The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.
–Justice Clarence Thomas (Yeah, I just quoted the second biggest judicial prick on the planet, and I realize that the above was surrounded by thought turds of the highest order. Please bear with me.)
Yesterday as soon as the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges came down, my Facebook feed exploded into rainbows. Friends –the gay ones, the straight ones, and the ones whose whatever they do is none of my business –were busy expressing their approval. Rainbow filters got a work out, from profile pics to some idiot who decided the American Gladiators needed gayulating. As ton of my FB friends are gay guys who live in NYC, by far the most common setting for pictures was the street and park in front of the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in the West Village.
But for all the pictures with the bar’s facade in the background, not a single one was taken on the inside.
Earlier this week the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission declared the building that houses the Stonewall Inn an OFFICIAL LANDMARK™. Apparently, this is the first building to be designated as such for its role in the struggle for LGBT rights, even though I’m told Fraunces Tavern regularly featured men in wigs and made a killer appletini back in day. If you are reading this, and you are not aware of the significance of the Stonewall Inn, stop right now and look it up.
It is incredibly heartening that Stonewall Inn is being recognized for its importance. Civil rights never move forward in a slow, steady fashion. There are flashpoints, and these physical flashpoints need to be preserved. Tearing down the Stonewall building and putting up condos called The Lofts at Stonewall would, for me, be the equivalent of tearing down the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma and putting up Marty K’s Alabama River ZipLine Adventure in its place.
People need a physical place to rally and remember.
But don’t believe anyone who tells you that the bar called “Stonewall Inn” that has nested inside the building that held the bar involved with the Stonewall uprising has anything to do with pride. It may be a big part of PRIDE, but there is little pride inside. I do not hesitate to say that it is probably the shittiest gay bar in NYC. It’s cramped inside.
It’s even uglier than it is cramped; on my first visit back in 2000 or so, the main decor items were those little lighting fixtures they had above Seven of Nine’s head when she regenerated on Star Trek: Voyager. It’s gone downhill from there. The drinks are over-priced, and the bartenders who eventually serve them are inattentive at best. And, most of all, it’s not a safe place. If you have a jacket or backpack you don’t particularly like, bring it to the Stonewall Inn. Moreover, people have gotten gay-bashed INSIDE of the place.
The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street is nothing more than a disgusting tourist trap. The people who run the joint have a responsibility to offer the folks who make the pilgrimage a good time. They fail miserably. They are the South of the Border of gay bars.
Zero pride in their PRIDE.
NOTE TO TOURISTS: Every. Single. Other gay bar in the West Village offers a better experience. If you want pure Rainbow Flag GAY GAY GAY, try the Monster. The Monster knows it’s tacky and GAY. The bartenders are wonderful, and they serve what’s probably the tastiest and deadliest frozen margarita in the city. If you want Christopher Street history, go to Ty’s, which has been there since ’72. This place is so old school that they even have business cards and golf pencils on the bar for people to write down phone numbers. Drinks are cheap, and the bartenders are always smiling. You should go on Thursday evenings because DJ Damian plays great tunes, has a sexy affability about him, and is my oldest friend in NYC. Say hi.
My Obamacare (Seriously, thanks Obama) finally transferred from New York to Ohio. It was time to start exploring treatment options for the bipolar. I like to have my team lined up before I have a spell. In the meantime, I need someone to prescribe me my medication cocktail. Actually, I’ve got a several month supply of most, but one can never have enough Klonopin, the giver of naps. My doctor in NYC had no connections in Columbus, so he suggested I contact the local LGBT in my new town for a referral. After all, that’s exactly what I did when I moved to NYC. It worked like a charm; I was able to find a team that greatly reduced incidents of head punching.
So a couple of Fridays ago, coincidentally the first day of Pride Weekend here in Columbus, I looked on the website of the local LGBT center, Stonewall Columbus, to get a number for whomever over there did referrals for mental health stuff. I found a number and called.
The phone rang a few times, and then I heard a female voice say, “norcsmergflonpffff.” A very curt “norcsmergflonpfff” I might add.
“Is this the, uh, the behavioral health department?” I have never used the term “behavioral health” before, especially out loud, because the term always made it seem like I was doing something wrong. Every time I hear that term, I imagine my mom snapping her fingers at me and screeching under her breath through gritted teeth, “Be-HAVE!”
“This is flannyferkus.” Since that sounded enough like “Family Focus,” which seems to me like some completely non-offensive name an LGBT Center would come up with.
Then silence from the nice lady at Flanny Ferkus. It apparently was up to me to break the silence, so I explained that I was new in town and asked if it would be possible to come in talk to someone about lgbt-friendly mental health options. I also said I was looking for a psychiatrist so I could get medications.
The nice lady then told me it would be a month before I could see a counselor, then I would have to see a nurse, then “if I was approved,” I could see a doctor, and he would “get you your meds. But that won’t be until October.” She did this with absolutely no compassion in her voice. Not even any “compassion.” I’ve called A LOT of mental health lines in my day, and up until now every single person has managed to do at least a passable “Airline Bereavement Voice.” You know, it’s when you call the airline, and they’re their normal cheery selves. However, as soon as mention that you’re flying to a funeral, the tone and timbre of their voice changes. They practically sigh, “Sorry for your loss. Let’s see what we can do.” You know they don’t give a rat’s ass about your grandma, but it’s nice to hear that voice. Instead, it sounded like I had gotten her on the worst morning of her life.
This lady had none of this. I don’t care if the boss has been yelling at you all morning and the copier ate that Chobani you’ve been saving, you give me my Airline Bereavement Voice. I’m mentally ill, and sometimes Airline Bereavement Voice is all I have between the now and taking a page out of the Sylvia Plath cookbook.
This lady had none of that.
“October?” I asked. “Maybe I could talk to the counselor and they could give me a referral…”
“We only refer to our own doctors.” Now she was openly angry with me. “It will be October.”
I took a deep breath, and in lieu of screaming profanities I calming hung up after saying, “Thank you. You’ve are of no help to the gay and lesbian community.” I had to have been really pissed off because I said “gay and lesbian community.” I use that as much as “behavioral health.”
Someone claiming to offer mental health care had never treated me so shabbily since Dr. Marylin, who I saw in college, also started treating my father. That had to violate some sort of ethical code. Never trust a health care professional who wants you to call them Dr. FirstName. The arrangement made it difficult to talk about my sexuality. “Sometimes I think about guys sometimes,” I remember saying.
“So you like BOYS?” she said like she was talking about chewing one’s own toenails. But at least Dr. Marilyn enunciated.
I stepped outside the coffee shop where I was writing to collect myself and get some air. The coffee shop was just up the street from Stonewall Columbus’ building; I could make out tiny splashes of rainbow against a muted beige. “How can they do this to me? On Pride no less!” I thought. I was planning on going the Pride Festival in Goodale Park that evening and had even made a new t-shirt. I knew the name Stonewall Columbus would be everywhere, and that worried me. How would I react?
Zero pride in their PRIDE. I began grumbling softly to myself. For them to invoke Stonewall in their name is like that crappy pizza joint in that dying strip mall by the interstate calling itself Leaning Tower of Pizza and putting canned pineapple on the “Leaning Tower Special Pie.”
I actually flipped off their building, an ugly, ugly former bank. Stupid building!
Then I acted in the only way I know how: I screamed into the void.
First I slapped a nasty post on Stonewall Columbus’ Facebook page.
Then I told my Facebook friends about it. Before long the little red number next the globe at the upper right corner, the measure of my virtual worth, began to tick. At a point it even hit double digits. Double digits! Friends were offering me suggestions left and right. Some were even connecting me with real human people in Columbus.
The outpouring had me a bit verklempt.
Later, I put on my new t-shirt and headed down to the Pride Festival. While my sister and her friend Dave sat on the grass and watched a singer from The Voice, I grabbed a few Bud Light Lime RAZ-ber-RITAs (the official hangover of Pride Festival) and walked around. Now I’m not going to tell you that I had a transformative time. There’s only so many booths selling knock-off BlueBlocker sunglasses you can wander past. I didn’t meet the love of my life. But everyone was smiling. There were tons of babies.
There also were gay hillbillies. Gay hillbillies! I can’t imagine the balls it takes to be gay in the Hocking Hills. Visions of rainbow-swirled satellite dishes danced in my head. Go hug a gay hillbilly today.
I was served probably the best chicken sandwich of my life by definitely the cutest person –sexy affability strikes again –ever to serve me a chicken sandwich at a food truck called Hot Chicken Takeover. Pride can also mean a job well done deliciously. I went back for banana pudding. Now try to get the phrase “Banana pudding at Hot Chicken Takeover” out of your head. Sounds filthy right? Good.
I have never been to a more polite Pride celebration. ¡Viva Midwest!
Then on Monday I heard back from Stonewall Columbus. I was on the phone three separate times with three separate people. I have never heard the word “mortified” so often in one day. It was explained to me that in order to provide the best possible mental health care with their sarcastically vast budget, they sort of outsourced it. So, while the counselors are housed at Stonewall, they are actually employed by an outfit called North Central Mental Health. All intake services go through them, too. That number I called didn’t ring inside that ugly former bank building; it rang at North Central. Apparently, they recently lost the dedicated intake person and replaced them with whatever. I was assured that memos reminding folks of best practices were teed up and ready to roll. The Executive Director would be summoned.
I will be seeing a counselor next week and a doctor way before October.
Lori, the Program Director, invited me to stop by and say hi sometime. I did so this past Thursday. The inside of Stonewall Columbus is physically even uglier than its outside, and that’s saying a lot.
Lori hugged me when I walked through her door. It wasn’t “compassion.” It was actual compassion. Then we chatted, just chatted, like normal folk.
The takeaway may be a bit hokey, but here it goes: Pride isn’t brick and mortar; it’s what goes on inside that brick and mortar, whether that building is a historic landmark or a seriously ugly former bank. It also isn’t a food truck, a flag, or even a momentous Supreme Court decision. Except when it at the beginning of a sentence, pride doesn’t care if it’s capitalized and sponsored by Bud Light Lime RAZ-ber-RITA.™
Pride lies in how well we treat each other.