A SORDID TALE, 1973
Mostly this episode is a reflection of my naivety. I guess.
I've put it at 1973 since that's the only year I can find a reference to the Manatee in connection with Gay Pride Week.
A workshop at the CHAT Centre on Church St. had been advertised. It's not listed in the Gay Pride Program and I can't find any reference to it elsewhere. In any case it was specifically described as a time for gay males to come and hear what lesbians had to say, an opportunity for dialogue.
I wasn't one of those who said that gays and lesbians necessarily had to work together. I could see we each had our priorities at that point, might need to go our own ways. That had long since happened, it was old news. Partly it was the result of old-fashioned sexism on the part of gay males, but there were in fact different agendas, different if not unrelated points we were coming from. Sometimes too, feminist analyses were heterosexist, a little too based in heterosexuality, turning gay men's concerns into second class matter, dealing with our lives in that harsh way we were in the process of discrediting and repudiating.
But if people wanted to talk, I wanted to listen. So I went.
There were probably 60-65 people only a few of whom were male, maybe six or seven. This was disappointing, on the other hand it was the sort of thing people had become very cautious about. So maybe it wasn't so surprising. But what were they going to do with such a poor mixture? Small groups were standing around talking, nothing had started. There was a call to form up into discussion groups, a number of circles were formed, everyone sitting around on the floor.
I joined a circle of about fifteen. I was the only male. I didn't notice that Jude was part of the group. In an encounter earlier that year she'd made her hostility to all males, no exception, quite clear to me.
Anyways I should probably have realized something was up. It turned out it had been decided somewhere along the line that this was no longer a meeting at which males were invited to take part. Even as we arranged ourselves on the floor though, there was not a hint of warning, nobody said a word of this to me.
Having had a look around, no doubt I could have thought better of it, backed out and left, but that was equally awkward. On the one hand: fourteen lesbians and one gay male?--this wasn't going to work. On the other: would it be an insult, especially after a male presence had been invited, for me to suddenly stand up again and walk away?
I can be awfully slow sometimes and now there was no time to figure it out. Names were being given. My turn. Jude rips into me. Vicious. Very. Other people watch. I am not allowed to say anything. Not I'm sorry. Not I didn't understand. Nothing. Suddenly I feel very obscene and very alone, and it's an all too familiar feeling, too quickly come upon. My defenses aren't up. Oh my, tears start (is it the humiliation? the shock? am I just feeling sorry for myself?) I get up to leave. A few people around the circle eye me like I'm walking dog vomit, but most simply look away. Who knows what they're saying to themselves behind their silence.
Well it's a sob story indeed. I make Queen For A Day and am ceremonially crowned with a bucket of shit. I flee clutching my white satin gown in one hand and furiously brushing at the slime with the other.
I have no idea what's happened elsewhere in the hall. This is not on my mind.
Near the door, a few women who aren't taking part. Luckily for me Pat Murphy is there. Awkward for her though. I get the explanation that the basis of the workshop has changed. No kidding. She says words that steady me. Score one for auld acquaintance, for old times.
Anyways, despite it all I still feel a certain amount of debt to feminism, to the changes some of its ideas are helping to bring about. Mind you all of a sudden that debt may have shrunk just a bit. I have a payment to make tonight, and after that...well after that who knows, maybe I'll learn to see what's in front of my face. And maybe too, I just need some way to shake this afternoon off, to shed the experience.
It is Thursday night. The Gay Pride Coalition is sponsoring a dance at the Manatee. The Manatee is a place which does not allow women. Except tonight. In a past time the Manatee, after polling its customers, rejected a CHAT request to begin admitting lesbians. No matter what you make of the issues involved this is not a place for an official Gay Pride Coalition to hold an official Gay Pride Dance. As it has been pointed out to me earlier in the day by Pat.
I have made myself a picket sign. I take it downtown and hold a one person protest, spend the night on St. Joseph St. walking the sidewalk in front of the Manatee. A little lesbian the size of Jude does not understand what I am upset about. I explain it to her. She still does not understand.
Suddenly she understands. I am against lesbians being allowed into the dance is what she thinks. She kicks me in the shins a couple of times and goes into the club. She comes out every hour or so to follow me around for a few minutes kicking me in the back of the legs. I explain it to her again. She kicks me again. This happens three or four times.
A couple of cops drive by every now and then, keeping an eye on things. Repeatedly one of them calls out "faggot" to me as they drive by. Just loud enough for me to hear.
My friends, people I know, they go into the dance, come out to cool off, go in to dance, come out for a smoke. They look at me as they pass and look away. They do not talk to me. They do not ask me what am I doing. They ignore me because it is just Peter doing something stupid, getting the rules of the game all mixed up. Poor Peter.
The longer I stand around, pace the street, the funnier the whole situation, the whole day begins to seem. Charlie is supposed to meet me at the dance after midnight, when he gets off work. Instead of dancing he finds me picketing. Did he have any idea what he was getting into when he chose me for a lover? There are times when turmoil seems to be my middle name. He joins me good-naturedly and we continue for another hour.
By which time I am actually quite cheerful. All night long I have been saying to myself fuck you, faggots; fuck you, dykes; fuck you, movement; fuck you, world. It feels good, I feel good. I have pulled myself together. As we leave I look longingly at the door behind which people are dancing.
A genuinely queer catharsis.