Passing the Pride Along
It’s Pride season, although I am proud to live in a place where we celebrate all year long. But recently there’s been a lot of talk about our gay culture and whether we might lose it by gaining our rights and disappearing into the swiftly moving mainstream.
Judy Garland, Walt Whitman, Billie Jean King, Rubyfruit Jungle, Drag Kings, Harvey Milk, P-Town. Our history, our heroes, our catch-phrases, our culture.
We have a long past featuring a common sensibility born from our outlaw days as a secret society. We managed to survive and even thrive while much of society despised us. We have our jokes, etiquette, magazines, and buzz words.
But I worry. How does this culture survive and get handed down?
In most cultures, passing along the history and sensibility is the job of the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. My Jewish family taught me my culture. From as far back as I could remember there was chopped liver, matzo ball soup, and hand-wringing guilt; Grandma Rose taught me to make blintzes, Uncle Abe couldn’t stop telling Henny Youngman jokes, and of course we learned our social history (“Never again!”).
By the time I was ten, I was thoroughly steeped in our Jewish ethos. It was our culture to learn and to savor, handed down at the dinner table.
Which begs the question, how the heck are we going to make sure our gay culture gets passed down through generations if our alphabet generations do not, for the most part, come from LGBT parents?
Wake up, people, it’s our job! Yes, each of us. We’ve each got to be a storehouse, a library, an oral history of LGBT knowledge, trivia, and even jokes.
How many lesbians does it take to change a lightbulb? One to change the bulb and five more to sit around and process. (Rim shot sound effect.)
We need to go back and embrace our early years. Let’s hear it for The Mattachine Society, Harry Hay, and Leonard Matlovich. Don’t know about them? Find out!
Let’s talk about lesbian separatists, like the Gutter Dykes in Berkeley, and Radicalesbians in Manhattan. And tales of U.S. properties owned by women where only women were allowed. They would even take m-e-n, out of it completely, spelling it “wimmin” or “womyn. ”
My favorites were The Van Dykes, a roving band of van-driving vegans who shaved their heads, refused to speak to men, and traveled the highways stopping only on Women’s Land. In the ‘80s we had the Pink Panthers protecting neighborhoods from anti-gay violence, gay credit unions, stores, publishing houses, and late great gay bookstores.
The first organized lesbian group, the Daughters of Bilitis, had a name that sounded like a disease, but it was powerful. Pass it on!
We must broadcast the work of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the enormity of the AIDS quilt, the pioneers like Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny who picketed the White House in the ‘60s for gay rights; the fall of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Gertrude Stein, and the entire equality playbook that has brought us to this Pride season.
This is culture we need to protect, celebrate and hand down to our youngsters. Do we institute Take a Baby Dyke to Lunch Week?
Well, maybe. Not only can we pass along what we know to those younger than we are, but we can socialize with our elders and solicit their stories before they are lost to time. I have been lucky, as a writer, to interview so many people over the years and hear about their remarkable lives.
I was astounded in speaking with one late gay elder, a retired bartender at a long-gone gay bar. I was shocked and saddened when I heard his tale of being arrested, jailed and, permanently stripped of his teaching license because he was caught in a gay relationship. These things mostly didn’t happen anymore in my generation (fired, yes. Jail, not so much), but they happened frequently and tragically to our previous generations. We need to know the stories and pass them along.
With not as many everyday softball leagues as there used to be, we’re in danger of forgetting that softball was one of the premier ways lesbians used to meet. Leagues were ubiquitous and as important to our tribe as gay bars. Not so much today.
Whether we have been in touch with our families of origin or not, most of us have built marvelous families of affinity with whom we share holidays, birthdays and daily living. Let’s widen the circle to include Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z and whatever generations we do not represent. We can spread the word and preserve our culture.
And we shouldn’t leave out the fun stuff, either. How many lesbians does it take to change a lightbulb? Five, one to change the bulb and four more to organize the potluck.
We need to make sure tales of the 1979 march, TV’s Ellen coming out, films like Desert Hearts, and our fabled Women’s Music live on. Our gay pioneers meant it’s possible for Ricky Martin, the Indigo Girls, and Sam Smith to be out and proud now.
So go join a P-Flag chapter. Get involved with CAMP Rehoboth. Encourage multi-generational get-togethers to share and perpetuate our culture. Be the voice to share our antiquity.
After all, who, if not us, will keep the memory of the mullet haircut alive. Oy. It’s part of our culture. Embrace it. And be glad it’s gone.
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.