(Another Guest Blog by one of our favorite bloggers, Suzanne Pyrch. SSP’s blog page welcomes Guests all the time with the stipulation that we find the work interesting and opening us and our readers to new ideas. Suzanne has done it again.)
On June 24th of this year, I marched with the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in the Gay Pride March. I have marched with St. Luke’s many times. In fact, over the course of nearly 40 years, I estimate that I have marched (with one group or another) in over 30 Gay Pride events. Hell, I even square danced my way through one Gay Pride March.
The day after Gay Pride, I went into my local coffee spot in Queens. The barista asked if I marched and she asked me what I thought about this year’s march. We both agreed that this year’s march was slow and quiet. Compared to other marches I would even call it subdued. She marched with the Occupy Wall Street contingent. She had a good time, but was disturbed when OWS began chanting what she termed “negative things.” She tried to tell her compatriots that this was different from their other protests; this was a day to just celebrate everyone being together.
Oh my lovely, young barista, I beg to disagree. When I first began marching in the Gay Pride Parade eons ago in San Francisco it was a joyful affair. And it was enough to fly into the street, party with your friends, and learn the lyrics to Sweet Betsy the Dyke from the gay men marching in front of you. Back then simply being in the street was a political act. Early on, I joined the San Francisco Gay Marching Band and Twirling Corps. It was exhilarating to march down the street and receive a thunderous welcome for being basically just a community band (a quite good community band, but a community band nevertheless). We also marched in straight parades where the reception was usually very positive, but it would vary. We didn’t need slogans or banners; simply being in the street playing “If My Friends Could See Me Now” was statement enough.
When I moved to New York, I began marching with New York’s Gay Band. It was both thrilling and a little frightening to march past St. Patrick’s Cathedral. There was always a side street near the Cathedral packed with people damning us to hell. We would always take a deep breath, thrust an arm forward toward the haters, then pointing a finger in their direction we would chant, “Shame. Shame. Shame.”
This year was quite different. For their comfort and for ours, the march did not even pass St. Patrick’s. I only spotted two or three lonely haters with flame blazoned tee-shirts and signs claiming we were sinners. The surprising thing is that the police approached the haters and asked them to pack up their signs and leave. The people I marched with took this as a great sign of progress, and for a moment I did too. Then I began to think, “Were they actually breaking a law?” In the brief time it took for the police to clear them off the streets, something significant had taken place: we bequeathed to the haters our outlaw status.
Years ago, I was sitting around my kitchen table in San Francisco. I was discussing with friends and roommates the recent passing of a bill that took away the criminality for homosexuality. We were legal. I remember Chitra, a friend of my roommate’s, saying, “Oh now I will have to be something else.” There was a complicit laugh from around the table. We all understood that there was a lot to be lost in giving up our role as society’s outlaws.
Everything that rises must converge. Of course, progress is sought after and wished for. I never thought that in my lifetime I would be able to be legally married to the woman I love (as long as I don’t leave the state). We fought for tolerance and then for acceptance. We have made great strides. But giving up our outlaw status means giving up our job as a thorn in the side of society. Society without a pain to awaken it becomes complacent.
And complacency breeds self interest and self interest breeds Republicans – yes, even gay ones. We used to understand that our plight was tied to the plight of others.
I suppose much of this rant is just the grumblings of an old lady. It is human nature to wax nostalgic and think “In my day.” I remember the gay band in San Francisco riding on a bus out to the grave of the Emperor Norton. The Emperor Norton is a legendary west coast figure. At the end of the 19th century, he was a successful businessman until he lost his fortune on Peruvian rice. The loss seemed to unhinge him. He declared himself Emperor of the United State and Protector Mexico. Even in his unbalanced state, however, The Emperor was savvy enough to campaign against unfair or silly laws.
We were the guests of Jose, who at that time was a living legend, renowned drag queen and performer at The Black Cat Bar. Jose, feeling a kinship with a man who fought nonsensical laws, declared himself to be the widow of the Emperor Norton. Each year we rode out to his grave to pay tribute. On the bus, Jose started his own nostalgic rant. He said that in the old days The Black Cat could be raided at any time, but they always got a phone call from the police tipping them off. During his salad days, neither he nor his friends had money for elaborate outfits. They still had fun. “We could do the most creative things with an old bed sheet,” he said.
And that is the operative word – creative. How do we rise without converging? How do we move forward and still keep our own identity? How can we reclaim our joy and our role as society’s hot foot? I think we might be able to use a jolt of adrenaline from Occupy Wall Street.