My Pride Column:What Stonewall Means to Me

Originally appeared June 2, 1994, in the Windy City Times.

There was a note in my office mailbox from The Editor saying he wanted to see me. I walked down the long corridor past the offices of all the Assistant Editors until I got to The Editor's door. I knocked with what I hoped was the right mixture of assertiveness and respect.

"Enter," came the familiar stern voice. I entered.

The Editor was seated at his desk behind a tall stack of half-edited manuscripts, wearing a "Just Be You" T-shirt with a little yellow button that said, "Have a Nice Whenever." Pushed up on his forehead was his ever-present green eyeshade. Vivaldi was playing on the portable CD player.

"Good morning, Sir. You wanted to see me?"

"Where is your Pride Issue column, Varnell?

"Pride column?" I asked, all innocence and wonderment.

"Pride column," he repeated. "The Pride Issue is at hand. I sent a memo to all staff about this more than a month ago. We need an appropriate column."

I smiled a thin, cool smile, reached into my back pocket, and. ...

"Ta-dah!" I said as I handed him my column with a flourish.

He stared at it as if I were offering him a live snake.

"What does it say?" he asked suspiciously.

"It's about how proud we should all be to be gay," I replied. "How it makes us the truly wonderful, self-actualizing people we are. How it sensitizes us to the joy and beauty in the universe, gives meaning to our lives, and elevates our existence far beyond that of ordinary mortals."

"Oh, cut it out, Varnell," he said with a grimace. "You don't believe any of that. You've always made fun of gay pride. You always said being gay was a neutral quality, like having blue eyes and that it was only how people handled it, what they did with it, how they lived their lives, that could be a source of pride. Do I not recall correctly?"

"Well, I'm selling out," I said grandly. "I've decided to tell people what they want to hear. They want to hear that life can be simple and uncomplicated; that life presents few demand and that it is enough just to 'be.' They want to hear that the universe is benevolent, that they can be wonderful without effort, and that living involves no pains, no trade-offs, no compromises, no agonizing dilemmas.

"I am telling people it is enough to be proud and everything else will just fall into place. I reassure them that being gay involves no moral or intellectual obligations, that they can keep on being however they are, that wherever they are is the final stage of personal development."

"Oh, for pity's sake, Varnell," he burst out. "Can't you do anything right? When you sell out you're supposed to do it for money or for power or something. But here you are selling out - as you call it - but you aren't getting anything for it at all."

"Oh, I am, I am," I insisted. "I'm gaining popularity, regard, affection. People want to read things they already agree with, that reassure them about themselves, however they are. People love this sort of thing and they love the people who tell it to them - ministers, politicians, therapists, even writers.

"And people will love me. They will write me fan letters, speak of me in reverential tones, buy me drinks at bars. I will be famous and esteemed."

"No doubt!" he said. "But this is all irrelevant. This year's Pride topic has nothing to do with Pride."

"It doesn't?" I gasped, taken aback. "How is that possible?"

"If you'd paid attention to my memo" - he pulled a piece of paper out from the middle of a pile and waved it at me - you'd have known that this year's theme is 'Stonewall 25.' I don't know why I even bother to write these things if no one reads them. ..."

His voice trailed off. Then he looked at me sternly.

"Your deadline is 4 o'clock. Dismissed!"

I made an "about-face" I learned in Boy Scouts and marched out, wondering what I could say about diversity that was not already cliche'd, hackneyed, tired.

On the way out, I stopped by the office of Aspasia, one of our young Assistant Editors.

"You'll never guess...," I began glumly.

"I know!" she said. "You need a new column." She grinned guiltily. "The intercom was on - just a teensy bit."

"Well, what are you writing about?" I asked.

"I'm writing about the most important events since Stonewall," she said. "You know, Bowers v Hardwick, Anita Bryant, the psychiatrists voting that we're mentally healthy - that kind of stuff. I'm learning a lot," she added.

"What do you think was the most important event of all? I asked.

"Most important event?" She looked off into space for a moment. "You know. I really think the most important event was when I came out."

I must have looked startled.

"Oh, I don't mean that my coming out was the most important event for everyone else, just for me. What I mean is that for each of us the most important event since Stonewall is that we ourselves came out.

"Think about it," she went on. "That means that each of us at some point summoned up the courage to be honest with ourselves about ourselves. And we managed to do that even knowing there would be some risks and losses if we did it. But we valued truth and integrity enough to face those risks. It's kind of an achievement."

She smiled brightly.

"I don't mean it's a stopping point," she added. "And that doesn't mean it's easy from then on. But it does mean that each of us was willing to throw ourselves into that existential void and take on the burden of beginning to work out life's same old problems from a new and uncertain starting point. It's an achievement that gets us up to square one, but somehow it gives us some momentum as we pass through that point on into the rest of our lives. And I suppose it gives us the experience of knowing that honesty and courage and self-knowledge have some cash value in our mental economy."

"But that's just my opinion. I suppose other people would think differently."

A glimmer of an idea stole into my mind.

"Are you writing about this?" I asked as casually as I could.

"Oh, no," she said. "It's not my topic. Besides, people would just laugh at me if I tried to explain it."

"Well, it's been good talking with you," I said. "But I've gotta go work."

And I rushed off to my word processor.

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