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Proud, But Not Out: Native Lesbians at NYC Pride 2013

A conversation with two Native American lesbians at the NYC Pride 2013 Parade

This excerpt was taken from Imagining Geronimo: An Apache Icon in Popular Culture, by William A. Clements, 2013, and is being reprinted with permission from the University of New Mexico Press.

On Sunday in lower Manhattan, just outside the Stonewall Inn—that place where, in 1969, the gay community rallied against the NYPD during a hostile raid and marked the bar as a beacon of resistance—New York Governor Andrew Cuomo strolled and waved and smiled and ballyhooed as he participated in the NYC Pride parade. Nearby revelers howled and whipped multi-colored rainbow flags hard into the air, which smelled like smoke and sounded like laughter and still tasted like the drink I'd just spilled at that very joint.

Twenty minutes later and several blocks south, at the intersection of Bleecker and Grove in the West Village, an impromptu street party erupted when a man rolled out a turntable and two others lugged a pair of massive black, high-output speakers onto the curb. House and techno music soon saturated the intersection. Windows rattled above the bar and, as the bass grew heavier and the track (artist unknown) approached its crescendo, my heart started to lose its natural rhythm, speeding up and hammering my chest like a frightened kid locked in a box.

It was there, outside the bar, that I met up with two old friends—both lesbian—from the old days when I would grass-dance (very poorly) up and down the pow wow trail in my hand-me-down regalia. I don’t grass dance anymore – and not because I don’t want to, but because I can’t afford it. But that’s a story for another day. Right.

My Native comrades were resplendent in their red and green and purple bracelets, and both were in midriff t-shirts and glistened with sweat at their neck, chest and cheeks. They were in town for the festivities, they said, but God only knows how long they were in New York before they contacted me. They’re known to sneak and surprise. They are good people.

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They’re also not "out"—out of the closet, as the dated expression goes—so, per their request, I will not reveal their names. They’re lesbian, yes—to the marrow—but Mom and Dad and Brother back home still think they’re straight.

“I can live it up here, in the open, in ways I can’t back there,” one said. “People know me out there, and I don’t know who I’ll bump into, and then someone tells my mom that they saw me kissing another girl. I don’t want her to find out that way.”

We got talking about two spirits (the holy ones—gay and lesbian Native Americans), which both of them believed to be an admirable station within the community. But that’s not their path, they said.

“Just because you’re gay or lesbian doesn’t mean you’re a two-spirit person,” one said. “You choose to be one, then you take on the responsibilities, and I don’t want to do that. … That may change, but I’m working on me right now.”

Suddenly, a tall, thin black man in a golden thong appeared immediately in front of us. My heart felt better and laughter became the master of the mood. The man in the thong embraced everyone who approached. Next time I think I’ll wear mine—and why not? Hugs and humor: they can do wonders. Damn right.