“I’d like to see the gay revolution get started, but there hasn’t been any demonstration or anything recently. You know how the straight people are. When they don’t see any action they think, ‘Well, gays are all forgotten now, they’re worn out, they’re tired.’ … If a transvestite doesn’t say I’m gay and I’m proud and I’m a transvestite, then nobody else is going to hop up there and say I’m gay and I’m proud and I’m a transvestite for them.”
—Marsha P. Johnson
This post was originally written for the June 2019 edition of Tumbleweird. They were kind enough to print it. If you enjoy it, please consider supporting Tumbleweird so they can publish more writing like it in the future.
This June, on the 28th, marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. It has been 50 years since New York City’s finest raided the Stonewall Inn, arresting the occupants and dragging them out of the club to paddy wagons. It has been 50 years since Stormé DeLarverie, a lesbian at the bar, fought back while being dragged out. It has been 50 years since she looked at the crowd and asked “Why don’t you guys do something?” It has been 50 years since the crowd started to throw change and beer bottles, bricks and garbage cans. 50 years since the first trash can lit on fire was thrown through the windows, hoping to smoke out the police inside, hoping to end the siege to free the patrons still inside.
Last year, the New York Police Department marked the occasion by decking out a patrol car in rainbow. Brands paint their logos rainbow, brand it a Pride product, and sell it for profit. Queer people have gone from an unspeakable underbelly of our culture to a marketable demographic. Levi’s has a good track record of supporting queer non-profits with the proceeds of their sales. Look into where your dollars are going when buying queer merch. If it’s hard to find, they’re probably not going where they should. Manchester Pride is scheduled to have Ariana Grande as a headliner, causing ticket prices to skyrocket as straight people treat it as a concert. “Pride is for everyone”, they say.
And a lot of queer people are angry about this. “Stonewall was a riot”, they’ll tell you, hoping we’ll remember the anger, the wrath that seems to have ebbed. The joke is circulated that we should celebrate Pride in June, and Wrath in July, throwing proverbial bricks at those who wrong us, rebelling against the oppression still rampant. The glib and bitter quip that “straight people ignored our invitation to Pride when it was a riot, but seem to have invited themselves now that it’s a party” is passed around. And that anger is understandable. We have been harmed. We have been mistreated. And those that hurt us suffered no repercussions, never had to answer to justice. They just got to skip straight to showing up at our party, claiming to be part of our accomplishments, trumpeting their inclusivity.
But there’s something to be said for a month dedicated to normalising queerness, something to be said for creating a non-alcoholic, incredibly public queer space in cities across the country. There’s value in remembering that we, as a community and as individuals, have won a lot of fights, and to be proud of what we have built for ourselves. Brick by brick, when we had to. It’s a nice time of hope, seeing all the queer kids so much younger than you, doing things you didn’t get to do, knowing that they will never have to face the things you had to face.
I would like to propose that we can have both. That Pride and Wrath are not mutually exclusive sins, and that we can contain multitudes. I would like to propose that a party can be a riot, and a riot can be a party. I’d like to assert that we deserve and have earned both. They say that existence is resistance, and there is a wholesome violence in reveling in and celebrating your continued existence in the face of subtle and explicit efforts to erase it. There is nothing queerer than meeting hostility and oppression with hostility disguised as festivity; just ask the drag queens who formed a kick line in the face of an advancing line of riot police during the Stonewall uprising, forcing them back, one high-kick at a time.
My Pride wish for this year is that we show up and celebrate our triumphs over those who would harm us. And that we do so with a renewed sense of resentment and wrath for those that have and continue to harm us. That we dance in the streets to celebrate the rights we have reclaimed, and we show up in the polls to fight for the rights that elude us to this day. That we exult in the accomplishments of and freedoms afforded to the most privileged among us, while fiercely supporting and fighting for the least privileged among us, those who fought for our community during every part of our history, and who do not deserve to be abandoned or forgotten now.
And for our allies, I have a Pride wish for you, too. I maintain that attending Pride is a wonderful ally activity, provided you treat it like a birthday party or wedding: it’s not about you, and you’re there to celebrate who it is about. But before, during, and after Pride this year, take some time. Notice that up to 40% of unaccompanied homeless youth are queer, and ask yourself what you can do about it. Notice that trans people are being banned from military service. Ask yourself what you can do about it. Notice that though we have equal marriage rights, that doesn’t extend to non-discrimination rights in housing, education, loans, adoption, or other things you take for granted. Ask yourself what you can do about it. You are welcome at our party, but only if you plan on being part of our rebellion, too. 50 years later, I’ll ask Stormé DeLarverie’s question anew:
Why don’t you guys do something?