Celebrations surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the LGBT community’s struggle for equality are winding down. By now, surely only a minority of this planet’s residents are not aware of Stonewall’s impact.
As the myriad awareness and promotional campaigns began, I looked ahead with both pride and some ownership. I am so proud of what this incredible movement has accomplished. We have shined a light on the world that has changed lives as we taught acceptance of ourselves. I am grateful to have survived a darkness that claimed the lives of so many others, and my responsibility for having that privilege has not escaped me.
Through most of these 50 years since Stonewall, I have been active in the battle, and that earned familiarity had convinced me there was nothing left for me to learn.
But it never occurred to me that all of what I believed would be challenged and re-defined.
It is ironic that in this 50th anniversary year, just as members of the trans community initiated this struggle on that June night in 1969, an entire trans movement is providing the rest of this community — and the entire world — with the possibly the deepest truths of who we are.
There has been a rapid increase in transgender visibility over the last couple of years.
Trans people have become a force, demanding that their issues be understood and included in the struggle.
At the same time, they have been targeted by the most virulently hateful pieces of legislation. And the rate of anti-trans violence is higher than ever before. So, given all that they endure, their visibility and their willingness to articulate the truth about their nature is providing an amazing opportunity for everyone to begin understanding our own selves.
The 50th anniversary of the birth of the LGBT movement is the birth of its second wave. I believe this growing awareness will define LGBT culture; it is that important. The courage required for trans people to live openly has forced a growth in individuals’ gender considerations. Choosing to embrace non-binary roles challenges all LGBT people to reject the constraints of socially-determined gender. These gender roles have been the primary obstacle in our full development as a queer people.
It can be argued, that at our core we are all gender-fluid in some fashion. We all have some characteristics associated with the gender role of the opposite sex. Men of any orientation in this society are afraid to embrace their feminine qualities.
Femininity in men is equated with homosexuality, and the threat of violence is intensified for feminine gay men. So, many gay men have gone out of their way to hide vital parts of themselves to avoid being seen as feminine. In fact, more feminine gay men and even transgender women over time became human shields that the rest of us used to insulate ourselves from danger. Gay men developed our own class structure, the the more feminine of us were the bottom rung.
We openly excluded the transgender community from any gains we achieved. That was amplified again in the midst of the AIDS pandemic when, our opponents launched their loathsome “family values” assaults against us. Gays and lesbians pushed back with the effective “We Are Family, Too” campaign, only that family quickly began to ape the hetero format and its traditional gender roles.
Many older gay men feel that younger LGBT people have an air of entitlement springing from freedoms won by older gays and lesbians. The bitterness involved in that assumption is surprising. Our goal was always to create a world where LGBT children could live freely and safely as themselves. Now do we resent what we helped create?
The level of tolerance and acceptance in which younger LGBT people are coming of age is unprecedented. But it still takes great bravery, and these young people are willing to take those risks. The choice many make to be openly non-binary may be the same rite of passage we went through, but the environment allows them to fully submerse themselves to explore what had been taboo and to dismiss every long-held superstition in ways we as older LGBT people were too afraid to try.
Our younger LGBT people are getting closer to the true reality of gender identity — the reality that it is, in fact, pure myth, that our genitalia are not the lone demarcation of our gender. We are far more than our physical sex.
The majority of older LGBT never reached this understanding before. And if there is a trans-enlightenment occurring, it benefits everyone.
Trans folk are at times frustrated that the rest of us are so slow to understand our changing culture. They are frustrated that they are expected to provide the answers to our questions.
I understand their wariness. As in overcoming other prejudices, one has to understand his or her own part in the oppression to move past it.
Recognizing the problem has never been enough to allow me to fully comprehend it, and each us must comprehend the problem to participate in any real solutions. As older LGBT people, we must accept that the future of this community is no longer in our hands, and if we want to help build a new world, we must adapt.
Our older generation got us to where we are now; we were pioneers. It took tremendous courage to present ourselves as strong men and women that defied sexual norms. We had to make it perfectly clear what we were to the outside. But we have to accept that our view of gay culture may well be outdated.
The progress we made ensures the success of our gay children. They have a natural understanding of the path forward. It involves seeing ourselves clearly and loving all that we see, and it will be a better world for all of us.
There is no gay. There is no lesbian. There is no bi. There are no trans. We are all the same. We are the same. Trans people understand who we truly are. It is possible for us to learn what their lives are teaching us.
Gary Bellomy is a long-time LGBT activist in North Texas and beyond.