Wednesday, June 26, 2019

What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Solidarity?

I'm going to be upfront with you: If I were you, I wouldn't believe a word of what I'm about to tell you.

Just as I don't believe "persecuted" white Christians who claim people have run up to them outside their churches and spat in their faces screaming, "GOD IS DEAD!"...

And just as I didn't believe that men in ski masks recognized and ran up to Jussie Smollett in Chicago and screamed, "THIS IS MAGA COUNTRY" while assaulting him and putting a noose around his neck. Exactly like the noose Jussie had recently featured in a music video.

There's a reason why people use the "smell test" -- it almost always works.

But what I'm about to describe is exactly what happened Friday night in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, a block from where I've lived for more than two decades and have never had a single problem.

My boyfriend, Damian, and I had just finished dinner at Elmo with our friends Greg and Chad when we exited onto Seventh Avenue. Elmo is one of the last true gay bastions of what was once the epicenter of gay life in New York City, which still has a high gay population even if its restaurants and bars have become more gentrified.

After crossing the street to pick up a few things at Duane Reade, Damian and I found ourselves back on the northwest corner of 19th and Seventh, where we quickly became aware of someone across the street screaming into his cellphone in the distance.

"I've got an issue!" the young man yelled. (Damian and I often joke about how phone calls seem to be almost exclusively reserved for shouting matches anymore, so this didn't strike us as anything unusual.)

"I've got an issue and you wouldn't even got off the train!" he continued.

At this point he was walking west on 19th Street and I crossed going south on Seventh and thought I'd never hear/see this person again.

But the next thing I knew, he was standing to my left screaming: "White people keep taking our shit!"

I'm confused -- is he still on the phone or is this person talking to me? I assume the latter and keep walking with heavy shopping bags in my hands, suddenly realizing Damian isn't standing to my side.

"I'm sick of it!" he screams, now clearly addressing me. "Pride is for blacks and Puerto Ricans!"

Having been followed home from school and taunted as a child, I immediately revert to my standard reaction. Do not engage.

"We're out here fighting for your rights!" he yells.

"And we never get any acknowledgment!"

This all takes place between the corner of 19th and 18th, so I'm getting close to turning at which point his frustration elevates.

Exhausted from shrieking and (I suppose) my not reacting, he finally screams directly in my face: "Are you even gay????" (So clearly he was not a reader of my blog ... which explains why he didn’t kill me!)

I turned right onto 18th Street and Damian is now by my side. (My new "friend" does not follow, but we can hear him continue to scream like a lunatic.) We both immediately look for the hidden cameras -- there's no way that just happened, we think, and no one will believe us if we tell them it did -- then Damian gets more serious saying he started to get fearful for me. "I stayed a pace back because I wanted to keep an eye on you. I wasn't sure what he might do next -- I thought I might have to intervene."

I assured him I was fine -- I never actually felt like I was in any kind of physical danger despite the unprovoked verbal assault. But the truth is I was quite fearful -- fearful that the next generation of queer brothers and sisters has been worked up into a lather by a disinformation campaign started from within that is now pitting us against one another. What had possibly happened leading up to that moment to make this guy so enraged and so angry that he thought screaming at a middle-aged stranger on the street could be in any way productive? Had he been drinking? Perhaps, although his words were as clear as his point was not. (I’m fairly certain Pride is for blacks and Puerto Ricans ... and everyone else.)


Top: Rafael and Kenneth  (a passerby called us "rugby boys in love")
Bottom: With Rafael and our friends Fred and Pedro at pre-march breakfast. I told the waitress I wanted sourdough toast to which she replied: "White, wheat or rye, honey? This ain't California." 

I spent much of the past few years looking forward to the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. If you had told me at Stonewall 25 that gay people could marry, openly serve in the military and legitimately run for president a quarter century later, I'd have laughed -- or maybe started crying -- in your face. But Stonewall 50 took on even more meaning after the 2016 elections, now that it is happening against the backdrop of one of the darkest times in our country's history, where our hard-earned gains are literally being stripped from us on a regular basis. (Clarence Thomas hinted that even marriage equality is on the table, and I believe it.) I was sure we would unite for this special occasion on a level that was deeper than ever before.

In case you couldn't tell it was 1994: Pleated shorts and Timberlands

Instead, it seems many have decided to use this moment as a way to flaunt how intellectually superior they believe they are. If they're not constantly letting it be known that they're not "falling" for the official Pride events -- because being shunned by corporations is apparently more desirable than being courted and acknowledged by them -- then they are waving their woke flags to let us know that they believe everything we thought we knew about the LGBTQ rights movement is tainted.

Everybody loves a parade

I was not at Stonewall. And because of the AIDS epidemic that followed, very few people who were there are with us now.

But from historian and activist Martin Duberman's definitive "Stonewall" book -- where I first learned about Sylvia Rivera -- to contemporaneous news photos and articles from The Daily News, New York Times, Village Voice and Newsweek, there is nothing but a consistent story of a diverse group of LGBTQ people, one that was reflective of the city's demographics at the time.

As an historian friend of mine recently told me: "The Daily News was the rightwing paper in the city at the time of the Stonewall riots. And you'd better believe that if the majority of the people involved had been minorities, drag queens or gender nonconforming, the paper would have made that the focal point of the story."

This is not a gotcha. I'm just not really sure why the post-AIDS crisis generation thinks it's an affront to acknowledge that it was a brilliant joint effort of many diverse people that led the LGBTQ movement to where it is today. (Even if the photos and historians are somehow wrong and the Stonewall uprising consisted primarily of minorities and transgender people, there’s still no denying the contributing efforts of Henry Gerber, Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, Dick Leitsch and the countless members of the pre-Stonewall Society for Human Rights and Mattachine Society.) Yet it seems that somewhere along the way shining a light on some underappreciated heroes turned into rewriting history. (The youngsters started it, and now the wokest of the cis white men have run with it.) But even well-intentioned overcorrecting can have unintended consequences. People who have misconstrued recent emphasis on certain figures have done such a good job of instilling fear in people that even Barnard College professor Jennifer Finney Boyland felt the need to include a Stonewall anecdote about Marsha P. Johnson -- that even Marsha says isn't true -- in one of her recent New York Times columns. (I'll bet David France -- who made a film about Johnson starring a trans woman of color -- can tell you why Boyland did it.)

So it's not a huge leap to think it's what made that young man go off on me for no reason, and what has made countless other young activists unnecessarily aggrieved. (I’ve now lived in gay ghettos for three decades and the only time I’ve ever been harassed is by a gay guy.) Why are we doing this to ourselves? I'm almost beginning to think young queers are somehow envious that the older set had life-and-death issues to fight for -- and it's really starting to piss me off. (If you're taking offense to any of this, might I suggest you read "The Older Generation to Young Gay Men: Why the Fuck Are You Complaining" by Katie Herzog or watch Episode 4 of the "Tales of the City" reboot.) While what happened Friday night isn't much in the big scheme of things, it certainly seems to be reflective of what's going on throughout the LGBTQ community. (Just spend five minutes on social media.) Of course it's important to raise new perspectives. But they should not be capricious and at the expense of what we've achieved. Despite what you may have heard, we’re still in this fight together.


Written by Newsweek’s Dan Avery after reading my post.