The Baddest Bitch of Stonewall

Marsha P Johnson was a fucking badass. A badass with a big heart, a creative sense of style and a fearless attitude. She was a veteran of the Stonewall riots in the late 60’s, she campaigned for Queer rights and set up a charity to help disadvantaged Queer youth.

The influence Marsha and other trans women of colour had on bringing Queer rights into the mainstream as well as the creation of Pride, protests and change in laws is often ignored or whitewashed by mainstream culture.

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Marsha never missed a protest 💪🏿

Marsha was a child of poverty, she grew up in a rough neighbourhood and moved to New York City from New Jersey when she was 18. Once in New York she legally changed her name to Marsha and started getting the reputation as being the Queen with a big heart.

She was often homeless, hustled to make money (as many trans women had to) and was always getting picked up by police.

The thing I love most about Marsha is her creativity. She was a street queen who could turn any junk into treasure, she was known to put christmas tree lights in her hair and use bits and pieces she found in the trash to make her outfits.

If someone complimented her outfit she was inclined to give it to them. That’s just how she was.

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Our babe Marsha 🙌🏿 Via Giphy

Marsha was at the Stonewall Inn Celebrating her birthday with friends when police raided the bar at 1.40am. The police treated the Queer community like shit and were constantly raiding and arresting people in some of the only available safe spaces they had. So tensions were already high.

Marsha fought back against the police that night and threw a shot glass into a mirror stating she knew her rights thus instigating the riots and protests against their treatment by police that lasted THREE FUCKING DAYS! This became known as the:

‘Shotglass heard around the world’

You don’t come to fuck up Marsha’s party and leave without an ass kicking.

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Damn right bitch! Via Giphy

After the riots Marsha and her friend Sylvia Rivera (another trans activist) founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) and they used every penny they had to set up a halfway house for runaway LGBT youth.

Seriously EVERYTHING they made went on clothing and food for the ‘children’ they supported. They were utterly selfless.

They were still often homeless and went without themselves to help their kids. Marsha became known as the ‘Queen Mother’ of the house.

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My kinda Queen Mother 👑

Marsha and Sylvia are heroes and should be lauded as such right? But during one of the first gay pride marches in New York, Sylvia took to the stage to make a speech AND THE AUDIENCE TRIED TO BOO HER OFF THE STAGE!

No, I don’t see the logic her either… but Sylvia wasn’t going to just walk off stage. Bitch turned that crowd around and by the end was leading a mammoth chant of

 ‘GAY POWER!’

Marsha was also often dismissed by other gay rights activists at the time because of her appearance and ‘kooky’ demeanor. She struggled with mental health issues and was in and out of prisons and mental health facilities throughout her life.

Once when she was in court a judge asked her what the P stood for and she replied

‘Pay it no mind.’

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Same. Via Giphy

LEGEND! The judge totally let her off.

Marsha had a varied and incredible life despite her shitty living conditions.

In 1975 Marsha was photographed by Andy Warhol for his Ladies and Gentlemen series. He painted a beautiful picture of Marsha that captured her essence perfectly, our girl looks fucking radiant!

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Marsha and her Warhol portrait.

As if that wasn’t cool enough she started performing in the mid 70’s with Hot Peaches an experimental queer cabaret group.

She was super popular with the audiences and loved being on the stage. She played up to being tone deaf so screamed rather than sang her numbers, AND EVERYONE LOVED IT!

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Marsha scream/singing. Via Giphy

Now, guys I’m really sorry but… Marsha’s story has a really shitty ending.

She was found dead in the Hudson River not long after the 1992 New York Pride march. The death was dismissed as a suicide by the police, but her friends were adamant that there had been foul play.

There’d been sightings of Marsha being harassed in the street the night she went missing. But hey, she was black, gay and trans so they didn’t give a toss.

Marsha’s case was finally reopened in 2012 which was 20 WHOLE YEARS after her death thanks to a campaign by transgender activist Mariah Lopez (another total badass, who opened the first transgender housing unit for Rikers Island, the largest American Prison in 2014.)

Marsha’s funeral had hundreds of mourners and they threw her ashes in the river along with bunches of bright flowers. She was known for having flowers in her hair, so this gesture gets us right in the feels.

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😭 Via Giphy

Her friend Sylvia was bereft without Marsha, but this bitch was tough. She carried on campaigning and helping disadvantaged LGBT youth until her death from liver cancer in 2002.

We love Marsha, she was an incredible woman who was full of life and love for everyone. We could all do with being a bit more like her tbh.

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Beautiful Marsha. Via Giphy

This was really interesting! Where can I find out more? The documentary Pay it No Mind: The Life and Times of Marsha P Johnson is on Youtube and it is much watch stuff!!

But please, we beg you… DO NOT USE THE HOLLYWOOD FILM, AS A REFERENCE! The film, Stonewall, is a whitewashed steaming turd of a mess (obvs our opinion, but…)

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

5 Drag Queens who changed herstory

Ru-Pauls Drag Race is taking over mainstream entertainment and drag is now hotter than ever. But before Ru there were these 5 Queens that changed herstory forever:

The library is open!
For knowledge…and maybe some reading

Empress Jose I

Jose Julio Sarria served in the military during the Second World. Though officially a too short to serve (standing at just five feet) Jose was desperate to sign up following Pearl Harbour; later claiming that the army overlooked his stature after he seduced a recruiting officer.

Jose Julio Sarria
To be fair, boy is a bae

Once home and discharged Jose started training to be a teacher; but as an out man in the 1950s this was -to be blunt- a fucking impossible profession to break into.

Still he persisted, earning tuition by waiting tables at San Franciscos Black Cat bar (described by Allen Ginsberg as the best gay club in the world-so you know it’s good) Jose caught the eye of authorities and in the mid 50’s was bought in on trumped up charges of solicitation. Now essentially unemployable, his dreams of teaching were in tatters.

But instead of heading back into the closet, Jose turned to drag. Learning the art from some of the Black Cats existing artists and rising to become The Black Cats headliner as Empress Jose l. He used his run in with the law as inspiration, performing his own take on the opera Carmen, which saw him run around the club fleeing the vice squad.

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Don’t pretend you wouldn’t die to see that via giphy

But satire wasn’t enough for Jose. Just like Jose had been, gay men in San Francisco were frequently arrested for solitician, gay clubs were shaken down for cash and drag queens arrested and accused of ‘intent to deceive’.

So Jose took action, he helped support those arrested fight their cases in court, led The Black Cats patrons to the jail to serenade those locked within and came up with badges that said ‘I’m a boy’ to stop harassment of other drag artists.

But this still wasn’t enough. Jose knew that San Francisco didn’t grant his community the dignity they did other citizens, and he couldn’t let that lie. So in 1961 he borrowed a friends suit and ran for San Franciscos governing body. The first openly gay person anywhere in the world to run for elected office.

United We Stand, Divided They’ll Catch Us One by One

Under this slogan Jose bought together San Franciscos LGBTQ community, urging them to fight for their place in society.

Jose lost. But the message was clear; San Francusicos authorities could no longer ignore the LGBTQ community. They had stood up, been counted and shown how powerful they were.

Bert Savoy

Bert Savoy was the Godfather of camp. A Queen whose act played on sexuality and a healthy dose of innuendo, he wouldn’t be too out of place in today’s drag landscape.

Bert Savoy
He also looks like the most fun!

In the early 20th century female impersonation was part and parcel of the popular vaudeville scene. Drag acts such as Julian Eltinge wowed audience with acts that were elegant, fashionable and feminine. When drag was humorous it tended to be based around the premise of a man who had somehow been forced/ended up dressed as a woman (as you do).

But Bert Savoy was different; he walked on stage a drag queen without the need for plot or premise, performing bawdy, brash and colourful comedy routines. Bert Savoy 2

Soon Berts’ uniqueness (nerve and talent) got him to Broadway. In 1918 he appeared as part of the renowned Ziegfeld Follies, performing alongside straight man Jay Brennan. Bertie honed the art of high camp on stage as a redhead (sadly unnamed) Queen, shocking Brennan with stories of her debuchery sodden life.

That other infamous innuendo lover, Mae West, drew much of her inspiration from Bertie. With her iconic ‘come up and see me sometime’ drawn directly from Bertie’s catchphrase ‘you must come over’. 

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Via Giphy

Sadly before Bert could bring his groundbreaking campery to the silver screen and film the Mae West Bert Savoy team up that would have completed all our lives – he came to a dramatic end. dun dun dun!.gif

In the summer of 1923 Bert took a walk along Long Beach with several other Vaudeville stars. A sudden storm rolled in and as rain started to pour Bert turned to the others, hand on hip he struck a pose and said:

Well, ain’t Miss God cuttin’ up somethin’ fierce?

Upon which he was immediately struck by lightening. And that was the end of Bert Savoy

Danny La Rue

Years after Bertie Savoy was bringing a new type of drag to the Broadway stage, in England & Ireland Danny La Rue was quite literally dragging the art out of pubs and clubs and into Londons West End as well as small screens across the country. Danny La Rue

The first drag artist to perform for the royal family, La Rue bought drag into mainstream British entertainment. Known for appearing on stage in high glamour before turning to the audience and letting out a gruff ‘wotcha mates’, he mixed glitz and comedy with winning charisma.

He elevated drag from something that was seen as a seedy music hall throwback to something everyone could enjoy. When Prince Philip (who else…) asked La Rue if he really dressed as a woman for money, La Rue shot back that getting paid was the fashion now.

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La Rue in the title role of a production of Hello Dolly

A canny business man La Re had built an empire around himself before the end of the 1960s. With a string of smash hit West End shows, was a regular on TV and ran his own club in London where he infamously fought off a punter who got a bit to handsy with Barbara Windsor, saying ‘don’t let the wig fool ya’ before punching the scoundrel out.
-side note for my American readers: Barbara Windsor is a British national treasure, though I can’t really put my finger on why, so your just going to have trust me on this one’

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La Rue performing in his club

As well as serving as inspiration for the likes of Boy George and Lily Savage, La Rue was also one of the first out figures in the U.K. entertainment industry. Living with his partner of 40 years Jack Hanson – an ex marine turned La Rues manager – for decades before Hansons death.

La Rue then had several short affairs before his ‘companion’ Wayne King died of AIDS, an issue La Rue spoke out about; raising countless funds for aids charities and earning an OBE from the Queen (a huge fan, even if Prince Philip didn’t quite get it)

Divine

‘Cross-dresser walks along a street. Bends down, picks up freshly laid dog turd. Eats it.’

And enter Divine

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Find me a better entrance, I dare you. via giphy

Having experienced years of bullying Divine (born Harris Glenn Milstead) finally found a home with John Waters and his band of filmmaking misfits.

With the aim of shocking the love generation Divine and Waters teamed up to make some of the provocative and rebellious films of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, with works like Hairspray and Pink Flamingoes still standing up as must see classics (for reals though, if you haven’t seen a Divine film stop what your doing right now and go better yourself)Divine, Pink Flamingoes

An outcast even with the gay community, Harris channeled everything he experienced into Divine. Having grown up wanting to be a film star like Elizabeth Taylor, Harris flipped the Hollywood dream onto its head, creating the antsiphis of the beauty that graced film and drag stage alike and birthing something extreme, fun and troubling all at the same time.

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via giphy

With comedic timing and slapstick skills for days Divine quickly became an icon on film. She broke every drag rule. Wearing figure hugging clothes at 300 pounds? Check. Wielding a chainsaw at punters? Check. Bending the rules of feminine make up? Check check check (her trademark eyebrows can still be seen in every drag club)

Divine created the cutting edge and made it clear that for a Queen to break the mainstream she needed to be her own firebrand.

Mother Flawless Sabrina

Born in south Philadelphia in 1940, Jack Doroshow would be arrested over 100 times for cross dressing and go onto become Andy Warhols’ muse, a film star and a pioneer for LGBTQ rights under the moniker of Mother Flaweless Sabrina, or simply, The Queen. Flawless Sabrina .jpg

In 1958 – before Drag was legal – Sabrina started a drag beauty pageant, The Nationals (I will add here that Sabrina was 19. thats right. 19. Please take a moment to remember what you were doing at 19…I’m guessing it wasn’t anything this badass.

Sabrina set up The National Academy, a traveling drag pageant offering many newbie queens (including Divine) a chance to step on stage for the first time. There were 46 shows across America each year between 1958-1969, with Sabrina managing a staff of over 100 to pull off such a huge undertaking (making Sabrina quite possibly the largest LGBTQ employer of the 60s) Mother Flawless Sabrina

The impact that the National Academy had cannot be understated, whilst drag had performance spaces, these were the first performances for Queens by Queens. Sabrina ensured that where possible proceeds from shows were donated into local LGBTQ communities. In 1968 the More than all of this though, Sabrina provided an environment for people to find their place within their community

“Kermit says it’s not easy being green. Well, being a queen is flawless.”

So those are just 5 of the Queens that changed herstory forever. The question now is, which Queen will be the next game changer?

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