Treya Lam and the Shape of a Person

On a sunny day this May I spoke with the musician Treya Lam about the metaphor of choice of instrument, one of the first choices any American child makes, at least a child born to relative security in this country. Lam, a multi-instrumentalist with an album released earlier this month, has many talents: at the piano, the viola, the violin. Her voice is what people comment on, though, as I found the more folks I spoke to who’d heard her perform. “When she opened her mouth it’s kind of like the entire restaurant stopped eating,” the comic Trish Nelson told me, remembering the first time she saw Lam, at that time a no-name gigger at Mother’s Ruin, the Nolita bar where Nelson waited tables. “It’s so typical of New York that you have a future Grammy Award–winning singer working a 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. song shift.”

The more I learned about Lam, the more her favorite instrument made sense. “The viola,” she explained in her low and musical voice, “is kind of like the middle child between the cello and the violin. It’s a little bit deeper. I personally think now that of all the string instruments…it’s just the best.” She likes how the viola offers the soulfulness of the cello without all the fuss, “a cello you can carry,” able “to create this richness” without impracticality. Imagine, she posed, referencing the larger string instrument, “having to take that on the subway.”

As she spoke, I saw a parallel. The 30-year-old prefers playing to everything else — promotion, talking, having people over to her apartment: Her soulfulness is clean and efficient and cloaked in a modest spirit. Hanging with her produces the wandery mood typically generated by someone who has no idea what she’s up to, the last person you’d expect to have a hip PR team behind her — a cello in viola’s clothing. These days she bums around on friends’ couches, having dropped $10,000 into the production of her debut album, Good News, the first release on a new label started by the guitar phenom Kaki King. For years, Lam — who was raised on Long Island — lived in Bushwick, both typical and not, in that she predated the groundswell, avoided the crowds, moved in before the butcher shops and vintage stores; her childhood friend Stephanie Fung nearly got stabbed on a Sunday morning visit, around the hour people go to church.

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King is herself a virtuoso — killer on the drums, the bass, the guitar, voice — who made a name for herself playing shows in early-2000s Manhattan, alongside a group of female-led rock outfits such as Tegan and Sara and Le Tigre. Today King works out of the Greenpoint home that she shares with her wife and two young kids, from a basement studio where she recently composed her first full-length score for a feature film, and where Lam arrived every day to record and mix Good News. When I visited the two of them in the studio last month, I found a row of some two dozen guitars on the wall. King wears her peroxided hair short, in a James Dean cut. Her jaw is sharp and her eyebrows dark; she is small but looks strong. “I always thought I’d have a hot tub and a doorman and a one-bedroom apartment with a line of babes coming in,” King told me, grinning. “But then this redhead walked into my life.”

On a trip to Los Angeles years ago, at the height of her hot tub–dreaming days, some musician dudes she gigged with told King she would be wise to save money and buy property. Years later, she was able to secure a home in Brooklyn, where she lives a simultaneously quiet and loud life, part rock ’n’ roll, part stable wife, mom, and daughter. Growing up in Atlanta, both her parents were lawyers — in the firm King & King. From them, she absorbed a criticality unusual for a so-called creative type. She describes to me fault lines in the #MeToo movement, says she’s not all on board to the degree one might expect of an icon of queer feminist culture, citing the case of Aziz Ansari as representative of the movement’s blurring of lines in terms of what is and isn’t abuse.

If King is the fire in the elemental balance, Lam is the water. Much of the album came out of literal journeys she took to find herself, drives up and down the East Coast some years ago, and finally a trek way out West, to find a vision she’d had in a dream. She’d been working as a maître d’ at a seasonal hotel on Shelter Island. “I had saved a bunch of money, and was just dreaming of this forest for the entire summer.” It was 2012. Lam told everyone she worked with, “When I’m done with this, I’m gonna go see the redwoods.” In her dream, the trees looked “like a family,” she told me, “a community of trees…super tall, like infinite giants. There was no water, it was just the trees.”

Lam is adopted. She met her birth mother recently, on a trip to Taiwan, a reunion that didn’t quite gel, beset by an inability to communicate that mirrored a larger sense of disconnection from this person in whom she had hoped to see herself reflected. When she drove out to Big Sur, she was searching. She didn’t realize she was in the presence of redwoods until she actually touched the bark of one. “I hadn’t slept well that night, and I couldn’t really comprehend where I was. At some point, I just pulled over and I touched this tree, and just started weeping because I realized I was there.” A few days later, farther north, she walked so far from the road that “everywhere I turned, I was surrounded by these trees. That was the point that felt most like the dreams.” She felt then that she had the power to visualize something into being.

When she and King met in 2016, “she was so prolific she was getting in her own way,” King told me. They were introduced by Nelson, the comic who first heard Lam at Mother’s Ruin. Nelson produces shows around the city — concerts and comedy — and she thought her two friends needed to meet. She orchestrated a setup that felt to her as awkward as an actual blind date, at least her part in it. After dancing around the point, Nelson finally blurted a request that the two musicians take the hint and work together. What resulted is Good News, a languid, bluesy album of songs refined out of reams of score Lam wrote while driving up both coasts. The lyrics reference simple, broad themes: nature, love, peace, kindness — belying the emo tilt of Lam’s appearance. She always wears a dramatic hat, and usually feathers somewhere, plus leather and torn jeans; she tells me she covers her short hair to feel less vulnerable.

As a kid, she didn’t think much about clothes except in an antagonistic way. She was adopted by a Chinese immigrant couple in Nassau County, where her dad, a former director of operation for AT&T, still lives today. Her mom died before the album’s creation, and was sick for most of Lam’s memory; an alum of Parsons School of Design, she was proud to have beaten classroom statistics by graduating. “Then she got diagnosed with lupus in her thirties,” Lam told me, “and was only out working for a few years before that kind of took her out of commission.” The Lams were major figures in the local Chinese Baptist church, hosting prayer meetings out of a basement, where they also housed a piano, expressly for the purpose of religious music. Lam was inducted into the piano circuit young, at the age of three, and played at church. That’s where she met Fung, the friend who would later visit her in Bushwick, and recalls how she would “just watch [Lam] from the pews, like, ‘This girl’s awesome. Amazing at a bunch of instruments.’ ”

With a verve that might have gone into a career in fashion, Lam’s mom set about making things for her baby girl, “spent that energy making me these ridiculously frilly baby clothes,” Lam remembered, wincing. “I looked like a child in a doily. Or we would have, like, matching Laura Ashley dresses.” Lam’s mom was feminine, while Lam never felt she herself was, didn’t yet know the term gender fluid, which she uses to describe herself today but back then might have appreciated for its usefulness — she wore “mostly gym clothes,” and crushed less on her peers than on elders, teachers mainly, never quite doing what she was supposed to. Ergo her love of the viola, the guitar — anything but the violin and piano, twin obsessions of the Asian American competitive musical circuit.

“She kind of had an intense relationship, with her mother being an Asian American parent,” Fung says, and therefore “strict with her about playing music.” Fung recalls “a rebellious phase,” an “I don’t want to practice or play the piano” phase. “The guitar was a little more rebellious.” The viola, as the “middle child,” to cop Lam’s phrase for it, also kept her out of the competitive glare, free to geek out over music without external stakes, so much so that she was accidentally rewarded come college application season. The viola was in high demand at schools, there being few players to choose from, and Lam was “able to get some really good scholarships,” finally taking one from a private school in Florida.

The neatness of the trajectory appealed to me, Lam consistently being rewarded for choosing her own path, for doing what she’s not supposed to, avoiding the easy glory not out of feigned martyrdom but because she’s uncomfortable with pressure, does best when free. Outside the Hungry Ghost coffee shop in Fort Greene, I talked to her about my own choice of instrument — the cello — which in the light of Lam’s path I saw anew. I had been less concerned, I realized, with the practicality of playing than with the sound of telling people what I played, and of pleasing those who would guide me. At the music store, the clerks noticed my long fingers and insisted I was a born cellist, and so I opted for the instrument I knew by reputation to be special; only my small torso meant I was relegated to a three-quarter-size model for all the years I played. I told Lam how I resented this, being handicapped from the start, never able to pull out the sound accessible in a full-size cello, never first chair, only once second, and even then aware that I’d been given a chance despite my inferior sound. Where Lam opted out of expectations, I fumed in silence at bowing to mine, blamed my circumstances for limiting my performance, a handing-off of responsibility for my choices that — my therapists might agree — forms the shape of my particular brand of baggage.

If there is an order shaped from birth, a path set in motion that we can reorient with the perspective that comes with age, into a shape we choose, Lam’s challenge is to reshape her rebellious streak into a marketable energy. King describes Lam’s album as consciously “uncool,” extremely “not 2018,” a throwback to a different era, the slow, moving songs of Carole King and Carly Simon. Lam sits uneasily in the present moment. She views Instagram with trepidation, posting because she knows she has to, and unsure what she should be doing. She namechecks the British singer Laura Mvula as inspiration, a big band–evoking performer who happens to be of color but operates in either a pre– or post–identity politics framework, depending on your view of where we’re headed. She’s listening to the new Janelle Monáe album “nonstop,” but states this in the stilted way of a foreigner explaining methods for fitting in: accent tapes, guidebooks, album of the year. In the car leaving King’s together (it was raining and she had her guitar), I suggest she look into Mitski Miyawaki, the Japanese American singer-songwriter whose track “Your Best American Girl” and corresponding video capture the angst of the in-between person in America today; cast against a blonde girl in Urban Outfitters–style Native American gear, Mitski loses out on a hot white guy both women admire.

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Later, over our coffee, I ask Lam if she got around to watching the video. She did, she tells me, and read an interview with Mitski, who goes only by her first name. Lam sounds less enthusiastic than I expected — I watched the video on repeat for days after friends introduced me to it, seeing in its beats the alienation and humiliation and hopelessness I felt as a young brown girl in Texas, aware that I’d never be taken home by the white boy — the desirable ones and the rest — and feeling this loss not only hormonally but in my mind, where I registered what options were available to me, what level of success.

A white boy represented a means to power and authority in this country; being denied him was to be denied full belonging, a symbolic nod to the current political question of who is in and who is out — one I thought Lam might relate to despite the video’s heteronormativity. Lam explained slowly what she saw: “a sense of longing that felt familiar. A wanting to belong or wanting to be loved feeling. Maybe I was focusing on this a little bit too much,” she then said, “or maybe it was the point, but I read an interview that they did with [Mitski], and she talks about how she’s half-American.” This bothered Lam, she explained, the implication that the blonde girl was “full American” (“she [Mitski] seemed to consider her that as well,” she pointed out) and Mitski half. “How can anyone be half-American?” she asked. “Isn’t that the whole purpose of this country? Like if you are here, we’re all American? Even if you were born somewhere else?” (Mitski grew up bouncing between various countries).

I confessed that I often felt “half-American,” in a poetic sense, denied of full personhood or power or authority, the girl who can try but will never get the full prize (which so often in America, for a straight woman, is the white man, but let’s call him a stand-in — for the promotion, the respect, the opportunities, the room to fail and support to succeed). As I said this I saw the shape revealed by my cello choice, the off-loading of responsibility for my sense of self onto others, a demand they accept me so I may accept myself. The freshness of Lam’s rebellion from this line of thought appealed to me — she’s maybe the first person of color my age I’ve talked to who spoke earnestly about loving America despite feeling rejected by the country. Her hopefulness, she says, is new, a departure, at an admittedly “weird time to be talking about hope in this country, but, even despite everything that’s happening…” She trails off. “Growing up I never felt that this was my country,” she tells me. Then she read the book Walk Across America, by Peter Jenkins, a man disenchanted with the country and the state of it to the point that he gave up his regular paces and decided to walk from Connecticut to New Orleans. “It has the stories of his travels, his solitude, and meeting communities,” says Lam. Reading that book alongside works by James Baldwin as she drove in search of her dream of a family of trees changed her mind about the country. The texts strung together “like a love letter, and it totally worked, because I fell in love afterward.”

Lam grew up getting yelled at by the pastor’s wife for running around, making too much noise. At a young age, she saw her grandmother’s best friend die, a woman so close to the family she lived with Lam’s grandma, as if they were lovers (they were platonic roommates, to Lam’s knowledge, both at one point moving into her own family’s home.) An early memory is of lying in her bedroom after the death, before puberty, and full of confusion. As a teen, she worked as soon as she could, got a special permit at the age of fifteen so she could enter that refuge of the artist looking for a buck, the restaurant industry, a sort of mirror world to the stage in that every night of service demands each player nail her role. Independence was a seduction, but also a birthright — being adopted, she belongs in a sense to no one. The family of trees, I asked, did they and the album arise as a sort of solution to the problem? A way to create a family? Lam thought the search was connected, for herself, to the search for a past and future, to the severing from roots that comes from dislocation. (King, to this, remarked that she forgot Lam was Asian until just then; she thinks of her music as a-gender, a-race, not tied to ethnicity but to human experience. Lam too told me of a series of love songs written with a careful excision of all pronouns, of how it pleases her when listeners describe their surprise at hearing a coffeehouse voice spill out of someone who looks like her).

At a concert at Joe’s Pub a few weeks later, where she played the entirety of her album, I found myself seated next to old friends of the Lams, an elderly Chinese couple who told me Treya’s dad couldn’t be prouder; who talked openly about the adoption and how much love flowed between these people unconnected by blood; how instrumental the Lams were in the church, and how devastating the death of Treya’s mom in 2016 had been for her and her dad, how proud her mom would have been. They pointed Papa Lam out to me; he sat behind me, a smiling man with a large camera, who shook my hand and asked what I thought of the music, in a tone that suggested he didn’t expect anything less than a glowing review.

Lam describes a complex interaction between intimacy and disconnect. Her mom drove her musicality, insisting on lessons and practice, and fretted over Lam’s actual compositions, wondering why the messages couldn’t be kinder — Lam cites one lyric as example, a questioning of a lover for inspiring pain, which rubbed her mom the wrong way. A typical maternal response to sadness in Lam’s life was the suggestion she pray the pain away. Frilly dresses symbolized their difference. At the same time, biking to meet King their first day of recording in 2017, Lam found herself stopping to cry, wishing her mom could hear what came out.

Lam’s marketing team is Girlie Action, the PR firm selected by King because, she told me, “they’re the best at what they do.” In our Uber Lam told me of a moment when, looking around a table at the people handling her shit, she realized no one was of color. I ask if there’s a relief in being seen outside the bounds of race, or any defining quality, referencing how King seemed to realize Lam’s race only in the context of my presence prompting discussion of it. I cite an anecdote from a friend in an MFA program, about a guy with cancer who can’t shake from agents the pitch to market himself as “the cancer guy,” ask if she’s happy to be spared such treatment. (She punted, giving me a smile and a shrug and a variation of “it’s complicated.”)

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Lam’s own musical coming of age tied to white-women rockerdom — barred from radio hits out of religious strictures imposed in her house, she heard her first tease of popular music in college, via a girlfriend, who took her to a Cat Power concert even as Lam’s sexual awakening was unfolding. “She listened to a lot of Cat Power,” her college friend Lauren Palma, also a musician, told me, remembering how the bluesy college band Lam fronted commanded audiences with every show, converting all that rocker energy from the Cat Power inspo into poetic ballads. On the phone with me, Fung, the friend from church, remembered the first song of Lam’s she heard written exclusively for voice and piano. It brought her to instant tears, the song a meditation on unbelonging made richer by Fung’s knowledge of Lam’s unique shape. “I told her,” Fung said, “she should play only the piano.” Fung had also been at the Joe’s Pub concert, where I met Lam’s dad, and I told her I could relate somehow, to the double hearing that comes from knowing what Lam has been through, the questions on her mind. My brother came with me knowing nothing of Lam’s history — the adoption or loss of mom, the gender fluidity, the search for a family of trees. Afterward, he said he was drawn in by her air of mystery, buoyed by the dramatic outfit and a resistance to explain her songs, both features in which I saw proof of the shyness I felt over our coffee, blockades against the public rather than bait to draw them in.

A  few months after her mother died, Lam suffered another death, of a dear friend, the only musician she considered a natural peer, the California singer Dave Deporis. They met at a house party in Brooklyn at a fecund time for him. All he wanted to do was hole up in his room; Lam, for once the social one, seeing in her new friend a need to which she could relate, brought him out, into the light, for balance. Writing songs some time later in a café in Oakland, California, he was interrupted when someone stole his laptop, containing all his songs, his life’s work to that point. He hitched onto the thief’s car and got dragged to death. “I don’t feel frustrated at [Deporis],” Lam said, to the unstated suggestion of agency in the air, the mourner’s refrain, of why’d he have to do that.“I feel frustrated at the way our society is structured. The way we support developing artists is so poor that he struggled to create some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard, up until his last day. All I felt like he wanted to bring to this place was love and…I don’t know. It’s been less than a year since it happened. I’m still…” I asked if she’d ever work on the music he left behind, and she guessed some day, the time would be right. In the meantime, a song he wrote about a redwood tree remains one of her favorites.

My own favorite track from Lam’s album, “Magic,” reminds me of a drive at the tail end of the Pacific Coast Highway, along which Big Sur and the redwoods run. This particular stretch is called the 17 Mile Drive, from Carmel to Monterey, which I experienced a few Januarys back, in a rented car. My companion and I took the path early enough in the morning that light beamed in from the topmost branches of the trees. At one point I begged him to stop the car, the light was so drawn from a fairy tale, falling through the leaves in golden dashes, as if someone gave party confetti the power of levitation. “Magic” exists in a place that reminds me of that one, the instrumentation light and airy and golden, Lam’s voice beseeching the listener to watch out for magic. It sounds cheesy, but the effect isn’t; as with the best nursery rhymes, there is a haunting, forever quality, as if you were meant to hear the tune since birth (aided by the suggestion of a music box hammer in the song’s rhythm). Lam told me she wrote the song after the gunfire at Sandy Hook Elementary School brought down more than a dozen children. Her heart was with the ones left behind, now inside lives stretching ahead with the task of untangling what they had seen. As she told me this, I thought of her on the bed after her grandmother’s friend’s death. Today, I think of the children at the border of our country, who face a long road to healing.

The album’s title echoes the terminology of the religious, and a few passages from the Bible show up in lyrics. Lam tells me these choices reflect a strategy of sorts, to draw in listeners who might not go for a queer nonwhite songstress. A previous near miss at an album brought Lam close to appealing to an entirely different audience — non-American, on the Asian continent — shepherded by Ysanne Spevack, a musician and manager out of L.A. who heard of Lam through a mutual friend. A multi-instrumentalist and string arranger who’d gigged with the Smashing Pumpkins, as well as Asian Dub Foundation out of her home in the U.K., Spevack linked up with Lam years before King, ahead of the current era of popular culture in which marketing one’s own identity is a prereq for creative success in the way it is today. Spevack encouraged Lam in that direction anyway, thinking she’d simply write deeper the more she knew about herself, and live happier.

One thought was to market Lam in Taiwan; Spevack knew the British government spent money on the global success of its artists, funding grants and training abroad. One night, she discovered the Golden Melody Awards, the Taiwanese analog to the Grammys, only “way bigger than anything we have,” because it’s in Asia, where stadium size is a point of national honor. One slice of the awards was dedicated to indigenous Taiwanese musicians. Intrigued, Spevack read up on the awards organization, only to find with growing anxiety that she was looking at a people who resembled Lam. The revelation felt earth-shattering. “It had implications about her health, her genetics, her adoption,” Spevack says — hypothesizing that an indigenous baby adopted by a mainland Chinese couple might be seen as better off never knowing she wasn’t mainland too.

As Spevack clicked through images, she saw the shape of Lam — her large bones and dark skin, her tendency to wear feathers and go barefoot and sing about nature, all traits shared with some of the artists out of the country’s tribal regions. She compares the distinction to one we make in America with jazz and blues traditions, that a people linked to a story of despair infuse a level of emotion into their art. “Indigenous Taiwanese people from these three tribes have this tendency — if you’re a good singer, there’s a tendency toward this beautiful soulfulness, this ability to move people to tears.” Hearing the story,I thought of Lam’s favorite instrument — the viola, whose larger body emits a different sound from that of the violin, deeper, lower, melancholic, and singular; Lam’s body, I thought, was the viola to her Chinese peers’ violins.

Spevack asked Lam to consider a trip upstate, told her she had important news, but she would need to be ready for it; worried she might hurt the family. Before any revelation could happen, Lam’s dad spilled the news of her origin, in a stroke of aligned timing. Some day, Spevack hopes to visit Lam’s tribe in Taiwan with her. (Lam tells me she’s excited to explore her heritage while being “wary of exploiting this side of me.”) Spevack sees in Good News a step toward a self knowledge that doesn’t jump with both feet into the American marketing game, the promise of a Jack White–style success story in the album’s potential to turn Lam international where the Taiwan push fizzled, to find a place in the U.K., where audiences accept the power of sound, often in lieu of sociopolitical alignment.

This tendency Lam’s crew has, to see a potential superstar behind the resistance to being one, I saw reflected in the spirit of the Joe’s Pub concert. The crowd of well-wishers and strangers produced waves of applause and cheers that felt almost loving, even as Lam begged off long explanations of her songs, saying, at one point, “I’d rather just play.” Fung compares the effect of Lam’s voice to ocean waves. “She draws you in, hypnotizes you, and all at once you’ll get taken up by a huge tide, a swell that takes you over completely.” She tells me she noticed the waitstaff stop at one point in the evening, as Lam sang next to a trio of musicians on string instruments — all of them, by chance, white. “I do remember thinking, ‘Oh my god, this Asian female lead singer is onstage, leading a bunch of caucasians on string instruments, doing a fantastic job.’ ” The reversal of expectations pleased Fung, a totally 2018 flip one might expect a PR manipulator to orchestrate. Like everything with Lam, though, the effect was accidental; you could tell she wasn’t trying to be anything.

Treya Lam is performing with Kaki King at the Prospect Park Bandshell on July 28 as part of the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn Festival.


‘Raise the Age’ Vote Raises Hopes of Homeless Youth

Three weeks ago, about a dozen young New Yorkers gathered near City Hall. Their plans to rally on the steps had failed because they didn’t have a permit; instead, they set up shop outside the metal barricades that surround the building.

The group — there to advocate for legislation that would alter the experience of being young and homeless in New York — was used to improvising. The members each had their own stories of homelessness, which they shared with the crowd and then repeated inside City Hall, as testimony for local officials.

And for the first time, it seems like local government might be listening.

Following that hearing, the New York City Council will vote today on “raise the age” legislation to increase the maximum age for access to the youth homeless shelter system to 24. Currently, the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) funds youth-specific shelters for young people between the ages of 16 and 21. Once they turn 21, however, they’re expected to transition into the adult shelter system, run by the Department of Homeless Services.

While the three-year age extension might sound trivial, a dedicated group of advocates has spent a decade pushing for it after watching countless clients struggle to adapt to the city’s adult shelters after turning 21. They believe homeless youth between 21 and 24 years old — many of whom were kicked out of their homes due to their sexuality, or experienced homelessness as children — are young enough to need specialized services but “are treated like the unwanted, unloved stepchildren by the city,” says Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center, which provides LGBTQ-centered youth shelter and services.

“The hesitation of young people transitioning to an adult shelter begins at the intake and assessment phase,” says Jamie Powlovich, executive director of the Coalition for Homeless Youth. “They see these shelters are intimidating places. They’re large, there’s less support, there’s less proactive engagement in case management.” Most youth shelters hold around twenty beds, she says; the majority of adult shelters begin at fifty.

New York’s youth shelters also cater better to LGBTQ needs. It’s estimated that up to 40 percent of the runaway homeless youth population in New York identifies as LGBTQ, and Siciliano points out that in adult shelters, they often become targets for sexual harassment. He has watched these young homeless adults turn to sex survival work, couch surfing, and sleeping on streets and subways to avoid the system altogether.

The youth who testified at the City Council hearing attest to the dread that comes with your 21st birthday when you’re homeless in New York. “I only lasted a few days,” Alexander Jacobs, 22, tells the Voice of his attempt to enter an adult shelter. He moved to New York in the wake of Hurricane Harvey “to build up my life,” but found himself unable to afford housing. Inside an adult shelter, he says, he felt targeted and threatened because he is gay.

Kaashif, 31, identifies as gay and has struggled with mental illness. He estimates he has cycled through as many as five adult shelters, as “I’ve been threatened, sexually harassed, several times.”

Alexander Rey Perez, Testifies During City Council Committee Hearing on Runaway and Homeless Youth, Feb. 13, 2018

Alexander Rey Perez, 23, decided he couldn’t live with his mother after coming out as transgender, then found he was not allowed to stay at a youth shelter because of his age. His attempts at entering the adult system only added to his anxiety — identifying as trans, he says, complicated placement in a gender-based shelter. When he did visit a men’s shelter, he suffered a “full-blown panic attack” facing a metal detector, fearing he’d get patted down. “For a person of trans experience, that’s like your worst nightmare,” he says.

This year has brought political changes that promise to address such fears. The 2018 state budget included reforms that will allow counties to increase the maximum age for youth housing to 24 years old. Then Corey Johnson became Speaker of the New York City Council in January and turned his attention to the issue. He and other legislators sponsored a bill, introduced to the City Council last month, that would allow adults up to age 24 to be eligible for youth housing. Two other bills were introduced, one that would extend the length of time a homeless youth can stay at a crisis shelter, and another that would require the DYCD to develop a plan to provide shelter to all runaway and homeless youth who request it.

According to a study by Legal Aid, young people given unlimited stay at youth shelters, with access to specialized services, have a better chance of gaining the confidence and skills they need to transition into adulthood, which includes the ability to find long-term housing. Advocates also watched the “raise the age” matter gain attention as our understanding of youth shifted, with research showing the adult brain is not fully developed by 21 but continues to grow into individuals’ late twenties.

“For a long time, these teens were not seen as sympathetic as young children,” says Kate Barnhart, executive director of New Alternatives, an organization that offers case management and other services to homeless LGBTQ youth. “There was a stigma they are difficult to work with, they might have mental health or behavioral issues.”

Barnhart continues, “There’s been a change in the culture, where people are realizing — due to the employment situation in the country, also the lack of affordable housing — a lot of people are at home, being youth, well into their twenties.”

Still, the city has been slow to turn its attention to homeless youth, even as New York’s homelessness crisis has intensified. The DYCD has no clear data on how many youth age out of shelter and decline to transition to the adult system. At February’s hearing, a tense exchange came when Speaker Johnson asked if DYCD representatives knew how many homeless youth lived in New York City. The agency’s best estimate was “a couple hundred,” according to deputy commissioner Susan Haskell. (The DYCD did not respond to numerous requests for comment.) For the youth present, it cemented a familiar feeling — that they had fallen through the cracks.

Speaker Corey Johnson During City Council Committee Hearing on Runaway and Homeless Youth,Feb. 13, 2018

DYCD reps also testified to concerns of budgeting for more youth beds if the bills pass — though the state budget included reforms for the city to raise the youth shelter age, it did not allocate any money to do so. Speaker Johnson committed to budgeting city funds at the hearing, but did not return requests to confirm this. “I want you to have the resources you need to reach these young people,” he told DYCD reps. “I don’t really care what amount of money it is — City Council will push for it in the budget.”

If City Council votes in favor of these bills, the young people’s fate will then rest with Mayor Bill de Blasio, who would need to sign the legislation into law. A spokesperson for the mayor, Jaclyn Rothenberg, says “we are reviewing the bills, but remain deeply committed to supporting runaway and homeless youth, which is why we’ve invested over $20 million to keep them safe,” referring to funding for enhanced services for drop-in centers, an increase in supportive housing for young adults, and other new programs under the city’s NYC Unity Project. She points out that the mayor’s office is on track to triple the number of beds available to runaway and homeless youth (up to age 21) by 2019 and is working on a streamlined transition process into the adult shelter system.

Still, the majority of young people aware of the bills worry that they won’t pass, and are concerned that city government doesn’t appreciate the unique struggle that comes with a 21st birthday. “It feels like DYCD has a lot of excuses…like it involves too much work to deal with us,” says Perez, who secured supportive housing in Brooklyn after declining to stay in an adult shelter. Since he became involved with Ali Forney Center to advocate for raise the age legislation, he has dreamed of working in advocacy full-time while saving enough to rent his own apartment.

In his City Council testimony last month, Perez read a poem. “One of the lines in my poem was that ‘you can’t meet me where I’m at if you don’t know where I’m from,’ ” he says. “I wrote the poem on the subway, outside, in different places.” He continues, “I didn’t want to deliver a prepared speech. I wanted people to hear that this experience is real, these are issues me and my peers think and talk about, and we’ve suffered together.”

UPDATE 3/8: Powlovich reports that all three Raise the Age bills passed the council unanimously on Wednesday, and now head to the mayor’s desk for his signature.


Film Poll: What Viewers May Have Missed From the Year in Queer Cinema

2017 was a great year for queer films and queer filmmakers: Out queer directors helmed nearly half of my favorite films and are at the top of my ten-best list. But thanks to the homophobic notion (and self-fulfilling prophecy) that audiences will support only one queer film (you know which one) at a time, most people missed what I loved best, especially moviegoers who don’t live in New York City or L.A. (See the full results of the Village Voice Film Poll here)

My pick for the best film of the year, BPM (Beats Per Minute), is an astonishingly accurate and moving account of ACT UP in the early 1990s. The film didn’t premiere in my art house–friendly city until two weeks ago, months after it opened in New York, when most of its rapturous reviews were first published.

When BPM failed to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, some people tried to downplay its achievement. BPM is about the collective, mostly queer activism of ACT UP made by the same people who were participants in its history. The director, Robin Campillo, who also co-wrote the script, belonged to ACT UP Paris in the Nineties, and his co-writer, Philippe Mangeot, was once president of the group. Although activists have sometimes made well-reviewed documentaries about their work, BPM is the rare, great narrative film made by activists, based on their own lives. Campillo and Mangeot are working in the tradition of writer-directors like Chloé Zhao, Andrea Arnold, and Sean Baker who actively collaborate with people in circumstances close to those of the characters in their films, so that the finished product attains a verisimilitude far out of reach for most Hollywood movies.

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The first, botched protest in BPM immediately brought me back to my own queer activism in the early Nineties. I had forgotten that some of the actions I had taken part in or helped plan had, like the one in the film, taken an unexpected turn (more than one character uses the word violence, though no one is hurt) that opponents would later try to use against us. BPM is a fictional story about made-up characters, but the screenwriters use their inside knowledge to make a film that dishes up one truth after another, not just matching memories of the time, but adding detail, refreshing what might have been half-forgotten. We see the main character, Nathan (played by gay actor Arnaud Valois), becoming a core member of ACT UP Paris as he starts a sweet romance with HIV-positive group stalwart Sean (the great Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), taking care of Sean as his health deteriorates (including that famous hospital hand job, after which the two giggle like nine-year-olds telling fart jokes) through Sean’s death. In the end Nathan participates in the protest that uses Sean’s ashes. When I saw the film with friends who were about my age, who knew people with AIDS who had died, neither friend (including one who usually likes only action films) could get over how well the film had captured both the grief and, in some scenes, the joy they too remembered from that period.

Barely anyone in the U.S. has seen my other top pick, The Ornithologist (written and directed by Portugal’s João Pedro Rodrigues), an amalgam of nature documentary, man-lost-in-the-wilderness tale, gay erotica, and manslaughter that is also the story of Saint Anthony of Padua. The mixture sounds like one of those vomit-inducing drinks that combines every type of alcohol on the shelf, but Rodrigues, best known in this country for O Fantasma (2000), transitions through The Ornithologists seemingly discordant elements as gracefully and expertly as Paul Hamy, playing the main character, swims through the river at the film’s start.

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Dee Rees’s Mudbound, though it doesn’t have any queer content, retains the unmistakable stamp of the queer Black director (she also co-wrote the Oscar-nominated script), who previously directed and wrote films about queer Black women: Pariah and the HBO biopic of Bessie Smith, Bessie. Like The Ornithologist, Mudbound combines what shouldn’t work (not just one voiceover but many!) into a profound and beautiful whole (the film’s director of photography, Rachel Morrison, is the first woman, so also the first queer woman, nominated for an Oscar for Best Cinematography). Mudbound also features more knockout performances than any film in recent memory. Though only Mary J. Blige’s wary Florence is Oscar-nominated, Garret Hedlund, as drunken, charming Jamie; Jason Mitchell, as Florence’s son, the returning Black veteran Ronsel; and Carey Mulligan, as the wife and mother whose life didn’t turn out how she imagined, are just as good.

Many moviegoers (including some well-known critics) also never saw Black, queer writer-director Angela Robinson’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. This film, a biopic of the original Wonder Woman comic book’s creator, William Moulton Marston (played by Luke Evans), is a family portrait of Marston, his wife, Elizabeth, their live-in girlfriend, Olive, and the children they all raise together. Rebecca Hall, unjustly ignored during this awards season for one of her best performances (in a career full of great work), plays Elizabeth, the psychologist and academic who, after she and her husband are fired for their unconventional relationship with Olive (who was once their student and assistant), becomes the family breadwinner with a secretarial job. Hall gives the role a ferocity and astuteness that make her moments of tears and tenderness with Bella Heathcote’s Olive (who more than holds her own) all the more striking. The film’s three-way sex and light bondage were part of the publicity leading up to the movie’s release, but those scenes don’t prepare the audience for Wonder Womens emotional breadth.

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The protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after a police officer killed Mike Brown are at the center of Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’s documentary, Whose Streets?, but so is the relationship between protest leaders Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton, who, between scenes of protest and arrest, get married and raise Ferrell’s young daughter together. No director since, well, Dee Rees has presented a relationship between two Black queer women onscreen as lovingly and matter-of-factly as Folayan and Davis do.

So many good queer films came out in 2017 I wasn’t able to include ones that would have made my top ten any other year: Joachim Trier’s witchy, coming-of-age story Thelma (he also co-wrote the script), and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s Battle of the Sexes, in which Emma Stone’s Billie Jean King (also ignored in award contests) tells us with her enormous eyes the intense feelings Andrea Riseborough’s Marilyn Barnett stokes when she runs her hands through King’s hair. Later, when King, in bed after the two first have sex, explains they can’t be together, she looks at Barnett the same way, letting both her and the audience know she won’t be able to stay away. Stone and Thelmas Kaya Wilkins, playing Thelma’s would-be girlfriend, Anja, both have the most convincing and persuasive cruisey stares of the year. If we don’t yet have an award for that category, we should.


New Yorkers Will Gather At Stonewall Tonight To Protest Trump’s Attack On Trans Americans

A coalition of civil rights activists — led by transgender speakers — will gather at the historic Stonewall National Monument tonight to protest the Trump administration’s rollback of a federal guideline that allowed transgender students in public schools to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity.

The guideline, passed under the Obama administration, invoked Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination. The reversal, enacted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, was justified in the way many other civil rights advancements have been targeted: by invoking states’ rights.

Sessions, who has a long history of opposing any expansion of civil rights protections, said in a statement that the previous directive “did not contain sufficient legal analysis or explain how the interpretation was consistent with the language of Title IX.”

As such, the order was considered  to have been written “without due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy,” according to a joint memo issued by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education.

DeVos reportedly opposed the reversal, but when pressed by both Sessions and Trump, relented. The previous order was stayed by a federal judge last August; after it was issued, Texas and several other states (including North Carolina, which passed a notorious “bathroom bill” that was met with economic boycotts) immediately challenged it. The Trump administration withdrew a motion originally filed by the Obama administration challenging the injunction last week.

The rally begins at 5:30p.m. at West 4th Street and Christopher Street.


Stonewall at 40: The Voice Articles That Sparked a Final Night of Rioting

[Editor’s note, June 24, 2009: Earlier this month, the New York Times published for the first time several photographs that were taken on July 2, 1969, the final night of the Stonewall uprising. The Times noted that few photographs exist of the six-day disturbance, so it was significant to find images all these years later that captured some of the action on the uprising’s final night.

The initial police raid on the Stonewall that started the riots happened five days earlier, on June 28. But on Wednesday, July 2, there was a new wave of anger and rioting. The cause: the Village Voice.

That day, two articles appeared on the Voice‘s front page describing the struggle happening both inside and outside the Stonewall Inn.

Voice reporter Howard Smith’s piece described how he found himself trapped inside the Stonewall with police officers as they came under violent attack by the crowd — at one point, Smith wishes he had a gun to defend himself, just like the cops.

Writer Lucian Truscott IV reported on the agitated street scene outside the building. “Limp wrists were forgotten,” Truscott writes, but his use of words like “faggot” and “faggotry” enraged gay activists. Anger at the pieces ran so high, rioters marched on the Voice office itself.

Four decades on, here’s another opportunity to see what caused all the fuss.]

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View from Inside
Full Moon Over The Stonewall
By Howard Smith

During the “gay power” riots at the Stonewall last Friday night I found myself on what seemed to me the wrong side of the blue line. Very scary. Very enlightening.

I had struck up a spontaneous relationship with Deputy Inspector Pine, who had marshalled the raid, and was following him closely, listening to all the little dialogues and plans and police inflections. Things were already pretty tense: the gay customers freshly ejected from their hangout, prancing high and jubilant in the street, had been joined by quantities of Friday night tourists hawking around for Village-type excitement. The cops had considerable trouble arresting the few people they wanted to take in for further questioning. A strange mood was in the crowd — I noticed the full moon. Loud defiances mixed with skittish hilarity made for a more dangerous stage of protest; they were feeling their impunity. This kind of crowd freaks easily.

The turning point came when the police had difficulty keeping a dyke in a patrol car. Three times she slid out and tried to walk away. The last time a cop bodily heaved her in. The crowd shrieked, “Police brutality!” “Pigs!” A few coins sailed through the air. I covered my face. Pine ordered the three cars and paddy wagon to leave with the prisoners before the crowd became more of a mob. “Hurry back,” he added, realizing he and his force of eight detectives, two of them women, would be easily overwhelmed if the temper broker. “Just drop them at the Sixth Precinct and hurry back.”

The sirened caravan pushed through the gauntlet, pummeled and buffeted until it managed to escape. “Pigs!” “Gaggot cops!” Pennies and dimes flew. I stood against the door. The detectives held at most a 10-foot clearing. Escalate to nickels and quarters. A bottle. Another bottle. Pine says, “Let’s get inside. Lock ourselves inside, it’s safer.”

“You want to come in?” he asks me. “You’re probably safer,” with a paternal tone. Two flashes: if they go in and I stay out, will the mob know that the blue plastic thing hanging from my shirt is a press card, or by now will they assume I’m a cop too? On the other hand, it might be interesting to be locked in with a few cops, just rapping and reviewing how they work.

In goes me. We bolt the heavy door. The front of the Stonewall is mostly brick except for the windows, which are boarded within by plywood. Inside we hear the shattering of windows, followed by what we imagine to be bricks pounding on the door, voices yelling. The floor shudders at each blow. “Aren’t you guys scared?” I say.

“No.” But they look at least uneasy.

The door crashes open, beer cans and bottles hurl in. Pine and his troop rush to shut it. At that point the only uniformed cop among them gets hit with something under his eye. He hollers, and his hand comes away scarlet. It looks a lot more serious than it really is. They are all suddenly furious. Three run out in front to see if they can scare the mob from the door. A hail of coins. A beer can glances off Deputy Inspector Smyth’s head.

Pine, a man of about 40 and smallish build, gathers himself, leaps out into the melee, and grabs someone around the waist, pulling him downward and back into the doorway. They fall. Pine regains hold and drags the elected protester inside by the hair. The door slams again. Angry cops converge on the guy, releasing their anger on this sample from the mob. Pine is saying, “I saw him throwing somethin,” and the guy unfortunately is giving some sass, snidely admits to throwing “only a few coins.” The cop who was cut is incensed, yells something like, “So you’re the one who hit me!” And while the other cops help, he slaps the prisoner five or six times very hard and finishes with a punch to the mouth. They handcuff the guy as he almost passes out. “All right,” Pine announces, “we book him for assault.” The door is smashed open again. More objects are thrown in. The detectives locate a fire hose, the idea being to ward off the madding crowd until reinforcements arrive. They can’t see where to aim it, wedging the hose in a crack in the door. It sends out a weak stream. We all start to slip on water and Pine says to stop.

By now the mind’s eye has forgotten the character of the mob; the sound filtering in doesn’t suggest dancing faggots any more. It sounds like a powerful rage bent on vendetta. That way why Pine’s singling out the guy I knew later to be Dan Van Ronk was important. The little force of detectives was beginning to feel fear, and Pine’s action clinched their morale again.

A door over to the side almost gives. One cop shouts, “Get away from there or I’ll shoot!” It stops shaking. The front door is completely open. One of the big plywood windows gives, and it seems inevitable that the mob will pour in. A kind of tribal adrenaline rush bolsters all of us; they all take out and check pistols. I see both policewomen busy doing the same, and the danger becomes even more real. I find a big wrench behind the bar, jam it into my belt like a scimitar. Hindsight: my fear on the verge of being trampled by a mob fills the same dimension as my fear on the verge of being clubbed by the TPF.

Pine places a few men on each side of the corridor leading away from the entrance. They aim unwavering at the door. One detective arms himself in addition with a sawed-off baseball bat he has found. I hear, “We’ll shoot the first motherfucker that comes through the door.”

Pine glances over toward me. “Are you all right, Howard?” I can’t believe what I’m saying: “I’d feel a lot better with a gun.”

I can only see the arm at the window. It squirts a liquid into the room, and a flaring match follows. Pine is not more than 10 feet away. He aims his gun at the figures.

He doesn’t fire. The sound of sirens coincides with the whoosh of flames where the lighter fluid was thrown. Later, Pine tells me he didn’t shoot because he had heard the sirens in time and felt no need to kill someone if help was arriving. That was close.

While the squads of uniforms disperse the mob out front, inside we are checking to see if each of us all right. For a few minutes we get the post-tension giggles, but as they subside I start scribbling notes to catch up, and the people around me change back to cops. They begin examining the place.

It had lasted 45 minutes. Just before and after the siege I picked up some more detached information. According to the police, they are not picking on homosexuals. On these raids they almost never arrest customers, only people working there. As of June 1, the State Liquor Authority said that all unlicensed places were eligible to apply for licenses. The police are scrutinizing all unlicensed places, and most of the bars that are in that category happen to cater to homosexuals. The Stonewall is an unlicensed private club. The raid was made with a warrant, after undercover agents inside observed illegal sale of alcohol. To make certain the raid plans did not leak, it was made without notifying the Sixth Precinct until after the detectives (all from the First Division) were inside the premises. Once the bust had actually started, one of Pine’s men called the Sixth for assistance on a pay phone.

It was explained to me that generally men dressed as men, even if wearing extensive makeup, are always released; men dressed as women are sometimes arrested; and “men” fully dressed as women, but who upon inspection by a policewoman prove to have undergone the sex-change operations, are always let go. At the Stonewall, out of the five queens checked, three were men and two were changes, even though all said they were girls. Pine released them all anyway.

As for the rough-talking owners and/or managers of the Stonewall, their riff ran something like this: we are just honest businessmen who are being harassed by the police because we cater to homosexuals, and because our names are Italian so they think we are part of something bigger. We haven’t done anything wrong and have never been convicted in no court. We have rights, and the courts should decide and not let the police do things like what happened here. When we got back in the place, all the mirrors, jukeboxes, phones, toilets, and cigarette machines were smashed. Even the sinks were stuffed and running over. And we say the police did it. The courts will say that we are innocent.

Who isn’t, I thought, as I dropped my scimitar and departed.

View from Outside
Gay Power Comes to Sheridan Square
By Lucian Truscott IV

Sheridan Square this weekend looked like something from a William Burroughs novel as the sudden specter of “gay power” erected its brazen head and spat out a fairy tale the likes of which the area has never seen.

The forces of faggotry, spurred by a Friday night raid on one of the city’s largest, most popular, and longest lived gay bars, the Stonewall Inn, rallied Saturday night in an unprecedented protest against the raid and continued Sunday night to assert presence, possibility, and pride until the early hours of Monday morning. “I’m a faggot, and I’m proud of it!” “Gay Power!” “I like boys!” — these and many other slogans were heard all three nights as the show of force by the city’s finery met the force of the city’s finest. The result was a kind of liberation, as the gay brigade emerged from the bars, back rooms, and bedrooms of the Village and became street people.

Cops entered the Stonewall for the second time in a week just before midnight on Friday. It began as a small raid — only two patrolmen, two detectives, and two policewomen were involved. But as the patrons trapped inside were released one by one, a crowd started to gather on the street. It was initially a festive gathering, composed mostly of Stonewall boys who were waiting around for friends still inside or to see what was going to happen. Cheers would go up as favorites would emerge from the door, strike a pose, and swish by the detective with a “Hello there, fella.” The stars were in their element. Wrists were limp, hair was primped, and reactions to the applause were classic. “I gave them the gay power bit, and they loved it, girls.” “Have you seen Maxine? Where is my wife — I told her not to go far.”

Suddenly the paddywagon arrived and the mood of the crowd changed. Three of the more blatant queens — in full drag — were loaded inside, along with the bartender and doorman, to a chorus of catcalls and boos from the crowd. A cry went up to push the paddywagon over, but it drove away before anything could happen. With its exit, the action waned momentarily. The next person to come out was a dyke, and she put up a struggle — from car to door to car again. It was at that moment that the scene became explosive. Limp wrists were forgotten. Beer cans and bottles were heaved at the windows, and a rain of coins descended on the cops. At the height of the action, a bearded figure was plucked from the crowd and dragged inside. It was Dave Van Ronk, who had come from the Lion’s Head to see what was going on. He was later charged with having thrown an object at the police.

Three cops were necessary to get Van Ronk away from the crowd and into the Stonewall. The exit left no cops on the street, and almost by signal the crowd erupted into cobblestone and bottle heaving. The reaction was solid: they were pissed. The trashcan I was standing on was nearly yanked out from under me as a kid tried to grab it for use in the windowsmashing melee. From nowhere came an uprooted parking meter — used as a battering ram on the Stonewall door. I heard several cries of “Let’s get some gas,” but the blaze of flame which soon appeared in the window of the Stonewall was still a shock. As the wood barrier behind the glass was beaten open, the cops inside turned a firehose on the crowd. Several kids took the opportunity to cavort in the spray, and their momentary glee served to stave off what was rapidly becoming a full-scale attack. By the time the fags were able to regroup forces and come up with another assault, several carloads of police reinforcements had arrived, and in minutes the streets were clear.

A visit to the Sixth Precinct revealed the fact that 13 persons had been arrested on charges which ranged from Van Ronk’s felonious assault of a police officer to the owners’ illegal sale and storage of alcoholic beverages without a license. Two police officers had been injured in the battle with the crowd. By the time the last cop was off the street Saturday morning, a sign was going up announcing that the Stonewall would reopen that night. It did.

Protest set the tone for “gay power” activities on Saturday. The afternoon was spent boarding up the windows of the Stonewall and chalking them with signs of the new revolution: “We Are Open,” “There is all college boys and girls in here,” “Support Gay Power — C’mon in, girls,” “Insp. Smyth looted our: money, jukebox, cigarette mach, telephones, safe, cash register, and the boys tips.” Among the slogans were two carefully clipped and bordered copies of the Daily News story about the previous night’s events, which was anything but kind to the gay cause.

The real action Saturday was that night in the street. Friday night’s crowd had returned and was being led in “gay power” cheers by a group of gay cheerleaders. “We are the Stonewall girls/ We wear our hair in curls/ We have no underwear/ We show our pubic hairs!” The crowd was gathered across the street from the Stonewall and was growing with additions of onlookers, Eastsiders, and rough street people who saw a chance for a little action. Though dress had changed from Friday night’s gayery to Saturday night street clothes, the scene was a command performance for queers. If Friday night had been pick-up night, Saturday was date night. Hand-holding, kissing, and posing accented each of the cheers with a homosexual liberation that had appeared only fleetingly on the street before. One-liners were as practiced as if they had been used for years. “I just want you all to know,” quipped a platinum blond with obvious glee, “that sometimes being homosexual is a big pain in the ass.” Another allowed as how he had become a “left-deviationist.” And on and on.

The quasi-political tone of the street scene was looked upon with disdain by some, for radio news announcements about the previous night’s “gay power” chaos had brought half of Fire Island’s Cherry Grove running back to home base to see what they had left behind. The generation gap existed even here. Older boys had strained looks on their faces and talked in concerned whispers as they watched the up-and-coming generation take being gay and flaunt it before the masses. As the “gay power” chants on the street rose in frequency and volume, the crowd grew restless. The front of the Stonewall was losing its attraction, despite efforts by the owners to talk the crowd back into the club. “C’mon in and see what da pigs done to us,” they growled. “We’re honest businessmen here. There ain’t nuttin bein’ done wrong in dis place. Everybody come and see.”

The people on the street were not to be coerced. “Let’s go down the street and see what’s happening, girls,” someone yelled. And down the street went the crowd, smack into the Tactical Patrol Force, who had been called earlier to disperse the crowd and were walking west on Christopher from Sixth Avenue. Formed in a line, the TPF swept the crowd back to the corner of Waverly Place, where they stopped. A stagnant situation there brought on some gay tomfoolery in the line of helmeted and club-carrying cops. Just as the line got into a full kick routine, the TPF advanced again and cleared the crowd of screaming gay powerites down Christopher to Seventh Avenue. The street and park were then held from both ends, and no one was allowed to enter — naturally causing a fall-off in normal Saturday night business, even at the straight Lion’s Head and 55. The TPF positions in and around the square were held with only minor incident — one busted head and a number of scattered arrests — while the cops amused themselves by arbitrarily breaking up small groups of people up and down the avenue. The crowd finally dispersed around 3.30 a.m. The TPF had come and they had conquered, but Sunday was already there, and it was to be another story.

Sunday night was a time for watching and rapping. Gone were the “gay power” chants of Saturday, but not the new and open brand of exhibitionism. Steps, curbs, and the park provided props for what amounted to the Sunday fag follies as returning stars from the previous night’s performances stopped by to close the show for the weekend.

It was slow going. Around 1 a.m. a non-helmeted version of the TPF arrived and made a controlled and very cool sweep of the area, getting everyone moving and out of the park. That put a damper on posing and primping, and as the last buses were leaving Jerseyward, the crowd grew thin. Allen Ginsberg and Taylor Mead walked by to see what was happening and were filled in on the previous evenings’ activities by some of the gay activists. “Gay power! Isn’t that great!” Allen said. “We’re one of the largest minorities in the country — 10 per cent, you know. It’s about time we did something to assert ourselves.”

Ginsberg expressed a desire to visit the Stonewall — “You know, I’ve never been in there” — and ambled on down the street, flashing peace signs and helloing the TPF. It was a relief and a kind of joy to see him on the street. He lent an extra umbrella of serenity of the scene with his laughter and quiet commentary on consciousness, “gay power” as a new movement, and the various implications of what had happened. I followed him into the Stonewall, where rock music blared from speakers all around a room that might have come right from a Hollywood set of a gay bar. He was immediately bouncing and dancing wherever he moved.

He left, and I walked east with him. Along the way, he described how things used to be. “You know, the guys there were so beautiful — they’ve lost that wounded look that fags all had 10 years ago.” It was the first time I had heard that crowd described as beautiful.

We reached Cooper Square, and as Ginsberg turned to head toward home, he waved and yelled, “Defend the fairies!” and bounced on across the square. He enjoyed the prospect of “gay power” and is probably working on a manifesto for the movement right now. Watch out. The liberation is under way.