It’s Pride, and I’m going to shamelessly plug something. ‘Tis the season for shameless plugging! Whatever your orientation, take a break from strutting your sizzling stuff soon and visit the GLBT Historical Society on Mission Street (www.glbthistory.org). The archives are a treasure trove, and "Out Ranks," the current exhibition displaying the effects of queer soldiers from World War II through Iraq, is a must-see.
To my mind, the only place gays in the military belong is on a porn DVD definitely not on an aircraft carrier deployed to Kuwait. But there are incredible personal stories in "Out Ranks," scattered among the crisp dress uniforms and bright blue dishonorable discharge papers, many faded to a trendy shade of robin’s egg.
Stories like that of Sylvia Rivera, a transgender woman drafted in 1967 who fought police at Stonewall. Or Helen Harder, a Women’s Army Air Corps member who signed up during WWII with her girlfriend (how hot is that?). The show also contains relics of queer antiwar protests, including a poster of a hunky, half-naked Jesus screaming, "Thou Shalt Not Kill!" Yummy.
Recently, board member Gerard Koskovich gave me a tour of the society’s archives, the largest collection of queer historiana in existence. He showed me underground newsletters for queeny World War I GIs and photo albums of ’70s lesbian weddings. There were boxes of flyers for ancient gay bars like the Anxious Asp and Fickle Pickle, Super 8 reels of street riots and disco dance floors and a container holding Harvey Milk’s bullet-riddled clothing.
"Here’s a gown the first Gay Empress, José Sarria, wore," Gerard said, unfurling a brittle re-creation of Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot ensemble from My Fair Lady. Tears sprang to my eyes. "And that," he said, pointing to a nondescript sewing machine, "is what Gilbert Baker sewed the first Pride flag on."
I lost it. All that fabulousness up close was just too much. I bent down quickly, pretending to tie my shoelaces to hide my exploding sobs.
It was then that I realized I was wearing pumps.
Sequined pumps. Purple sequined pumps. I stared down in astonishment. A pair of leopard-print hose raced up my legs, blooming at my upper thighs into a dazzling Lycra minidress. Enormous pads sprouted from my shoulders, and my hair kinked out into a frizzy bleached mullet. Good lord, I was becoming Sylvester. I was riding a giant mirror ball through space. "Yooou make me feel!<\!s>/ Mii-ighty real!"
It was all a hallucination, of course. Family can make you do that, hallucinate. Love is a drug indeed. And the glittery fabric of history, despite its many bullet holes, still connects us all.*