Bil Browning

Two quick hits from Projectors

Filed By Bil Browning | June 29, 2009 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: Dana Rudolph, Eric Marcus, gay parenting, Stonewall anniversary

Two quick hits from the "What do Bilerico Project contributors do when they're not blogging for the site?" department. The answer? They write for large mainstream newspapers! Here are two must-read articles from Bilerico contributors that were published yesterday and this morning!

Eric Marcus on the Stonewall anniversary for the New York Post:

Forty years ago today, in a city that gay New Yorkers would find unrecognizable, teenaged "sissy boys" confronted New York City's riot police in a running battle through the streets of Greenwich Village. As one long-dead observer noted: "The cops looked like someone who'd been bitten by a trusted pet -- a look of astonishment and fear at the same time."

Dana Rudolph on being a lesbian mom in the Washington Post:

I am pleased that my son himself tells others he has a mommy and a momma. I think he realizes it is not a common configuration, but he has not yet learned that some people think it shouldn't exist. He knows we are as committed to each other as any of his friends' parents, and we love him as much as they love their children. At his age, that sense of security is the most important thing. He knows that's what family is all about.


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It seems to me that, as so many have attempted to do before him, Marcus is trying to rewrite well-established history in an effort to whitewash the contributions of transgender people (even though the T word had not yet been coined at the time) to the history of the Stonewall riots. It's been tried before and it hasn't become any more credible over time.

Yeah, I saw Marcus' article too after being pointed there from a trans list where folks were upset. I definitely saw a lot of interesting information in the article and appreciated that, but the misgendering was like a screeching in my ear the whole time that I couldn't ignore, especially after doing recently reading Sylvia Rivera's own account of this time period.

Sure, we can acknowledge that those folks didn't call themselves transgender (as the term didn't exist) and they didn't call themselves transsexual (as they didn't meet the strict sexist and homophobic standards of a "true transsexual"). But their chosen female names were not "made up noms de guerre." And the gendered terms they used for themselves were "girls," "queens," and "she," not "sissy boys" or "feminine boys."

And lets also point out that when they were not in full drag because it was illegal and a risk, they did not cease to be who they were and more then gay men ceased to be who they were once they stopped dancing and holding hands because police might be around.

If you want to point out how that identity space is not identical to trans identity today, go ahead. But don't claim that there's nothing trans about it or that they are all really gay men.

I wanted to leave that as a comment on the article itself, but comments seem to have been disabled. In any case, it's my sincere hope that Marcus learns more about how to respectfully address gender devience of the past before the PBS documentary he's advising is finished. The last thing we need is another attempt to whitewash trans-like identity out of our own history.

I think that we're always going to have problems discussing these issues from the past because the vocabulary and the concepts about gender identity and expression simply didn't exist then.

If you've seen the documentary Screaming Queens about the SF Compton Cafeteria riots, the people who recounted their stories on camera were clearly transsexual, but referred to themselves and their compatriots of the day as gay men. They didn't differentiate between sexual orientation and gender identity back then. Hell, people still have trouble sorting it out. So to take umbrage about the labels isn't really going to help sort out the history.

I've seen other people who have recounted the Stonewall story the same way Eric did, but instead of using the term "butch lesbian" used "passing woman". That was a term that referred to women who lived as men. Were they lesbians, or were they FTMs? I've seen them claimed by both communities. They probably wouldn't have claimed either identity because nobody thought in those terms then.

We need to stop looking for slights, and work toward educating people and coming up with a concensus vocabulary.

Since no one's talked about it, that's a great article from Dana!

A description like the one you give would have fit quite well, and it can be short enough that I'm sure there's room in the article. But it's not just using the wrong label, the whole article builds the case that trans people under any name weren't involved.

I admit that Marsha P. Johnson is the only name I know well out of the four given, but her name was not a "nomme de guerre," but the name that she lived and died by. She also co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionairies (STAR), later renamed Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries. So it's hard to see her called a "teenage homeless boy" and in the same paragraph a statement that "Rock-throwing transvestites didn't start the fight (cross-dressing was against the law so it was rare to find anyone in full drag)" without thinking that it's anything but an attempt at erasing a very significant part of her identity.

I wouldn't care so much if someone says that there were gender variant folks in general who identified themselves as feminine gay men in addition to other names like queens, transvestites, and various slang. But this specifically says that they were feminine gay men without even hinting at anything else, says that their chosen female names were fake, and names at least one specific hero from the trans movement and describe her by the wrong gender. My frustration is much more than simply taking offense at the wrong term being used.

Exactly my problem with it, Tobi. This isn't a matter of one perspective or another, it's an obvious and deliberate attempt to cut transpeople and trans identities completely out of the picture.