Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Tale of Pride

Let me tell you a story...

            A story of revolution and change, of the hope that sprung from a movement.
             It was a long time ago, and the world was a tumultuous place to live in.  A war had just been fought.  A war had just been won, and the people were nervous.  Nervous that evil would infiltrate their world once more.  Difference was the oppression that breathed life into the monster that had wrecked havoc on them for far too long, and all the countryside was united in stilling the beast’s slashing claws.  
            Men laid down the weapons which had been used to slay so many others.  They went to work in factories and office buildings, reestablishing the world they left behind—a world they barely recognized anymore.  Meanwhile, the women who had labored here on the home front fell back behind the walls of their homes.  Their calloused hands grew soft and wrinkled in pools of dishwater while they grew round with child, immersing themselves in the delusional fairytale that this is the magic that would keep the draconian monster of change at bay.  Fear grew into paranoia, as it so often does, and soon a proverbial witch hunt ensued for anyone or any ideal that promoted difference.

            But evil still existed, and over time new monsters arose. 

A new war was brewing in a land far different from our own, and people were frightened it would slip us over the precipice from which we were still recovering.  People rallied to keep others from dying meaningless deaths, while others rushed to the frontlines.  Meanwhile, Jim Crowe worked at oppressing anyone with a darker flesh tone, re-enslaving an already freed people, and a man named McCarthy strived tirelessly to further his own name and end anything he viewed as a threat to our “traditional way of life.”

But people were growing tired, tired of being scared, and so tensions began to rise.

            Men and women soon began to stand against the challenges society imposed on them.  Writers took up their pens.  Painters went to their easels.  A King arose.  They killed him.  A woman of color dared to keep her seat while a white man demanded it for his own ass.  They jailed her, for as much being a woman as the color of her skin.  Injustices were answered with riots, people taking to the street in force to demand a change…a whole-hearted change.  Their pleas were answered with a fire hose of force until the stinging blanch of water washed away their tears, replacing it with something far more powerful—righteous anger. 

These were a scarred peopled.  A people engaged in civil war, though nobody would yet admit it.  Those wounds were still too fresh in their minds.

And in the midst of it all there stood a people—men and women who fit just outside of the social parameters.  Even those of color already fighting one social movement were cast to the waysides of their own culture.  These were a people who didn’t fit the heteronormative role McCarthy had long-since laid out before them.  These were men who challenged the goals of masculinity, kissing other men or wearing dresses.  They were women who kept their hair short, and didn’t feel rushed to marry or start a family as their mothers had done.  This was a people who dared to be free. 

And suddenly they were under society’s microscope—deviants who posed a very real danger to the cultural fabric we had tried so hard to stitch.    

But these people had a fabric of their own.  It wasn’t a perfect quilt by any means.  The pink and blue checkered cloth was frayed and worn, the stitching uneven in some places as if someone had gotten discouraged with the needle.  Blood stains smeared parts of the tapestry like tiny red tear drops, some so faint you barely noticed, and entire sections were simply gone, as if they hadn’t existed in the first place.  But it was theirs—the culminations of all their lives and fears and freedoms—and they would protect it whatever the cost.   

            In that day, the authorities were called Lilly Law, and she made it impossible for this subclass of humans to live.  Some tried to blend in, marrying and starting the families they’d been indoctrinated to believe they needed…and a spiral of denial and depression began.  Others remained outside the spectrum, ostracized and ridiculed and alienated from the rest of us.  Even among this oppressed group of outcasts, people were set aside whenever they called too much attention to the cause.  Who could blame them?  They were scared and alone.  Wherever they gathered, Lilly was there to shut them out.  Their faces were posted on street corners, on the nightly news, exposed as the “deviants” they were.  Entire families turned their backs on people who had been their brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, and soon they were casting children into the clutches of the night.

Our future.

This ragtag group of youngsters gathered in local parks, scared and homeless and hungry, accepting love in whatever form they found it.  Even here they were prosecuted—thrown out or jailed or worse—but at least they were together.

            By the time the Stonewall opened its doors, this motley crew of kids were ready for its embrace. 

Stonewall wasn’t the safe haven they wanted by any means.  Everyone knew Lilly Law was lining her pockets from the mobsters who worked to keep the place open.  It was a dingy, dark hole in the wall that rarely had running water or proper plumbing, where the drinks came from the discarded cocktails of other more culturally appropriate establishments.  But it was warm inside, where people hugged and kissed and fucked without discrimination.  Where a man could beat his face with powdered makeup or a woman in jeans wasn’t judged by her hair. It was the fortress these youths had been searching for their entire lives.  At long last they had found their home. 

            Everything changed, however, on a sultry summer night in June.

            It was a night much like any night at the Stonewall.  A bouncer waited at the front door, a crowd of dancing, writhing bodies behind him as he peered through a peephole.  Identification was a password that changed regularly, or by appearance.  Patrons were judged by whether or not they looked queer enough, and sometimes they even allowed trannies in to the mix.  Precautions were set in place in case Lilly Law made her appearance.  At the bouncer’s signal, the lights turned up, all dancing stopped, and everyone assumed a more business-like evening out until the coast was cleared.  On those nights when Lilly was particularly thirsty, stores of extra swill waited in hidden compartments behind the bar. 

Lilly came, she saw, she took...and then she left. 

But that night, something was different.  The bouncer missed something at the door.  The lights were never turned up.  Lilly Law was in their midst, and nobody knew until they heard her booming voice:

“We’re takin’ the place!”

            Everything happened at once.  Light blazed to life around them as people scurried for the windows and open door like ants scattering to escape the pinpoint of light suddenly fixed on them.  But Lilly had her ways, and the Stonewall was surrounded.  Some were allowed to go.  Others were gathered like farm animals so women could inspect their genitals.  Those who weren’t what they appeared to be were arrested, as were a number of people who refused to identify themselves.  Lilly called these fighters names like “Sissy” and “Faggot” and “Dyke”, while those who were released were set back out into the night where they were instructed to go home, that there was nothing to see here.

            But these people had no homes, and this was definitely…something.

            For the first time “sissies” butched up.  Dykes fought back.  And trannies refused to be gawked at like animals in some other person’s circus.

            Meanwhile, the air outside grew electric with excitement.  Crowds had gathered, drawn by the whir of lights from the raid as much as the people who refused to leave.  Some hurled insults back and forth with Lilly and her brood, but for the most part everything was silent.  Even Lilly Law with her cloak of cash was beginning to look uneasy.  People were refusing to leave the Stonewall, and there had been problems with the wagons.  In the streets the crowds continued to swell—outcast upon outcast—justice gathered in mass. 

Lilly was outnumbered.

Nobody knows how it began exactly—a mix of persecution and solitude, centuries of societal oppression…of anger—but the thunderhead finally erupted.

            A mob charged Lilly Law, pelting her with stones, upturning cars, starting fires—but for once the fire hoses that had sent them running before were out of pressure, and Lilly was forced back into the Stonewall where she quickly barred the doors. 

But this wasn’t her fortress. 

The Stonewall was theirs—the outcasts who had for so long been cast aside by the same people now walling up in their new home.    

            And so they took it back. 

            Using a parking meter as a battering ram, they smashed the doors in, the windows, while the mob raged outside.  They danced in the streets, sang “We Shall Overcome” as they taunted Lilly and her minions.  Lilly fought back, as she was wont to do, but this was not a crowd to be silenced.  Whenever Lilly overtook one of them, the others took him back in a bloody game of cat and mouse.  They had finally had enough, and the sounds of revolt filled the village, and soon the world.   

            For once, they were not exposed that night as deviants. 

            For the first time, they were seen…truly seen as the individuals they were, not as a cultural other.  And they would not be silenced.

            A year later, they organized a march to commemorate that night when everything changed, and that march continues today.  It’s never been easy.  To join the parade, some had to leave everything they knew behind, and there were those who stood in their paths every step of the way.  Still, they were here, and the opposition could no longer ignore them.  No longer would they be put meekly away so their families could turn to them a blind eye.  No more would they watch their lovers die from afar, or be cast out by the country they had fought, bled and died for. 

“We are here!” they cried.  “We love.”

Over the years, some have fallen by the wayside or grown weary from the march, but there are others—countless others who have taken their place, determined to carry the torch of hope.  This march of pride is as much for them as it is for me.  Because of these veterans of the cause, we can love openly.  But we have a long way to go before we reach that fabulous horizon where the rainbow arcs over the silver clouds. 

So let’s make it count.   

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