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From Mongrel by Justin Chin


In 1994, in the midst of the hoopla surrounding the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, I did a radio interview with a journalist who was preparing this mondo piece on just that. He needed an Asian (any ethnicity), and I thought it might just be an interesting experience. The interview went along fine until I said the phrase "black and Puerto Rican drag queens." That's when the entire interview went sloshing downhill. "No!" Mr. Journalist declared. "That's a myth, and I want to debunk the myth. I want to tell the Truth !" He whipped out pie charts and little flow charts that illustrated his point; he said that he had interviewed at least six different people who claimed they threw the first brick. "Besides, the Stonewall bar did not allow non-White patrons or drag queens into it, so they couldn't have been there. They came the second night." Mr. Journalist beamed triumphantly. He had done this before. Then came the icing on his cupcake: "Knowing that, how does this change your opinions about Stonewall?" he asked smugly.

In retrospect, my answer was quite lame: "History is a matter of opinion," I said. "Different people will view history differently. I don't think who started it makes any difference, and I don't think it changes what was achieved and what was lost."

Thinking back now, it strikes me that I never understood Stonewall at all, I simply got it off the back of a truck. I was told it was important (is it?) and that I had to be suitably thankful for it (am I?) But that's what history is all about, isn't it?

We know something of where we were and the way we were, but where the hell are we going? Certainly gays and lesbians existed before Stonewall, were organized, and some even ran for office before Stonewall. I was way queer, and quite happily doing what queers do with other queers, before I had even heard of Stonewall. But those June nights in 1969, when I was a mere queer fetus, did something irrevocably incredible that cannot be denied. Still, time goes on, history is made, and history is lost.

The gay community is experiencing a great generational gap. It's a vicious cycle; each generation feels it has cornered the market on what it's like to be gay. The older generation tells us what it was like to be really gay back then, when they had:

  • Donna Summer, when she meant something;
  • Bette Midler, when she meant something;
  • the good old days when punk was good and when a mosh pit was a mosh pit;
  • real bell-bottoms, not $120 Elle magazine retro fashion;
  • sex without condoms;
  • venereal diseases that didn't outright kill you; and
  • those insidious little homosexual moustaches.

My generation tells the younger queer brats what it was like to be queer back then, and how they will never know what it was like:

  • to sit in a room of sixty people on a Wednesday night and try to reach consensus on something;
  • to wear black-leather jackets with fluorescent queer-positive stickers, and how difficult it was to scrape those stickers off later;
  • to be at a kiss-in when a kiss-in meant something;
  • to be so filled with anger and a strange hope at an AIDS demonstration;
  • having to defend using the word queer;
  • when piercing our bodies meant something beyond fashion; and
  • to make those damn 'zines, stapling and folding all night in the days before power staplers.

It's hard to live in the past, but still some people persist. Nostalgia bites hard. The old refuse to grow old, the young refuse to grow up. Maybe it's understandable. We don't want to grow old in a culture that doesn't value age, we don't want to be less than what we feel we're worth, and we cling to the best days of our lives. For some, it's the sixties, or the seventies. I find myself watching eighties music videos on MTV and tearing up. We want to forever be nubile young brown bodies, lying in the sun, glorious as a Whitman ode, succulent enough to make the boys we secretly love forget to say their prayers.

I look in my closet and I see that I have inherited a gaggle of colored drag queens (though some would still disagree over their color) tossing bricks at cops who look suspiciously like the uniformed queens in a leather bar ten or twenty years later. I have inherited torrid stories of poppers and nights of unsafe sex in bathhouse upon bathhouse, each succeeding one more fanciful, more sleazy, and more capable of fulfilling every homosexual fantasy. But you will never know what it's like to have fifty men stick their dicks in all your orifices every day of your life, will you, sonny boy? I have inherited a virus, a wrecked community, memorials and Name Quilts, clinical trials and the AIDS industry as a viable and "noble" career choice.

But here I shall make a break: Let the young ones be queer the way they want to be queer, as long as they are queer, as long as they find among themselves each other to love. I've given up the dream of the Queer Nation. Race, class, gender, ideologies, and values will always divide us. It is ludicrous to think that since we share a common passion, we should all want the same things out of this life. We are each other's angels, and we are each other's demons. Beyond ourselves, there will always be those that wish for nothing more than to see us dead" They have been wishing and acting on it for centuries, but we are not vanishing. Call it sheer luck, call it divine intervention, call it tenacity. The fundamentalist Christians will call it a symptom of the end of the world as prophesied.

I have no idea what it is to be gay or queer anymore; nor do I care. I am so over being queer, and I don't care what I call myself or what anyone else calls me; it's all a matter of convenience these days. I believe it being unapologetic for my desires. All I know is when I wake in the night to find my lover's body next to mine, no history -- real or imagined, myth or fact, inherited or created -- can make me feel any less than brilliant in his arms.

Sounds good, right? Now read some excerpts:

Copyright © 1999 Justin Chin.

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