I just finished watching a documentary about Studio 54 on Netflix. The film was an in-depth look at the guys behind the infamous discotheque and the whole Studio 54 phenomenon of the late seventies. (Before I forget, I highly recommend THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION for a thorough historical look at disco music, the artists, and the disco era.)
So I’m watching this and I suddenly realize this is 2019, which means it has been (Oh, My Lord) forty years since I graduated high school, which also means we are coming up on the fortieth anniversary of the Disco Demolition night at Chicago’s Comiskey park. I’m sure there will be all sorts of nostalgic pieces about this come July, but I want to get my licks in now while I’m thinking about it.
I’m still annoyed by the insanity of that stunt night in the summer of ’79, and I make no apologies for it. The disc jockey who started the whole thing, Steve Dahl, has said for years that there was nothing homophobic about his “disco sucks” movement, that it was a reaction to losing a job at a radio station that went from rock to disco, and also a general reaction of straight guys who didn’t fit into the disco scene.
I call bullshit.
Disco music and the whole concept of “disco” as a source of entertainment and recreation was created by black men, gay men, and women. I noticed at the time that a lot of white straight guy anger toward disco seemed to have a lot to do with the fact that three groups of people they had marginalized for centuries were suddenly having a good time without their leadership, their overall input, and without them. In short, they had no control over disco and the people who were enjoying it, so they did everything they could to destroy it.
What a bunch of fuckin’ crybabies.
I mean, how DARE we? How dare the people those men had controlled for so long have fun without them? How dare we make own music and our own rules? The audacity of it! So these supposedly macho manly men got together and threw a big ole drama queen hissy fit and pissed all over our parade. Typical. I was reminded of this recently with the brouhaha over BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, the biographical movie about Freddie Mercury. I have not seen it, but the way it was described to me makes me believe the movie was made for all the guys I knew in high school who loved Queen but hated fags.
Honestly, I didn’t think about that insanity from the summer of ’79 for many years, but events over the past few years have brought it back to me. White straight guys are under attack, you know. Women are actually CALLING THEM OUT for being sexual predators. Black men and gay men are calling them out for being targets of their racial and sexual orientation bias. Mercy! I raise a hand to my heart and shake my head. Those poor men! How they must be suffering these days.
Yeah. Cry me a river.
Now, I suppose if I were a bigger, kinder kind of guy I might actually feel some stirring of sympathy for the alleged plight of the white straight man, but I have a tendency to be resentful by nature, so I have no pity or sympathy to share. Empathy? You bet. Gay men such as myself have been treated abominably for hundreds of years, so when I see the beginnings of targets being drawn I can’t help but empathize. I have not, however, forgiven or forgotten. I’ve never been given a reason to do so. As I write this, the Republican politicians of my home state, Indiana, are doing everything in their super majority power to keep marginalized Hoosiers as marginalized as possible. That shit bag in the White House and his giant collection of old white straight guy shit bags are doing the same. (I won’t get into the Christian thing. That’s for another piece and another time.) Oh, every now and again someone will be tripped up for something they have said, and then will issue a half-assed apology, obviously something put together using a form apology letter found on the internet. I haven’t forgiven or forgotten because not once, NOT ONCE, have a heard a genuine apology. I doubt I ever will. White Straight guys do not have to apologize. They never have because they are in charge. And by God, that’s why they are being even bigger asses than usual, because they fear they might lose that power….and what? Be treated the way they’ve treated black and gay men and women for centuries? One might call that karma, but I’m more comfortable thinking of it as “what goes around comes around.” Eventually.
Still, I can’t imagine I will see that in my lifetime. I don’t think anyone who went out of their way to make my life as a gay man miserable will ever apologize. I doubt that any white straight guy will ever cough up an apology that actually addresses the damage they have done to gay men in general. I say this because I’ve been testing straight people (both men and women) on this for years. When I ask them if they want to trade places with me and experience what true personal and cultural humiliation feels like, each and every one of them have gotten a deer in the headlights look, a kind of frozen, silent terror. No, they don’t want to walk in my shoes, and what’s more, they don’t want to admit it, nor do they feel the need to contribute anything in the way of empathy. They can’t. They refuse to allow themselves to even think for a moment what being me or any other LGBTQ person would be like. They sense how painful it is, so they turn away to protect themselves. Can’t say as I blame them, really. Who’d ask for this?
Getting back to disco, the whole backlash from straight guys against disco was especially hurtful to me as this happened at a time in my life when I was trying to come out. The disgust and hatred for a form of music I enjoyed and made me feel as though I might actually be a part of something bigger than myself just shoved me farther back in the closet. It hurt. You can say “get over it;” you can say “deal with it,” and I have. I’m still here, still queer, and still playing my disco, not the vinyl records I still have, but via mp3. However, under the scar tissue of “getting over it” are some pretty deep wounds. I think if someone from the disco opposition (white straight guys) admitted that I have a right to be hurt and angry, a lot of that hurt would go away.
So when a bunch of wags are writing and recording their “it was forty years ago today that a bunch of angry men blew up disco records at Comiskey Park” this summer, please remember that more than a bunch of plastic bit the dust that night. A hell of a lot of self-esteem from people who were constantly told they were not allowed to have self-esteem was destroyed as well.
This is far from being my favorite Diana Ross record, but it WAS one of the first songs I ever danced to inside the walls of a gay bar in the autumn of 1980. Coming Out indeed! I’ve been doing that over and over ever since.