In an interview conducted 50 years after Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, one of her ladies-in-waiting shared her memories of the day. She along with her fellow bitches-who-hang were rather blase about the whole affair as they anticipated the Queen’s arrival on the steps of Westminster Abbey.
They’d been through numerous rehearsals and knew exactly what to do. Now it was a matter of execution. As members of Britain’s Aristocracy they were not that impressed. They were aware the real power was with their families who propped up the monarchy. These exercises in grandeur were annoying necessities to maintain the status quo
Their nonchalance changed dramatically when the crowd noise crescendoed to a deafening roar. Then the golden coach came into view as it turned into the street. Suddenly they were sucked into it all, collectively gobsmacked.
The sense of majesty was heightened as the coach came to a halt in front of them. The Queen cooly alighted then calmly mounted the steps. No cheesy smiles, no winks, no small talk acknowledgment of anyone. This was serious business.
After her climb she paused at the Abbey’s arched entrance to await her cue. The curtain was about to go up on the greatest Burlesque Revue of the Twentieth Century. She took the moment to turn and address her attendants. In her only royal directive to them that day she deflated the pomposity of it all with a casual, two-word aside.
Her Majesty has been a part of my consciousness since the days I started toddling. My childhood misconception was that she and Aunt Betty were the same person. I was still developing my personal myth making skills but I was convinced my Grandmother’s youngest sister was the Queen. It was only when I got to be much older, a first grader, that I straightened it out.
Aunt Betty was born in 1920, the same decade as the Queen, my Mother and Jackie Onassis. Their adolescent reading would have included the empowering values of Scarlett O’Hara which they tempered with traditional female socialization. That generation of women’s greatest conundrum was how to use their brains while remaining flirtatiously dependent on men.
Whereas Mother and Jackie were inclined to challenge norms, Aunt Betty was not. Like them, she was attractive and intelligent. Unlike them, Aunt Betty was not modern thinking. Neither was the Queen.
When swinging London stirred the 60’s worldwide youthquake, Queen Elizabeth was still doing the fox trot. Her unique position, however, required that she adapt non-traditional feminine skills in order to preserve the family business.
The Queen’s image has been digested by the world continuously for seven decades. As with any public figure, a skilled imager like Elizabeth puts out enough hints to manipulate the public into thinking they know them as a friend. The reality is nobody’s got a clue. That worldwide population of imagees has been left to process her into one personality. With billions of facets.
There’s no harm in playing along if we accept the limitations of the game: our imaginations. In scouring through millions of photographs, videos and published narratives we’ve endeavored to solve the enigma.
Queen Elizabeth II’s most striking attribute has been in how she openly courted leaders of African nations. Granted it was motivated by the underpinnings of capitalism and keeping business ties strong. It was part of her valiant attempt to shore up her father’s rather wobbly concept of Commonwealth. But it was not an act.
The Queen always seemed comfortable showing black leaders respect and currying their favor. She was genuine. Not just another mid-20th Century liberal inventing legislative gimmicks to paper over the Grand Canyon of racism. One can just imagine what the Architect of the Great Society, that Good Ol’ Boy Lyndon Baines Johnson, called these men behind their backs.
If there was any condescension in her attitude during these exchanges it was not because of skin color. It was because she more than most realized the transient effectiveness of politicians.
Another example of her example is how she succeeded in an all-male world without authoring a “how to” best seller on her secrets of doing it. Her training began at home in the way she handled the number one, all-time, super-alpha male husband of hers. She drew a line: you can rule the family but not the state. Then she never waivered.
When I came out and was first exposed to gay politics I had already been steeped in the writings of leading feminist authors. I was convinced of the validity of the Women’s Movement and immediately saw that, although our goals may have been different, we shared a common enemy: the concept of pater familias and the artificiality of a male dominated society.
For centuries sex was the reward gained for participating in a legally sanctioned union called family. With the identification of new sexual groupings and a better understanding of the difference between male and female sex drives, the time was right in the early 1970’s to define new kinds of behavior paradigms. Including one for some gay males that allowed for multiple sex partners. Therein is where I tried to lead by example.
Alas, my generation never got past the love and marriage goes together like a horse and carriage school of thought. Like all movements, the extreme elements identified an agenda with ideas that were impossible to attain. With the fear of radicalism implanted in their souls, the middle ground was prepared to accept softer solutions. Once the coast was clear, the bourgeois shopkeepers timidly emerged to get the city ordinances passed.
It takes all kinds to fuel progress. And failed ideals of youth are not necessarily a loss. They may be seedlings that achieve maturity in subsequent lifetimes.
Although Queen Elizabeth would never identify as a feminist (or any kind of -ist for that matter) her reign speaks volumes. In retrospect, her “Ready Girls?” on the Abbey steps was a broadside to half the world that it was time to make their move.