Old Queer + Young Queer = Island Queer

by Rachel Newcombe

Oh my. Where to begin? Come join me as I indulge in a stream of consciousness reverie about Gay Pride and Orcas Island Pride’s upcoming celebration, June 17-18.

I’m listening to Harvey Fierstein’s memoir, “I Was Better Last Night.” In the dedication, he says, “To the radical fairies who flew before me.” I hear the reverence in these words. He’s honoring the past.

I, too, want to honor the past and individuals who fought for the rights of gay people, for protections and for their own lives. There are too many to mention, but I will share a few who come to mind. One person is Sarah Schulman, author of “Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York 1987-1983.”

I remember ACT UP’s 1987 demonstration on Wall Street when protesters held signs demanding government and corporate action to end the AIDS crisis. At that time high-priced AZT was the only drug available. It would be decades before PrEP, (a pre-exposure prophylaxis) medications were available for HIV-negative people, all genders and sexual orientations.

I honor activists like Shulamith Firestone and members of the New York Radical Feminists, who demonstrated why the personal is always political. Because of these activists I’ve written about the experience of being a six-year-old, not feeling like a girl and not feeling like a boy and clueless about the word gender. This was 1965. There were no books like Maya Christina Gonzalez’s “The Gender Wheel: a story about bodies and gender for everybody.” My exposure to gender wasDick and Jane readers with the Caucasian heteronormative family of the times. A boy, a girl, a cat, a dog and two parents, a man and a woman.

I honor Kate Bornstein and Audre Lorde whose writing set an example, showing me it’s okay to share details of my fluid sexuality in professional writing.

I honor the 1970/1971 protesters who disrupted the annual American Psychiatric Association meetings for their anti-homosexual stance. It wasn’t until 1973 that the APA removed “homosexuality” from the second edition of the Diagnostic and Statical Manuel. Now we have conversion therapy laws prohibiting licensed mental health practitioners from subjecting minors to harmful psychological or spiritual interventions that attempt to change gender identity or sexual orientation.

When I first arrived on Orcas in 2005 there were monthly Out on Orcas potlucks. I enjoyed the gatherings and hearing the various ways people inhabited their queerness. Blatant was the absence of younger people.

A few years ago, Out on Orcas passed the torch to the expanding younger generation. With this torch they’re blazing the island with pride, fun, films, burlesque, activism, music, dancing and yes, fairy wings. I honor Orcas Island Pride and welcome their radiant queer energy. I’m also a tiny bit jealous. Is sixty-three too old for fairy wings?

As I wind down my reverie, I propose an idea.

When we meet someone, instead of wondering, Are they Gay? Are they a boy or girl, non-binary or trans? I suggest shifting the question to the lyrics from Uncle John’s Band, a Grateful Dead song: “Wo, oh, what I want to know is, are you kind?”

Rachel Newcombe is a queer psychoanalyst and supervisor on Orcas Island and Seattle, Washington. According to the Urban Dictionary, it is rumored she might also be a Librosexual, a person who enjoys the company of a book rather than human contact.