As with any naive young queer, my coming out (circa 1982) was Year Zero: Nothing important came before. It's an arrogant if understandable reaction, as history (both our own personal slices and the broader saga) has been, in the main, too painful, and so queers have a tendency of springing from the closet like Athena from Zeus' skull: fully formed and autonomous. Ah, but I soon learned that Pride goeth before the pride.
My "official" coming out was at Portland's Gay Pride event, where I inadvertently followed Noel Coward's dictum about TV: "One does not watch television, one appears on it." My poor parents learned of this news courtesy of KATU, where I was fleetingly glimpsed brandishing a sign that shouted "Out and About." I remember having some vague idea that Gay Pride honored some signal event in Queerdom, and it's possible I even heard the word "Stonewall." But unfortunately it meant nothing to me.
The Stonewall riots erupted in Greenwich Village early on June 28, 1969, when a gang of cops chose to raid a gay bar, something they had enjoyed doing with impunity for centuries. But on this particularly hot, humid night, the pigs picked on the wrong queens. That day Judy Garland, Our Lady of the Ruby Slippers (who'd died the previous weekend), had been laid to rest, and the gay community was in shock. The riot began when a transvestite hurled her cocktail into the face of an arresting officer, shouting, "That's for Judy." The next instant the streets of Greenwich Village were on fire and the cops got a needed trouncing. Gay Liberation was born.
It's fitting that here in Portland, Holocene will be hosting a massive event to commemorate the 36th anniversary of the riots, with participation from everyone from City Commissioner Sam Adams to WW's own Byron Beck. The event will be both a nod to the past and a push to the future-something I wish had been available to me.
I finally learned the history of Stonewall in 1983 when I was cast in Doric Wilson's play on the riot, Street Theater, in the plum role of Ceil, the drag queen. Previously, I had been contemptuous of transvestites, but I learned (particularly when I took to the street in costume) just how ballsy boys in skirts are, and these Stonewall warriors remain my heroes.
Heroes, of course, are still needed before we can truly claim to be liberated-especially with a resurgence of simple-minded evangelicals marching as to war. At the end of Street Theater, Sidney, the play's "closet case," throws fears aside and joins the rioters. "You faggots are revolting," a cop yells at him. "Yes," says Sidney, "we are."
Yes, and we still need to be.
Stonewall: A Benefit for Basic Rights Oregon and the Ame Scholarship Fund
Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., 239-7639. 7 pm Tuesday, June 28. $5-$10. 21+.