STREET TRANSVESTITE ACTION REVOLUTIONARIES:
survival, revolt, and queer antagonist struggle
Untorelli Press presents a compilation of historical documents, interviews, and critical analyses of STAR, a group of street queens in early 70s New York City who self-organized for survival and revolt. Contained within are pamphlets distributed by STAR, as well as interviews with and speeches by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. Additionally, we are excited to include a critical essay by Ehn Nothing on STAR’s legacy, the enemies of queer insurrection, and the war against gender.
[For Reading][For Printing]
(the interview below discusses forced psychiatric institutionalization, gender coercion, self harm and the prison industrial complex)
ISSUE SEVEN **A BULLETIN OF THE HOMOFIRE MOVEMENT** Nov, 14, 1970
CHRIS: GAY PRISONER IN BELLEVUE
(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.
i found this document -the first statement released by STAR during the NYU gay liberation front occupation- at the new york public library in Arthur Bell’s papers.
for more context i wrote about it last year here for Sylvia Rivera’s ten year memorial blog
GAY POWER WHEN DO WE WANT IT? OR DO WE?
This is the question that is running through our minds. Do you really want Gay Power or are you looking for a few laughs or maybe a little excitement. We are not quite sure what you people really want. IF you want Gay Liberation then you’re going to have to fight for it. We don’t mean tomorrow or the next day, we are talking about today. We can never possibly win by saying “wait for a better day” or “we’re not ready yet” If you’re ready to tell people that you want to be free, then your ready to fight. And if your not ready then shut up and crawl back into your closets. But let us ask you this, Can you realliy live in a closet? We cant.
So now the question is, do we want Gay Power or Pig Power. We are willing to admit that we need pigs. But we only need t hen for crime control. We do not need them to beat and harass our gay brothers and sisters. The pigs are not helping the people who are being robbed on the streets and being murdered. How can they when theyre to busy trying to bust a homosexual over the head. Or theyre to busy trying to catch someone hustling so they can arrest t hem. But they do give us an alternative. All we have to do is commit sodomy with them and they’ll forget they were saw us. Until next time that is. So again we ask you, do you want pig power or gay power? This is up to each and every one of you.
If you want gay power then youre going to have to fight for it. And youre going to have to fight until you win. Because (striked through) once you start youre not going to be able to stop because if you do youll lose everything. You wont just lose this fight, but all the other fights all over the country. All our brothers and sisters all over the world will return to their closets in shame. So if you want to fight for your rights, then fight till the end.
We would also like to say that all we fought for at Weinstein Hall was lost when we left upon request of the pigs. Chalk one up for the pigs, for they truly are carrying there victory flag. And realize the next demonstration is going to be harder, because they now know that we scare easily.
You people run if you want to, but we’re tired of running. We intend to fight for our rights until we get them.
For Gay Power
[images of trans symbols on bottom)
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!
Pay It No Mind - The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson
This beautiful documentary is now entirely online! Please PAY IT SOME MIND!
i was finally able to upload this beautifully shot video of SRLP’s teach in at Zucotti Park. it starts at the 50 second mark with Kazembe Balagun, followed by Carlos Motta (who did translation), Pooja Gehi, myself, Naomi Clark & Jeannine Tang.
this was one of the first moments i felt part of trans & gender non conforming people taking up space at the park with our bodies and our legacies. right now i’m wondering about how these creative tensions are held within different movement, artistic and personal relationships one year later.
thanks to Jonah Groeneboer for filming and MPA for recording the audio! thanks to everyone who came and held signs and translated and human microphoned, and filled wall street with the some of the best light its had since the Dutch came and built the wall.
Sylvia Rivera kicking ass on stage after some radfems & transphobes tried to refuse her the right to speak at the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day rally. Said radfems then had their own march in part protesting trans participation in Pride. A precursor to today’s Dyke March.
40 years later in the very same park trans women are still fighting for space within Pride as this year’s Dyke March fiasco demonstrated. I’m feeling challenged and troubled by the narrative that trans women’s response to transphobia must take the “form of serious, calm, point by point analyses of why radfems are wrong” as Stephen Ira pointed out.
What strikes me about this video is that she isn’t trying to be calm and collected after being attacked. She’s not internalizing the notion that fighting transphobia has to take on the oppressive notion of “respectability.”
These conversations have left me wondering: has the non profit industrial complex and professionalized activism gentrified our political activity?
So within all of that, I say: nothing but love and power to trans women creating space for ourselves in queer community! Special shout out to Voz who inspired this post!
thank you for the memory of Sylvia R. & Marsha J. I can tell you for sure, though, that Kady was a friend oh Marsha, and didnot vote against support for queer and trans street folk. Kady was a student & cab driver at the stonewall time, and often gave free lifts to Marsha and other queer and trans folk. Kady was queer and poor and radical herself, and did all she could do to help other [particularly] poor folk. Thanks and cheers to you from Diana Jo Davies. [ps. I took the photo at City Hall.]
Hi Diana Davies,
What an honor it is to have you on this blog! Thank you for writing me and sharing your deep insight. Also thank you for the incredibly rich archive you have created and so generously shared with the world, I am sure you hear this all the time but your work has been incredibly meaningful to me as both an activist and artist. I believe your archive has been fundamental in this moment of renewed & on going interest in the lives of many queer and trans people, especially Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson.
I’ll definitely amend the photo description, and its great to know more about Kady Vandeurs! Just to clarify, when I wrote “Sadly some of these fab folks then got the bill passed by bumping off coverage of gender identity” I wasn’t saying Barbara Deming, Kady Vandeurs were responsible, I was referring to the way that it actually ended up getting passed through negotiation of eliminating gender expression/identity coverage from the bill. Sylvia talked a lot about it and the collusion of some prominent lesbian & gay people with it, for instance Jean O’Leary & the Lesbian Feminist Liberation. Here is one speech Sylvia gave about how the bill was passed: http://redalyc.uaemex.mx/pdf/377/37719106.pdf
with deep appreciation,