I regret to say that I barely remember the riots at Stonewall, the bar in Greenwich Village where on June 26, 1969, a group of gay patrons successfully resisted harassment by the New York City police. The event would play such an important role in my life. David, my son, was thirteen then. Since he was very young, my husband thought that he might be gay—then a major issue.
When he was three, David wanted to wear dresses. He hid his short blond hair under a scarf and insisted on being called Mary. My friend Mickey, a professional dancer, was horrified and advised me to seek psychiatric help for David. After discussing the matter with a number of trusted professionals and friends, I contacted the Jewish Board of Guardians, a highly respected social agency in New York. After a thorough investigation, Dr. Z, a psychiatrist, saw David four times a week. In addition, Dr. Z saw my husband on a weekly basis. Nobody among the many lay-people and professionals my husband and I consulted told us that we were doing a good job bringing him up and should relax and enjoy our child.
Prejudice is a terrible thing. As David’s mother I felt dreadfully isolated. He was a particularly charming, good-looking child, yet most often when I mentioned his gender non-conformity, people’s faces fell. It was as if he was suffering from a dreadful disease. It is a credit to David and me that through his short life—he died of AIDS at 37—we preserved the deep love we shared. At the time many parents rejected their gay children.
As a Jewish child growing up in Nazi Germany, I was used to being discriminated against. I could dismiss those who were frankly rejecting, but was actually more hurt by the half-sympathetic people who felt sorry for me being Jewish. They invited me to celebrate their birthdays before or after the “real” event, and didn’t brave coming to mine. All my life I regretted speaking with the accent that prompting strangers to ask, “Where are you from?” I have been cautious in selecting friends, and treasure the intimacy with those who make the grade. I was sad that my son too had to exert caution in his dealings with the world at large.
Both David and I got to enjoy “gay liberation.” There were always parents, especially mothers, who stood by their gay children. In 1989, twenty years after the Stonewall riots, I went with David to watch San Francisco’s Pride parade. After he died, I joined my gay granddaughter in the festivities that blossom at the end of June around the now-historic Stonewall Inn in New York. This year, I happened to be in Greenwich Village the week before the event, and noted that police vans were already festooned with rainbow flags!
Discrimination is far from gone, but matters have progressed. Last weekend I ate at La Bergamote, a New York City bakery. A male couple with two children—a toddler and an infant—sat at the next table, enjoying the establishment’s excellent fare.
Given the fickleness of history I wonder how long tolerance will last. Both gays and Jews have seen acceptance alternate with extreme discrimination.
Vive la liberté!
Excellent piece. Your point of view is always poignant and at turns, both heartwarming and heart wrenching. As an intimate of David’s so many years ago I can attest to the thoughtful love and care you provided him. You were his champion and you are mine still.
Great piece mom!