I finally left the closet at the end of last summer. For 19 years I had masqueraded as a straight girl, and I was itching to indulge my suppressed gay curiosities. I devoured gay books and became addicted to Logo TV. In all this material I saw little mention of gay history, so I did my own research.
I interviewed Tree, a 68-year-old bartender at New York's Stonewall Inn who had fought in the 1969 riots. A towering man who loves to talk, Tree described a Manhattan totally foreign to me. Instead of today's gay clubs, he recalled being in dark, hidden bars where he constantly had to eye the door, dreading recurrent police raids.
My history classes certainly didn't address Stonewall. The media may eat up the "trend" of gays, but education has yet to catch up. I took an informal poll of both straight and queer friends and found that only a small fraction had even a vague notion of what Stonewall was. I myself was clueless a year ago.
Life is drastically different nearly 40 years after Stonewall. Since childhood I have been increasingly surrounded by gay images in the media. High school girls kiss each other to excite straight boys. The world looks to gay men for the next fashion statement.
While being closeted used to be an unquestioned burden, today I feel intense pressure to be out in all aspects of my life. Guilt consumes me when I refer to my girlfriend as my "very special friend." Today, gays are automatically equated with activism and are expected to uphold the responsibility of educating all the ignorant people they encounter.
But it's nice to be able to hold my girlfriend's hand when I walk down the street. I have Tree and his contemporaries to thank for that. When asked if he felt like a hero for having been part of Stonewall, Tree brushed off the idea. "Nah," he said with a shrug, "we were just fed up."