Gay Place turns it over to comedienne Kate Clinton for a special Stonewall remembrance
By Ash Bell, Kate X Messer, and Kate Clinton, Fri., June 26, 2009
On a national scale, we received this lovely vignette from comic Kate Clinton, who is so much more qualified to muse on Stonewall than we are, so ... take it away, Kate!
by Kate Clinton
On an early morning flight from Orlando, after appearing at the 19th annual Gay Days at Disney World, I was "sirred" twice by a cab driver and flight attendant. All before 7am. I would have thought the brand-new faux-leopard Croc flats I was sporting would have thrown them off. Or that the "Gay Day" banners everywhere would have heightened their threat levels to rainbow.
Usually I find mistaken identification an embarrassment or irritant. In past years I would correct quickly with "That's 'ma'am,' not 'sir,'" and then try to lessen their discomfort. But this 40th anniversary of Stonewall, I wear the gaffe as a badge of pride. I stare them down. Even if they seem remorseful, I don't help them through their moment. In solidarity with the unsung butch lesbians who were with the fags and drag queens at the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village in 1969, I have been doing my own version of butching it up.
It used to be hard to find a New York gay person of a certain age who did not claim to have been at the Stonewall Riots. I am a New Yorker of that certain age, but I most certainly was not at the Stonewall Riots. In 1969 I had just graduated from a small Jesuit college in upstate New York. Insert "Class of '69" joke here.
I was a member of the Gay Resistance. I was trying not to come out. Because of that resistance, I could not and then would not hear the news of gay liberation spreading upstate from Greenwich Village. Though pre-Internet, the Stonewall message quickly reached upstate gays in the anti-Vietnam war, women's liberation, and the civil rights movement. Before long even my little town in upstate New York had out gay activists organizing, educating, and agitating.
And they had the best parties. At one I met a brilliant lesbian political science professor, fired from her tenured job because of her anti-war activism. Hesitantly, I invited her and her partner over for dinner in the apartment that by then I "shared with a teacher friend." On the apartment tour, before I could point out my bedroom, she gleefully yelled to her partner, "Here's the fake bedroom!" Perhaps it was my cinder-block bed with the Indian bedspread that tipped her off. With my don't ask, don't tell cover blown by my out and outrageous new lesbian friends, I slowly began to come out. First to my girlfriend at the time, to more friends, and then to family. Finally, to make up for lost time, I just grabbed a microphone and have yapped about it for 28 years.
Of course there had been gays and lesbian activists in the 1950s and early 1960s: the Mattachine Society, the Daughters of Bilitis, the Society of Individual Rights, the North American Homophile Organization. I am in awe of their courage. The rage and outrage of the Stonewall Inn fags, butch dykes, and drag queens, who had finally had enough, kicked the courage of early gay activists to another level of visibility.
Back in the day, only 25% of my generation came out before the age of 18. It was 31% in the generation after me. Today 57% come out before the age of 18. Our challenge today is certainly to transform gay visibility into LGBT action. The reaction to "Prop. Hates" promises a new generation of rage and outrage that will pass the trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act; overturn the Defense of Marriage Act; abolish don't ask, don't tell; and enact federal marriage equality.
But just as Stonewall and the gay liberation movement came from anti-war, women's liberation, and civil rights activism, we will only succeed if we reinsert ourselves into those activisms. To pass ENDA, we must be part of the labor. To overturn don't ask, don't tell, we must work for peace. To repeal DOMA and attain marriage equality, we must work with women and people of color.
Think of it as Stonewall rebooted. It's a size 14½ stiletto. Today in honor of my butch forebears, I'm wearing only two items of women's clothing.
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