Saturday, October 24, 2015
Revolting? You Bet We Were
Grainy photographs, pictures of neatly dressed, stone-faced people, walking, signs in hand. Making history. I'm reading a great book right now, kids, and I think you should, too.
Lillian Faderman's The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle synthesizes an overwhelming amount of information - people, places, movements, organizations, events - in a way that creates a kind of history-tapestry. Starting early in the twentieth century and moving steadily and majestically forward, Faderman weaves an interlocking, slowly unfolding tale of how tiny and seemingly unrelated incremental changes can - in ways that leave even those most intimately involved utterly unprepared - lead to socio-political avalanches.
If anything - and I'm only halfway or so through the book, an intimidating tome even in digital form - I almost wish Faderman had gone for two volumes. There is a tidy symmetry to the story as far as I've gone, from the dark ages - and just how dark they were she makes painfully clear - to the amazing times in the mid-70s when the newly organized, energized gay and lesbian movement reached national (and global) prominence, got the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of recognized disorders, and when queer culture began to enter the maintream in ways that were truly revolutionary.
I'm looking forward to the rest - a time when my own memories become first-hand - but so soon after all those early high points, from the first marches on Washington to the pieing of the lamentable Miss Anita Bryant - things take such a turn for the tragic. Now that we've, to the extent that we have, weathered the storm of the epidemic, it only becomes clearer and clearer what a horrifying and transformative thing it was, and how much the same social and political forces that carried this new community from high to high from 1969 through the early '80s suddenly turned on us, leading to Reagan in the White House and worse. Of course, there is still, I'm sure, ample room for inspiration and even, with the most recent advances, good news on many fronts. But the shadows linger, and will for a very long time.
I think that's why I'm so fascinated with the tales and images of those early days, those so-calculatingly respectable marchers down at Independence Hall, before them the furtive snaps of bars and shadow lovers, after them the defiant queens of Christopher Street and swelling marches up Fifth Avenue: a world of possibilities exploding into new realities.
All I can say is this: get the book, and read all about it.
The title of this post, of course, comes from a Stonewall-era flyer, one with a screaming headline that read "Do You Think Homosexuals Are Revolting? You Bet Your Sweet Ass We Are!"