Friday, 25 September 2015
Martha Shelley deserves our gratitude for a number of things. First, for being one of participants in the Stonewall Rebellion — an historic riot that took place near the Stonewall Inn in 1969 and marked the birth of modern queer liberation. She also holds the distinction of speaking with singular eloquence (in a speech on September 20) on the political situation of gays and lesbians in North America.
Martha is also one of the founders of the GLF (Gay Liberation Front) in the United States. And her recent speech is a welcome reminder that although gay and lesbian marriage is now legal in the United Stages and Canada, the gay liberation movement has fallen far short of its original goals. Original GLF demands included “reproductive rights for women, freedom to get high, and freedom not to have your ass drafted and shipped to Vietnam. Our demands included an end to racist oppression. They included economic justice.” Martha goes on to remind us that although gay and lesbian activists have secured many civil liberties, they have ignored the original GLF demands and substituted assimilationist rhetoric. And, of course (and perhaps, consequently) reproductive rights for women are still under attack, the United States and Canada still engage in imperialistic wars, we have not seen an end to racism, and the distance between rich and poor gets wider every day.
But there’s another very important way in which Martha Shelley reminds us of our true history. In her statement about the Gay Liberation Front she says: “GLF was a coalition of radical gays from those mainstream organizations, gay radicals from socialist organizations, and street queens and dykes who’d never been organized before.”
Notice the absence of the word ‘trans’ — a term often used to describe participants at Stonewall. Instead of ‘trans’ Martha utilizes the term ’street queens.’ That’s because there were no ‘trans people’ at Stonewall. This is because trans did not exist - in the modern sense of the word — back in 1969. ‘Trans’ simply meant a ‘transexual’ — a person who had undergone gender reassignment surgery.
These days trendy queer theorists suggest Oscar Wilde was not gay because ‘Back in the 1800s there was no such thing as gay.’ So why do people talk about ‘trans people’ at Stonewall when no one was using the word ‘trans’ at that time in its modern, more inclusive definition, i.e. meaning ‘transgender’?
Because those who call the heroic, effeminate, flamboyant men who participated in the Stonewall riots ‘trans people’ are trying to erase drag queens from our history.
Drag queens are getting a bad name. Recently I did a lecture at a high school and mentioned that I was a drag queen. One of the teachers said “You’re very brave to say that.” I asked - “Why?” She said: “ We had a meeting about inviting members of the GLT community to our school, and someone mentioned inviting a drag queen, and a gay member of our committee said it would not be a good idea to invite a drag queen, as he and many other members of the community disapprove of them.”
When I tell queer people that I am a drag queen these days, I often get hostility. Not from feminists (which is where the opposition used to originate) but from gay men, and from some people who identify as transgendered.
But our history cannot and should not be erased. Drag queens were an important presence at Stonewall in 1969; and they are still an important part of our community today.
Thankyou, Martha Shelley, for reminding us that we must never be ashamed of our drag queens!
Tuesday, 1 September 2015
I recently worked with a woman who calls herself a feminist. Now I’ve got nothing against feminists (I know…famous last words!). In fact I consider myself to be as much of a ‘feminist’ as a man could be. Anyway, I was talking to her about a newly released movie that I absolutely adore — Fort Tilden.
You really have to see this film. It’s very funny. Fort Tilden is a critique of the younger generation, and as I’m incorrigibly old, I can’t help but love that kind of thing. Anyway, the film follows two young women in their mid-twenties on their way to meet boys at Rockaway Beach. These gals are amazing — selfish, narcissistic, sexually voracious, cruel, and stupid. They commit many crimes blithely, but most memorably they almost run over a child on their bikes, and drown a nest of kittens, without even batting an eye (‘Oh excuse me, sorry I was…um — texting?!)
When I told my new feminist acquaintance that I loved the film, I said “I suppose the film might be considered sexist. But as a gay man, I just identify with those teenage girls, cuz I kinda am one.”
This drew a blank.
“I don’t get it,” she said.
“Well I’m just saying that I don’t identify as a man. I identify as a boy or a girl, but not a man. So I really felt for these women like some gay men do. And so even though the film might be perceived as dismissive of women, I kinda am a girl — even though I know I’m really not — so I don’t think I was watching it through a sexist lens.
Again, that went over like a lead ballon.
After heavy questioning, I figured out she was a feminist essentialist, meaning that she feels (much like cowboys in the wild wild west used to feel) that ‘men are men and women are women’ and never the twain shall meet. So — although I am an effeminate male and a drag queen — because I have a penis I will always just be a good old fashioned, oppressive, sexist male.
People today have forgotten what it means to be gay or lesbian. Being trans means something. Being a woman means something. But being gay or lesbian means…wha? As rising young filmmaker Chelsea McMullan said in The Globe and Mail today “It’s inevitable that diverse voices in age, race and gender be given more space.” Uh, excuse me, but why isn’t sexuality on those trendy diversity lists straight white people love throwing around?.
It’s our fault really. We gays and lesbians have been so excited about assimilation that the myth — ‘we’re all the same’ has replaced the real truth — ‘we’re all fabulous but also fabulously different.’
Sure, gay marriage is here to stay; but that still doesn’t mean straights everywhere understand guys who bend over and take it up the ass.
It used to be that gay men’s special propensity for anal fun gave us a unique understanding of what it means to be differently gendered and what it means to be promiscuous (never mind the gift of knowing what makes camp funny).
Nowadays gay men like to pretend they don’t take it up the ass (“Please,” sniff — “Sex is just not an important part of my life. Love is.’). And most gay men disavow any special knowledge of promiscuity or femininity.
So, even though homophobia is still there, we have no way to talk about the still unique and sometimes difficult experience of being gay.
So obviously there’s no way I can persuade the feminist who challenged me over Fort Tilden.
Sure, I can say anything I want to.
But these days — since since gays and lesbians are officially no longer a persecuted minority— she has absolutely no cause to believe me.