The Night I Met Stormé DeLarverie, the Lesbian Who Threw the First Punch at Stonewall

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When I first saw Storme DeLarverie in the mid-1980’s I was, as a lesbian in my early 30’s living in New York City, a regular at the Cubby Hole and Fat Cat’s, two popular lesbian bars in the West Village. Storme was often working the door at both clubs as a bouncer. She was a friendly older butch who, on first impression, seemed kind and very tolerant of us younger women. Storme always had a smile and a hello for you while, without words, simultaneously letting you know you had better behave yourself while in her presence.

She is our history. She was the woman who took the first step to free us to live the lives we enjoy today. That “step” was a punch at the Stonewall Inn on June 27, 1969.

I had no idea I’d be reading her obituary in both the New York Times and the Washington Post when she died on May 24, 2014, at age 93. Every time, no matter how many times I read those obituaries, I would cry. She is our history. She was the woman who took the first step to free us to live the lives we enjoy today. That “step” was a punch at the Stonewall Inn on June 27, 1969.

Storme didn’t talk about Stonewall back in those club doorways in the 1980’s.  Through a mutual friend, a fellow lesbian who often drummed in my band, I met Mickey. Mickey was an older lesbian who always wore a beautiful forest green suit and slicked her hair back. In any piano bar where she could, she would get up and sing a husky-voiced version of the old chestnut “Kansas City” and do a pretty good job of it.

Mickey offered a window into our cultural history as lesbians that was difficult to find going back to the days when one could get arrested for wearing three pieces of the opposite sex’s clothing. I was hearing it from a woman who lived it.

Mickey had been a drag king back in the day when such performers were called male impersonators. We became friends who hung out together more than just in the bars. I liked Mickey and I like history. Mickey offered a window into our cultural history as lesbians that was difficult to find going back to the days when one could get arrested for wearing three pieces of the opposite sex’s clothing. I was hearing it from a woman who lived it.

One day in Fat Cat’s Mickey asked me if I wanted to be introduced to Storme. They were old friends from way back. I said “sure” and at that time Mickey told me Storme had been a well-known drag king she had worked with. She also told me Storme had thrown the first punch at Stonewall. Somewhat dumbfounded, I was introduced. After we shook hands I found out Storme’s kindness was real. She was low key and seemed to like talking to me. After that meeting I would spend some time talking to her when she was working the door. She’d give me a little history of the neighborhood and so forth. I enjoyed our talks and I think she did too. I was one of the youngsters who was interested. She didn’t talk much about Stonewall and I left it alone, not wanting to press too much.

One day at her apartment, Mickey took out a scrapbook and showed me a photo of Storme from her drag king days. I saw one of the most handsome men I had ever seen in that photo.

One day at her apartment, Mickey took out a scrapbook and showed me a photo of Storme from her drag king days. I saw one of the most handsome men I had ever seen in that photo. I wanted to look like that and that image stuck with me. After my career in music went somewhere I did my best to channel that image in my videos. I never forgot it. Those videos are as much a tribute to Storme as they are to any male performer. Maybe more.

 

Decades later I read Charles Kaiser’s book, “The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America”. Kaiser supports the claim that Storme did throw that first punch at Stonewall. He makes a good case for it. Her career as the male impersonator MC at the Jewel Box Revue during the mid-1950’s through the 1960’s is discussed. She was the only woman on-stage at the famous drag show.

The biggest lesson both Storme and Mickey taught me was the true meaning of gay pride. I could never imagine either of these women bowing to anyone and apologizing for who they were. Both lived openly in a hostile world. One of them had enough of it one summer night in New York City and changed our lives for the better. Now as we watch as the climate in America is turning against us once again remember Storme and those like her. Never accept it. It is our obligation to do what Storme did for us and make it better for the next generation.


Susan SurfTone is a surf/rockabilly musician and former FBI agent making waves in the surf rock revival scene. Check out her latest album and come back to AfterEllen for more stories from her incredible life.