by Miguel M. Morales
you were my first gay friends
you men wearing black leather jackets
and your activist drag.
you taught this timid brown boy
to yell, to scream, to rage
at our killers who invoked
morality and cited nonexistent
policies conjured on the spot
to keep us from exposing them as
you showed me how
our voices could stop traffic, how
our voices could upend the system, how
our voices could save lives.
you taught me how
to find this voice
– this voice.
you taught me about my queer body
even as yours were under attack.
Mark Cheney, you bald-headed,
you filled a vial with your positive blood,
smashed it against the
city council chamber doors
to protest AIDS budget cuts.
they quickly arrested you because
your blood was a deadly weapon.
after my first arrest,
you took a button
off your jacket that read:
I WAS ARRESTED
and pinned it to my shirt.
I wish you were here
to teach me how
to be old.
How to wear my
gray and my wrinkles
with the same pride
as you wore your black shirt
with the pink triangle
They have all three branches now.
What are they going to take from us?
What can they take from us?
There’s nothing left.
We fought and protested Reagan and Bush
in the 80s and 90s for what little we have.
We’re old and alone.
We’re supposed to be enjoying life now.
We’re too old to go back out
on the streets and protest.
No. Young people need us to show them
how we survived those years.
Just like those elders showed us
during the AIDS crisis.
They taught us how to turn our rage and anger
into tools and into action in order to save lives
and save ourselves.
Maybe we are too old to go back out
on the streets and protest but
they need us and we need them.
We are the elders now.
I used to keep a blank tape in the VCR
ready to record whenever something queer
came on TV like when Sallie Jessie had on gay teens
who went to prom or when Donahue interviewed gay porn stars.
Then there was the time Oprah went to that town where
a PWA went swimming in the public pool and the next day
the town closed it for public safety.
I’d record PBS documentaries about queers,
about AIDS, about trans people, about all of us committing suicide
and our families and friends crying because they always knew
it would happen. I recorded Calvin Klein commercials featuring
shirtless men, investigative news reports about gay sex in public parks.
The more I recorded the more of the queer world I wanted
to see around me. The more I wanted to do.
Soon I joined groups and met other queers.
My VHS tapes documented our appearances
on local news segments, our meetings, our celebrations,
and our protests. My tapes recorded friends and mentors,
the Gay and Lesbian March on Washington,
ACT-UP, arrests for civil disobedience,
and our angry, devastating funerals.
Thirty years have passed since those recordings.
There are no more VCRs. The tapes are in boxes
collecting dust. I haven’t made the effort to watch them
because while they remind me of happy, bold, thrilling,
frustrating, energetic, and exhausting times,
they also remind me of people I loved who are gone,
people who shaped who I am.
I think it’s time to unpack those boxes, to watch those
fuzzy tapes, to read the yellowed newspaper clippings,
and to look upon those blurry faces in photo albums.
Keeping our memories and treasures hidden
is a disservice to those we loved, to what we fought for
and accomplished together, and to everything they taught us.
Justice, like friendship and love, must be defended, prized, and shared.