Okay, welcome to this week Story Update. This week where you are with Steven Winter. And before we have him join us, let’s take a look at his video story that he shared with us eight years ago.
My name is Steven Winter. I’m originally from Chicago, Illinois. And I’m here to talk to you about the time this guy named Nathan called me and said he wanted to talk about black gay issues.
It was a journey within myself that 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 somebody who is perceived as white and perceived as gay, who has a great intention of putting together the 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, you know, and I had some businesses 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 just – I’m Steven winter, you know, art guy, film person. This week, I was Steven Winter, does not want to be black gay guy first. Still wants to have relations with men and… and dudes. You know, still wants to, you know, proudly operate under a society where cops think I’m black. It’s fair. But did not want to respond in a way that would help perpetuate what I think is a status quo that really should be moved beyond.
My father was from Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Austria, and he was a Jew turned Catholic. He was fleeting the Nazis. An immigrant and a refugee. My mother was from Jamaica, the Caribbean. As far as we can tell, two, three generations back were all from that island. And she was fleeing of course, British colonial rule and economic, social issues.
They both came to Chicago in the forties 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, “Your mother is considered black and your father is considered white, but we’re not. I’m Jamaican. I’m Czechoslovakia. You’re our child. You’re American and you are wonderful. And so you shall be.”
But out there in the world, and later as I grew up and started experiencing the world and soon became clear that, you know, race is a construct, but what you are is what cops think you are. You know, the blacker you look, the blacker you shall be treated. The whiter you look the whiter you shall be treated.
So my parents let it make clear to me that out there in the world, I was going to be treated like what I was considered, but here inside, I shall be me first and American, first-generation. The pride and joy of two worlds of families, both escaping things and bringing something else to bear. And then I, you know, I grew up in Chicago for the most part and pretty soon became queer, we’ll put it. And 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 sitcom opening from the eighties, The Gay World, it would be, “Welcome to the Gay World. Here are your main characters and as special guests, the Black guy, the Asian person, the Drag Queen. You know, the Bull Dagger, you know. The gay white men in the front, everyone else sort of to the side. 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 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 into a gay bar in the north side of Chicago, with three young men of equal underage status who were of European descent, they got 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 of, regardless of how old you were, for black people to be asked for more ID than white people because they didn’t – at certain clubs, because they didn’t want black people in that club. And if you did have three pic, three IDs, two of them would have 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.
Okay. Uh, Steven Winter is here with us. Thank you so much for joining us. How are you?
I’m all right, thank you.
Good. So in your story, you had talked about how you just got back from a work trip. You were working on some films or some art business, and you, that’s kind of like your life, right? Are you working on anything today? Can you give us an update on what you’re working on?
I’m still working in the film and art business and I have no less than three or four, sometimes five things bubbling at the same time. It’s kind of the nature of that beast. You know, you go where your passion is and you go where the money is. You go where things are cooking. And that often involves having a lot of stuff on the boiler at the same time. So… but it’s exciting stuff that I’m working on. It’s still genre-based, queer Black intense comedy drama, drama, musicals. Like I known for.
Two years ago, me and my friend, Justin Cohen, premiered, a show called “Adventures in New America”. I’ll show you the little… that’s our little logo. “Adventures in New America.” It was a nAfro futuristic political satire that was very ahead of the curve. It kind of predicted a lot of things that are going on now. We got a New York times rave. We got a hit show. It was on Nightvale Presents, which podcast people may recognize as being one of the premier fiction podcast outlets. That went really well. And now we’re working on returning to that. So we’ve got a new season written and we’re cooking with gas and looking to sign new deals. And so putting out that products as the podcast, the fiction podcast is really exciting. And I got to play the lead.
Sounds like you’re… you’ve been very busy with all the things that you love. That’s amazing. Congrats.
Thank you. Thank you.
So, specifically in your story, you mentioned at one point that, when you went to the gay bars or queer bars, this was in the eighties, when you went for the first time, what you discovered was that you said it felt like being gay in that context and the gay bar scene meant being white and everybody else, and I’m quoting, everybody else was kind of visiting. And you compared it to like a sitcom with like the main characters being white and all the guest stars were people of color.
What do you think… do you think, like, to what extent is that still happening today? Or do you think it is still happening today?
Well, as we record this, nothing is happening today because the world is closed. And what has happened in the last few weeks – we’re recording this June 15th of 2020 – is that the horrors of racism that’s baked into the fabric of America has now been newly reseen by a whole population of white people. And when I say reseen, I mean that specifically, cause they did see it before, but they just didn’t think about doing anything. It’s just, what was. You know, it was just status quo and everybody was -all the white people were comfortable in that context.
And now after the shutdown and the white people electing a racist monstrous president and the white people, letting them get away with all kinds of genocide on our way of life, it finally came to pass that everybody had to sit down and take them and take a minute – or three months of minutes – where everything has been destroyed, they did exactly what they said they were going to do, which was destroyed all. They did. And that kind of destruction doesn’t know color.
And then we got to see once again, or re-see rather, how lynchings have never stopped. And that has galvanized folks. White people coming together to say the way that we save the world is to end – is to confront and then change white supremacy.
Prior to that, I was happy to see that the young friends that I was making were living more varied lives than – as queers and LGBTQ people – than I saw when I was in my own generation, which is Gen X. They, so what I’m saying is to put a bluntly, didmore white, black, Latinx, and Asian folks hang out together In the… in the aughts and the teens? Yes. It would definitely appear to be so, and I think a lot of that was economic. You know, they took all the jobs, it took all the money. All the queers in New York had to move to Bushwick. They live four to a room, you know, so of course they’re going to be a little bit more open to what’s going on.
Of course, they’re going to be able to see each other’s beauty at each other’s souls in a better light, because they’re all huddled around the same box of ramen, but… and then partying and doing the thing that queers do, which is wonderful.
And the legacy of Black ball culture finally became historical fact. And the links between what the Black trans people were doing in ball culture for decades that was then recorded in the “Paris is Burning” documentary became standard American English for how people express themselves. So then we have this whole generation of white kids who grow up saying “Yaaas,” as a for instance. And then they get to a place where maybe one of their Black friends, or maybe they just see it themselves and go, So, oh, wait a minute. We didn’t make that up. They made that up. We’re just using it, but it’s not like we are using it because we don’t… because we’re trying to take something from somebody. I think we’re using it because this is how we grew up. So we owe a debt. We have a debt that we have to pay up.
And part of that is confronting and changing white supremacy. So I believe all that stuff was cooking, not just in the queer… in the queer world, but in other worlds as well when the racists elected this monster. So I think… I hope that there will be a definitive change by the end of the decade to how what happens when LGBTQ people first walk into gay space as a teen, or what have you. First of all, we’re not going to be walking into gay space like they used to. When I was a kid in the eighties, I’m sneaking into bars with a phony ID. Here they’re going to be walking into gay spaces that are virtual gay spaces that are queer spaces that are created by likeminded people and not by a gay white oligarch that owns all the bars and is married to the mob, et cetera, and so forth. So, yeah, I can see hope in the future.
Do you… do you think that… what do you think you… you touched a lot on like what I – I view it as representation. Like you’re talking about like “Paris Is Burning” and what people see in media and then that kind of trickles into, or vice versa? Like what people say. Like, “Hey, I saw this in a documentary or on Pose or on “Paris Is Burning,” and this is actually – this was created by black queer kids. And do you think that it’s all rooted in media, which is really distilled, but is that like this big part of it that you’re touching on?
Representation is really important. You know, coming out of the nineties, you know, some people have been commenting – some young people have been commenting, it’s like “Jesus Christ, Friends is really white. Will & Grace is really white. They never have any black people there. Sex in the City, really white. Why is that?” And the reason that is because the people who were in charge of making – not making – of greenlighting shows and allowing people that have jobs to create them, were all white and were convinced that they, nobody in the mainstream wanted to see black people. They didn’t want to see black culture.
And I had friends who were in the film business in the nineties who told me that they would be in meetings, white friends, white directors, and straight up and they would say to their producers, “There’s a supporting role in my movie. I want it for the black person in there.”
And they said, if you cast that as a black person, “You’ll lose $2 million off your budget, you know, because your film will be less valued than, you know.” There was black people films, and then there’s regular people films, and never shall the twain meet.
So representation for LGBT people, Black LGBTQ people is vital to letting people understand that there’s a world beyond them. And I believe that it would appear that a huge swath of modern audiences will not accept all white situations anymore. Tthey will not accept all straight situations anymore. And when it comes to looking back at, for young LGBT… LGBTQ people, like, how did we get here? How did we get to a place where we say “Yaas, queen,” there is now a clear historical record that is in the system that says, you know how you got it from these black trans people. And where did they get it from? Their black trans for mothers. That’s where we got it.
The proliferation, I suppose, of. Having information at your fingertips makes this stuff harder to ignore. And then it would appear for many white, young queers, just having that knowledge and disseminating that knowledge becomes a point of personal pride. Which is perhaps, Nathan, the biggest shift that I have noticed between the white queers that I grew up with in the nineties to the white queers that I now meet and befriend today.
Generation X queers who were white often made a point to separate themselves from Black culture, which I believe was an offshoot of early propaganda that said AIDS was cre- was contracted by dirty people, slutty people and Haitians. And I think if you even go back a little bit farther in the wayback machine to the disco era, you’ll find the disco was a gay music and more significantly a Black music, and that the discotheque was a place where folks of all stripes would come together and feel free. The barriers are breaking down, the boundaries with dissolving. And folks were like, Why do we have to always be in all white places? And why do you have to always be in all Black places? Why can’t we all be together? That’s what disco was.
And then the homophobic rock ‘n roll people decided that disco is dead. Disco morphed into New Wave. Before he could get our bearings, AIDS. And so when you look at the line of how we get to things, you know, you’ll see that the expression of Blackness and the rejection of Blackness becomes part and parcel of every big chapter in the LGBTQ community’s lifeline.
And now perhaps finding a new place where you can’t show a rainbow flag without the brown stripe. To do otherwise is a gay expression of white power. And I believe that we may be getting to a point where folks aren’t going to be jiggy with that anymore. Did I say jiggy? Oh my God!
Yeah. That’s a Philadelphia pride flag. I have a lot of friends and loved ones in Philadelphia and it originated in Philadelphia, the black and Brown stripes and very, very cool. And you’re right, it’s – now every time I see a pride flag, I can’t help but look. It’s like a, just an automatic thing. I’m like, “Are the brown and bright stri- brown… black and brown stripes on there?” And I’m like, “Why aren’t they? Did they just not think about it?” And it’s like this automatic trigger every time I see a pride flag now.
You know, one thing that I’ve noticed the past few weeks is that one recurring theme over and over again is like, We see your silence. You know, everyone is saying like, If you don’t say anything, we’re seeing that. And it’s almost like the other side of call-out culture where, like, you have to choose a side on this. It’s beyond that. And I think that’s what feels so different from what I’ve been noticing this time. Like something’s definitely different this time and it’s just like a giant – it’s a big reveal happening right now for better or for worse. All the major corporations – like, you either make a statement and it has to be good. If you don’t make a statement, you’re in trouble. It’s like, you know, now like what queer people, what we’re sort of fighting against of the over corporatization of pride – it’s a… it’s a benchmark of like progress, I think.
And if you make a statement as a corporation and your employees know that you are lying, they come out and they tell people that you’re lying. Oh this corporation that says that you’re all inclusive. I’m a black employee for you for eight, nine years. I never got past this point, but all these white people get going up to the top. You know, and that’s not even counting the microaggressions.
One of the things that struck a chord of me with Me Too a couple of years ago, when it became a standard understanding that you can’t harass and assault women.
And all these dudes showed up who had that stain and some of them were favorites. And gone. The same thing is starting to happen with white people where they thought, No one’s looking. No one’s checking for us. We do what we want. But now if it becomes truly normalized that anti Black actions cannot be tolerated in the workplace, we’re going to lose a lot of heinous people from our view, which is great.
I’m going to shift gears a little bit here. There was a part of your story that I – I enjoyed your entire story, but part of – you talked about your parents and what they said to you, and it just seemed like they were very honest with you. They seem very wise in your story. It was just a few seconds that you mentioned them, but they seem to really pass down a lot of great information and knowledge to you. Can you just touch on them a little bit?
Well, they were immigrants. My father was an immigrant from Czechoslovakia and he escaped the Nazis. And my mother was an immigrant from Jamaica who escaped British colonial rule. So they knew from losing their home. And they came to Chicago and took a long time to fall in love and get married. Like, they were well into their thirties and forties when they finally put that together. So they lived a lot of life. And they got married, I think, two years after interracial marriage became a lawful thing to do. You know, so – and that is an amazing context that my parents were married in the complete wake of this ridiculous anti-human law.
So they raised us up to feel good about ourselves, but also to understand that there were going to be folks who are going to take us and try to destroy us. And I do remember the time, the sense of it, when I went from being a cute little brown boy to a big old Black man at age 13, when I became six foot three. And my first nasty running with the cops, was at age 13. And it was terrible, but I was prepared for it. And I was also prepared to understand that as a person who had a black parent and a white parent, I would be constantly oscillating through different worlds, and that would give me an ability to speak different languages and understand different things. And it was my job to present my findings as much as I could in whatever way that the message could get out there.
Yeah, they were Bohemian, they’re were badass. And they went through a lot of pain. They went through a lot of pain. They were first generation. And the scars of their childhood had never healed. And that was the other interesting thing growing up with them, in comparison to some of my friend’s parents who were not immigrants, who were American, they didn’t have the same scars. My parents were very clear that America was an experiment and they were – they’re also very clear that that experiment was failing. And I would imagine that they are looking down on me now going “Yep! It failed. It’s broken. Pick it up and try again.’
Do you think that they wouldn’t be looking down and feeling that hope that you’re feeling? Or…
That – that was a statement of hope saying that the American experiment has failed is objectively true statement. It is June 15, 2020. They elected these people, those people destroyed the country. It is literally destroyed. We can’t… we can’t sugarcoat that. And the system of oppression where Black and Brown people have less of everything trickle down to that too. The COVID deaths of Black and Brown people, in terms of percentages, far outweigh, what they should be or what they could be rather. I mean, they actually are doing exactly what they should be because the system is set up to kill them. So by saying that it has failed and it is done is an act of hope because now we can remake it. We can. So that’s what I meant by that.
And what perhaps some white LGBTQ people are now fully understanding is that you can’t have hate black people all day long and then go home and be nice to your gay son. Doesn’t work. Doesn’t work. Slave owners could not beat their slaves all day and then go home and be nice to their wife. So the head in the sand aspects of LGBTQ life has been torn asunder. There is no more veil. And it’s right there. It’s always been right there to see if you are willing to do it. But now after months of sitting at home and watching the rich people, Instagram from their yachts, I would imagine – and it would appear, I don’t have to imagine it, it is appearing in the world in all 50 States – Basta! Enough. It’s all connected. You cannot hate Black people and then be nice to trans folks.
So if we’re going to get anywhere with anything anymore, we all have to work together. And the first order of business is to support Black lives and to save Black lives. And to say the names of the folks that we’ve lost, who are black with the understanding that for every name that we know, untold names that we don’t.
Stephen, it’s always really great to talk with you and hear your thoughts and I always, every time I see you, I really appreciate it. And your honesty and your conversations, and it’s always great. So thank you. And is there anything else before we sign off, is there anything else that you want to share in regards to your story or any thoughts on anything else?
I’m just – I appreciate being a part of your Driftwood family. I like the work that you do. I think it’s excellent. And I’m always – I’m always available to help. It’s a good cause. It’s a good situation. It’s representation and epresentation is important.
Well, thanks a lot. And if anyone has any questions for Stephen, leaving them in the comments and we’ll ask him to check back and maybe respond to some. And all of our stories are available on our website at imfromdriftwood.orgo and also on Facebook and Instagram. We’re easy to find.
So we have thousands of stories and Stephen, you’re also easy to find. So if anyone has any questions for Stephen directly, look him up. You know, be in touch. Yeah?
You can watch my films on Vimeo. Chocolate Babies and Jason & Shirley. So if you Google Jason & Shirley Stephen Winter, Chocolate Baby Stephen Wwinter, you’ll find those things on Vimeo and YouTube.
And if you’re interested in that kind of stuff and having a few laughs, there’s a good movies to watch.
Great. Well, we can add those links also in the description. So we’ll do that. Alright, well, thanks for watching the stories we update and we’ll be back next week with a new one. Thanks, Steven.