Jeremy Johnson, director.
When I was 15, this old guy Andy (I think he was probably 30 at the time) worked with me at the local community theatre in Randolph, New Jersey. One day Andy handed me Reflections of a Rock Lobster and One Teenager in Ten. I don’t recall if we had a conversation about being gay or not but those books changed me. I read them dozens of times and carefully hid them under my bed.
When I was 16, I got my driver’s permit and Melissa Etheridge released a CD called Yes I Am. She sang a song called “Silent Legacy” and I pulled over on the highway because I couldn’t see the road anymore. I sobbed for about twenty minutes pressing repeat each time the song ended. She had written a song for me and she felt like I did.
When I was 17, I walked into the Drama Bookshop in NYC and with butterflies in my stomach and sweating hands bought The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me by David Drake and read about what it was like to be a sissy and a badass all at the same time. I met David in Provincetown two years ago and it continues to be a very special day for me. Sometimes I think he saved my life.
When I was 32, I read The Temperamentals and all the memories above came rushing back to me immediately.
There is nothing more powerful than the moments when you realize you are not alone.
If the Mattachine Society did nothing else in those formative years of the gay rights movement it reached out with welcoming arms and embraced hundreds of men and women who up until that point had lived their lives alone and in the dark. What is even more incredible to me is that they did this during the early 1950s, a period in American history marked by extreme paranoia, rigidity and an almost inflexible adherence to a moral standard that we look back on today as largely a fantasy of politicians and advertising.
One of the fascinating and frustrating things about being gay is that we are all largely “self-taught” especially when it comes to our place in history. Black families and Jewish families pass down the words, ideas and customs of their culture and occasionally schools will fill in some of the gaps.
Will Roscoe says in Radically Gay, a book on the writings of Harry Hay, “There is no mechanism, except by the initiative of the individual, for Lesbians and Gay men to learn their own history. And this is a very serious problem when one realizes the role that the construction of the past plays in any social movement.”
I’m embarrassed to admit that up until a year ago, I was among the many who thought the movement for our rights began on a hot night in June at the Stonewall Inn. I read earlier this year of 20-year old gay men leaving the recent revival of The Normal Heart, looking at their friends in their 40s and 50s with a mixture of horror and awe, saying “I had no idea that’s what you went through.” We have a history and it’s an important one. It’s an American one and it matters. It matters to the 15-year old that always felt a little bit different who comes to see this show. This play is for them.