Ribbon Around A Bomb

Femme Avant-core

Film Bombast: Screaming Queens

So, last weekend was my first ever taste of SF PRIDE. I have no way to describe it other than FLAMfuckingBOYANT. (In the best way possible, of course.) Dance parties, drugs + booze, public nudity, drag, parades, dykalicious hair, and rainbow-themed everything were all ubiquitous components of Saturday and Sunday. Amongst the madness, I captured this sweet photo of a couple rocking western wear on Market St:

Monday (oh, Monday) was certainly tamer (back to work!) but still queer-themed because the good folks at my work decided to host a screening of the documentary Screaming Queens: The Compton Cafeteria Riots.

The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot is basically an unsung tale of early organized queer resistance. But before I tell you about that awesome story, it’s helpful to know more about the struggles of these women (including both transgender and transvestite) who faced violence and oppression on a daily basis for their identities and lifestyles.

In the 1960s, SF’s Tenderloin district was a seedy neighborhood known for prostitution, drugs, and homelessness. (In other words, basically the same as it is now.) The area was also home to drag queens, cross-dressers, “female-impersonators,” and all kinds of other folks navigating the queer/gender spectrum. The film shows how, in that time, it was more or less impossible for such a woman to hold a respectable job- if she dressed as a male, people considered a weird and effeminate boy, but if she dressed as a female, someone would always come along and spoil the secret, causing her to be fired, and either shunned or brutally harassed. So, banding together, creating a community of trans prostitutes, and living day-to-day in the Loin was their only option for survival.

Okay, so the riot. Compton’s Cafeteria was chain diner on the corner of Turk and Taylor where all the street queens would hang out late at night in the mid-‘60s. It was a refuge in many ways, but police harassment was still a regular occurrence. One particular night, a police officer came into the diner and tried to arrest one of the women for cross-dressing (yes, it was actually a crime in those days.) She reacted by flinging a steaming cup of coffee in the officer’s face. (Awesome.) After that, all hell broke loose. Everyone started throwing shit, beating cops with high heels, taking it to the street, setting “paddy wagons” on fire until they had fully driven the cops away. The next night was followed by gay and trans picketing and protesting in front of Compton’s, thus the story of the birth of collective, violent queer activism, although the NYC Stonewall riot a couple years later is much better known.

So, yay gay week. Perhaps the best thing that I learned watching Screaming Queens came at the end- one of the women who was present at the riot and was interviewed throughout the film actually still performs at a dodgy little drag bar in the Tenderloin called Aunt Charlie’s. It was already one of my fav SF haunts, but now I’m totally stoked to go see her there.

One comment on “Film Bombast: Screaming Queens

  1. TommyTopHat
    June 21, 2013

    Wow
    I’d heard people mention the riot before, but I never knew the whole story until now. I feel incredibly proud of all my queer sisters right now.

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