Celebrating 40 Years (Stonewall, Moonwalking, Woodstock and Coming Out)

Just having seen the new Ang Lee TAKING WOODSTOCK (a major disappointment from a major filmmaker), it is probably time to recall the world 40 years ago this summer. And quite a world it was in the summer of ’69.

Okay, we all know that Judy Garland had died, the cops were doing their usual bust of gay bars (this time the Stonewall on Christopher Street), and the drag queens and other queers finally said, “no more!” All right, it wasn’t that simple, but all the years of community repression came to a boil in that singular moment, and an entire movement was born (at least in New York City; not sure that San Francisco needed that epiphany to gather momentum, but it certainly gave the green light to other urban areas around the country that it was time to kick open those closet doors and come out into the street and into the light). Our world, and the world at large, would never be the same again. While it is true that we are impatiently waiting for our hoped-for human rights breakthrough from our current administration, we must take stock of the fact that we have made incredible strides in ONLY 40 YEARS; it took women and ethnic minorities a lot longer (and still does) to accomplish what the LGBT community has done in such a short time. When President Obama was face to face with an octogenarian lesbian colleague of mine at his recent LGBT White House meet-and-greet, she looked him straight (?) in the eye and said, “When will I have the same rights as everyone else?” He looked right back at her and said that it would happen by the time his term of office was over. Let us take heart and be patient but vigilant.

For those of you were alive during that fateful summer, watching astronaut Neil Armstrong take his “first small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” as he did his now-historical moonwalk, is something you will never forget. Many of us thought at the time that by now we would routinely be flying to the moon, to Mars, to other galaxies. Human mistakes, lack of funding and perhaps an inability for our country to dream have slowed things down considerably; now, if you can afford beaucoup bucks, a ride on a rocketship may be yours, but for the rest of us, it really is only a dream. When Walter Cronkite passed away last month, we were reminded of that historical moments and how we all felt and thought and dreamed, even while the war in Vietnam raged on. A paradoxical time, to be sure.

No, I didn’t make it to Woodstock, and I didn’t actually know anyone who did, but the tales have become more fanciful over the years, and you might think that everyone in their teens and twenties were there, but you would be wrong (it’s like all the theatregoers who swear they saw ANYONE CAN WHISTLE or CARRIE in their original incarnations; if it were true, those shows would still be running). But we all took the same drugs, listened to the same music and did our best to score with our sexual partners of choice. As I mentioned earlier, TAKING WOODSTOCK, which is yet another coming-of-age, coming-out story, doesn’t even really conjure up the music of the day (perhaps the rights were too expensive), and only pretends to get its bell-bottom jeans dirty with mud and rain. Save your money, go to Amazon and buy the new special edition of WOODSTOCK, which includes amazing footage of the singers and the songs and three days of peace and love.

And finally, my coming out…well, let’s just say it was something akin to Columbus discovering America. I mean, I always knew it was there, but it was the repressive 1950s and the exploding 1960s, and frankly, I was just overwhelmed. Yeah, I had a couple of gay sexual encounters, but I always beat a hasty retreat back to the closet, where I was starved and stangled but safe. But in the summer of ’69, thanks to a new feeling in the air, in the world, I finally allowed myself to feel, to be my true self…and to sleep with three guys, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes just one at a time, but oh what a time it was. I was 20 and suddenly I could conquer the world as a gay man. There were many bumps and many obstacles still to come, but at that moment in time, none of it mattered. Many “relationships” followed this time, and ultimately the two relationships that formed and forged my life (my late partner Sheldon, my beloved husband Tom) were still to come, but for the first time in my life I could begin to understand what I was about and why I was here at all.

So a 21-gun-salute to the 40th anniversary of what was, in many ways, the first year of me.

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