At XSport, the hyper-masculine gym I go to, I was amazed at the gumption of one of its members.  A white-haired man in his sixties or seventies was talking about his life to a virtual stranger, a man who appeared to be about fifty.  The fit, trim, white-haired man mentioned how his partner died at age 62. 

Whenever someone mentions a partner, not a husband or wife, my ears perk up. 

Then the man elucidated, saying when He died, the older gentleman had to reconstruct his whole life.  His message seemed to be:  indeed life goes on, and we are richer for the experience of knowing someone extra special to us, someone who has made an indelible mark, but there will always be a sense of loss and a certain type of mourning.

Despite the sadness that this man had lost his husband, I for some reason thought of that Virginia Slims cigarette commercial, some of you may be too young to remember, “We’ve come a long way, baby!”  Gay men have come from a place of shame to forthrightness, an “honest-ness” about our loves and our lives.  There was a time in Chicago and many other places where one man was not allowed to buy another man a drink.  Busts of gay bars were a regular occurrence where patrons were rounded up and arrested; then, their names were unceremoniously published in the paper. 

Then the Stonewall riots lit up New York. 

Even many young gay men and women who take their civil rights for granted don’t know about Stonewall.  It was a bar in the Big Apple frequented by gay men, lesbians, and drag queens.  On June 27, 1969, in New York’s Greenwich Village, after the Stonewall bar was busted, as had happened so many other times, in so many places, the patrons this time resisted and fought back.  It was fairly common in that era for the mafia to control gay bars, and these mafia members quickly removed the cigar boxes that served as money tills, but then something highly unusual happened.  It’s unclear whether a lesbian dressed as a man was the first one to resist arrest, or whether a defiant male in drag posed in the doorway, rallying the other people in the bar.  Whatever actually happened, the crowd decided they were not going to go quietly.  What is clearer is that the patrons began throwing coins at the officers, mocking them for the system of payoffs, commonly referred to as “gayola.”

That moment in 1969 marked the start of the gay movement.

We still have much left to do, “miles to go before we sleep,” but Stonewall changed the way gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals let people know what they will and will not tolerate. 

Now the marriage issue, along with its attendant rights, is squarely front and center in our minds, and we still fight for our civil rights, but I think it is a victory that we have come so far.  Now a sixty year old man at a gym in a conservative suburb can tell his story and let people around him know that he is gay and has had a life that matters.

 

  

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