I watched this very emotive video a weekend a half ago (unfortunately I don’t know how to blog yet so I lost the huge passage of text i had typed… but I’ll try again here…
The Documentary struck my on so many levels; Marsha’s amazing patience with others, her self respect, her kindness and generosity to others, her almost nonchalant attitude to what others made of her, her heartbreaking history of early rape, her mother’s attitude to homosexuality, seeing herself more as a drag queen than transgender…
I had not known anything about Marsha’s story and was so moved to hear some many of her friends pay such homage, love and appreciation to her. The Documentary was a beautiful mix of ‘sit down in front of the camera questions and answers’, of footage from Pride Marches of the 1970’s and 80’s, of interviews with Marsha’s friends and fellow activists, Stonewall Members and of the Gay and Drag community of New York and of views of 70’s / 80’s views of beaten up, graffiti smothered, pre-Aids, pre-Republican Wall Street clean it-up-sterility that happened to Downtown Manhattan.
The attitude of America to difference / minorities / homosexuality in 1969 when Marsha moved to New York was, in no way, as open as it is now or even when Marsha’s body was found in the Hudson River in 1993… having gone through the very rough times of segregation and abuse seen as normal for the period, prostitution and drug pushing/taking seen as normal practices to those not fortunate enough to be able to support themselves living in an expensive City with a decent or regular job. But through all of this Marsha’s soft, caring, quiet confidence and self belief made it relatively easy to make friends within the tight group of activists and fellow members of the LG (GT came much later).
I was struck as to how, originally, the LG community found it difficult to accept Marsha as part of their minority. Being Black and Gay was, to some, fine but to be a transvestite / drag was pushing things too far from the minority ‘norm’.
The amount of personal courage that Marsha had seems to be something that was unspoken and perhaps taken for granted.
In our modern time of social media minorities and individuals can face unfathomable levels of bullying from face to face to anonymous online trolling. Personal levels of courage are still very important but have we lost sight of the feeling of community, of support mechanisms, acceptance, uniqueness ? Perhaps within the Arts we are more accepting, more inquisitive, more questioning; we automatically assume that our students have been brought up in a much more open and accepting society but are they truly? Perhaps today’s society is less open, more guarded, more insidious?
So how would I apply the above observations and thoughts into my own teaching practice? As a Gay man I find it easy to sit and discuss these issues with students, whether they are Straight, Gay, Bi., Trans or confused… it is with empathy, caring, support and an ability to engage in the subject that all students will benefit. Marsha’s death is a mystery but it lead to the bringing together of a minority group with support from the predominantly bigoted NYPD. The Metropolitan Police Force has a code of conduct as does UAL to enable support for Students. Having role models, no matter how far in the past, can truly help explain the notion of confidence in difference.
One brief that has been given to Theatre and Screen Design students in Foundation is entitled “Young Blood”. This fairly open brief that focuses the students to think about protest and rebellion / revolution. Getting the Students to think about Historic events where young people have stood up to the Authorities, risking everything to try and make a positive change to their world. They are asked to consider Freedom of Speech, Marches, Banners, strikes and rebellions. They are promoted to choose their own issue or choose from Animal Farm, Her Naked Skin or Kammilitonen. I believe that suggesting to the group that some may want to take up Marsha’s banner of equality, recognition and acceptance would be a very positive idea to enhance the sense of Community within the (very large) class and to ensure the Students aren’t wrapped up in their own issues too much but can see other issues that need support too. There is a lack of political awareness or interest in the class. They are asked to produce anything from a banner, a poster, a set design, an installation work, a costume design or garment or make a film or animation… Advising them of the YouTube film on Marsha P. Johnson will illuminate them in gender politics and also in the changing face of New York and it’s attitudes to Minorities.
I read this article and found it quite illuminating in view of the amount of time it has taken modern society to catch up with Marsha’s world.