You guys, I’m having all kinds of feelings right now. Feelings about history and community and heritage. I got all Public Broadcast-y the other day and watched the new American Experience documentary Stonewall Uprising (thanks, free PBS streaming video). It tells the story of the 1969 Stonewall Riots – otherwise known as the Birth of the Gay Rights Movement and Also Pride Month (Gay Christmas) – through pictures, video, newspaper clippings, and interviews with real, still-alive Stonewall veterans. Oh, and it has a bunch of clips from old PSAs about The Evil Homosexual Menace to laugh at/be horrified by. It’s basically really friggin’ awesome and you should watch it.
After watching Stonewall Uprising, I got to thinking (as I sometimes do when there are no good Millionaire Matchmaker reruns on) about how damn lucky I am. I know it doesn’t seem like it sometimes, what with all the gay marriage bans and bullying and conservative idiots screaming on TV about our Agenda, but right now is the best time ever to be gay in America. The fact that I can kiss my girlfriend in public and go to a dyke club and wear mens’ clothing and NOT GET ARRESTED makes right now a million times better than any time before – or even right after – Stonewall.
Whenever I see an older lesbian, especially an older butch, I always have this overwhelming urge to run up to her and be like: “WHAT WAS IT LIKE AND HOW DID YOU SURVIVE AND WOULD YOU LIKE TO COME TO MY APARTMENT FOR DINNER; I CAN COOK MAC ‘N CHEESE?” (Note: I have yet to actually do this. Yet.) For example, I was in the grocery store a couple of weekends ago and crossed paths with a late middle-aged butch-femme couple. I immediately forgot about whatever foodstuffs I was planning to purchase and stared at them. Just stared, like a total Grade A creeper. I wanted them to look at me so badly, to see me as a fellow queer and a butch and, maybe, as family. But they didn’t. The femme glanced in my direction, but didn’t see me – or at least didn’t acknowledge that she did – and the butch didn’t look at all. They left the store soon after and I just half-heartedly poked at some loaves of bread for a while before leaving. I felt weirdly and acutely rejected by the entire interaction (or lack thereof). If they, the wise elders of the tribe, didn’t immediately recognize me as one of their own, did this mean I was somehow lacking?
All this has made me realize that I, age the tender age of 26-and-a-half, need a butch mentor. A diesel dyke Big Sister. A lesbian sensei, if you will. A part of me longs for the bar culture that you read about in books like Stone Butch Blues, where the old butches would take a newly-hatched babybutch under their world-weary wings and teach her everything they knew about being butch, dating femmes, and surviving the hetero world. Nobody ever taught me how to be butch. There was no one around to ask the thousands of questions I had about clothes and swagger and cologne and clubs and sex and coming out and being out and living. I still have a lot of questions.
I wish there had been a butch mentor around to help me buy my first tie (which was ugly), or deal with my first breakup (which was uglier). I wish there were a butch mentor here now, to tell me if I’m being a whiny little jerk as I write this.
Maybe I’m living in the wrong place (which is doubtful, as Boston is über gay), but I see almost zero interaction between young homos and the Stonewall era generation. Maybe the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts has sent all the older dykes off to the suburbs to raise their 2.3 children and their golden retrievers. Maybe they have no interest in singing karaoke with a bunch of drunken 20-somethings (but we’re fun!) in a tiny club on a Thursday night. Or maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places.
Beyond my own selfish intentions, I think this lack of interaction is something we should all be concerned about. I wonder how many babygays today even know what Stonewall was, and why it’s so important to our collective queer history? The thought that these memories, these flashpoints in the Gay Rights Movement, are not being passed onto the next generation is sort of frightening to me. If we don’t know where we’ve been, how will we know where to go next?