And, at a time when it was punishable by law to wear items of clothing that didn’t belong to your gender, of course the people who were fighting the hegemony were the femmes and the butches, queers and trans folk of colour — Marsha P. Johnson, Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia Rivera, Reverend Magora Kennedy, hundreds of people who joined that rebellion in the three days following, sporting clothing and identities that were completely off-limits. You didn’t need I.D. to get into the Stonewall at the time, and so the crowd was populated by an intergenerational force of non-conforming queers who had found a place where they could be left alone, to their own devices, where they could dash down the street in a binary disguise, only to depart it on entry, to wear as many items of clothing that didn’t fit their genders as they wanted.
This is a decent metaphor for what we really want, still: for the most part we don’t want to assimilate, to move into a space where we can have what everyone else has. I don’t crave a world in which I can walk down the street and have people scream ‘yass queen’ as I do. We want to be given our own space to thrive and flourish, we want that space honoured and celebrated. I want to be respected — not abused or fetishised.
The fight for this simple thing continues — especially when you look at the high rate of closure of LGBTQIA+ spaces even in a queer metropolis like London, when you look at the revocation of our rights in places like Brazil, or the non-existence of them due to imported colonial laws and ideologies around the world. The fight to be left alone, to exist freely, to move safely, to be in love with as many people in as many ways as we want, continues. And that fight is so often undertaken by what, back then, might have been described as ‘drags’.
A lot of people ask where drag comes into this historic fight for our rights, and the answer is that drag has always been there — very much on the front lines, and it very much still is. The definition of drag here is much wider than the one we are shown on television — yes, it includes padded, perfected, powdered pageant queens, but it also means those who are generally gender non-conforming. The Stonewall Rebellion predates a lot of the contemporary terminologies we use today (non-binary, transgender, gender fluid) but so many of those who were regular punters at a place like Stonewall, so many of those who cast the proverbial first brick, were queers like us, non-binary like us, trans like us, drag kings and queens like us.