Thursday, April 19th, 2018

Cherry Grove Stories


Cherry Grove Stories is a joyous account of an iconic gay haven that has always played a crucial role in LGBT history.  It is part of Fire Island that is located just off Long Island, New York and which started out in the 1950’s when gay men and women needed a safe place to escape from the city and the rest of the world where they were free to be themselves when homosexuality was still illegal. 

This fascinating new documentary from filmmaker Michael Fisher combines a wealth of archival footage with a great many interviews with the old-timers who happily recount what the Grove was like in the good old days.  With an emphasis on having a good time and sexual freedom that was not available to LGBT people anyway else, the place was wild where literally anything goes. As one of  the interviewees so succinctly put it “Coming out here with a boyfriend was like going to a whore house with your wife.”

Many talked about what they considered the heyday of the Grove right up to the 1960’s and Stonewall and credited the liberation that Fire Island offered as a precursor of what others would start to demand elsewhere.  It wasn’t necessarily a view shared by everyone as was pointed out by more than one person, that some  Island residents simply didn’t feel that the what happen in the aftermath of Stonewall at all.

It wasn’t a perfectly safe paradise as the notorious cruising area known as the Meat Rack, that seemingly was as busy as Times Square on occasion, became the target of police crackdowns and entrapments.  The mere effect of an arrest meant a public humiliation and ‘outing’ with names and photographs in a local paper which could lead to men losing jobs, homes and being rejected by families.

Drag always played a crucial role in Cherry Groves especially as elsewhere it was still illegal for men to be out in public in women’s clothing.  In 1976 when a drag queen called Terry Warren was refused entry to a restaurant because of his outfit, the incident sparked off a major protest.  On July  4th that year a bunch of other drag queens jumped into a water taxi and ‘invaded’ the place.  It was such a success that the ‘Invasion’ has been an annual event for celebration ever since. 

Then the arrival of the AIDS epidemic totally devastated the population of Fire Island with many of its residents choosing to have their ashes scattered here in the place where they had been the happiest,  The after effects also changed the whole make up of the Grove too.  It always had been a place where the gay community had intermingled well with the straight community that lived there, but now with so many properties suddenly being available, there was an influx of lesbians becoming homeowners too.

Fisher’s documentary is very upbeat and affectionate and he is happy enough to let some of his more flamboyant interviewees ramble on.  He does assume that you already know about some of the more basic facts of the Island and Grove which could be a tad confusing in itself if you do not.  He acknowledges that despite all the changes that the Fire Island has been through since the very beginning, it is still very much a little piece of LGBT paradise and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.


Posted by queerguru  at  09:58

Genres:  documentary

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