“It Became Very Clear That ‘Gay’ In [The Grander World] Meant White. And Everybody Else Was Kind Of Visiting.”

by Stephen Winter

I’m from Chicago, IL.

My name is Stephen Winter, I’m originally from Chicago, IL. I’m here to talk to you about this time this guy named Nathan called me and said he wanted to talk about black gay issues. It was a journey within myself I went through this week when I was trying to figure out, as someone who is perceived as gay and perceived as black, can respond to someone who is perceived as white and is perceived as gay, who has a great intention of putting together this special section of this website which is lovely and will continue to be even lovelier, without pissing myself off, because I don’t want to be the black guy. And so for every single thing I did this week, and I had some business to do, I had some art to do, I had a couple different towns to visit and a whole bunch of people to meet, and in my mind, on a regular week, I’m Stephen Winter, art guy, film person. This week, I was Stephen Winter, does not want to be black gay guy first, still wanted to have relations with men and dudes, still wants to proudly operate under a society where cops think I’m black, which is fair, but did not want to respond in a way that would help perpetuate what I think is a status quo that should really be moved beyond.

My father was from Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Austria, and he was a Jew-turned-Catholic, he was fleeing the Nazi’s. An emigrant and a refugee. My mother was from Jamaica, the Caribbean. As far as we can tell, two or three generations back, were all from that island. And she was fleeing of course British colonialists control and economic, social issues. They both came to Chicago in the 40s. Without being too, well, sometimes they were dogmatic about it, sometimes they weren’t, but what they did say to me very clearly was that, You’re mother is considered black, your father is considered white, but we’re not. I’m Jamaican, I’m Czechoslovakian, you’re our child. You’re American. And you are wonderful. And so you shall be. But out there in the world, and later when I grew up and started experiencing the world it soon became clear that race is a construct, but what you are is what cops think you are. The blacker you look the blacker you shall be treated. The whiter you look the whiter you shall be treated. So my parents made it clear to me that out there in the world I was going to be treated like I was considered, but here inside, I shall be me. First, an American. First generation. The pride and joy of two worlds of families both escaping things and bringing something else to bear.

And then I grew up in Chicago for the most part and pretty soon became queer, we’ll put it, then when I left my little queer teenage world and went out into the grander world where gay exists, it became very clear that gay in that context meant white. And everybody else was kind of visiting. So if it was a sit-com opening from the 80s, The Gay World, it would be Welcome to the Gay World, here are your main characters, and special guests! The Black Guy, The Asian Person, The Drag Queen, The Bull Dagger. The gay white men in the front, everyone else sort of shoved aside. It would appear that the gay, and I’m not talking specifically about the L and the B and the T and the Q, but the G…seem hellbent on continuing this into the century, which is the exact same rubric of understanding each other that upon my first visit at age 17 in a gay bar in the north side of Chicago with three young me of equal under-age status who were of European descent, they were allowed to go into the club, I was asked for three pictures of ID. And it turned out that in Chicago at the time, there was a wave, regardless of how old you were, for black people to be asked for more ID than white people at certain clubs because they didn’t want black people in that club. And if you did have three IDs, two had to have pictures, there always was something going on. Folks protested against this, but that was my first experience at the gay bar at age 17. I didn’t get to go in, that was my almost first experience.

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