To the editors:
While posing as an objective account of the city awarding certain gay leaders for their efforts, the article of June 21 on these awards ["Gay Life: The Hall of Fame Flap"] delivers several covert messages only for the initiated, which is sneaky. I'll get to these later.
First there is an issue which the article doesn't really take up: WHY certain gay people would so instantly and so forcefully complain about other gay people getting awards. To put it bluntly, and as a member of the club myself: it looks like queens' feathers are being ruffled.
Our people love being awarded. We do our best to give nearly everybody who wants it 15 minutes on the throne. We have more contests than any other group--we even elected an emperor and an empress once. One of our biggest contests has about 20 categories to be honored in, including mostly serious ones like contributing to gay rights advances. Most of the beauty contests feature the dudes in formal attire, casual wear, and swim wear. That the sense of this being camp has been lost on most of us and is taken seriously, and that some of us would actually appear seriously in the uniforms of the enemy while others find it politically incorrect and grotesque shows our diversity. In fact we are too diverse to really get along with each other enough to accomplish what we need to. Our worst enemy is each other, which is the case with all minorities.
Other groups can take a lesson from us in setting up more opportunities for winners. We have at least two of everything, besides overlapping political groups which only exist to give more people a chance. We have two sporting leagues, two choruses, three weekly newspapers, even two little writers' groups and two different Roman Catholic worship groups! Some of these were started because somebody didn't get to be a big enough queen in one already existing. Still, the more the merrier. But we can take a lesson in turn from THE successful group in our culture: white hetero males, the supposed ENEMY of all minorities. Apparently, unlike the people in the minority movements, hetero white males can SUSPEND the general tendency to shoot one's fellow human being down long enough to prevail! It must have something to do with male bonding, and ought to be looked into. At any rate it is these hetero men who actually achieve the highest queenhood in terms of honors and material rewards.
Women are trying to develop a sisterhood, but it is straight men who have the best sisterhood, because it works. Blacks are divided, as what happened after Mayor Washington died shows. And all us gay queens want to be on the dais at the same time instead of at least taking turns, as the recent howl from the Unawarded shows.
Some years ago I suggested for us an "All" of Fame instead of a Hall of Fame. It would include all who thought of themselves (and others they would designate) as important enough to be in it. It would be politically correct because at last there would be no selection committee to pretend not to be biased, and there would be no hierarchy. Nobody could complain about not being in it. But the All of Fame would not be meaningless, because it would provide opportunities for a lot of noninvidious worthwhile activity and thought.
For instance biographies would be collected from the volunteers and their nominees (living and dead) and serve as edifying and in some cases amusing information and history of our gay community. Also think of the photo opportunities! I'm sure my All of Fame idea will never be adopted, because I know that people find MORE meaning in unpleasant fighting with each other for privileges and positions that they take seriously (probably because they are obeying only the lizard part of their brains).
But now to my objections to certain covert communications in that article, just because I find sneakiness unattractive and an all too common gay trait (acquired by necessity to survive in a world that despises us but then unnecessarily run up into a way of life): There is the characterization of one of the most famous figures in our community as someone whose bar was raided by "cops" a few years ago. This is a cheap shot, since so many of our places have been raided by the enemy that it is actually a badge of honor and a rallying point for protest! But his mentioning it is actually meant as a dig.
The writer of the article gives the owner's age too (as he estimates it, anyway), which is a queenish attack (and swinish) and taken as such by gay readers. Another example of bitchiness is the author puts in that Gay Chicago magazine won one of the disputed awards, "though the magazine is a for-profit business." Some profit! It provides salaries for the people that work there all day, which includes the owner, none of whom are driving around in limousines, vacationing on the Riviera, buying BMWs, or offering stock in this "for profit business!"
I don't really see why the article is in the Reader in the first place, not that I didn't "enjoy" it. Why should 90 percent of the people (straights) be that interested in how 10 percent (gays) hate each other enough to want to discredit each other's awards? There are much more interesting things about the gay community for the 90 percent to know about.
For instance: (1) The race discrimination that is found in our bars and other places, requiring extra ID if you're Black (as I am not but I notice what goes on). By not being any different from the straight world on this issue, we are not living up to our potential. (2) What about the use of straight goon squads as rude doormen and bouncers who go around harassing people who are harmless or even a colorful asset to a place? If these guards were gay they would know this and what the unspoken rules of behavior are. What is the point of going to a gay place if things aren't different enough from a straight place (where people are dress coded and watched and supervised to the point of lunacy, but that's what being straight is supposed to be about!)? (3) What about the fact that there is little variety in the music in our places? There are straight dance bars with alternative music, but no gay ones. (4) I often ask people why doesn't Chicago have a big non twinkie disco with music other than the crap they send DJs, the latest bland pop? The answer I get is because local gay entrepreneurs can't get together. When they try to run a place as a group they issue conflicting rules and regulations and policies and eventually go out of business in mutual hatred.
This is only four ways we do not live up to the name gay. There are others, such as the lack of any special intellectual, literary, or art life in our community (there aren't even any gay discussion groups left). The really gay things still left to us come only as you can grab them: a moment on the dance floor between when the DJ arrives an hour late and the 21-year-old yuppies crowd in wearing their white shorts and caps and stand around waiting to be entertained. There are a few other kinds of gay moments still possible but they have to be hidden because of the prevailing conservative context and the homophobia in our own community (where people still have the nerve to complain about "flamboyant" drag queens giving us a bad reputation when there are hardly any drag queens left and the last flamboyant people left years ago for the coasts). It is our internal homophobia that causes all our bar raids, since it is self-righteous puritanical gay people who summon the authorities if they think they see someone being groped.
In general our community refuses to look at itself with a critical eye because we feel we must always present a saintly face to the rest of the world. We need leaders who will work for an award in summoning an honesty conference. I say get over yourselves, girls, and learn to see how you are. And even though we have a lot of problems, I'd still rather be part of the gay community.
Lewis F. Allerton
Albert Williams responds:
My article's mention of raids on the old Gold Coast leather bar was one of several examples cited--others were the Stonewall riots, the imprisonment of a gay activist for burning draft records, and the recent Bijou theater raids--of the less than sanguine relationship that has existed over the years between the gay community and the police. It was not intended as a "dig" at the bar's owner--nor, for that matter, at any of the men whose lives were disrupted when they were arrested in those raids and later found their names published in the daily newspapers.
That point aside, I am troubled by some of the attitudes expressed by "Mr. Allerton" (since the return address on his letter is fictitious, I assume the name is too). His assumption that only disgruntled, resentful "queens" would question the Hall of Fame reflects an uninformed view of gay people's diversity of opinion. (Most of the dissenters I cited had made their dissent known fairly publicly before nomination forms were even distributed, let alone before the Hall of Fame inductees were announced.) His 10 percent versus 90 percent argument smacks of ghettoization--after all, the city-sponsored Hall of Fame is paid for by the taxes of 100 percent of us, in a time of exceptionally shaky public finances. And only someone who still buys into the antiquated, homophobic notion of gay men as youth-obsessed would perceive a reference to someone's age as an "attack."