Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride

(Mom and me - Gay Pride March - NYC - 1974)

The two rallies last week in Manhattan in support of same sex marriage were both much larger than anyone anticipated. Wednesday night so many people gathered in front of the Mormon temple at Lincoln Center, they quickly overran the area set aside by the NYPD, forcing the cops to turn the event into an impromptu parade down Broadway to Columbus Circle. Steven (Confessions of a Mormon Boy) Fales described it as "beautiful men with creative posters." Susan* (my favorite Isolde) kept bumping into Whoopi Goldberg.

I joined pal Susan on Saturday afternoon at City Hall Park. This was a coordinated event, with similar rallies planned at the same time in cities all over the country. Here in NYC the rain had been pouring down all morning, but just as the rally started, the sun came shining through in a show of support. (Exactly as it did almost forty years ago when the first Gay Pride march stepped away from the relative safety of Christopher Street in the Village to proclaim ourselves out and proud to midtown Manhattan.) Again the crowd was far too large to be contained and the cops spent most of the afternoon moving the barriers to make room for more and more and even more people.

As to how many people were actually there, who knows. I have spent far too many years in too many under- and over-counted demonstrations to pay much attention to official numbers. Just say it was a very large crowd. It was young and old, and male and female (and all gender gradations in between), black and white and tan and yellow and pink (and perhaps even a purple)—a true rainbow coalition. And committed like I have not seen since the early 1970s. There may be a new movement afoot. The more or less perfunctory coverage the New York Times gave to the rallies is ultimately the proof of the importance of this day.

Starting in the late 1950s I spent a lot of my life marching and chanting: Ban-the-Bomb, Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam, the Women’s Movement, and ultimately, Gay Rights. As the infighting of political correctness in the late 1970s began to pollute the politics of liberation, I decided to drop out from dropping out. I stopped marching and chanting. Except for the Matthew Shepard vigils, it had been a lot of years since I joined the "madding crowd." Instead I decided to concentrate on what I do best, so I formed TOSOS and dedicated my career to queer theater.

But when Susan and I arrived at City Hall Park, a weird thing happened to me. I was suddenly no longer in the here and now. Suddenly I was surrounded by the ghosts of other times and other demonstrations. Billy Blackwell, Jim Owles, Mama Jean, Miss Martha Johnson, Bob Kohler, Morty Manford, Rollerna, Vito Russo, Jerry West, Waylan Flowers, Jack Logan, David Vangan (and Coco, the chimp), Ruth Truth, Jerry Fitzpatrick, Nancy from the One Potato, Rex and Sy and Tom Ross from the Roadhouse, Ty from Ty’s, Lou Thomas from Colt—the list is endless. Not all dead, but they were of another time come back, it seemed, to haunt me. And at my age it is not nice to find yourself up to your neck in ectoplasm.

To quote from my new play, "gay history is last week, but only if it’s longer than 7 inches." These were some of our true heroes, and for the most part they remain either forgotten or as footnotes. I haven’t felt so very alone in a long time. Nor so sad. Nor so out of it. Later that night after a reading at TOSOS, I was asked if I planned to write about the rally. I answered that I was still too spooked so to speak to write. That these manifestations seemed to be all about loss and friends and times long gone. Someone suggested I was looking at it all the wrong way. And I suddenly realized they were right. I had not gone back to the past, but the past had indeed come forward to join and support us.

And indeed there was that sort of feeling in the air. And for all the seriousness of the situation, there was a certain joy and a new sense of hope. And a new belief in the ability to effect change. Amazing what can happen when you elect an intelligent and caring man as your president. The two guys in front of me stood with their arms around each other’s shoulders, the ease of their affection impossible when I was their age. They seemed somehow so certain of the future. Next to Susan stood two young women with a wonderful dog and an obvious and equal commitment to each other and determination to move forward.

I have to admit when it comes to "gay marriage," I personally am a lot less than convinced. The atheist in me is very suspicions of religious "sacraments." The French (thanks to the Napoleonic Code) have a much better system. All contracts between couples are first and foremost civil. After you are joined together by an appointed official, you are more than free to find some church to bless you union should you want (and assuming the fun-loving Christians don’t toss you butt first out the door). The right to be a family should not depend on some primitive ceremony designed by a patriarchal society primarily to protect a husband’s control over the property, life, and very body of his wife. If civil unions do not cover all the necessary issues, then laws should be expanded to make them do so.

But matrimony is really not the main issue here. The passage of Prop 8 puts a spotlight on two far more important principles: the separation of Church and State and the idea that the majority can vote to limit the freedom of any minorities it finds distasteful. People should really watch out what they wish for. Majorities change. If Mormon fecundity procreates a population explosion, are Catholics really safe? Will the huge broods of full- and half- and out-of-wedlock born-again Evangelists multiply in sufficient numbers threaten to abort the very advance of science? When Hispanics become the majority, will they vote to replace Thanksgiving turkeys with tacos? (Actually, I’d vote for that!) There have been complaints about the tenor and bitterness of the demonstrations. Seems we should all go sit quietly at the back of the bus. Some people just don’t seem to get it. How polite and patient will our detractors be when their lives and families are threatened? (As I recall the election sparked a run on gun sales)

I have always suspected the real reason that separation of Church and State made it into our constitution was the keep the government from curbing the excesses of organized religion. God has always been big business in this country. And oversight and regulation is anathema to corporate entities however holy. As has been recently proven, the golden rule is "keep your eyes on the Good Book and out of my account books." The tax-exempt shearing of the faithful sheep has been funding political subversion and bigotry for more than a century. Sure wish Henry VIII would come back and dissolve our religious cartels. Think of all that money actually going to some good or useful cause, instead of wasted on eye liner, or a room in some warm sheet motel, or for theme parks that make the Flintstones seem downright educational. If we don’t watch them guys, we will be living on a flat earth again. And paying for it with our taxes!

One thing is for certain. Thanks to the Internet (the most important technical advance since the Gutenberg bible) the word is out. The times indeed are a’changin’. The recent election and the rapid way the Prop 8 rallies were organized proves the fat lady has yet to sing! And when she does, you will hear her loud and clear on youtube. Were I younger, I might seriously consider giving up playwriting in favor of becoming a gay divorce lawyer, all the Sturm und Drang of drama but a lot more lucrative. In fact gay divorce lawyer will probably replace hair dresser as the standard gay stereotype. As my friend David Stern says, "we should listen to the Mormons: marriage is a sacred institution between a man and several early adolescents."

Guess maybe I am not so alone after all. In fact what with the past and the present, and new friends and old, my days are pretty full.

(*not to be confused with the other Susan who is much much older and legally prevented from singing)

Speaking of youtube: some random rally site: Chicago (courtesy of AK Miller) and Charleston, S.C. (courtesy of Kathleen Warnock)

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