US – GLBT Historical Society Re-Launches Passionate Struggle Archives…

This is the institution that Susan Stryker collected my oral history for.

SFO Bay Times 2/18/2010

Historical Society Re-Launches Passionate Struggle Archives

By Dennis McMillan

February 18, 2010
Exhibit consultant Elisabeth Cornus with curators Don Romesburg and Amy Sueyoshi.

Since 1985, the GLBT Historical Society has collected, documented, preserved, and shared the queer community’s rich and varied history. The Society keeps history alive through its archives, exhibits, and programming. The “Passionate Struggle” archives, being part of the GLBT Historical Society, have moved from the temporary Castro location to that of the Society in the 657 Mission Street building. These have been reinstalled and re-launched in the main gallery downtown. Now 20% of the pieces have been rotated out. “The structure is basically the same,” said Paul Boneberg, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, “but it has been updated and added to.”

It divides the queer history of San Francisco into four parts all starting with the letter “p”: people, places, politics, and pleasure. “It’s a way of surveying queer history, and of particular interest to visitors to the City,” he said. Boneberg announced a major exhibit will open in the summer for their silver anniversary in the Castro. “I am more hopeful than I’ve ever been that we will be back in the Castro again,” Boneberg told Bay Times.

They are in final negotiations with Walgreens. After a delay of several months, the GLBT Historical Society recently received a renewed offer from the Walgreens Corporation to lease a storefront for a new Castro exhibit. This storefront is on 18th Street, right off Castro Street. It is twice as large as the previous Castro Street exhibit, and would allow them to increase their programming significantly. The proposed lease would be for five years, with rent substantially lower than market rate. The Society calls it “a very generous offer.”

Walgreens and the Historical Society are endeavoring to move quickly to obtain permits and begin construction. Boneberg said the exhibit in the Castro will look at the 25 year history of LGBT people in the Bay Area and look to the future as well.

Meanwhile, the Society has refreshed “Passionate Struggle” while a committee is working on a totally new exhibit. “We didn’t know when we took down ‘Passionate Struggle’ from its space at Castro and 18th how it would fit in our downtown gallery; but as it turns out, it fits as if it was planned to be here,” said co-curator Don Romesburg. “It’s nice to be able to show off what is our crown jewel of our city history.” He noted there have been several changes. For instance, they have brought in more items related to queer people of color. Photographs are new, including the Committee for Homosexual Freedom from 1969, picketing a steamship company after it fired an employee for appearing in a gay newspaper. There is an issue of Diseased Pariah News – one of their most controversial, in-your-face issues – as a play on “This is your brain on drugs.” Fancy is a transgender woman who gave them her collection, including one in a series of pamphlets, “Religious Aspects of Transsexualism by the Erickson Educational Foundation” from 1971 about how to inform one’s family and people in the faith community of the support a trans person needs. There is a fairly explicit pamphlet with quite erotic images on safer sex targeting African American men from the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, a relatively conservative organization at that time. Another new item is “The Bimonthly,” the newsletter of the Bisexual Center, founded in 1976, when a lot of people in the bi community were struggling to find their own voice. Visitors who frequented the Castro museum are challenged to find the rest of the new items in the exhibit.

“I am really grateful for all the volunteers who not only kept ‘Passionate Struggle’ alive in the Castro but also enabled us to come into the Mission,” said co-curator Amy Sueyoshi. “We are mostly volunteer run and couldn’t do this without the volunteers’ support.”

Elizabeth Cornu, head object conservator at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and exhibit consultant, made sure items were properly cared for in the transfer and display process (from the Mission to the Castro and back to the Mission), that nothing would be damaged. “I have been involved off and on with the GLBT Historical Society over the years, and I seem to have intensified my assistance,” she said. “It’s just sort of a natural progression.”

She added, “They ask me questions, and I come and help. It’s fun, and I love it.”

A specialized exhibit, “Keepin’ On:” Images of African American Lesbians,” has also been installed on two of the walls of the Mission location. It is sponsored by the Lesbian Herstory Archives, created in 1991 to celebrate and honor the diversity, creativity, and strength of the African American lesbian community. The title comes from the phrase Mabel Shampton used when working at the Archives: “keep on keepin’ on.” She was one of the first volunteers at the Archives and was out in the African American community her entire life. She died in 1989 at the age of 87. The Lesbian Herstory Archives was founded in 1974.


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Sometimes I Feel Like I am Watching “Paris is Burning”

When I was young I used to go to Drag Bars, the nasty sleazy kind, as if there are any other, because in the world of gay and lesbian bars those that let queens and trannies in are generally at the bottom of the lumpen prole level of social standing.

I was friends with a bunch of queens, trannie hookers, who would now be elevated to the status of transgender sex workers, an exercise in title inflation with no improvement in pay or benefits that is so characteristic of the post Reagan/Thatcher world of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism (fascism).

Nothing ever changes.  John Rechy wrote of the scenes in these sorts of bars in late 1950s Los Angeles and I witnessed it in the mid 1970s.  Paris is Burning was shot in the 1980s and one can view the slightly up-scale version in the on-line world of trannies on a daily basis.

Youth and realness are prized.  The ability to walk down the street as yourself without getting beaten or verbally harassed is a source of both admiration and pride.

I was part of an elite clique when we were going through the Stanford Program, I lived in Berkeley, not in the Tenderloin, worked the phone and not the street.

In my early 20s I was teenage hippie girl pretty, and real to the point that when a couple of my BFFs first met me they thought I was a Berkeley psych student researching a paper.

I didn’t spend any time in the bars prior to SRS.  I was in a common law marriage with Jerry and worked at the Center.

My clique was composed of sisters who were also young and pretty, self described “divas”. We attended the group sessions at Stanford, which were clearly misnamed as a “grooming clinic” and which were much more like rap groups where relationships and employment problems as well as questions regrading “the operation” were discussed.  Because our Center was on Turk Street, in a low rent space on a nasty block Jan and I referred those of us who were the young and the pretty as “The Tenderloin Terrors” a play on the names of Roller Derby teams of the day.  Those from San Jose who were older and more established were “The San Jose Bombers”, a reference to the aero-space industry that pre-dated the electronics/computer industry.

About 10 years back I wrote a piece called “Mean Teen Queens and the Mothras”.

This should be an indication that the HBS or Hairy Bull Shit and “Classic Transsexual” is just a post-modern rebranding of a game as old as queens and trannies.  John Rechy wrote about it in City of Night, specifically the chapter “Miss Destiny’s Fabulous Wedding”.  For all I know it went on in the blind pig, private drag bars of 1880-90 New York City.

There is one thing, one element of that I saw during the period of 1973-74 when I was hanging out with the trannie sex workers of Hollywood Blvd, photographing them and documenting their lives as well as my own for my approach was as a participant observer.

That is the competition over realness.  The whole, “I’m real and you are not.” thingie.

In Paris is Burning one of the older queens, I believe from the House of LaBeija explains the difference between reading and throwing shade.  Reading is one sister calling another sister a trannie.  Well when both are trannies what sense does that one make?

So people throw shade and put others down as not being as real or as much woman.  Which is pretty weird since we all started out as transsexual or transgender and had an operation or didn’t.

Now over the years I’ve seen those who get carried away like Amanda Lapore.  I’ve seen the silicon disasters and the huge implants.

I’ve also seen the pictures of some of the folks doing some of the nastiest name calling.  Not even trannie chasers would be attracted to them.

There is a lot of isolation, substance abuse and anger.  It goes with the territory of growing up trans and abused.  The on-line world has given some people a way to vent their resentment and like what one sees among other groups of lumpen folks rather than fighting their oppression many would rather engage in hostility towards each other.

As someone who has been part of various movements over the years  I view this as both a waste of time and as having negative impact on all who are involved.  Particularly since those who tend to do the most stone throwing and name calling tend to set themselves off as not only better than every one else (those lying about being intersex) or claiming deep stealth in spite of being all over the internet.

Transgender and transsexual are vastly different in some very real ways and for many people with transsexualism certain problems that tend to be life long for people with transgenderism are transitory and end with the legal recognition one gains with SRS.  Other problems remain the same.  Isolation from family and structures cis-sexual/gender people take for granted.  Discrimination, relationship difficulties and myriad of issues including substance abuse.

Sometimes the discovery that as a woman, particularly as a middle aged woman one disappears and is so ordinary as to be ignored is a bitter pill to swallow after all the attention and being treated as special during transition.  I suspect a good deal of lashing out is a cry for attention, a way of saying “Look at me!  I am special.  Not like all the other trannies.”

You see way back when I was part of the group considered the divas, we didn’t find it necessary to put people down because we sort of basked in their admiration and acted with a certain noblesse oblige, after all it was our responsibility to those who admired us.

We knew who the Mothras were and just recently my last surviving girlfriend from that era reminded my of how bad some looked.  But she also mentioned how much courage they had and how some were so nice that you couldn’t help but feel their pain.

Sometime when I read some of the vicious stuff slamming other people because they are less real than the person doing the slamming I am stunned by the lack of empathy that gets shown on line.

Perhaps it is the nature of the media and the generalize anonymity as well as ability to hurl insults from the safety of one’s own home causes people to say stuff that they wouldn’t on the streets.  But having hung out in drag bar while photographing that scene in Hollywood I sort of doubt it.

The funny thing is I listen to Sirius Radio’s “Out-Q” Show “Derek and Romaine Show” during my evening drive time.  Yesterday Tina and I were going to dinner and listening, we find their show hysterically funny, and they had a queen named Hedda Lettuce on.  Hedda proceeded to dish and trash all the other queens who perform in the same venues that she does.

Some timmes the phrase, “Your roots are showing.” isn’t about needing a touch up with the dye bottle.