In 1967, I used to escape up-state New York and go to Greenwich Village . I would stay at the Hotel Albert on 10th St.
I came for the music. I came to be around other hippie kids. I came to cop some weed. I came looking for myself. The Village offered everything small town up-state NY did not.
I didn’t dare go out in public in full drag, instead I would dress androgynously in the pop hippie clothes that looked as though they could be women’s clothes but weren’t.
New York City has the TPF (Tactical Patrol Force) policing the Village to keep the hippies, flower children, weekend partiers and queers in line. Transgressing the limits of what they saw as full drag could result in a trip to the Tombs. That would in turn mean a phone call home and an explanation for my being arrested that I was not yet ready to give.
New York City had a vague three items of clothing law in those days. It doesn’t matter if this was an actual law or a mythical one but it was queen common knowledge although no one could ever tell me if it was wearing more than three items of clothing belonging to the other sex or if one had to wear at least three items of clothing associated with your anatomical sex.
But it was 1967 and androgynous clothes from hippie boutiques allowed one to skirt the issues completely. Sexual freedom was in the air as was freedom of self-expression. Articles about gays were starting to appear in place like Life Magazine. Those of us who were transkids knew about Johns Hopkins doing SRS, Benjamin’s book was out there even if no one could find a copy. Esquire had an article about Transsexuals.
On one of my trips to the city I met the first person who was clearly like me. A hippie queen, she too was looking to the family one could find in the ghettos. She was wiser than I about survival in the City of Night.
She was the one who told me that San Francisco was a far better place for transsexuals than New York and that one could actually live as a woman there as well as get hormones. She said, “Queens out there even have their own organizations.”
And queens is what we were, from hippie princesses to hair-fairy, scare queens to those who dared to wear high drag in public. Some of us were pre-ops, even pre-transition others were simply flamboyant effeminate gay men.
Many of the queens of that era were “scare queens” as described by David Carter in his book Stonewall.
Hippie queens could move from East Village and Alphabet City to the West Village with out attracting the high level of attention scare queens did. We were like guerrillas, able to blend into the sea of flower children. Scare queens were like shock troops, confrontational in their loud in your face femininity, women’s clothes and make-up worn with no attempt to pass as a woman.
I was terrified that I could wind up being like that because it meant being pretty much a complete outlaw with zero prospects of actually holding any form of legitimate job.
The denial closet was going out of style. However, neither the hippie queens nor the scare queens were representative of the vast majority of the gay male population. The majority of gay men are and were masculine to a greater or lesser degree in their presentation. Indeed outside of certain events and situation queens, transsexuals and transgenders are looked down upon and discriminated against to almost the same degree as they are in the straight world. This is especially true when one crosses the line from drag as camp to seriously transition towards becoming a woman or living full time as transgender.
My trips to the city were to learn how to survive and to see first hand what the world I was destined to enter was like. They were a way of feeling out how I would fit into this world. When I had first started dressing up I told myself that it was just to see if what I felt inside was real. In New York it was more a matter of learning how to navigate a world I already knew I was part of and a way of life I would soon be living.
I knew this would include sex with men.
The first time I had sex with a man I let pick me up at the Christopher Street Subway Station entrance about 100 feet from where the riot would take place two years later.
I had wanted to shed my virginity as it seemed stupid to remain sexually inexperienced and since I had been labeled as a queen since getting busted in a dress by my parents when I was 13 it seemed only natural that I would have sex with men.
I mean in 1967 it just seemed that if I was going to become a girl I had better like guys. I soon discovered that gay men didn’t like transsexuals, even the pre-coming out kind because we were girls and they were into men.
I was also starting to learn you couldn’t tell all that much about other queens from the clothes they wore or how they acted .
I knew exactly where in the Village to go. You see the Village was divided into the East Village, Washington Square area and the West Village on the west side of Sixth Avenue.
The part west of the “Avenue of the Americas” was the gay part.
Later that fall after the Pentagon demonstration, someone on the Cortland college newspaper asked me what I thought of homosexuality. I said something positive about gay rights although I was very uncomfortable about being pinned as gay and I hedged my statement making it sound as though I was speaking in the abstract. An SDS friend of mine was much more out and proud.
There were out gay and lesbian people in the movements but at that point I was still struggling with who I was, tentatively exploring and yet afraid of making the commitment to being who I knew I was.