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Dear air conditioner enthusiasts,

You may have heard that June is LGBT Pride Month in these United States, marked by rainbow-banner parades in cities across the country. Boston’s passed a few Saturdays ago (favorite sign: “gender is a drag,” courtesy of a Traniwreck marcher), but I’ll confess, the parade that still means the most to me is the one in New York City, from Greenwich Village to Central Park, held every year on the last Sunday in June. Part of my fascination is historical—I wonder how many participants and spectators will know that this is the 40th NYC pride parade. The first was held in 1970 in commemoration of the riots outside the Stonewall bar on Christopher Street. (You can read a scan of the Mattachine Society’s account of the riot on sociologist Toby Marotta’s excellent Community Roots Archive. And see some photos from the first Gay Liberation Parade, like the one below, thanks to the New York Public Library’s digital archive, here and here.)

Diana Davies, NYPL Digitial ID: 1619943

But beyond the political history, NYC’s pride parade still means the most to me because it was one of the crucial ways I tracked my own coming out. In the four years I lived in the East Village and Brooklyn, I never missed the parade, but my reactions to it kept changing. The first summer, I literally stood a few feet back from the main line of spectators, probably afraid some drag queen would literally grab me, pull me over the metal divider, and force to me to march alongside her (or more likely that my face would somehow appear in a local news broadcast). The second summer, I went with a new set of friends, and cheered on a group I meekly referred to, literally, as “lesbians on motorcycles,” not quite ready to embrace their more common moniker. And the third and fourth summers, I went with my boyfriend—though those two honestly start to blur together, which in itself feels like progress.

I went back to grad school, in part, because I wanted to learn more about the cultural history I felt myself to be a part of—a pursuit in which my laziness has been, and remains, key. The latest case in point: OutHistory’s Since Stonewall Local Histories Contest. The online archive invited readers to post their own exhibits, and the results are pretty extraordinary. Where else could you find a history of LGBT visibility in Bloomington, Indiana—now billing itself as the “fifth gayest place in America”? Or a look at FTM trans mentorship in San Francisco? Or photos from the 1978 Reno Gay Rodeo?

For a lesson in more recent history, you can also spend hours digging through the complete run of Outweek. Though it only lasted from 1989 to 1991, Outweek was an important voice in AIDS activism and awareness, taking a more militant approach than the older Advocate (particularly as co-founder Michaelangelo Signorile began “outing” high-profile sorts). It’s worth downloading some PDFs, just for the ads and cartoons. (FYI: You can also view issues of The Advocate from 1994 to 2006 and Out, co-founded by Outweek columnist Michael Goff, from 1999-2006 on Google Books.)

To view an archive in the making, you should also check out I’m From Driftwood, featuring an impressive range of true LGBT tales. Think of it as a queer Storycorps, which of course has its own share of queer tales.

And one last thing for you theatrical types: a re-mastered video of the great Charles Ludlam’s  silent (and campy) horror film Museum of Wax, thanks to the Outfest Legacy Project.

Yours fabulously,

Stephen

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To my fellow followers of Rip Van Winkle,

As some of you may know, Sunday, October 11 marks National Coming Out Day, a day for everyone to show their queer or queer-allied colors—and, in this year’s case, march on Washington for marriage equality. (You can read about the history of Coming Out Day—or COD, if you will—on the Human Rights Campaign website.)

I will confess, I haven’t always been a big fan of COD. I remember my first taste of COD my freshman year of college, where they literally set up a closet door on the grass so people could “come out” of it. Nothing could have felt more terrifying and simultaneously shaming then the demand to step through that flimsy door-frame, as though articulating and accepting one’s sense of difference could ever be accomplished so simply.

Since then, researching the past has definitely helped me to come to terms with the term “coming out.”  So in honor of COD, I point you to one of the periodicals from the early days of Gay Liberation, titled, yes, Come Out. The magazine began publication shortly after the Stonewall Riot in 1969, and has been partly digitized by the useful (though not always easy to navigate) website Outhistory.org (a project of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at CUNY).

come out magazine masthead, 1969

Just to give you a sense of its tone, the first lines of the first issue proclaimed, “COME OUT FOR FREEDOM! COME OUT NOW! POWER TO THE PEOPLE! GAY POWER TO GAY PEOPLE! COME OUT OF THE CLOSET BEFORE THE DOOR IS NAILED SHUT!” Before gay liberation (as scholars John D’Emilio and George Chauncey have shown), coming out meant entering into the gay community, but the new metaphor of the closet turned “coming out” into a political act—and demanded a total re-evaluation of the quietly queer lives many gay men and lesbians had lived before.

The New York Public Library also has a wonderful online exhibition commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot, with some beautiful images culled from their extensive archives, like this one of two members of the Gay Activists Alliance.

Rutgers University Gay Liberation Conference, April 30–May 2, 1971. Photograph by Kay Tobin Lahusen. NYPL, Manuscripts and Archives Division, Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen Gay History Papers and Photographs. Copyright Kay Tobin Lahusen. Digital ID: 1606088

A quick subject search their digital image gallery reveals much, much more, including this photograph by Diana Davies of the 1971 Gay Pride march, almost as exciting for its vintage fashion as the banner “Women’s liberation is a lesbian plot.” Think about that next Women’s History Month.

Christopher Street Liberation Day, June 20, 1971 [22]. Diana Davies, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building / Manuscripts and Archives Division, NYPL, Copyright Diana Davies, Digital ID: 1066141

That’s all for this week dear readers.

Historically yours,

Stephen

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