On a hot June night in 1969 the sexual discourses of theology, law and psychology encountered resistance so strong that millions of lives were changed. In a small gay bar in New York, the regulars, an eclectic mix of drag queens, transexuals, effeminate men and butch women, offered up the most visible resistance ever witnessed to the relentless exercising of public power on their private lives. The three-day street riot, began by Stonewall patrons, spilled onto the front pages and television screens of a nation. The exposure placed the queen, queer and dyke in the living rooms, kitchens and supermarkets of straight America. The resistance of gays to the external and internal subjectification of themselves as sinners, sodomites and psychopaths began.
Before this seminal event, gays were known, but their lives operated in the back streets and alleyways of urban life. They were invisible to mainstream North Americans and expected to stay in the shadows where their deviant bodies belonged. The patrons of the Stonewall bar lived at the precipice of gay life. Their adoption of cross dressing was an affront to prevailing sexual norms. Women in suits and men in scarves and chiffon were the most identifiable of deviants and they
relished their disobedience. Strutting through urban nights they gleefully thumbed their noses at
the heterosexual world. They embraced every stereotype and took the constitution of the gay subject to extremes.
The visibility of these men and women made them easy targets for random displays of force by police. Haphazard attacks on gay bars and clubs instilled fear of the unknown. The visible cared little about the repercussions of these raids for they had nothing to lose. For this they were shunned by their gay brethren who viewed them as circus sideshow freaks. These queens, queers and dykes were dangerous. Their openness put average gays at risk. The physical and verbal abuse by police, abandonment by families and lack of social opportunity experience by the most identifiable queers kept most of North Americas gays firmly underground.
Under the guises of religion, law and science, power was being exercised to keep gays
marginalized and hidden. Most happily acquiesced. With the fear of verbal, physical or social reprisals looming large, they became prisoners of their own making in Michel Foucaults vision of panoptic power. Invisible gays continually surveyed themselves for any outward signs of their sin that would lead to public detection. With only the images and words of repressive discourses to
constitute themselves, the invisible queers, internalized disgust and spent their lives under constant self-surveillance.
These stifling conditions ignited the need for the relation of power between straights and gays to shift focus. Near domination and the excessive uses of force were producing an entropic
situation in need of diversion to a more productive state. Stonewall provided the necessary response. Three nights of fighting, shouting and revelry that confounded police commanded the immediate attention of heterosexuals everywhere. More importantly it garnered the freaks the respect and admiration of the millions of silent women and men across North America. For gays, a movement was being born and a new, more productive power structure was emerging.
In the aftermath of Stonewall, many gays felt empowered to go public and change the
repressive statutes that governed their lives. Collectively, the truth that they were not deviants to be beaten, souls to be saved or in need of psychiatry materialized. Nothing was wrong with their
psychological or spiritual states. Claims of normalcy were becoming self evident through the eyes of the new scientific discourse of biology. No blame was to be laid nor pity bestowed, nature had made them. The prescience of this biological discourse laid the fertile ground for the exercising of Foucaults bio power upon the gay subject.
The reduction of fear and militancy generated by the rioters helped to usher in the ascent of bio power. By giving gays the courage, legitimacy and collective will to move out of the shadows, Stonewalls riots gave bio power access to the private lives of gays. If their sexual nature was blameless then remaining cloaked kept them from participating as productive social beings. Out in the open bio power could classify, subjectify, survey and normalize the modern gay.
To produce new subjects every possible sexual variation was catalogued: homosexual, fag, dyke, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transexual, transvestite, trisexual and intra-gendered. A hierarchy of acceptable identities began to emerge. A gay norm was espoused through magazines, television, movies and popular culture that was palatable to heterosexuals. To don the makeup of the lipstick or chic lesbian, master the macho stance of the butch fag or buy penny loafers and live in suburbia. These were the accoutrements of the new normal, non-threatening gay.
The successful fights for judicial changes and the massive attention received by mainstream mass media has shown gays the power of the normalcy claim. There are now substantive benefits to self identification as a normal gay. The promise and availability of certain social advantages has given people cause to actively internalize the identity of this new gay subject. In the fight to attain marriage, spousal benefits and parental rights they have become the principals of their own subjection.
Normalcy has unearthed the lives of many men and women. Gay power as a political and economic force can now be tracked through the electronic footprints left by magazine subscriptions, credit cards purchases, insurance forms and wills. The number of gay associations, bars and clubs informs society of the sheer number of self identified gays in their midst. All this coming out of the closet is necessary to extend the external surveillance of bio power to more and more members of society.
But, external surveillance is limited in scope and an inefficient way for bio power to exercise itself on subjects. The concessions won by gays were hard fought and many are afraid of a reversal of their social fortunes. Much of the battles won have worked through the presentation of gays as normal, desexualized, non-threatening, socially responsible and conforming adults. The stereotypes of leather wearers, S/M perverts, drag queens and diesel dykes are the gay communitys dirty little secret. They are the focus of the proper gays normalizing judgement. Too much negative exposure may erode the gains.
This judgement has gays internalizing their own surveillance and placing others of similar orientation under a watchful eye. Pressure to homogenize the homosexual is borne from within the ranks. The character of these gay deviates is suspect and normalized gays display a pseudo sense of shock and disgust. They supervise themselves and others for deviation. The state no longer requires harsh laws and punitive punishments to control the behavior of the gay subject, they do the deed themselves.
The Stonewall riots were the culmination of years of a micro-resistance by societies most
marginalized gays. Societys ability to reach into the lives of closeted gays and classify them was waning and bio power needed visible subjects to define. The discourse of biology was and is in ascendency and its normalizing effect on homosexuality has provided gays a key to mainstream
culture. In return they have been forced into renewed self surveillance and exposed to private
intrusions. Gays have so thoroughly internalized their new identity that they believe they have wrested power from an oppressive heterosexual world and are nearing freedom. For Foucault, gays have simply been duped into a new relation of power that has normalized, catalogued, subjectified and desexualized their lives.