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Equality From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Year 2: Toward a Gay Community

Happy birthday, gay liberation, happy birthday to you! The baby is two years old and the song is sung by Martha Shelley and Allen Young and Judy from New York’s defunct Gay Liberation Front, under a Christopher Street banner, a stone’s throw from the old Stonewall Inn, so long ago and far away. Helping along with the cel­ebration are about 6000 birthday guests. They’ve come from Toronto and Washington and Hartford and Columbus and Amherst and all five boroughs and flood Christopher Street from Sheridan Square almost to the river, Sunday under a cloudless pansexual sky. Early gay libera­tion faces — Jerry Hooze and Craig Rodwell and Marty Nixon­ — have come out for the celebration. Young serious politicos. wearing granny glasses and toting knapsacks, buss the likes of Eben Clark and Jean De Vente. “Happy birthday. Isn’t it beautiful?” “Beautiful, just beautiful.” Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday.

Sylvia of STAR is there — and Marsha and Bebe and Natasha. Yellow balloons on long strings are printed GAY and tied to wrists and headbands. Oc­casionally one breaks away and flies up, up, over, liberated, free, and gone. Jill Johnston is there. She gives me a bear hug and says “Sometimes I wish I were a male homosexual,” as Pete Fisher and Marc Rubin pass by, arm in arm, caressing. Kate Millett arrives. “This is a very beautiful day,” she says. “A very important day. It’s fantastic, this whole sense of freedom and euphoria. I feel a sense of common identity with ev­eryone here. It’s a strong feeling and happy and fine.”

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Media, media everywhere. Global Village with a crew of four, and the Life and Newsweek re­porters who’ve been following us around these many weeks, and radio and TV networks, and amateur camera buffs shooting away at the crowd and at each other. Out of the closets, into the media, and into your living room. America, beware!

The big parade starts. A marshal shouts, “Keep behind the Christopher Street Liberation sign!” Somewhere back there, a contingent from Perth Amboy totes a sheet spray-painted and stenciled: “A dream is a dream, reality is real, open the door, to the way that we feel.” I see a Gay Jewish Revolution banner and the Gay Activists Alliance lambda and all those lambda shirts.

As the march progresses up Sixth Avenue, past Foam Rubber City, past the flower and plant block, the up-front banners move farther behind and the three city blocks of marchers become nine city blocks. By 34th Street, we’re up to 15. There are no incidents. Some sidewalk observers heed the call and join us. At a 42nd Street construction site, three hardhats make ha-ha gestures. At 45th Street, an observer remarks, “I’m getting to feel like a real creep here with my husband and baby. I’m getting to feel abnormal.” Near the Statler Hilton a group of young women sing “I enjoy being a dyke.” “Join us, join us,” shout the marchers to the bellhops and hotel guests. “Beyond the moon is Lesbos,” says a frizzle-haired woman to a passing hooker. “This is a flex­atone — the first gay musical in­strument,” says a flexatonist striking his pocket-sized in­strument. Two, four, six, eight, organize and liberate.

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The parade enters Central Park. Michael, in a Billie Burke-Wizard of Oz outfit with additional silver cardboard wings, tells the cameramen, “I’m just showing the straight people what a good fairy is.” Miss Philadelphia does a belly dance near the zoo en­trance. “I’m here because it’s my day,” she says, “and I want to be beautiful” and the beads and tassles shake, and click, click go the cameras.

We enter Sheep Meadow. An army of 200 or 300 more gay peo­ple enter from another pathway. We climb a hill. From a vantage point I see hundreds upon hundreds of shirtless men, braless women, give me a G, give me an A, give me a Y. They float, they dance, arms interwoven with arms, fists in the air. The Chris­topher Street banner lies limp on the grass. No one walks over it. The man next to me is crying.

Small vignettes are played on the grass. The woman with daisies in her hair is plucking out a baroque something on a guitar. An Indian headband falls off someone’s head and a stranger picks it up and gets a kiss in re­turn. Five naked men pass by and one says. “Why don’t you take off your shorts? Don’t be embar­rassed, don’t be shy.” Tarot cards are read. And Jim Owles says, “I’ve never seen so many beauti­ful faces in my life.”

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***

Three days prior to the march, I spotted Bob Kohler in front of The Voice office. Kohler is one of the founders of the Gay Liberation Front. He’s quieted down lately, seldom seen at marches, no longer a fixture outside the late Women’s House of Detention with bis dog and his pamphlets. He’s kvetching less and looking better.

“I lived, ate, slept, shit gay lib­eration for two years,” he said. “I was leading a closed, incestuous existence. A few months ago, I just dropped out. Now I’m getting myself back into the mainstream and putting my body where my mouth was. You can talk gay lib forever and picket until you’re blue in the face, but the time has come for me to relate to the department store clerks, the sani­tation people, the workers of the world who don’t know ‘move­ment,’ to try to raise their con­sciousness.

“I no longer feel the need for an organization as a crutch. Gay Lib­eration Front in New York, as it had been set up, is no longer in ex­istence. It was used as a spring­board from which other organizations and collectives were formed. We have a Gay Activists Alliance now, but for anyone to hang on to an organization is wrong. I’d like to see the move­ment use its sixth sense like an animal and kick its young out when they’re ready and push them into something better. Encourage people to leave the great father and go into the world and relate.”

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Gay Activists Alliance, with its constitution and its structure and its committees that range from Theatre to Municipal Govern­ment, is about the most popular of the gay groups in New York. Orig­inally set up as an activist organi­zation, it still specializes in politi­cal zaps, but has lately broadened its scope to encompass the social and sociological aspects of gay liberation. Its members are pri­marily white, young, middle-class males, gung ho enthusiasts, politi­cally middle to radical middle. GAA is into reform within the system, fuck the slow motion methods, it’s been too long, we’ve had it already, gay power, gay identity, now.

Far more conservative are the Mattachine Society and West Side Discussion Groups, both pri­marily male, both “service” organizations. There are campus groups, like Gay People of Columbia, and spin-off groups, like Gay Youth, for the under-21s, and the Beyond family, a con­sciousness-raising group made up of a dozen past and present GAA members. There are radical groups like STAR (the Street Transvestites Action Revolu­tionaries) and the Gay Revolution Party, which believes that the root of oppression is in the struc­ture of sexual castes — the domi­nant male and the woman his pos­session — and that liberation depends on the breaking down of the caste system and the smashing of sexism.

Gay women’s groups span the political spectrum. Gay Women’s Liberation Front believes the gay revolution is part of the revolution of all oppressed people. The key to Radical Lesbians is living new radical life styles and finding new ways to relating to women. Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) func­tions as an umbrella organization. It recently had two palace revolu­tions. It’s re-inventing itself in an effort to end a hierarchy of power and is now made up of a series or nine or 10 collectives with two coordinators.

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The DOB Center on Prince Street is now called the Lesbian Center and serves the entire les­bian political structure. The center has a lesbian school where courses are given by members of all three groups on carpentry and creative writing and collective theatre and dog training, among other things.

Sidney Abbott, writer, active in the gay women’s movement, says that as a result of the re-struc­turing “young women who were conservative are relating to the radical women and loosening up and getting more progressive. For instance, some radical les­bian women at recent dances stripped from the waist up and danced around in a circle hora style. The purpose of this was to affirm the beauty of being lesbian women. It’s a profound statement about feelings about self, if you take into mind that all women basically don’t like their bodies — ­their bodies are supposed to be dirty and objects of comments by men. It’s doubly true to lesbians. Even beautiful lesbians find their bodies too fat, too thin, ugly. The positive dance statement was un­derstood by the older women. Last Saturday some of them took off their bras too and joined in. It’s a whole new spirit. The joke going around now is that we think we’re so great we may want to reproduce. GAA may have to start a sperm bank for the women so that we groovy people can make even groovier people.”

The feeling of pride, the methods and means of achieving it, the development of a gay iden­tity, varies from group to group, from individual to individual. Many of the older professionals who regularly attend the West Side Discussion Group’s Wednes­day meetings feel a camaraderie exchanging pleasantries at the social hour that follows the dis­cussion. There’s an x-ray am­bience over coffee and fig newtons generally missing at the “sex object” haunts, the bars, the baths, the dark corners. The coffee klatsch exchanges about “taste” during the gay pride march and poor Lawrence of Arabia would send a gay activist screaming to his nearest fire­house. But to the doctor and law­yer who are not yet ready to risk a TV close-up with a picket sign, West Side is a push out of the clos­et, a step from consciousness zero to consciousness one.

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The consciousness of homo­sexuals into a pre-Vietnam war life style could be further height­ened by the passage of the fair employment bill sponsored by City Councilmen Burden and Clingan and Scholnick and Weiss, supporting the right of fair employment and fair housing for New York’s estimated 800,000 homosexuals. Discrimination on the basis of one’s private consensual sexual orientation would be illegal. The bill has recently been supported by John Lindsay; it’s also supported by Percy Sutton and Bella Abzug and a strong ma­jority of city councilmen and by a number of important citizens and organizations. But it’s been stag­nating in the General Welfare Committee since January­ — Thomas J. Cuite, vice-chairman and majority leader of the City Council, will not allow the bill to be released.

Richie Amato, head of Gay Ac­tivists Alliance Fair Employment Committee (he was Richie X until yesterday — he came out on television in celebration of Gay Pride Week), claims “Cuite promised that if we’d get councilmen outside of Manhattan to support the bill, it would be voted on. We did, and nothlng happened. He said we needed support from each borough. We got the support. Still nothing. Cuite’s decided single-handedly to block the bill. As far as I’m concerned, the democratic process is a fraud, and I’m speaking as a Democratic com­mitteeman.”

All of this past week there’s been pamphleting in the City Hall area to bring attention to the bill. On Thursday night there was a silent candlelight march from the Lesbian and GAA centers to City Hall. On Friday there was more pamphleting, more picketing. At 2 p. m. that day several GAA members tried to enter City Hall to lobby. They were stopped. A melee followed. There was push­ing and shoving and the police set up a barrier at the top of the front door steps. There were gay power and justice chants and nine arrests were made. Almost methodically, and perhaps more than coinci­dentally, four of the nine arrested from a crowd of approximately 80 protesters were four of the five elected GAA officers. Jim Owles, president, was the first pulled in. He had a 3:30 appointment with the Knapp Commission, where he was to report on rumored raids of gay bars scheduled for the week­end. He couldn’t keep the appoint­ment, since he was handcuffed to a chair. Arnie Kantowitz, vice-­president, and Steve Krotz, secre­tary, two of the less vociferous demonstrators, were picked from the crowd. Arthur Evans, the new delegate at large, and five other people were also arrested, all for disorderly conduct. They were taken to a room in the basement of City Hall, kept there for an hour, then transferred to the Fifth Precinct, and four hours later released on vera summonses. Cuite wasn’t around for any of this, nor was the Mayor. I talked to Michael Dontzin, the Mayor’s counsel, however, who assured me that the Mayor urged the pas­sage of the bill but has no control over the calendar of the legisla­ture and suggested that GAA work more on the Council to get the bill passed. Head against a stone wall time. One can only wonder again how much further we have to go to push past the trumped-up excuses — and cant.

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Straight-jacket laws, “Fortune and Men’s Eyes” (the boys in the band in jail), and staggered con­sciousness degrees notwithstanding, there’s a hell of a lot going for the homosexual this year, year 2, going on year 3, Stonewall A. D. The rather recently rented GAA Firehouse is a gay community center from which a gay community and a gay culture are quickly developing. It’s a four-story late 1800s job, located on Wooster Street in the SoHo district. In addition to the general meetings that drag out every Thursday evening, there’s committee work done throughout the week, symposiums, sensitiv­ity workshops, and the Saturday night liberation dances, a heaven cross between Woodstock Nation and Dante’s Inferno.

At the Saturday dance a week before Gay Pride Week, the joint was jumping with some women and hundreds and hundreds of men, swaying their bodies, stamping their feet, spouting movement talk and little nothings that could hardly be heard over the amplifying system that blared acid rock. Four floors of new free. The main dance takes place on the ground floor. In the basement, the air is cooler, the place less packed, the dancing less intensified. Tins of beer in iced gar­bage cans stand free form, and lambda-shirted attendants beckon one and all to help them­selves free of charge. The second floor is laid out with bridge tables and chairs and there’s a coffee nook at the side of the room, a “collapse” area away from the dance floor, a place to chat and dig. On the third floor, a video tape indoctrines a spellbound au­dience with a showing of the March to Albany for Fair Em­ployment.

Outside the Firehouse, there’s a line from here to Radio City. Two attendants at the door are not allowing anyone in because no one is coming out. Kissing is hello at the Firehouse, a handshake taboo, dancing the liberation con­nection. The firehouse dance that evening bit into the take of two of the three Village bars I visited. A bartender at Danny’s said their business was down 75 per cent from normal on Saturdays since the GAA dances began. An assis­tant manager at the Stud said their business was off 20 to 40 per cent. A bartender at the Triangle said “we don’t get the crowd that goes to those dances. The dances don’t affect us. Nothing GAA does affects us.” None of these bars, incidentally, are dance bars.

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A fashion show took place at the Firehouse during Gay Pride Week. It was put together by Ron Diamond who emceed in a top hat with pink plumes, sequined butterflies, open white fluff shirt, and shorts. Ron’s message, repeated over and over by the men and women models who paraded down the Firehouse steps and posed on a makeshift stage in rhumba outfits and bird of paradise feathers and leather and chiffon and satin and lace, is that gay people are now expressing their inner feelings in costumes that are an extension of the inner self. We are no longer hiding behind the jackets and ties and prissy dresses of the ’50s. If we care to be outrageous in our unisex clothes, in our role reversal outfits, in our see-through caftans and little foxes, right on. If bat­tery-lighted earrings are what we like, flash those lights. If a batman cape from the Pampas suits our fancy, spread those wings. If studs and leather are our scene, flaunt our scene. Ron claims it’s too bad we have to wear clothes at all, we’re beauti­ful without them. But since we wear them, wear what we feel. What we feel is what we are.

This week also included a drama titled “Requiem” put on by the Theatre Group. It had to do with the crucifixion of Christ and it was performed earnestly and some good wine and cookies were served as part of the pro­ceedings and it ended with a gay power chant that spelled out JESUS (give me a J, give me an E … ).

“What, if anything, can the arts do for gay liberation?” was the question posed by the moderator at a roundtable rap attended by Jill Johnston and Stuart Byron and yours truly from The Voice and Merle Miller who confessed in the Times and Jean-Claude van Itallie who wrote “America, Hurrah!” and Charles Ludlam, Jeff Duncan, Gordon Merrick, and John Button. The answer was bounced around a dozen different ways and the discussion frag­mented into a dozen different dis­cussions. When a homosexual ar­tist makes it big in a heterosexual society, he makes it big as a he­terosexual. Why the camouflage? Merle Miller said, “It would have been an immense help to me as a kid to know that Tchaikovsky was gay. Had I known that, it could conceivably have changed my life.” Out of the closets and into the arts. Charles Ludlam said “homosexuals have a responsi­bility to sabotage seriousness,” and shortly after disrobed, and he might as well have lighted a ciga­rette since no one paid any mind to the action. Jon-Jon, a move­ment staple, zapped the sym­posium for saying too many words and said the demon­strations as art forms are beauti­ful and that the transvestites and the street people are the real gay artists. Jeff Duncan said, “I can’t come out in my heart until the social structure is broadened.” Miller said, “The reason for coming out is essentially per­sonal. To me, it’s leading your life fully so your art can be full.” The moderator said, “We’re degen­erating,” and Ludlam said, “If we don’t degenerate, who will?”

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The man who heads the Culture Committee said, “Building a gay community is important. We dis­cover as we do it that the guilt has been lifted, and we find loneliness there. The loneliness will disap­pear when we finally become a community.”

The community will come. It will spring forth from the Lesbian Center and from the Firehouse and from the dozens of parlor dis­cussions and coffee klatsches and tete-a-tetes on park benches and shout-outs at committee meet­ings. The community will ema­nate self-respect and self-pride, those little things we want from gay liberation which ultimately come from ourselves.

Coming out is a beginning. Changing straight-jacket laws is a beginning. Zapping is a begin­ning. Marching to Sheep Meadow is a beginning. Dancing our way to liberation is a beginning. But only a part of it. Consciousness-­raising is another part. The day is coming when all of the parts will fit together and our history and experiences will be different from what they are now. Soon? Maybe. There are a hell of a lot of us working on it.

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Equality PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Stonewall 25: Miss Attitude 1994 Is Over You

Got to Be Realness: Miss Attitude Is Over You
June 28, 1994

They keep assuring us she’s on her way. Her assistants buzz around us. “Girl­friend’s always late. She on C.P. time.” “The Devil gonna be selling Sno-Kones ’fore that bitch get here.” Finally, a bespec­tacled, porcine androgyne with a pungent jheri curl even in his beard emerges from the entourage and laughs at my complaints. “She waited long enough for your asses, now it’s your turn,” he says, snapping his fingers directly in front of my nose, in delib­erate violation of my personal space.

MC: The International Center for Fabulous­ness is proud to introduce our next guest. She will be giving one of her legendary lectures as the keynote address of our annu­al three-day conference/drag ball. You’ll note that the speech is listed in the program under the title, “Git Out My Face, Bitch: A Black Gay Queen Reads Your Ass.” One of only three nominees for Miss Attitude, she’s regarded by those who don’t know better as the authority on black gay life, and was recently appointed the James Baldwin Professor of African American Effeminacy at Harvard. Her book, Don’t Play Me, Play Lotto, You Might Win, has stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for over 50 weeks and has millions of white suburban teenagers who once idolized Chuck D snapping their fingers and walking around with their hands on their hips. Ladies and gentlemen, gentlemen dressed as ladies, and women dressed as wimmin, a queen who needs no introduction. Please admit that it’s all about Miss Banji Realness.

Applause. Whistling. That Arsenio dog­barking noise. Banji takes her time ap­proaching the podium, the usual combina­tion of overness and scorn hanging fashionably from her face. She’s a very tall, light-skinned man with finger waves and beaucoup-de-silver jewelry complementing her ribbed black turtleneck bodysuit. She takes a sip of the Cosmopolitan provided for in her contract. Her bracelets jangle like wind chimes as she shuffles her notes on the lectern.

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BANJI: A few weeks ago, this very sweet white girl — as opposed to the obnoxious ones who try to tell you what black people are like, meanwhile they never even watched Good Times to find out what FAKE Negroes look like — this very sweet white girl asks me, “So, Miss Realness, you’re gay and black … what’s that like?” I was actu­ally relieved to hear this question phrased so innocently, I’ve heard it alluded to indeli­cately so often. I rather cryptically said, “You can see better.” Naturally, she wasn’t satisfied.

“See what better?” she asked.

Miss Realness, hand on hip, smirks and looks at the ceiling.

Now any gay person can see the homo­phobia in heterosexuals, but Miss Thing and her ilk have firsthand experience seeing homophobia and shadism from African Americans, racism and homophobia from gays, homophobia, racism, shadism, and a side of cole slaw from other black gay men. You can even see the misogyny that holds it all together.

She ain’t had no clue. “What do you mean, homophobia in the gay community?”

“Come on, Twinkletoes. Do flaming queens get your dick hard?”

“Umm … I generally like straight-acting guys …”

“I hope they don’t act straight when you get them in bed, honey.”

You could’ve heard a mosquito fart. Then she changes the subject. “What was that about misogyny?”

Miss Realness delivers a withering look to the audience.

I told her, it’s all about penetration, dar­ling. In this messiness we call society, the penetrators think they’re superior to the penetratees. They believe desire for men, inseparable from desire for penetration, is an exclusively female and therefore inferior trait. All these motherfuckers walking around think they’re real men ’cause they don’t get fucked and they don’t ack like no queen. Honey, you ain’t even thought about what it means to be a real man till you’ve bled all over the sidewalk ’cause some fool hit you with a baseball bat. Gonna tell me you’re a real man when you ain’t questioned the definition of masculin­ity that gets handed down from absent fa­ther to future wife abuser to noncommuni­cative couch potato? Na-aah, honey, homo don’t play that.

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Realness wags her extended index finger at the audience.

I just don’t have no patience for arrogant motherfuckers who don’t appreciate what it is to risk death to love as they please. After that one, Goldilocks’s jaw dropped.

“You seem to have a lot of anger,” she whined.

I rolled my eyes and replied, “When your white gay brothers shun your ass for being black and your black brothers shun your ass for being gay, there’s a certain point where you just stop taking shit. It can take a long time, though. Some people I know are eating three meals a day in a restaurant called Chez Shit. Waiters of all denomina­tions come up one after the other saying, ‘My name is whatever, I’ll be giving you shit today. Our specials are Shit With Mush­rooms in a Tomato Cream Sauce, Shit Flor­entine Sautéed in Garlic, Grilled Shit With Ricotta Cheese and Pesto Spread on Toast­ed Sourdough …” They throw so many fancy ingredients on top of their shit that it starts sounding good, and then you’re, like, sauntering down the line at life’s buffet thinking: ‘Lobster Thermidor? Nah. Filet mignon? No. Hey! Could I get some of that Bowel Movement Au Jus?’

Luckily for me, I could never hide in no damn closet. I can’t hide my black ass and as soon as I open my mouth, I’m a faggot. So I have to defend myself, and if it can’t be with fists it’ll be words. I don’t need people who be igging my ass dictating my values. And that goes for straight-acting homosex­uals, too. I make up my own values, and you know Girlfriend values her makeup.

“I must say you come on pretty strong. Why do you think you have such a loyal following?” she axed me, as if there were a need to axe. By now I’m about to rip her head off. “’Cause I tell the truth,” I said. “And deep down, people need to hear the truth, and not some half-truth that makes them feel safe. They need to hear the truth that wrecks them, that makes them run home screamin’ to they Mama. And when you tell the no-frills truth, they have to respect it. My girl Essex Hemphill calls it ‘the ass-splitting truth.’ So go ahead, bitch. Split my butt open with that truth dildo.”

Then she in my face going, “Well, truth is not inherently male.” I told her, “Honey, anyone can own a dildo.”

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Held behind the velvet ropes during Realness’s previous appearance as a nomi­nee, I was determined to get on the list to see her at the awards ceremony. The buzz was that she was a shoo-in. After bribing the publicist and the thin party promoters in crushed-velvet shirts who function as her security guards, I squeezed into the back of’ the auditorium.

HOST: Welcome to the fifth annual Miss Attitude Awards. I’m Marcal D’Johnson. Each year, SNAP, the Society of Nubian American Pansies, doles out another award to the Queen of Queens, she who most exemplifies the giving of face. The winner must have poise, grace, dignity, and a fierce look. We’re not talking about a certain rough ’ho who will remain nameless even though her name is Devonell Williams who we had to disqualify for working at a certain store that will remain nameless although it is called Woolworth’s.

CONTESTANT 1: Would you just shut up and give me the goddamn award so I can make my 1 a.m. appointment?

D’JOHNSON: (To Contestant #1) So they have a curfew at your welfare hotel now?

CONTESTANT 1: (Doing side-to-side head moves) Like I give a shit about winning your two-dollar plaque. I could go down to K mart and buy one myself.

CONTESTANT 2: You forgot, the Kmart don’t take food stamps.

CONTESTANT 1: Well you would know, bitch.

D’JOHNSON: And now the moment you’ve been waiting for. The envelope, please. And the winner is … Miss Banji Realness! (Ap­plause. Pause.) Miss Realness couldn’t be with us this evening, because, as her per­sonal assistant’s personal assistant tells us, she had “better things to do.” She did, however, send us this videotaped accep­tance speech. A video monitor springs to life, and we see Banji talking on the phone. After a few minutes she looks at the camera contemp­tuously, and sucks her teeth.

BANJI: I don’t need your stupid-ass award. ■

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Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Equality From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Stonewall 25: Daddy Is a Dyke

Forbidden Games: Daddy Is a Dyke
June 25, 1994

“Can’t we please go see The Flintstones??!!”

“Only if you’re good.”

“I’ve been good! I’ve been good!” The speaker, a twentysomething lesbian who at the moment is being an eight-year-old boy, chants. “Want to see The Flintstones, want to see The Flintstones!” None of this elicits the reaction she wants, so she begins to dance around her companion, singing: “Flintstones! Meet the Flintstones! They’re the modern Stone Age family!”

She’s only gotten to the third verse by the time Daddy — another lesbian — hauls the boy into the bedroom by his ear. “You’re going to make Daddy very angry,” she says in a menacing tone that barely masks a strong undercurrent of glee and lust.

Fifteen years ago, lesbians might have been thrown out of their collectives for even thinking about sex games like this. Lesbians eroticizing Daddy is about as taboo as straight men declaring that they want to be sodomized by Tinkerbell — it doesn’t mesh with the image we struggle to maintain. But in the past few years, Daddy/boy (or girl) erotic role-playing has emerged in the lesbian community — even among women who don’t normally walk on the wild side.

For three years, an annual Dyke Daddy contest in San Francisco has drawn crowds of women — “and not just leather women,” says the 1993 titleholder, Skeeter. A recent London émigré, she says Daddyplay has become popular among U.K. dykes as well.

In New York, a sexual backwater by Bay Area standards, an audience of primarily vanilla dykes erupted with lust and empathy when Peggy Shaw flaunted her identification with all things Dad-like in a one-woman theater piece, You’re Just Like My Father. Shaw’s character lost no opportunity to attach herself to maleness — binding her breasts, lathering her face, and scraping a razor across her hairless skin. (I, too, attempted to shave as a child.)

If there’s a presence that’s been repressed in feminism — the womb of lesbian culture after Stonewall — it’s the father as erotic object or, even more troubling, as a source of love. “This is dedicated to our mothers,” wrote the collective that produced a lesbi­an separatist issue of Yale’s feminist magazine Aurora in 1982, “not to our donors.” In the lesbian imagination, the symbol of selfishness, domination, and even violence has been Dad.

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Yet a whole set of emotions has been repressed in the rush to resist the Law of Father. For many of us, there was a longing for connection mixed in with the fear and anger. Even more forbidden for lesbians in the age of feminism is hatred for the mother, whose status as the ultimate source of sustenance can arouse conflicting feeling in any child. Furthermore, mom’s overwhelming power in the home is directly proportional to her lack of power in the world. For some lesbians, even the remoteness of the father is preferable to that. “Being a lesbian can be seen as voting for Dad,” observes writer Pat Califia, who is editing a porn anthology called Doing It for Daddy. “It can be read as saying, ‘My life is going to be more like my Dad’s, I’m not gonna stay home and be taken care of.’ ”

Like the lesbian who plays Daddy/girl games in one of Califia’s recent stories, Peggy Shaw is repulsed by her mother’s unbounded nurturing, which becomes flirtatious and suffocating — almost a form of sexual abuse. Shaw flees to Dad for safety, not just love and power. Even his sexism and occasional smacks are preferable to Mom’s slavish devotions. Shaw appropriates his arched white shirts and summer ties, not just to access Dad’s power but to luxuriate in his way of life. Almost as if she could touch his skin beneath the clothing, she dresses herself in masculine finery: boxer shorts, an army uniform, and that ultimate patriarchy garment, a suit. She finally croons James Brown’s hit “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” in a voice that seethes with bitter irony longing and love.

Shaw’s reversal of traditional feminist economies is one of many torch songs to the father that lesbian culture has belted out this year. When Fatale Video, the only major lesbian-owned porn producer in the U.S., released a video called Dress Up for Daddy, you could practically see Adrienne Rich’s theory of the lesbian continuum spinning in it’s grave. According to this idea — which became a cornerstone of lesbian feminist politics when it was published in 1978 — lesbianism is a natural identity for women, and heterosexuality a false one, because all true erotic urges stem from a desire for union with the mother. In Rich’s schema, no one — not even gay men — could ever really want to unit with the father, understood as a withholding, punitive, and therefore unequivocally unattractive figure.

The open longing for women who evoke Daddy might appear to be a mere expression of the growing acceptance and erotic validation of butches in the lesbian community. But even a cursory scratch beneath Daddy’s false whiskers shows it’s much more than that. Women who go for butches can tell themselves they like masculine women, and that’s all. But looking for Daddy in another woman means explicitly acknowledging the erotic appeal of men. It means acknowledging something erotic — if only on a phantasmic level — about a population we frequently hate and fear. For many lesbians, the erotic appeal of men stems precisely from contempt — a sexual strategy not unlike some drag queens’ eroticization of a femininity they find contemptible. When Phranc impersonated Neil Diamond last year for an audience of wildly enthusiastic lesbians, half the kudos she got were for portraying Diamond’s offensive sense of male entitlement, and half were for how sexy the audience found that persona to be.

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Admitting a fetish for Daddy means eroticizing patriarchy — literally. In this masquerade, Daddy means much more than our individual fathers and the roles they have played, for good or ill, in our own lives Daddy in the lesbian bedroom is an icon of male power and privilege in all its social vastness. “Daddy is King Shit,” says Lily Burana, editor of Future Sex. He represents the force on whose behalf dykes are derided and attacked all our lives, because we have refused the role assigned us in relation to it.

To many lesbians, the idea that any woman would fetishize sexism is as shocking as a rape fantasy can be. But it shouldn’t be surprising that a persona we resist at great cost, and from whom the threat of violence never completely abates, should provoke such intensely erotic feelings in us. “A typical scene would be me in a pretty white pinafore, and ‘Daddy’ brushing my hair with this total letch vibe,” says Burana.

Daddy-play is not always idyllic. How could it be, and still be true to the origins of the fantasy? “You’d like to suck my cock, wouldn’t you?” a dyke Daddy asks her lover in the Califia story. “You’ll get it later, little-girl whore.” Elsewhere, “Daddy” tells her” “This is my pussy. I made it. So it’s mine. I can do anything I want to it. Including fuck it. Or hurt it.” The words are so repulsive because they are the true life litany of rapists, bashers, and abusive fathers. Why would lesbians ever want to hear this in bed? Explains Califia, “People want to rub their secret private places on this horrible awful thing and get off on it.”

Anger and fear are not the only feeling aroused in lesbians by the sundry ways men dominate women. Envy is another. “When I’m Daddy, I’m a hot, mature, hairy, male, well-hung person,” says “Marc,” a Bay Area lesbian. A lot of what’s hot about Daddy play is that it makes room for a vicarious participation in the sleaziest and least defensible forms of sexism — in a community that makes a fetish of interpersonal ethics. Instead, these women are making a fetish of the indefensible, in order to manage it through arousal. Explains Dyke Daddy Jo Leroux, “For the majority of us, a male figure conjures up some type of abuse — emotional, sexual, or physical. For me, the word Daddy was a nightmare until I became one.”

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My own father hardly ever took me in his arms the way most lesbian Daddies do. After a brief honeymoon before I’d reached the age of five, he almost never showed me tenderness. The last time I saw him was the only time I ever saw him cry. I was boarding an Amtrak train back to college and my father was dying of cancer. It’s one of the happiest memories I have of him, because it’s the only time he expressed grief at losing me.

All my life, it was impossible to reconcile the fantastic man who’d whirled me around in the air as a three-year-old with the father of self-loathing who replaced him. The Dad my father became could find no other way of touching me except with the back of his hand. This Dad was always defeated, smarting, worthless in his own eyes. He knew he deserved every belittlement he got. And I hated him so intensely for so long that I’ve only recently discovered that I wanted his love as much as he wanted mine. When I think tender thoughts about my father these days, I usually imagine him not as the Daddy who scared me, but as the scared, sweet little boy I would have liked to know.

“Good boy,” I say, stroking the hair of someone I want to shelter and keep watch on all night long. “What a beautiful boy you are.” The woman resting her head on my lap and her knees on the floor shivers when I say this. She presses her buzz cut even more fully into my hands, and I begin to melt.

Historians of queer sex say dyke Daddies emerged from a fetish promulgated by gay men in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when it was hyped by the s/m magazine Drummer. According to gay culture critic Michael Bronski, Drummer used Daddy stories as a way of broadening its appeal. “It filled a void for men who liked butch men, older men, tough men,” Bronski remembers. “All the guys in Blueboy, Honcho, and Playguy were not only vanilla, but slim and hairless.” In 1989, Daddy, and entire gay magazine devoted to this fetish, was founded. Soon, there were daddy porn films. A crossover fantasy had emerged.

In dyke hands, the fetish changed significantly, centering less on body type than on the combination of dominion and tenderness that the idea of Daddy was beginning to evoke in the lesbian psyche. This figure caught the interest of dykes outside the leather community last year, at the same time when lesbian chic became a hot topic in the mainstream media, Bronski has a theory about why: “In the late ’70s, gay men understood themselves to have more social power than ever.” Daddy fantasies became “a way for them to negotiate” anxieties about their own advancement. “No one is quite comfortable having it,” Bronski explains, “so you trade it back and forth. For lesbians in the ’90s, he proposes, “it’s the same thing, 15 years later.”

Any newly empowered social group might feel ambivalent about its prerogatives, but American lesbians are notorious worry-warts about power. Suspicious of social hi­erarchies, focused to the point of obsessive­ness on our responsibility not to misuse whatever influence we have, lesbians have begun to register queasiness about the mainstream culture’s tentative outreach to us. Lesbian-chic cover stories generate great anxiety within the community be­cause they raise the disturbing possibility of lesbian clout.

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Cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s protagonist Mo speaks for every lesbian when she in­dulges her famous fears about the political ramifications of the most trivial decisions — like selecting a breakfast cereal at the su­permarket. The bravado of the Lesbian Avengers, who speak of “fighting fire with fire”and prohibit all discussions of theory at their meetings, is the other side of this coin. The prospect of power makes lesbians so frantic that we typically face its contra­dictions either too attentively, or not at all.

The moral question for anyone who wants to wield power is how to manage its opposing faces: nurturance and chastisement, the willingness to defend and destroy. The character of Daddy encompasses both poles of this dialectic. It’s one of the few personae in lesbian culture that does.

Some lesbians want their Daddy’s affect to be brutal and heartless, others seek a gushy Dad who’ll cluck over their scraped knees. Most dyke Daddies combine the two. Their play usually involves some form of consensual physical discipline — a taboo in lesbian sex, and one that is symbolic of overarching lesbian fears about the corrup­tions attendant on power. It’s no accident that the sex-play lesbians are using to re­connect with an authority they have long mistrusted should often include spanking, a handy way to experiment with power and manage one’s ambivalence about it.

“When the rage rises from my gut,” says the autobiographical narrator of a Daddy story by Wickie Stamps, ”I know I am my father’s child.” A scene between Stamps’s narrator and her lover goes like this: “ ‘Daddy, please don’t hurt me,’ she says, and I do. ‘Daddy, please don’t fuck me.’ And I do.”

I never showed my father how angry I was at his violence. But I needed so badly to embrace the angry, sadistic Dad that still lives in me. All my tenderness was secreted behind a brutality I was too scared to touch. I couldn’t love a woman until I had made room for the part of myself that’s burning to correct a certain misbehaving boychik born in 1932.

As a lesbian Daddy, I can be the nastiest old man in the world and still keep my little lambkin safe — and loved — enough to want to see The Flintstones from the shelter of my arms. ■

Research assistance: Mocha Jean Herrup

Categories
Equality PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Full Moon Over the Stonewall

View from Inside: Full Moon Over the Stonewall
July 3, 1969

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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

Categories
Equality PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Gay Power Comes to Sheridan Square

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.”

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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 window-smashing 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.

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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[ine], 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.

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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.

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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 percent, 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.

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Equality From The Archives PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Stonewall 25: Gay Rites

Gay Rites: A Wedding in Denmark, a Ceremony in New York
June 25, 1994

Sometimes you stay around long enough to see things you missed. Whole decades come back, and this is actually the most orienting thing that can happen in New York, a city that’s so utterly about people and time and the prestige certain individuals continually resonate. Jill Johnston, 64, and Ingrid Nyeboe, 46, are beaming, walk­ing up the stairs with a shower of confetti falling down on them. This is all taking place on one of several monitors in a large apartment in Soho one night last fall. For those new in town, Johnston is the author of the anarchic masterpiece of ’70s femi­nism, Lesbian Nation. She was also a leg­endary Voice columnist who made a career of being there and writing about it.

The event being communicated to us is their wedding, last June 27, in Odense, Denmark. Odense was the home of Hans Christian Andersen, author of The Emper­or’s New Clothes, who was gay, I’ve been told. The tape plays on and we see a Flux procession — two blue men carrying flowers. One is Geoff Hendricks, with his pants fall­ing down. There’s a batch of strangers in the ensuing crowd, a Great Dane, someone carrying a little red chair aloft, and soon we see the two women in white sitting down in front of some kind of civil servant. Jill says (I think) “I am” and nods. Ingrid says something in Danish. Later they’re in an art museum, and the happy couple sit in a blue Volkswagen that looks like it’s going no­where. They do look happy sitting there, waving and waving,

What’s going on? The party called “Wed­ding Party” in Soho was, like I said, one of those nights you’re glad you stayed here for. People kept walking in, Beth the young video artist and Lauren her sculptor ex­-lover (what are they doing together here?); there was Pauline Oliveros, Andrea Dwor­kin (omygod!), and numerous people from every walk (mostly art world) who qualified in some way as Fluxfriends or FOJs (Friends of Jill). An ex-lover of Ingrid’s spoke up too as the evening swept us along through recordings of bells from Riverside Church and poet-conceptual artist Alison Knowles did something with bread. Geoff Hendricks, Flux-meister (still blue), had a star shaved in the back of his head (“Stars for Jill and Ingrid”), and Jill got up and read a piece (“Deep Tapioca”) that reminded me of the public secrecy of her Voice columns but glimmered also with a confirmed poetry as solid as stone. Then all of us got up one by one and had a Polaroid taken of ourselves standing with a really silly knit hat on in front of a picture of a statue of Psyche. We handed over our wishes on pale green index cards that were then pinned over the classical image of love, and it was a confus­ing and sweet and inclusive-feeling night in New York.

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The domestic partnership announce­ments had been beaming into my mailbox all fall — Laura and Elizabeth’s full-color snapshot, Cydney and Val’s black on-beige-card stock. Over at Carmelita Tropicana’s, I saw Peggy and Lisa’s stuck on the refrigera­tor. How do you feel about lesbian mar­riage? I asked her. She gave me a long rambling speech about “rights” and then interrupted herself. “Look, I’m trying to date, honey.” In general, “marriage” is not a lesbian thing. Of the 11 couples who got hitched on October 1, 1989, the day mar­riage (or partnership) was legalized for ho­mosexuals in Denmark, all of the takers were men. Else Slange, head of Denmark’s gay organization, says she “has a personal ideological opposition” to marriage. And it’s not so much different here. The Mattachine Society had marriage on its agenda from the get-go; the Daughters of Bilitis were only just deciding to “come out” in the ’50s. You could say dykes are slow, but I think it’s more than that.

Today Tom Stoddard, lawyer and direc­tor of Lambda Legal Defense and Educa­tion Fund, who spoke at Ingrid and Jill’s wedding party, is at the helm of pushing marriage to the front of a national gay agenda. But Paula Ettelbrick, policy director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, expresses a fear that a progressive agenda would be lost if marriage became “the” gay issue and suggests that “those who are most acceptable to the mainstream because of race, gender, and economic sta­tus are the most likely to want the right to marry.”

Her language begins to make marriage kind of heinous, referring to it as an “im­penetrable institution [that] gives those who marry an insider status of the most powerful kind” — which does ring true, not just in terms of my married friends’ hetero­sexuality, but how they get kind of close­-mouthed about things after they tie the knot. One feels a little out forevermore, at least until they part ways. Despite our sor­did reputation for moving in after the first date, lesbians are cultural loners, flinging ourselves into relationships because we know all too well how it feels to be the ”odd man out.” In general, lesbians often identify with (or are) economic outsiders, who would have little to gain from entering into this venerable institution, and many lesbi­ans are simply suspicious of a society that protects couples.

Denmark, according to Ingrid and Jill, protects every citizen.”I did it for the bene­fits,” laughed Jill, one Saturday when I visited the two. “I could go there and be a baby.” As a spouse of a Danish citizen, Johnston immediately qualified for a slew of benefits including a medical card, which in a socialist economy means a lot. The coun­try longest occupied by Germany during World War II, Denmark managed to save 80 per cent of its Jewry. The famous gesture of the Danish king putting on a yellow star is part of the national psychology, I’m told. Though it had colonies into the 20th centu­ry, Denmark’s moment as a true empire was over by 800. Today it’s a Lutheran country with a long tradition of compassion and caretaking. “Standing out is not good,” says Ingrid, who came to New York at 21, on the heels of her gay brother, to study theater. ‘”If you do something great, you are congratulated but also reminded that you are still one of us.” Appreciation of this flip­-flopped status resounds through Jill’s wed­ding poem: ‘The [Danish] queen must be a little like the Japanese emperor — a man with no family name and no passport who can’t vote or run for office. The people in these places have all the privileges.”

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Ingrid’s brother died of AIDS in 1989. Then Jill urged her to go back to Denmark where she hadn’t been for 10 years, her parents having both died in 1976. AIDS is cited again and again as the contributing factor in gay marriage, both in relation to inheritance, visiting rights, and leases, as well as being part of a larger emotive move in the gay community toward forming more permanent relationships — getting familial. ”As soon as I got involved with Ingrid I became a better mother,” says Jill of the new friendship that’s developed with her now adult children from a marriage in the ’5os. And Ingrid had been married too, back in the ’60s.

I went to a dinner party last weekend with seven lesbians, our ages ranging from late twenties to mid sixties, and six out of the seven had been married. To help some­one get a green card (maybe even making some money along the way), or for conven­tional reasons, whether seriously embarked upon or vaguely considered. Marriage, the institution, as it sits pretty in so many wom­en’s pasts, is almost the polar opposite of coming out, which is still so much about pushing away from the walls of the, okay, I’ll say it, Patriarchy.

“Women in prison, that’s who like to get married,” says Carmelita. What do you mean? “Women marrying women. It’s very popular in jail.” For months I’ve been poll­ing friends and acquaintances, dykes. What do you think of lesbian marriage? “It’s an oxymoron,” said Patty White. “Why can’t we just make our vows to the rocks and trees,” shrugged Nicole Eisenman, “why the State?” “So we can stop having sex, like them?” said Sarah Schulman. “Every­one knows that’s what happens to people who get married.” “Or live together,” I added. “Right, that’s why I never live with my girlfriends.” “You’d think they’d encourage us to get married just to stop us from having sex,” I suggested, and we both laughed and got off the phone.

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Hawaii is not that different from Den­mark. Now there’s a ludicrous statement. But let me keep going, okay? There are only minorities there (in Hawaii), no real major­ity, so their democratic tradition is structur­al. When Jerry Falwell came to town, they formed the Moral Majority of Hawaii with progressive goals and tried to sue him when he arrived for using their name. Sound familiar? It’s very much like putting on a star. In Hawaii the question is being framed in relation to gender rather than homosexual­ity — if a man can marry a woman, why can’t a woman? The state court will have to have a good answer for that.

According to Jill, the gates were wide open in the early ’70s and thousands of women were rushing through, coming out, and then they closed up by ’76 or so. I like her kind of history. The sweeping lives of individuals shine like symbols — “they appointed certain people,” she explains. Later, when I sat with her and Ingrid and watched their wedding on the monitor again, I suppose it was like sitting with any couple over their album. Then we’re looking at a map of Denmark, and it’s explained to me that Ingrid’s family drove five hours, from here to here — she points on these fish-­shaped slices of land that mean “nation”­ — and I’m shocked, I suppose, that cultures are so different that one country in the world, and then one state, could open the gates to such a basic human privilege, the ceremony of belonging (or owning), wheth­er we want it or not.

Meanwhile, at least one of the new do­mestic partnerships is making plans for a more formal ceremony. Cydney Wilkes (of Cydney and Val), a choreographer, wants to “score” her wedding, with lots of women kissing on cue and several other mass ges­tures, just across the river in Brooklyn, an event rivaling Ingrid and Jill’s Fluxus pa­rade. And me — I’ve gone around since the end of last year asking every lesbian I know if she wants to get married and of course it’s been a confusing proposal.

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I Always Cry at Weddings

I Always Cry at Weddings: After 20 Years of Waiting, City Hall
March 2, 1993

A married woman is her husband’s property, and property is theft. There was no question about this 20 years ago, at least among the crowd I ran with. Years later, as property became identity, many of my friends, women and men, told me they had misgivings about their stand, doubts centered around their children-to-be. And one or two ad­mitted that they sought the “commitment” marriage signi­fied, although they still hated the inequitable institution itself. Need I say that most of these men and women have gotten married, some married and divorced?

Me, I supported any and all of this from the sidelines: I was gay then, am gay now, and a faggot (very p.c. term at the time) could afford to be ideologically pure. But on March 1, 1993, l have the option to go to City Hall… oh, I mean we have the option, my long-suffering honey and I, to go to City Hall and register as domestic partners. Will we take it? Shall we pretend to tie some kind of knot?

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Anyone who’s read the papers knows that registered domestic partnership isn’t marriage and doesn’t confer the legal status, tax privileges, benefits, and general acclaim that marriage does. So is it ritual we want? John and I could have gotten “married” years ago, exchanging reli­gious or secular vows the way some lesbian and gay male couples have. In fact, I think my former dentist had a rabbi perform an ecumenical service in Central Park for his boyfriend and himself. That’s fine. If I had attended the ceremony, I would have cried: I always cry at weddings, any kind of wedding. But my partner and I mistrust the historical vestments of religion almost as much as we reject the deed-of-ownership certificate of marriage: this is one reason we get along.

Will good things happen when the unmarriable register at City Hall? If our partners die, we have a piece of paper to show we were family, so we won’t get thrown out of our rent-stabilized apartments. We’ll finally possess the inalien­able right to visit our loved ones in those cheerful city hospitals and prisons: gay city workers may also count on bereavement leave and unpaid family leave. Nevertheless, these workers are suing the city to have their domestic partners covered by municipal health plans, because the mayor doesn’t know how to keep a promise that has money attached. Of course, without health coverage that bereavement leave becomes increasingly pertinent.

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Money. Rights. When I came out, more than two decades ago, I found I could develop a sense of myself that allowed me to ask startlingly obvious questions, such as, why should anyone be paid less for the same work? Why can’t anyone capable adopt children? Why can’t my boyfriend (I didn’t have a boyfriend, but you know what I mean) be treated like any other spouse? Later, when I began to work at the Voice, others asked these questions with me and we won, in a 1982 union contract, the nation’s first health coverage for — lacking sweeter language — “spousal equivalents.”

I have spent more than 10 years in this ghetto of fairness, and I honestly can’t imagine private or public life any other way. The Village Voice has become a strange place to work because, gaywise, it seems like a hoped-for everywhere some number of years from now. Not wishing to be alone, my colleagues and I try to spread the practical word about our spousal equivalent coverage, knowing this is one way to make a banal son of bigotry disappear.

Is it dangerous to feel normal? There’s pleasure to be had, the kind you associate with a good dinner and warm bed. It’s seductive not to fight the world, to think about growing older able to enjoy at least a few of the promises of youth, when utopia looked merely like where you couldn’t live and what you couldn’t have. I’d get married in that utopia. They would throw rice, we would drive away.

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But this is not, definitely not, why I will be first on line on March 1. My partner and I are already committed to each other just fine, and I don’t feature monogamy as a universal recipe, anyway. Keep the rice. We are registering to cause trouble, and hope you do the same.

Our registration will goose the mayor in the right direc­tion; will provide private employers with the governmental imprimatur they seem to need to extend their benefits; and will take away the last excuse from insurers by showing that queer heads may too be counted as family. (It’s a good time to shake up insurers because, with the threat of government crackdown, they’ll do anything to survive.)

If executed with attitude and aplomb, our registration will be a ritual of equality at least and of power at best. When, in the misty future, things will have gone so far that photographers make livings from “registration albums” and bakeries offer ready stocks of “partner” cakes, then John and I will find our yellowed registration certificate, burn it like a draft card, and see what action fairness demands next. ■

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Stonewall 25: Oh My Papi

Oh My Papi
June 28, 1994

Pornography imagines an eroticized uni­verse where anything can happen, nothing is forbidden, and the unattainable is all yours — an orgiastic Eden with no threat of expulsion, or mortality. But even the porno­graphic imagination, particularly the highly profitable corner of it that latched onto the gay male libido, has its limits and conven­tions. Anything goes, perhaps, but not any-one. Like fashion models, porn actors are more form than content, and that form — ­both a mirror of and a spur to changing tastes — quickly becomes standardized. Cur­rently, the porn ideal is the same cartoon (actually, a Tom of Finland drawing) of masculinity found at most gay gyms, dance clubs, and go-go bars: He’s broad-shoul­dered and bubble-butted, with a chest like shiny armor plate and no sign of body hair; he’s clean-shaven, thick-lipped, straight-act­ing, and white. He’s the ’90s clone, and we’re over him.

Thing is, many of us were never into him in the first place. There’s no denying the attractions of the hunky whiteboy: they’re damned near unavoidable. So maybe I wouldn’t throw the boy out of bed, but I wouldn’t coax him there. He may be an icon for our times, but he’s just not part of my fantasy life. But, faced with limp indif­ference, pornography is infinitely resource­ful; like any niche marketer, it specializes.

Lately, the consensus has given way to a whole new porn multiculturalism — maga­zines and videos whose subjects are exclu­sively Asian, black, or Latin. In New York, it’s the Latin angle that seems most reso­nant. Maybe that’s because the city has a long history of cross-cultural Caribbean connections and that melting pot really boils over when sex is added to the mix. Or maybe it has something to do with the fuck-­anything-that-moves stereotype; when it comes to polymorphous perversity, Puerto Rico is definitely in the house.

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The relationship of gay white men and Latinos, whether mutual attraction or mu­tual exploitation, has its lore, its literature, and plenty of anecdotal evidence. (You could start with the personals in any gay rag, the ones that read “GWM seeks PR homeboy, 18-28, beefy, hung, uncut. Bi a plus.”) And for the past nine years it’s had its own porn auteur, the pseudonymous Brian Brennan, whose Barrio-based outfit, Latino Fan Club, has turned out 60 exhila­ratingly cheesy, way hardcore extravagan­zas. The LFC motto: “Celebrating the beau­ty of the Latin male.” Right — all nine and a half inches of it.

Latino Fan Club films — from the seminal Boys Behind Bars trilogy to the four-hour epic Spanish Harlem Knights to the insouciant Horse-Hung Hispanics (in four vol­umes), Red Hot Ricans, and Foreskin For­ever — have a raw energy due partly to their homemade, improvisational style, but most­ly to their rambunctious young stars. While most mainstream gay porn is fixated on buffed beauty — the choreographed coupling of two well-oiled machines — LFC gets off on homeboy horseplay and utterly unaffect­ed horniness. Some of this gangsta attitude is what the ball children call banji realness, a butch pose played to the hilt, but much of it is genuine. Many of LFC’s most popular “models” look like the kids who regularly show up in handcuffs on the covers of the Spanish-language tabloids: dark-eyed, tat­tooed, scarred, slightly built, haphazardly groomed, mean, cocky, wounded.

This personality profile promises a heady combination of brute domination and lost-­boy vulnerability. Over and over again, with plenty of the requisite cum shots, that’s exactly what Latino Fan Club delivers. But what animates the best LFC titles is an all­-consuming interest in the boys themselves. It’s not that these guys spill their guts out in the course of the amateurishly impro­vised dialogue, but they do emote in ways most porn would relegate to the editing floor. Since many LFC movies actually have narratives, some of the boys even get to act, or at least react.

The LFC aesthetic — though inspired by exploitation (and mock-exploitation) au­teurs like Roger Corman, John Waters, and the anonymous dirty old man behind those “solo” films from Old Reliable — owes its style to its stars. Loose, funky, playful, al­ways ready to drop real work and fool around, LFC doesn’t take itself too serious­ly. Without actually introducing a woman onscreen more than a few times, it swings both ways. Though most LFC actors come across as straight (“trade” Brennan calls them), the ruling sexuality of the films is definitely bi. “You do it even better than my wife,” one man tells another, and lots of homo sex is sparked by conversations about withholding girlfriends.

Two typical LFC models, Gustavo Viva and José Pelos, identify themselves as bisex­ual but are quick to note their hetero preferences. Pelos, an LFC office worker who says he met Brennan while hustling the peep shows on 42nd Street nearly 10 years ago, insists that “with a guy it would be a hustling thing and it would be safe; if I’m going to do something I’ll do it for the money.” Viva, a carpenter who builds some LFC sets, says, “Working with Latino Fan Club — that’s my job. I’m not going out there and harming anyone else; I’m working for what I receive. Some people may look at me as, like, he’s nothing more than a faggot or a homosexual, but I have a fiancée at home, and she says as long as you come back home to me and use a condom, she has no problem with it.” Both say Brennan doesn’t push his models beyond their limits (Pelos’s are succinct: “Won’t suck, won’t get fucked, won’t kiss”), but there’s clearly a certain flexibility. In a gay porn zone too often artificially divided between tops and bottoms, this is definitely another country.

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Charting that territory is Brennan’s forte. Forty-nine, bearded, and frankly out of shape, the Latino Fan Club founder doesn’t pretend to understand or explain the whole Latin thing. He only aims to exploit it for his pleasure and, not so inci­dentally, ours. A former Madison Avenue art department slave, Brennan was working as Blueboy’s art director when he decided to do a photo spread of his own. He chose his first subject, the half-Irish, half-Puerto Rican boy who delivered coffee to the office every morning, by following his own tastes. He’d been going to a bar near his West Village home called the Phoenix that young Latin hustlers had turned into a kind of clubhouse. Sometimes they would bring their girlfriends, sometimes they would do what Brennan calls “hiphop stripping” and jump up on a table so guys could stuff bills into their G-strings. Encouraged by the MC to videotape these spontaneous strip shows, Brennan realized that his crude tape was exactly the sort of thing he could never find at the video store, where “it was all California surfer dudes, boy-next-door stuff, or leather scenes. You’d never see a His­panic model, and I thought this might be a niche that I would enjoy doing.”

In 1985, Brennan began setting up nude photo sessions and marketing “a typical jack-off tape” of five different models called New York Street Boys. He also began run­ning an ad for what he at first called, with typically clumsy bluntness, a Fan Club for Guys Who Dig Latin Guys. “I started be­lieving in the thing about please yourself, do it as best as you can, and you’ll find all the people who are just like you,” Brennan says, sitting at a littered work table in the Latino Fan Club office/photo studio/crash pad/headquarters in East Harlem. The mail­ing list of Latinophiles he began building nearly a decade ago now includes over 7000 men, one of them the owner of this well­-secured corner property. With the excep­tion of LFC’s suite and another space with a pool deck that turns up, stocked with grinning homeboys, in LFC’s promotional newsreels, most of the building has been gutted for co-ops and remains empty.

Sade wafts in from the pool deck below, where a potential LFC star splashes under the rear windows of neighboring tenements. Under the loft bed where Spanish Harlem Knights‘s picaresque hero, Julio Nieves, snores fitfully, there are two banks of VCRs busy duplicating a tape running soundlessly on a monitor nearby. A scrawled sign reads “Say no to drugs and yes to dicks!” It’s all a cheap parody of film studio empire, fitting for a company that thrives on parody, trash, and — yes! — dicks. Though LFC’s produc­tion values have improved since Brennan shot every scene of the original Boys Be­hind Bars in the same corner of the same room in his old apartment in Forest Hills, its tapes are still deliberately unpolished. Continuity is a sometime thing; the focus fades at the most crucial moments; and there are plenty of times when you can hear Brennan’s instructions from the sidelines: “Push your pants down” or “Move your hand away.” “Do it as best as you can” seems to be the operative phrase here.

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Brennan may admire the impeccable gloss of Kristen Bjorn’s gay porn videos, but he models himself on a rougher, more marginal (and much more low-budget) style. Boyd McDonald, the horny genius behind Straight to Hell‘s collections of true homo­sexual experiences, was a kindred outlaw spirit. He once gave Brennan written per­mission to do a video version of his books, but Brennan says. “The only real way to make a Boyd McDonald movie is to have hidden cameras and stuff. I don’t think that’ll ever get made.” So he carries on in his own way, fucking with the genre when­ever he can. As if the tough mugs of his stars weren’t enough to signal viewers that they’re veering off porn’s beaten path, Brennan jokes about putting barred-circle symbols on his boxes to indicate No Butch Queens, No Designer Underwear, and No Shaving (of the depilated California proto­type, he says, “It’s almost like ‘Oh my God, hair on a male! How gross!’ ”).

Like Hitchcock, Brennan appears fully clothed on the sidelines in several of his films (he’s the shady stockbroker in Latin Sex Party, the prim painter in Spanish Har­lem Knights). In one of his many outtake reels, where the rawest material pops up, Brennan is an off-camera audience to super­star Rico Suave’s nude posing routine. “You are so fucking beautiful,” he says, while Suave stretches his long brown body like a particularly sly cat. If there’s a typical Latino Fan Club moment, it’s probably the offhand exchange (“That was great, man.” “You like that, huh?”) between two macho boys who have just had sex. But Brennan’s “You are so fucking beautiful” sums up the feeling behind the camera.

Because this comically awestruck bit of psychological fluffing comes from a white man who’s paying his Latin models between $200 and $300 a scene (the “receiver” earns more), there’s a definite whiff of colonialism in the air. Aside from some lightweight rumination about the “qualities of maleness that turn me on,” Brennan offers no deep examination of the attraction to what he calls “bad boys.” And he shrugs off the relentless characterization of his Latin stars as criminals, hustlers, addicts, or street kids as typical exploitation film fare (besides, he says, he gives guys auditioning for his prison and rehab clinic films the choice of being guards or inmates). Danger, uncomplicated sex, the exotic unknown — “I’m giving them what they want!” Brennan barks with a laugh.

According to a 1991 LFC membership poll, the number one collective fantasy involves being accosted by a gang of Latin boys, dragged into an alley, and forced (but not too violently) to go down on them. Brennan associate, and sometime film heavy, M. Vic Mann realizes this fantasy for LFC’s cute young white boy star, Eric Beatty, at the beginning of his Homeboy Hoodlums. After the rape, Beatty dumps his nagging girlfriend and turns into a major cocksucker, picking up one rough trade Rican after another until he gets around, inevitably, to his original attackers, who get their comeuppance from his Latin cop lover, but not before an orgy at gunpoint. There are some happy endings.

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Most of LFC’s cracked scenarios have this Samuel Fuller on Spanish Fly quality, so it’s hard to get exercised about their racial politics. The white wardens, doctors, and petty functionaries in LFC’s clearly makeshift institutions (you’d be surprised at how much can fit between these prison bars) are either loudmouthed, cigar-chomping creeps or venal manipulators. But they’re such corrupt buffoons that their scheming and rapaciousness is more comic than alarming, and they always end up on their knees before sneering boys who purr, “You like that big dick, don’t you doc?” The boys may not look like angels, but next to these assholes and toadies, they’re the heroes, and the camera loves them.

Other LFC films imagine a world where Latins rule (Super Barrio Brothers) or triumph through a combination of cunning and sex. In Latin Sex Party, the funniest of Brennan’s movies, a windbag “professor” runs a seminar aimed at reforming uptight white yuppies. While he’s spieling, his increasingly bored audience is seduced one by one by the Latin boys from the basement apartment who are trying to raise rent money. The seminar is such a success that the professor and the homeboys go into business together. It’s the perfect LFC fantasy: white daddies, on their knees, only too happy to receive the Latino’s sexual healing.

If this fantasy can’t entirely quell our uneasiness at the boys’ willingness to trade flesh for favors or the men’s fetishization of their undisguised contempt, one more shot of superstar Romeo Castillo’s ripe, quiver­ing ass will. These aren’t tracts or position papers, they’re Papi potboilers; order is subverted, everybody gets fucked, and if anyone comes out on top, it’s the Horse­-Hung Hispanic, waving his meat like the flag of the latest independent nation.

Waving the freak flag right along with them is Brennan, who’s fast becoming the Russ Meyer of queer porn — part crackpot, part visionary, total obsessive. “When I was a kid I was nuts about just movies, movies, movies,” he says, and now he’s making four of them simultaneously. Here’s a trailer for one called Attack of the Amazing Colossal Latino: A broad-chested B-boy looms na­ked over Times Square at night, his fat uncut dick swaying next to the Coke sign. He leans down, scowls into the haze of neon, and shouts, “Fuckin’ size queen! Is this big enough for you now?” ■

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Stonewall 25: The Coming Crisis of Gay Rights

June 28, 1994
By Richard Goldstein

I

YOU HAVE TO HAND IT to the homos: We know how to gather.

We traverse continents, ford oceans, and endure Greyhound cavalcades just to be with each other in undeniable numbers. Sex has little to do with it. These queer congre­gations are, first of all, a way to keep the bashers at bay. But there’s another reason why we flock. In a society so dedicated to our disappearance, bringing vast numbers of lesbians and gay men together reconsti­tutes the world, turning parade routes and rally sites, whole downtown areas, into an image of the future that no longer forces us to keep our feelings so painfully confined. That exhilaration we feel in each other’s company is the buzz of redemption. So Stonewall 25, which promises to be the biggest gay gathering ever, is not just a commemoration, not just a party, not just a demand for civil rights. It’s a healing cere­mony. A queer tikkun.

But there’s a morning after. You wake up, turn on the tube, and devour the 52 seconds of coverage (followed by equal time for the tiny band of fundamentalists that always rains on our parade). Next day, you pick up the tabs, snicker at the inevitable photo of men in gowns, and go into work vowing to wear that pink triangle like a crucifix. And you do, for about two days, until the subtle distance between you and the guys at the watercooler becomes a pal­pable tightening of lips. You realize you can only show queer when a critical mass is achieved. Rest of the time, there are table manners to be observed, and the napkins are made of Brillo pads.

Twenty-five years of homo holidays haven’t erased the stigma that haunts us. The dominant culture continues to regard our attempts to heal the world as a threat. And our enemies prey on our visibility. The middle-class face we present enables the right to organize where it’s never been welcome before: among Hispanics and Afri­can Americans. Hate jocks mock us. Preachers imprecate us. Our legislation re­mains stalled, our entreaties to the military are rebuffed, our need to create a climate of tolerance in the schools is dismissed. And we are left with a sense of collective isolation that parallels the watercooler quarantine. The personal is political: For us, that axiom is a sentence carved into our backs.

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This is the paradox of Stonewall 25. At. the very moment when our pride is at its peak, our political agenda is in jeopardy. We face the gravest threat to gay rights since the election of Ronald Reagan, in the form of ballot initiatives denying us basic protections against discrimination. In Con­gress, the situation is no less ominous. As the right rolls over the Republican party, and Democrats scramble to hold the center, our freedom is on the line.

Our foes are as formidable today as they were on that weekend in 1969 when the fair­ies fought back. The gains we’ve made since then are fragile, because they aren’t backed up by constitutional guarantees. This is the major difference between other civil rights movements and our own. It makes gays vulnerable to the whims of politics. And decades of conservative dominance have produced a judiciary loath to confer “new rights,” especially on the loathed.

Some time soon, the Supreme Court is likely to take up the matter of gays in the military. At stake is the Clinton administration’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which, in its tortuous attempt to codify discrimina­tion, has the potential to wreak havoc on gays even outside the military. Remember that, in all but eight states, it’s perfectly legal to fire a queer. Now factor in the military’s “new” standard: There’s no prob­lem as long as homosexuality remains in­visible; it’s only when someone asserts a gay identity (by making a public declaration or expressing same-sex affection) that the apparatus of expulsion is brought into play. If the justices uphold this strategy, it may well be because they frequently allow the military to set special standards. But those standards are often the basis of civilian poli­cy. If the gay ban stands, it could well become a model for employers worried about the public relations implications of having openly gay workers. The result: In much of America, coming out would once again become an extremely risky act.

As if that weren’t ominous enough, the Supreme Court could soon rule on the con­stitutionality of antigay ballot initiatives. So far, lower courts in Ohio and Colorado have kept those measures from becoming law, but this fall, voters may get to consider similar provisions in Oregon, Washington, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, Michigan, Mon­tana, Idaho, and Arizona. These measures typically override gay rights laws, as well as forbidding public agencies, schools, universities, and libraries from “advocating” homosexuality. In effect, these laws ratify discrimination and censorship, and the fact that they usually pass by wide margins is an ominous sign of how formidable the resis­tance to gay rights remains.

Just this week, a Time poll found that 62 per cent of Americans favor the passage of laws to protect gays against job discrimina­tion. Yet, when antigay initiatives are on the ballot, about the same percentage vote to keep such discrimination legal. One rea­son why is the right wing claim that gays are asking for “special rights.” It’s a handy smoke screen, allowing voters to evade a hostility they’re ashamed to openly admit. But in fact, most Americans are profoundly torn about gay rights. On the one hand, we are all members of a secular culture that enshrines the ideal of equality in the consti­tution; on the other hand, we are products of a homophobic tradition with its roots in religion. Indeed, many gay theorists would argue that this homophobic “faith” is es­sential to the organization of heterosexual­ity as we know it.

That’s essentially what the Supreme Court ruled in the infamous Hardwick deci­sion of 1986, when a slim majority found that the constitutional right to privacy did not apply to sodomy. More precisely, the court left open the possibility that laws against oral and anal sex might be unconsti­tutional when applied to heterosexuals, but not when it comes to homosexual acts. The decision itself was riddled with invective rarely heard in regard to questions of personal morality. Chief Justice Warren Burger quoted English criminal statutes describing homosexuality as an offense of “deeper ma­lignity” than rape; he cited penalties against sodomy “throughout the history of Western Civilization,” since Roman times.

The Supreme Court would never have applied such reasoning to the long tradition of anti-Semitism or the venerable structure of slavery. But gay rights is distinct from these struggles because it involves the orga­nization of sexual identity, and that issue is ultimately more central than even racism to Western religious belief. Blacks had to deal with the Curse of Ham, and Jews had to contend with the charge of deicide. But queers are up against something even more tenacious: a relationship between the sexes that calls itself natural law.

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Given this dogma, and the willingness of secular authorities to defer to it, no wonder the Supreme Court allowed sodomy laws to remain on the books in 21 states. Though these provisions are no longer used to jail violators, they allow the state to conceive of homosexuals as members of a criminal class. On those grounds, antigay discrimi­nation is held to be rational. What if the Supreme Court were asked to decide whether voters could ratify such discrimina­tion? It may happen, as right wingers ap­peal lower-court rulings throwing out such ballot initiatives on constitutional grounds.

It is possible, of course, that the current crop of justices will affirm these lower-court rulings. Justices Souter and Ginsberg are said to look more kindly on gay rights than their predecessors did. Had these two voted on the Hardwick case, the decision might have gone differently. But even liberal ju­rists fall back on standing law. Having al­ready decided that states may pass laws against homosexuality, would the court for­bid voters from effectively doing the same, by nullifying laws that protect this “criminal class”? It might, but don’t bet on it.

If the court upholds some form of these initiatives, they will spread like wildfire, from region to region, effectively stopping gay rights legislation in most states. Gay studies courses at public universities might also be threatened, as would public funding for gay-themed works of art, and even gay books in public libraries. Though it seems impossible that such sweeping changes could occur in America today, laws that apply only to state institutions can easily exert a chilling effect. Even the explosion of interest in queer culture could be stifled if the right wing, fueled by the success of ballot initiatives, makes it risky to produce gay films and plays, advertise in gay-friendly publications, or sponsor TV shows with gay characters.

This retrenchment is already evident in the medium most vulnerable to backlash: public television. Fundamentalist objections to the airing of Tales of the City, a gay-­friendly adaptation of the book by Armis­tead Maupin, led PBS to back away from sponsoring a sequel. Just last week, my colleague Ellen Cohn reports, the local PBS affiliate, WNET, decided it would be wrong to mention the word pride in ads for its gay-­oriented programming. Pride connotes pro­motion, something WNET cannot counte­nance, even as it pitches product to a gay audience.

American culture is a sturdy beast, but never underestimate the power of politics to tame it. Queers are always poised upon the slippery slope to oblivion. When it comes to representing our relationships, regulating our discourse, and repressing our expres­sions of affection, we are all vulnerable to the Clintonism “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

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It must seem to our enemies that gay rights is sweeping the land, but in fact, our victories so far have been provisional. Gay rights laws can and have been repealed; bold initiatives, like the original Clinton plan to end discrimination in the military, can and have been overturned. Our history in the West has been written in fits and starts. The Weimar years, perhaps the gold­en age of gay culture in modern Europe, were followed by the holocaust. The Russian revolution, which did away with laws against homosexuality, was followed by Sta­linism, which made them more severe.

Looking further back, one discovers peri­ods when homosexuality was tacitly tolerated in Europe and times when it was brutally suppressed. The scholar John Boswell has unearthed dozens of same-sex union cere­monies, dating from the 8th to the 16th centuries, when they were endorsed by the same church that now opposes gay relation­ships. My point is that sexual identities are fixed neither within the individual nor in history. The fascination and denial, empa­thy and revulsion, with which the world regards homosexuality may correspond to some internal process of personality forma­tion, or it may relate to larger historical currents that shape human sexuality. In any event, this ambivalent embrace means that gay people can never count on being safe. The cultures we create are always in danger of being obliterated.

Consider New York during the Jazz Age, when, according to historian George Chauncey, an elaborate and highly public gay milieu was part of the city’s life. It came complete with bars, bathhouses, and drag balls. It was openly represented in the theater and widely covered in the press. How could it all have disappeared? Chauncey’s book, Gay New York, reveals that a series of laws passed during the Great Depression made it illegal to represent homosexuality, to operate an establishment that catered to queers, or even to serve them drinks. It was this legal structure that drove gay culture underground, where it remained (in the clutches of the Mafia) until Stonewall. Are we so certain of our place in the present that we cannot imagine such a thing hap­pening again?

Even as we convene for the greatest gay show on earth, the right wing has taken over the Republican party in Texas and Virginia. Nothing new here, except the pos­sibility that the Democrats, uncertain about how to keep the right in check, will throw us to the holies as a bone. If that becomes the strategy of the midterm elections, mod­erates who support us more from conve­nience than commitment could defect. It would take only a few purges of gay-friendly incumbents (such as Virginia senator Charles Robb) to assure a deafening silence in the halls of Congress, not to mention most statehouses. If the Republicans win control of the Senate and continue to rack up victories in the cities, we could wind up cast as the wicked witch of American poli­tics, writhing as our power (which was real­ly never that great) melts away.

Not in New York, you might think; it can’t happen here. But, to some extent, it already is. Faring badly in a poll against Republican candidate George Pataki, Gov­ernor Cuomo has begun to waffle on the bias-crimes bill, a controversial measure largely because it includes homosexuals. At a press conference last week, Cuomo shocked gay activists by predicting the bill would die in the Republican-dominated state senate, effectively sealing its fate.

Meanwhile, Mayor Giuliani walks the line between welcoming the Gay Games to his town and welcoming homophobes to his administration (as long as their hate is a tenet of faith). Progressives who would court the constituency that elected Giuliani are tempted to follow his lead. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, a support­er of gay rights, has been rubbing elbows with some notable homophobes since he decided to run for state attorney general. In a recent column in the Jewish Press, Hynes described the anti-bias bill as protecting people against crimes directed at their “race, creed, national origin, sex, disability, or age, etc.” Queers are the etcetera that dare not speak its name.

As Americans, gays proclaim that we alone create our destiny. We convince our­selves that, simply by coming together and making a joyful (or angry) sound, we can will society to make a place for us, on our terms. But freedom is never simply the result of individual agency. The Stonewall riot was a significant event because society as a whole was ready for the change those queens ushered in. It takes no credit away from them to say that they were a product of their time, nor does it cast blame on today’s out-and-proud legions to suggest that all our passion and pride may not be enough to stem the conservative tide.

Even as we march and celebrate, we need to assess the shifting political winds. If the right-wing resurgence goes unchecked, new laws may be passed against which not even Roseanne can protect us. We need to imag­ine what life would be like under novel forms of repression, designed to jam us back into the closet. We need to hear that slamming door, if only to wedge it open.

But pessimism is not my purpose, and nothing I’ve described is inevitable. The premise of democracy is that ordinary peo­ple, acting together, can shape politics. That concept applies with special urgency to queers. The denizens of Jazz Age gaydom never took to the streets when laws were passed transforming them into second-class citizens, and the result was 40 years of silence. But the denizens of Stonewall did, and the result was freedom.

How we act in the face of the present danger will be a crucial component of our own future, as it has been throughout the AIDS crisis, when solidarity and resistance kept the worst instincts of a polarized soci­ety at bay. But in a sense, civil rights is a more difficult struggle than the fight against a deadly disease, because it entails nothing less than the renegotiation of power and privilege. Dominance, after all, is what hides behind the mask of social necessity. And the preservation of dominance (racial, sexual, global) is precisely what gives the right such power in our time. These are the storm troopers of the order.

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II

BUT WHAT ABOUT our own right wing: that cadre of queer conservatives, so refreshing on Charlie Rose. What Larry Kramer was to the ’80s, Andrew Sullivan is to the ’90s. This openly gay editor of The New Republic is not only thoughtful and sincere, he’s ef­fective enough to be attacked by bigots, attractive enough to appear in a Gap ad, and possibly the most influential gay intel­lectual in America. He’s written briefs on behalf of gay marriage, but he’s against Roe v.Wade. That distinction is not incidental to the politics of gayocons.

But hold on — how can there be a gay right? The answer is, how can there not be after a generation of conservative hegemony? Of course, most gayocons would prefer to be called libertarians. Their politics re­semble those of William Weld, the Republi­can governor of Massachusetts. Weld is not averse to cutting services to the poor, but he’s all for gay rights. So is Marvin Lieb­man, though that didn’t stop him from be­ing a Friend of Bill (Buckley, that is), a confidant of Ron and Nancy, or a closet­-mate of Roy Cohn. As penance for his at­traction to Very Important Homophobes, Liebman is currently campaigning for gay rights within the Republican party. That, and only that, is what separates him from other conservatives.

Nor do the progressive social impulses of gayocons usually extend to matters of race. Nearly all the members of this fraternity are white. And male. They act like it. New York Native columnist Stephen H. Miller moni­tors “male bashing” by the women’s move­ment, and regularly rails against the “femi­nist-directed ‘lesbigay’ amalgamation” of gay life. He’s every bit as bitchy as Howard Stern when it comes to identity politics, but every bit as fervent as Tony Kushner when it comes to gay rights — and every bit as out.

Is there a contradiction here? Yes and no. Visibility may seem like the signature of gay liberation, but it’s merely a product of the larger social critique that emerged from Stonewall. Who better than drag queens (many of them black) to enlighten us about the hierarchies of race, class, and sex? The gay right removes homophobia from this radical analysis. Theirs is a movement to sever our movement from liberation ideology.

Take Bruce Bawer, whose book, A Place at the Table, is the volume of choice for straights who sympathize with gay rights but not gay rites. Bawer’s thesis is that reconciliation between homosexuals and society is possible, if only queers would act like they belong. Part of doing that, Bawer insists, is abandoning the gay movement’s affection for the politics of alienation. In shuffling off that coil, he argues, the conventionality of most gays would become evi­dent. And seeing these shining happy faces, America would open its ample arms.

What follows is a Family Channel version of the story of the Prodigal Son, complete with marriage, migration to the suburbs, and a two-car, two-dog family. It’s a tempt­ing fantasy, at least for well-off white males. And it may be that, in America today, class is a more significant marker of social status than sexuality. But it also may be that, as the Jews of Europe learned, when a vehe­ment right-wing movement succeeds in mo­bilizing society against those it deems devi­ant, there is no safety in the camouflage of convention.

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There are several reasons why our move­ment is situated on the left. For one thing, gay liberation, like feminism, has been part of democratic socialism since the 19th cen­tury. For another, gays and progs share a sense of standing apart from the dominant culture. Yet, what ultimately ties us to the left is our ethic of individualism. For con­servatives, selfhood is the mark of an elite; those who have it show it, by rising to the top. But for progs, individuality is every­where. It’s the arbiter of knowledge, the seat of identity, and— as Walt Whitman pro­claims — the ecstatic engine of democracy.

Of course, there’s another tradition on the left, the Marxist-Leninist one, which regards individualism as a contemptible bourgeois tendency. Marx himself was a homophobe (not above distinguishing be­tween “men of the front and men of the rear” when referring to himself and his ri­vals on the democratic left), as is Castro. Mao suppressed homosexuality when he came to power, unleashing what is thought to be one of the century’s most brutal anti­gay pogroms in Shanghai.

Though overt opposition to gay rights has all but disappeared from progressive dis­course, it persists in a tendency among left­ists to regard all claims of oppression as suspect unless they are grounded in race or class. This assumption accounts for the fail­ure of the left to address homophobia — as well as sexism — in black arid working-class cultures. It surfaced during the debate over the Rainbow Curriculum, when many progs fell silent rather than offend minority par­ents enraged that their children were being taught to respect homosexuals.

The ideology of class struggle allows left­ists to deny their own homophobia. But that’s just part of the puritanism gay libera­tion struggles against and, as anyone who’s been thrown out of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival can attest, it’s hardly limited to straights. Nor is puritanism anywhere near as prevalent on the left as on the right, where the individual is only to be trusted when tightly bound by family and faith. This is the signal irony in gay conservatism. Their lust for acceptance leads these homo-­normalists to valorize a system whose very rigidities deny us a place at the table, unless we cease to be ourselves.

The biggest blunder of gay conservatives is to ignore the most important alliance gay people can make. That is the bond between queers and feminists. It’s no surprise that the gay right overlooks this possibility. Their frat is not just male, but masculinist. Though they’d never be caught in leather, gayocons worship the sexual hierarchy that affirms male power. That’s the real differ­ence between gays of the left and right. Radical queers struggle against sexism; theirs is a movement in which women and men tangle, for better or worse. On the gay right, such rituals of parity are ridiculed as politically correct. This jargon, appropriated from male chauvinists, is revealing. It sug­gests that the appeal of the right to some gay men may stem not just from class and race, but from a profound attraction to mas­culine authority.

It’s not necessary to eroticize men in or­der to worship their power. The same en­chantment can apply to heterosexuals. It is the primal meaning of Rudy Giuliani’s ob­servation that deference to authority is the essence of freedom. But for gay people, whose desires are straight men’s epithets, there is a special danger in building a poli­tics on the yearning for male dominance.

This veneration of male authority has al­ways existed in gay culture, along with its androgynous obverse, and it has always stood in counterpoint to our openness to feminism. In Weimar Germany, the issue of male supremacy caused a split in the fledg­ling gay rights movement, which came to a head when the Nazis first appeared. Some gay publications featured square-jawed Horst Wessel types on their covers. In these circles, feminism was blamed for the decline of great societies. It’s important to revisit this moment in light of the present danger. We will need to choose our friends careful­ly, examining our impulses lest they lead us astray. The worship of male power is a dead end for queers, as gay Germans who pur­sued that fantasy learned when they joined the Nazi movement. They achieved a place at the table — until the night of the long knives.

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There is an alternative to promoting male power. There is a politics founded on the enduring bond between women and queers. And this alliance, forged in the simi­larities between sexism and homophobia, and validated by a shared respect for the individual, has the potential to see us through the coming crisis of gay rights.

What is homophobia? As its victims, we ask this question with a special urgency, but our answers don’t always point to root causes. We blame our parents, teachers, preachers, politicians, and celebrities. We direct our demands to institutions — to churches and schools, the military and the movies — as if they represent discreet realms of social reality. We are eager to blame the hate that deranges us on Amerikkka, or the Judea-Christian tradition, as if, in some oth­er civilization, some other era, there’s a place for us. But, Stephen Sondheim’s lyric notwithstanding, there is no society — Hel­lenic or Amazonian — where gay men and lesbians, as we currently conceive of our­selves, are freer or safer. There is no place for us except the one we create today.

What if homophobia is not simply an arti­fact of culture and religion, but a central component in heterosexuality? The question immediately begs to be expanded: What if hatred of homosexuals springs from fear of femininity, and both come with the development of masculinity? What if rejecting the female within — which is also to say, the homosexual — makes straight men what they are today?

There is plenty of evidence to support this claim. You don’t have to be a Freudian to understand why a sitcom audience roars with laughter at the macho hero who enters a gay bar by mistake. You don’t have to be a follower of Robert Bly to understand why this hero struggles to smile politely while lunging for the door. The comedy here is in his attempt to be civilized amid the instinct to flee, and you don’t have to be an activist to grasp why this conflict leads to murder­ous rage.

Surely there are straight men who con­sort with the female within. And straight men who don’t fear homosexuals, because they feel comfortable with their own homo­erotic fantasies. My hunch is that such men make the best lovers of women. But they rarely rise in male societies, and they don’t dominate the culture. Those who do emerge, as warriors, leaders, heroes, and even mystics, are nearly always the other kind of male, whose butch demeanor is the product of an endless struggle against femi­ninity, and whose hatred of homosexuals is an emblem of that psychic split.

Think of the rappers who advertise their hatred of “faggots, they living in the Village like meat on maggots.” Think of Howard Stern, Eddie Murphy, that bad-assed “Dice­man,” the insouciant Axl Rose, the rude­-boys of reggae, those devilish Dire Straits. The rise of an overtly homophobic and sex­ist pop culture is part of the perception that women and queers are not just gaining power, but battering down the iron doors of the male psyche. It may well be that many men are learning to enjoy an imagination that can encompass the femme and the queer, but in the heroic contours of their culture, those boundaries must be heavily policed. Think of the number of male heroes who have expressed their empathy for ho­mosexuals. Now think of the number of female heroes who have. There’s no male Madonna. See what I mean?

Homophobia would not be so dangerous if it were simply a product of straight male identity. The rest of us could simply stay out of the way. But the problem is that these men make the laws, they run religion, they direct media empires, and until recent­ly, they determined how society should be organized.

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Consider the closet. Where did the idea that queers are tolerable as long as they’re invisible come from? Odd how it corre­sponds to the strategies of denial heterosex­ual men use to regulate their homosexual impulses. For queers, the closet is a cham­ber of horrors, but for most straights, it’s a gallery of shadows, intriguing as long as it’s shrouded in secrecy and contempt. Imagine what happens when one of these “closet cases” spots a flaunting faggot, a preening pansy, a strutting fudgepacker? He’s put up against the return of the repressed.

The closet was at the heart of resistance to gays in the military. The shower-room fantasy was more than these fighting men could bear. But if their fear was being sub­jected to the gaze of other men (and there­by transformed into “women”), how would the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy prevent that? Obviously, privacy wasn’t the point. The resolution, hammered out by an all­-male committee of senators, was designed to preserve the integrity of the straight male libido, by acknowledging the possibility of homosexuality but not the reality. That same strategy informs the new antigay ini­tiatives, which is why they have been so wildly successful. These laws deny protec­tion for the open expression of a gay identi­ty. You can be fired when you come out. There is no way that sort of discrimination can seem rational unless you consider the real intention: to restore the closet. That is, to make the world reflect the minds of straight men.

It’s significant that few women in the military expressed qualms about sharing the shower room with lesbians. Polls of the civilian population showed a similar split: Most women favored gays in ,the military, while most men opposed it. Women have their own closet, and many cling to it as a mark of their receptiveness to men, but they do not require homophobia in order to maintain their female identity. That doesn’t mean there aren’t homophobic women, but it does mean that gays are more likely to bond with women than with straight men.

A line of greeting cards meant to be sent by heterosexuals to their gay friends is be­ing test-marketed in the Midwest. There are cards from parents to their gay sons, from siblings to their lesbian sisters, from straight women to their homosexual friends. But a straight man looking to send a card to a queer buddy won’t find any. The manufacturer is convinced there’s no mar­ket for that sentiment.

It won’t be easy to convince gay men to open their hearts to feminism, any more than it’s been easy to convince straight men of that. And queers may not be entirely welcome in a women’s movement that has its own anxieties about what Betty Friedan once called “the lavender menace.” Puri­tanism has its feminist version, as is evident in the crusade against pornography. But what holds this authoritarian impulse in check is the gut instinct that freedom is inexorably bound up with choice. Like gay liberation, feminism is a movement that honors the individual. It struggles for self­hood and against the sexual order.

There are important lessons here for gay politics, especially as we face an enemy whose appeal is based on the preservation of male dominance. Our struggle must be not to build a queer nation, but a world where both sexes have an equal impact on the formation of values. Such a culture would produce ceremonies and laws very different from the ones we have today. It would not produce fewer heterosexuals, but it would mean fewer homophobes. And it just might liberate queers.

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I glimpsed this future, ironically enough, at the St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1991, when we marched past 2 million bottle-throwing, curse-hurling, God-fearing folks. It was a spectacle of hate the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the early days of the civil rights movement, as David Dinkins would later observe. But there was some­thing else going on in that parade, some­thing the media missed, possibly because you had to be queer to notice it.

Every few blocks, we’d pass a contingent of Catholic school girls. Their response was very different from that of their elder broth­ers. They leapt and shrieked, their faces filled with joy barely held in check. Why joy, I wondered? What was it about flaunt­ing fairies that brought out the ecstasy in these girls? It set me thinking of a line from an old blues song, and I sang it to myself as I marched through that mob: “The men don’t know, but the little girls understand.”

There’s something in that lyric about the persistence of individuality in those too young to have mastered the rules of male supremacy. And those too queer. Stonewall, that emblematic moment in the struggle against unjust authority, was also an invita­tion to find the joy in selfhood. Let Stone­wall 25 be a testament to this power. Let it be a fierce party, a clamorous protest, and a vast singing of the body electric. Let free­dom ring! ■

Research: Michael Miller 

Categories
Equality From The Archives PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Stonewall 25: The Media, the Message

The Media
June 28, 1994
By Martin Duberman

We didn’t even get to cover our own riot. Which is no surprise. In a heterosexual universe, it had long been assumed that gay men and lesbians were not reliable witnesses of their lives (let alone anything else). Our experience had to be explained to us, the “experts” of the day insisted, for we lacked the “needed objectivity,” and our “pathology” further compromised our ability to see straight (as it were). “Surely no one would recommend that operations for cancer be performed by the afflicted patients themselves.”

And so even the countercultural Village Voice — itself at the journalistic center of ’60s protest — saw nothing out of the ordinary in allowing two heterosexual reporters to cover the outbreak of gay rioting at a Greenwich Village bar, the Stonewall Inn. The lead sentence in Lucian Truscott IV’s piece referred to the sudden “specter” of gay power having “erected its brazen head and spat out a fairy tale the likes of which the area has never seen.” In his second sentence, he referred to “forces of faggotry.”

To be fair, this was 1969. Not too many gay people were using kinder, more accurate words about themselves (certainly I wasn’t: my idea of liberation in those years was to put myself in the hands of a therapist promising to free me from my “afflicted” orientation). Besides, Truscott also commented on the riots creating prospects for gays to assert “presence, possibility and pride” — a potential not widely seen at the time, though many now claim, retrospectively, to having immediately understood the significance of the riots.

Truscott also alluded to the way the riots had been covered in the Daily News as having been “anything but kind to the gay cause” — and few other straight reporters of the day would have considered the degree of kindness in an article about despised homosexuals as being a relevant gauge of the article’s journalistic  worth (unlike, say, its ability to sell newspapers). Jerry Lisker, the author of the Daily News article, may not have been responsible for its headline, HOMO NEST RAIDED, QUEEN BEES ARE STINGING MAD, but he most assuredly was for the adjectival mockery (“lisping,” “prancing,” etc.) of its prose, and it’s smug, derisive characterizations of “honeys turned Madwomen of Chaillot.”

The New York Times was above so coarse an assault. It had its own dismissive strategy, one more appropriate to its high-toned readership: avoid covering news about gays at all, or do so briefly and antiseptically in a back-page throwaway story. For its short article about the first night of the riots, the Times chose the headline, 4 POLICEMEN HURT IN VILLAGE RAID — as if the score of injured gay people was of little or no import. The Times did mention that the police had “confiscated cases of liquor from the bar,” but said not a word about the way they had wantonly smashed jukeboxes, mirrors, and cigarette machines, ripped out phones, plugged up toilets — and pocketed all the money from the cash register and safe.

The Times article reduced the rage of thousands to what it characterized as “a rampage” by “hundreds of young men.” The paper further implied that the arrest of one of the rioters had resulted from his “having thrown a heavy object at a patrolman.” In fact, police had grabbed the man in question at random out of the crowd, had dragged him by the hair back into the Stonewall Inn where they had retreated from the mob, and had proceeded to give him a severe beating. When it looked as if he was about to pass out, he had been handcuffed and Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine, the ranking office, had snapped, “All right, we book him for assault.”

And so the limited, distorted coverage went… The Voice’s second article, by Howard Smith, did mention police vandalism and generally was free of Truscott’s occasional homophobia — though it did include a description of the rioters “prancing high and jubilant in the street.” The New York Post — then a liberal paper — did do a follow-up piece headlined THE GAY ANGER BEHIND THE RIOTS, which responsibly discussed resentments felt over Mafia control of the Stonewall (and all other gay bars), over the huge profits that never went back into the lesbian and gay community, and the huge payoffs that went to the police. And both RAT and the East Village Other — organs of the counterculture — also carried sympathetic accounts.

But these were marginal voices in a coverage that overall reflected all too accurately the dominant bias of the culture.

Its perfect creature, Time magazine, summarized the majoritarian view when, some four months after the riots and in response to the publicity they had generated, it published a lengthy “analysis” of gay life. The article characterized “the homosexual subculture [as]… without question, shallow and unstable,” and warned its possibly wavering readership yet again that “homosexuality is a serious and sometimes crippling maladjustment.”

There we have the authentic voice of mainstream America, circa 1969. And it is a voice once more sounding loudly through the land as the legions of the religious right wing methodically prepare for battle against the “gay lifestyle” in a slew of forthcoming fall elections. It is being widely predicted that the right wing will win those elections in a landslide. If so, we might want to recall again those memorable summer nights in 1969 when we were pushed too far — and bellowed back in rage, THIS FAR AND NO FUTHER!

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The Message
By Allen Ginsberg

Think of the historic importance of coming out of the closet! Stonewall’s cry echoed round the world! Spiritual liberation meant gay liberation also, the liberation of individual veracity against hypocrisies of church, and state, and age-old social sadism. A revelation of actuality in midst of mental hallucination and emotional repression. Truth against “lies age-old, age-thick.”

What was the fix to begin with? Legendary gay bars owned by organized crime paid off the New York police, and if they didn’t they were closed down. Something went wrong with the payoffs at Stonewall Inn. So the customary repression of gay social life was motiv’d by hypercritical greed and sadism. As the sign says: GAY PROHIBITION CORRUPT$ COP$ AND FEED$ MAFIA

Who rebelled against this police fraud? We see hairy-chested guys with leather caps like cops, curbstone pixies on roller-skates applauding the parade, white-clad pure butch lesbians, poseurs mugging in front of Stonewall’s graffiti’d façade, ”Gay Cruise” billboards above Christopher Street’s classic cigar-store corner, Rock Hudson elegies & T-shirt sociologies on Keith Haring’s shop wall, a gay vet tombstone, Carmen Miranda banana hat clones, transvestite motorcyclists, brown skins dancing, AIDS die-ins, Peter Orlovsky & myself musing in bed 1959, arm in arm old lovers bald, Baldwin & marble Lincoln, Auden’s wrinkle-faced dignity, Gay Liz comix covers, thirty-something male hands sharing Affidavits of Domestic Partnership, magic homosex symbols flagged above Grove Street’s old brick roadway, a limp protestor dragged off by cops, a “Love Boys” spray-painted door, bath-house queens and bare chest youthful cuties, Priests & Amazons, campy mitered Bishops & Gay Church floats, 1973 night crowds and balloons, Stonewall Inn shut down, a sign for “Bagels And” above its old brown brick front.

These Anniversary parades and records thereof, like Fred McDarrah’s photograph (shown above), are now significant as we approach end of millennium. Think of present circumstances — recent revelation of the tortured & torturing blackmail psyche of the mad transvestite J. Edgar Hoover in the closet — the late powerful homophobe N.Y. Cardinal Francis Spellman dallying with Broadway chorus boys on the privacy of citizen Roy Cohn’s yacht! Roy Cohn, himself a tax-free anti-faggot power head queer lawyer for the N.Y. Diocese, organized crime hats, androgynous politicians & macho millionaires, gay pimp for the Director of the F.B.I. How many magic Cardinals & religious fanatic priests we see unmasked, their tenderest longings hid under the iron visage of censoriousness.

This year Cardinal Spellman’s successor Cardinal O’Connor still dares to put his Bible curse on gays, no public word whispered of his famous predecessor’s celebrated predilection for young men’s love. Thus while Catholic Ireland herself, through miraculous legislation, presently legitimizes homosexuality, the New York Cardinal scandalously prohibited Irish gay brigades from marching with the Green on St Patrick’s Day parades!

This degraded “Family Values” theopolitics has become a worldwide mask for mind control as against spiritual liberation. Hear the late Khomeini Ayatollah and his successor little Satans denounce “Spiritual Corruption,” along with Stalin, Mao & Hitler. Listen to Pat Robertson, his confrères & his guru W.A. Criswell, the fundamentalist Svengali of a “Biblical Inerrancy” cult, intolerant of any deviance from mind controlled by their interpretation of the “Good Book.”

These vicious priesthoods are allied with beer magnates and tobacco senators in hierarchies of political ambition, demagoguery, power addiction, nationalist chauvinism, military aggression, assassinations and war. Intolerant of other faiths, sexualities and folkways! Fraudulent ethical poseurs set family members against each other & oppose ancient true family values of sympathy, tolerance, forgiveness, intimacy, humor and fidelity.

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To the Days

From you I want more than I’ve ever asked,
all of it — the newscasts’ terrible stories
of life in my time, the knowing it’s worse than that,
much worse — the knowing what it means to be lied to.

Fog in the mornings, hunger for clarity,
coffee and bread with sour plum jam.
Numbness of soul in placid neighborhoods.
Lives ticking on as if.

A typewriter’s torrent, suddenly still.
Blue soaking through fog, two dragonflies wheeling.
Acceptable levels of cruelty, steadily rising.
Whatever you bring in your hands, I need to see it.

Suddenly I understand the verb without tenses.
To smell another woman’s hair, to taste her skin.
To know the bodies drifting underwater.
To be human, said Rosa — I can’t teach you that.

A cat drinks from a bowl of marigolds — his moment.
Surely the love of life is never ending,
the failure of nerve, a charred fuse?
I want more from you than I ever knew to ask.

Wild pink lilies erupting, tasseled stalks of corn
in the Mexican gardens, corn and roses.
Shortening days, strawberry fields in ferment
with tossed aside, bruised fruit.
Adrienne Rich

[“Then see to it that you stay human… Being human means joyfully throwing your whole life ‘on the scales of destiny’ when need be, but all the while rejoicing in every sunny day and every beautiful cloud. Ach, I know of no formula to write you for being human…”]
— Rosa Luxemburg, 1916