Thursday, August 7, 2008

Just What Makes the Gay Movement So Gay?

I love this picture so much that I decided to post it again.

It shows Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (seated with spectacles on the lower right) at a costume party for his friends and colleagues at WhK, the first gay rights movement. The photo dates from sometime in the 1920s, and the organization was about 25 years old by that time.
What I love about it is that all these people are so happy. Dr. Hirschfeld himself is clearly very happy with all these lovely young folk sitting with him and holding his hands so affectionately. Even at the very beginning of the movement for the enfranchisement of LGBTs, I see the emotional tone that I would always note in all my years of marches, meetings, rallies, and protests. That tone was not always angry or mournful, but happy. I once heard an aging gay activist describe his life and work as one big party. As he put it, sure there were times when the food ran out, someone called the cops, people were rude, guests quarreled, some people got sick, and some died, but it was still a big wonderful party. I remember a friend of mine (who is straight) describe spending hours in a holding cell at Central Booking crowded in with a bunch of gay activists. They passed the time and kept their spirits up by singing show tunes.
These posts are not intended to be a litany of victimization, though it is important to remember what people suffered ( I always hear people complaining about "playing the victim role," yet it is always preferable to identify with the victims  than with the victimizers). They are intended as a reminder of people who faced far worse things than we do, who found their courage and stood up and said, "No! I won't go along to get along."


susan s. said...

This is a lovely picture. Oscar Wilde in the center? :-) And Medusa on the right. But my favorite thing of all is the Wine bottle hanging from the pipe!

FranIAm said...

That is such a great picture, very evocative.

And I would agree that with my many years in the company of mostly gay men, but some lesbians too - very joyful, loving and so inclusive. I felt deeply loved and treasured at a time when I really needed that.

And I loved and treasured - still do, my friends as well. It was the foundation for me really understanding community.

Earthbound Spirit said...

I had the opportunity to do some in-depth study of the Civil Rights Movement last term. Music was very important - lyrics to popular hymns and other music was adapted to the participants' experiences, to help them keep each others spirits up. A group of us spent a delightful morning in the company of an activist who had served time in Parchman Prison during the 1960's, his spirit undimmed as he recalled those times and sang for us. Wasn't it Emma Goldman who said something like "If I can't dance, I won't come to your revolution"?

Counterlight said...

I always knew that there was a reason why I love Emma Goldman.

Hannah Arendt described that happiness peculiar to political struggle as "the secret treasure of the revolutions."