “the capital of generous souls” (my new tagline for Stockholm). It is the day of the Pride Parade, which draws 30,000 to march (because anyone is allowed to) and around 350,000 fans lining the route. This was the first Pride Parade to include the city’s major soccer clubs, about which Stockholm’s English language newspaper The Local wrote, “This year the sports world…finally took a stand against prejudice.”

Never have I seen so many hetero families unreservedly turned out to a queer event, their children gleefully waving rainbow flags in support and with pure fun in their bright blue eyes. Suddenly I feel like I’m in the nation I always dreamed about.

Lauren and I stop off at Restaurang Prinsen for what we hear are the city’s best Swedish meatballs (though someone suggested that Ikea’s meatballs are just as good). They blow our minds, and we learn that lingonberries are basically tart cranberries.

We resume our self-guided tour by heading to Pride Park. It’s pricey at $50 to enter, when we’d only have a short time to enjoy it, so we do what the local punks are doing and sit on the grassy knoll outside the gate and people watch. Here we discover that Stockholm has a dark underbelly of gothic youth. Though later our new Swedish friends say that that the punk scene is not necessarily made of queer youth exiled from their homes, but rather those who chose to leave—because families here don’t usually disband based on sexual orientation.

This was one of several hot topics on our last night in town. The luxury of good conversation came by skipping the final Pride girl party to instead meet up with Lina, Osa, Tobias, and Hannah at a crazy Russian bar called KGB. Three of these people were hetero, but I would say in this group we set a “homonormative” tone.

In our 72-hour immersion, we glimpsed what it’s like to live with (and without) tolerance, and to celebrate diversity every day. As such, to me it seemed that in Sweden “gay pride” is largely redundant.