John Cameron Mitchell’s MATTACHINE comes to La Cita this Sunday, and based on this interview we did with the actor/writer/director (known, of course, for Hedwig & The Angry Inch), we declare it may be the queerest (in the truest sense of the word) and coolest club concept ever. Exclusive for LA Slush, contributor – and one of Mattachine’s LA co-hosts – Bobby Webster gives his take on the event including some fascinating historical context. -LL
By Bobby Webster
In a media-driven culture where the latest water cooler gossip is the red carpet entrance of Lady Gaga or which of the seemingly endless gaggle of nightclubs will survive their fifteen minutes of fame, a few select nostalgic New Yorkers, including film auteur John Cameron Mitchell, aim to refresh our fleeting memories of an era that once was. They wish to perhaps remind us that had it not been for a few polished, ambitious gay gentlemen standing their ground, we might not be living in a time where gays and lesbians could choose their wedding colors or shriek in delight dancing to the latest Scissor Sisters record with fun-loving homosexual “besties.”
While not to diminish the significance of Stonewall, the catalyst of the gay-rights movement, quite a major milestone occurred just a few years prior in the spring of 1966. There was undoubtedly a feeling of change in the air, and musical testimony from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones gave a sufficient soundtrack of what was to be. It was a time where openly GLBT people were looking for their place among society, and the screams within their hearts and souls must have been almost audible. While there were no laws against serving gays and lesbians on the books, the New York State Liquor Authority penalized bars and taverns that served “known homosexuals” on the grounds that such gatherings were “disorderly.”
A group of individuals, led by Los Angelean Harry Hay, founded the Mattachine Society, and decided to take back the night. The society’s president, Dick Leitsch, as well as John Timmons and Craig Rodwell, marched into Julius – a well-known watering hole in the West Village known for a mixed crowd and greasy hamburgers – and announced they were open- homosexuals, demanding to be served. Still angry that ten days earlier a member of the clergy had been arrested for solicitation, they staged what became known as the “Sip-in.” (See above photo) While that may not have forced the Liquor Authority to change their policy, it brought the blatant discrimination into the forefront and led the New York City Commission to declare that homosexuals did indeed have the right to be served. Entrapment was also outlawed. GLBT patrons could assemble as they pleased, and the gay bar was birthed.
John Cameron Mitchell, another brave soul introducing society to a different way of viewing life (via film), is keen on such nostalgia. His respect for leaders such as Mr. Hay, who additionally started the Radical Faerie Movement, which Mr. Mitchell is also an active part of, is what prompted him along with Paul Dawson, PJ Deboy, Portland performance artist Amber Martin, and others to promote a renaissance of the society, if you will…. His “Mattachine” parties in New York, not-so-coincidentally at Julius, have been wildly popular among a diverse group of New Yorkers ranging in age from eighteen to eighty. In fact, it was among the Faeries that Mr. Mitchell decided to bring this way of thought, which he calls “promoting ethical homosexual culture,” elsewhere. He strives to give us a moment to breathe, to take a moment away from the biased newspaper headlines and the overproduced pop-radio garble. He promotes the event as “high on friendly, low on attitude,” and takes it a step further by stopping the music at various points in the evening for impromptu slow dances. The romance of days old has quite the opposite effect, promoting a young, fresh aesthetic.
Mattachine events in Portland, Denver, and San Francisco (see photos) have been outrageously popular, and it was the word-of-mouth about these events that started a campaign to bring Mattachine to our fair city. Los Angeleans, desperate for a break from endless sample sales and traffic jams, evidently yearn for that slow-dance among the ones they love, those who have come to this city and become family. I am quite sure Mr. Mitchell will nod in modest delight when we bring our slow-dance partners that much closer.
*The Mattachine LA Dance Party, brought to you by John Cameron Mitchell, PJ Deboy, and Amber Martin, co-hosted by Adrian Salpeter, Mario Diaz, and Bobby Webster will be held on Sunday, August 21, from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. in Downtown L.A. at La Cita. Another LA Slush contributor, Cassie Carpenter will be at the door, and patrons are encouraged to dress up. $3 cover. The address is at 336 South Hill Street. For RSVP and more info, see the Facebook invite here.