Thursday, November 01, 2007

Rollerena: Diva, activist, skater, legend.

The first time I heard of RollerArena (later, Rollerena), I was fresh out of the Navy and the closet and running up and down the east coast, in the fall of 1972, attending various gay lib functions at sister universities to the U. of D., where I was the President of the fledgling LGBT group there. It was said that Roller showed up, like Batman, only in a tattered old wedding dress, eyeglasses that looked like Barry Humphries castoffs, and roller skates, at anything that smacked of political gayeity or just plain fabulousness.

The first time I saw Rollerena was on a streetcorner in Greenwich Village, around Christmas of 1972, when my then boyfriend, for my Christmas present, had gotten us tickets to see "Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill" which was playing at the Theater de Lys (later renamed the Lucille Lortel theater), on Christopher Street. I was enthralled as Rollerena whizzed by, tattered train dragging in the slush, holding a magic wand like Glinda's, waving it over the crowds on the sidewalk, bestowing his Queer Blessings on us all. Roller was street theater. Roller was Guerilla gayness. Roller was my Hero(ine).

One rumor had it that by day he was a block trader at a brokerage house (Wrong. He worked at a city agency), but by night he became the doyenne of dramatic faggotry. It was known that he was one of the darlings of Studio 54 and could be found there many nights of the week. But he wasn't just a disco diva. No, no. This public display of fabulousness had a serious, political purpose behind it.

The next time I saw Roller was in the summer of 1973, at the NY Pride March. I've blogged before about what disorganized messes the Pride Marches were in those days (and a helluva lot more fun than the pre-packaged ones they stage today). Roller didn't remember my name, but he remembered my tallness or something, for he came flitting over to greet me where I had joined the congregation from Rutgers (to say "hi" to a bunch of my fellow radical faeries from that fine institution of insubordination). He, as were we all, was charged by the electricity in the air. In those days civil disobedience was one of the most powerful aphrodisiacs around. ("Hello, my name is Chance? Wouldn't you like to give Chance a piece?")

I continued to hear about Roller over the years, even as I drifted away from my gay lib roots. Sometime, probably in the early 90's, I thought about Roller and wondered whatever became of him. But in those pre-internets day, there was no easy way to check up on him.

Then, on a whim, this morning I googled him.

There's a nice little article about Rollerena here. You should read it. Rollerena is an important part of Your Gay History!

Rep. Richard Curtis, the Washington State Closet Case I flagellated here yesterday, has resigned (surprise, surprise).

It's also rumored he's in the market for a good divorce lawyer.


Alan said...

"give Chance a piece" ?!?!?!?!???

I have GOT to use that line...

JoyZeeBoy said...

Be my guest!

Eddie C. said...

I love Rollerena. I had the oppotrunity to buy him (her? hehe) a drink at a gay bar in the west village a few years ago. He still looks fabulous and was happy to hear that he is also well-known on the west coast, where I live. I was happy to meet a real live gay icon.
Eddie, Los Angeles

JoyZeeBoy said...

Dear Eddie,

Thank you for the post. Isn't Rollerena Divine? (Answer: No. Divine was from Baltimore.)

I'm glad to hear that RA is still thriving.

During our annual Pride Month it's easy (and important) to mention icons like Barbara Gittings and Franklin Kameny -- but it's equally important to remember our famous guerilla drags, like RA.