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Extra: 9/11 One Year Later, New York, USA

Special Report
9/11/02
by Rex Wockner

It's been a year since my now-deceased Dad woke me up with a phone call and said something like, "The World Trade Center just fell down."

I thought he was delusional but woke up my other half and turned on the TV anyhow. Like you, we spent the rest of the day glued to the tube. I had my laptop on the bed with me, using e-mail and Internet telephony to communicate with gay leaders and eyewitnesses in New York City.

I wrote a long story on gay reaction and gay angles. I was the first journalist to report that Fr. Mychal Judge was gay and some of my editors subjected me to more than the usual amount of fact-checking that week. Of course, this now has been reported by AP, The New York Times, and everyone else.

This week I went back to the NYC and D.C. interviewees from my original reports and, not without difficulty, coaxed some of them into sharing their thoughts and feelings one year later.

Andy Humm

Veteran NYC gay activist and journalist Andy Humm: "It took me five months to fly after September 11, mainly because of the new hassles at airports, but also because no trip seemed important enough to risk it. My roommate, who witnessed the Twin Towers falling from just across the Hudson, took up smoking, creating new conflicts on the home front. I was ashamed to have any fun for weeks. ... As a freelancer, there was nothing to write about but 9/11 for a while -- including gay-related stories about Rev. Mychal Judge and the plight of gay partner survivors. The catastrophe gave more people an appreciation for our humanity. ... Any horrible thing seems possible in New York now, including nuclear annihilation. I don't think about it often, but every once in a while I'll take in a particularly bustling street scene and freeze-frame it, imagining this is what we were all doing when it ended."

Michael Musto

Village Voice columnist Michael Musto: "One of the upshots of the 9/11 tragedy, interestingly enough, is that certain gay issues were moved closer to center stage. The world found out that gay heroism helped divert the plane in Pennsylvania; Father Mychal Judge was discussed as a gay spiritual leader; and the plight of gay lovers of 9/11 victims was reported on, as the bereaved tried to get remuneration and recognition. A year ago, I wrote about some of these issues (and how gay people weren't allowed to give blood), and I got nasty emails saying: 'Now's not the time to quibble about gay rights. Now is when we have to concentrate on fighting "the war."' I argued back that now more than ever was when we had to upholster our democracy and make it clear why we're different from the tyrannies we're fighting against. By now, there's been way more discussion and maybe even more awakening about the gay role in America. Perhaps united in horror, our society's been able to move forward a little."

Andres Duque

Andres Duque of NYC's Latino Commission on AIDS: "Life goes on in NYC and sometimes it seems as if nothing had happened. Ground Zero has become a tourist destination and 9/11 has become '9/11: The Theme Park.' ... So many people in New York seem so ambivalent about observing the anniversary. Gone is the spontaneous appearance of thousands of leaflets bearing the images of those feared dead that united all of us in mourning. Gone are the American flags that bloomed from all quarters in an unprecedented show of true patriotism and sorrow, regardless of ethnicity and nationality. Thankfully, someone has captured all these emotions in true remembrance of how most New Yorkers feel about that day. Bruce Springsteen's The Rising captures exactly how I have felt since then and I will probably be observing 9/11 by listening to that record all day long."

Barbara Raab

Network news producer Barbara Raab: "Rather than the 'closure' that's often attained by marking the one-year anniversary of a major loss, I fear that all the commemorations will simply reopen the wounds that have barely healed, and that the city I live in and love is going to have a collective breakdown. ... The other thing I am quite aware of a year later is that the 'attack on America' doesn't resonate so much anymore across America the way it does here [where] there are daily reminders of it. People still refer to it, talk about it, mention big and little things that have changed because of it. Certain subways still don't run the way they did before 9/11; firehouses still display pictures of the men they lost; my newspaper comes with special inserts encouraging New Yorkers to 'return to downtown.' When the subway stops in a tunnel for no apparent reason, it's as if there's a thought balloon over everybody in my car, with the words, 'Uh oh, what's wrong?' ... Loud noises are more scary, planes roaring overhead are more scary, you just kind of know that everybody is on edge in a way we weren't before. ... I keep telling myself that we were just as unsafe on September 10 of last year, we just didn't know it -- but that only goes so far."

Sean Strub

POZ magazine founder Sean Strub: "My response is on two tracks, one personal and driven by grief and loss and the other political and driven by a sense of sadness that so much of the community leadership jumped on the jingoistic, nationalist bandwagon, trying to show we were more patriotic than everyone else. I just feel like we could have done something better, although I am not sure what that would have been."

Jay Blotcher

Journalist and former ACT UP and AmFAR media man Jay Blotcher: "I had my darkest visions of American life confirmed by what I saw on September 11, standing in the middle of Sixth Avenue in the Village with hundreds of people as the second tower went down. In the weeks after that, many of my friendships were sorely tested as I spoke out ... against the knee-jerk 'bomb 'em all' jingoism and beseeched people to realize that Bush Sr. and Jr. had laid the foundation for the attacks with their ruinous foreign policy. In the months that followed, Bush has managed to sidestep the tough questions by imposing a 'War on Terrorism' that made all naysayers immediately suspect as traitors. Some members of the media have questioned this madness, but I fear that the upcoming anniversary of the attacks will again facilitate an American lockstep mentality supporting renewed bombings, killings and detainments in the name of 'justice'."

John Aravosis

D.C. activist and journalist John Aravosis: "It's easy to be a civil-rights advocate when your goals don't threaten your nation's survival. But on September 11, a lot of the civil-rights truisms we embraced -- opposition to racial profiling, unfettered support for free speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion -- suddenly seemed a bit murkier. Before September 11, we always believed that protecting the rights of minorities would strengthen America, not weaken it. But that belief flourished in a world in which America's survival was a given. ... Our generation never had to consider whether the enforcement of those rights might stand in the way of our nation's continued existence. Now we do. ... Will the fear of terrorism water down some of our stridency on particular issues like privacy and racial profiling? I think it already has. The question is, 'Should it?' On September 10, I would have said, 'Of course not.' Today, I honestly don't know. That re-evaluation of beliefs we long held true, but hardly ever questioned, is the real legacy of September 11."

Michelangelo Signorile

Author Michelangelo Signorile: "I have a lot of mixed emotions a year later. My boyfriend David and I are closer to my family, and the whole family is more tight-knit. My father and my brothers were lucky; they weathered the damage to their restaurants and put their business back together. But they lost so many friends and associates. As far as I'm concerned, bin Laden and the terrorists should burn in hell forever. But I'm also increasingly pissed off with those who have taken advantage of this tragedy. Front and center in that regard is the Bush administration, which has used the response to the attacks -- and is now hastily leading us into a dangerous war with Iraq, though it's not been proven that Saddam had anything to do with this -- to deflect from the White House's horrendous economic policies and from the president's and vice president's past corporate sleaze. True 9/11 patriots won't let them get away with it."

Ralph Buchalter

My buddy Ralph Buchalter who works at the American Stock Exchange and watched the second plane hit: "Some of the more lasting memories are of the days of autumn and winter when I had to walk past the Trade Center site to get to work every day, before the tourists came, while the pile was still smoking and cranes were still trying to untangle the metal. ... Every morning as the subway doors opened at Broadway-Nassau on the A line, each of us commuters was greeted with that horrible stench of burning metal that I will never forget. When a haughty aunt of mine in Memphis asked me at Christmastime if I had volunteered to pass out water bottles at Ground Zero, I wanted to reply that my volunteer effort was marked by the black snot I blew out of my nose every evening just because I had gone back to work down there.

"As a gay man in New York," Ralph says, "what I have experienced in the last year is a lessening of the relative differences between gay and straight as we struggle with the differences the attacks have focused on West and non-West. The American flags that adorn literally every gay bar in town seem to mark this event as one that gay people were literally and openly inside of in a way that hadn't happened before. Because of the 'gay movement,' however you define that from the last 25 years and however disparagingly it's analyzed today, there were openly gay office and civic workers at the Trade Center, with friends and partners on the outside, and their disappearance that morning put us squarely inside the box."

My thoughts

I didn't fly for 10 weeks after 9/11. Then my Dad died and I was on a plane to the cornfields of Illinois a few hours later. That got me over that hump. I've always hated flying and still do. When airplanes go boom and fall out of the sky, there are never any survivors.

My friend Clint and I and the people he works with have been fighting off some weird virus the past couple of weeks that has some unusual symptoms. Before my doctor assured me that it is a "thing" that is going around and that her entire family had caught it, Clint and I wondered out loud, "Maybe terrorists put something in San Diego's water." The fact that we were even 10 percent serious is a very post-9/11 reality.

I've been overseas three times since 9/11 and I think people were being a little nicer to Americans. That won't last but it was nice to be hated less than usual due to the accident of my country of birth. Many people in the rest of the world have a love/hate, fascination/repulsion relationship with America which, after 9/11, seemed to tip a tad more toward the love side for a while.

I am one of those people who expects more shoes to drop. Water could be poisoned, bridges could be blown up, radiation could get released, and there are a hundred other horrifying scenarios.

If anything, a year later, I think I detect a complacency among the public in general and among public officials. I vote Democratic except when I vote to the left of the Democrats -- for the Green Party, the Peace and Freedom Party, etc. I ain't no conservative. But I feel the government has not stopped terrorists from entering and freely moving about the United States.

If we want to prevent more 9/11s, Big Brother must take more interest in who is here, where they came from, what their background is, and what they're up to. This sucks. And it is necessary.

Rex Wockner.

11 September 2002
 
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