Memory, my loves, is a powerful thing. Case in point: I was sitting in my drag boudoir, surrounded by my couture gowns, oodles of jewels, and heaps of love letters, going over some last-minute details for my fabulous annual Pride celebration. It was early morning; I had just gone to brew some coffee and turn on the TV, almost tripping over the gleefully discarded six-inch heels I had worn the night before. As the audio played in the background, I heard a voice announce that the Supreme Court had struck down DOMA. I knew the rulings were to be made that day, but nonetheless, I found myself utterly awestruck, which is not easy to come by for this queen! Before calling family, posting to Facebook or tweeting to my fans, I found myself recalling the very first time I went to a gay bar.
The bar in question is the world-famous Turf Club, which opened in 1923 in downtown Hayward, just across the East Bay from San Francisco. At that time (not 1923), I was just a shy young queen looking to find some company and a place to feel welcome. I can't remember why I had chosen that particular night to go out, but I recall how strong the urge to do so -- and the wish to go alone -- was. Not yet exploring drag, I put on my best look, and set out, utterly terrified and exhilarated by what the night would entail.
Now, the Turf Club wasn't the only gay bar in Hayward. At the time, it was the one that everyone wanted to get into. Summoning my courage and sneaking in through the back door, I found myself in the midst of a veritable menagerie of queers. I mean, you name the fruit, and it was there: leather daddies, bull dykes, drag queens, suit-and-ties, camp queens, even a dash of day laborers up from the strawberry fields. My jaw dropped to the floor. Never in my life had I imagined that there could be so many different ways to be gay!
I pulled up a seat at the bar, cautiously ordered a Harvey Wallbanger, and sat back, silently watching the wonderful freak show play out before me. And this is what I remember most: All those queers mingled with each other. Sure, each had his own flavor, but they came to this bar to be with each other, to find a community that embraced them not because of their conformity but in spite of it. That was the first of what was to become many trips to my local gay and lesbian bars, and those early experiences in my gay youth have shaped me in so many ways.
So, my loves, when I heard the Supreme Court decisions come down on Wednesday, all I could think about was those queens, that bar, and my first night as a member of the LGBT community I am proud to be a part of. It is the memory of that small bar in Hayward and the sense of place it gave me that leads me every year to throw an over-the-top party celebration of diversity and inclusion. Memory, as I said, is a powerful thing. It has the ability to transport us to our past and the force to shape our future. And now, with the momentous rulings bringing us one step closer to full equality, we must all remember those who came before and cherish the triumph that belongs to us all. Make this Pride one you'll never forget!