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Michela Griffo was born in 1949 in Rochester, New York, into a large, unruly family of Irish, Germans, Italians—what Michela calls the United Nations of families. Her family drank a lot, and by the time she was 11, Michela was hiding a flask of vodka in her convent school uniform. Michela left home at 16, graduated from the University of Michigan, and earned her master’s degree in photography from the Pratt institute in New York by the time she was 23. In June 1969, her pending marriage to an Orthodox Jewish man was nixed over religious differences. Months later (after a quick detour to Woodstock), Michela fell in love with an Eileen Ford model named Agneta Freiberg. Friends told her that if she pursued this path, her life would be ruined. It made no sense to her—she was the same person she had always been! Spotting an ad in the Village Voice for a group called the Gay Liberation Front, which had sprung up after the Stonewall riots, Michela went down and joined. She loved the group’s focus on social justice and intersectionality. She also participated in the Lavender Menace’s uproarious action to interrupt the NOW national convention. “I was an outlaw then,” Michela says, “and I’m an outlaw now.”
 
Michela’s first piece of political art was a poster for the first Pride march in June 1970. It read, “I am your worst fear, I am your best fantasy.” It enraged her that the very people who fetishized lesbians were terrified of their actual existence. Michela wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines producing abstract paintings. “I wanted to tell the truth of what I saw in our society.” Over the course of the 1970s and early 1980s, Michela’s art career flourished, even as she descended into a deep well of alcoholism. Over time, she found her sobriety, earned a master’s degree in social work at New York University, worked for many years in the art department at Colgate Palmolive, and continued to practice her art. She has also been deeply involved with Remote Area Medical, which provides essential medical services to the poorest communities in the U.S. 
 
Michela holds strong opinions, and she is not shy about sharing them. She rejects the word queer. She states that she is not transphobic, but refuses to recognize transgender women as women. Michela’s opinions are controversial and, to some people, offensive. She’s refuses to back down, even when she feels like a stranger to the community she embraced more than 50 years ago.
 
Recently, a woman asked to photograph Michela for a project she was doing. When Michela agreed, the woman asked where she would you like to be photographed. “In the Museum of Natural History, standing in front of a dinosaur,” Michela replied, “because that's how I feel.”
Mason Funk: [00:00:00] That's why I will have my phone on my lap. What I've done is, I'll give you a little bit of an overview. I took the questionnaire, which I appreciate, and I kind of built my interview questions around it. And clearly, I don't know, like when you mentioned Colgate Palmolive, I'm like, Oh that's the first I've heard of that company.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] What I don't have a clear sense of is how you made a living all these years. So you gave me a little bit of info.
Michela Griffo: Oh, I'll be happy to tell you.
Mason Funk: Sometimes it's nice just to have a little bit of an overview because otherwise people will think that you're stuck in the 1970s and clearly you're not because [crosstalk]
Michela Griffo: Oh no, I had a huge life. I lived in Argentina for seven winters. I traveled all over the world, Cartagena. I've been in Venezuela -- which I will never go to again -- Cuba.
Mason Funk: So what I'll do is I'll have you give us a little bit of an overview, just so we can kind of have that expanse,
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] like the bird's eye view. But we'll spend most of our time going into more depth about specific, otherwise we don't have time to cover your entire life. Every single chapter.
Michela Griffo: Oh, Yeah. Ive had quite a life. Quite a life.
Mason Funk: And then we'll take a little break, probably, just to switch cards on the camera, and take a breath, in about an hour or so. You're good. One thing also to mention is are we rolling yet?
Michelle McCabe: [00:01:30] We are.
Mason Funk: Okay. Can you pause just for a second? Otherwise this is all super ...
Michela Griffo: Yeah, there should be something under your preferences.
Mason Funk: Years ago you got ... You were roughly 35 when you got sober?
Michela Griffo: Yes, yes, that's exactly right. Ive been not drinking for as long as I was drinking, because I started drinking at the age of four, I started with the cherries and the Manhattans. I knew there was something ... I thought it was the cherries that gave me a little buzz.
Michela Griffo: [00:02:00] Then my cousins and I started, because I'm half Irish, so my cousins and I started draining the drinks. One thing just led to another, and by the time I was a teenager, I was an active alcoholic. But I don't really talk about my family because I came from ... These drawings were done about growing up in a violent alcoholic home, in which there was sexual abuse, which I had denied for years and years. And I think part of the drinking was to keep that at bay.
Mason Funk: [00:02:30] Just to state the obvious, to the extent that you are comfortable talking about that, it can be incredibly valuable to other people who have experienced similar things and who don't know that there's a possible path to healing.
Michela Griffo: Oh, well, yeah. I mean, I'm happy to talk about the fact that I came from an alcoholic home, a very dysfunctional alcoholic home. I mean,
Michela Griffo: [00:03:00] every one of my first cousins either died of suicide, alcoholism. I had a cousin who's a little bit older than I was who left her children, her husband and three children to move to Mexico because heroin was cheaper there. I don't even know if she's still alive. But yeah, I came from a really ...
Mason Funk: Yeah, it's just, it can be very helpful to people to know. Oh my gosh.
Michela Griffo: Well that's why I became a social worker.
Mason Funk: Alright, well then we can ... Personal.
Michela Griffo: Well that's how I ended up at the Colgate Palmolive company and stayed.
Michela Griffo: [00:03:30] My last two years, I worked there full time because my boss was the vice president of corporate communication. She loved me, and she said to me, I know that someday you're going to want to retire. Because they all knew I was an artist and an activist and everything else. And she said, If you leave here as an independent contractor, you'll leave with nothing. But she said, I'm willing to make you, retroactively, a full time employee.
Michela Griffo: [00:04:00] You will leave with the benefits of a director. And that's what happened. I left Colgate-Palmolive with the ... I have never seen a bill for medical, ever. Dental, medical, everything is paid for by the Colgate Palmolive company. And I got my pay for two full years after I retired in 2006, including my bonus and I wasn't even still working there. So, as I say, if you have to work for a corporation, they were amazing.
Michela Griffo: [00:04:30] A lot of their top people were closeted gays, but they were always very sweet to me, and they were always like, you know, quietly, Oh, thank you. Thank you. But they had a lot of gay people in their top echelons, especially in the human resources department for some reason.
Mason Funk: Have they had some corporate executives come out since then?
Michela Griffo: I don't think so. I don't think so. I think I was one ... Because it was obvious in 1995, I had been working there five years when Arthur Dong made A Question of Equality: Outrage 69,
Michela Griffo: [00:05:00] and it was shown on public television here in New York. And of course everybody approached me the next day. It was shown on a Sunday night. Monday, I went to work, and everybody's like, Oh you know. They were just ... because a lot of people didn't know I was gay. One woman thought I must have like seven or eight children. She said, You're so nurturing. And I said, No, honey, I'm gay [inaudible] children. They're like, Whoa. And that's what I mean by, they got to know me as a person.
Michela Griffo: [00:05:30] Even when I freelanced at Con Edison, I work with these guys from like Brooklyn, whatever. They all knew I was gay, but they respected me because I respected them. I never walked in with a neon sign, says I am a lesbian. I worked at Con Edison, probably the early eighties.
Mason Funk: Let me pause you. Youre rolling already?
Michelle McCabe: I started rolling [inaudible]
Mason Funk: [00:06:00] Perfect. Okay, good. We'll circle back. Im gonna go back to the beginning. So, do me a favor, tell me your full name, spell it out, and tell me the date of your birth and where you were born.
Michela Griffo: I never kept the date of my birth.
Mason Funk: [inaudible]
Michela Griffo: I do? Oh my God. because I never publicly put my birth date anywhere. It's like my social security number.
Mason Funk: I noticed you didn't put it on your questionnaire. You don't have to state it, maybe just the year, or maybe the month and the year, but it's just nice for our records to know. Exactly.
Michela Griffo: [00:06:30] Okay. Okay. My name is Michela Griffo. My full name is Michela Anne Griffo. I was named after the Saint Anne. My grandmother had great devotion to the Saint Anne. I was born on July 26 of 1969. I mean not ...
Mason Funk: That was your spiritual birthday.
Michela Griffo: That was my spiritual birthday. 1949. Sorry, my spiritual birth. Yes.
Mason Funk: [00:07:00] Say it again, your actual birth date just so we have ...
Michela Griffo: July 26, 1949
Mason Funk: Where were you born?
Michela Griffo: I was born in Rochester, New York.
Mason Funk: And do me a favor, spell your first and last names.
Michela Griffo: It's M. I. C. H. E. L. A - G. R. I. F. F. O.
Mason Funk: Okay, great. Thank you. So, now, tell me a bit about your family, just your family background. Just paint me a little picture of the family you grew up in.
Michela Griffo: [00:07:30] Wow. Well, as I said, I'm a daughter of an immigrant. My mother was born in Bergamo, which is right below the Swiss Alps. She came here when she was 12 years old with her family. My father was an oral surgeon. He grew up in a place called Geneseo, New York. I came from a huge, combined ...
Michela Griffo: [00:08:00] It's like the UN, my family. There's a lot of Irish, Germans, intermarriage, Italians. It was just one of those huge families, And I was used to having a very insular type of childhood. I went to a convent school, I was raised in a convent, and all of our activities in those days seem to center around the family;
Michela Griffo: [00:08:30] family picnics, family this, family that. And one of the things that I grew up with was the idea that my family was no different than any other family. What I didn't realize was that everybody in my family was an alcoholic for the most part. So I didn't consider that my drinking was any different anyone else. Even when I was 11 years old, and brought a flask of vodka to school.
Michela Griffo: [00:09:00] I didn't see anything different about that. So, it was very hard for me as I got older as an adult and people would say to me, don't you think you have a problem? I'd be like, what? I just didn't get it that my life was falling apart because of that, because that's all I saw growing up. I left home at a very early age because of some things that were going on in my family.
Michela Griffo: [00:09:30] And I moved to New York City. I'd always loved New York City. My mother and I used to come here all the time to go to the opera, to go to the ballet. And when I first saw New York City, it was like, I used to watch these programs on Saturday mornings, children's television. And there was this one ... It took place in a place called Metropolis, and the doors would open and close like this,
Michela Griffo: [00:10:00] you know, and everybody wore these tin foil outfits or whatever. And when I saw New York City, I thought, Oh, this is it. This is Metropolis. And it always held a fascination for me. I came here, the summer when I was 16, and I already had a boyfriend. I was still in high school when I met Peter.
Michela Griffo: [00:10:30] He was a freshman at the university of Rochester and I was a junior at the convent school and I was taking college classes because I was so bored with what was going on. I'd always had a problem of being way too smart for everyone else. I lived in the library. You could see those books all over the place. I'm constantly reading. But, in any case, I came to New York,
Michela Griffo: [00:11:00] and I went back to finish my senior year of high school, and then I never went back again for many, many years. I went to school in the Midwest, my undergraduate, I went to the University of Michigan and then I came back to New York permanently in 1968 to go to Pratt Institute where I got my master of fine arts degree in photography.
Mason Funk: Great. Perfect. Great. Thank you for pausing as well. That's a great overview.
Mason Funk: [00:11:30] Now, just briefly, you mentioned previously that the culture of alcoholism is so pervasive in your family that your first cousins ... without going into too much detail, I know you want to keep some things, probably, but can you just give me a little bit ... Help people understand how pervasive that culture can be in a family and in your [inaudible]
Michela Griffo: Well, the basic culture is one of denial. In other words, that's
Michela Griffo: [00:12:00] when my father would be passed out in the living room; he was just tired. My father would crack up cars; well, it was the other person's fault. The word alcoholism was never mentioned in our home. My cousins, every single one of my first cousins is an alcoholic. This is on my mother's side of the family. I'm sure there were alcoholics on my father's side of the family, but because he was an orphan by the time he was 12,
Michela Griffo: [00:12:30] I never really met the people on my father's side of the family. My father was very involved in the Catholic church and all of that. But anyway, as I said, that culture was what formed the artist that I am today, because much of my work is about hypocrisy. When I gave my speech and my lecture in Minnesota recently, I said that ...
Mason Funk: [00:13:00] One second. How [inaudible] ...
Michelle McCabe: I cant hear it.
Mason Funk: You cant hear it at all?
Michelle McCabe: No. I mean, not really.
Michela Griffo: Oh, that should only go on for like a few seconds. Do you want to stop while it's going on or ...
Mason Funk: No, I'm just relying on Michelle to tell me if it's ... The mic is really, really, really good.
Michela Griffo: Okay. All right.
Mason Funk: Or is it going to kind of peak and then it's gonna [inaudible]
Michela Griffo: [00:13:30] yeah, yeah, yeah.
Mason Funk: When I gave my talk at the University of Minnesota.
Michela Griffo: Oh yeah. When I gave my talk and showed my work at the University of Minnesota, I said that all of my work; my vision, the way I see the world, came from growing up in an alcoholic home where you were always told what you saw was not what you saw and you were always walking on eggshells. So, I have like this hyper,
Michela Griffo: [00:14:00] whatever it is, where when I'm watching something or listening to someone, I immediately read between the lines. And so all of my work is about that. When you grow up in that kind of a home, you constantly second guess everything.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Great.
Mason Funk: [00:14:30] Now, let's cut to when you met your fiance's family, and [inaudible] this wasn't going to go, this wasn't going to work. You're going to have to help people understand what it was like in that era for Irish Catholic girl to meet the family of an Orthodox Jew and how that was just basically what happened. Like give us an understanding [crosstalk].
Michela Griffo: Okay, well, basically I was an Italian Catholic to them. [inaudible] my family is like I say mongrels. Anyway,
Michela Griffo: [00:15:00] I met Peter when I was 16 years old, and I was crazy about him. We were like, we're still ... That's another story that I want to tell because when I speak with teenagers who are gay, they always ask me what happened to Peter. So I'll tell you that story. Anyway, we were totally in love. We were living together on Horatio street. He was, at that time when I came back from Michigan and was a student at Pratt,
Michela Griffo: [00:15:30] he was already doing his internship at New York U medical center. He is now a psychiatrist. He's retired, of course. So, he was in medical school. I was at Pratt, we decided we were going to get married when I graduated from Pratt in 1970, so I graduated from Pratt in May of 1970. It was 1969, it was December of 1969.
Michela Griffo: [00:16:00] Actually, I don't know, was it at 68? I'm trying to remember now, because even I, you know, my memories ... Cause, I met Agneta in August. Okay, it would have been December of 1968 we went to meet his family. I had never met his family before. I didn't meet them at his graduation. I knew that they were Orthodox Jewish.
Michela Griffo: [00:16:30] I didn't know a lot about that because I had never met anyone, a Jewish, except my brother was married to a Jewish woman, my older brother Joe. But I didn't go to school with Jewish people. We didn't live in a Jewish neighborhood. I knew nothing about Judaism, basically. So, we got all dressed up, he put on his bar mitzvah suit. I put on my best dress, and we go to Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, which is where they were living. And we go to the apartment and the door opens
Michela Griffo: [00:17:00] and they're on this enormous couch is sitting his mother, both of his grandmothers. And, I think, it was like two of her sisters. It was just, all these five women are sitting on this couch and in unison they look up and they say, ah hah shiksa. Well, I had never heard that word. I didn't even know what it meant. I was like, Oh, I don't know. This doesn't look good. Peter turns around, he gives me like $10. Says, Go downstairs, take a cab, I'll be home later. So in those days,
Michela Griffo: [00:17:30] the cab drivers were these little old Jewish men to put their kids through City College, you know? I see this man, I said to him, Can you tell me what the word shiksa means? And he goes, Who called you that? I said, My fiance's family. He said, My dear, it means there isn't going to be a wedding. And sure enough, we tried for another six months. His mother wanted me to convert and I said, Mrs. Greenberg, I'm not stupid. My sister in law is Jewish. I said, I have found out
Michela Griffo: [00:18:00] that even if I were to convert to Judaism, my children would not be acceptable. I said, Peter and I had discussed it a long time ago that if we had children, I have no problem with the boys having a bris or whatever. They could have bar mitzvahs, whatever, but I am not going to convert. One thing led to another and finally his mother won out and we separated.
Mason Funk: [00:18:30] What was that like to separate from Peter?
Michela Griffo: Oh, I was just devastated, because I loved him. He was like the love of my life. He's the one that introduced me to opera. I should have known right away; opera, he did all the cooking, he chose the curtains, the linens, and all my friends in National Organization for Women, and the Redstockings, Where did you find this guy? Does he have a brother? You know, they just thought he was like terrific. Which he was.
Michela Griffo: [00:19:00] And we had a great sex life as well. I mean, it was like all of a sudden, one day it was just over because his mother didn't want him to marry me. The other thing was -- he was very upset about it -- right before we separated, my friend Bob had this big Harley and he was the art director over at Clairol and he invited me to what he called the small folk festival in White Lake, New York.
Michela Griffo: [00:19:30] So this is August of 1969. So we're going and we're driving up on his Harley to this small folk festival in White Lake, New York, this is August of 1969. So, were going, were driving up on his Harley, to this small folk festival in white Lake, New York. And I said to him, Oh, Bob, there must've been an accident or something. Look at this traffic. It's terrible. Well, the small folk festival turned out to be Woodstock. So I was at Woodstock. I mean, I have like one of these lives, it just would get better and better. I came home from Woodstock, and I,
Michela Griffo: [00:20:00] at the time, was a member of the Redstockings, which was one of the first, they were before even the National Organization for Women because Shulamith Firestone had written a very good book about feminism. When I was 16, I had gone to Harlem with a friend of mine and she got an illegal abortion and nearly died. My whole life has always been like, this is unacceptable. When we came home
Michela Griffo: [00:20:30] and thank God she had a friend who was a nurse, who came over. She would have bled to death, I swear to God, if she hadn't this friend throw her in a bathtub with ice cubes. But anyway, I joined the Redstockings because they were the first group that was not just a feminist group, but their main purpose was to end the New York state abortion laws and to make abortion legal. So I was used to being spit on and yelled at. We used to stand in Sheridan Square handing out leaflets and whatever.
Michela Griffo: [00:21:00] But we used to meet at Washington square Methodist church, which was the hotbed Judson Memorial and Washington Square Methodist were the hotbed of revolutionary people. And one day this very attractive blonde woman came up to me. I thought she wanted to know about the Redstockings, and she just started talking to me, would you like to go out for coffee? And then she asked me did I want to go to a party at Andy Warhols. I'm like, yeah.
Michela Griffo: [00:21:30] Her best friend was Viva and she was a very well known model. I mean I said, Gee, you look familiar. Of course, she was on the cover of every magazine, probably, that month, Vogue, Bazaar, you know. That was the beginning of meeting Agneta Freiberg. That's Agneta over there. I still never get over the death.
Mason Funk: [00:22:00] Tell me her name again and just tell me a bit about her. Annetta?
Michela Griffo: Agneta. A-G-N-E-T-A T, Agneta Frieberg. She was Eileen Ford's top model, and no one knew she was gay. There were other models that were gay as well, that Agneta would tell me about that. Nobody knew they were gay either. They all have these like beards, which are men that, you know. Actually, if you read in Karla Jay's book,
Michela Griffo: [00:22:30] she talks about the fact that I was with this model, and that we would go to the dances and things, but she couldn't march in the March because in those days, if you were not an American citizen and you were gay, you were like goodbye, and she couldn't risk that. But in any case, I didn't know we were dating. I mean, I had never been attracted to a woman. Even when I was at Pratt, I shared a studio. I mean, I lived on Horatio street,
Michela Griffo: [00:23:00] but at Pratt Institute we had studios and I shared a big room like this with two other women who were lovers, and I didn't get it. I wasn't homophobic, but I just didn't get it. [inaudible] I didn't get it. So, for six months, Agneta and I, when she was in town ... Usually, she was modeling somewhere exotic. But, we would get together, we would have dinner. She'd come to my place, we'd have dinner, and then she'd leave.
Michela Griffo: [00:23:30] And she had this fabulous loft on Great Jones Street. Nobody had a loft in those days. I mean, this was right across from the fire station. It was gorgeous with these big round windows and plants hanging in the windows and whatever. So I met her in August, and this is now February. And one night she came over and she said to me, she was about to leave, she said, Some night, you come and stay with Agneta, yes? And I thought you meant like a pajama party. I didn't know. And she kissed me. And from that moment on,
Michela Griffo: [00:24:00] I never even called myself bisexual. It was like the feeling that overcame me at that moment, and my feelings for her as a person. Well, when I told Susan Brownmiller, who was the person that got me into a consciousness raising group, I had designed the cover for their takeover of the ladies home journal, and I was very involved in feminist politics as well,
Michela Griffo: [00:24:30] at the time. Kate Millett and I were the Education Committee at the National Organization for Women. Well, when I told Susan, she was like, Oh my God, you're going to lose your home. You're gonna lose your job, nobody's going to speak to you anymore. This is insane. Are you crazy? You're not gay. I'm like, what? I was so incensed. This is unbelievable, treating me like this?
Michela Griffo: [00:25:00] And I used to read the village voice, every Wednesday, and I see this ad, Gay Liberation Front. That was it. I went right down to the Gay Liberation Front and the rest is history.
Mason Funk: So I'm fascinated by that story because it's so hard to understand how it could have been such a ... You said you never looked back. It was just instantaneous.
Michela Griffo: I loved her.
Mason Funk: [00:25:30] So it might lead someone to believe ... Well, I just would love to have you tell us as much as you can about how that transformation ... Whether it was about this specific person, but at the same time, you never went back to dating men.
Michela Griffo: No, I did go back to dating men. Oh yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay, so tell us about that. Help us understand
Michela Griffo: All right. I was totally in love with Agneta. We had wonderful times together. In 1971,
Michela Griffo: [00:26:00] she was murdered, in Paris, by a photographer who used to follow us around. He was stalking her, basically. And if you go on the internet, you will see that they say she died under mysterious circumstances. The truth is, and I don't want to get into a lawsuit with the Ford family or anybody else, but what happened was this guy went to her hotel room in Paris
Michela Griffo: [00:26:30] and threw her out an 11 story window. Now, Eileen Ford wanted everyone to believe that she committed suicide end of story because they did not want it getting out that she was a lesbian. So, there was a lot of hush hush going on. There was a lot of money to change hands, there was a lot of quiet, you know, whatever went on. And I was so devastated by that loss
Michela Griffo: [00:27:00] and the way that she was murdered because she was a lesbian and nobody would talk about it. Her close friends knew what went on. I knew the guy who had been stalking us. I would see him standing outside the fire station across from the entrance to her building. I dated a very lovely man for eight years after that. He bought two of my paintings, at a show that I had at that time in Soho,
Michela Griffo: [00:27:30] and I swore I would never have feelings for a woman again. Now. He was a lovely man. I don't want to give you his name, but he was one of the wealthiest men in America. Actually, the New York Times did this whole article about eight men in America who are the wealthiest men that nobody even knows about them. Lovely man. He developed Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with Harrison Ford,
Michela Griffo: [00:28:00] and he would ask me to marry him. He was crazy about me. He had an apartment on Park Avenue when I met him, 12 rooms, beautiful apartment. Bought my paintings, he was a collector of contemporary art. And I said, I can't marry you. I'm a lesbian. I say to him, someday I'm going to go to a party and I'm going to see a woman and she's going to look at me and I'm gonna look at her and that's going to be it for us. And I always try to tell people, because people often ask me, what is the difference between my love for a woman and my love for a man,
Michela Griffo: [00:28:30] because I did love him and I still, even today I love Peter, is that I cannot promise a man sexual fidelity, but I never would cheat on a woman lover. And that's the only difference for me. Exactly what happened after eight years, I went to a party, I met a woman and she looked at me and I looked at her and that was it. And so that was the end of that.
Michela Griffo: [00:29:00] Although, I love him. He's a wonderful guy. And, there was no animosity. Actually, I had encouraged him to get married, and he married right before I met this woman. What was really funny is that, every Saturday night, I would spend Saturday night and Sunday morning at his apartment. And after about two years of our doing this, I asked the concierge to leave two copies of the New York Times,
Michela Griffo: [00:29:30] the Sunday Times behind his door. He married this very conventional woman from Texas, a junior league woman, whatever. I used to call her No, No, Nanette, because he dropped her off on Saturday and then come home, she lived at the Barbizon, where men weren't allowed. So, when he got married, they went on their honeymoon to Paris, whatever. She comes into the apartment and the concierge stops her, says,
Michela Griffo: [00:30:00] Where are you going? Because he had said to the concierge, I'm getting married, I'll be gone for a month, and then my wife ... So he says, Where are you going? She said, I'm going to the -- and she names his name -- apartment. And he said, Oh, would you ask Mrs. if she would like me to continue delivering her copy of the Sunday Times? And she said, I'm Mrs. I get this hysterical call from Steven.
Michela Griffo: [00:30:30] Say to me, She wants to know who the other Mrs. Gordon is. So anyway, that's ...
Mason Funk: That's hilarious.
Michela Griffo: So that's what happened. After Agneta died, I didn't even look at ... Even though I was very active in gay politics always, even when I was with him. But I just refused to ... I never called myself bisexual. I said to him, I am a lesbian. I know that that is ... It is a definite sexual preference.
Michela Griffo: [00:31:00] That was awakened in me when I met Agneta Frieberg. I could never deny it after that.
Mason Funk: That definitely is helpful to understand because as you know ... Well, first of all, I've made a point with this project of interviewing people from the LGBT, so lots of bisexual activists who really claim that title. And so it's very interesting to hear you explain, no, this is why I do not call myself bisexual. How you make that distinction.
Michela Griffo: [00:31:30] And I will always call myself a lesbian. When I started my speech at the New York historical society, I said, I am a generic lesbian. I'm not gender fluid. I'm not -- all these word salad, you don't hear the word lesbian at all anymore. I am not cisgender. I am a woman, period. This eradication of the L in the LGBT has got to end, as far as what ... We can get into that later, but yes, yes. Yeah.
Mason Funk: [00:32:00] Well get to that. Definitely got questions on [crosstalk]. Give me one second. I got thrown off. Okay, good.
Michela Griffo: Sorry.
Mason Funk: No, and like I say, we don't shy away from controversy here, so we will get back to these.
Michela Griffo: Oh, definitely. I don't shy away from it either.
Mason Funk: [00:32:30] Yeah. What were the parties, because you did mention going to the Andy Warhol party and I assume there were ...
Michela Griffo: Oh, several of them. Yes. The picture,
Mason Funk: Paint us a picture again. It feels, in a way, like, not ancient history, but it's a different era. So paint us a picture of what those parties were like, some of the people you saw there, and what that period was like. Both for you and in the city of New York.
Michela Griffo: Well, the city of New York was like Dresden after the war.
Mason Funk: Give me the time frame, give me the date or roughly ...
Michela Griffo: [00:33:00] Well, the 70s. The 70s in New York city were ... First of all, everything that was gay was hidden, basically. Like, I used to go to a place, there used to be a great place called The Sanctuary. It was way before Studio 54. It was in a church way over on 10th Avenue. And the straight people used to go for the drag show, which was started at midnight, but it was all bikers and gays. Straight people would come, and there'd be an area that was kind of roped off for the straight people.
Michela Griffo: [00:33:30] There was a great underground gay scene in New York City -- these bars that were all run by the mafia, of course. The parties that I went to, like Andy's parties, I met what would become a lot of very creative people that started a culture, like underground culture, whatever you want to call it.
Michela Griffo: [00:34:00] It was like a culture of experimentation. Out of that came the Theater of the Ridiculous, Charles Ludlam, Everett Quinton, the WOW Cafe in the 80s -- a lot of great people came out of the WOW Cafe. I mean, you really should interview people like Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver, because they started this whole thing
Michela Griffo: [00:34:30] about fracturing the fairy tales, feminism. But it was still a very male culture, men could do anything. Lesbians were kind of invisible. But the parties were great. I mean, I don't know what you want to know about the parties, but they were just freaks. Everybody was freaks. It was wonderful. Right straight through the 80s on the punk and all of it. It was great just to be a freak. These kids today, I don't understand them at all.
Michela Griffo: [00:35:00] They're all walking around with computers and cell phones. I don't understand their world of creativity. I go see their art shows; to me, they're just like, eh, you know. They're like, I don't know.
Mason Funk: We're going to jump forward and then we'll jump back in. But in today's culture it is very different millennial-based culture. Do you see anything that reminds you at all? In the adoption of new language, terms like genderqueer, gender fluid?
Mason Funk: [00:35:30] Even though you don't relate to those terms, but you see them in the same way as kind of like trying to continue to experiment? Do you relate to that at all?
Michela Griffo: No, I don't, because to me it's all academic. It all came out of academia. I don't think you had these street kids sitting around going, Oh, well she cisgender and I'm gender fluid. These all came out of a type of affluence as far as I'm concerned
Michela Griffo: [00:36:00] and intellectual terminology that came out of like ... I feel like there was a word explosion at Bard College, and all of a sudden you have all these, what would have been lesbians who are now growing facial hair? I don't feel like any of them would have had the courage to do what we did. Although I've met teenagers who I think are great,
Michela Griffo: [00:36:30] I really identify with them. I don't have the same feeling about them that I do about people that are in their thirties. I'll give you a perfect example. Last year at the NewFest, I went to a film called Man Made and it was about, I'm very curious about transgender people, I have a very dear friend, Brian Belovitch, who detransitioned from being a beautiful woman named Trish. But anyway,
Michela Griffo: [00:37:00] I went to this movie, Man Made. It was produced by Tea Leoni. It was about four women who become men and become bodybuilders. And out of these four women, only one, one lesbian, stays with her partner right to the end of the transition. And in the end they're interviewing her and she's talking about how difficult it was for her to become out as a lesbian because of her family. She lost her family, she lost friends,
Michela Griffo: [00:37:30] but that she's so proud of being a lesbian and that now that her partner has transitioned and as a man, she is no longer physically attracted to him. The audience started to boo, I mean boo. Ooh. So when the question and answer period came up, Tea Leoni was [inaudible] I said, I want to ask you a question. I know you have shown this film in other places. Is this the response that that lesbian got? And she said, yes.
Michela Griffo: [00:38:00] So, this summer, a bunch of teenagers came from California and we sat with them. A couple of people from the GLF sat with them and talked. I told them this story. I said, Would you have booed? They were shocked. They were shocked. They said, No, I think that's terrible. You know, they in there whatever, understood why this woman identified as a lesbian was no longer attracted to her lover now
Michela Griffo: [00:38:30] that she had body hair and was taking testosterone and all that, she wanted to be with a physical woman.
Mason Funk: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's really, and we will also kind of get back to that a little later on as well, but that's a great example. Yeah.
Michela Griffo: No, I find that I feel like this really, really young generation that's coming up now that [inaudible]
Michela Griffo: [00:39:00] some of them were transitioning, some of them were straight, you know, nobody uses the word lesbian. They're always like, gender fluid. And I am curious about that. I do want to speak with more teenagers about it because I feel like what we have lost is we have lost our culture. I feel very deeply about this,
Michela Griffo: [00:39:30] that I had a community. I no longer feel part of a community anymore. I feel like I'm some old dinosaur. Actually, one of these women from the Leslie Lohman wanted to photograph me for a project she's doing. She said, Where would you like to be photographed? I said, In the Museum of Natural History, standing in front of a dinosaur, because that's how I feel.
Mason Funk: [00:40:00] Interesting. Okay. We'll go back to your story and we'll come back to that again. But again, I want to go back to this period of history that you lived.
Michela Griffo: Oh, the seventies and eighties were great. They were great. You could do anything. You could be anything if you wanted to. Even if you've never picked up a camera, you could be a filmmaker, you can be an artist, you could be a musician. Even if you didn't know how to play music. It was a great time to be anything. But it was still very homophobic, especially in the art world. Forget it. The art world, especially [inaudible] lesbian. Oh my God.
Michela Griffo: [00:40:30] And that's where my drinking started to really take off. I was very lucky, in that my talent was recognized right away and I was in a big show at the Aldrich Museum, which is where a lot of the famous artists started. Out of something like 40 painters, only Brice Marden and my work sold, and it was sold to the same corporation that bought it.
Michela Griffo: [00:41:00] Like I say, Holly Solomon came to my studio, this is in 1971, I think it was. She looked at my work, she says, Oh my God, you're a fucking genius. Even though I was aware that mostly men got attention. A woman walk into a gallery, they didn't pay attention to you, but because of Holly, people start paying attention. Holly wanted me to
Michela Griffo: [00:41:30] put my art in her windows when she opened her gallery on West Broadway, but I had no self esteem. I had no self because of how I had grown up and I didn't know it. I sabotaged everything until I became a hopeless alcoholic. By 1984, I had been in two rehabs, the first of which Holly paid for. I just couldn't stop drinking and drugging.
Michela Griffo: [00:42:00] So a lot of the 1970s and eighties, early eighties, I don't even remember a lot of the stuff that was going on. I just remember wanting to live in an apartment in the East village with the windows painted black and no phone. I'm certainly not that person today, but that's who I was then.
Mason Funk: [00:42:30] Let's go back again, before we go forward again. Tell us about the Gay Liberation Front, GLF
Michela Griffo: Oh, we were great. We were great.
Mason Funk: For someone who has never heard of GLF. So what was the GLF?
Michela Griffo: The GLF was a ragtag bunch.
Mason Funk: I want to have you say, the GLF was the Gay Liberation Front.
Michela Griffo: Oh, I'm sorry. I think GLF was the Gay Liberation Front. We were the first political organization for gays when Stonewall happened.
Michela Griffo: [00:43:00] People like Martha Shelley, Ellen Broidy, Jim Fouratt, Bob Kohler, these people got together at NYU and decided that something had to be done, that we were not gonna let this just go by, that this raid was As, I think, Mark said, That lit the fire. We carried the torch from then on.
Michela Griffo: [00:43:30] It was like, boom, we're going to take it to the streets and we're going to Well, the lesbians, of course, were adamant about ending the mafia control of the bars. It was the lesbians that closed the bars. People were astonished when I started talking about that, this past year. A lot of them didn't know that. And this what I say about some of these people today that,
Michela Griffo: [00:44:00] Oh, I'm this, I'm that. I don't think any of them would have had the courage to march up 6th Avenue that we did on that first Gay Pride March, because there weren't really enough of us. We had to have other groups. As a matter of fact, because I had worked with the Young Lords, and that's the other thing about the Gay Liberation Front, all of us had come out of other revolutionary organizations. We had come from the Black Panthers.
Michela Griffo: [00:44:30] We worked with the Black Panthers; we had come from Students for Democratic Society; some of them had been Weathermen; the Civil Rights, Oh my God, so many of people like Joan Nestle, they had worked with civil Gone on the marches, and realized, Hey, wait a minute. I need civil rights too. So what I'm saying is, whether it was the antiwar movement,
Michela Griffo: [00:45:00] we had all come out of the radical left. And so we were ready to do whatever it was we needed to do. Get our heads beaten, get kicked, get punched, shot at, who knows, but we were going to change society, and that's who the Gay Liberation Front was. We also were what people now call intersectional. Many of the women worked with the breakfast programs
Michela Griffo: [00:45:30] with the Young Lords and the Panthers on the Lower East Side. I worked with the Young Lords. There was a whole group of us that were getting ready for the -- Oh God, I'm losing my mind, this is what happens when you get to a certain age. There was going to be a ConstitutionalCconvention. We were going to change the Constitution of the United States. Was held in Philadelphia, I'm sure Mark talked about that. So I was going to meetings with Panthers
Michela Griffo: [00:46:00] and even with some people that ended up going to prison for some pretty radical things. But because we had no protection in the first gay pride march and the mafia, of course, wanted the lesbians dead because by that time we were already picketing their bars and everything else. I went up to Yoruba Guzman, I said, Yoruba, the police will not protect us because they're owned by the mafia. The mafia wants us dead.
Michela Griffo: [00:46:30] Do you think that some of your guys could just come down and stand along Christopher Street up 6th Avenue. If you see anything, just kind of like take the person out before they take us out. And sure enough these young strapping Puerto Rican boys showed up and they were our protection. So, we owe a lot to the intersectionality. Now, we also had a culture of drag Queens.
Michela Griffo: [00:47:00] We had many drag ... A lot of them were people that had come from the streets, whatever, Sylvia Ray, I call him Ray because when I met him he was Ray Rivera, a very good looking guy. Sylvia was his street name. It was his working name. He worked as a sex worker and then Marcia, of course Marcia, pay it no mind, Johnson. So, we had great respect for that culture.
Michela Griffo: [00:47:30] What happened is, in the gay, we were always fighting. Arguments about everything, how we are going to do everything. Because everybody has to have their say, we were very democratic in many ways. Also, the men were very conscious of feminism, so it was a very unusual group.
Michela Griffo: [00:48:00] But what happened was the GAA wanted to focus on just being gay. They wanted the bath houses, they wanted to fight the city, it was all about being able to be gay in the streets, and it wasn't necessarily about any kind of intersectionality, working with other groups. It was not about changing society as a whole.
Michela Griffo: [00:48:30] It was about gay men and they didn't want anything to do with gay women. The GAA had one woman, it was Jean O'Leary, who passed away many years ago. She was GAA spokeswoman.
Mason Funk: Let me interrupt for a second. What about Kay Lahusen, because I know she ...
Michela Griffo: Who?
Mason Funk: The photographer Kay Lahusen, who was with Barbara Gittings for many years.
Michela Griffo: I'm sorry, I don't know who ... I knew Barbara, she's one of my heroes, but I don't know who Kay La ...
Mason Funk: [00:49:00] Kay Lahusen. That's interesting. Okay, that's fine.
Michela Griffo: I mean I didn't know any woman that were,
Mason Funk: She comes out of the GAA tradition, and as you probably know, the people who were part of that group talk about the GLF as like, Oh they were so disorganized. All they did was yell and scream at each other. We were going to follow the rules. [crosstalk]
Michela Griffo: Oh yeah, I went to one or two. Because I liked Jean, I was friendly with Jean, Jenny Vida. There were some women
Michela Griffo: [00:49:30] that I really liked who did participate in the GAA, but because of their attitude towards drag queens, and that was part of our culture, and towards the rest of the radical groups, we don't want anything to do with them. It was like, it was a bunch of guys who wanted to just ... Well it all came out in 1973, at that rally in the park, in Washington square park.
Mason Funk: So tell me about this rally. I don't know about this. So set the stage.
Michela Griffo: [00:50:00] Okay. In 1973, we started in central park and moved downtown so that the rally ...
Mason Funk: Let me know who we is?
Michela Griffo: All of the gay pride.
Mason Funk: So, in 1973 ...
Michela Griffo: Huge march by now. and we've gone from Central Park down to Washington Square Park where the rally would take place. Jean OLeary got on the stage and they booed her off the stage. I remember what she was going to say. But then Sylvia got on the stage e.
Michela Griffo: [00:50:30] and she was talking about, as we all cared about our brothers and sisters that were in the streets, that were in prison. She's talking to these and you can see them -- there's film of these white good looking college boys sitting there like -- booing her off the stage, and she's screaming at them, these are your brothers and sisters. You don't give a damn about them. I write to them in prison.
Michela Griffo: [00:51:00] And that was the turning point for many radical women, including myself. When I saw the way they treated Sylvia. I just said, I don't belong in this movement anymore, and I stepped back from politics until Anita Bryant opened her mouth and then that was it. I called Jim and all the women I knew from GLF, and we got back out there again.
Michela Griffo: [00:51:30] I marched in the Gay Pride Marches, but I did not participate in any of the political groups at that tim
Mason Funk: Okay. Okay. This is all such good stuff because you're giving texture, texture, texture. Which all helps?
Michela Griffo: People are amazed at my memory.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Let's take a little pause for breath. I'm going to use the restroom and then we'll resume.
Michela Griffo: Okay. Yes, absolutely.
Mason Funk: But I love that you just take me down ... Hold that thought because I want to go straight to those mafia bars.
Michela Griffo: [00:52:00] Great. Okay. Wonderful. So much going on between the opening of the after Stonewall show and all the interviews I had to do around, you know ... But yeah, this will be my third winter going to Mexico city. I would prefer to be in Argentina. But because of the economy and the anti American sentiment in Argentina now,
Michela Griffo: [00:52:30] I can no longer go there anymore, and it just like breaks my heart. Because if I could have lived anywhere in the world, it would be Argentina. [inaudible] Patagonia. Patagonia is amazing. I'm so glad that my last year, like if you go on my Facebook page, that picture of me is taken right in front of Perito Moreno, which is the largest glacier in the world in Patagonia. And it's the only one that's not melting and they don't know why.
Mason Funk: Wow. Huh. Okay. So let's go back to the mafia bars.
Mason Funk: [00:53:00] Help someone who has no idea what it was like for the mafia to run these bars like say Kookys, help us understand what the basic situation on the ground before the change started to happen. The bars were owned and operated by mafia. How did the system work?
Michela Griffo: To the best of my knowledge, what the deal was,
Michela Griffo: [00:53:30] is the police were paid off by the mafia to let them run these highly expensive bars. We were like their cash cow, the gays, because we couldn't go to meet other gay people at a straight bar, you know, it was against the law to serve alcohol to homosexuals in 1970, it was against the law.
Michela Griffo: [00:54:00] So somebody had to pay somebody off to look the other way. The one thing I will never understand is why the police raided the bar. That's what I don't get, what I don't understand. Because the mob was paying them. Why would they? Maybe somebody else will know that. But anyway, it was the only place for lesbians to meet other lesbians. Because men could meet each other on the street. They had the Meat Rack down on,
Michela Griffo: [00:54:30] you know that by the Harbor. There were all the trucks there. They were the piers. So guys were having sex, their bath houses, they had everything, which were probably also run by them mob. But women did not have the opportunity to do this. So the bars were the only place. And there were about three of them, there was the Sea Colony, there was Gianni's, and Kookys was the most famous, on 14th street. And I only went there twice. And it was the most depressing thing.
Michela Griffo: [00:55:00] I couldn't believe how depressing. It was dark. The woman, Kooky, that ran it had this big blonde wig. She was probably some mafiosos girlfriend, who knows. She certainly wasn't gay, she'd be making like she flirting with these Butch women. You'd have half of your drinks, she'd stick her finger in your drink and go, Oh, it's warm. Throw it out, get another one. And the drinks were expensive. Of course, when you walk in, there are these big mafioso sitting in the doorway.
Michela Griffo: [00:55:30] You had to go by them in order to get into the bar, anyway. So, when we started talking, some of the women in the Gay Liberation Front, about how oppressive ... We've got to do something. So we decided -- well, they decided -- of course, the women and the men, that Flavio Rondo and myself, because we both spoke Italian, we were going to be the people that were going to picket. We were going to leaflet,
Michela Griffo: [00:56:00] we started with leaflets. Because we have these dances that we started over at Alternate U. At first, they were men and women together, but the women felt very oppressed. So we decided ... Because the guys were all dance, sweaty. We didn't like the music [inaudible] original men and women thing. We're not like them. So we were given a certain night, a Saturday night, and we would have our dances and we would leaflet in front of these bars.
Michela Griffo: [00:56:30] Of course, some of these women were stupid enough to bring the leaflet into the bar and the mafia sees this, they come running out. And so we would be standing up going, Non toccarmi, Io sono sangue (I'm blood, don't touch me.) They didn't know, I could've been like Carlo Gambino's niece. They had no idea because [inaudible] is a real ... It's not traditional Italian. It's like, I'm really blood, you know.
Michela Griffo: [00:57:00] So, we started doing this, and little by little the women started coming to our dances till, finally, it got to the point where on a Saturday night Kookys was practically empty because all the girls were coming, right down the street, to the Alternate U dances. So, one night, we're having our dance, it's real crowded, and there was this big, long stairway that you had to come up from the street,
Michela Griffo: [00:57:30] up to the dance. I'm standing there with the cash box and everything, greeting everybody as they come, and I saw the guns. That's the first thing I saw, was the guns. I see these guys coming up with the guns. I took the cash box, boom, slammed it shut. Like a football pass, gave it to Donna Gottschalk. I said, put this in a garbage bag and run down the back stairs as fast as you can. So, she is putting it in, and the guys come up with the guns and they wanted the money. And I said, Well, we don't charge anything.
Michela Griffo: [00:58:00] The dances are free. They see everybody drinking. And I said, This is all donated by women. Would you like a beer? Would you want to join us? And the best part, I don't know if Martha told you this story, Martha Shelley. They go up to Martha Shelley, because they're trying to intimidate us, and we're treating them like [inaudible]. So, he goes to Martha, he says, Do you know who we are? And so Martha goes, she said, No, I don't know who you are, and I don't care.
Michela Griffo: [00:58:30] You know who we are. We're the Gay Liberation Front. They just turned around and left and that was it. And within a matter of months, the women's bars were closed and we were in business.
Mason Funk: Amazing. That's a great story.
Michela Griffo: Oh, Martha was great. Do you know who we are? They couldn't believe that when they came with the gun in my face, I'm like, Would you care to join us? I mean, we just treated them like they were nothing.
Mason Funk: [00:59:00] Pause for a second while Michelle adjusts. Were getting a little shaft of sunlight.
Michela Griffo: Oh, you can pull the whole shade up if you want or if you want to ...
Michelle McCabe: Im just trying to block that. Oh, it's coming from the top.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Michelle McCabe: Let me cut.
Michela Griffo: That will probably move over rather quickly.
Mason Funk: [00:59:30] Okay. okay. So, another thing I wanted to ask you about was the sign. [inaudible]
Michela Griffo: Oh, that I made for Donna. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Yeah. So, tell us about the circumstances that led up to you writing that sign.
Michela Griffo: When I gave my lecture in Minnesota about my work, that was the first piece I introduced. I said, this is my first piece, again, about hypocrisy. That even in 2000 ...
Mason Funk: [01:00:00] Back up a little bit. I would say skip that part of the story for now. But just go back to the story of where that sign originated. How you thought it up and tell us that story.
Michela Griffo: Well, the thing I was very aware of was ... I mean, I never saw the masturbating men at the Kookys the way Karla did. But I knew that if men wanted pornography, and there wasn't lesbian scenes in it,
Michela Griffo: [01:00:30] they would return the pornography and say, this is not, you know. So that we were the best thing that ever happened to pornography, but in real life, we were treated horribly. So, the phrase just came to me; we're your worst fear and we're your best fantasy. That, for the women and the National Organization for Women, we were their worst fear, that somebody would call them a lesbian.
Michela Griffo: [01:01:00] Oh, lesbians. Oh, that was the worst thing you could be, to love another woman. But for their husbands, we were probably part and parcel of every porno film they ever saw. So, that's really where that came from. That was just the first outpouring of both a combination of my politics and my artistic sensibility at the time.
Mason Funk: But tell me for someone who doesn't know what we're talking about,
Mason Funk: [01:01:30] tell me about the actual Genesis of the sign. Like, tell me that you're talking about the sign that you created.
Michela Griffo: We wanted things to carry, that we were going to carry in the march. And some of them said, Hi mom. People were just making all these crazy posters, We're here, we're queer, get used to it. All different posters. And so I was given a magic marker in this poster board and that was the first thing I wrote down.
Michela Griffo: [01:02:00] And because Donna looked like an angel, I made her carry it. She didn't want to carry it. She goes, No, no, no. I said, No, you're going to carry this. So, she did, and it became iconic because Diana Davies was right there with the camera and that became, probably, one of the most iconic photographs in the march.
Mason Funk: Okay. I still want to make sure that I have a complete story, that I have all the necessary from your ...
Michela Griffo: Yeah, that was the whole story. We got there.
Mason Funk: [01:02:30] What are you talking about?
Michela Griffo: Christopher street. That poster was made the morning of the march, right on Christopher street with a black magic marker and poster board that somebody else brought, poster boards for us to write slogans on and whatever. And that was the first thing that came to mind for me.
Mason Funk: And when would this have been?
Michela Griffo: This is June of 1970.
Mason Funk: Okay. Was this the first pride march?
Michela Griffo: This was the first pride march.
Mason Funk: [01:03:00] Set that all up for me. Six months or a year after Stonewall ... Start there.
Michela Griffo: What had happened was a year after Stonewall, the Gay Liberation Front, was very active. We had already started the actions -- the women had certainly -- against the gay bars and mafia bars. We had started the dances. At Alternate U for both men and women. We were beginning to create our own society, but we still realized
Michela Griffo: [01:03:30] that there were people being beaten up every night of the week on Christopher street. Men were beating up lesbians. And that we were finally gonna be open and out. Out, loud and proud. We took it to the streets. The whole idea was we were not going to be in a closet anymore. We were not going to be stuffed into these gay bars. We were going to be out and proud. And a lot of the people that were in the Gay Liberation Front couldn't march.
Michela Griffo: [01:04:00] Many of them were teachers and they were afraid they would lose their jobs, especially the men of color. They had the double whammy; they were men of color, and they were being beaten up just for being black, and then they're gay and they probably would lose their jobs. So, it really took a tremendous act of courage to march in that first march. Of course, they didn't want to give us ... They were going to, sidewalk, whatever.
Michela Griffo: [01:04:30] We were like, no, we're going to go in the street. At first, it started out, they tried to keep us in like one or two lanes in sixth Avenue and we just took over the street at a certain point because what was happening is; I've spoken about this before, two things happened that still amaze me and make me very sad is, as we moved from Christopher street onto 6th Avenue, we saw many of the people that we knew from the bars, from just gay life in general,
Michela Griffo: [01:05:00] they turn their backs on us. There were many gay people who disliked us because they felt we were forcing them to become public with who they were. This was something that a lot of people don't know about. It took a lot of courage to stand up and be counted because there were so many people that so had internalized their homophobia that they would do that,
Michela Griffo: [01:05:30] that they would turn their backs on us. And we were such a small group. We were joined by other anti-war groups, it wasn't just the Gay Liberation Front that marched. We were in the front. We were the first ones, if anybody is going to knock us off, we were first. There were college groups, anti-war groups, there were some women from radical women's organizations and maybe the Redstockings people like that who did march with us. But what happened is ...
Mason Funk: [01:06:00] Pause for one second, [inaudible] but I'm going to hold that thought. While you were at the front, other groups came off ...
Michela Griffo: Right. What happened is, as we began marching up 6th Avenue, people were curious, what is this? And by the time we got into the 30s, where a lot of the tourists were around, the kids saw the drag queens,
Michela Griffo: [01:06:30] they thought they were clowns, and everybody wanted to join this march. So we had all these people that started marching with us. And then other people, because they wanted to be in it, but they didn't want to be in it in the village, would start joining us in the 50s as we got closer and closer to Central Park where all the gays were waiting for us in Central Park. When you see that that day, you see the picture of Central Park,
Michela Griffo: [01:07:00] it's just swarming with gay people. But the initial march, when we started out up 6th Avenue, we were just this ragtag bunch of ragtag gay people that had the courage to march. And Donna's right there holding a sign; I am your worst fear. I'm your best fantasy. For me, it was one of the days. That, and the march in 1977, I always cry when I talk about that march,
Michela Griffo: [01:07:30] because Anita Bryant ... Would you mind if I talk about it? Anita Bryant started this whole campaign in Florida and it spread, you know, Save Our Children, The Moral Majority, and by this time, gays have started to become a political force in this country. We're starting to elect people in city councils. We're starting to be open in our jobs. People begin to know,
Michela Griffo: [01:08:00] Oh, their favorite uncle is gay, whatever. So we're starting to become more a fabric of society and not hidden in some corner somewhere. But then Anita Bryant comes out, Oh God, you're going to die. God's gonna kill everybody. That's when we all started contacting each other again. It's like, Hey, what the hell is going on here? This woman is nuts. People are being killed again. Their homes are being burned down. We've got to do something.
Michela Griffo: [01:08:30] She thought gays were going to say, Oh, God's going to kill me. People came out of the closets in droves. That march was one of the biggest marches ever. That year, I chose to march with gay Catholics, because I wanted to march with a religious group. And so I'm with all these Catholics, little nuns and priests and everyone and all these other gay Catholics.
Michela Griffo: [01:09:00] And so we're marching up 5th Avenue, and I can see the Cathedral. That's usually where the confrontations would begin on the left were all the people, God hates fags, you're going to go to hell. And all we could see were, there were people standing all over the steps of St Patrick's Cathedral. I mean, it was packed. There were no barriers like there is now. I said to everybody, listen -- this is not my first time at the rodeo.
Michela Griffo: [01:09:30] I said, everybody get really close together and just start walking quickly. When we get in front of the Cathedral, there may be violence. [inaudible] throw oranges. I didn't know what was going to happen. So, as we're marching and we're getting up to the Cathedral, all of a sudden they unfurled these signs and they started singing this song and it was some Christian song and it was Catholics from all over the country
Michela Griffo: [01:10:00] that had come to support the gays. A lot of them weren't even gay. They were from Philadelphia, they're from Boston, they were from Ohio, they were from all over the country. And then they just let out this big cheer. I can't even talk about it without crying because it was so moving to me. That's why, to this day, and from that day after, no one was ever allowed to stand on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral
Michela Griffo: [01:10:30] during the Gay Pride March because the Catholics had come to support us and the Catholic diocese of New York went insane. They thought those people standing on the steps were going to unfurl these God hates fags, and it was just the opposite. That's why that, to me, was one of the most memorable marches, even almost as much as the first Gay Pride March, because it changed everything for many religious organizations.
Mason Funk: [01:11:00] Wow! Are you still at all connected to the Catholic?
Michela Griffo: No. No. I pretty much have been very active in the Episcopalian church. I belong to Calvary Episcopal church here on 22nd Street. Because the Catholic Church with all of the abuse, sexual abuse, the hypocrisy ... Actually,
Michela Griffo: [01:11:30] I'm just reading a book now, written by Sheila Rauch Kennedy. She was married to Joe Kennedy Jr., Robert Kennedy son, about her annulment. She was not Catholic, but they were married for many years. They had two beautiful sons, and he decided to get an annulment so that he could marry another woman. Its just the hypocrisy of the Catholic church. It's a beautifully written book, it's called Shattered Faith. So, I just cannot, in good conscience, say I'm even a Catholic anymore. Although I was brought up as a Catholic, very strict Catholic.
Mason Funk: [01:12:00] Okay, great. Okay, I'm going to get to three people, three women, who you wanted to make sure we talk to about. Barbara Gittings?
Michela Griffo: She was my hero.
Mason Funk: Start by stating her name, Barbara Gittings.
Michela Griffo: Barbara Gittings was one of my great heroes because I didn't know the woman.
Michela Griffo: [01:12:30] I had never even heard her speak or anything. The reason she's my hero is I would see pictures of her with other men from the original movements, the Mattachine and the Daughters of Bilitis, and marching around Washington DC, wearing dresses and the men had suits on. Being the first people to have the courage to say
Michela Griffo: [01:13:00] we're not these evil people. We're human beings and we want our rights. And I'm not sure if it was her, I heard this story once about, they used to have a mimeograph. They didn't have like, the kind of digital stuff we have now, or even Xerox machines, in those days. There was this one woman, I think it was the person who started One Magazine, and it was called one was the original newsletters, whatever.
Michela Griffo: [01:13:30] I guess it was a time when there was a Xerox machine or something, and she left the copy in the Xerox machine. After work, she'd make it. And her boss, who had been in the military, a woman, been in the military, found the thing. And instead of like, outing her, said, Just be careful what you leave lying around. And I think, the secrecy,
Michela Griffo: [01:14:00] the fear, losing your job, this is what people like Barbara were up against. How much courage that must've taken. I know how much courage it took just to face the mafia and the bars. The Women's Movement, the Lavender Menace Movement, that was again, one of the biggest changes, that came about in the early seventies. Lesbian standing
Michela Griffo: [01:14:30] up to the National Organization for Women and the New York Radical Feminists and all of that. That's why Barbara is my hero. I know very little about her. I would like to know more about her. Joan Nestle is my other, who realized that ...
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, start a fresh sentence. Joan Nestle, and tell us who she was.
Michela Griffo: Joan Nestle founded the Lesbian Herstory Archives, and she started it in her apartment, up on the upper West Side.
Michela Griffo: [01:15:00] And to me, that is the greatest repository of our history. And for that alone, that woman deserves honors beyond compare. I remember Joan talking about -- I did know Joan -- how in the 60s, she went down South and she was part of the people that would march and take place in the activities that went on around the civil rights,
Michela Griffo: [01:15:30] and that she became very close to this one man, was black. He said to her one night, the only people I can't tolerate, I can't even be around them, are gays. It was like a turning point for her. When she came back North, that's when she started getting more active in the idea of civil rights for lesbians, and gays in general.
Michela Griffo: [01:16:00] But the fact that she put together this archive, that is unbelievable, of our history, I am very grateful to her. She's definitely one of my heroes.
Mason Funk: Great. And then last but not least, Ann Northrup.
Michela Griffo: Oh, Ann Northrop. I had known Ann since she was in college. I knew her when she went to Vassar and she used to skip classes to play bridge.
Michela Griffo: [01:16:30] She had many opportunities in life. She was very well educated. She used to work for CBS television, CBS news. She could have had a great career just doing that, but instead at a certain point, she started working with the Harvey Milk school, the Hetrick Martin Institute, working with teenagers who were homeless, who were thrown out of their families. If that wasn't even enough to make her my hero,
Michela Griffo: [01:17:00] when AIDS came along, she was one of the first women to really get involved with Act Up, to put her body on the line. And her whole life has been devoted. She's the one that started The Resistance, and the other march that went on, and does Gay TV with Andy Humm. I just think the world of Ann,
Michela Griffo: [01:17:30] I adore her. She is to me the epitome of the person who could have had a very successful life in network television or anything, writing, whatever, but has devoted her life to activism within the gay community.
Mason Funk: Hmm. I tried to enlist her for an interview on this trip. She said, too busy, basically, I'm too busy. But I hope that someday [crosstalk].
Michela Griffo: [01:18:00] These other two women that are doing the thing with me about at the gay community center, this project they're doing, I suggested Ann and she turned them down as well. So I don't know what's going on. When I see her, I'm going to ask her. I know she is very busy, probably playing golf when the weather is [inaudible], but I just adore her. Oh, believe me, she'll fly somewhere where she can play golf.
Mason Funk: [01:18:30] Just for the record. This past June, during the month, Stonewall 50th, I did an event at the Microsoft store, and we had Deb Edal, from the Lesbian Herstory Archive. She's one of the people who now runs it. And another woman, Cassandra Grant.
Michela Griffo: I love Cassandra. [crosstalk] Oh, I'm so glad. Shes actually one of the people that I would recommend because I went to this Salsa Soul Sisters thing at the Historical Society, recently.
Michela Griffo: [01:19:00] But I saw her one night, there was a film at the gay center. I saw her, Oh, just so happy to see her. She's such a great person.
Mason Funk: She is really wonderful. Yeah. Good. So now we're going to jump to the present and talk about some contemporary issues.
Michela Griffo: But we didn't talk about the Lavender Menace reaction
Mason Funk: Yes, lets go there.
Michela Griffo: Which to me was the beginning of the political movement for the lesbians.
Michela Griffo: [01:19:30] In 1969, 1970. The one big feminist organization was not the Redstockings, it was the National Organization for Women because Betty Friedan had written this book that all these housewives are reading, The Feminine Mystique. And they were joining this feminist organization, and about the worst thing that you could say is, there were lesbians.
Michela Griffo: [01:20:00] That would be, it's like waving the garlic in front of a vampire. At that time, I was still living with Peter when I joined the National Organization for Women. Kind of concurrently, I was in Redstockings, National Organization for Women, then my neighbor, Susan Brownmiller, talked me into joining something called a consciousness raising group with the New York Radical Feminists. So, I was probably the only lesbian --
Michela Griffo: [01:20:30] I think Karla was also in one of the, I can't remember. But anyway, the whole idea was that Betty tried to keep it quiet that a lot of these actions were attended by lesbians. They were for straight women, but they were attended by lesbians. Meetings, consciousness raising, We were like infiltrating and she called us the Lavender Menace.
Michela Griffo: [01:21:00] Now this is my interpretation of everything that went on. What happened was, it was bad enough that Betty was calling us the Lavender Menace. But in 1970, I believe it was in April of 1970, Susan Brownmiller wrote the first long article about what is feminism, for the New York Times, for the magazine section. And I'm reading this article
Michela Griffo: [01:21:30] because Susan is almost a mentor to me, and she says, the exact quote is, a lavender herring perhaps, but surely no clear and present danger. Well, I was just incensed by that because I had designed the cover ... That was on a Sunday, that came up, Monday morning was their big takeover of the ladies home journal.
Michela Griffo: [01:22:00] I had designed the cover, and I didn't show up, and Susan didn't know why I didn't show up. And then that Friday night, we had our dance as usual and I showed up wearing a tee shirt that said Lavender Herring. Well, all the other women in the GLF see this t-shirt, Lavender Herring, they thought it was hilarious, but at the same time they thought, wow, [inaudible] she called us lavender herrings for God's sakes.
Michela Griffo: [01:22:30] So we decided, it was time. We were gonna have a major action against the National Organization for Women. Their big conference to unite women was coming up. And so that was the impetus, Susan Brownmiller's article, not Betty Friedan. That got us all incensed to the point where we made these t-shirt Lavender Menace. We decided we were going to use the lavender menace rather than herrings,
Michela Griffo: [01:23:00] because that was a real insult. And the rest is history. We infiltrated their Congress. They all filed into the auditorium, and they're all waiting for this straight womens conference to begin. And just as Betty is about to go to the microphone to say, Oh welcome, the place goes completely dark, because I had worked on a stage and I knew how to flip the light board. Jessica Falstein and I were the ones that tripped the lever, and then boom,
Michela Griffo: [01:23:30] when we turned it back on, there's Martha Shelley standing right there up front with a microphone and the Lavender Menace are all around the auditorium. And that was the beginning of us forcing the women's movement to treat us like human beings and not like something from outer space that was terrifying. And I have to say, of course, I totally admire her and love her tremendously. Gloria Steinem was always on our side.
Michela Griffo: [01:24:00] She never, ever, was like one of the, Oh y'all lesbians horrible. Gloria was always for the voice of moderation and reason within the women's movement. So she's also somebody I have a great deal of respect for.
Mason Funk: Now it may seem like ...
Michelle McCabe: I just need to cut for one second.
Michela Griffo: I was just about to say the two things to me that were most important was ...
Mason Funk: Start afresh.
Michela Griffo: [01:24:30] Well, three actually, the mafia, the Lavender Menace, and March in 1977, which I still cry about, because it was just so.
Mason Funk: That's amazing. I never heard that story.
Michela Griffo: Oh, very few people know that story. I know Steve Dansky, photographed it. Also, I think I did talk about it in Outrage 69, but I didn't cry.
Mason Funk: [01:25:00] Why do you think it brings up maybe more tears now? Why didn't you cry then and why did you cry now?
Michela Griffo: Because for me it was the turning point. It was the first time we ever marched, that a huge institution, which was not our friend, that the people
Michela Griffo: [01:25:30] who had been raised in this institution said, No, we are not going to go along with that hatred of gays. We're not going to do it anymore. And just the shock of expecting to have people throwing oranges at us and instead they're singing this ... I forgot, it was a beautiful song about unity. They must have all planned. I don't know how they all did it, but they all must have ... Because they were doing it all at once. They unfurled the banners all at once,
Michela Griffo: [01:26:00] the minute they saw the gay Catholics. They could have done it at any point in the march. It's just that they did it then when the gay Catholics came by. Its just always one of the things that makes me cry when I think about it.
Mason Funk: Well, they clearly wanted the gay Catholics to see the it. They wanted you to see it.
Michela Griffo: Right. You could hear a pin drop on the other side when that happened. Their mouths were hanging open.
Michela Griffo: [01:26:30] When the Catholic Church saw what was going on, that was it. Now, there were always barricades. Actually, I think they shorten the March now so that it doesn't even go by the Cathedral. But for years it did. But the barricades were all up, and the police. Nobody could stand on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Mason Funk: Okay. Now going back to where we were before, it may be hard for today, for people to understand why the women's movement,
Mason Funk: [01:27:00] the mainstream National Organization for Women, why they would be so opposed and terrified of lesbians in their midst. What was the problem?
Michela Griffo: All I can think about with regard to how the women's movement vilified lesbians was that many of them were in unhappy marriages. Many of them were the people that Betty was writing about.
Michela Griffo: [01:27:30] They were women who had gone to Mount Holyoke, Vassar, these seven sister colleges, were very well educated, but once they got married, they were just housewives, and their career expectations were put aside. Typical 1950s. She sparked something in these women.
Michela Griffo: [01:28:00] But they would see women who had careers, who were going on vacations with each other, and had a kind of comraderie. And these women were lesbians. It both terrified them and kind of excited them in a very strange way. But if they went home and talked about
Michela Griffo: [01:28:30] being excited about maybe wanting to go back to school or whatever, their husband was like, no, your job is to be a mother and a housewife, their religions, whatever they were with Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, whatever, woman's place in the home. In order for this movement to grow and become what Betty envisioned all over the country, about the last thing
Michela Griffo: [01:29:00] she wanted was for these women to be called lesbians. So she had to eradicate the whole idea that there were any lesbians at all in this movement. That also spilled over into the New York Radical Feminists. They call them radical feminists, but they were just as bad, Susan calling us lavender herrings. I mean, so that's what it was like to be a lesbian and to try to belong to a movement
Michela Griffo: [01:29:30] that was trying to make women's lives better, to get equal pay, whatever it was.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Okay. Excellent. All right, now tell us, this phrase TERF. Tell us what that term stands for. Just introduce as if someone has never heard that term before,
Mason Funk: [01:30:00] and how do you react to it? What's your take on that term?
Michela Griffo: I first heard that term,
Mason Funk: Tell me what term youre talking about
Michela Griffo: Oh, TERF. Trans exclusionary radical feminist is what that term means. I first heard that term when I heard the word cisgender, and I didn't know what either of them meant, and I'm a very intelligent human being.
Michela Griffo: [01:30:30] I started to read about how the women in London, the gay women, the lesbians, were thrown out of the Gay Pride March last year because they were holding signs that said, Lesbians Don't Have Penises. And so there was this big -- I think it started in London -- backlash with the lesbians fighting with the transgender women.
Michela Griffo: [01:31:00] This is not the transgender men. I've never had a problem with transgender men, because they were women, at one point. When I was younger, we had drag queens, they were part of our culture. They still are, I guess, that drag show is like the top thing on television.
Michela Griffo: [01:31:30] It was part and parcel of the gay culture, but there wasn't kind of like a menacing or evil intention toward women. In other words, they had their thing, we had our thing, whatever. What started happening is little by little, especially in the earlier transgendered when they were not transitioning
Michela Griffo: [01:32:00] I mean, they were transitioning, but they hadn't had their pre-op started. There was, it was very famous, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. This is a festival that went on for 20 years. Straight women came to it, gay women came to it. It was a place where women could run around naked, with music. All these very well known musicians would come to it. It wasn't like it was such a bunch of strange lesbians. It was fairly well organized. Two weeks, and women looked forward to ... I never went, but women look forward to it every year.
Michela Griffo: [01:32:30] Suddenly these transgender women started showing up. A lot of women took umbrage with this, that suddenly they're in a situation where they're naked, but these women have penises and they don't feel comfortable. And it became this big thing. And then finally lawsuits started coming out of it. And rather than continue with these lawsuits and everything, the festival closed.
Michela Griffo: [01:33:00] So already now I know that there is a political group of transgender women who maintain that they are women. But the language doesn't start to change until about two years ago, is when I first noticed it. This word cisgender. I'm like, what the hell is cisgender? Oh, that's a woman who's born a woman or female, whatever. I'm like, well, why don't you just call me a woman?
Michela Griffo: [01:33:30] Because that's what I am. Why do I have to have this medical terminology? Oh, because transgender women are also women. And, I'm not homophobic, I'm not transphobic. One of my dearest friends will say is Brian Belovitch, who was Tish when I met him. Was a beautiful woman. He's written a wonderful book about it. I'm a social worker for God's sakes. For years, I have worked in and around the gay community.
Michela Griffo: [01:34:00] I know when someone is gender dysmorphic. I saw it in my practice. Suddenly, I'm seeing all these young lesbians growing facial hair, taking hormones. They're all gender fluid. I'm like, what's going? There are not, I'm sorry, but there are not that many gender dysphoric people in this world. And it's usually people in their thirties.
Michela Griffo: [01:34:30] I don't know, but these people in the 20s, I don't know if they want to get into this whole thing about hormones and operations and having their breasts removed. I don't know. But what I'm feeling is another wave of internalized homophobia that it's better to call yourself gender fluid, binary fluid, trans, anything than to call yourself a lesbian.
Michela Griffo: [01:35:00] There've been articles, plenty of articles written about the Disappearing L Word, that suddenly the focus is on even gay men. Suddenly, I go to these shows around the 50th anniversary, and I'm being told that Stonewall was started by transgender women and I'm like, what? I know the people that were at Stonewall. There might've been one or two trannies there. Oops,
Michela Griffo: [01:35:30] I can't use that word. That's a bad word. Transgender. They weren't even trans, they were drag queens, basically. There might've been a couple of drag queens. Certainly, I know that Marsha wasn't there. She was at a birthday party uptown and was so drunk she could barely make it downtown. And I don't remember where Sylvia was. She probably was drunk too, somewhere working her usual West Side highway thing. Now, I believe these women, both Sylvia and Marsha should be honored
Michela Griffo: [01:36:00] not for starting the Stonewall rebellion, but for the work that they did with homeless and early transgender youth. So, this is where I began to take umbrage with what is going on in what was my community, but which I no longer feel a part of. I feel like lesbian is now a dirty word. That if I'm not binary fluid or this I didn't know. I go to bed, I'm a woman, I wake up, I'm a woman. I'm not gender fluid.
Michela Griffo: [01:36:30] As an intelligent human being, I graduated from NYU, which is one of the hardest social work programs to get into, and it's one of the best social work schools in the country. I took four years of psychopathology clinical practice. I am not somebody that is buying this lingo about gender fluidity and that transgender women are women.
Michela Griffo: [01:37:00] They are not women. They grew up as men. And as men, they have a certain presence in the world that I as a woman never had access to. And I think that is what allows them to ... This is not about bathrooms, I could care less what bathrooms somebody uses. I'm used to living in Europe, whatever. Because the [inaudible], it's all the same. [inaudible].
Michela Griffo: [01:37:30] But it's about women's spaces. It breaks my heart that Canada had to close their women's shelters because a man went in there dressed as a woman, claiming to be a woman, found his wife and killed her. His ex-wife that he had had a whole history ... Canada closed, because they did not want to have all these lawsuits. What I see happening is that what were former men
Michela Griffo: [01:38:00] who are now women, it's not enough for them just to live their lives as women, they are politically invading women's spaces, and they are degrading what I consider to be lesbianism.
Mason Funk: Fascinating.
Michela Griffo: That's my take on it. I have no problem with them being active in the gay community center, having their meetings, they're socializing.
Michela Griffo: [01:38:30] If they want to date gay men, whatever. But don't tell me that I have to date them or I'm homophobic or I'm transphobic. I do not date women who have penises. If I want to go out with a man, I'll go out with a man. But don't tell me that ... Like, when they were booing that lesbian in that film because she wanted to be with another woman
Michela Griffo: [01:39:00] because that's what her sexual attraction was. How dare these people boo ... Where is your understanding? Again, I'm one of the people that risked my life so that you could sit there and boo another lesbian? I can't. It's like I am that same girl that was 19 years old, going out with a woman for the first time, and everybody telling me,
Michela Griffo: [01:39:30] Oh, now you're going to lose your job. This is unacceptable, and this is how I feel about this TERF business and everything. This is unacceptable. We are no longer a community. We are now, I'm this and you're that, and lesbians are like out in the nowhere now because we don't want to date women who have penises or who were men at one time. Some of us might, I don't know, who knows? I could fall in love with somebody who transitioned,
Michela Griffo: [01:40:00] I don't know. But I don't want to be forced into it and I don't want to be made to feel badly. [inaudible] if somebody said to me, Oh you have to go out with men. You have to go straight men, you know, otherwise you're, I don't know men phobic, or a man-hater. I'm sorry, as an intelligent human being, I cannot abide by ... And in the sports, don't even get me going on sports because I'm a big sports fan. I watched the Olympics all the time.
Michela Griffo: [01:40:30] I live in Connecticut where it has become a big thing. A problem where these two men join this high school team and they win everything. Theyve broken records for women's sports, track, but they're not women. They are men. They're not even transitioned. They're young boys. Again, it's not about bathrooms.
Michela Griffo: [01:41:00] It's not about where they can socialize or who they can socialize with, but please don't start taking ... It's like you don't hear about transgender men going to men's spaces and taking over, they're not going to be idiotic. I know a transgender man is not going to go to a sporting event, a track and field, and think that they're gonna win or they're going to even compete. They know that they don't have a chance. They excoriated Martina Navratilova
Michela Griffo: [01:41:30] when she said that theres no way that a transgender woman should be allowed to actively compete in womens sports. Oh my God. They made her apologize. I'm sorry. I agree with her.
Mason Funk: While we're on this topic, tell me about your feelings about the word queer.
Michela Griffo: [01:42:00] To me, I was very proud of the word queer for many, many years. People say, "What are you," I'd say, "Queer." Because to me it was the word. .. Like the way you hear these rap stars, they use the word n***a, n***a, it was like our, it was our terminology for ourselves. We're queer. But then, suddenly, people like Miley Cyrus were queer. These celebrities were all queer.
Michela Griffo: [01:42:30] Everybody's queer now. They don't use the word lesbian, God forbid, except for some people like -- what's she called? Ellen Page. She's an actress. She came out, Jodie Foster, these women started coming out, not as queer but as lesbians. But now, it's so hip to be queer. And so, I thought, well that's it for me. I'm not going to march in a march where it's a queer march, because that means that people aren't brave enough to say who they really are.
Michela Griffo: [01:43:00] They're not going to say, I'm a gay man. Oh, I'm queer. It means, Oh, I'm gender fluid. It's like gender fluid to me. What the hell does that mean? Gender fluid. I'm sorry, I don't know anybody that goes to bed a man, wakes up and they're a woman suddenly. This whole thing about sex and gender, gender expression, this is all coming out of academia. Suddenly, women's studies departments became gender studies
Michela Griffo: [01:43:30] and out of that came all this academic word salad that doesn't even make sense biologically, much less logically, but it's affected my community and there are very well respected people within the community that are going along with it.
Mason Funk: I frequently end up, when I write about OUTWORDS, I talk about the LGBTQ community.
Mason Funk: [01:44:00] And I use the word community in the sense that I still either believe or hope that there is such a thing as a community of all these disparate people. Sorry. Disparate people with very different perspectives. There's no homogeneity, nor do I want for there to be a homogeneity. However, I'm still holding to this idea of there being something like a loose community that makes sense to call a community. Do you think there is such a thing as a community?
Mason Funk: [01:44:30] And if so, what is the path forward for these people who seem to be splintering, to hold some kind of a common philosophy around sexual identity and gender expression? Do you see a way for a community to hold together?
Michela Griffo: When I marched in the first gay pride march, I've always said this. I marched for the fagiest guy and the butchest man, the butchest woman and the lipstick lesbians.
Michela Griffo: [01:45:00] I marched for every drag queen that couldn't march. I marched for our community, which was very diverse, and it was a community. I felt as strongly when they booed Sylvia off the stage, I wanted to kill all of them. I don't feel that connection anymore to my community
Michela Griffo: [01:45:30] because I'm being insulted within my own community. And that to me, like I say, some young kid wants to grow up and call themselves bisexual, intersexual queer. I don't know. They're still part of my community, but when they say to me, you don't want to go on a date with me, you're a TERF. You're transphobic. I feel like, well I don't belong in this community anymore.
Mason Funk: [01:46:00] Where have you actually heard that? Who has said that to you?
Michela Griffo: I stopped reading Out Magazine. For years, I used to get Out Magazine. I still get it, I just throw it away when I get it. I read The Advocate. It was all about these criticisms of lesbians. If I can find, I'll send you some of these articles,
Michela Griffo: [01:46:30] because I can't even read it anymore. That's where I first read about London and what was going on in London, that lesbians were And they thought this was terrific that they were thrown out of the march. They're homophobic, transphobic, that old lesbians are now We're the problem again. We're like in the National Organization for Women again. We're are the problem because we're not going along with the whole thing about,
Michela Griffo: [01:47:00] "Well, yes, they should go to any, you know." I had to call somebody when I didn't even know I go to these things at the gay community center. I love to go to stuff there. And it said, "Femmes welcome." Femmes? What about Butch? I'm a Butch. What about butches? So I call [inaudible] what the hell is with this femme stuff? Oh, that's the new ... You're either femme or masc. I'm like, feminine or masculine? This is how we now have to define ourselves. I am not masculine.
Michela Griffo: [01:47:30] I'm a woman. It's this constant ... Where I would see things on posters, on invitations to things, nowhere is the word lesbian. It's like trans and then masc, femme, identified gender fluid. I'm like, what the hell is going on here?
Michela Griffo: [01:48:00] I feel like we don't have a community anymore. And I feel very strongly that transgender people should have their rights, for Christ sakes. I don't care what bathroom they use, but don't come after me and start telling me that I'm the problem. I'm not your problem.
Mason Funk: So, it's like you're being re-marginalized.
Michela Griffo: Yes. Don't boo me if I say I'm in love with a woman and I'm not attracted to a transgender woman
Michela Griffo: [01:48:30] who still has many masculine ideas or characteristics or whatever. Like I say, who knows, maybe I will fall in love with one. But don't tell me I have to, or I'm thrown out of the community. And this is where I draw the line. Something happened between when we were all behind transgender women and men being part of the community, that, suddenly,
Michela Griffo: [01:49:00] like I say, I have no problem with transgender men. I know plenty of them because they were women. I understand them. I don't feel threatened by them. They don't invade women's spaces. It's why is it that transgender women are attacking and, what I feel, invading lesbian spaces. Again, we're the bottom of the barrel. I feel like, Oh, here we are at GAA all over again.
Michela Griffo: [01:49:30] We're the bottom of the barrel now. And you can't speak up. I don't care, let them hate me. I don't care anymore. I feel like somebody's got to say something about these young girls training all their lives to be athletes, and suddenly this man shows up -- though what used to be a man is now self-identifying as a woman -- and winning all the prizes. I'm sorry. That's where I draw the line.
Mason Funk: [01:50:00] Is it another form of misogyny? Is that what it comes down [inaudible].
Michela Griffo: I don't think it's misogyny. I think that their intentions when they started out were they wanted to be accepted within the female, the lesbian community. But they were just too ...
Michela Griffo: [01:50:30] Starting of the wording, again, of the cisgender, of the TERFS. I think that lesbians had a right as did all women to have safe spaces, and that if you cannot guarantee this is a safe space, that any man can walk into a woman's and say, I'm a woman, and they have to let them in.
Michela Griffo: [01:51:00] I'm not saying, like where the president says, "All Mexicans are rapists and criminals." No, all transgender women are not rapists or criminals or whatever, that they're gonna invade these women's spaces so that they can find the ex-wives and kill them or whatever. But I just feel like there's all this sensitivity around, Oh, how we speak about transgender women. There's no sensitivity about how lesbians are spoken about now,
Michela Griffo: [01:51:30] that we're disappearing, and that suddenly, everything was started ... This painting, Teena Brandon was not transgender. Tina Brandon was a lesbian. And at the end of the painting, at the end of the thing, the comic that goes to the middle, she says, I should have just kept driving and gone to San Francisco. I would have been just another Butch, but then nobody makes movies about dead lesbians. When I read about Teena Brandon,
Michela Griffo: [01:52:00] her death, I read everything there was to know about it. This goes back 2002, to whenever it first happened, including her social workers notes. They offered her gender transition surgery. She said, "I don't want to be a man." "I'm not. I didn't want to be a Dyke. I just want to date women." She was a naive girl from the Midwest who thought she could get away with it, but now she's transgender.
Michela Griffo: [01:52:30] A lot of people that were my lesbian heroes are being called transgender. There are not. They were lesbians. We're being written out of history. Our history is being changed to ... Now, Stonewall, if you ask a young kid, "Who started Stonewall?" Oh, Silvia and Marsha, drag queens, transgender women. That's what I saw at the Brooklyn museum. I went to NYU for a panel discussion called,
Michela Griffo: [01:53:00] something about the after effects of Stonewall. It was all transgender people. One of them was 19 years old. What did she have to tell me, or he, whatever it was, I can't remember. Transgender woman or a transgender man, just know it was transgenders, all the people were transgender, except for Urvashi Vaid came up to me,
Michela Griffo: [01:53:30] she saw me sitting in the audience. She goes, Oh, Michela, you should have been part of this panel. I said, well, it's a little late for that [inaudible]. And even Anne, Anne saw me too, and she looked at me like, this had nothing to do ... But all these things were going on, a lot of them about histories, Stonewall, all transgender. I'm like, wait a minute, what the hell is going on here?
Mason Funk: [01:54:00] Okay, that's great. I really appreciate it.
Michela Griffo: Oh, I'm sure I'll be tarred and feathered and run out of town, but somebody has to say it. This is insane. This is insane. It's not, it doesn't even make sense to call somebody, gender fluid. Gender expression? Yes. I understand that. A lot of times I dress as a woman. Sometimes I dress as a man, but I'm not gender fluid. I'm a woman.
Mason Funk: [01:54:30] Like I said, thank you. This project seeks to include every single opinion, whether it's popular or not, so your opinion is [inaudible]
Michela Griffo: Well, I'm coming at it from the point that not only was I one of the first real gay activists and continue to be so, but I'm also a trained social worker and I listened to this language and I listened to what's going on,
Michela Griffo: [01:55:00] and I go, Oh boy, this is not good. Not for our community and not for the people that are involved, not for the transgender women themselves.
Mason Funk: Michelle, do you want to ask a few questions before I go to my final? I have like a final four questions.
Michela Griffo: Okay. The final four.
Michelle McCabe: [01:55:30] What gets bunched together all the time is sexual orientation and gender identity, and they're incredibly different things.
Michela Griffo: Yes, they are. Yes, they are.
Michelle McCabe: My attraction to men, women is one thing. Who I identify as is something entirely different. So, why is there [inaudible] at the end of that community? And do you see it like fractioning off at some point?
Mason Funk: And talk to me as if I had asked that question.
Michela Griffo: [01:56:00] Okay. No offense to bisexuals, because I could have called myself one, but I think we got into trouble when we added the Bi. That was the beginning of separating our community. Now, my feeling is if I'm bisexual, I'm dating a man, society sees me as a straight woman. If I'm dating a woman, they see me as a lesbian. I feel the same way about the whole thing around gender identity
Michela Griffo: [01:56:30] that we have their sexual orientation. So you have trans women, basically, who will date other trans women or they could date gay men. But the bottom line is we're all either gay or lesbian, but when we start with all of this other stuff going on, it doesn't belong in our community. Not that we should shun these people,
Michela Griffo: [01:57:00] but how did we end up being the repository for everybody who doesn't identify as heterosexual? That's just my feeling about that. Once we got the Bi in there, we're already starting to open ourselves up, and now queer means nothing to me. You say you're, I don't know what you are. [inaudible] queer. Questioning, queer, whatever you want to call it.
Michela Griffo: [01:57:30] Fine. Question, all you want. But when you make up your mind, then you either join gay liberation or you join straight something or whatever. So that's my feeling about that. I think there are, yeah, there's definitely sexual orientation, which is a preference, and theres sexual identity.
Mason Funk: Do you have a follow up to that question or other questions?
Michelle McCabe: [01:58:00] I also look at 30 year old women who are now transitioning and identifying as men, and I think of myself at that age, and I remember things like growing up in Albany, New York and not knowing any gay people and thinking, Oh, I like girls. I must've been a boy.
Michelle McCabe: [01:58:30] That kind of when something went wrong in your growth. These things processing as an eight, nine, ten year old kid. And I noticed the progression of that thinking as a lesbian. And I wonder if society is interrupting a natural progression by introducing the idea of trans at such a young age.
Michela Griffo: [01:59:00] With regard to these teenagers transitioning, I always wanted to be a boy. When I was a girl, I wanted to be a boy. Why? Because boys got to play and get dirty. I love playing outdoors. Camping. My favorite thing was being a girl scout because we could go camping and get dirty and you live in the out of doors. And you know, I used to watch Davy Crockett on television. And the boy's life, I rode horses,
Michela Griffo: [01:59:30] but I did them as what was called a tomboy. Let's just say, Oh, she's a tomboy. She'll grow out of it. And I did eventually grow out of it. But I always thought boys have better ... They can become a neurosurgeon, which is what I want it to be originally, which was close to women. They can be artists -- I didn't know that women could be artists. I knew,
Michela Griffo: [02:00:00] because of the George Eastman house of photography, that they could be photographers. If I had been growing up in this climate wanting to be Davy Crockett or Hopalong Cassidy because I could ride horses and get dirty and go camping and live in the odd Hunter. Of course, I would think I should be a boy. And it had nothing to do with being attracted to girls because that wasn't even on my radar. But what was on my radar was
Michela Griffo: [02:00:30] I was born in the wrong body. If I had been a boy, the world would have been mine. Instead, as I got older and older, my world was being defined by who I was with, what man I was with, and not by what I ... Nobody ever asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, it wasn't that important. Even where I wanted to go to college, nothing. It was like, okay, well yeah, you're going to get married and have kids. And that was it.
Michela Griffo: [02:01:00] That was going to be my life. And I thought I would've had a much better life if I had grown up to be my brother. So, I wonder, these parents that take their 12 year old boy and have him castrated; to me, that's child abuse. Again, because my friend is Brian Belovitch, and I know his story of growing up in a really rough section in Rhode Island and thinking that in order to be accepted,
Michela Griffo: [02:01:30] he has to become a woman, and now he has re-transitioned back to being Brian. His story is fascinating, and I do hope that you will contact him.
Mason Funk: Okay. Anything else, Michelle? Okay. I mean, it's such a huge topic. Yeah, it's really complex
Michela Griffo: And I think you're going to be hearing more and more from more and more, especially lesbians. I don't know how gay men feel about the fact that theyve pretty much been written out of history as well, in terms of our early history.
Mason Funk: [02:02:00] Yeah. Gay men, they've always been the holders of power. They're less worried about their privilege being taken away because they've got a lot of privilege.
Michela Griffo: Right. And the transgender women are not invading their spaces. I've never heard of it, yet.
Mason Funk: Yeah, yeah. Not to the point where they feel threatened.
Michela Griffo: I mean, the only time I saw [crosstalk] it was on YouTube. It was this British woman and she and her whole group,
Michela Griffo: [02:02:30] like the New York athletic club, where only men are allowed, right? Now, in England, self-identification, that's the law. So, they all went to this men's swimming whatever, and they're taking off their clothes, and they're going swimming, and they're like, well, we're men, we self-identify. These men went nuts. They were just incensed that these women had the nerve to call themselves self-identified men
Michela Griffo: [02:03:00] and come into their space. But if it had been the other way around, they would've been called TERFS or I don't know. That's what Im saying, why is it always the lesbians that are said, Oh no, you have got to put up with this? I mean, you know, please.
Mason Funk: Maybe it goes back to that whole idea that women are supposed to be more malleable.
Michela Griffo: Oh yeah, absolutely. Our opinion doesn't matter. We don't matter. We're the bottom of the barrel. We always will be.
Mason Funk: [02:03:30] That's why I feel like it's got a lot of misogyny written into it.
Michela Griffo: Bottom of the barrel. We were doing it because we can.
Mason Funk: Yeah. And you have to accept what you're given. Accept what's offered you, as opposed to [crosstalk]
Michela Griffo: It always reminds me of this film, In the Company of Men, about these two men and they're just brutal toward these women that they are dating or whatever. Just horrible to them.
Michela Griffo: [02:04:00] This one guy just treats this woman, she's deaf and he makes her feel [inaudible]. It takes around [inaudible] and finally dumps her. This other guy starts to feel bad, he says, Why did you do that? And he said, Because we can. Because we can. Grab them by the pussy, as our president says, why? Because he can.
Mason Funk: Okay, final four questions.
Michela Griffo: Oh, I didn't realize there were more.
Mason Funk: I promise this is the home stretch.
Michela Griffo: [02:04:30] No, its okay. Its alright. Listen, I'm a Leo. I'm like Madonna where she says, Everybody's entitled to my opinion. Leo's are very opinionated.
Mason Funk: I love it. Somebody recently said, it's not quite the same thing, but I think it was, I don't know, it was some female member of the British royalty. She said, I may have not always been right, but I've never been wrong.
Michela Griffo: Sounds like something Queen Elizabeth would say.
Mason Funk: [02:05:00] Okay. If you could tell your 13 year old self one thing, what would it be?
Michela Griffo: When you grow up, you're going to have a life beyond your wildest dreams. And I have had a life beyond my wildest dreams. I have had crushing blows, I have survived things that most people wouldn't have been able to survive.
Michela Griffo: [02:05:30] The whole idea about wanting to be a boy when I was a young girl, I'm so glad I'm a woman, I wouldn't have changed it for anything. Yes, it was hard. It's much harder to be in this world and be a woman because you're always vulnerable. But there's something about being a woman with all the emotions that go along with it, with the body that goes along with it. I wouldn't change anything.
Mason Funk: [02:06:00] Right. Great. You used the word courage a lot in your interview and so maybe I know the answer to this question, but I wanted to ask you, what do you think is the, I sometimes like to call it the superpower of however you identify. You identify as lesbian, what do you feel is the lesbian super power that has enabled you and countless other lesbian women to accomplish what you've accomplished?
Michela Griffo: [02:06:30] That's a very interesting question. I'm going to just, I'm going to have to say that to me it's a mystery. I don't know whether I came from stock that was revolutionary. I don't know that much about either of my parents' families. All I know is that from a very young age, I could not stand by and watch somebody be bullied
Michela Griffo: [02:07:00] or have somebody say something to them that hurt their feelings. My mother used to say, Your sensitivity is going to kill you. And I really believe that my sensitivity is what became my strong point. And it is what keeps me going. What's the guy that says, in The Grapes of Wrath, I think it is, Wherever there is poverty,
Michela Griffo: [02:07:30] I'll be there. I mean, it's why I became a social worker. It wasn't enough just to be an artist and say what I had to say. I've been very fortunate in my life, and I believe in passing it on, and I'm always gonna fight for what's right.
Mason Funk: Great. Why is it important to you, to tell your story? Or, in other words, why did you agree to this interview?
Michela Griffo: [02:08:00] I agreed to this interview and to tell my story because I see so many people who are young, who have no idea how they got to have the lives and the freedoms that they have today. They don't know what it was like to be gay when the only place you could go was a dark bar, where the drinks were expensive and where you were made to feel terrible about yourself;
Michela Griffo: [02:08:30] where your church and your family told you you were sick; where many people in my generation were put in insane asylums, they were exposed to therapies that were brutal physically and mentally. And I want them to know that if they're gay, lesbian, whatever,
Michela Griffo: [02:09:00] their life may be difficult now, as young people, but when they grow up, they're going to grow up into a world that I never could even have imagined when I was 19 years old.
Mason Funk: Excellent. And lastly, OUTWORDS, our mission is to collect stories like yours and countless other people in small towns and big cities across the country from every single part of this crazy community.
Mason Funk: [02:09:30] What do you see as the value of doing that? And if you could mention the word OUTWORDS in your answer.
Michela Griffo: The value of doing what?
Mason Funk: Collecting interviews with LGBTQ pioneers [inaudible].
Michela Griffo: Oh, I mean to me the value of OUTWORDS, of going out of New York city because, unfortunately, or fortunately, many, many gays are in San Francisco and New York City, whatever. But in my work with Remote Area Medical, I go to tiny communities in Appalachia,
Michela Griffo: [02:10:00] in the South and the deep South, and I know that there are gays there and I want to know their stories. It's just as exciting for me to go to someplace in Georgia or West Virginia and meet somebody who's gay, who's openly gay in a small town. How did they do it? What is their life like? I want them to know my history, but I also want to know their story as well
Michela Griffo: [02:10:30] because I know OUTWORDS is filming these people in small towns everywhere that young people are going to get to see. Oh, I don't have to live in New York city. I don't have to live in San Francisco or Chicago. I can live right here in, I don't know, Akron, Ohio and have a wonderful life as an open gay person?
Mason Funk: That's very much one of the reasons why we're doing this and why we are going to small towns as well as big cities.
Mason Funk: [02:11:00] On that note, as a fifth question, you mentioned your experiences going out to these small towns as part of this organization. Just tell us about that organization and what you observed and what lessons you brought back from these travels to these small rural communities.
Michela Griffo: I first saw -- it's either 20/20 or 60 minutes --
Michela Griffo: [02:11:30] a story about Remote Area Medical and that I would see these people that would wait overnight in the rain, line up, just to get a number, to get in to get their teeth fixed for free or to get eyeglasses. And for a long time I had been looking for a nondenominational organization. I did not want to go with any kind of church group or religious organization because I had lost somebody I love to the evangelicals,
Michela Griffo: [02:12:00] and it broke my heart. But I wanted to do some kind of Christian outreach. So, Remote Area Medical goes to the absolutely poorest sections; Cooksville, Tennessee; Ashtabula, Ohio, all these towns that were at one time thriving coal mining towns. So these people are three generations of steel mill workers.
Michela Griffo: [02:12:30] These are the people that work in Walmart, they work in the gas stations, the whatever. And it's across black, white, Native American, you name it, we see it all. The reason that I love working with them is when the people come in, they're asked -- just for getting information, so that remote area can apply for grants --
Michela Griffo: [02:13:00] are you, male, female or transgender? Boom. That's it. What was important to me was, as I'm doing this work -- because one of the first people they see is me, I'm the person thats gonna get all the information and then send them to where they need to go, and sometimes they just need to talk to me -- I would see people from these small towns that were gay and transgender and whatever.
Michela Griffo: [02:13:30] And I just found it fascinating to talk to these people to find out from, especially the transgender people in these small towns, are you getting appropriate medical care? Do you have a support group? And it's also important to me that I am able to say to them, It's okay, I'm gay. You can talk to me. I'm gay. Because I may be the only gay person outside of their small community
Michela Griffo: [02:14:00] that these people are ever going to meet. And that's why I think, OUTWORDS, what you're doing is so important that somehow these people are going to be able to see these stories of other people that live in these small towns. This is the most important work we do. Not necessarily the big fundraisers in New York city and the Lambda and this and that, and the rewards given out. No. It's people like you that go to these small towns
Michela Griffo: [02:14:30] and get these stories, and these people are as brave as anyone that marched up 6th Avenue, in 1970, in my estimation.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Thank you for that. I'll tell you a story in a minute, but we're going to roll and call room tone, which is just the sound of the room with nobody talking, and that's for editing purposes. Then we'll cut. You want to call it out?
Michelle McCabe: Okay. Room tone.
[02:15:00] [room tone]
[02:15:30] [room tone]
Mason Funk: [02:16:00] Okay. Room tone with radiator.
Michelle McCabe: [02:16:30] And cut.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Michelle McCabe
Date: January 17, 2020
Location: Home of Michela Griffo, New York, NY