It was the White Night Riots in San Francisco in 1979 that really woke me up to the idea that square world fags weren’t all just closet cases or femmes. To see these regular looking guys kicking the shit out of police buildings, fighting cops, it kind of shocked me. The event made me proud and I wasn’t even sure why. I guess it was getting back at all the cops everywhere who’d push around us kids, mouthing off as they strolled by, big pink-faced assholes, all the beatings we took for offending their community standards. A few pigs habitually coerced back alley or back seat blow jobs and threatened holy hell if the kid talked. Of course the cheap fucks never paid.
The White Night Riots brought about the idea that the time had come to stand up. That there was more to this world than the stupid cliché of the smarmy, eye-rolling fag with the snappy comeback and not an ounce of balls, the classic queer apologist. See, I’m harmless! I’ll design your gowns and home interiors! It gave us lowlifes something to talk about while we hung out at a couple of downtown street corners, the girls section a few blocks away. The motorized parade of dads and daytime do-gooders would begin in earnest right after dark. They’d slap a ten or twenty dollar bill on the inside of their windshield while idling past.
The cops mostly tolerated this stuff as long as the john traffic didn’t get to be bumper-to-bumper. They weren’t up to busting their friendly neighborhood accountant, lawyer, pastor, or school teacher. It was a boon. Closeted guys were plentiful back then, especially since very few bridge-playing wifeys of that era went down easily or well.
One regular was a benign little bald middle aged fellow with a beautiful late ‘60’s midnight blue Chrysler Newport coupe. The one with the black vinyl roof. He eventually began looking for me and bringing books. If it was early enough, we’d sometimes talk for a couple hours just smoking and drinking coffee. He was a prof at the downtown campus and told me about the Stonewall Riots. Like the White Night, I had not a fucking clue. He said, “Those are your people.” That really made me look at him. Then he said, very quietly, “Those are our people. This is not only about which gender one has sex with.”
We became pretty good friends and I indulged him. He’d make me laugh, this older, very square guy getting girlish. Sitting in his car in some underground garage, he’d put on his Mae West rap and even wear lipstick for a few minutes before nervously wiping it off, having me make sure he got it all. The poor bastard was dying to get dolled up but never had the gall. I tried to introduce him to a few people he could hang with on that level but he was terrified and wouldn’t get on board. And wisely so since the risk of losing his job, family and everything else was pretty high.
Loitering on the corner, we’d also get carloads of weekend suburban jocks and rocker creeps driving by yelling shit at us, throwing bottles. Occasionally, we’d catch a gaggle of them on foot, drunked up, and all it took was one word or even just a look. We’d lay down some righteous beatings, cackling at them. “How do ya like getting the shit kick outa you by a cocksuckin faggot? We’re gonna bust your cherry, sweetheart.” It was a nice vengeance fantasy, gang raping some het bozo, but it never actually happened on my watch. Too bad. It would have produced some boffo tabloid headlines and might have even worked as an object lesson in applied irony.
I remember even some of our older guys running out of bars to put a few boots in when we waylaid these weekend wankers. The sidewalk was strained with heterosexual blood and I have to admit, it felt good. I’d stand and stare at these enemies of my people, writhing and bleeding, until somebody would yells about cops and we’d scatter. I imagined every kick and every fist was a blow struck for all the terrified little boy and girl queers entombed in some nightmare hick town with Nazi parents and vicious schoolmates.
It sometimes broke down into a punks vs rockers thing. If street level peg boys were going to take on a style, it was generally punk or disco king. I found the punk thing was just way cooler and foreign and menacing, a lot cheaper to pull off and a nice way of saying Fuck You. It was a good coat of armor. After all, the original meaning of the word punk was young jail-bait that takes it up the ass so it was in keeping with a tradition of sorts.
It seems arbitrary now but the biggest soft spot was we didn’t have cars and these hetero-rocker assholes who’d invade the downtown strip on Friday and Saturday nights, they had fancy hotrods. We knew their rides on sight and would beat up the car while the moron was getting smashed in some saloon. A few of our crowd spray painted Fags Revenge on the mutilated cars but veterans told them to knock it off, that kinda shit would bring down big heat and crimp the business.
One response to fags getting ugly was raiding bath houses. I remember these knuckledragger cops busting into a place in an abandoned part of the old downtown, before living in the city got trendy again. That was back when they had a Morality Squad. Seems ludicrous now, but those pigs had some serious powers to fuck up your life.
They crashed through the door swinging batons and screaming their heads off, looking to beat, humiliate and degrade anyone caught inside. They had patrons lined up out on the street in just towels or scraps of clothing. A big ape sergeant stomped back and forth howling about what evil, degenerate scum we were and how he swore to rid his fine city of our monstrous influence.
He called us an “abomination.” I’d never really considered that word but it sounded fearsome and deadly and Old Testament heavy the way he bellowed it out - to be a full blown Abomination. I said to the guy next to me, “I want to be an abomination.” He nodded and replied: “Don’t worry, you are.”
A couple of the older found-ins, serious money dudes, talked to the Sarge privately, cut side deals and slipped away, unmolested. I didn’t care that much. It was bullshit harassment. I’d been in enough bath house and speak easy raids to know by the mid ‘70’s, no real charges would be filed and we’d be cut loose before dawn. But one thing sticks in my mind about those old raids. The cops always showed up with their pants tucked into their boots. It was said to be common knowledge in the police force that cocksucking cockroaches and other fag vermin might crawl up their legs.
Yeah, it was a fair spring evening when we watched the White Night Riots on a bunch of TVs in a store window and it seemed like a call to arms, that we were not alone on this anonymous street corner. We were young and very stupid and we had no idea such a thing was even conceivable. We were the lowest of the low, the cocksuckers of the boulevard and here we were being beckoned out of the darkness.