Who Was There

For Ariela

I’ve been living outside of NYC for the past 8 years and this year I’m here today and watching FB posts by people who were here and by people who were not.

For those of you who were not there: we don’t need to be reminded not to forget. We also are still angry that anyone used an attack on the most diverse, open-armed, immigrant-loving, ‘of course no human is illegal’ city as an excuse for xenophobia and a shitty war. Today we are a little too still, a little too quiet, red-eyed and weep so easily. Today we ask each other how we are, what we’re doing, how we are dealing this year. 16 years in and we check in with each other – those who you knew at the time, those you’ve come to know since. I hate to say it but it takes me a second, when the subject comes up in conversation, to know who was there and who wasn’t by how they respond. Talk about triggers.

Especially in the midwest, which has no huge fondness for NYC anyway, it’s as if it’s impolite to mention it, to mark it as anything but patriotic jingoistic bullshit, which is one of the reasons I’m not there today. But some of my fellow NYers and DC area folks are, so let me ask: if you weren’t there, take it easy on us today. Don’t ask. Don’t try to relate. Just give us some space and quiet and respect.

What’s beautiful to me is how many people who were there post happy photos of those iconic Towers. One friend had a photo of her first arrival to NYC and there they are in the background. We don’t post the photos of billowing smoke; we don’t post the conspiracy theory. We just remember, without trying to, that acrid smell for months and the fliers and the candles and the plume, that goddamned endless plume in the sky.

So for those of you who weren’t there, maybe follow our lead. Today, to me, should be a national holiday honoring the Best City on Earth and honoring all it stands for: cheek by jowl tolerance, a government that stands up for Dreamers, that honors African American labor and Jewish food and Irish storytelling and Puerto Rican music and where even the most uneducated bozo knows that their Muslim friends are really hungry at dusk after fasting. In some ways my city has always been my image of the US even though they have almost nothing to do with each other. Because my New York is artsy and decadent, exquisitely dirty and complicated and busy and fast. It’s $2 falafels and $2k in rent. It is all the extremes all the time, all the faiths, all the creeds, all the everything.

The first thing that made me laugh after that day was an Onion headline that said only Rest of Country Temporary Feels Deep Affection for New York and I will forever be grateful to Madison, WI, where the Onion was HQ’d, for that. Because it’s less true right now, it feels like, than it was even then: as a country, we still hate New York, but I always want to remind both Dems and Republicans that it is also the city of mammon, of capitalism, of the uber rich, but it is also a place that protects – or tries to – the most vulnerable.

And that, you know, is the whole fucking idea of the US, isn’t it? Unfettered greed and unfettered justice. We are big enough and rich enough and generous enough not to be mean. At least that’s what I always thought. It’s what I still think today, that the real deal is the Cajun Army and the drag queens hosting bingo to raise money to help whoever needs helping that day, that week, that month. So maybe today instead of waving a flag or whatever other bullshit you’re doing, just love on New York for a hot minute because it is, whether you like it or or not, still the best of who we are as a nation, too.

Malcolm X: 51 Years Ago Today

Half a century, and I don’t think we’ve ever recovered from losing what he brought to the table.

I used to walk the path his stretcher took from the Audubon Ballroom to the emergency room on a regular basis; it was up at 168th Street, brought to my attention because Columbia wanted to demolish it (after ongoing rallies to save it, they instead they built into it, integrating the ballroom into their design, which wasn’t good enough, but it was better than nothing.

From his last speech, “The Black Revolution and its Effect Upon the Negro of the Western Hemisphere”, at Columbia U, on February 18th, 1965:

“We are living in an era of revolution,” Malcolm told the crowd, “and the revolt of the American’ Negro is part of the rebellion against the oppression and colonialism which has characterized this era.” “It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of black against white or as a purely American problem,” he said. “Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter.” “We are interested in practicing brotherhood with anyone really interested in living according to it,” the black nationalist explained. “But the white man has long preached an empty doctrine of brotherhood which means little more than a passive acceptance of his fate by the Negro.” The black leader told the audience that the African blacks had won the battle for “political freedom and human dignity” and stated that the American black “must now take any means necessary to secure his full rights as an individual human being.”

I’ve always loved photos of him smiling because of what Ossie Davis said at his funeral: “They will say that he is of hate — a fanatic, a racist—who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle,” Davis said. “And we will answer and say to them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you?”

(Malcolm X Speaks is the book I’d recommend, if anyone’s interested.)

S onewall: the Movie (Because It’s Missing the T)

Again, I’ve been doing this a long time, so here’s the shorthand:

If, as a director, you want to make a movie about a young gay man who has been kicked out of his Kansas home by his Christian parents for being gay who then, in turn, comes to NYC & becomes a queer radical, make that awesome movie. It’s needed.

Just don’t, um, call it Stonewall. It can even be about that era, or that particular guy’s experience in the uprising, but calling it Stonewall implies it is about the whole of the event, not just one person’s experience in it.

  • This isn’t hard. If you’re going to make a movie about one of the most important moments of queer liberation – globally! – then maybe try to get the history right.
  • The burden is on the filmmaker to get it right.
  • Gay white men did an awful lot for queer liberation, actually, and there are plenty of stories to tell about them, including at Stonewall and during it. They just weren’t the ones who threw the first brick.
  • Hiring a few trans people to work on the film would have been great. Also black and latinx actors.

Miss Major explains the rest, as far as I’m concerned.

People aren’t upset just because of this movie; they’re upset because this has been happening since 1970 when Silvia Rivera was first asked not to speak at the 1st anniversary of Stonewall, the very 1st PRIDE. And you would think that perhaps someone might do their research and realize how incredibly frustrating it has been for the trans community to experience this erasure, especially after being dumped from legislation that benefited the LG and not the T. That is, there’s a history to the history.

I think I’m most disturbed by the idea that the director and screenwriter were surprised by this backlash and calls for a boycott. There are about 800 people who do trans history and advocacy who could have warned them, and maybe they were warned and dismissed the warning. That said, I’ve also seen them called out for using the word “transvestite” which – although it’s not used anymore – was, in fact, the word used by Rivera and Johnson, whose organization was called STAR, after all, for Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. While I’m at it, there’s this:

What people fail to realize is that the Stonewall was not a drag queen bar. It was a white male bar for middle-class males to pick up young boys of different races. Very few drag queens were allowed in there, because if they had allowed drag queens into the club, it would have brought the club down. That would have brought more problems to the club. It’s the way the Mafia thought, and so did the patrons. So the queens who were allowed in basically had inside connections. I used to go there to pick up drugs to take somewhere else. I had connections.

[From Rivera’s piece “Queens in Exile, the Forgotten Ones,” in J. Nestle, ed., Genderqueer: Voices from Beyond the Sexual Binary, at pp. 67-85 (2002).]

 

Does all this mean the movie will suck? Maybe not. It does mean that I won’t go see it.

Help Holly Woodlawn

Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.hitchhiked her way across the U.S.A.

Plucked her eyebrows on the way.

Shaved her legs and then he was a she.

She says, ‘Hey, babe, take a walk on the wild side.’

– Lou Reed, “Walk on the Wild Side”

 

She’s fighting for her life in a hospital in LA and none other than Penny Arcade started a crowdfunding effort to allow Woodlawn to return home to die.

It achieved its goal of $50k already, but in case you want to be able to tell this trans elder she’s loved, this is your chance.

NYC

We’re off to NYC for a few days to participate in kinship ritual (my nephew’s getting married) & will be back in WI Monday night.

In the meantime, check out this interview with none other than Catharane A. MacKinnon on trans inclusion, wherein she states, “Simone de Beauvoir said one is not born, one becomes a woman. Now we’re supposed to care how, as if being a woman suddenly became a turf to be defended.” Great stuff.

Then too there’s this trailer for a new documentary about non-binary gender traditions.

NYC

I’m on my way to spend most of the holiday season there because I can. My mom is 84 and not in awesome good health (that said, she hasn’t been for nearly a decade now) so it’s nice to be home and feel like I’m home and go visit her when I can.

Otherwise, just friends and bagels and decent slices and a lot a lot of walking.

I’ll still, of course, be making calls for The December Project and otherwise trying to get some work done, but I may not blog much.

Arthur Leipzig, Photographer

NYC has lost one of its greats – Arthur Leipzig, photographer. So many of the classic shots of NYC are his – kids playing stickball, the opening night at the opera, sunbathers at Coney Island. He was 96.

Mr. Leipzig’s 1943 photograph “King of the Hill” — in which two Brooklyn boys square off atop a mound of dirt — was chosen by Edward Steichen, director of the Museum of Modern Art’s photography department, for his celebrated “Family of Man” exhibition of 1955. The show’s theme was the universality of human experience.

To look at these pictures today is to catch intimations of the evanescence of both youth and a city. In his 1995 book, “Growing Up in New York,” Mr. Leipzig called himself “witness to a time that no longer exists, a more innocent time.”

“We believed in hope,” he wrote.

These are two of my favorites, but there’s more and more and more.

Come On Already, NYC

Honestly, we need someone to do groundbreaking stuff – don’t let Iowa beat you to it again, okay? Shoot, NYS has already beaten you to it.

A proposed law that would allow individuals to change the sex on their birth certificate without having gender reassignment surgery would ease the barrier to basic services such as health care, housing and jobs, transgender advocates said.

Testimony happened on Monday, 11/10, that helped explain why surgery should not be a requirement to change your birth certificate in NYC.

#neverforget?

I don’t like this “never forget” business.
As if forgetting were possible.
Sounds like a desire for vengeance trussed up as memory and nationalism.
We don’t forget. Can’t.

I think this is more of what we forget – the stunning beauty of that view:

World Trade Center 1 in New York City

And how goddamn beautiful is that? I get a little high just looking at that clip, remembering what it was like to sit on those metal steps a hundred floors above the ground and look down between my feet through glass, to lean my head on the glass just lightly, to feel the cool of it against my skin as everything spun a little with vertigo. It was an amazing thing. I used to go there sometimes just to sit, right there in the clouds, higher than most birds even flew, like Jack on a concrete beanstalk.

What we forget is that we, as humans, are capable of doing things for the sheer fucking beauty of them, for the joy, for the accomplishment, for the divine, for the proof that despite what we believe, impossible things are possible. We do things to feel like we are the stuff of dreams, that we invent our own restrictions with fear and no magic. That observation deck was magic. It was hard to even feel like there was a building under you when you were up there because you couldn’t see any of the thing, like you were standing on a floor that was magically staying aloft. In a good wind the buildings would “sway back and forth up to 12 inches at the top.” So you really could move a foot in the air just standing up there.

Or, as John Dos Passos once wrote about New York City: “This city is full of people wanting inconceivable things. Look at it.” But they say no one reads him anymore. Well, they should. & Manhattan Transfer, where that quote is from, is a good enough place to start.

Remember the beauty, the aspiration, the dreamers, the sinners. That’s the stuff terror wants us to forget.