While I like public declarations of love, the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage left me a bit sad, and while waiting to let the feelings come and begin to articulate themselves I thought to write out my own public declaration of love; a love for certain times, a love of many people and for a way of thinking and acting that is increasingly vanishing. In order to trace such a line of inquiry I have to visit times that were before my own, but of which I consider myself a son and heir.
I consider myself a son of the 1960s, of its struggles histories and myth. My earliest memories contain vestiges of its turmoil. By the late 60’s I had entered first grade. The anti war movement, Civil Rights, Black Power and Feminism were daily topics on a national scale and everyday topics in the streets and homes, but as the people participating in some of these movements of social protest still believed they could change the world, our government’s leaders were waging a war to keep that from happening.
It is the marginalized that have the most to lose in such times, so when we have the margins of the marginalized rise up, it is often a thing to behold. Prior to the Stonewall Riots, what were called Homophile Societies lobbied for the acceptance of gays into mainstream America with a philosophy with a doctrine that “We are just like you”, and that if heterosexual society could see this we all could live happily ever after, meaning ENTER society, not CHANGE it. These Homophile societies were made up of largely white, middle class men.
Well it was Black and Puerto Rican drag queens and trans identified youths who were the ones at Stonewall to throw rocks and bottles at the cops for days, NOT an activity that displays a similarity to mainstream, white culture, and it was they who had the courage to finally stand up to the daily, blatant harassment and racism, and homophobia in that watershed event which is now considered the birth of modern Gay Rights.
Footage of 1972’s Gay Pride shows white, gay hippie men sitting around on the grass while one of the brave fighters from Stonewall was heckled and ridiculed. It was heartbreaking to see this footage when I did some 30 years later, and I thought, “ Here it is, the beginning of the end.
Shortly after Stonewall, two groups emerged as the dominant forces in early activist forces. One was the Gay liberation Front, and the other the Gay Activist Alliance. While the former sought cross-cultural ties with other minority group’s activists, seeking to CHANGE society, the Latter concerned itself with exclusively gay rights, as a way of ENTERING society. Throughout the early 70s those who sought out revolutionary change were violently crushed by our dear, great Democracy, however revolutionary thought was still carried out in the universities and in academia, growing into what would become great theoretical lines of thought in Feminism, in Multiculturalism, in Sexuality and the human body as they all relate to freedom.
Gay culture flourished in several different directions and gay ghettos cropped up in every big city across the continent, providing an open, social nurturing of gay people who may not have had this in smaller towns or cities. Infrastructures for public sex became established both in the private and public sectors in bathhouses, cinemas, parks and bathrooms. I have always thought even before Samuel Delaney could so eloquently put it in words, that in the world of public sex cross class contact happens more than almost anywhere else, and I believe cross class contact is very important in our country, so that people from different social strata can not only meet with intimacy, but sustain real relationships that can last years.
Flash forward to the early 1980s. AIDS and Post Punk. I was just entering my public life as a gay person, in my early 20s and people were dying like flies. It gave this country, the Government, the Churches, and the people to show just how homophobic they were. It felt like war, and it had its joys and its rage. The culture of Post Punk was utopian; it carried the revolutionary torch of the 60s and early 70s, and framed my coming of age. It also was not afraid of, or intimidated by Academia, or High Art, though its own aesthetics were low and abject. I remember going to clubs and talking over the loud music about essays like, Is the Rectum a Grave, or quoting essays that said things like, “it is our promiscuity that will save us” We were reading French Post Structuralism NOT to become snobs in our 20s, but to arm ourselves with whatever we could in a fight where the gay male body was seen by the larger culture as the home of death and disease.
With this association of the Gay Male as the home of death and disease, Gay Rights took a turn for the worse; it had returned to a discourse that echoed the Homophile Societies of the early 1960s, which was, “we are just like you”. In the mid 80s to mid 90s I saw a breach in gay culture that could really be broken down to Assimilation or Revolution. When I speak of Revolution it must not be pin-pointed to some ideology, or even violence. My own revolution has been a subjective one. I have become radicalized because of what I have experienced, because of what I have learned of life, because of the art I have seen, the music I have listened to and the books I have read, but above all because I despise hierarchies and power, I love human beings, and I am horrified by suffering and injustice.
Which brings me back to the first part of the day today when I read the Justices decision. I do not begrudge those who wish to be married, who are married, who enjoy love, But the White House, which I believe only houses sociopaths, as I think any head of state must be, lit in rainbow colors, and my bewilderment at what once began as a riot by black and Puerto Rican trans folk, in a time when people believed in revolution, culminating in THIS? I spent the morning feeling as if it was the death of an era.
To get back to the public declaration of Love. To paraphrase the late, great film maker Chris Marker, “to say I loved that time is to say I loved it unconditionally”
I woke up this morning and felt I have outlived my life yet again.
The pictures are of the demolished Trans Bay Terminal, where I had relationships with several young men of the course of several years.