Got memories, merry and gay?
Being an older guy with grey-and-white hair, I now enjoy a pastime of writing, while I still like social studies.
“How to write rainbow characters” was the title of a workshop I attended on Sunday March 12 —writers of “literature” have to know such things, of course. At the event, darling teens with funny colored hair were conspicuous by their absence. Only folks around my own age were there, and they taught me something: They know more about the present than I do; while, to my big surprise, I know more bruised and bloody history than they do. They threw around the term LGBTQ plus. I don’t know what the plus means; it must be new. Wondering what I could contribute, history-wise, here on my blog, I went home afterwards to look through some favorite old “photographs.”
Snapshot, the late 1980s:
A young gay woman at university waving her hand in negation, telling me, “Oh, don’t say that word.” She wanted me to say gay, not “lesbian,” which had an awful stigma. In our childhood, just as in our parent’s time, a time of binary thinking before woman’s liberation and unisex clothing stores, the dark words society used were homosexual and lesbian. They were words that felt icky, about “a love that dare not say its name.”
Snapshot, the mid 1970’s:
A grinning young man, fresh out of a big high school where he was the student council president, telling us how he and his vice president went around wearing strange pins. When asked, they claimed it was for a club for homosexuals. Smirking, he told us that all sorts of students you wouldn’t suspect were quietly coming up to us and saying they were secretly homosexual, too. To him, a big joke. To them, a terrifying secret.
I can imagine today, in the year of our Lord 2017, some young religious young man saying that society is going to hell in a hand basket, and therefore more and more teens are choosing to be gay. Really? Choosing? Do you also believe Mars and the moon are (Biblically) only 6,000 years old? Learn to use your library card, you moron.
In my day, “the love that dare not say its name” was not something anyone chose.
Snapshot: A group of medical students being led by a doctor.
The group arrives at to a man in a nice pressed business shirt, with a silk tie and polished shoes. Tears are starting to glint in his eyes. The doctor begins, “This patient is well oriented in time and space…” His only diagnose? Homosexual. And the patient feels helpless about it… In a few years, among psychiatrists, there would be great clamor and resistance to removing “homosexuality” as a psychiatric disorder from the American diagnosis manual. For the controversy I blame the religious psychiatrists, as well as blaming society in general.
Film clip, from a feature set in the 1950’s:
A young man just outside the Brooklyn Naval yards, in a German-made film, from the book, Last Exit to Brooklyn. The man is a whimpering, pathetic wimp. Perhaps he is acting so from trying to be a good man, trying to be just like how society said he should be. Society said? He was supposed to have low self esteem, as befits a pansy. Like how society told a high school football player, also in the 1950’s, that he was supposed to be stupider than a non-football player. In Stephen King’s novel about a time travelling schoolteacher, the teacher has no patience for such misplaced sincerity, telling the varsity athlete he is trying to fit his social mores, but his society is wrong.
In a dim bar, in a dingy part of town, an old lady sits at a bar table by a revolving red light. She stops it. She explains the light would silently be triggered to warn of police outside, so folks could flee out the back. In those days, the police force would raid bars and take the people down to the precinct for jail and fingerprinting and publish their names in the newspaper. This at a time when people could legally be fired from their job, and expelled from their apartment, merely for being suspected of being gay: no proof needed, no human rights protection. Their sacred lives, their social life—ruined.
Summer of 1969, violence is the answer:
People are peacefully drinking at the Stonewall Inn. (tavern) Police raid. The patrons riot; they barricade the police inside the bar. The police lose the fight. From that day on, people in land of the free gained their freedom: Freedom of assembly, and Freedom of association. Police no longer published their names. I can only speculate that by meeting each other in broad daylight, they soon learned that society “doesn’t know its elbow from a hole in the ground.”
They saw for themselves people could be emotionally healthy, successful and homosexual too. I remember there was a gay rodeo association, which of course included women. One year, one of the rodeos on the circuit was here in Calgary, for the first time, at the Simmons Valley ranch. I remember a journalist, unable to deny that cowboys have courage, and strong wrists too, resorting to drawing a big editorial-page disparaging cartoon of two horses kissing.
Of course, the theory that gay is a choice still lingers, along with Creationism Museums.
Barney Miller, a TV detective comedy show, mid-1970’s:
An old civilian guest star in the police station is a white haired survivor, proud to be a member of the gay community. He points out, in effect: If being gay (a new word) is not a choice … then maybe your high school home room, and your church, included gay men and women, folks now “in the closet (a new phrase) to you,” and maybe “still in the closet to themselves.” A short, totally ordinary cop is writing on the blackboard. He turns, suddenly blurts out, “I’m gay.” The guest star tells him, “That took guts.”
In theory, as more and more ordinary people “came out,” ordinary society would get more and more “clued in,” and would respond less and less horribly. Except, of course, for the benighted part of society. Note: Not all churches are in dark shadow.
My best friend takes her pre-school children to an evening Gay church, and everyone is smiling to see her children, telling her it’s OK to bring her them again.
2016, overheard on my car radio:
“There’s only one gay bar left in town, because now we don’t need our own bars to meet each other.”
2017, on the CBC radio:
A protestant congregation has voted to be inclusive. (I forget if they said LGBTQplus)
2017, walking in the halls of the student union building:
Feeling as if I might be mistaken for an old pervert, I walk into the clubroom for the LGBTQ students. Someone is breastfeeding. I ask the students about the big new improved both-sexes washroom down the hall: “Is it OK if an old nonstudent…” And the darling young people, still young enough (as I am!) to expect to like people they meet, and to be liked in return, eagerly tell me that I would be OK if I went inside there, and explaining to me how safe it is for everybody.
They are very friendly. I have yet to become as liberated as they are.
I wrote the above this morning before starting work at the home of my two clients in power wheelchairs. They are the same married couple I told you about last month, when I showed them inside the half-finished building for my Alexandra Centre Writing Society. (In Calgary’s new creative space, cSpace, at the former King Edward School)
When I wrote this morning, I forgot something.
This afternoon, at a mall food court, I accompanied the wife into the big women’s washroom to assist her, using a wheelchair stall. I do so all the time, feeling hardly shy at all. Therefore what in the world… makes me think I’d feel horribly awkward in a university transgender washroom? I have to laugh.