If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want Your Revolution
I love that we are reclaiming the history and legacy of Stonewall as Resistance this year. It is long past due that we are finally honoring the Trans Women of Color–Marsha P Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and so many Trans and Gay folks who had finally just had enough and instead of cowering in fear when the police descended, threw bricks and punches and words. The pent up rage of years of shame, derision and abuse unleashed. Anger as catharsis, as catalyst; Anger can be so powerful.
Resistance and Solidarity have always been in our toolbox. But this year Pride I also want to lift up another of our LGBTQ Superpowers. The power of Joy, of Desire, of Love. The Resistance needs our sass, our lust for life and our embrace of the Fabulous.
I could not wait this month for the new season of POSE– the brilliant series bringing to life the ballroom scene of the 80s and 90s. (This was first documented in the must see Paris is Burning– which incidentally was funded in part by visionary Lesbians of Color at the Astraea Fund
The Black and Brown queer women and men of Pose have tragedies and challenges but they live out loud — they dance, they prance, they adorn and create themselves. They are beautiful and Fabulous and Real. (They were all of this long before Madonna discovered them.) They forge beautiful bonds of family and community in the face of rejection, loss, danger and they are gorgeous. Look closer and you will see defiance in that dance, in the swish, in the coy look –there is incredible bravery in staring down disdain and rejection and living authentically in spite of it all
POSE also honors the fierce resistance and solidarity of a people besieged by HIV and AIDS. A cruel epidemic began killing us off and our government, and often our own families, turned away, stigmatized us even further, left us to die. In response LGBTQ people organized ACT UP to demand change and forged powerful communities of support and chosen family that nursed and comforted each other — sometimes to health, sometimes at least to a more dignified death. We are a people who turn ache into action.
Some outside the LGBTQ movement marvel at the “fast” victory on marriage equality. We know that we stand on the shoulders of generations who withstood unspeakable heartache and loss. Bayard Rustin, the legendary labor and civil rights organizer was shunned because he simply dared to pursue his passion and desire for men. Harvey Milk was shot down dead because he dared to be the first gay person to run for office. Karen Thompson had to fight in court for years to be with and care for her beloved partner Sharon Kowalski. Dennis and Judy Shepard lost their son Matthew to hateful violence.
And our work is far from done. Transgender women of color experience an epidemic of violence and murder. Because of bullying and family rejection our LGBTQ youth experience homelessness and attempt suicide at rates far higher than their peers. HIV and AIDS still ravages particularly Black and Brown LGBTQ people– the cruel power of racism and neglect: we know how to prevent and treat this disease but we are losing thousands of loved ones every year.
Anger and Fighting Back are necessary but they are not enough. In these days of Rage, to outlast and outwit a presidency unhinged, corporate power run amok and daily atrocities of racism sexism and more, we need Resilience, we need Joy, we need Gay Fabulous. We need Desire and Love and Connection. We need to claim this as our legacy and our Superpower and one of our most valuable contributions to the Resistance — because if we take ourselves too seriously, we grow weary and brittle, we turn on each other and ourselves, we won’t make it and he will win.
Stonewall was a gay bar after all. Just like Pulse was a Latinx gay club — a place to party. Pride parades the tragic Pulse June of 2016 and then the devastating Trump June of 2017 swelled with defiant marchers and revelry. Pride really is a parade more than it is a protest march — which means scores of people join it — not just the subculture of activists who carry picket signs and chant chants. The pounding club music. The kitchy rainbow everything. The boys dancing in their tiny shorts showing off their bodies. Trans folk being their true beautiful selves. The lesbians and bi girls with blue hair and sassy lipstick, the non-binary youth insisting on their own identities. A fierce resilience that has been born out of judgement, rejection and disdain. Pride is a will to live, to love, to dance, to play.
As a young activist I was enamored with the legendary Emma Goldman– she fought for economic justice. She was a rebel and a radical, and a fiery orator. Yes she had an analysis and took great risks to challenge corporate and state power. She also was a fiercely independent woman who took many lovers and refused to be boxed by gender. At a dance she was scolded by some of her comrades for enjoying herself and her many partners too much when urgent political work was at hand. She famously said “If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution”.
This year Pride we honor the drag queens that fought back at Stonewall — bold and audacious in their beauty, scrappy and willing to fight when pushed too far. The Audacity of Fabulous.
AND to so many amazing friends and allies fighting righteous social justice fights alongside the LGBTQ movement we offer inspiration: Treat yourself and watch POSE! Embrace your own Fabulous. Do something today that simply gives you pleasure. Make something beautiful for someone else you know who needs to feel seen and loved. Take a break from the news and read poetry. Flirt, love, defy other’s expectations of you. Dance!