Kate Clinton

Stonewall Rebooted

Filed By Kate Clinton | June 13, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living, Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Daughters of Bilitis, Mattachine Society, north american homophile organization, society of individual rights, stonewall

On an early morning flight from Orlando, after appearing at the 19th Annual Gay Days at Disneyworld, I was "sirred" twice by a cab driver and flight attendant. All before 7 a.m. I would have thought the brand new faux leopard Croc flats I was sporting would have thrown them off. Or that the "Gay Day" banners everywhere would have heightened their threat levels to rainbow.

Usually I find mistaken identification an embarrassment or irritant. In past years I would correct quickly with "That's Ma'am not Sir," and then try to lessen their discomfort. But this 40th anniversary of Stonewall, I wear the gaffe as a badge of pride. I stare them down. Even if they seem remorseful, I don't help them through their moment. In solidarity with the unsung butch lesbians who were with the fags and drag queens at the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village in 1969, I have been doing my own version of butching it up.

It used to be hard to find a NY gay person of a certain age who did not claim to have been at the Stonewall Riots. I am a New Yorker of that certain age, but I most certainly was not at the Stonewall Riots. In 1969 I had just graduated from a small Jesuit college in upstate New York. Insert "Class of 69" joke here.

I was a member of the Gay Resistance. I was trying not to come out. Because of that resistance, I could not and then would not hear the news of gay liberation spreading upstate from Greenwich Village. Though pre-internet, the Stonewall message quickly reached upstate gays in the anti-Vietnam war, women's liberation and civil rights movement. Before long even my little town in upstate New York had out gay activists organizing, educating and agitating.

And they had the best parties. At one I met a brilliant lesbian Political Science professor, fired from her tenured job because of her anti-war activism. Hesitantly, I invited her and her partner over for dinner in the apartment that by then I "shared with a teacher friend". On the apartment tour, before I could point out my bedroom, she gleefully yelled to her partner, "Here's the fake bedroom!" Perhaps it was my cinder block bed with the Indian bedspread that tipped her off.

With my don't ask, don't tell cover blown by my out and outrageous new lesbian friends, I slowly began to come out. First to my girlfriend at the time, to more friends and then to family. Finally, to make up for lost time, I just grabbed a microphone and have yapped about it for twenty-eight years.

Of course there had been gays and lesbian activists in the in the 1950s and early 60s: The Mattachine Society, The Daughters of Bilitis, The Society of Individual Rights, the North American Homophile Organization. I am in awe of their courage. The rage and outrage of the Stonewall Inn fags, butch dykes and drag queens, who had finally had enough, kicked the courage of early gay activists to another level of visibility.

Back in the day, only 25% of my generation came out before the age of eighteen. It was 31% in the generation after me. Today 57% come out before the age of eighteen. Our challenge today is certainly to transform gay visibility into LGBT action. The reaction to Prop Hates promises a new generation of rage and outrage that will pass trans-inclusive ENDA, overturn DOMA, abolish Don't Ask Don't Tell, and enact federal marriage equality.

But just as Stonewall and the gay liberation movement came from anti-war, women's liberation and civil rights activism, we will only succeed if we reinsert ourselves into those activisms. To pass ENDA we must be part of the labor. To overturn DADT we must work for peace. To repeal DOMA and attain marriage equality we must work with women and people of color.

Think of it as Stonewall rebooted. It's a size fourteen and a half stiletto. Today in honor of my butch forebears, I'm wearing only two items of women's clothing.

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Cathy Renna Cathy Renna | June 13, 2009 2:07 PM


Until our own community can get past is its own internalized homophobia and sexism - which means appreciating and accepting the butch and the femme and everything in between we will never make the kind of genuine progress we need to make it a safer and better world for all of us.

I never get irritated when I am called "sir" - especially since I am usually in a suit or jeans and a t-short with short hair. what I will do is smile and say "try again" or something similar - and always tell people not to internalize the experience and feel bad - but know that the world is a lot more grey than they ever imagined....

This is a really wonderful post. As a member of that "57%" youngest generation, I appreciate the continuity and sense of past that perspectives like yours provide.

I initially corrected people who called me "sir," but stopped years ago. There just never seemed to be much point in it--and I also find myself thinking that, if my presentation is androgynous enough to get called "sir," what am I doing being anal about gendered forms of address, anyway?

A stirring call to action, and a very good reminder that we must be part and parcel of the larger society around us. It's not enough to want justice for ourselves, we must work for a just society for everyone.