Erased

Within the theme of the talk I will be giving today on intersectionality, here is a piece of creative non fiction which has never been published, and was first read at The Bureau of General Services-Queer Division.

Erased

Saturday June 28th 1969

Lines cut the faces beneath the make up of Sylvia Rivera, a Puerto Rican and Venezuelan transvestite, and her friend, Marsha P. Johnson, an African American transvestite, lines cut by years of abuse and bouts of homeless, cut the same way water cuts the ground into a river. The two are celebrating Marsha’s birthday at Stonewall, a place which, from the outside, with its black door and bordered up windows, looks more like an abandoned storefront than a bar. In order to get in, you have to knock on the door and when a voice asks “Who sent you?,” you reply “Mary sent me!” The door cracks open to let you in. Inside, thanks to the bar’s partnership with the Gambino crime family, the liquor flows. The patrons of all colors and classes talk and drink and dance—especially dance, especially slow dance; they hold their partners in a way they can not outside this bar; in a way that, outside this bar, was erased centuries before.

Friday June 26, 2015

I am in my bedroom on a weekly phone call with my mother. A reporter announces the Supreme Court has just granted gays and lesbians the right to marry. I choke up. My mother, now concerned, asks me what is wrong. I can’t speak and have to hang up on her. When I call her back I apologize and tell her the news. She is ecstatic. As a 36 year old gay man who was almost married in Pennsylvania, a state which amended its state constitution to exclude gay marriage, I am ecstatic. I remember Bush’s reelection 11 years ago being won on a promise to the religious right to erase us. Today they have failed. Today no one has erased us.

Saturday, June 28th 1969

Office Seymour Pine, a white cop with broad shoulders and a sharp angled nose, is the Deputy Inspector in charge of public morals for the Greenwich Village area. He was appointed a year ago and is confident this raid will go like the others. No problems. He and one other officer will announce the raid. The patrons will file out. Officers will determine the real men from the real women and then the patrons will be arrested.

Sunday June 28th, 2015

My boyfriend has gotten some extra work today as a bartender for a rich artist throwing a weekend party to sell his new work and I do not want to go to the Pride parade by myself. Because of the SCOTUS ruling I know this is a Pride to be remembered; as the early afternoon takes over the late morning the pictures begin crowding my Facebook and Instagram feeds, pictures of smiling faces, mostly white, cheering on the parade, paired gays and lesbians who created their families long before the Supreme Court caught up with them, keeping the strollers their infants are sleeping in close, holding the tiny hands of their toddlers who have had tiny rainbows painted on their tiny cheeks. Later I will see pictures of shirtless men soaked in vodka and rainbow flags, men who paid eighty dollars a ticket to listen to Ariana Grande sing at the annual Pride Pier Party. A video of a white queen dancing with a cop starts making the rounds. The Advocate will pick it up a day later with the headline: Hot Cop Dances with Parade Watcher. The article will praise how well the NYPD treated the parade goers and its readers will concur in the comments section.

Saturday, June 28th 1969

The raid does not go as planned. The patrons do not file out. They spill out of the bar and into Sheridan Park, fueled by anger. Marsha has already started beating back the two cops. A few have been handcuffed and are being transported to the paddy wagon. One drag queen, with a wig teased and layered to mimic Elizabeth Taylor, kicks a cop until he drops to the ground. She drops on top of him, frisks him for the tiny key, unlocks her handcuffs, and passes the key down the line so the others can free themselves. Officer Pine calls in back up.

Sunday June 28th 2015

We drive to Jersey City around 9 pm and take the PATH across the Hudson. I want to get out at 9th street, so that we can pass Stonewall, which has recently been granted landmark status, on our way to the western end of Christopher street to our haunt, Rockbar, where my boyfriend produces a weekly burlesque show. I assume that since the parade has been over for seven hours, the metal barriers will have been removed. As we approach Christopher Street I realize this is not true. The pedestrians are being forced into strange traffic patterns behind the barriers while cops stand in the empty street, three at each corner, and one at the center of block.

Saturday June 28th 1969

Officer Pine is both alarmed and impressed with a group of drag queens who uproot a parking meter and use it as battering ram to break open the now padlocked black doors. Other drag queens have locked arms and kick their legs out like Rockettes, singing “We are the Village girls; we wear our hair in curls!” More cops are now arriving. Another drag queen has an officer on the ground and is beating him with her shoe.

Sunday June 28th 2015

It is quickly evident that there is no actual traffic pattern being administered by the police. They are simply in the streets, watching us. We squeeze through crowds of mostly young black and brown faces. The white faces of my Facebook and Instagram feeds are long gone, the ones with children back home to their middle class track housing and million dollar condos on the Hudson to tuck in their children and ready themselves for sleep and work the next day, the childless ones falling exhausted from the official Pride parties into the luxury of the official Pride hotel beds. The line to get into Stonewall leads down the street, so I change my mind and we head towards Rockbar.

Saturday June 28th, 1969

Patrons are now bloody from nightstick beatings. They shout “Police brutality!” and “Kill the police!” Mama Jean, a white lesbian, is struck in the back of her legs. She pulls the nightstick from the officer’s grip and hands it to her girlfriend who then begins to beat the officer to the ground. As her girlfriend beats him, Mama Jean is bent over and shouting “How do you like it? How do you like the pain?” At that moment, she wants the officer dead.

Sunday June 28th, 2015

It takes us twenty minutes to walk about four blocks. We are told by an officer to turn around. “But we need to get to the West Side Highway!” I yell at him. “How the hell are we supposed to get there?”

“I’m sorry, sir. I just got the order. No one’s allowed past here.”

We turn around and push our way back up. I ask another cop why we can’t get to the bar.

“Somebody down there attacked one of the officers,” he told us. “One person has to ruin it for everybody.”

He suggests we try going down a parallel street and loop back to Christopher at the Hudson. We comply and as we stop at each intersection and look down the blocked off block to Christopher, we watch residents of the street pull out their Ids to prove to the cops they do indeed live there, do indeed belong there, and I am reminded of the news reports I registered tangentially as white teenager in the Jersey suburbs where Giuliani’s quality of life campaign forced residents in the upper reaches of Harlem and Inwood to prove they belonged in that neighborhood if cops caught them out after curfew. We make it to the water but still can not get back to Christopher Street. After an hour of walking, we surrender and return to Jersey.

Saturday, June 28th, 1969

Teams of queens turn over cabs. Others zip up and down the block smashing windows. Sylvia watches orange streaks above her as molotov cocktails are thrown and explode in billows of glass and light. She thinks to herself, in Spanish, “Oh my God! The revolution is here!” From that moment on Sylvia, Marsha, every queen, every trans, every fag, every dyke, every queer, refuses to be erased any longer.

Monday June 29th, 2015

I assume reports of the assault on the cop will crowd my news feeds. None appear. I realize this was a lie we were told to keep us compliant; I realize that my boyfriend and I were a few white faces in a glutted sea of brown and black ones and the police did what has been routine for them since Giuliani’s reign 22 years ago: they contained and controlled the black and brown bodies around us whose mere presence is interpreted as a physical threat. I am infuriated. Last night they tried to erase me. And last night they succeeded.

I wonder what it must be like for those black and brown faces, how dehumanizing it must be when your erasure is as routine as telling your kid you love him or catching a subway. I think about Eric Garner pleading for breath from a white cop who had been sanctioned for violence before. I think about Freddie Gray’s snapped spine jostling in the back of that metal paddy wagon. I think about Sandra Bland swinging from a piece of plastic because she did not signal to change lanes. I think about the armored Iraq war leftovers rolled out to quell the Ferguson protests. I think about the billows of glass and fire in Baltimore. I wonder if those gay white faces from my social media feeds, faces I’ve heard comment about Ferguson and Baltimore in whispers protected by white listeners, if they would’ve said the same things about the riot they had just finished celebrating: “If they like that bar so much, why the hell would they trash it? Why are they at a bar owned by the mob? Why can’t they go to a legal one? Why didn’t they just do what the cops said? Don’t they know if they’re innocent everything will turn out okay? If you attack a cop, you deserve whatever you get.” And I wonder, if, like with Ferguson and Baltimore, once those gay white faces are finished, they will return to caring for their children, return to their polished executive office desks, return to the internet to spend three figures on tickets for the next big gay dance party soaked in vodka and rainbows, all the time confident that they have never been, and will never be, erased.

To listen to the participants of Stonewall tell their stories, click here

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