“Seneca Falls … Selma … Stonewall.” I gasped, and the other college students in our subterranean computer lab frowned at me. I shrugged by way of apology, and they slipped back into their somnolent attempts at studying.
Winter holidays had ended, and the new semester had many of us struggling to let go the comfort that Christmas and a new year had brought. However, one word had banished the lazy weakness from my muscles. One word had pushed me to the edge of my seat, staring deeper into a computer screen — so close I could discern the pixels — as the world’s most powerful man took his vows of service to my country.
Stonewall. I could hardly believe I had heard the word cross President Barack Obama’s lips when he spoke at his second inauguration. The one word, punctuating that powerfully alliterative phrase, gave me the sensation of hearing somewhere far off glass shattering — as if some transparent yet so far unyielding barrier had finally given way to a single point of pressure. Finally, I felt, the gay rights struggle had been openly acknowledged along with the journeys for gender and racial equality in this country–the same civil rights journeys that had now delivered, for the second time, a black man to the nation’s highest office.
Strange now that some short two years later, that word should so easily fracture our community as we reach an unimagined level of recognition — certainly unimaginable to those men and women who marched Christopher Street decades ago declaring this the age of “gay liberation.”
Based on the trailer, the film Stonewall will certainly be guilty of many of the accusations leveled against the historical drama. While I connect deeply with New York newcomer Danny — who literally and figuratively isn’t in Kansas anymore — and his arc from closeted child of the American heartland to urbanized radical, I do so only through the thread of my own white cis male privilege. Stonewall as a turning point belongs to all queer people, but none of us can or should deny the role our transgender sisters of color played in sparking the revolution whose eventual spoils we almost greedily enjoy today.
The trailer for this groundbreaking film appears to do what the gay rights movement has been doing since the 1990s — quietly concealing the importance and needs of transgender people behind the mask of the white male to normalize us to mainstream America. A pragmatic tactic — some might say a “necessary evil” — but unfortunately, even in 2015, one we must still tolerate.
A boycott is no answer. First, this is Hollywood we are talking about. Roland Emmerich is the same man who directed that homeland love fest that was Mel Gibson’s The Patriot — so an expectation of true historical accuracy is plainly naive. More importantly, I ask myself — who is this movie for? Is it really for those of us with queer identities or, like any other Hollywood project, is it targeting the mainstream? I am inclined to believe the latter, and I believe that we should support the movie despite its glaring historical inaccuracies for, once again, the sake of courting the “average American.”
I wrote recently about how the film Brokeback Mountain changed my relationship with my straight, conservative father. As much as he has changed, I can hardly imagine a conversation where I could explain the true importance of Stonewall to him. Too many barriers still stand — of generation, of language, of belief and conviction. He, like so many family members across the country no matter the skin color, cannot be expected to feel the poignancy of Stonewall without the pillowy reductionism that Hollywood brings to most nuanced and powerful historical moments.
The challenge of accessing queer history is hard enough for potential allies. We should not compound it by splintering ourselves over such an important turning point in our legacy just because we have realized — years after the fact — that the media representation so key to our recent victories has also coldly concealed our failures as a community.
Take the higher road. Instead of boycotting the movie — of declaring it #notmystonewall — bring a family member or friend who has started to open up to you, but does not yet know the legacy of which you are a part. Make the moment, not ourselves, the point of the conversation. Ease a loved one through the film, then seize the chance to build off the story with the facts of the summer of ’69. Hollywood has delivered us an incomplete story, but we have the chance to fill in the blanks. Let’s not waste it.
Two years ago when I heard Obama say Stonewall to millions watching, I was rocked by the moment. But for most others, those who voted for and against him, it was just another word — a carefully timed rhetorical device, used and discarded. Stonewall is more than a talking point, more than a Hollywood drama — but the path to Christopher Street is no easy one to follow. I say we should take advantage of every opportunity to convey the significance of our movement, no matter how contrived or misleading, and be responsible arbiters of the story after the screen fades to black.
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