Melissa Carter

Melissa Carter: Stonewall-sized expectations

If you’re gay you’ve certainly heard of the Stonewall riots, but have you actually ever been to the bar where it took place? I have and it was nothing like what I expected.

I wasn’t born when those demonstrations took place at the Greenwich Village bar. Once I realized I was gay as a pre-teen, I secretly researched history regarding our people and the Stonewall riots were some of the first pinnacle moments in modern gay history I found.

The fact that it took place in New York seemed so big to this small town Southern girl. I envisioned a huge building with massive crowds, and some statue in place to commemorate the sacrifice those patrons gave to make sure that raids of gay bars were no longer a standard practice by police.

That’s not what I found. While visiting New York for the first time years ago, I wanted to make sure I had a drink at the Stonewall Inn—it would be sacrilegious as a lesbian to come to the Big Apple and not do so. I may have actually passed the place before I realized I had arrived there.

A small, smoky lounge atmosphere was what I stepped into, with very few people inside. No statue outside, no huge gatherings, just a dive for those who wanted a quick drink and casual conversation with the solo bartender.

I must say I was honestly disappointed. Not that there was anything wrong with the place; the poor bar was never going to live up to the palatial preconception I had developed in my mind. Maybe I thought there would be a big rainbow carpet to welcome weary gay travelers. Maybe I thought there would be a ticket window for guided tours of the historic site. Nothing. It was just a small bar that weaved non-descriptly into the fabric of the neighborhood.

I had my drink, despite the headache I developed from the nicotine-infused fabric I was surrounded by, but soon left without a souvenir. My media-drowned mind would have set up a t-shirt shop next to the bar, with donations benefiting ACT UP. Maybe they had all that somewhere else and I just missed it.

I walked away realizing that I misunderstood history this whole time. I always paid attention to the outcome of events but rarely absorbed the fact that a small spark is really the start of a massive blaze. Like with Stonewall, all of our lives benefited from that small space. Not only did we begin to be taken seriously as a community, but every Pride event or march you have participated in was inspired by those riots. The key is recognizing that you’re as equally important as an individual as you are part of the collective.

Now I realize that making a true difference doesn’t require being a viral sensation with throngs of people chanting your name. It simply requires you to remain authentic to your true self when it seems the world around you would rather you be someone else.