MY WEIRD EXPERIENCE AT THE LEGENDARY STONEWALL INN, NYC

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When I was in college at San Francisco State, I first learned the story of the raid at the Stonewall Inn and the “Stonewall Riots,” which later resulted in the first Gay Pride Marches in the United States in 1970. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of young people who celebrate or participate in Pride celebrations don’t know about the original historical origins. I probably wouldn’t have known myself if I hadn’t studied gay culture and Human Sexuality as part of my chosen Communications education.

A scene during the 1969 Stonewall riots, as seen in Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s documentary STONEWALL UPRISING.  A First Run Features Release.  Photo by Bettye Lane.
A scene during the 1969 Stonewall riots, as seen in Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s documentary STONEWALL UPRISING. A First Run Features Release. Photo by Bettye Lane.

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Wikipedia says: “The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay (LGBT) community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. They are widely considered to constitute the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.

On June 28, 1970, the first Gay Pride marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago commemorating the anniversary of the riots.”

Photo of my Dad & I at The Cinch, my favorite Gay Bar in San Francisco, 2000
Photo of my Dad & I at The Cinch, my favorite Gay Bar in San Francisco, 1999

Since the U.S. legalization of Gay Marriage and San Francisco’s Gay Pride celebrations just occurred a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but think about this, and how far we’ve come. Of course, having a gay dad who felt he had to live in the closet until he was almost 50 years old makes all of this very close to my heart. Tears well up when I think about all this. I guess I have a lot of gay pride for a straight girl.

When I studied these events around 1999-2000, they seemed so far away, so long ago, and so out of my own realm of daily life. I had never spent any significant amount of time in New York City, and I had no idea that the Stonewall Inn was still an operating business.

I was visiting NYC during Halloween in 2000, with my friend from London who was traveling and rooming with me. He was a photographer who was scheduled to photograph a band later that night and we were riding in a taxi going to the venue to meet the band early at sound check. The sun had not gone down yet, and we were looking out the taxi window at the sights, seeing city workers setting up for a Halloween parade on our way to the venue, Don Hill’s.

I looked out the window and saw a sign for the Stonewall Inn. I got really excited. I said to my friend, “Oh my god, that’s the Stonewall! Do you know what that is? That is a historical place!” Since my friend was a straight man from Australia who lived in London, he had never heard of it. I told him, “We have to go back there. It’s really important to me.” He promised we would go back after our meeting, and before that night’s gig. I was really excited. I couldn’t believe it was still there.

When we got to the Stonewall, it was dusk. It was a slow time, with not many people there. We looked at the walls, where articles were posted about its history. I felt so fortunate to be there, because this place is so culturally significant. I was really excited to be having this experience. Just hours before, I hadn’t realized that this was a real place that really still existed, and now I was here… I was kind of in awe.

My friend and I sat down at the bar to order a drink. The guy who was bartending was really nice and welcoming. I was immediately happy we came. We ordered, and some guy at the bar honed in on me instantly who wouldn’t stop talking to me and trying to get all in my business. The bartender was watching and keeping an eye on it. It’s been 14 years, so I can’t really recall what all he said, but this wasn’t the first time that some guy at a gay bar decided he loved me and wanted to know me. Since this had happened before, I was somewhat accustomed to it. I have never quite been able to put my finger on or understand this. I used to think it was because I had blonde hair and red lipstick and maybe certain gay guys like that because it’s really girlie and that they find it camp.

It’s really puzzling, but I’ve had several guys at gay clubs and bars tell me they want to sleep with me! (hahaha WTF.) I remember one guy said, “I’m gay, but I would sleep with you!” Well, thanks. My best (gay) friend, whom I’ve known since I was about 18, said to me once while we were at The Stud (a famous San Francisco Gay Club), “Alisha, you are the only girl I know who gay guys try to pick up in a gay bar.”

I guess I should take this as a high compliment, but I don’t think my gay friends probably enjoy this type of spectacle… it pulls from their spotlight, and I have no idea how or why this happens. I know it’s not because I look like a guy or am mistaken for a drag queen, so it must be true that I am a gay man trapped in a woman’s body! (I’m sort of kidding, but maybe not.)

I am not at all interested in trying to “turn” anyone. I’ve always enjoyed the company of gay guys because they are usually fun to be around and (typically) they are not trying to sleep with me, so I feel their compliments or interest in me is genuine, and not coming from a place of trying to get anything from me. Unfortunately, this guy at the Stonewall was very pushy and overzealous. The bartender and my friend got angry and protective of me, and the bartender threw the guy out of the bar and apologized to me. I could not believe this was happening. It was SO WEIRD!!!!

Anyway, that is what happened to me when I entered maybe the most culturally and historically significant bar in the country. I felt so grateful to be there and was so excited, and then some nut bag went psycho on me and had to be ejected. I was there for less than 10 minutes before this happened! I couldn’t believe it. The bartender was a sweetheart about it, and I don’t think he understood it either. I can’t believe that was my first and only experience at the Stonewall, and my first time hanging out in bars in NYC!

Alisha Amnesia & Jayne County at Don Hills, Halloween 2000
Alisha Amnesia & Jayne County at Don Hills, Halloween 2000

Completely coincidental, later that night, I was lucky enough to meet the legendary punk performer, Jayne County, who I’m a fan of. She was DJing at Don Hill’s on the very same night I went to the historic Stonewall Inn. She wrote an autobiography I read called, “Man Enough to be a Woman,” so although she wasn’t part of my personal Stonewall experience, running into her later that night seems significant. I had a total night of happening upon NYC LGBT history, on accident.

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