Gay as a Culture
I’ve written about this before, but I had a compelling experience last weekend, and I want to share.
I performed my reading Aging Gracelessly before a mostly straight audience in Annapolis. While the evening was a success, with lots of laughs and much appreciation, it was very, very different than doing the show with a mostly gay audience here in Rehoboth.
For instance, when I said, “Back in the early ‘80s, when I read up on homosexuality, the news wasn’t so good. I thought I’d have to learn to play softball,” our gay gang laughed like hell.
In Annapolis, the six lesbians and four gay men in the house laughed and snorted, but that was pretty much it. Yes, it’s a cultural thing. Straight folks had no touchstone about lesbians naturally finding each other on softball teams.
At another point, I knew enough to take out the lesbians and the U-Haul joke.
The night brought home to me that gay is a culture all its own, and we may be in danger of losing it. With all of our forward strides in equality and assimilation into the mainstream community at large, I think we have to work hard to keep our culture from disappearing altogether.
Recently there was an online flap about the trailer for the new film Stonewall about the 1969 uprising in Greenwich Village, NYC. I’m glad there are folks still around to take exception to the preview showing predominantly gay white men front and center. In fact, it was transgendered Latinos and black drag queens, along with some butch lesbians front and center as well as the gay white guys. The first ones in the paddy wagon at the start of the riots were the feisty Latino transwomen.
The producers of the film recognized that the trailer upset folks and promised that the film is actually accurate. We shall see.
But in the meantime, does anybody remember the name of one of those heroic drag queens? We should. For the record it was Silvia Rivera, who passed away recently. She was central to the story along with other drag queens as well as many of the middle-class white gay men at the bar.
But the truth is, our gay culture has a lot of pioneering activists and celebrity performers whose names and stories have been central to our history—and whose names today mean nothing to many, many folks in our community. And that’s a shame. I think we owe it to ourselves to pass along gay history and culture to our succeeding generations. After all, unless they are lesbians or gay men, the parents of our younger generations are not going to pass this culture on to their children. It’s got to be our job.
Here’s a test. Billy Joel’s song “We Didn’t Start the Fire”— with new words. How many references do you know?
Harvey Milk, Harry Hay, Laramie, Come Out Day
San Francisco, Bayard Rustin, tiny church named Westboro
Larry Kramer, Phyllis Lyon, Stonewall Inn, brothers dying
Northhampton, Provincetown, Rehomo and men in gowns
HRC, Barney Frank, Rita Mae, we all drank
Liberace, Cleve Jones, pride parades and macho clones
Bar’bra Gittings, silver screen, England’s own Elton queen
Matthew Shepherd, MCC, Ask, Tell and Kameny
Katherine Forrest, Naiad Press, Quentin Crisp was a mess
Truman C, Danny Kaye, yelling “Queer!” is not okay|
They helped to start the fire
The streets were raging
And the world was changing
They helped to start the fire…
How’d you do? Do you know the names Troy Perry or Paul Lynde? How about film director George Cukor? Perry Mason himself, Raymond Burr? A-plus if you do. If not, we need to spread our history around some more. I have a friend who loves classic movies with a gay sensibility or story—such as The Women, All About Eve, The Children’s Hour. He invites gay friends who don’t know the films over for a Gay 101 night. I love the idea.
If I had Lesbian 101 at my house I’d start with The Killing of Sister George, The Fox, Desert Heart, and Tipping the Velvet. That sounds like such fun I think I’ll do it. And while I’m at it I’ll casually ask if anyone knows who Del Martin was, or Mary Martin, for that matter, or if they’d ever heard of the Daughters of Bilitis. Or Mrs. Danvers? How about Katherine Hepburn and her housekeeper or Eleanor Roosevelt and the journalist? Or Agnes Moorehead on Bewitched. Now there’s real culture for you.
We’ll have wine, we’ll discuss women and song and a whole lot more.
Pass it on!
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Frying—a Rehoboth Beach Memoir; Fried & True—Tales from Rehoboth Beach, For Frying Out Loud—Rehoboth Beach Diaries, and her newest book Time Fries—Aging Gracelessly in Rehoboth Beach.