We are now at the 50th Anniversary of the gay rights movement, which exploded into the public eye on June 28, 1969 with the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar and was frequented by lesbians and gay men, drag queens and transgendered people. The NYC police engaged in a systematic program of harrassment of the gay bars of the time by raiding the bars and randomly arresting people attending there. On that historic day 50 years ago, many of these citizens fought back, drove the police into protective hiding and did considerable property damage. In a sense, the gay community finally rose up in rage at being constantly harrassed and not allowed to live their lives as they saw fit. Within a year, pride demonstrations had spread from coast to coast. Within another year, gay student organizations sprang up at colleges across the country. The subject of gay liberation was constantly in the press and other media.
I cannot, and it is doubtful that more than a handful of people can, describe or explain the complexities of the community that has evolved from this historic gay event fifty years ago. There exist so many variants on and permutations of sex, sexuality, gender and gender expression, and even though understanding all of these variants and permutations is of the utmost importance for each of us in this community, it is tedious to recite them all. However, there is something that I can point out, some one thing that unites us all. Painful and difficult as it is, it turns out that we are a negative category. What I mean is, we are in essence defined by what we are not. We are not straight. We are not (or not only) attracted by the opposite sex. We do not identify with the gender which we are assigned at birth. We are not only men. We do not adequately fit into two sexes, male and female at the biological level. Or the psychological or social level.
To continue for a moment on this negative adventure, so many of the things that we are not have to do with the patriarchy. Now this patriarchy, this is a real thing. In a patriarchy, the social system is set up to favor men and women who behave in certain ways. The patriarchy is in fact based on a binary definition for people: you are born either a man or a woman, and while there are lots of opportunities to individualize, there are also a lot of expectations for your social behavior. And so, what begin as a rebellion against oppression of “deviant” behavior has become an exploration and plumbing of the depths of alternatives to rigidly defined straight male or female behavior. Our group wouldn’t exist without the oppression of non-straight sexual or gender behavior. Also, without oppression, we would have no particular reason to band together for strength.
As it turns out, I have intersected this negatively defined area of human behavior at many times and places and in many ways. I was a mamma’s boy, a sissy-boy, but one who accepted his assigned gender designation for most of his life. I’ve searched my soul; my pronouns are he/him. And so believing this as a young man, I determined that I was homosexual. But as a teen, my puberty was delayed and I developed gynecomastia in both breasts. I have had to contend with gender dysphoria throughout my life. I had a badly done bilateral mastectomy as a teen and reconstructive surgery in my late 30’s. I settled into a gay marriage. But in my 70s I had to face the facts, too complex to enumerate here, that I was most probably a member of the transgender community. I am trans.
And while I know some of my older gay male compadres hate the term, because it was used by cisgendered males to shame them in their youth, for me, the term ‘queer’ fits me. It really feels right now at the end of my life. The boys on my block called me “queer” as they bicycled by. In their eyes, I was bent, not straight. And I was bent, not straight. I had a particular bent away from straight. Now, I see it, too. But I see it in a new light. This negatively defined group of human beings, this alternative to rigid sexual and gender roles, this group is queer. We don’t fit the stereotype. But, never mind, everyone must choose how to describe themselves. I also respond to the term “nonbinary,” because, indeed, I do not fit the binary in several ways.
Returning to the topic, what is pride, then? And who will march in a pride parade? It seems clear to me that who will march in the pride parade will be all those human beings who didn’t fit the stereotype. We kept coming out. Drag queens, male and female impersonators, gay men, lesbians, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex, gender fluid, nonbinary, asexual, questioning, and on and on. And, if you’re an ally, I think you should be welcome to march in our pride parade, but please don’t forget that if you can’t find a place for yourself in this really huge group of queer individuals, this parade is not for you, it’s for us. We deserve it, because we deserve to celebrate our queer humanity, and it’s been a very long time coming that we can get away with celebrating it, and some of us, especially those in the trans community, worry that we still can’t celebrate our queer humanity without endangering our lives.
And also, please remember this. If you are not on board with this celebration being a good thing, then please do not shame yourself by marching with us. If you are not ready to make a public statement that gay pride, lesbian pride, transgendered pride, queer pride is a good thing, please have the decency to stay home. Let us have our celebration in peace.
And, by the way, if you happen to be a member of a group or occupation that is well known to have harrassed queer people, arrested queer people, killed queer people on a more or less steady and regular basis over the decades, well then please have the decency to make a public statement that you are ashamed of that wicked behavior, and that you, yourself, will never engage in such harrassment or vilification, even in the presence of strong peer pressure to do so. You will have the same courage that it took for us to build from the closet to this current magnificent display of courage, and you will come out to your friends and workmates as an ally or as one of us. Not just on the day of the parade, but all through the year.
Anyway, it’s our parade. You know who you are.