Persevering with Conversations about Marsha “Pay It No Thoughts” Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson (picture credit score: Randy Wicker)

Three years in the past, it was a quiet, Saturday night and I discovered myself looking YouTube movies for an traditionally correct account of the Stonewall riots. I got here throughout a documentary referred to as, Pay It No Thoughts: The Life and Occasions of Marsha P. Johnson, which centered on revolutionary trans-activist, Marsha “Pay it No Thoughts” Johnson who was a “Stonewall instigator, Andy Warhol mannequin, drag queen, intercourse employee, ravenous actress, and Saint.”

I used to be in.

For the following 55 minutes I used to be captivated and in shock of what I didn’t know. I had by no means heard of Marsha P. Johnson. I didn’t find out about how she would give the one greenback in her pocket to a different homeless individual on the road, how she would make elaborate head items out of flowers (or Christmas lights) she discovered, that she was a fascinating entertainer, that she mothered homeless trans youth, that she was an organizer for the politcal motion group ACT UP to combat AIDS, and most shockingly, how she helped pave the best way for trans and gender non-conforming folks whereas main the homosexual liberation motion.

Absolutely, I believed, this was simply somebody I had regrettably not been uncovered to, and so I requested a number of buddies and acquaintances in the event that they knew who she was, however most individuals stated no.

I’m a trans, gender non-conforming individual, and am surrounded by queer politics, vital thinkers, lecturers, social justice activists and artists of every kind right here in New York Metropolis. Nonetheless, I didn’t know the specifics and even names of people that had shaped and formed my very own historical past. Our queer historical past.

I dove into the web studying every thing I may about Marsha and found activist and filmmaker Reina Gossett’s ongoing archive of queer historical past, in addition to her and co-director Sasha Wortzel’s movie within the works, Comfortable Birthday, Marsha!.

Marsha P. Johnson at a homosexual rights demonstration in Albany, NY, 1971 (picture credit score:, “STAR PEOPLE ARE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE”, put up made February 24, 2012)

What touched me most was studying of S.T.A.R. (Avenue Transvestite Motion Revolutionaries) — a transgender activist group created in 1970 by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. S.T.A.R. was the primary trans lady of coloration led group within the US and it’s mission was to look after and demand justice for low-income, homeless, and incarcerated trans and gender non-conforming folks.

In my analysis I saved coming throughout precise avenue addresses of the S.T.A.R. home, the condominium the place Sylvia and Marsha would dress, home, and feed homeless trans and gender non-conformthing youth. By the tip I had written down three completely different addresses within the East Village or Decrease East Facet (they needed to hold shifting attributable to not having sufficient cash for lease).

One brisk Sunday morning I made a decision to go on a self-guided strolling tour to go see the S.T.A.R. flats right now.

The primary deal with I got here to was 211 Eldridge Avenue, condominium 3. I walked as much as the inexperienced, metallic door. Nervous. Like I used to be about to go on a primary date. I simply stood there picturing Marsha strolling by way of the door layered in pieced collectively clothes and an enormous floral tiara balancing on her head. I pictured her surrounded by different trans girls and queens. I appeared on the buzzer to see what identify was listed for condominium 3, why I believed I would truly see Marsha or Sylvia’s identify I’m unsure. I thought of buzzing to see if I’d be let in. I believed perhaps I’d be capable of suss out if the condominium was nonetheless the identical because it was 45 years prior when Marsha and Sylvia had lived there, and perhaps I’d really feel like I used to be sharing house that they had as soon as shared. However I didn’t buzz.

211 Eldridge Avenue

A person got here up behind me, brushing up in opposition to my shoulder whereas passing, and opened the door. My coronary heart rose in my chest, ‘Ahhh I may go in!’ I believed. However my ft didn’t transfer. The door slammed in entrance of me and I simply stood there trying by way of the glass on the darkish, soiled, worn down stairwell inside. I started to marvel if Marsha had ever sat on these stairs, consoled somebody on these stairs, saved somebody’s life on these stairs. I felt adrenaline speeding by way of my complete physique, and heavy disappointment in my chest. I felt so near her and but concurrently so far-off.

Nonetheless, I had two extra addresses to see. So I took a number of deep breaths and set out in direction of — 213 E. 2nd Avenue. As I navigated my manner up Avenue B I used to be surrounded by skate boarders, {couples} strolling their canine, and all of the Sunday morning brunchers spilling out onto the sidewalk. The power within the air was fast-paced and alive, however felt empty of consciousness and significance.

I arrived at my subsequent deal with and appeared as much as see the numbers “213” on a model new geometric-looking rental — it was very slim with a facade of floor-to-ceiling home windows, and brushed-steel rods that made up the terraces for every unit. Once more, I simply stood outdoors the constructing, however this time thought of when Marsha and her chosen household have been dwelling at this deal with that they had no plumbing and electrical energy inside the collapsing partitions that they referred to as house…and now nearly all of this avenue could be unrecognizable to any of the S.T.A.R. members. My feelings have been darting and dropping in every single place.

I set off in direction of the final deal with — 640 E. 12th Avenue. I walked north up Avenue B and thought concerning the quite a few tales I had heard of how violent and drug-ridden this a part of city was again within the ’70s (Marsha’s husband was shot by police and died on this avenue). The circumstances obtained extra extreme the farther east you went, and I used to be strolling farther east to the following S.T.A.R. home.

I’m unsure if what I discovered at my closing vacation spot was extra disheartening than the newly constructed rental or if I had simply thought my expectations have been as little as they might go after which I used to be confronted with an all new set of feelings. There was completely no remnants of any constructing at 640 E. 12th Avenue. Nothing. It was an overgrown group backyard with trash scattered all over the place.

640 East 12th Avenue

After triple checking I wasn’t simply lacking the constructing I got here to simply accept that at this deal with I wasn’t going to see something near what existed for Marsha and Sylvia 45 years in the past. Perhaps there was some solace in the truth that a backyard had been planted on this spot quite than a brand new high-rise, however there was nonetheless this immense feeling of loss and erasure. Full erasure. For instance, nobody would ever know that Marsha and Sylvia used to threat their lives doing intercourse work so as to have the ability to present a shelter for these homeless youngsters. A shelter that used to exist proper right here, however now has been torn down, and the folks inside it’s partitions have additionally disappeared.

I felt Sylvia and Marsha’s relentless protesting and on a regular basis braveness inside my capacity to seamlessly transfer by way of these streets as a gender non-conforming individual. I concurrently realized that there was basically nothing bodily left of S.T.A.R. or that period within the East Village. There have been no plaques, indicators or brick murals remembering what as soon as was a protected haven for the trans group, a group that very a lot existed however had no acknowledgement from society that they have been worthy human beings.

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