Forty Years Ago

I was in Berkeley living in a collective on Grayson St. a couple of blocks below San Pablo Avenue.

I had been on hormones for three months and they acted rapidly causing my very androgynous body to start popping out all over.

In mid May, we had taken part in the riots that surrounded People’s Park.  Ronald Reagan’s goons had shot at us killing James Rector and critically wounding another.  Most people do not realize that some 150 people were treated for gun shot wounds.

This was a year before Kent State.

I had dressed as a boy during the riots and had escaped arrest during the actual riots only to be busted while dressed very androgynously at the tail end of the riots.

Mostly though we were in the calm after the storm and during that calm, I started slipping into 24/7.  My friends had meetings where people were called on not referring to me as Sue and she.  Along with their treating me like a girl, which meant my doing the cooking and being given privacy.

I was living with people who were straight.  I didn’t have any gay friends at that point although I had gone to a couple of the major gay organizations in San Francisco looking for referrals and legal advice.

But honestly, I didn’t see myself having much of anything in common with them.  My support was among the anti-war activist community of Berkeley.

As we headed toward summer, there was a lot of discussion about the SDS conference in Chicago and what was going to be done regarding the Stalinist group Progressive Labor.

That year the big thing in the San Francisco gay community had been when two men Leo Laurence and his lover Gale Whittington had been photographed kissing for a local underground newspaper.  This resulted in one of them losing his job and picket lines.  If memory serves me, there was also an attempt to obtain a marriage license.

So the weekend after I went full time my faction of SDS became Weatherman, named after a line in Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues that proclaimed, “You don’t need a Weatherman, to know which way the wind blows.

I may have publicly started living as a woman and have been in the midst of physically changing sex but I was still a hard core radical.  I would have said revolutionary in those late spring early summer days.

Then the next weekend the Stonewall Riot happened.

It took a while for me to really get any news about it.  Riots had to be really big for them to make national news and certainly not about a bunch of gay people in the Village.

I was unaware of there being a gay press in those days.  There might have been but I didn’t go to gay bars and if there was the papers weren’t distributed in the rock and roll clubs and coffeehouses I went to.

What we had were the underground newspapers.  New York had the venerable Village Voice as well as the East Village Other and RAT .  As it happened the Stonewall Riot took place the last weekend of June and the next alternative newspaper release day would be July 4th so the news cycle had been pushed up.  This meant I really didn’t hear much about the story until the second week of July.

Other things were happening.  Like moonwalks, people going to Cuba with the Venceremos Brigades and the forth-coming Woodstock.

Stonewall did have staying power and while it was less important to those of us in the Bay Area as an immediate event it marked a national shift in consciousness.  Gays and lesbians had become a part of what we called The Movement and in the long term became more an enduring entity than many of the other elements of the movement that were dominant in the spring of 1969.

I tried to become involved.  I believe in the cause but in the late 1960s there may have been a place for drag queens in the Gay Liberation Struggle but there wasn’t any place for transsexuals except as friends of and perhaps mascots.

Until I came out as a lesbian in 1974, my main role was fag-hag.

3 Responses to “Forty Years Ago”

  1. Edith Says:

    I can relate, Suzan, way past all the transsexualism. I was eighteen that summer, fresh out of Catholic high school. I was a road runner. I went to the Newport Jazz and Folk festivals that summer. I remember David Peel and his Lower East Side Boys out in the parking lot after the Folk festival. Went to Woodstock too – three days of puke and garbage.

    I remember one of the many times hitching back from D C after a demonstration, like the time I shared a bit of intimacy with a Black chauffeur in traffic after he picked me up on the Geo Washington bridge and promised me the glories only someone who had given a life to Allah could enjoy, if I came back to Harlem with him. I said, no, and later got picked up by a Puerto Rican family. After they dropped me off I ended up stuck on the Cross Bronx Thruway for four hours.

    I didn’t know about Stonewall. The word gay was very new to me then. I remember the guy in the Cadillac, who just before he dropped me off, asking me if I were gay, circa 1969. I didn’t know what he meant but I sure knew what he wanted. No, I wasn’t gay. As Lynn Conway says, I was much worse than that and… I liked girls, too.

    I always envied people like you, the hip ones who found a home. All, I ever found was the road until….

    Believe it if you will. Don’t, if you won’t. It took me years to learn about Harry Benjamin…

    About this comment, use it if you want. Lose it, if you don’t.

  2. tinagrrl Says:

    Heck, I think it’a a really good comment. It’s obviously from the heart, and captures the flavor of the times.

    I wish I remembered more of the late 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s — I spent a lot of time stoned and / or drunk. I have a lot of memories, glimpses, flashes of moments – hard as hell to put anything in order. I met all sorts of people, can never quite remember exactly who they were / are. Strangely, I was welcome almost everywhere.

  3. Suzan Says:

    I was a history major and I dropped out of school to be part of history rather than studying it.

    I took existential responsibility as an active participant in the movement. I took the acid and cleared the barriers.

    The time was right and the personal was the political. I had revolutionaries as family and they gave me the space and support to do what I had to do because they respected me and loved me.

    Gay was something I tried. Being a queen was plan B.

    But the politics were mandatory no matter what I did about the personal.

    A year after I went 24/7 I had a deserter as a boyfriend.

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