Help Fund Upstairs Inferno Documentary

If you don’t know about the fire that was set in a gay bar in New Orleans in 1973, you should.

The footage, photographs, and even the description of the events are hard to see and read. Very, very hard. But they are also what happened when an arsonist targeted a club for gay people and no one did anything about it – the cops didn’t find anyone or even try very hard to do so. Bodies weren’t claimed by family because of the stigma of them being gay.

Robert Camina is making a documentary about that night, interviewing people who were there, gathering the evidence of this tragedy so that those 32 people who were killed won’t be forgotten. You can contribute to the post production campaign and watch the trailer (although, once again, it’s hard to watch).

Honestly, this story makes me cry every time I read about it, but it has to be known.

Awesome Show on Gender

I just listened to this awesome show on gender, sexuality, and identity on BackStory.


  • great discussion of “two spirit” and the way it maps and doesn’t onto non-indigenous gender & sexuality categories
  • Joe McCarthy wasn’t just all about the Red Scare, but the Lavender Scare as well
  • WI “passing woman” marries woman
  • & the story of T. Hall who was required by law to wear clothing of both genders – and more importantly, how that would have been viewed by others at the time
  • why you can (or shouldn’t) think of Walt Whitman as a “gay poet”

Really, really great stuff, thoughtful discussion, and basically, pretty much what I teach.

Dear Brandon: 20 Years Ago Today…

20 years ago tonight Brandon Teena was murdered. Two friends, Lisa Lambert and Philip DeVine, were killed with him.

20 years ago the trans community protested that Brandon was not killed because he was a “lesbian” but because of his gender identity, which in turn triggered the organizing and anger of the contemporary trans community.

20 years after his death, so much has changed — much of it for the good, but so, so much still needs changing. Guys like him — living on the outskirts of mainstream society, with little parental support, so little money, who (want to) transition at a young ago but who have almost no access to good, trans-friendly healthcare — are still under-represented and under-served.

We still don’t have a non-discrimination law that protects trans people from employment, housing, or other forms of discrimination. There is, in part due to his murder, a hate crimes law which included gender identity.

Despite the fact that trans people still face enormous levels of violence and discrimination, more and more are coming out; more and more are getting involved in what VP Biden called “the civil rights issue of our times”. More and more allies who aren’t trans are paying attention. All of which is great, but still.

He would have turned 41 this year. I wish he had.



Lynn Conway on Transitioning in 1968

She wrote the piece as a result of going to the White House for the Pride Month Reception.

Shamed as a social outcast, I’d lost my family, my friends and all social support. I’d been fired by IBM, and lost a promising computer research career. In many jurisdictions, I could have been arrested and charged as a sex offender — or, worse yet, institutionalized and forced to undergo electroshock therapy in a mental hospital.

Evading those fates, I completed my transition and began building a career in a secret new identity, starting at the bottom of the ladder as a contract programmer. Even then, any ‘outing’ could have led to media exposure, and I’d have become unemployable, out on the streets for good. The resulting fear channeled my life into ‘stealth-mode.’ I covered my past for over 30 years, always looking over my shoulder, as if a foreign spy in my own country.

(It got better. )

Gad Beck

Gad Beck was the last known gay Jewish survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. He died just before his 89th birthday.

Under the Nazi regime, he famously dressed-up as a Hitler Youth member, and entered a deportation camp to free his lover, Manfred Lewin. However, Mr Lewin refused to be separated from his family, with whom he was later deported to Auschwitz, and killed there.

He appears as himself in Paragraph 175, the documentary about the law that made homosexuality illegal in Germany.

Trans Stonewall

I found this article denying the importance of trans involvement at Stonewall which states, in part:

This point does not deny that drag queens participated in the riot. They did. It only makes the point that their centrality to the event likely has been exaggerated, probably for ideological reasons.

Finally, these historical disputes have no bearing – either way – on whether “gender identity” ought to be included in gay civil rights legislation. Even if Stonewall was the single casus belli of the gay struggle, and even if transgenders were the only people there kicking shins and uprooting parking meters, so what? And even if no drag queens were present that night, what difference would it make now?

and was pretty surprised. It may be old, but as the comments are closed, and have been, it seemed a reply to it was needed. So I talked to Susan Stryker, who explains:

The thing is, the historical part is largely accurate in its details. What I find fascinating–and frustrating–is that Carpenter can then say “facts don’t entirely support the popular myth,” therefore throw trannies under the bus. Or even: understanding history is hard, make no recourse to the past when staking a political position in the present.”

and further clarifies:

What I find particularly misleading about the Stonewall myth is the idea that the riot was instigated primarily by the bar’s patrons. The whole question of “who frequented the Stonewall Inn?” is kind of a red herring, particularly when used to deny the salience of understanding the role of gender-noncompliant people in the act of resistance. The riots started when kids on the streets–and there are pictures of them–started taunting the cops who were making the arrests. It was a street fight, not a bar fight. And it should definitely be pointed out that many, perhaps most, of the instigators were what at the time were called “gay kids” or “hair fairies,” that is, male-bodied people with non-masculine but not necessarily transgender presentations and identities: gender queers. But it seems clear that drag queens and trans women were also involved.

So there you have it. Record corrected.

If you’d like to read more about the importance of bars in the context of Pride, Slate did an article last pride highlighting some of the other bars that were notoriously gay in one way or another.

Obscenity Trial

On this day in 1928 police seized 800 copies of Radclyffe Hall’s lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness. It would be put on trial as obscenity later in 1928 under the Obscene Publications Act of 1857; Virginia Woolf came to the trial but wasn’t allowed to provide testimony — nobody was.

Interestingly, 1928 was the same year women got the right to vote in the UK.


(h/t to The Progressive’s “Hidden History” calendar, via FW)

Pride and Memory

One of the things I find interesting about teaching (and being aunt to) people who are around 20 years old is that most of them did not grow up in a world where no one they knew was gay. For folks of my generation and older, it was assumed that no one was gay, and when someone came out, it was a surprise, and very difficult. It is hard to explain exactly how “deviant” homosexuality was considered, especially when it was criminal and considered a mental disorder. You can get some idea from a documentary like Stonewall Uprising, but still, it’s difficult to get across.

But in 1973 – the same year homosexuality was taken out of the DSM – 32 LGBTQ people burned to death in an intentional fire caused by arson. A molotov cocktail was thrown into a building that housed a gay bar and the local meeting place of the MCC church. There were 60 or so people in the room, and half of them found a way out, but the other half died in the fire.

What’s more horrifying are the stories and jokes – yes, jokes – told about the fire after the fact. I won’t repeat them here but if you have stomach enough, you can read them here.

And that’s the part of the story that sobered me up. I remember fruit jokes. The ones I heard weren’t about this fire, and maybe weren’t about anyone in particular. But I remember the kinds of jokes that were told, how dehumanizing they were. It’s almost hard to remember, but a story like this one makes it a little clearer what this has all been about.

It’s been an amazing pride month for me as a New Yorker, that’s for damn sure. 42 years after Stonewall, New York has made marriage equality happen. But still, there were some bodies in that fire that weren’t claimed, and it’s not that long ago that families of men dying of AIDS pretended they had no sons.

So yes, there’s been huge amounts of progress. HUGE. But I don’t want us to forget, either, how it used to be: that’s why the riots at Compton’s and Stonewall happened, after all.

Nothing New Under the Sun

To a lot of people, transgender identities are new, some emerging idea that’s only happened in the modern era, & to some degree, that’s true: without the discovery of hormones (turn of the last century) and the development of surgeries (middle of the last century), it is much more difficult for people to live in a body that’s wrongly gendered.

But that, however, is only for the people who require medical intervention. There have always been bodies that bridge male and female, that express secondary sex characteristics of both. Evidence:

How fantastic is she? At the very least, when some moralizing pundit talks about trans or intersex as some kind of new perversity, and a sign that the world is coming to an end, we can at least point out that it’s a very old perversity indeed. Most perversions are. We don’t invent much, but instead mostly forget, or otherwise bury some histories and identities and pretend they never did exist. (For the record, for those of you who aren’t careful readers: I do not think trans or intersex is a perversion.I am employing rhetoric in order to make my point clear. Civil and cultural recognition of trans and intersex identities and bodies is a sign of civilization, to me.)

But they did exist. This piece is not on display, but owned by the Louvre, yet this other one is on display, and in my opinion, far more sensual. Museum stats below the break.

Continue reading “Nothing New Under the Sun”

Trans Exhibit Takes’s 1st Place announced the winners of its “Since Stonewall Local Histories Contest” on Monday, June 28, exactly 41 years after Stonewall and 1st place went to a trans oriented exhibit.

1st – “Man-i-fest: FTM Mentorship in San Francisco from 1976 – 2009,” created by Meghan Rohrer, documents Lou Sullivan’s transition from female to male over the course of thirty years, with evidence drawn from Sullivans’ photos and letters, as well as video footage of interviews he did with the mainstream and community press, and medical professionals. D’Emilio and Meyer praised “the exhibit’s attention to the less studied FTM transition,” and noted “the critical role of mentors in these transitions is remarkable.”

Continue reading “Trans Exhibit Takes’s 1st Place”