[Musical interlude] Marsha: 1969 when the Stonewall Riots started, that’s when I started my little rioting. Martin: Her experience was the
living embodiment of human rights You’re black, you’re acting as a female, The law’s against you, society’s against you, Everything was against you in those days. Judith: Marsha was having a very rough time. And sat there and just said,
‘You know… I don’t know if I should… take a shower or go to Bellevue. And… I think she took a shower. James: Marsha was a subculture within a subculture. It didn’t bother her. She didn’t hide from it. You know, she met it. She met it head on. Randy: Willie was a young hooker, 18 years old when I met him And he mentioned Marsha. That he went to the Village and hung out with Marsha and I said, ‘I don’t think Marsha’s the kind of person you should hang out with. Tommy: Marsha, when I saw her in the flower district, getting crowned holy by people from India She knows something that I don’t know! Ron: I met Marsha on Christopher Street. And the first time I saw her I said… Who is this person? Rick: I remember seeing Marsha walk down the street in a miniskirt. That he [sic] had made with nothing on underneath. And it was clearly see-through. … Clearly ! Sasha: And she’d be coming up Christopher Street with the rolled down stockings, fuzzy slippers, her wig in beer can rollers, [Imitates Marsha] ‘Hello everybody!’ What a wonderful morning! Ron: Over the top, with the jewelry Flowers in her hair, very creative looking Very commanding of attention Not wanting to get it, but just getting it anyway. Paloma: I always remember knowing Marsha P. Johnson I must’ve known her before I was 9 or 10. Maybe younger. She would hang out with my father a lot in the kitchen. I remember spending a lot of time talking in the kitchen. And when my father would leave, to go run an errand or leave to do something, she would stay with me. So, in some ways I guess you could say Marsha P. was a babysitter of mine. [Laughs] Agosto: Marsha’s like a Bodhisattva. Her presence on Sheridan Square on Christopher Street or wherever She stopped and asked for spare change or chatted with people, it was a religious, holy experience. And all of us who did drag or partial drag always admired her and thought of her as a patron saint. Thomas: She had this kind of glow about her. She’s like an angel. Her spirit shined through us. Paloma: My father thought that her heart was in the right place. That she was someone to be trusted. I mean, she’d take five bucks but she would always say, ‘And I’m going to give you back 20, Tony’ And she meant it! She meant it because she had a generous heart and spirit, but also because she was convinced she’d get this billionare boyfriend. And she was gonna be living great with him. Michael: Marsha was one of those colorful New York characters that you’d see bouncing around the Piers or the Village in plastic and lamé and glittery things and hoop earrings and I always wondered, ‘Who was that?’ She always said ‘Hello’. And I did a little research at the time and it turned out she wasn’t just a kook, she was a serious activist and entertainer. Jimmy: She floored every audience. They just adored her! And I kept wondering, ‘What the hell is it?’ Michael: When I think of Marsha, I think of someone who kids today who are gay know nothing about. Which is a shame, really. Because, she’s one of the reasons they’re sitting in all their liberated glory today. Marsha paid the price for who she was. Marsha: I was young… When I was young and naive was when I started wearing dresses at five years old and I stopped for a long time. Because the boys next door used to try and get fresh with me. You know. Try and have sex. Honey, I don’t believe you should have sex until after you’re married. I found out that boys do that when I was raped by this boy. Who was about uh… He was about 13 years old. And he [censored] me in between my legs and uh… You know… he di-… He shot all of this sticky stuff all my over my leg. And I somewhat knew that boys had sex with boys because the boys next door, they used to jerk off together, you know. And they used to… Rub each other [unintelligible] A little childish thing when I was about 12 years old, you know. But didn’t think they’d actually stick it in Or want to suck it or anything. I didn’t think people had sex period . I’m still like that! I think… Oh you wouldn’t do that! Oh he wouldn’t lick that man’s toes! Oh no!! She- He wouldn’t- That girl wouldn’t eat that girl out! That guy wouldn’t eat that girl out! I don’t think like that but I know they would When I go to the movies. Honey, I don’t believe you should have sex until after you’re married. Or, at least that’s the way I was was, you know, think it should be. I got married to Jesus Christ in Church when I was 16 years old. And still in High School. And I haven’t married anybody in Church since then. Cause I think he’s the only man I could really trust. He’s like a spirit to follow me around and to help me out in my hour of need, and listens to all of my problems and never laughs at me. [Laughs] He takes me very seriously. Marsha: I started coming to New York and meeting pavement queens. And I didn’t meet Drag Queens. As you would say ‘Drag Queens’ Until back in uh… early… 60s. Tommy: The world was so different then. Gay people were scheduled for non-existence. In other words, we were supposed to have no reality… called ‘gay’, ‘homosexual’, except to be In a mental institution, getting shock treatments or getting fired from a job. Agosto: I knew her from the mid 60s and through the 70s and Marsha always gave this blessed presence and encouragement to be who you wanted to be. Those who were a little too feminine were frowned upon. But Marsha and a few others would stand ram-rod straight, shoulders back head high and present themselves and that encouraged so many people or gave happiness to people who said, ‘I wish I had the guts to do that.’ She would sort of hold court in Sheridan Square and say, ‘We’re in the Village. We’re free! Live !’ Marsha: Queens that used to just wear their own bit of makeup and go out into the street in boys clothes during the day. Danny: There was no place as a safe haven for a gay kid. The only option you had was a bar… or to pick up a John to find a place to stay for the night if you were young, a street kid? And it was cold out… Or… that was it. You really didn’t have many options. James: When I first met Marsha in the early 70s Marsha was homeless. I know some of the girls would live in various places for short periods of time. They would get a hotel room. Or the baths. She used to stay a lot and It was a place in Brooklyn. A house where the girls lived for awhile. But, none of those things lasted very long. Sometimes I really wondered how she got through it. And I know she used to sleep in the movies too on 42nd Street. It was 99 cents before noon. So she’d get up there before noon and she’d sleep up there if she needed a place to sleep. It was amazing. It really was amazing. How he [sic] was able to survive and get through life without having a place to really call home. Tommy: Marsha had a following around town of like… people that… I mean… I’d go to the flower district and they have these big tables where they sort lilies and things And Marsha would be sleeping under them! And I saw this more than once. And I would say to the guy there ‘Why is she here?’ and the guy would just say ‘She’s holy’. And there were all these people that like… Had… Whatever was going on in their head Marsha became this– and then they would She would stay there and they would give her the leftover flowers. Tons and tons of daffodils. Randy: She’d take her last $10 and go out the door And come back 20 minutes later with this big bouqet, $10 worth of flowers! And I’d say, ‘Marsha what are you doing wasting your last $10 on flowers!’ And she’d go in my back room and be putting them in her hair and making this incredible arrangement ‘Oh don’t worry Mr. Wicker,’ she’d say ‘These flowers are gonna make me a lotta money!’ And they would. Tommy: She’d walk around decked in flowers a lot, remember? [unintelligible] She’d put Christmas lights in and they lit up. Randy: Willie was a young hooker, 18 years old when I met him. To make a long story short, he ended up staying here. I sort of took him in. He essentially became my adopted son. And one night, he said to me– it was very cold out, about 10 degrees He said, ‘Could Marsha come and sleep here? She doesn’t mind sleeping on the floor! She likes to sleep on the floor!’ Which I thought, ‘You never lie. Why’d you tell me a fib like that?’ And so I allowed Marsha to come in that night and she was here for the next 12 years. Marsha: I’ve never ever done drag seriously! I always just do drag. I never do it seriously. Because I don’t have the money to do serious drag. Years ago I used to have to get some of my stuff out of the trash can and bring it home and wash it. I’ve never been an extravagant type drag queen that can go out to her fancy store in town and buy expensive dress. I’ve always had to get my dresses donated or at a thrift shop. Or something like that because those are the only ones that have real nice stuff for cheap prices. Agosto: And her taking us to a Salvation Army and other thrift shops was an art form because she knew for $5 Maybe $3, you should be able to get yourself an outfit. Marsha: Unless of course you can get a friend has a newer dress and has a cause to donate it to you and that’s not too often because once they see you and see how good you look, a lot of them go home and get on their dresses and try and come out looking twice as good. James: Marsha had a long, purple lilac gown that she favored. And by the time she finished fixing her cut here and scissors here… and razorblade here… on the bottom and gussied it up with glitter, she favored that. And I know that that dress really got a workin’ out. She wore that one for a long time. Randy: Marsha lived with me in Hoboken. Now this is a high rise building. Our apartment is notorious as being ‘the gay apartment’ because of the strange people that came and went I told Marsha, ‘No problem living here but you can’t come and go in drag.’ cause I was afraid that would be pushing things too far. So she would wear bulky clothing and get on the path train and then the dress would drop out from underneath another jacket And by the time she hit Christopher Street she would have transformed herself into a drag queen except for these huge clunky ‘male’ shoes that were about size 12 or something. Martin: She wasn’t the kind of queen you questioned her drag. She had very little. And she wasn’t well dressed, co-ordinated kind of drag queen. She put on what was available. And what fulfilled her idea of being a woman to some extent. It was a very, very natural look. And all her own. Tommy: It was amazing to me that all these people held Marsha– and these were people from all over the world that like… I don’t know what the concept was going on there. Randy: She would go out and stand on the corner and people knew her and they’d take pictures with her. She’d say, ‘Could you spare some change for a starving actress?’ Michael: One of the great things about Marsha’s friendliness. Is that there was no agenda to it. I had the feeling that she probably had no idea who I was just like I didn’t know who she was. But she always said ‘Hello’ She always broke that wall and was friendly the way most New Yorkers aren’t. Not because she wanted an item. She was just… on the surface a really happy-go-lucky person. Rick: [Imitates Marsha] Could you give me a dollar? ‘Do you have a dollar for a dying drag queen? For a starving queen?’ James: She was sort of a Robin Hood. She would ask for money from people who were in the street going by and say they would give her some money. Two minutes later, she’d turn and give it to somebody else who needed it. She’d say, ‘Here honey. Get yourself something to eat.’ Agosto: She would not argue or fight the people who insulted her. ‘Why don’t you get off Christopher Street! You’re giving us a bad name!’ Sasha: She was like the Mayor of Christopher Street. And the queens definitely crossed the street or went around the block with their Johns. They wouldn’t be caught dead with her. Because they were too highfalutin. They had the look but not the spirit. Marsha had the spirit. Martin: She just didn’t nod or acknowledge you, She’d turn around a say, ‘Hello.’ She was always like that. Which gave you a chance Even fleetingly to know her. She was warm. So everybody knew Marsha and no one had anything bad to say about her. Marsha was really well liked. Agosto: Bars and establishments 86-ed her And she said, ‘If they don’t want me in there, even to buy a soda or something ‘I’ll go somewhere else. I don’t look for trouble.’ James: Homophobia in the gay community… She used to say that some of the queens treated their dogs better than they treat her. They would go by and say, ‘What is it?’ She would say right to them: ‘What do you care what it is? You’re not giving it anything.’ Marsha: I didn’t get into it right away. I was like a butch makeup queen. Working in Greenwich village. And then I started doing little dips in drag. And I started wearing little high heel shoes, you know And I started putting on stockings And I started becoming a drag queen. I was one of the Stonewall girls. One of the first girls to ever come in drag to the Stonewall. 1969, when the Stonewall Riots started That’s when I started my little rioting. David: When Jerry Hoose, who was the founder of the Gay Liberation Front arrived at the Stonewall Inn that night He was met by his friend John Goodman. And John Goodman told him that soon after Jackie Hormona started fighting the police that both Marsha Johnson and Zazu Nova joined in Marsha: I’ve been in Gay Liberation ever since it first started in 1969. I was in the Stonewall Riots. David: After the riots, Morty Manford and Marty Robinson, both very important figures in the Gay Activists Alliance. Both told Robin Sousa that Marsha Johnson was involved in starting the riots. The story that Robin Sousa then told me was that Marsha Johnson said: ‘I got my civil rights!’ and then threw a shotglass into a mirror. And that started the riots. In GAA this became known as ‘The Shotglass that was Heard Round the World’ In this case the mythology reflects the facts And I think that when we weigh all the evidence together We have to conclude it’s extremely likely that she was among the first to physically resist the police. Tommy: A spark comes along and it’s like near gasoline and it goes -KABANG- And that’s what that happened that night. And so don’t ever think that if there were no Stonewall… That it would just be like it is now. Because it was a horrible world before that. We were all runaways and some of them were 14 years old. Some people had scalding water thrown on them by their parents. People that couldn’t go back home no matter what. And couldn’t go back to school no matter what. And that… group of people was the catalyst in the riot. It was the street kids who had nothing to lose. That were the force that got it going. History isn’t something that you look back at and say ‘Oh that’s inevitable. That would have happened anyway.’ No, it happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive and of the moment But… Those moments are cumulative realities. Newscaster: Why are you here today? DARLING I WANT MY GAY RIGHTS NOW! Marsha: That’s when I started my little rioting… Of wanting to get into this… fabulous little dress… And this fabulous little hairdo here… And learn how to do makeup… And come out– because I found out that my body was worth some money in those days. I found out if you’re a pretty boy or a pretty little transvestite, you can make a couple little dollars And that’s why I learned how to hustle. And I found out the prettier you look as a little boy or the prettier you look as a little boy made up as a girl That’s the most money you’re gonna make. And the best way to do it is with your own natural hair. Wigs and stuff like that were in in the 60s but the ones that used the most money was the the boys that looked like girls who could wear their own hair with just a little bit of makeup. And have little hormone tits. Because that’s when the girl’s hormones start coming out in the 60s. Just before the Stonewall Riots and people were just starting to really get into it. Bob: And I used to go to the piers, before it was as fancy as it is now, We all hung out and went sunbathing. And I would be sitting there and suddenly Marsha would come along and grab my shirt and she always called me by my two names: Bob Kohler Never called me ‘Bob’. Ever. And she’d say, ‘Bob Kohler! Give me!’ And I’d say ‘Marsha would you stop?’ And suddenly Marsha would be naked Stark naked in broad daylight down at the Pier. And she’d say, ‘My father needs those clothes!’ And I would be hanging onto my clothes for dear life. And Marsha would be trying to get them off. And she would usually get just like a shirt at the most And she’d throw it in the river, and these were sacrifices to her father and to Neptune who got all mixed up together. Randy: Marsha only very rarely talked about her father. She did tell me once when she had looked into the river. And had seen her father at the bottom of the river. Agosto: She was making offerings of flowers and change to King Neptune as an appeasement to help her friends who were on the other side. Then she would, after she settled all of that, she sort of snarled at me for not giving all my clothing. She would go up Christopher Street where she would be picked up about mid-way I mean somebody would see Marsha, naked queen walking up the street and they would call the police and they would take her away for about Two or three months. And they would put an implant in her spine of thorazine, I think it was. And that would calm her down. And then she would come back and be like a zombie For about a month and then she’d be the old Marsha. Back to Neptune and her father. Marsha: My first… mental breakdown started in 1970. It started falling down hill. And it’s been falling up and down hill ever since. Marsha: I walked right down to Andy Warhol’s office. And walked in. He took some photos and then he made a group of silk screens called ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’. And he had me as a blonde. With a ponytail. He called it Mary Hartman. Michael: Andy Warhol was the arbiter of what was fabulous. Let’s face it. When he walked into a room, you knew it was a room worth being in. And he would hand pick, by his visual sense, who was worth capturing whether in a painting or in a Polaroid. For him to do a Polaroid of Marsha makes her legendary. It means she she caught the eye of Andy Warhol. She was worth capturing. She was like… The transgender version of a Campbell’s soup can. But much prettier. Marsha: I was no one! Nobody! From nowhere’sville! Until I became a drag queen. That’s what made me in New York. That’s what made me in New Jersey. That’s what made me in the world. Sasha: We went on Christopher Street, they had a silkscreen of Marsha. And they threw us out of the store. They called her ‘riff raff’. Really ! She got– We went to go look at her silk screen. She was so proud of it. And we got thrown out of the store. Marsha: When I became a drag queen, I started to live my life as a woman. Randy: Marsha’s success in life wasn’t something that suddenly happened because Andy Warhol did a portrait of her. Andy Warhol did a portrait of her after she literally became a larger than life legend by having converted so many people into fans and friends Going out, she’d always say little things to people Like ‘Have a nice day!’ I thought, ‘Well you know’ But it’s funny. Those things must matter because she had a special way of making a little extra effort to be extra polite and nice to people. And that really made people love Marsha. Danny: The people get lost in the telling of the story They want the bigger picture, what’s going to be there that there was a riot, and this is what happened that there were drag queens They don’t really get into the individual people who were more than the Stonewall Riot. And these were people that were bigger than life that walked the streets here. Tommy: Marsha is like… in the class of… Saint of gay life. I mean, if you ever heard of this old Russian tradition that was called ‘Fools for God’. Randy: Friends and many people who knew Marsha called her ‘Saint Marsha’. Because she was so generous and she was such a good person. A queen would come up and say, ‘Marsha that brooch is so beautiful!’ And Marsha’d say, ‘Oh you like it?’ Take it right off, and give it to her. Sasha: She was simple, pure. She her bad days and she’d let you know it. She had so many breakdowns and the gay community recognized she was a saint. That’s never been done. In their lifetime. It’s so practical too, you know. Tommy: Marsha was totally mad but one of the greatest geniuses on the face of the Earth. Martin: She was outrageous in a different manner And she was noticed first for that. But talks then started about her activism. It made her very different. It made people think twice about her. And made people want to stop to talk to her and made people listen. Marsha: I’ve been in gay liberation since it first started in 1969 I was one of the first drag queens to try and help the drag queens and other people have food. At Alternate Youth. Alternate Youth was one of the places that we first tried to help college queens open their doors to gay liberation. I started getting in newspapers, on the TV set for gay pride parades. I was one of the queens that helped feed the queens that were hungry. And I started the STAR House. Well, I didn’t actually start the STAR House Sylvia Rivera started the STAR House. And I was just one of the queens that was behind her, like the VP of STAR Ron: I knew Marsha was very into political activities in the West Village in the 60s and the 70s And the group of, I guess they were all transvestites called themselves STAR — S – T – A – R. Street Transvestite Activist [sic] Revolutionaries Which made a lot of sense and I thought it was kind of hilarious. Cause they were all stars anyway. Marsha: Sylvia Lee Rivera deserves all of the credit for STAR. Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. Because she was one of the people that was in the riots that got arrested a lot for gay rights. Randy: One big thing in Marsha’s life and also in Sylvia’s life was that they had formed a group called STAR. Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. And they had managed to get some small time mobster who ran a porno store to give them an apartment or something in the Lower East Side In this slum building which for a few months they operated as a shelter for homeless transgender youth. And they felt that that was one of their great accomplishments in life. And actually that has ended up going into the history books. Cause it was really the first time anyone had ever tried to make an outreach to homeless transgender community. Especially youth that are kicked out of their homes for being transgender. Marsha: She was talking about nobody’s representing her and her rights as a transvestite. Cause they had all these gay men and all these gay women working at the gay center but they didn’t have any transvestites. She wanted to have her own group and I think that was wonderful. And I hope some day she gets her credit. I hope somebody writes a life story about her someday. Jimmy: Well Marsha, how are you darling? How are you doing this Gay Pride week? Marsha: Uh, well it’s going fine so far. [Audience Laughs and Applauds] I’m selling t-shirts on Christopher Street in case anybody’s interested from 2-4 tomorrow and Friday from 6-9 [Audience Applauds] I’m doing my part in the gay movement this year to help raise money for the Gay Pride March. [Audience Applauds] Marsha: I was working as a waiter for Charles’ restaurant and all people used to do was sit and complain about their hamburgers and I said, ‘Honey I’m not gonna be a hamburger jingler for the rest of my life. I wanna be a drag queen! I wanna be one of the world’s biggest drag queens. So I got an offer from the Hot Peaches in the 70s… Michael: Anything went with the Hot Peaches. It really pushed the edge back when there was an edge to push. And it was sort of like The Cockettes goes maybe more theatrical and more legit. *singing* As she became… the proverbial… hit. *boing noise* Marsha: And Jimmy was the original one that first came and asked me to be in there, Jimmy Camicia. Ron: Jimmy Camicia, the leader of the Hot Peaches, He always saw talent underneath you and he liked flamboyant people and… then he could bring it out. He could bring the talent out. I thought he brought a lot of that out in Marsha. Jimmy: Marsha was a very big performer. I mean, really… very large on stage. And that doesn’t ever come across on video. Jimmy: When I say she was big, the generosity of her spirit was always right there… in front of the audience. And they adored her! It was not censored. It was not figured out. It was just there. Jimmy: And now, ladies and gentlemen, Marsha P. Johnson! [Applause] *singing* Me and my lavender balloon… Is gonna take me to the moon… I’m gonna blow it up quite soon… I’m simply waiting for… I’m simply waiting for a tune! Jimmy: The thing that audiences loved about her you couldn’t record it! You can’t record the generosity of spirit. You know, you can’t record kindness. It… Just didn’t work but… when you saw it… Jimmy: We’re now going to give you ‘One More Time, Love’ By Marsha P. Johnson [Applause] [Applause] *singing* It’s a sappho to an island… It’s an Oscar to Estelle… It’s in Scarlet through the fire… It’s in Dante straight to Hell… Now let’s not be pessimistic… I did not mince words or try… Make no mistake… Unless it’s fake… The price you pay is high… …The price you pay is high… The price you pay is high! [Applause] Jimmy: In one gig, I gave her this little song to sing. Now most songs are like three minutes long. This song was maybe 50 seconds. And she read it, the whole thing, you know And she went out every night, it was a simple song… And she obliterated the song, I mean it was a disaster. But they loved it! They went beserk! So one day I said to her, ‘Marsha… This is a very short song. Let me go over it with you and show you how to sing it properly. And, you know, this way you go out there and It’ll be really nice. She said, ‘Okay…’ So I go through the song with her, and she gets it. Perfectly. She goes out that night. She sings it! Perfectly! Big round of applause. She comes off. I said, ‘Marsha, that was great!’ Next night, she goes out on stage. She ruins the number! Just destroyed it. They go beserk. She came off stage. I said… ‘Marsha… what happened?’ She said, ‘They like it better that way.’ [Audience laughs and applauds] And they did… Jimmy: Now ladies and gentlemen, In case you didn’t get the message… But I know you did. Because I can see that this audience is the message. [Crowd murmur] We have someone to sum it up for you. Miss Marsha P. Johnson. [Applause] Hello ladies and gentleman! I am here to say a poem for you called, ‘Soul’. You can count your karma if Nirvana is your goal. You can shake and you can rattle. You can rock and roll. You can be a Clark Kent or a Louis or an Alice down a hole. You can be a vampire on a mountain… with a heart of stone black coal. You can be a leather angel on a sleek, black Harley bike… or a redhead screaming faggot or a dazzling dyke. [Applause] You can lock yourself in a closet… in a fine mink stole. But it really doesn’t matter if you ain’t got soul. [Applause and cheering] Jimmy: The funny thing is, they kept writing in the paper, ‘Oh one of the best things in the show is Marsha P. Johnson But we think she was having an off night’. [Audience Laughs] Marsha: Honey, I was one of the biggest hustlers in New York City! I used to make like $125 an hour working up on Broadway. I was in and out of those hotels like nobody’s business. Agosto: The Hotel Dixie, which reformed and called itself, ‘The Carter Hotel’ was a sleeze bag that some of us who were on 42nd Street, you know, could rent by the hour. Martin: It was full of characters. And some of them not too, you know, not too wholesome. No, it was a dangerous life she was living. I mean, I lived a dangerous life but you would not find me in the Dixie. You know. I mean these people were really on the edge. Marsha: I had so much trouble, it’s a miracle I’m still here! I mean, honey, people used to come and bring guns … Martin: By the late 60s, probably around the 70s… it was very, very dangerous period. I mean gays were beaten up just for wearing tennis sneakers. Never mind a wig. And Marsha was a perfect target for some boys that had nothing better to do. Some roughs had grabbed her wig and threw it into the river. And when she protested and BLANG!. They threw her in after. And I said, ‘Is she dead?’ They said, ‘No, no. They just threw her in the river.’ But I just couldn’t imagine being in that river and surviving. I said, ‘She must know how to swim.’ There were things, layers of information about Marsha… she must be a good swimmer. She must know how to hold onto a pier. And she certainly could climb very well. Cause the river may not look far away but how do you get out of it? So I was fascinated by this story. And then when I saw her, you know, she was fine. She never answered that question. She just went, ‘Oh, that’, when I tried to bring up the story. Marsha: I mean, yeah honey, people used to come and bring guns and pull guns out on me because they didn’t think I was You know, I would tell them I was a boy in drag. And I would tell them that I was going hustling And would they want to go out? And they’d say, ‘Yes I wanna go out’ And then when they get up in the hotel I’d take off my clothes, and they’d say, ‘I can’t believe you’re a boy! Some people couldn’t believe I wasn’t a real woman. Honey, I was just a transvestite. And then I’d look in the mirror and said, ‘Maybe he could have thought I was’ I don’t know… I wouldn’t be for sure! Cause I’d be so heavily painted Maybe it’s because of my voice? I don’t know… Marsha: There was just once in a while, I would run into this lunatic Who actually have in his mind that I was a woman. And I mean, I’d tell him I was a boy and he just wouldn’t you know, just wouldn’t believe it until he’d seen everything down my pants. Another day, another illusion… [Laughs] Marsha: I have been arrested about a million times for prostitution. From New York to Florida to California. Randy: Marsha would frequently disappear. For 4, 5, 6, 7 days at a time. And I’d say to Willie, ‘Where’s Marsha?’ And he’d say, ‘She must be in jail.’ And sure enough, about 10 days later, she’d walk in. Because she’d gotten a 30 day sentence and they always let her out after 10 days even though she had a 30 day sentence. Marsha: I’m telling you, every time they pick you up, They pick you with something like loitering… Uh, with intent to prostitute, or something like that sometimes Because a smart prostitute never goes out in the car and names her price. Marsha: They always treat me like I’m the world’s murderer! The highest murderer in the world! Though I was arrested… I mean they think I’m out here to murder people instead of having sex with them for money. The P in my name also… They call me Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson. I try and pay a lot of those little things that happen to me in life absolutely no mind. Bob: It was Marsha P. Johnson. And the P stood for, “Pay it no mind”. Uh, which Marsha once told a judge. I went down to bail her out of court. And Marsha was in the docket. And she came up and the judge Bruce Rice looked at it and He said, ‘Marsha P. Johnson?’ And she said… she had a very flat voice, her field voice, she said, ‘Yeeees?’ And he said, ‘What does the P stand for? And she had the nerve to snap Judge Rice, and she said… “Pay it no mind!’ [Laughs] And he said, ‘Well that’s exactly what I’m gonna do. Now get outta here!’ Go on! [Applause] Marsha: “Pay It No Mind’ Johnson. Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson I started Marsha P. Johnson as a drag queen name because I used to go down to 42nd Street and everybody used to call me “Michelle”. and I didn’t think that was a nice name for a boy. That’s where I got the name “Johnson” from Howard Johnson’s restaurant. Marsha: And I’m every year in the Stonewall parade. There was a time when they even didn’t want me in the Stonewall car. Randy: Harry Cipraid who ran the Gay March and the Gay Festival tried to ban transvestites from the parade in 1978. Agosto: And, yes, there were fellow gay men who would cast an evil eye at you and say, ‘Ugh! They’re giving us a bad name’ Randy: Because after all, I mean You would turn on the TV, there was a Gay Pride Parade And all they’d show were the drag queens. So, what Sylvia and Marsha did is they went ahead of the opening banner… and as two transvestites, I guess with some friends, they marched in front of the parade so it made them end up leading the whole parade. So the committee decided We’ve got to include transvestites in our parade. Marsha: Ed Murphy was the one who put me in the Stonewall car in 1980. He took me from the back and put me up in the front. He had evidently watched me through the years since 1969 and thought that I had a right to be in that contingent of the parade. And he put me there. I never wanted to be there. I didn’t care where I marched in the Gay Liberation Parade. Ever since it first started. I didn’t figure that was important. Michael: Marsha was born for a parade. I mean, look at her! So it was only natural she would go to the Gay Pride Parade. She was somebody who put her life on the line. People think, ‘Oh the gay community just happened this way’ It didn’t. There people like Marsha, literally in the street, not just celebrating but fighting for rights. Marsha: I think the important thing was that we got our gay rights all across America, and all across the world. And got the right to be human beings just like other human beings. I wanted to see gays at least have a start in life because they’ve never really had a parade that was their own. They always had to hide in the closet of somebody else’s parade. Marsha: Yes, I know tons of people that have been sick with AIDS. I don’t think you should be ashamed of anybody that has AIDS. I think you should stand as close to them as you can. And help them out as much as you can. I’m a strong believer in that and that’s how come I try and do that for everybody I know that has the virus. Including myself, I have HIV. I’ve had HIV for about 2 years. I mean, from helping sick people with AIDS and stuff That’s how I wound up in the hospital. I just finished helping my roommate who suffered and died of AIDS. Randy: Marsha lived here and she literally became the nurse for David. And I had to go to work and she was here all the time And she would change the linens and once he fell of the couch and swept him up. Marsha: I had to sit in the room with him when he died. And that was very scary to me… and I had a breakdown. Because I never had to sit in the room with anybody when they were dying. I thought that it would be screaming and hollering and everything But he didn’t do any of those things. He just stopped breathing. All of a sudden. And I had a breakdown and ended up in the hospital. Marsha: Now they got two nice statues in Sheridan Square Park to remember the Gay Movement. How many people have died for these two little statues to be put in the Park to recognize gay people. How many years… has it taken for people to realize that we’re all brothers and sisters and human beings in the human race? [Laughs] I mean How many years does it take for people to see that? We’re all in this rat race together. Marsha: I go to pray to Mary. I use Jesus Christ for most of my prayers most of the time. Cause I use the church in Hoboken and I go there and you can light a candle or go in a say a prayer You know, for people dying of AIDS. Randy: She was very, very religious. A neighbor came in and told me that at 6 in the morning they had gone to the Catholic church across the street. And Marsha was prostrate on the floor in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary. Sasha: And I would find her in the strangest churches She’d be dressed in velvet, throwing glitter And she never would face the altar She lay prostrate facing the door Because she thought, you don’t look at the altar. Marsha: I practiced the Catholic religion because the Catholic religion is part of the Santería of the Saints which says that we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ. James: Marsha would always say she went to the Greek church, she went to the Catholic church, she went to the Baptist church, she went to the Jewish chapel, She was covering all angles. Marsha: I love people that think that I’m this stupid little street queen, out there begging for change on the street cause there’s nothing else she knows how to do. I always now and then meet these young people that don’t have nobody who wants to stick by them and help them, you know. So I help them out. With, like, a place to stay or some food to eat or a little change for their pocket. And they don’t never forget it. A lot of times I’ve reached my hand out to younger people in the gay community that just didn’t have nobody to help them out. And they were down and out. Randy: When she would take her last two dollars Willie once said to me, ‘We only had $2!’ ‘And we bought a box of cookies.’ And you know, by the time we walked down to the river, Marsha had given away all the cookies that we had spent our last $2 on!’ The reason for that is because Marsha had been hungry, had lived on the streets, and she knew that a chocolate chip cookie to a starving queen was a great gift. Marsha: Every once in awhile I’d reach my hand out when I had dollars and I help somebody. I’m not gonna have anything when I die because I don’t have a coat. Agosto: Jesus with that loaf of bread and that fish, Marsha always had something to share. Not only her good will and thoughts. A bag of potato chips. She would just hand to the group of kids. Marsha: I got this dress… I’m just like Cinderella again! I have this one little tired dress and I have this here dress just in case I meet my billionaire husband. And that’s just… the only two dresses I own in my whole life. Marsha: I don’t have to do the streets anymore. Because I decided, darling, that it wasn’t worth it. I never, ever had to do the streets in my whole life. I never had to have to have sex with anybody for money ever. I just only did it because I wanted to see if I could get away with it. And I pretty much succeeded. Marsha: Yes, I got shot on a West Side highway. I went out with a taxi cab driver, and the taxi cab driver f*cked me. He gave me $20. And let me get out of the cab. I went to run away from the taxi, And the man pulled out a gun and fired.
It was scariest thing in my whole life. I thought that I was dead that Sunday morning. I thought, ‘Oh the Lord is finally calling my name. I’m going home.’ But they couldn’t get the bullet out. It was too close to the spine. Here’s where it went in, right over here. And the bullet’s still there after 12 years! [Laughs] I’m dying, dying, dying but I ain’t dead yet. Being a hooker is no easy business for no one. It’s one of the most dangerous businesses that you can be in but if that’s the only thing you know how to do…. Uh… I’d say it’s a pretty sad story for anyone, you know, including myself. But I think that I liked the thought that somebody would want to pay me. That’s what kept me in the business for such a long time. I couldn’t believe that my body would ever be worth anything to anyone. I couldn’t see all the stuff they could use me for less than a book of matches. But they want to give you nothing! Nothing! Not even a cigarette, or a cup of coffee! Nothing whatsoever. I thought that was the life that I was going to be living as a homosexual. A person just going out with people and having sex with them on the street or inside of a truck and you have sex for 5 or 10 minutes. They get their rocks off, you get your rocks off. And that’s it. I thought that was going to be my whole life story as a homosexual. Which isn’t exciting. It’s not like my mother said. You’re going to meet this– I wanted what my mother said. My mother said, ‘You’re going to meet this billionaire homosexual boyfriend when you grow up. And he’s gonna take care of you for the rest of your life. Marsha: My mother said being homosexual, she thought I was lower than the dog. She said, “You’re gay, you’re lower than the dog.” But my mother never knew much about homosexuality. All she knew was she’d see men dressed in, uh, women’s hats and dresses and come to the bar. She never investigated, she never came to a Gay Pride March. She didn’t know that much about homosexuality. And her whole life she never wanted to know much about homosexuality. When I was 18 years old, honey, my mother didn’t have to show me the door. I had my high school diploma and that’s all I needed. A bag full of clothes. Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty! Free at last! I just had $15 for the bus to the Port Authority. I said if my mother can move out on her own with nothing. $15 is certainly going to set me up in this world Little did I know. And I got out there and I saw and I learned to go out with different men. I waited on tables. And I learned how to survive. 1963, for better or worse. And I said I got the Lord on my side, And I took him in my heart with me And I came to the city. For better or worse. And He said, ‘You might wind up with nothing!’ Cause you know me and Jesus are always talking. And I said, ‘Honey, I don’t care if I never have nothing ever till the day I die.’ All I want is my freedom. And that’s how I came and that’s how I’ve been living here. Day after day With whatever I have. I don’t even care if I lose all these clothes tonight… I see myself in a house on Venus waiting for you to come and say hello! I’m not planning to live 20 more years. I don’t want 20 more years of this wonderful life of disco romance. They call me a legend in my own time because there’s so many queens gone that I’m one of the few queens that’s still left from the 70s and the 80s. But I’m not the only one. There’s several legendary queens. Agosto: She was a bodhisattva, a holy person, a saint, on street corners. Every day on Christopher Street. And people could walk past her, ignore her and be blind to her. But those who saw her and understood She is a reminder of what the Village was and what other younger people can be. Marsha: Tomorrow night’s the candlelight vigil. The candlelight vigil’s for people who died of AIDS. And we’ve had it for 7 years. And, I just don’t like to miss one because I never know who’s next. I never know if it’s going to be me or one of my best friends. And I like to say I think that all those who died of AIDS should be remembered for all the courage they had in fighting… the disease instead of just laying down and dying, you know. It’s gonna be the 1st year that we’re marching down 5th Avenue. Completely. I think that as long as people with AIDS and as long as gay people don’t have their rights, all across America, there’s no reason for celebration. That’s how come I walk every year. That’s how come I’ve been walking for gay rights all these years. Instead of riding in cars and celebrating everything. Cause you never completely have your rights for one person until you all have your rights. And I figured as long as there’s one gay person that has walked for gay rights, then all of us should be walking for gay rights. [Applause] And if I die, I hope nobody cries neither. I hope you stand up and dance, party and have a good time. [Laughs] [Music] Randy: We knew that towards the end she was getting more fragile, I think that she was getting sicker. And she… I got a phone call and they said Marsha had come up from the bottom of the river. And it was true. Marsha may have hallucinated and thought she saw her father in the bottom of the river. Or might have thought she could walk home across the river to Hoboken on the water. Or she could have been harassed and jumped in the river to escape. We’ll never really know. Michael: The word went out in the community that Marsha had been found in the river and supposedly it was a suicide. She had been harassed in that area. Obviously this was some kind of shady killing that had gone on. But unsurprisingly, the cops just twiddled their thumbs and said, ‘No, no. It’s a suicide. It’s a black gay person. We don’t care. We’re not going to investigate any further.’ And everybody was outraged. Bob: When we gave Marsha the funeral up at the church, we hadn’t counted on hundreds of people coming. The church was packed. They had to stop the people from coming in. Her ashes were going to be carried down to the river. Well, we had arranged to walk on the sidewalk when I looked around, there were literally hundreds of people and we couldn’t. So I talked to one of the police who I knew, I had a store on Christopher Street, so I knew most of them. And I said, ‘Look We’re family. I can’t do it. You’ve got to give us the street.’ And he said, ‘We can’t give you the street, you need a permit’. Yadda, yadda. I said, ‘Look. It’s for Marsha.’ And the head cop looked at me and said, ‘Marsha was a good queen.’ ‘Go ahead, give them the street’. And we got the street for Marsha’s funeral. So it was that kind of effect that Marsha would have. Which Tommy was talking about. People you wouldn’t expect. The Chief of Police to suddenly close down 7th Avenue because Marsha Johnson was gonna be carried down to the river. Voice: Bye Marsha! [Music] Love you Marsha! Marsha, love you! Take care! Marsha: Take care! [Unintelligible] Tomorrow! Marsha: But tomorrow, this outfit is a little loose…
But tomorrow we got a different color! Bye! Marsha: Take care! I will be working!