The outrage of transgender community over revisionist ‘Stonewall’ film

By : Michael Wanzie
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Michael Wanzie

Michael Wanzie

When I was tapped to commit my opinion to this page regarding the call from the trans-community for a boycott of the upcoming Hollywood film Stonewall, I was unaware there was any controversy surrounding the film. So before reading any of the articles and posts voicing those concerns, I first accessed the trailer which had only just that day been made available online.

As I watched the preview I was fairly blasé about the tired formulaic contrivance the filmmakers had obviously chosen to employ; telling the story of the fateful Stonewall riots by following the plight of a handsome white masculine jock-from-next-door-type gay youth who arrives in the big city fresh off the bus from Middle America just in time to be present for the uprising, which is famously credited for “sparking the beginning of the modern gay rights movement in America.”

Then my heart skipped a beat and, although I was sitting alone, I let out an audible gasp as I gazed in now wide-eyed disbelief at what I was seeing on my laptop monitor. I knew in that very instant precisely why transgender people were upset about a film that had not yet been released. Replay; and there it was. My eyes had unfortunately not deceived me. Hollywood had obviously decided that, in their version of the Stonewall riots, the legendary brick – which gay historians have long heralded was thrown by a drag queen – and which is considered to be the singular act which galvanized otherwise passive gays to fight back against police harassment for the very first time – THAT all important brick – would instead be hurled by a white guy in pullover shirt and khaki pants.

In the late 80’s I lived for a time at 35 Grove Street, less than a city block from The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street. I often drank there and had occasion to meet and speak with persons who claim to have been in the historic landmark bar on that fateful night in June of 1969. I researched these events ten years ago when working the scenario into my “Lion Queen” musical and again this past Spring as I prepared to direct playwright John Ryan’s “1969: Stonewall” which recently played the Orlando Fringe Festival and The Footlight Theater.

While I’m no expert on the subject I have been dabbling in the Stonewall Riots over the course of two and half decades. As a result there are two things of which I feel certain:

ONE: There were only ever a handful of persons who could actually prove they were present at the riots (the majority of them now deceased; many having succumbed to AIDS in the late 70s and throughout the 80s).

And TWO: No one can possibly substantiate for certain who specifically threw that brick.

But there are two absolute truths I wish to share concerning the events:

ONE – The act of resisting rather than complying with the efforts of the New York Tactical Police Force to arrest those in the Stonewall Inn that night was in fact initiated by transgender persons.

And TWO: No sooner than the dust had settled from the rioting, a coalition of mostly white affluent gay businessmen, who had been more comfortable in the closet then out, began a decades-long agenda of drawing distinctions between regular every day straight-like gay persons like themselves and the undesirable and not-suited-for-mainstream-press imagery of transgender individuals.

But I will go see Stonewall come September. Regardless of all that the trailer foreshadows. When the film is viewed in its entirety it may very well be that transgender persons are shown as being pivotal in igniting the spark that resulted in “the hairpin drop heard round the world.”

An individual who was able to substantiate his presence at the riots told listeners of After Hours Radio, 90.1 KPFT, “The whole thing… was started by, was all about the transgenders. Gay people – gay males – we joined in, but it was started by transgenders. Now even though we joined in within five or ten minutes, it was still five or ten minutes later. It’s important for people to understand; to “join in” means somebody else was already there. And that was the transgenders.”

To transgender individuals who are feeling blindsided and short changed by this particular “Stonewall,” all I can say is, my heart goes out to you. I understand your justifiable indignation. But, it is my firm belief this film will do far more good then it will do harm. It has already succeeded in starting this all important conversation.

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