SOMETIMES I DON'T SAY THIS ENOUGH BUT I LOVE YOU, MARSHA P AND EVERY OTHER QUEERDO FAGGOT OUT THERE

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol

Marsha P. Johnson was a faggot, a trans woman, mostly homeless, an activist, a person of color, a hustler, a mess, a saint, and one of the many mothers that have come before. According to historian David Carter, author of a book called Stonewall, when the Stonewall riots went down in 1969, she was one of the first queens to join the fight—jumping to her feet and throwing a shot glass into a mirror, hollering, “I’ve got my civil rights,” as she turned to meet the police—thus starting the riot. When the New York Pride Parade wouldn’t let her, Sylvia Rivera, and other sisters march with them, on account of their being transwomen, they marched before the first banners, demanding space and visibility.

Marsha P., for “Pay It No Mind,” lived in a world that had no place for her—no definition, no understanding, and no patience. Accounts tell how, on more than one occasion, she (in a fragile mental state) was picked up from the street by municipal authorities to be institutionalized and dropped off two to three months later with an implant of Thorazine in her spine.  She was arrested numerous times for prostitution from coast to coast and north to south. She was outspoken, unashamed, and far friendlier than I ever could have been in the same situation. She was notorious for giving her last two dollars, ten dollars, fifty cents to other homeless gay youth. She nursed tirelessly as our brothers dropped left and right of the epidemic. She helped found Rivera’s organization, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), and opened one of the first homeless shelters for transwomen.

When asked in a 1992 interview how she felt about the Gay Liberation Monument in Sheridan Square that had recently been installed, Marsha’s response was a simple question: How many? “How many people have died for these two little statues to be put in the park to recognize gay people? How many years has it taken for people to realize that we’re all brothers and sisters and human beings in the human race?” Watching this interview , I can’t help thinking about Joe Mamba-Nitzberg’s 2012 piece “Untitled (My Friends)” where a black t-shirt is printed with the following words in white:

MY FRIENDS DIED OF AIDS AND ALL I GOT WAS MARRIAGE EQUALITY

On July 6, 1992, Marsha’s body was pulled from the Hudson River. Her death was quickly ruled a suicide without further investigation. In her final interview, four days before this incident, Marsha delivered an impassioned speech in her hallmark flat, nasal voice that

“as long as there are people with AIDS and as long as gay people don’t have their rights all across America, there’s no reason for celebration. That’s how come I walk every year [in reference to gay pride parades]. That’s how come I’ve been walking for gay rights all these years instead of riding in cars and celebrating and everything, cause you never completely have your rights, one person, till you all have your rights. I think that as long as there’s one gay person who has to walk for gay rights, then all of us should be walking for gay rights.”

If Marsha were still with us, decked out in one of her signature fresh, floral headdresses, I don’t really know how she’d feel about our gay community today—our Pride parades full of corporations and politicians, currying favor with our dollars and votes. I don’t know what she’d say about our partial inclusion in the mainstream and what it’s done to our fighting edge and fire. So many of us have forgotten how they treated us forty years ago.

What I do know is that they couldn’t extinguish her torch and neither could the murky waters of the Hudson. Every time you kiss your partner, your lover, your trick, that torch shines through. Every time you unabashedly live the articulation of your life that makes you feel fullest, that fire crackles and pops. Every time you fuck, every time you lisp, every time you swish, every time you tuck your dick or bind your chest, every time you walk down the streets or into a room doing whatever it is that makes us “us” and makes “them” turn their heads, or roll their eyes, or sneer, Marsha’s holding your hand. When your light shines, it’s not just you—it’s all of us, still here and gone, coming through.

I lack the experience and access to actively speak for Marsha, but I do know this: above all and in every situation, she would implore you to pay it no mind, honey.