One thing you should definitely have happen before you die: have an organized protest against you*
"The Day I Was Protested Against" (part 1)
- by Mark Allen
*based on a true story

- video stills by Blass

    When I was a kid growing up in Texas, I used to watch John Waters' hysterical film  Polyester over and over. It was one of my favorite movies. Among the many sub-plots in the "odoriffic-ly" filmed black comedy... was the constant protesters marching in the front yard of the Fishpaw's lush, suburban home. In the film, the characters Francine (played by Divine) and her husband Elmer were simultaneously thrilled and aghast that there were Christian activists with signs and chants (and tomatoes) in their front yard, day and night, marching and ranting against Elmer Fispaw's local porn theater - which the protesters felt was corrupting the morals of the community's youth. The sleazy, adulterous Elmer was thrilled at all the " publicity!" and the overweight, fawning, doormat of a wife Francine was horrified at what her husband had caused, and angry at his encouragement of it because " the local women won't speak to me down at the shopping mall!" At one point, she actually goes outside to plead with the protesters by yelling through tears "...please leave me and my family alone! We're a nice family! We haven't done anything to you! Please!" only to be met with an onslaught of jeering and splatting, rotten tomatoes.
    Trying to figure out exactly which character I was secretly dreaming of being as I let the film subconsciously seep into my brain over and over is hard to figure. Which did I identify with the most? The hen-pecking, snobbish, overly-moralistic protesters... forcing their value system on the entire world in lieu of saving their children's morals? The opportunistic, corrupt, toupee-wearing Elmer - who couldn't have cared less about any children (including his own) and was stubbornly and bombastically thrilled at all the attention he was getting? The entire-cake-eating, alcoholic, pathetic, Francine... who pleaded for peace... and wanted to avoid conflict in the name of her reputation, naively wanting everyone to "...please just get along?"
    Despite that film portraying a kind of surreal comic reality... I nevertheless saw this kind of thing happening all around me. Especially in America. I always wondered "What would that be like?" To be protested against I mean... to have something you did rub a group of people so the wrong way that they went to the trouble to organize and carry out a formal expression of dislike towards you - with rabid flyers disseminated about you... marching in circles in front of your home or place of work... signs with your name in dripping blood letters and a picture of your head on them and a big red circle and "cross-out" sign over your face... screaming people shouting "Shame!" at you and pointing their finger as you walked past... threats left on your answering machine... rhyming clever chants about how bad you were shouted over and over... people in tears, pouring their hearts out in front of television cameras about how they hated you... print ads recruiting people to organize against you... lobbed fruits or vegetables... an effigy of you strung up and jeered at... the works. What would you feel? Would you be thrilled? Angry? Scared? Freaked out? Annoyed? Happy? Sad? One thing I was pretty certain of: you would probably feel was that you were right and the protesters were wrong.
    I found out all this information... from both sides.
    First, from the side of the protesters:
    My first foray into the world of organized protests and activism came in the form of ACT-UP, which I enthusiastically joined some time in 1991, when I first moved to NYC - starry-eyed and empty headed. ACT-UP (The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) was formed in 1987 by a handful of determined visionaries who wanted to try and wake America up to the growing AIDS epidemic (which was seemingly being intentionally ignored under Presidents Reagan and then Bush) by speaking through the media via direct, ballsy actions... bullshit-less, radical, often humorous protests and clever forms of civil disobedience. The often brilliant organization, who's motto was "Silence = Death", was highly successful in it's beginning... and partly so through it's middle period. Unfortunately it peaked in the Winter of 1989, during a demonstration at St. Patrick's Cathedral when a single protester questionably threw a communion wafer on the ground and stomped on it. That marked a turning point, and ACT-UP... which had by that point spawned cells all over the world and was indeed serving it's purpose... ever so slowly, bit by bit, descended into a kind of low-grade dysfunctional madness... as every pennynickle radical and shallow, Che-reading anarchist within a three-brain radius glommed onto the group and anchored it down into a maddening, nonsensical merry-go-round of old, old-school feminism, tedious racial issue witch hunting, police brutality conspiracy theorizing and warmed-over hippie anti-war charades - in other words; the fetid, fascistic Hell of P.C. group think. By 1995, ACT-UP's New York chapter was indeed a popular and constructive community of close-knit friends and social networks (just like a Star Trek convention), but it's political and social relevance to the still growing AIDS epidemic was an embarrassing joke. Many of the original core member jettisoned from what had, in effect, become a ship of fools... and ACT-UP sailed off as a ghost ship into unknown seas.
    When did I jump on that particular bandwagon? My history with ACT-UP was roughly over a year, the period from 1991-92... and even though the group as a global force was in it's Autumn years... it still had a lot of potential, and did a lot of good... and spawned a lot of fantastic memories for me.
    Memories? I distributed clean needles to drug users in Tompkins Square Park.  I went to public meetings and helped shout down and disrupt speakers (who were there to help people) because their kind of AIDS research and service wasn't politically correct.  I got sprayed with mace and had to spend the night in jail with blurry vision because I lost my contacts.  I was hilariously tapped lightly with police batons in what seemed to be a surreal attempt by police to not be perceived as using excessive force (at an impromptu demo in front of a police station where an arrested member was being held and supposedly 'tortured' by maniacal police - or so the wild rumor went).  I got practically beaten up by normal pedestrians that were infuriated that they couldn't get through us after we tried to halt commuter traffic in Grand Central in a "Day of Desperation" demonstration that's purpose I'm still trying to figure out.  When we couldn't stop commuter traffic at that particular demo... we went out and sat in the middle of 42nd street during rush hour - and all 300 of us were one-by-one plucked from the street and hauled off to the pen (I think it was almost midnight by the time they got to me).  I finally got to make out with a guy I had had a crush on for months - in the back of a moving police van with both of our hands handcuffed behind our back (how romantic!) and was then heartbroken when they put us in different group holding cells.  During a hellish stay in a Nutley, NJ jail (after being arrested with a group that chained themselves under trucks to block the entrance to the Hoffman IaRoche drug company)... I was confronted with a firework (that emitted colored smoke) I had been carrying for the group in my bag that we thought might come in handy to create a "dramatic" effect during the demo... I happened to have it in my bag (lucky me!).  During that subsequent trail a month later I had to pay a fine (paid for by, weirdly, someone from Greenpeace) and received an official one-point terrorist record in the state of New Jersey (it's still on file!).  I helped install a giant, yellow, inflated condom over Jesse Helms' Arlington, VA home that said "Jesse Helms: Deadlier Than the Virus" and then rather than getting arrested had to spend the afternoon trudging all over D.C. in a rented van as the core members of the group tried to get interviewed on CNN (I would have gladly spent a week in a Medieval torture chamber instead).  Helms decided to not press charges since we politely took it down after the press left (I had a nice time re-arranging his front flower bed after one of the tether wires uprooted some tupils), plus he wasn't home at the time (but his maid was).  I had a sign I had drawn (depicting Bart Simpson with his pants down and a condom over his penis) yanked out of my hands by a member of Donald Wildmon's American Family Association group and smashed over my head during a sit-in at the Board of Education to try to get condoms distributed to high school students in NYC (the incident resulted in me inviting the member of Wildmon's group to be a guest on a gay-themed radio show I was a part of on WBAI 99.5FM and debate the issue... the person agreed and I scheduled them to appear - only to have my request to debate the person angrily halted a day before the airing - by a feminazi member of G.L.A.A.D. who worked at WBAI).  I proposed demos and working group ideas on the floor of ACT-UP meetings and heard members of the assembled chant "Act up!", "Fight AIDS!" all through the hall when they heard something I proposed that they thought made sense (a haunting memory that to this day reminds me of what people in the congregation of churches in my Southern Baptist upbringing did when the pastor spoke of salvation - except they said 'Amen!' not 'Fight AIDS!').  I ended up on 60 Minutes for about sixty seconds - shown being man-handled by Virginia police who were snatching a walkie talkie out of my hand and cuffing me into a police car ('Hi mom!').  I helped cause low-key havoc at George Bush's Kennebunkport, Maine vacation home during a week of protests there... and ended up getting laid more than anything else.  I remember sitting inside the Astra drug company waiting rooms chatting with nice secretaries about our favorite television shows while I was helping "shut down" the offices they worked in... all while being handcuffed to the arms of seven other people (under white plastic piping we had our hands clasped to each other in - we were bluffing).  I spent countless nights in the NYC police holding system... sometimes getting out almost instantly... sometimes spending a grueling 48 hours.  Well, it wasn't countless... I think about six or seven times in NYC and other parts of the upper East coast.
    It's strange how all my memories when I was writing this just now tended to involve getting arrested, being in jail, going on trial, the mad rush of excitement, etc... over the cold hard facts of what exactly I was doing and why. At the time I seemed to know... but now, those memories are not the ones that stuck. The names, the companies, the reasons. I literally had to look at an ACT-UP time line on the web to get all the dates and drug companies' names correct.
    Nevertheless, in ACT-UP I had made some great, intense friends... and realistically, also some enemies. I felt like, at the end of it all, I had contributed to some great work in "greasing the wheels" of AIDS research and attention... and as time goes on and the AIDS epidemic still grows... having an even bigger world-wide impact now more than ever before... I feel I definitely did something positive.
    But also... looking back, and especially being older and wiser... I cannot in all consciousness say that it all was part of some great cause. Much of it was indeed... but a lot of it wasn't. Don't get me wrong... the organization was filled to the brim with dedicated and brave people who worked tirelessly and diligently... many driven by the desperation of dead or dying loved ones... or perhaps their own looming mortality. But also...
    The most troublesome (or is 'puzzling' the right word?) thoughts about it all? I remember protesting against people who's story I didn't really know 100%... situations that I hadn't researched thoroughly but that seemed to me nevertheless worthy of being "shut down."  Some situations I didn't know at all... I just joined the fight. I remember hating drug companies because I was told to. Screaming "Shame! Shame!" in politicians faces because everyone else was. Anyone who was deemed an enemy... for whatever reason was a target for the whole group... and they'd better not mess with us... because we were WATCHING YOU! Anyone who opposed us? They were picked apart and jeered... we wanted to see them humiliated and taught a lesson... people's lives were at stake and we were fault-less heroes with big sticks whom you'd better not cross. The point of political activism seems to be to disrupt your target's routine to the point where they have no choice but to confront you and listen to your ideas... but when we got people's attention - all they probably saw was our red, screaming tantrum faces yelling "Me! Me! Me!"  By the end I remember getting arrested for political actions that seemed like dramatic ego-projection more than anything else. Huge, sweeping demos that seems cooked up from a high school boy's rock star dreams more than from a seriously contemplative and determined mind with a serious goal - one that carefully analyzed and weighed all political and social ramifications of cause and effect - the kind of thinking that started the organization.
    And so in the end this was how a once-great ACT-UP, which in the beginning was true strength in the face of the abyss, and a true and pure positive force... became an abyss of a different sort, and eventually rotted in the face of man's ego. But it's no surprise, as studies of most activist movements (or any organizational government) have shown similar patterns.
    Despite it all, I often wondered at the time about the people I was protesting against. What was going through their minds? I mean specifically... on a personal level? Did they think we were good? Evil? Courageous? Right? Wrong? Did they think we were waking them up to something they really needed to see? Did they see us as egotistical retarded bullies having a fit? Did they feel we were their conscious? I mean... regardless of whatever was true (or not) ...what were the thought processes going through the minds of the people we protested during our actions?
    In 1995, I found out first hand:

(continued below...)

- video stills by Blass
    By 1993 days of political activism were over.
    I had moved way on. What cause did I dedicate myself to to replace AIDS activism? Why... the very important world of NYC nightlife!
    Trust me... in the early 1990's (and even more so in the 80's)... NYC nightlife was definitely a "world". A world of fake power, fake fashion, fake fame, fake press, real drugs, fake friends, fake escape and sometimes fake happiness ...but also a place of real music, real community, real talent... and yes, real culture. Ideas, ideas, ideas and fun, fun, fun. Any cultural historian with half a brain who can get one eye open can't ignore the traceable lines that lead from many large global cultural trends of the 70's, 80's and 90's back to where they spawned - in underground gay clubs all over the world.
    I had already been working in clubs during the time I was with ACT-UP... so it had been there in the beginning.  I'll skip over all kinds of things that are obvious... all the adventures and non-adventures and wild times and boring times and sometimes big money and I can say with honesty "sharp fantastic-ness" that was generally my life from around 1991 - 1995. I'll just say that I started out go-go dancing after being spotted at a club by Marc Berkley (also an on-again, off-again member of ACT-UP) and slowly developed a network of friends and then ended up having my own nights at clubs and hosting other events, I got to travel all over the world, do low-key acting and low-key modeling, become kind of "famous", make a lot of money... by the end I had climbed so high that I looked out from my mountain top of "NYC nightlife scene" success and do you know what I saw? I saw the ankles of all the people living in the real world. Seriously.
    That's what I saw. In other words: it was a total, total, total blast and, even though I was removed from the real world at the time... I wouldn't have traded that bubble I was in for the real world itself... ever.
    How appropriate is that then... when so very ironically... things kind of came full circle from my activist days and I found myself the target of political activists because of the title of an event I was having at one of my clubs in my "in a bubble" nightlife world.
    To show you how completely removed I am from the bawdy, hedonistic playground that was NYC nightlife in the mid-90's... I must express to you that I cannot even put into words the degree my face is wincing and my eyes are flipping back into my skull as I type out the words "The Sucking Off Puerto Rican Drug Dealers in the Bathroom Contest" on the keyboard right now - which was the name of the event that sparked the melee. My face isn't turning into an alum-soaked lemon wedge because I think the title is racist or whatever... which was the point of the protesters (I'll get to that later)... it's just because it's so childishly raunchy and ridiculous... potty humor from a deranged five year old who lives in a sewer. But... like it or not... it was a reflection of the world I lived in at the time. Ugh...
    I had a Wednesday night club at Webster Hall called The Male Room. It was a gay night... and was notorious during it's 6-month heyday for having bizarre stunt-themed events and homoerotic "improv" theater... as well as hot guys roaming all over the place (which is why people go out - duhr). I think I was trying to mix The Roxy with an art gallery... trying to mix Jackie 60-style brains with guys cruising for each other brainless-ness. I know that sounds completely moronic... but trust me... back then that was a serious goal.
    I came up with all the events and shows... pulled in the crowd... hired the dancers, DJs... doormen... guest list... etc. I was in charge of the advertising... blah blah blah. I did all this with a very cool guy named Reign Voltaire. Reign ran the bigger nights at Webster Hall (Friday and Saturday) and ran the Wednesday party with me (his more club kid-centric party was in the main ballroom while my event was upstairs). Webster Hall itself is run by a very colorful, large Italian family... and they were always incredibly cool with me. They are really fun people (I always said someone should make a movie about them) and they definitely got the humor of what I was doing with The Male Room.
    One of the most popular events I had there was called "The Hustler Run" - where me and three contestants would split into two groups and leave the stage at a certain time... and the first one to return to the stage with the hottest real male hustler (usually picked up from Port Authority or a well-known hustler bar in Times Square) would win a prize... sort of. It usually ended up with me just paying the hustler to entertain the crowd on stage... nothing sexual... just stripping and having people come on stage and goof off with him... maybe have the two we had picked up from the different teams "compete" to see who could whip the crowd into more of a frenzy. All this as I stood there in my underwear (my humiliating costume for every single night) and with a microphone nonchalantly asked them question after question about what it was like to have sex with gross old men for a living. The hustlers that got picked up for the show were indeed real... trust me... some were pretty scary. This added authenticity to the whole thing which really fascinated people... like they were seeing something kind of illegal.  It was surreal and hilarious... and the crowd ate it up. And the money rolled in.
    The Male Room... for it's first six months... was a great success. I didn't even have to try to get people to show up... they came in droves... and I and the club couldn't have been happier. But... club life being the fickle thing that it is... six months didn't last forever. Things in club land tended to flare up... burn white hot... and then disappear. The crowds on Wednesday nights started dwindling more and more... people around town started copying my ideas and pulling people into different spaces... we got distracted and lazy with the shows and events... people eventually started going elsewhere. I had other events happening at different clubs at the time so I didn't worry about it too much. Webster Hall started paying me a flat fee rather than a cut because the money stopped coming in truckloads. People still came... but it wasn't a mob... every week Reign and I would be like... "Well... should we do it again next week?" The conclusion would always be "Yes! Run some more ads in HX and Next magazines! Hire different DJs! Come up with crazier events! Advertise free booze! Have (yet another) Hustler Run!" ...and we would go through the motions once again. Reign and I should have canceled the whole thing right then and there and moved on... but we decided to draaaaaag it out... hoping that we could somehow make it happen again and again and again. For another six months it dragged on like this... it was still fun... but showing up every Wednesday to a half-full or semi-full party was starting to feel like the graveyard shift.
    That's when it happened.
    Back up about two weeks:
    I was in a Theater Couture play at the time; The Final Feast of Lucrezia Borgia... and was backstage getting ready. As I was getting into my Shakespearean frilly top, codpiece and medieval tights... I was multitasking! Hahahaha! No, but seriously... I was also on the phone with Reign and we were trying to figure out what text to put on the new Male Room ad... which was due to the magazines that afternoon. Someone within earshot (I think it was Mistress Formika - who was always teasing me) said something like "...oh what are you going to have this time Mark? The sucking off Puerto Rican drug dealers show?" Everybody laughed... and then, right from her mouth to my ears and then out of my mouth into the phone and into Reign's ears and out of the pen in his hand onto a piece of paper and into a brown envelope and into a messenger's hand and to the offices of HX Magazine went the text for a full page ad for Wednesday night at The Male Room that said "The Sucking Off Puerto Rican Drug Dealers in the Bathroom Contest" (wince... groan...) Reign asked me, as he was writing it down, what we thought the contest should be. I told him I didn't know. The shows there by this point were ridiculously stupid... weird improv stuff I would do on stage with audience members to a room 1/3 the way full. No sex or anything like that... just bawdy, in-joke theater. Total silliness.
    And that was that. HX Magazine (who's motto on the cover of every issue, at the time, was 'The totally biased, politically incorrect party paper') ran the full-page ad for two weeks... and the second week it ran right on the very back of the magazine.
    This was a mistake on my and Reign's part (HX really isn't to blame - they were probably too busy to even notice... and, finding themselves in a new and had-never-happened-before situation, acted swiftly and appropriately when the whole controversy exploded - in favor of both sides). The words "Sucking Off Puerto Rican Drug Dealers in the Bathroom Contest" (cringe) belongs just where it spawned from... in the dark, illegal-ish, outlaw, after hours gay clubs of the East Village... where over-the-top outrageousness and alcohol and drugs rule the value system and debauchery and general decadence aggressively encourage an atmosphere where there is no such thing as "bad taste". The art/freak/gay people who gather at these downtown events thrillingly embrace such a value system... and egg on performers and themes that try to out-do each other... brimming over into a kind of apocalyptic cultural meltdown where nothing at all is sacred and everyone is screaming with laughter... that is the world that these people feel warm, centered and at peace in. Conclusion: the words belong in that space and world, and do not belong on the very back of a magazine that is distributed all over five boroughs... in big black and white letters where just anyone's eyes can pass across them. The phrase (and resulting ridiculously lame show) "The Sucking Off Puerto Rican Drug Dealers in the Bathroom Contest" (wince... ugh...) is nothing compared to some of the language and stuff that went on in downtown clubs in the mid-90's (and still does today). And the people (on the whole) that frequented these establishments and were part of that gay world wouldn't even begin to question the humor in such a title.
    So then whole thing blew up. I remember when an oblivios-to-what-was-to-come me first got a call at home from an ex-boyfriend (who was Latin) who told me "Mark... these people... this group... they've been calling me a lot because they know I know you... and... I'm really scared... they are gonna show up at your house... they... they want to have you arrested... they are gonna have a protest at Webster Hall... they are calling City Hall to try and get a case against you to have you thrown in jail..." You could hear the awkward fear in his voice. I was like "Wait... wait... now what are you talking about?" He explained to me, shakily, that he had been receiving calls from some people he knew peripherally in a group called The Gay and Lesbian Coalition Against Racism... that were trying to mobilize the gay and lesbian community of all colors to have a demonstration at my club, have the club shut down, have me arrested and put in prison, and force me to make a public apology to the entire gay and lesbian community and communities of color before hauling me off to the slammer. I was like "...huh? Wait... repeat all that again?" He explained it to me again and I think I got the point.
    It's hard to put into words how... but at the time I was soooo busy with my life... that it hardly even phased me. I had an event to either go host, or perform at, almost every night of the week and I guess I just didn't have the mental room to process all the information. Hence... I practically ignored what he had told me. It sounded like some wacko prank call that had rattled a friend of mine. I literally forgot about it.
    Boy was I in for a (nostalgic) jolt...

I believe that the best thing for me to do is to share my horrible past to help others avoid the same path.

I like offending people! It's how I fight society's bull. Call me obsessive...

"Oh we thhhooouuught yyyooouuu would be caaalllllllliiinnng u-s-s-s-s-s-s!!!" he said with the same sort of tone and inflection The Joker used whenever he lured Batman and Robin into one of his diablical traps.

Angrily draw battle lines with crayons.

Having a bunch of activists have a full-blown protest against you in front of where you work may look exciting from the outside but, much like winning an Emmy Award ...or being nailed to a cross as The King of the Jews... the boring, doldrums reality of such an esteemed position, once you are no longer on the outside looking in... the view from the ivory tower is not so exciting or glamorous.

I soon learned that Francine and Elmer Fishpaw getting picketed or pelted with tomatoes for peddling porn to toddlers wasn't as glamourous or exciting as it seemed... they were just actors shouting lines and doing slapstick pantomime in an outrageous comedy... and I now knew exactly how they felt.

...PART 2 comingnext week

- video stills by Blass


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