BY BILL WILSON
Bill Wilson Copyright © 2009
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall “Riots”, “rebellion” “uprising” or “revolution.” The myriad of words used to describe the events of those June nights of 1969 are proof that history is written by the survivors and as time goes on we need to listen to those writers of history who actually experienced it. This volume edited by Tommi Avicolli Mecca provides fascinating glimpses of what the subtitle calls “The Early Years of Gay Liberation.”
Some of the authors of these essays will be part of the lead contingent in this year’s San Francisco GLBT Pride Parade on Sunday June 28.
Suddenly the lights in the USC meeting room came on. The screen went blank. From different directions, GLF activists strode up to the microphone at the unattended podium. “This isn’t treatment, it’s torture,” said one, “and it has to stop!” Another denounced the folly of trying to “cure’ people who weren’t sick. Being gay is not a mental illness, he proclaimed. Fearing and loathing of gay people is. My friends and I cheered and applauded. Several others, not all of them GLFers, joined in.
When I arrived home on the afternoon of the zap, I immediately encountered my Mother. (She was hard to miss in our three room place.) Impulsively, I decided to tell her what I’d been up to recently (leaving out the part about the LSD). Mom was into liberation struggles. By the time she was 18, she’d already been a street fighting, card carrying Communist revolutionary for years. The only behaviors that she, a devout atheist, recognized as sins were the greed and avarice of “the bosses.” Although her own political fire had been doused by McCarthyism and she had been reduced to expressing her views by yelling invectives at the TV nightly news, she had been proud of me (if a little anxious for my safety and future) when I’d demonstrated for civil rights and protested the Vietnam war. Naively I expected a similar reaction to gay liberation.
Instead, she welcomed the news with about as much enthusiasm as she greeted the cockroaches who scurried across the counters of our tiny kitchen. Mom clung to the last refuge of secular humanists who couldn’t let go of the societal prejudice against homosexuality: the conviction that being queer was sick. She was still falling for that lie, but that day a couple of brazen, gutsy, revolutionary queers had convinced me and a roomful of shrinks otherwise. (p188-189)
That day a number of us were dressed in nun’s habits, fishnet tights, and high heels and carried large cucumbers – the English variety! This was way before anyone conceived of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and we were doing this in a sincere attempt to mock the church and the establishment. In that regard, we succeeded wonderfully, as we were all arrested and thrown into Hyde Park jail. That didn’t last long as several of us had concealed joints in our tights and we became so rowdy and unruly that the cops let us out. We were charged, however. With that wonderful catch-all British law “behavior that is liable to cause a breach of the peace,” which we couldn’t argue with, since that is what we were trying to do. (p.169)
About 12:30, one dyke shimmied up a lamp post in front of the theater and started yelling. All the cops rushed over to get her down and five dyketactians walked right inside the theater doors. As planned, we dispersed inside the theater, headed for the screen, the projection booth and the bathrooms. Outside, a dyketactian who taught dirty street fighting at the Free Women’s School was clubbed by a cop. She kicked him in the balls. As other police came to arrest her, about fifty supporters locked arms and encircled her. These included women who the night before had said they could not risk arrest. Police backed off and no one was busted. (p141-142.)
I was part of the first generation to have more positive images of lesbians than negative ones. This made my experience, for all its difficulties, infinitely easier than that of any previous lesbian generation. As opposed to a genealogical generation, a lesbian generation, in that time of ferment, was about three years. That is, the dykes I knew who were three to five years older than I was had come out only after they had first gotten suicidal or electroshocked or married, while I worried whether I was lesbian “enough.” I was 22 and locked in a death-struggle with my first woman lover over what we variously termed “commitment”(her) or “aping heterosexual relationships” (me), my 18 year old friend Sara shrugged and announced breezily, “oh, monogamy, that’s silly!” and bounced out of the room.” (p.70)
We were hot and rude, joyous and angry, utopian and opinionated. “Nuanced” wasn’t part of our vocabulary. Question authority? We didn’t even recognize it! (p.93)
GLFers were young, hot headed, sure of our own opinions. We quarreled with each other and dissolved into splinter groups: Radicalesbians, Red Butterfly, Third World Gay Revolution, the Effeminists, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, the Gay Activists Alliance. Utopian quests are always short lived. But if we hadn’t exploded into existence, gays would still be pleading politely for acceptance, and the world would still be deaf to their pleas. (p.96)
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Bill Wilson is a veteran freelance photographer whose work is published by San Francisco and Bay Area media. Bill embraced photography at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR). Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past five years. Email Bill Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.