h, October…LGBTQ History Month! Like any other time when history gets brought up, I usually end up curled into a fetal position crying and begging for the stupid to stop.
I’m a bit history buff, for all the knowledge you might have of cars, Madonna albums, or sports records, I recite historical facts and analysis. Few people know this, but I actually helped create the most popular history web forum in the world which serves to answer questions people have about history. It’s grown so popular that my fellow forum moderators have been asked to speak to the American Historical Association next year on how to make history more appealing in the digital age. Yeah, I’m bragging. So what? I’m proud of that fact and I’m a snob about history. There, I said it.
History is probably one of the most important subjects everyone seems to misunderstand and abuse. For example, you have those terrible and simplistic quotes about history. “History is written by the victors.” No. No it’s not. The South didn’t win the Civil War and there are a lot of people who have twisted the history of slavery and the war to make it seem like it was a noble institution and a righteous cause. Also, the United States didn’t win in Vietnam and we have written a lot of history books about it.
“History repeats itself.” No, no it doesn’t. At best, it “rhymes.” Events are similar but not exactly the same. They seem similar because we have a strange habit of projecting our views onto the people and events of the past. You also have the ‘Historians Fallacy’ where we wonder why history happened the way it did. We have the ability to look back on the past knowing the full story. There’s also ‘Chronological Snobbery’ where we think that just because an idea, a work of art, or science is from the past it’s inherently inferior, like the idea that people in the Middle Ages must have just been ignorant fools.
I could fill up this entire article with different forms of flawed thinking about the past, and I would enjoy doing it, but that wouldn’t be the point.
These silly, overly broad, and illogical ways of thinking about the past at least are better than the worse alternative, which is not knowing history at all. Okay, to be fair, they are both bad, at least when you think Benjamin Franklin was President because he is on the $100 dollar bill. You think that because most people on money are presidents. Still, not knowing your history, your lineages, and the way you got to where you are is sad. It’s like looking at abandoned photographs at a flea market, all of it someone’s life, discarded and forgotten.
The other day, I was performing at the HiLo, and saw where the old door that said, “Private Club” from the days it was a gay speakeasy had been replaced and I was more than a little sad about that fact. It was against the law in Oklahoma to have sex with your same sex partner as late as 2003. It’s technically still on the books in this state! Did you know that the word ‘transsexual’ didn’t exist until the 20th Century? It was created by a German sexologist named Magnus Hirschfeld who also wrote one of the first gay themed movies, Different From the Others. Unfun fact: like most German films, it’s depressing and the main character dies in the end. Yeah, most people don’t know that the Germans were the first people to really study LGBT culture and history in a scientific sense and advocate for equal rights in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Really makes you wonder what the hell went wrong there in the 1930’s.
I mean, I could throw so many crazy facts about LGBTQ history at you. Like one of the most notable HIV hospices during the 1980’s was a Catholic Church in San Francisco’s Castro District. Blows your mind doesn’t it? The reason that Pride Month is in June in so many places is to celebrate the memory of the Stonewall Riots. Did you also know the Stonewall Inn was owned by the Genovese crime family? Yeah, back in those days most gay bars were owned by the Mafia. Kinda weird and strangely cool…but if you know why, also more than a little depressing – they used it to blackmail closeted people and launder money. Thinking that gay history is nothing more than gay bars, parades, and Greek poets doesn’t begin to do our history justice.