Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned.The chronology below requires little introduction; the actions of all these rioters speak for themselves. Suffice to say that this chronology is a small attempt to address a fallacy in popular conceptions of insurrection—that insurrection is ‘macho,’ masculine, or that it reinforces gender norms. It should also address another fallacy in the commonly understood chronology of queer and trans resistance—the one that says “Stonewall was first.”
- Silvia Rivera
A note on language. Any terms we apply anachronistically will fail to reflect the ways these individuals and collectives identified. Moreover, we have first-hand accounts from none of these rioters, except some Stonewall and Compton’s participants. Since any language we choose for such a broad span of time, place and culture will be historically inaccurate, we just say genderfuck insurrection. It has the nicest ring to our ears.
Genderfuck is an active term; it speaks of a force that acts upon gender normality. This is more interesting to us than other terms that are passive and speak of identity, which attempt to freeze and quarantine gender transgression into special individuals.
Our tour begins in Greece, the cradle of democracy and the location of the most recent massive insurrection against the false hope of democracy…
390 – Thessalonica, Greece. Butheric, the commander of the militia, arrested a popular circus performer under a new law that punished “male effeminacy.” The people of Thessalonica, who loved the performer, rose up in rebellion and killed Burtheric. In response to the insurrection, authorities rounded up and massacred three thousand people.
1250 – Southern France. A small crowd of cross-dressed males pranced into the home of a wealthy landowner. They sang “We take one and give back a hundred,” and ignored the protestations of the lady of the house as they looted the estate of every possession.
1450-51 – Cade’s Rebellion in Kent & Essex, England. Led by the “servants of the Queen of the Fairies,” the peasants broke into the Duke of Buckingham’s land and took his bucks and does.
1530 – ‘New Spain.’ During his campaign of conquest against communities of resistance in western portions of “New Spain,” Spanish conquistador Nuño de Guzmán wrote of a battle. The very last indigenous warrior taken prisoner after the battle was, in the conquistador’s words, “a man in the habit of a woman” who had “fought most courageously.”
16th century – Europe. Urban carnivals throughout Europe integrated cross-dressing and masks as key elements. The festivals were organized by societies of unmarried ‘men’ with trans personalities. They were called the Abbeys of Misrule, Abbots of Unreason, ‘Mére Folle and her children,’ and others. During festival, they would ‘hold court’ with mock marriages and issue coins to the crowds. They made fun of the government, critiqued the clergy, and protested war and the high cost of bread.
1629 – Essex, England. Grain riot led by ‘Captain’ Alice, who was trans.
1630 – Dijon, France. Mére Folle and her Infanterie went beyond throwing carnivals and mocking elites. They led an uprising against royal tax officers. As a result, a furious royal edict abolished the Abbey of Misrule.
1631 – England. Riots again enclosure led by ‘Lady Skimmington’ drag mob.
1645 – Montpellier, France. Tax revolt led by La Branlaire, who was called by a term for masculine women.
1720 – The Caribbean Sea. Untold numbers of trans pirates sailed across the open seas in the Golden Age of Piracy. It was not altogether uncommon at the time for “women” to “pass as men” while sailing in the navy, on mercantile ships, and as pirates. The two most well-known trans pirates of the era are Read and Bonn. They sailed together with Captain John Rackham, and their stories are known from when they were put on trial for piracy. They were said to be the most fierce and courageous fighters in their crew. Like most pirates, they were faggots.
1725 – Covent Garden Molly House Rebellion, London, England. Since 1707, the Societies for the Reformation of Manners carried out systematic attacks on London’s queer underground. More than 20 “molly houses” were raided by police in London and many “mollies” (mtfs) publicly dragged and hung for cross-dressing. But on one day in 1725, the police attempted a raid of a Covent Garden molly house, and the crowd of mollies, many in drag, fiercely and violently fought back.
1728-1749 – Toll Gate Riots in England. “To cite but four examples, toll gates were demolished by bands of armed men dressed in women’s clothing and wigs in Somerset in 1731 and 1749, in Gloucester in 1728 and in Herefordshire in 1735.”
1736 – Edinburgh, Scotland, “the Porteous Riots, which were sparked by a hated English officer and oppressive custom laws and expressed resistance to the union of Scotland and England, were carried out by men disguised as women and with a leader known as Madge Wildfire.”
1760s – White Boy commons restoration movement in Ireland. The ‘White Boys,’ a peasant guerrilla group who called themselves ‘fairies’ and did mischief at night, were a central feature of the rural class war. They destroyed enclosures, sent threatening letters to elites, reclaimed properties seized by landlords, and freed bound apprentices. They were finally put down by armed force. Their spirit inspired the formation of the ‘Lady Rocks’ and ‘Lady Clares’ in the 1820s and 1830s, and the later Ribbon Societies and Molly Maguires—all were involved in Ireland’s anti-enclosure and anti-colonial struggles and all cross-dressed.
1770s – Beaujolais, France. ‘Male’ peasants dressed as women attacked surveyors assessing their lands for a new landlord.
1812 – ‘General Ludd’s wives’ loom riot, Stockton, England. One of the early Luddite Rebellions against the Industrial Revolution was led by “General Ludd’s wives,” two cross-dressed workers. The mob of hundreds broke windows, stoned the house of Joseph Goodair, a factory owner, and later set fire to his house. They destroyed the products in the steam loom factory, smashed the looms and burned the factory to the ground. The rioting went on for four days until it was stopped by the military at Stockport, and then broke out again at Oldham.
1820s – Ireland. The ‘Lady Rocks’ militant Irish resistance group active; inspired by the White Boys, they wore bonnets and veils.
1829 – The War of the Demoiselles in the Pyrenees. A peasant uprising against restrictive forest code in which the peasants cross-dressed.
1830s – Ireland. The ‘Lady Clares’ militant Irish resistance group active; inspired by the White Boys, their ‘official’ costume was cross-dressing.
1839-1844 – Welsh Toll-gate Riots, carried out by ‘Rebecca and her daughters.’ One well-documented instance was on May 13, 1839. At dusk, a call of horns, drums and gunfire are be heard across the western Welsh countryside. Armed male peasants, dressed as women, thunder up on horseback, waving pitchforks, axes, scythes, and guns. As they storm the toll gate their leader roars: “Hurrah for free laws! Toll gates free to coal pits and lime kilns!” These demands are punctuated by a cacophony of music, shouts, and shotgun blasts. The rebel troops smash the toll barriers and ride away victorious. They call themselves “Rebecca and her daughters.” The Rebeccas are active for four years in Wales, leading thousands of cross-dressed “daughters” in the destruction of turnpike toll barriers. They receive widespread popular support.
1843 – Militant resistance group the ‘Molly Maguires’ active in Ireland. Inspired by the White Boys, the word “Molly” was the vernacular equivalent of what we might call “queen” today.
1959 – Cooper’s Donuts Riot, LA Los Angeles, May 1959. Police attempted a raid on Cooper’s Doughnuts, a late-night hangout for drag queens, butch hustlers, street queens and johns. The cops demanded IDs. The queers fought back. Doughnuts and coffee cups become projectiles. Fighting spilled out onto the street. The cops, taken by storm, called for backup. Rioters were arrested and the street was closed off for a day.
1966 – Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, San Francisco, August 1966. Compton’s Cafeteria, an all-night hangout for drag queens, and hustlers in the Tenderloin neighborhood. The restaurant management called the police on a group of young queens who were being rowdy. A police officer who was used to roughing up Compton’s regulars grabbed a queen. She threw her coffee in his face. A fight broke out. Plates, trays, cups, and furniture were thrown. The plate-glass windows of the restaurant were smashed. Police called for backup as the riot took the street. The windows of a cop car were smashed and a newspaper stand went up in flames.
1969 – Stonewall Riot, New York City, June 28. The police conduct a ‘routine’ raid of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. They began to round up trans people, drag queens and kings to be arrested for cross-dressing, which was illegal. Hostility grew and grew until an officer shoved a queen, who responded by hitting him on the head with her purse. The crowd became fierce. Cops were pelted, first with coins and then with bottles and stones. When a bull-dyke resisting arrest called to the crowd for support, the situation exploded. The crowd tried to topple the paddy wagon while the police vehicles got their tires slashed. The crowd, already throwing beer bottles, discovered a cache of bricks at a construction site. Cops were forced to barricade themselves inside the Inn. Garbage cans, garbage, bottles, rocks, and bricks were hurled at the building, breaking the windows. Rioters ripped up a parking meter and used it as a battering ram. The mob lit garbage on fire and sent it through the broken windows; squirted lighter fluid inside and lit it. Riot police arrived on the scene, but were unable to regain control of the situation. Drag queens danced a conga line and sang songs amidst the street fighting to mock the inability of the police to re-establish order. The rioting continued until dawn, and for the next four days. Crowds filled the streets and smashed more cop cars, set more fires, and looted stores.
1970 – New York City. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, veterans of the Stonewall riots, formed the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). Marsha and Sylvia opened the STAR house for homeless drag queens and runaway queer youth to stay in. The house mothers hustled to pay rent so their kids wouldn’t have to. The youth, in turn, stole food to bring home. STAR linked up with the Young Lords, a revolutionary Puerto Rican group, and with the Black Panther Party.