A month ago my daughter asked me for an example of a modern uprising or civil rights movement in the US. I don’t remember what the school assignment was about, but I told her to go look up Stonewall in her Howard Zinn Young People’s History. Kids at her school use the expression “That’s so Gay”, which she doesn’t like, so I thought knowing about Stonewall would be interesting.
I love Howard Zinn because he never shies away from the fact that all information is filtered, even his. “Behind every fact that a teacher or writer presents to the world is judgement” is his motivation for writing his version of history which includes lots of the bits that are left out of school books. Unfortunately he filtered out Stonewall, at least in the edition we have.
I could have just as easily directed her toward the American Indian Movement, or Rachel Carson & the Environmental Movement, but I think the Stonewall Uprising (or Riots depending on who is writing the history) illustrates that a person can become an activist in an instant. And a riot can turn into a revolution over night.
Yesterday I was reading an old New Yorker and came across an article by Alex Ross “Love on the March: Reflections on the Gay Community’s Political Progress and its Future”. He covered a lot of history in the rise of Gay Politics – Stonewall, Harvey Milk’s election and assassination, the AIDS epidemic, Gays in the military and Gay marriage.
It’s interesting to note that this trajectory brings us to one of my daughters peers having the convoluted (notice I did not say F*****d up) view that telling people to stop saying “That’s so Gay” is an insult to Gay people because it implies that you think the word Gay is bad. Tortured reasoning + good intentions= the moral high ground is ignoring it when people say That’s so Gay. A politically correct parody of doing good by doing harm.
Anyway, included in the Ross article was a discussion of David Halperin’s book How to Be Gay, which I have not yet read. It sounds like a fascinating look at how homosexual identity was/is historically formed through cultural activities that accentuate alienation. At least that’s my take on the book from reading an essay not a review. I ordered it from the library so I can read it.
One quote kept tumbling around in my head, an overly familiar reminder of “Otherness” – “every identity is a role or an act. Its just that straight male performance is granted instant authenticity.” This might be the core of all modern “movements” and social agitation. It certainly resonates with the kind of work that I do.
I’ll have to think about it a bit more.