February 25, 2020

Are Gay Men Being Written Out of Gay History?

“Was Anne Frank “bisexual?” Keen to claim her as one of their own, some queer activists are citing previously overlooked passages from the complete and unabridged second edition of Frank’s diary as evidence that the world’s most famous Holocaust victim swung both ways. “I remember that once when I slept with a girl friend I had a strong desire to kiss her, and that I did do so,” Frank wrote about a sleepover with her best friend. Disregard, if you can, the strange fixation with the sexuality of a hormonal adolescent girl; seizing upon the private musings of a 14-year-old about her school crush as prima-facie evidence of bisexuality does little to illuminate, and much to occlude, the reason she and her family were hiding in the attic, which is that they were Jews. It is of a piece with other, modish forms of historical revisionism driven by contemporary political demands, like the claim that Muslims are “the new Jews,” that Syrian refugees are the modern-day equivalent of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, or that detention centers holding individuals who voluntarily cross the internationally recognized border of a democratic country are akin to “concentration camps” where people—based upon their ethnicity—were forcibly herded prior to their mass extermination at the hands of a ruthlessly efficient totalitarian state.

A similar process of historical obfuscation is under way with regard to the Stonewall Uprising, which transpired 50 years ago last month when the patrons at a Greenwich Village gay bar fought back against the police harassment that intruded so heavily upon gay life at the time. According to the revisionist narrative, it was not gay people who sparked the rebellion, but “trans women of color.” Writing to commemorate the rebellion in The New York Times, the director of policy and programs at the Transgender Law Center describes Stonewall as the place “where trans women of color led the resistance that started the national L.G.B.T.Q.-rights movement.” In a symposium for Harper’s magazine, a transgender author named T Cooper declares, “If it were not for us, Stonewall might not have happened.” The National Center for Transgender Equality contends that, “Although the exact identity of the person who started the riots is lost to history, we know that trans women, especially trans women of color, played a central role in the resistance.”

Topping a recent New York Times list of “LGBTQ Pioneers” deserving of statues in their honor is the late Marsha P. Johnson, who variously identified herself as a gay man and a drag queen, and whom the paper credits with “spearheading the rebellion at Stonewall as a transgender African-American woman.” Two weeks later, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio heeded the call by announcing that Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, another transgender activist often credited as leading the insurrection, would be honored with a statue in the vicinity of the old Stonewall Inn. “Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are undeniably two of the most important foremothers of the modern LGBTQ rights movement, yet their stories have been erased from a history they helped create,” declared New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, in a statement lauding the pair’s “leading role at Stonewall.””

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