Sterilize This: Why the ‘Stonewall’ Boycott Matters.
Content Warning: Mentions of Trans Erasure / Violence towards Trans People / Homophobia / Bi-erasure / Biphobia
This morning I woke up to the Stonewall trailer. All across my facebook fellow radical angry queers were up in arms. The one piece of history that belongs to them had been stolen and erased and in its place stood a fictional white gay man throwing the first brick. The first scene in a play that ends in tragedy for many of the key players in the history of the LGBTQ+ movement had been sterilised for public consumption, black and Latinx trans narratives rubbed out with the burning bleach of Hollywood and in those gaps the white saviour towers above them. But it’s ok, because he’s gay.
You can read on the history and causes of the Stonewall Riots and the key players here. Two activists in particular that stand out are Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, both trans; both women of colour. From what the trailer shows, Marsha is a bit character, a magical queer aunt, there to provide advice but not to be at the frontline as she really was. In fact, if it chooses to mention at all Marsha’s spirit, her tenacity and her generosity to those just as much without as she was I would be surprised. I’ll be even more surprised if her murder (her killer was never found) isn’t used as a plot device to make the white man angrier enough to throw more bricks or kiss more acceptable white men.
There are also confused feminine love interests like that of Johnny Beauchamp’s character, the late Ray Castro (who I had read to be Sylvia). Sylvia, it appears, is nowhere. Hollywood has rubbed her out of history, replaced her with a Latino gay man, made him more feminine than the actual Ray Castro ever was but not enough to disrupt his right to masculinity and maleness, creating a sterilised, respectable account of a queer uprising. This is a combination of both trans and bisexual erasure that is so common within both the queer and heterosexual community. Remember that a movement created in part by the actions of a bi trans woman later became nothing more than a liberal organisation, co-opted to push an agenda focused only on privileged gay struggle than on actual liberation. For years, Stonewall ignored the rest of the acronym; B and T were relegated to having to confront heightened violence and erasure where cis white gays could sit happily in their assimilation. Even when they did try to include the bisexual community in the 90s, they didn’t ask how they could or should do that. It wasn’t until this year that Stonewall even considered that they might have been more than a little terrible towards trans people and particularly trans women.
The trailer gives us a love story that is allowed; two butch, masculine men working together to save the rest of the queers from the state, liberalism and themselves. It compares the Stonewall riots and subsequent LGBT movement to that of the Seneca Falls convention and to Selma and the Black Civil Rights movement and yet it talks about the ‘unsung heroes whose courage broke down walls’ without providing a narrative that moves beyond that of a fictional white cis gay men. Hollywood wants to tell our* story without our* characters, our people. Which is unsurprising. In mainstream discourse, Bisexuals, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex people and Asexuals are all left out of the footnotes of the greater text that documents Gay Liberation. The unpaid labour of a broadly identified queer movement is erased because they don’t fit the image of assimilation into heteronormative practice.
The whitewashing of the Stonewall Inn Riots boils down to this: documenting a movement created by radical people of colour, including those whose gender and/or sexuality does not adhere to the constructs of cis-heteronormativity, especially in a present where said people remain statistically the most likely to be brutalized or murdered because of their queer identity, shows only that nothing has changed; that the real issues surrounding queer liberation are not widespread gay marriage or an ease of access to the rewards of capitalist production but instead are something much more sinister and ingrained, which can not be detailed without the audience having to process their relationship with queer people. And this will not do. There is labour in that, and it already cost two hours worth of work just to buy the cinema ticket.
Hollywood refuses to listen, not just because it can but because it actively attempts to erase non-cis white male identities. Marsha P. Johnson is played by a cis man, not a trans woman and appears on IMDB’s character list for Stonewall below “Woman with Poodle”. To pay to see Stonewall is to choose to be complicit in the public mis/under-representation of trans women (of colour in particular), to perpetuate the idea that they shouldn’t exist and therefore to produce a space in which violence can continue to be brought against them.
If you want to watch a glamourised, fictional account of a radical turning point for LGBT+ liberation then go ahead and watch it. If you’d rather have a material vision of a future where trans women aren’t murdered or disappeared in our media, then spend time looking up the activists involved in the Stonewall riots:
“We have stand up and speak for ourselves. We have to fight for ourselves. We were the frontliners.” — Sylvia Rivera.
[*By ‘our’ I mean the queer community who look at the Stonewall riots as a new era for our liberation as a whole, in which we could fight both as oppressed people and allies for people in our community more oppressed than us i.e. trans women of colour who undoubtedly suffer the most within the problematic framework and label of ‘LGBT+’.]