On the night of March 21, 1981, on a challenge from my best friend, I did my first show in my hometown Syracuse, New York at a woman's club called Ms. Adventure. When my friend, Rita, started heckling me about five minutes in, I stopped. “Rita, what are you doing?” She was older, a photographer, always in black turtlenecks because she fancied herself a beatnik. “It's comedy; we’re supposed to heckle.” Though I was three semesters retired from my teaching gig, I still had my study hall monitor mojo and shut her down expertly. “Cut it out.” She slumped.
Many years and dry heaves later, I marvel at my career. It certainly was not one of the options on the jobs checklist on sixth grade career day. Other: lesbian comic.
The same year I began my career, Pope John Paul and President Ronald Reagan began their careers. Together they were Forgive and Forget. It was also the year that gay men started dying from AIDS. Then it was called “the gay cancer.” Those three events and the thematic variations on them have been intertwined touchstones in my routines for 28 years.
Warm and fuzzy histories of the People's Pope belie the fact that he championed heterosexual supremacy and the subjugation of women, pedophilia cover-ups, and the end of liberation theology. Though compared to his successor, John Paul seems a benign Mr. Magoo, his tenure began a long conservative retrenchment in communion with other right wing religious movements.
Warm and fuzzy histories about the Great Communicator belie the fact that President Reagan championed deregulation of markets, disregard for minority rights and the anti-government mantra that led years later to Bush at president-select, Brownie at FEMA and Gonzalez at Justice. As the health epidemic raged, Reagan never uttered the word AIDS in his eight years in office. It was under Reagan, that the right-wing religionistas got a seat at the table and said grace.
There are no warm and fuzzy stories about the appalling health crisis that was and still is AIDS. As AIDS rages in poor communities and especially among women worldwide it is cold comfort to know that in the early '80s it forced gay men and lesbians to work together out in the open on protests, community organizing and public education about our LGBT community. Fighting AIDS did unify and galvanize our LGBT movement but I would rather have my friends back and be able to grow old with them.
We are gradually emerging from the PTSD of being in an abusive relationship for the last eight years. Bush was a bully; he was on the crack of Iraq; he and his B&E thug pals terrorized the neighborhood especially the gay kids; he ran up the credit cards; he left the place in a shambles; he was always at the gym, no one could understand why we stayed with him.
Hopefully that was the last blast of a cycle begun almost thirty years ago. Despite obstacles aplenty, we LGBT people have made dramatic changes in the forty years since Stonewall. I look forward to working more years. I plan to chronicle the passage of a trans-inclusive ENDA, the end of Don't Ask Don’t Tell, full federal marriage equality, safe schools for LGBT youth, full health care for elder gays, and freedom from religious intolerance.
Happy Anniversary to me! In lieu of gifts, send money to your favorite LGBT group or your local food pantry.