March 1, 2013
Sylvia Rivera (STAR) and Arthur Bell (Gay Activist Alliance) interview Chris Thompson for GAY FLAMES 1970

(the interview below discusses forced psychiatric institutionalization, gender coercion, self harm and the prison industrial complex) 



(GAY FLAMES: Chris Thompson is a black male transvestite who went to Bellevue Hospital for treatment of his asthma.  Because he was gay and a transvestite, he was transferred to the psychiatric wing, where he could be “kept under control.” Chris has found brutality and ridicule at Bellevue, not medical attention and is now threatened with transfer to a state mental hospital, from which he might never return.  STAR’s Sylvia Rivera and GAA’s Arthur Bell conducted an interview, a part of which is printed here.)

Q: Do you feel that you’re being held prisoner here?

A: I feel that I am a prisoner and have been mistreated.  They claim they are trying to help me but I dont think they are.  I think they are just bull…just playing with me, just because of my homosexuality, wondering whether I want to have an operation, and asking me all these questions which doesn’t concern them.  They claim they’re treating me because of my asthma.  They said they thought I may have tuberculosis, so they did a biopsy and they found it was congestion of the chest.  THen they told me they was going to send me home.  I asked the doctor three weeks ago if I could have  a pass that I could take care of finding housing , and seh said “No.” And I asked why and she said “Because we can’t let you out by yourself.” She said she was going to ask for an attendant, but then she said she couldn’t find no attendant that ould go with me.

Q: Do you think they’re going to keep you in here perhaps forever?

A: Well, she told me if I can’t find a place to stay they would have to transfer me straight to state hospital.  But everyone tells me that here you can file for a lawyer; they can’t send you to the state hospital…they have to give me some welfare assistance.

Q: Would you want us to support you if they continue holding you here?

A: Yes, I would want full support.

Q: One of the things we’d like to know is how are the people around here — the doctors and the nurses and attendants?

A: Well, I only get funny cracks.  They say you’re still a man and they still are always low-rating me and saying funny little cracks and putting me down and making me feel bad all the time.  I had a nurse get very nasty with me.  She said, “we’ve had faggots here before” and she treats me very nasty and snotty and she says, “DOn’t mess with the hand that feeds you.” She’s told me that I would never look as good as she looks, “so don’t get your high horses up.” I felt that she felt some jealousy, something against homosexuality and she got very evil with me.  When I came into admitting office, I told the doctor I had congestion and asthma.  Because of me wanting to be a woman so much, he asked me did I ever have a fear of cutting my penis off.  I didn’t tell him one way or the other, but on my record they have it down that I have a fear of cutting my penis off, to become a woman.  I want to become a woman that bad, so they asked me these questions — do I still have a fear of taking a razor and cutting my penis off and I told them no, and if I did decide to have a sex change I would go through the legal procedures and go to the proper physicians and have it done.

Q: Do you feel that you’re being treated worse than the other patients?

A: Yes I feel that I’m treated much worse because of my femme tendencies and I’m always criticized about my hair or I’m always criticized about my face or something like that.  MY doctor told me as long as my make-up wasn’t too noticeable that I could wear it but then the attendants said that the doctor said I couldn’t wear it…so it’s just like they bull..they’re saying this and saying that.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

A: I don’t do anything.  I have usually been sick so I just stay in the bed and they get very angry.  I go to all the group therapy they have here, drama therapy, and all that.

Q: Are they trying to make you straight? Did they get into that?

A: They haven’t been really trying to change me, but they make me feel bad by ridiculing me.

Q: Not the doctors, the other patients, right?

A: No, I have no problems with the patients.  The patients accept me quite highly.  It’s the staff that really bugs me.

Q: Is there anything else that you can tell us about your stay here that might be interesting?

A: Well, as I told my doctor, I wasn’t here to tempt any patients, I was only here to get medical help.  She says that they can’t transfer me. One reason is ‘cause I’m homosexual, and another is that they don’t transfer psychiatric patients.  Also, they made me sleep in the hall because they were afraid that the males may get interested in me.

Q: Chris, just looking at you now, it doesn’t look as if you’re wearing any make-up at all, and you certainly can pass for straight.  What I don’t understand is why they’re so down on you.  The only thing I notice is that you have your hair a little longer than average.

A: It’s just the fact that if I look any kind of way effeminate, they get up tight about it.  I had some jeweled eyelashes which were given to me by a patient here, and they took them from me.  They took my hair rollers away, they locked up all my female attire, they said I can’t have it until I leave the hospital.  I wanted to set my hair for an Afro; they wouldn’t let me set it because it attracts the male attention, the males would get uptight.

Q: They’re afraid of having anybody go to bed with you while you’re here.

A: I think they fear that I will have a homosexual affair here if I look too effeminate.

Q: And that’s worse to them than the rats in the hallways?

A: Well, I think there’s rats on the staff! And they say when I blow my top and tell them off that I am crazy, but I am only standing up for my rights…because I am human like anyone else.

Q: Do you have any plans for when you get out of here?

A: Yes, I would like to go back to school and finish college and become a dance therapist, an activity therapist.  That’s what I want to be.

Q: Were you a dancer before?

A: Yes, I was.

Q: Are you interested in the SREET TRANSVESTITE ACTION REVOLUTIONARIES movement?

A: I’m interested in anything that has anything to do with the gay activities.  I’m all for it all, and I want to fight for it.  I willing to go all the way as far as I can go — if it means even my life I’ll do it.

Q: What do you feel about the sort of thing that Sylvia is into now. (Sylvia is an officer or STAR. —ed)

A: I think its beautiful. I think that if we can help our people — when I say our people I mean gay people — I think I’m all for it.

Q: Have you had any thoughts about how you can help gay people, what you might be able to do once you’re out of here?

A: If I obtain a job and work, if it’s for any gay person, I dont care who it is, I would give fully.  I’m all for gay people that’s my feelings, this coming straight from my heart. And I mean it.

January 28, 2013
Captive Genders: Teach-In on Abolitionist Imaginings and Transgender Activism

Next week my brilliant sibling Che & I will be hosting a teach in at UPenn on our Captive Genders chapter “Abolitionist Imaginings” We’ll be highlighting the work of STAR, Kiyoshi Kuromyia & the ongoing legacy of trans activism.

Click here for more info! Hope to see you there!

April 22, 2012

Randy Wicker’s video of Critical Trans Politics: Dean Spade, Andrea Ritchie & Reina Gossett in conversation!  Thanks to Randy for videoing! 

March 16, 2012
Ten Posts for Sylvia Rivera’s Ten Year Memorial

The spirit was gone from her body
Forever had always been inside
That shell had always been intertwined
And now were disintwined
It’s hard to understand

I am pursued by questions of historical process, of historical responsibility, questions of historical consciousness & ignorance & what these have to do with power.



















Historical amnesia is starvation of the imagination; nostalgia is the imagination’s sugar rush, leaving depression and emptiness in its wake.  Breaking silences, telling our tales, is not enough.  We can value that process –and the courage it may require –without believing that it is an end in itself.  Historical responsibility has, after all, to do with action –where we place the weight of our existences on the line, cast our lot with others, move from an individual consciousness to a collective one.  

(photo by Randy Wicker. text from Antony Hegarty’s the Spirit Was, Adrienne Rich’s Resisting Amnesia. )

February 25, 2012
STAR Trek: Sylvia & STAR House leave the Lower East Side

Before things could get back on an even keel at STAR House, Mike Umbers evicted them.  Apparently deciding against violence, he simply called the city marshals and had Sylvia and her brood put out on the street for nonpayment of rent…But before she and her “kids” left STAR House, they destroyed all the work they had put into the place and threw the refrigerator out the back window. “That’s the type of people we are: You fuck us over, we fuck you over right back.”

from Martin Duberman’s STONEWALL

Sylvia Rivera, one of the first squatters in the Lower East Side.

February 24, 2012

"Do you have suggestions for people in small towns and cities where there is no STAR?

Start a STAR of their own.  I think if transvestites don’t stand up for themselves, nobody else is going to stand up for transvestites.

I carry my wonder drug with me everywhere I go-a can of Mace.  If they attack me, I’m going to attack them, with my bomb.

Did you ever use it?

Not yet but I’m patient.”

-Marsha P Johnson, Vice-President of STAR gives an interview to VOICES OF GAY LIBERATION after fighting eviction from 213 East Second Street from Mafia Mike Umbers.

February 23, 2012

This is the beginning of a 3 part post on STAR’s history.  The text from this post comes from Martin Duberman’s STONEWALL:

Sylvia strongly identified with those righteous revolutionaries of the Third World, the Black Panthers and…the Young Lords.  She marched occassionally with both groups, though often in a stoned-out state, and later, in 1971, she would attend the People’s Revolutionary Convention, and would count her five-minute meeting with Panther leader Huey Newton among the highlights of her life.  Though Sylvia concluded that GAA wasn’t “radical enough,” she never left the organization, and her friend Bebe Scarpi always made sure that Sylvi’a dues were paid up.  But her primary allegience…came to center on GLF.

Any it was primarily GLF that she turned for help when her dream of creating a refuge for underage street queens began to stir.  Sylvia was still only nineteen herself, yet she had begun to worry about “the youngsters,” the kids who started to hustle on the streets, as she had, at ten or eleven and, within a few years, were dead from a stabbing or an overdose or were locked into dead-end lives.  She wanted to somehow set up a place where these young queens not only could find emotional comfort but could maybe even learn enough skills to start another kind of life.

The first person she talked all this over with was her old street-hustling buddy, Marsha P. Johnson.  Marsha always had a problem staying focused in conversation; she would wander, start off talking about one thing and end up miles away…but when Sylvia started talking to her about “getting a place” for the young sisters, Marsha’s mind concentrated wonderfully.  She was instantly excited, eager to help.  Sylvia had decided that she would make Marsha president of any group they formed, but Marsha, wisely, wouldn’t hear of it.  ”You stay on one thought when you speak,” she told Sylvia.  ”I go off in all directions.  You’ll be president.  I’ll be vice-president.”

They quickly hit on a name for their as-yet-nonexistent group: Street Transvestites Actual Revolutionaries (STAR), then changed “Actual” to “Action.” Their first home was the back of a trailer truck seemingly abandoned in Greenwich Village outdoor back parking area…a step up from sleeping in doorways, and Sylvia and Marsha were quickly able to gather together some two dozen young street transvestites.  The ground rule in the trailer was that nobody had to go out and hustler her body, but that when they did, they had to kick back a percentage to help keep “STAR House” going.  Marsha and Sylvia took it upon themselves to hustle on a regular basis and to return to the truck each morning with breakfast food for everybody. 

Rounding Christopher Street on the way back to the trailer at daybreak one morning, their arms loaded with groceries, Sylvia and Marsha stopped dead in their tracks.  The trailer was moving! Apparently somebody had reclaimed it and was driving it off -not realizing that some twenty queens were asleep inside.  As Sylvia and Marsha watched, dumbstruck, they young queens, apparently awakened by the start-up noise, started to jump out of the back of the truck.  But was anyone still inside? “We’re standing there like two yentas,” Sylvia later recalled.  ”I mean, we’re talking about two crazy women: ‘Oh, my God, the kids, the kids! Oh Lord Jesus, please don’t take the children!’ Two crazy women,  hysterical.  And in full drag.”

…It was time for a new plan.  Bubbles Rose Maria, one of the queens who lived in the truck, airily suggested that she go talk to her “friend” Michael Umbers, a well-known Mafia figure in the Village…”He’s got a building on Second Street,” Bubbles added casually…For a small amount of money up front, and a firm deadline on payments, Umbers let Bubbles have the building at 213 East Second Street.  Any why not? It was standing empty, little more than a shell…There was no electricity or plumbing, and not even the boiler worked; there they sat, "four queens that don’t know shit about nothing, we’re looking at the tools, we’re looking at each other.  We just started taking things apart, putting them back together, and the next thing we knew, the motherfucker was working!"