The Place, Not The Guy

We got off the Subway and landed on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. It was the last stop of the day before a four hour ride back home, and my heart was jumping in my chest a bit.

Tuesday was my second trip to NYC, and the one thing I really wanted to see, previously just a historical unicorn in my mind, was about to come unto view. 57 Christopher Street. 55 Christopher. 53. There it was. The Stonewall Inn.

The friend I went with had to look it up the night before. My girlfriend didn’t know what Stonewall was. But this place felt like Mecca to me. I turned to face it, walking on holy ground.

And I looked for a minute. I kept in my mind what had happened there, on the spot I was standing, forty-five years ago. Rainbow flags and a heart banner were hanging above my head. “Where pride began,” the words on the banner proclaimed.

In 1969, gay bars were illega.l. Gay acts were illegal. So the bars were run by the mob. Periodically, the police would raid, confiscate booze, and lock the doors on the way out after getting a kickback. They would reopen, and business as usual. Stonewall was no exception.

June 28, 1969. The bar had been shut down the week before. But the police were back. They went in not expecting a problem, but the patrons were sick of it. Wearing the opposite gender clothing was illegal, and the trans people were being searched to determine gender. The people allowed to leave started to gather in front of the bar, and the crowd started to get a little bit rowdy. The arrests started. An officer shoved a trans woman who then hit him back. The crowd started throwing coins, a symbolic gesture of the payoffs the cops got. Sylvia Rivera, another trans woman, allegedly threw the first bottle. And then the riot started. The patrons trapped the police in the bar until reinforcements came and the crowd dispersed. And the LGBT rights movement kicked off. But too often the gay movement is cited, and the trans part once again overlooked.

Sylvia went on to fight for trans and gay rights literally until her death. But she felt betrayed by the gay community for letting the trans community fight for their rights, and then cutting them out of legislation later when it would benefit them. We’re on the cusp of those trans rights that Sylvia was fighting for right now, almost half a century later, but still far from where we need to be. If you want to know more about the trans rights movement, I can’t recommend enough researching this woman.

And there I was. Where she had been so long ago, fighting for the same rights that we fight for today. I may have looked like a tourist to my friend, my girlfriend, anyone else, with a camera strapped across my shoulders, just checking out another landmark. But I felt so much more.

So I stood against the brick as my girlfriend snapped a couple photos of me. The light was terrible. We were all tired. And even though those pictures didn’t come out very well, I look forward to the day I get to show them to my kids and explain what the mean to me.

And then we went inside. It felt like entering a church for me, though I’m sure to everyone else it was just like walking into any other dark hole-in-the-wall bar. I didn’t sit and order a drink. I didn’t even sit. I just walked around for a minute and took it in. And that was enough for me. Standing where Sylvia Rivera stood. Fought. Stood up for her right to be who she was, and for her LGBT brothers and sisters to do the same. And I felt reverent. And I felt proud. And I felt strong. And I felt so glad that that piece of my history, the story I read so many times in so many places, a place I thought of the way I think about things I read about in a history book in school, fascinating, but far away, still existed. And is proud of it’s history.

And so after a few minutes, we walked away. The brick building faded away, and I didn’t look back. But I did take part of it with me, in my heart. And I walked away feeling prouder. And more connected. And more willing to stay my course.

I am transgender. I am a lesbian. I am a human being. I am Natalie. And because of Stonewall, I am more willing and more able to fight like a grrrl.


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