In this special series, LGBT celebrities and public figures talk to Tim Teeman about the Stonewall Riots and their legacy—see more here.
Augusten Burroughs is an author whose books include Running With Scissors, Dry, and Magical Thinking.
When/how did you first hear about the Stonewall Riots, and what did you make of them?
I didn’t hear about the Stonewall Riots until 1984, when I was living outside of Boston and a friend told me about them. I knew nothing about gay history. And I was stunned. Gay people rioted? They threw things at... cops? I have always been terrified of both crowds and police, so I was impressed.
We grow up in America being told, “Violence is never the way to solve a problem,” which is complete hypocrisy coming from the only country ever to use a nuclear weapon. Sometimes, unfortunately, violence is your way out. If you’re being held prisoner—and these gay and lesbian, trans and bi people were absolutely being held prisoner by society itself—you’re not going to break free without putting up a fight.
What is the riots’ significance for you?
The significance of the Stonewall Riots for me, personally, was that as I was coming of age in the 1980s, I could take for granted the fact that while society might not approve of my being gay, I would nonetheless not be arrested and imprisoned for it.
The phrase “take for granted” has a negative connotation, but aren’t there things each of us should be able to take for granted? Like clean drinking water, full and equal rights, dignity, space for our individual voices to be heard? So yes, I did take the freedom I felt entirely for granted because the people who began that fight made it possible.
How far have we LGBT people come since 1969?
Although sometimes it feels like the LGBT community still exists beneath a dark cloud—abuse, violence, moral injustices, and intolerance are a part of daily life for too many—it is also true that we are in positions of power, respect, recognition, and legal legitimacy that I did not expect to see in my lifetime.
But there is a precedent in America that any formerly imprisoned people will, even after winning their freedom, be loathed and held in contempt by a certain percentage of the population.
What would you like to see, LGBT-wise, in the next 50 years?
I would like lesbians to run everything. In general (which is a dangerous thing to say, I know), I believe women are intellectually and morally superior to men, and lesbians are superior to heterosexual women because they don’t become involved with men.
A man invented the machine gun, but a woman invented Kevlar.
I can think of a lot of women who would throw gas on our burning planet; Ann Coulter comes to mind. But I can’t think of a single lesbian who would do it.