Imagine this: a tranny hustler, mascara streaking her cheeks, peers into a wee rift in the time-space continuum as the angry crowd in front of the Stonewall Inn on Sheridan Square flings beer bottles and fistfuls of spare change at a retreating phalanx of NYPD officers. Nearby, candles flicker at makeshift shrines to Judy Garland, whose farewell performance at an uptown funeral home ended mere hours ago.
Through that snag in the cosmological stocking, our draft-dodging tranny spies an America exactly 40 years on from the Stonewall riots—and two generations removed from the young queerfolk pushing back against the agents of heterosexist conformity and the blackfolk who are setting ablaze the last pillars of Jim Crow.
What does our heroine behold?
A Harvard-educated black man in the White House who defends a vast surveillance apparatus controlled by an Orwellian-sounding entity called Homeland Security and a restive coterie of gays and lesbians who disdain nonconformity and clamor for the right to get married and enlist in the Marines.
“Oh Mary,” our wide-eyed tranny rasps, “I’m gonna need a cocktail to get my head around this one.”
The Stonewall riots of late June 1969—as well as the Summer of Love two years earlier, the Woodstock music festival two months later and the debut of the Cockettes at the Palace Theater in San Francisco the following New Year’s Eve—are examples of what Hakim Bey, a queer anarchist social critic, calls the Temporary Autonomous Zone.
“The TAZ is like an uprising which does not engage directly with the State,” Bey writes, “a guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it.”
Bey’s idea trades on the observation that orthodoxy of any kind—legal, social or religious—is essentially a living fiction, a collective hallucination. Groups that participate in this illusion take its abstractions for reality, and within that margin of error the TAZ springs into being.
And before it can be captured or commodified, the TAZ vanishes, leaving behind an empty husk. Think of Burning Man (or perhaps the Jesus Movement).
The anarchic spirit of the TAZ inevitably calls forth a violent response from those who tend the shadow-fires of orthodoxy. Crucifixions, witch-hunts, and inquisitions embodied this impulse in our historical past, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy during the Consciousness Revolution of the late 1960s also bore its mark.
As did the 50,000 deaths that Ronald Reagan abided before he uttered the word “AIDS” in public.
Today, queer culture is not so much a vector of this spiritual enlivenment as it is a passive beneficiary of it. Rather than dismantling the master’s house, many of us prefer to beseech the master to loan us his tools so that we can construct a tasteful adjoining cottage and two-car garage.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I should hasten to add. Stability has its virtues.
But we have lost sight of something that the most keen-eyed queerfolk of the Stonewall era clearly had in view: the circumstances under which human beings can flourish are innumerable, and cultivating an orthodox view of human flourishing inevitably leads to the oppression of nonconformists and the spiritual degeneration of the culture that oppresses them.
I suspect the next Consciousness Revolution will be sparked not by an uprising of the kind of readily identifiable groups that energized the social changes of the 1960s—women, African-Americans, and queerfolk—but by some as yet unfathomable configuration within the rapidly growing, spiritual-but-not-religious cohort that we’re now haphazardly calling the “Nones.”
Sexual tricksters like our tranny hustler will definitely figure into the mix, as will humanists and other proponents of ethical and moral heterodoxy. The catalyst for the Stonewall of the Nones will likely be some form of revolt against the aforementioned surveillance culture, the perniciousness of which mainstream progressives just don’t seem to grok, even as more radical social critics like Bob Ostertag have already started to sound the alarm.
“The TAZ is…a perfect tactic for an era in which the State is omnipresent and all-powerful” observes Bey, “and yet simultaneously riddled with cracks and vacancies.”
So agitate for same-sex marriage if you feel you must—like I said: there’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t imagine that ipso facto you’re carrying the torch of Stonewall forward.
Just please don’t take up a pitchfork when the real revolutionaries appear.