We were always the Other
A mistake of Nature
An enigma, an embarrassment, a threat
Scorned, feared, hated
Of dark degenerate desires
And the abominable vice
Among Christians not to be named.
But for us they had plenty of names:
Faggot, cocksucker, sodomite
Fairy, pansy, degenerate
Bugger, pederast, queer
Like missiles from the catapult tongues
Of the tattooed macho hunks of normality
Frightened (and rightly so)
By this forbidden hinterland
And black hole of depravity
This spreading cancer of queerdom
Of our raging madcap sperm
And the sweetmeat of our sex.
And we endured.
They said we were diseased, offered cures:
Cold baths, mathematics, the brothel
And failing those
(This from a Christian philosopher)
Rubbing the anus with the fur of a hyena.
No go; we endured.
Blaming us for earthquakes
Solar eclipses, famines, plague
And the collapse of Western civilization
They reviled us, locked us up
(In prisons where gay love raged)
Lynched us, sodomized us, hanged us
And with judicial niceties and prayers
Burned us at the stake.
Anguished, we endured.
Spiked by guilt
We wallowed in the soup of shame
Snuck about, faked it, resorted
To a sneaky little shadow world of fun
A hush-hush world
Of smoke-filled, crowded bars
Graciously provided by the Mafia
Where, guarded by the thug at the door
Who kept out all heterosexuals
Except the police dropping by for a payoff,
Thanks to whose tender-hearted greed
Here and here only
We could be who we were.
In those dingy precincts we endured.
Then society turned soft
And we became an interesting study
An anomaly to be explained and corrected:
Ministers sermonized us
Confessors confessed us
Weepy ladies pitied us, psychologists
Did their utmost to rearrange our minds.
We walked small, we suffered, we endured.
Times change, worms turn.
When hassled once too often
By the regimented minions of order
We rioted, we organized, we marched
Scores, hundreds, thousands
To an onslaught of jeers, then cheers
As “gay” became “in,” became chic
And it was whee time, it was glory
And we danced our ass off, alive
In every weirdo fiber of our being
Pulsing with the energy of hope
Because at long and joyous last
In this fierce intensity of music
And rabid hot-cock jazz
We were free free free free free
Till they shot us, killed us dead.
Clifford Browder is a writer living in New York City. He has published two biographies, a novel, poetry in small reviews, and an award-winning selection of posts from his blog, “No Place for Normal: New York,” which is about anything and everything New York.