Tuesday, June 28, 2016

And The Band Played On And On: Getting Past The Stonewall Era

I believe it was 47 years ago tonight that the storied Stonewall rebellion started against a police raid on a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York City.  Though lots of people believe it is the beginning of the LGBT rights movement, there were efforts before that, though it helped to mobilize people in various cities to more organized and, over the next forty years gradually effective demands for, first, the decriminalization of consenting sexual behavior between adults and the decriminalization of gatherings of LGBT people.   Second for equal rights of LGBT people.  But even that movement didn't spring fully developed, a lot of the early post-Stonewall organizing was plagued by sexism, racism, mutual dislike and distrust among the various groups included in the acronym and disagreements about tactics and goals.  And, to some extent, some of those problems remain though, especially in the past decade, things have improved for all of the groups, transgender people have experienced a slower change than gay men and Lesbians certainly still face the resurgent sexism of the general culture.

I have long been rather ambivalent over the Stonewall narrative and much of the subsequent identification of gay identity with sexual promiscuity, alcohol and drugs and other encouragements to self destruction.   Those are rather too well symbolized by a pick-up bar as a substitute for some kind of better life.  I remember going to so many meetings, participating in so many discussions about facing the problems of alcoholism and other addiction, STDs, people being raped or beaten up or robbed by people they'd picked up at a bar or cruising spot, sometimes killed.  Eventually, of course, the flamboyant flowering of gay sex in the 1970s, the shift in sexual practice to make anal sex the definition of "real gay sex" turned into the AIDs epidemic of the 1980s and after with many of those who had participated in that normalized. legalized demimondaine atmosphere dying of the resultant infections that were an inevitable result of it.  And, with somewhat effective treatment to diminish viral loads and some of the worst of the symptoms, the return to the hook-up pattern that enabled and still does enable a horrifically high transmission rate of the HIV virus and other viruses, some of them almost as uniformly deadly as HIV.   Of course, for those who die of them, often painfully and with promise and hope as shattered as the lives that led to it, it is exactly as fatal as AIDS was before the first effective treatment was found.  So, still, is AIDs in numbers that would shock those who aren't witness to it.

But, I've been through that here a number of times.

When I look at the particulars of the Stonewall rebellion I see a mix of things, good, not so good and some tragic.  As this month has involved thinking a lot about Walter Brueggemann's warnings about the dangers of both forgetting and of romaticized nostalgia, I think it would be immoral to not talk about both aspects of that iconic event and the ongoing tragedy that the lives of LGBT people are blighted by the lingering aspects of our past and present discrimination against by the wider society.  The reason that, LGBT life was so associated with pick-up bars and illicit cruise spots is that we were prevented from having committed marriages, marriages equal to traditional marriage in both the eyes of society and, vastly more important to our equality and dignity, ourselves.  The bar wasn't a symbol of liberation and equality, it was a symbol and an actual settling for far less than equality with a DIGNIFIED, SUSTAINABLE AND MUTUALLY SUPPORTIVE LIFE.  For many, perhaps most LGBT people, that still eludes us, partly thorough lingering discrimination, partly through us buying into the very legend and habits derived from past discrimination and partly through the general deterioration of human relationships and marriages that plague different-sex marriages in the corporatized, televised, dominant culture.

The ideal to be agitated and struggled for and to be achieved isn't the right to get drunk and pick up strangers without the cops being involved, it is for that dignified, sustainable and mutually supported life for everyone.  And that isn't specifically an LGBT issue, it is an issue in the entire population. The extent to which that is denied to everyone is the extent to which LGBT people will not have what we deserve.  I doubt you're going to see much about that or for that in your typical pride parade, Parades are cheap and meaningless compared to what needs to be done, parades are a lot less work and easier to fob off on people as a goal and a substitute for real progress.  We don't need symbols, we need realities made real in the real lives of everybody.

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