Today’s post is a follow-up to my last piece, Coming Out — Your True Colors. The world has changed a lot since I came out as lesbian some 40+ years ago, and since I consciously realized that, for my survival, I had to transition from female to male in 1995, accomplishing the entirety of my goal in the years between 2000 and 2002. I think, perhaps, that too many GLBT youth are unaware of the legacy they’ve been gifted. So just a smattering of recollections and observations along the journey…
The classic 1928 novel, The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe Hall, a depressing love story, was banned in England. David Smith in his article titled Lesbian novel was ‘danger to nation’ published in the UK’s The Guardian, wrote:
A lesbian novel was banned after official medical advice that it would encourage female homosexuality and lead to ‘a social and national disaster’. In 1928 Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, which got no more racy than ‘she kissed her full on the lips like a lover’, led to an obscenity trial which considered the implications of the national shortage of men and ‘two women in bed making beasts of themselves’.
The Well of Loneliness was one of the first novels I read after accepting the lesbian identity, and it cast a foreboding light on my future. By the time I got to college, I scoured the library bookshelves to understand the nature of homosexuality (hate that word!). I remember looking up the library coding for homosexuality, and discovering that the small selection of relevant books were crammed on the bottom shelf such that one had to sit on the floor to see what was available. If someone strolled past the row where I was crouching, I’d get up and skitter to another section lest someone suspect that I was one of THOSE people.
Among the first books I discovered was Psychopathia Sexualis by Richard Kraft-Ebing, published before 1923, another dismal tome, backed by his “science.” You can read a little more about Kraft-Ebing here, or just Google his name. From this particular website:
In spite of this progressive stance, Krafft-Ebing still considered homosexuality an illness that begged for treatment and a cure. […] But by gathering all forms of sexual abnormality under the umbrella of psychopathology, Krafft-Ebing cast a shadow of insanity upon all forms of sexual behavior that deviated from the heterosexual norm.
Thank goodness, Rita Mae Brown came on the scene and published her book Rubyfruit Jungle in 1973. From Amazon’s description:
Rubyfruit Jungle is the first milestone novel in the extraordinary career of one of this country’s most distinctive writers. Bawdy and moving, the ultimate word-of-mouth bestseller, Rubyfruit Jungle is about growing up a lesbian in America – and living happily ever after.
The Wikipedia article, which reveals that Brown went on to get a doctorate in political science is here. At last, a happy book about being a lesbian!
As I was just edging toward accepting the lesbian label, in 1969, the Stonewall Riots erupted. I didn’t hear about the uprising until several years later. PBS and others made documentaries, as this was the turning point in the GLBT civil rights movement. See the PBS blurb for their documentary here, and be sure to watch the video clip. From the PBS website:
When police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in the Greenwich Village section of New York City on June 28, 1969, the street erupted into violent protests that lasted for the next six days. The Stonewall riots, as they came to be known, marked a major turning point in the modern gay civil rights movement in the United States and around the world.
The University of California – Davis has published a rather comprehensive article, Facts About Homosexuality and Mental Health. From their article:
In 1973, the weight of empirical data, coupled with changing social norms and the development of a politically active gay community in the United States, led the Board of Directors of the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Some psychiatrists who fiercely opposed their action subsequently circulated a petition calling for a vote on the issue by the Association’s membership. That vote was held in 1974, and the Board’s decision was ratified. […] The American Psychological Association (APA) promptly endorsed the psychiatrists’ actions, and has since worked intensively to eradicate the stigma historically associated with a homosexual orientation (APA, 1975; 1987).
If you remember my own “coming out as lesbian” story, I met my first partner, Dee, when I was in 10th grade, in 1972. Still struggling with my own self-acceptance and well aware of the hatred and homophobia all around me, I kept my feelings for Dee to myself. But when homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, our college psychology professors blessedly took a progressive stance and praised the change. This was the seed of true self-acceptance for me, and burgeoning pride. It also opened the door for my relationship with Dee, and we became partners in 1977, my junior year in college.
Now we had a new problem — how to find gay friends to hang out with, socialize with, and have a sense of community. As far as we knew, neither of us had ever met another gay person. The only place to meet gay people in those days was at gay bars, and we didn’t know where any gay bars were located!!
I remember excitedly reading about a gay bar called the Drummers Club in the local newspaper. Of course, the newspaper article was totally disparaging, describing the drag queens and hardcore diesel dykes who frequented the club. But worse, the article wrote about how the crumbling old hotel in which the club was located was about to be demolished. Dee and I hurried to drive past the site, and nothing but the pillars were left standing. As I do my research, I question whether the Drummers Club was located in the Marion Hotel or the Manning Hotel. I thought it was the Marion Hotel… But the two facilities were across the street from each other during a time when downtown Little Rock had gone to ruin due to “white flight.”
Here is what one local historian wannabe writes about the Drummers Club:
Across the street in the basement of the Manning Hotel was the Drummers Club and for many years the only gay bar in Little Rock. As hard as the following might be for the younger gays to accept, Saturday night might consist of going to the Drummers Club; and eating dinner, maybe even with straight friends, staying in your chairs (moving around was discourage) and visiting and listening to the quiet juke box. The employees there practically make it a full time occupation to monitor your actions and any display of affections (even holding hands under the tables) was enough to get you barred. The employees quickly told you that this was not a gar bar; but didn’t you want another drink. The ? seemed to be that the gay dollar certainly was welcome but not the gay reputation. Dancing, of course, was out of the question.
And here is a picture of the Marion Hotel before it was demolished:
One of my great heroes in the battle for GLBT rights in Arkansas was Dr. Ralph Hyman. Around 1980 as I recall, he started a “rap group” for gay people, giving us a place to meet and discuss our feelings outside the bar scene. I don’t know what the organization is now called, but in those days, we had the budding organization, Arkansas Gay Rights, in which Ralph was involved. Ralph was a psychologist who provided counseling to gay people dealing with coming out and grasping for self-acceptance. He also champions the transgendered community, and was the person I turned to for help in finding an attorney when I needed to get my gender marker changed from F to M on my birth certificate. God bless him!
This link gives a clip of what was billed as the first gay pride celebration in Little Rock. Be sure to watch the short video. However, this was not the first gay pride event in Arkansas because I was there as an on-looker for the first one. It must have been around 1980? A few brave souls gathered on the steps of the Arkansas state capitol building with brown paper grocery bags over their heads to be interviewed by press and filmed by local television stations. I wish I could find a citation, but this event seems to have been lost to history. It’s been a long, hard road… Here a picture of what the state capitol building looks like in Little Rock:
Dee was never keen on going to bars because her father was an alcoholic. I wasn’t too keen on going to the clubs either. Loud music made it difficult to hear conversation, and with limited eyesight, I didn’t have the visual cues of seeing people’s lips move. We did go out quite a few times in an effort to make friends. Possibly already covered this stuff in prior posts, but there was a really run down women’s bar in the worst part of town called the Silver Dollar. The place had dark paneling, threadbare carpet, one pool table, and a juke box in the corner. No dancing was allowed. First time we went, we saw a sea of women in flannel shirts, most sitting on bar stools, some playing pool. We were a little beyond college age, and as we walked in, every head turned in our direction. We didn’t know if they were thinking, “Fresh meat!” or “What are they doing here?” We didn’t stay long.
Another gay bar was located in a shopping center at the intersection of University Boulevard and Asher Avenue. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the club. It was a “mixed” bar and dancing was allowed. We were there one night, when an unusual warning tone sounded over the music. We didn’t know what it meant. One of the patrons told us the warning alarm meant the police were raiding the club, and if we were dancing with same-sex partners, we should switch to opposite-sex partners or stop dancing. Dee and I hovered in a distant corner far from the door. Not sure what happened, but after a while, the music resumed, and people began nervously dancing again.
The biggest gay bar in Little Rock in those years was the Discovery Club. It was located in an industrial part of town filled with nothing but rows of warehouses. The club was at the end of one long row, which abutted a huge open field with overgrown grass at least 4 ft tall. The Discovery Club had a disco theme, and with two levels, was quite huge. Thumping music rattled the building, strobe lights, lots of dancing, and drag shows.
A picture I found on the web of the inside of the Discovery Club:
It was well-known that police kept an eye on the club — but not a benevolent eye. Patrons were advised to back their cars into parking spaces so that police couldn’t easily come along and jot down license plate numbers. There were rumors of people being blackmailed. There was also a rumor that a patron had been murdered in the field with overgrown gas. I believe that was more than a rumor, but I can’t find a citation.
We’ve come a long way since then. Freedom to Marry lists the states where same-sex marriage is now legal.
- Nearly 44% of the U.S. population lives in a state with the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.
- Over 46% of the U.S. population lives in a state with either marriage or a broad legal status such as civil union or domestic partnership.
- Over 48% of the U.S. population lives in a state that provides some form of protections for gay couples.
Freedom to Marry also lists countries where same-sex marriage is legal.
None of this touches on what it is like to be transgendered … just a sparse history of growing up lesbian. One highlight that ought not be forgotten was when I got to see Meg Christian perform Leaping Lesbians in Memphis, Tennessee. Hear her song courtesy of YouTube:
Nor can we forget Westboro Baptist Church:
In 2011, Westboro Baptist Church held a protest in Silver Spring, Maryland that I attended to protest the protestors. My own photos weren’t very good:
My friend, K, and I were quoted in a local rag, but the link seems to have disappeared off the web. Here’s a slideshow of the “event” on the University of Maryland website, though. If you click through the slideshow, K is in the 12th photograph with hat and bushy beard, and I’m standing beside him, mostly covered by the sign I’m carrying.
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