[ the

This is you. This is in 1968, and you’re 18. This is before you realized you were gay or anything. These are very old films.

This is Rosa Dordon, an old friend of yours. And these films, like I say, are pretty old and scratched up, and… But I had a movie camera. I always had a movie camera when I was growing up. I was always taking pictures of my friends. You called this film “Transformations.” We were going through some changes at that point in our lives. I realized there was something going on with me that was a little bit different. Rosa Dordon was in love with my brother.

We moved to San Francisco later that year. This is the room I was living in. I still hadn’t really realized I was gay. I’d started having a little bit of sex now and then, getting picked up hitchhiking, that kind of stuff. But I was still trying not to think about it too much.

Learning how to be open and good with each other sexually is part of our liberation, though. I realized that later.

I remember my first time. I was 18 when you penetrated me. I felt as if I was floating above these two bodies, intertwined. I was thinking to myself: I’ll remember this, my body will remember this. Even my oldest memory is a sexual one, a masturbatory one before I knew to masturbate. I remember climbing between a bed and its cover sheet and pressing a toy animal into the crotch of my pants. I remember the heat was stifling. 

There are protests. Protests for murders, protests for crimes, protests for corrupt policies. I couldn’t find my voice, couldn’t use my lungs, but it felt good to lend my body to something. If I could do nothing else, at least I could lend my body. The world seemed to stop, at least for a moment. It was May, or was it August?

And I know you’ve only used my words to make your own point, though. Even my refusal to speak was used as part of your argument.

The war in the East had an immense impact on me. It wasn’t my experience, but they say trauma passes through generations.

That’s Mary Jo back when she was a hippie. Now she’s settled down and married in suburbia somewhere. She had animals all over the house, too. Plants and animals.

Here’s Roy Archiquette. You got back to San Francisco and moved in with Roy Archiquette—our first lover. I’m about twenty. These are your cats Joey and Sadie, I believe. That’s Sadie there. Back then, you were somebody else. You had a different name. I still had pretty long hair and was skinny.

We had such fantasies for this place. Ideas of a place to be free. Ideas that being here would ease our fears. Then we were beaten by our own police. Do you remember that? This wasn’t the first time.

We finally saw our city for what it was. Our ghetto certainly is more beautiful and larger, and more diverse than most ghettos. And is certainly freer than other parts of the world. That’s why we’re here. But it isn’t ours. Capitalists make money off of us, cops patrol us, government tolerates us as long as we shut up, and daily we work for and pay taxes to those who oppress us.

We chose to fight back. For a moment, they were afraid of us. They beat us, and they beat our friends for that moment. Police covered their badges with black tape to avoid identification.

A battered body can still be an empowered body, though. We know that now.

That was the year that Roy Archiquette’s old army buddy was strung out on PCP and drank some Drano and was coughing up blood and died a few days later. And about six months later, Roy Archiquette, our lover here, was strung out and wrote us all suicide notes and disappeared and was never heard from again by anyone. At that time, you had left San Francisco, very disenchanted and disillusioned. We had a good year together, though.

These are your dreams of peace coupled with a capitalist fantasy. We stole this Christmas tree out of a lot and drug it several blocks in the night. Our first Christmas with a lover.

I was beginning to realize there was something different about me. They thought this was very sick. I was finding the more feminine side of my character, getting in touch with that, the results of which I thought would be suicide. But to accept that happiness comes through finding a husband or wife to settle down with is avoiding the real issues.

This is Stanley, my second lover. We lived in this apartment together for less than a year. He eventually did contract AIDS. He came out to visit and stayed with Mark and I one year and went to the parade—gay pride parade—and went back home, and that was it. We never heard from him again. Our friends and lovers started to drop off this world. Their bodies started to reject them. Society rejected them.

We say to ourselves often, Look at this. This didn’t happen. Even with photographs, we say, this didn’t happen.

When we asked you if you, too, had AIDS, you responded: “Oh, God no! If I had AIDS, I would have thrown myself out the window of the hospital. I have liver cancer. There would be no reason to stick around and live if I had AIDS.” You were only trying to trick yourself, though, and we said goodbye one last time.   

When you came out to your mother, she cried for what seemed like ages. She told me she was crying because she thought this meant you would never find happiness in your life. It’s strange to have a mother tell you something like that. Every time my mother calls, at the end of the conversation she asks if I’m healthy and free of colds. I think what she really wants to ask is whether or not I’ve been infected.

It’s become very hard to disentangle memories of films, or books, or cartoons, or plays from quote-unquote “real experience.” It all gets mixed up. That same body in the march, that same body in my bedroom.

Where once there was frustration, alienation, and cynicism, there are new characteristics among us. We are full of love for each other and are showing it. We are full of anger at what has been done to us. And as we recall all the self-censorship and repression over so many years, a reservoir of tears pours out of us, and we are euphoric; high with the initial flourish of a movement. We know we are radical. We know the system that we’re under now is a direct source of oppression, and it’s not a question of getting our share of the pie; we can see clearly that the pie is rotten.

Ah, this is Bill Thomas… You were so infatuated with Bill Thomas. Although you hadn’t really realized it yet, you were so infatuated with him and wanted to be this girl. I don’t remember what her name was, but I wish that was me dancing there holding his hand.