Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Seeing my father for the first time in 11 years

I'm on my way to the hospital -- I wasn't planning on visiting my father until I'd rested for at least a week, but now everything has accelerated and he's incoherent and drugged out on pain medication and maybe dying very soon so I'm heading over to the hospital after just two days. Earlier I'd left a message with my mother, asking her and my sister to meet me in the lounge so that I could go into the room by myself. Before, my mother had argued about this, but after my sister arrived and told her not to try to control everything I guess, she'd relaxed about it. Although then I get a message on my cellphone while I'm in the car, my sister says there's someone there now on 24-hour watch who isn't allowed to leave the room.

I think of turning around, but I might as well go anyway since I'm almost there. I kind of feel like talking to my father anyway while he's passed out, although not with some random person sitting right there. When I get to the hospital, it takes a while to find the right building since it's all a big maze. Then I'm in the right building, snapping a few pictures for maybe a photo essay: the inside of the elevator, the bathroom that looks kind of like a jail cell which is the place from where I'm calling my mother again. Bathrooms are comforting -- even this one that looks like prison because of the metal sink, it's my own space right now once I've shut the door. I ask my mother if I have to walk by the room to get to the lounge, but no the lounge is right by the entrance.

I snap another photo, take a few deep breaths, and leave the bathroom. I go to the nurse's station: could you tell me where the lounge is? But it's right there -- only three uncomfortable chairs, my sister and my mother in two of them. My mother looks disheveled and distraught, and Lauren, my sister, looks very polished. Oh, this long hug with my mother, that is where I'm holding everything in my body, which is what my sister says to me later -- since it's something that I told her -- though she points it out in a different place, when the nurse is basically saying that my father is about to die, that all they can do now is give him pain medication since the cancer has spread everywhere and especially to his brain, which explains his disorientation. Lauren thinks I'm holding everything in at that point, which is maybe true though what's more notable to me is that this isn't a safe place for me to cry or anything like that, this place with my mother and sister who have not acknowledged my father's sexual abuse -- I mean, my mother completely denies everything, and has gotten much closer to him since I confronted him; my sister says she believes me and she believes him, but has never asked him anything about it.

Anyway, they go to get food and eventually I look briefly in on my father, who's passed out on a bed, his hair longer and grayer than I remember, face squared off from wasting though he looks vaguely relaxed. Back in the waiting room or the lounge they call it I guess, I feel kind of peaceful and exhausted. Later, I look in again -- this time my father's jaw is tighter, his features more angry like I remember them.

The current bestseller at Lambda Rising Bookstore in Washington, DC

Here it is --

Business Inside Out: Capturing Millions of Brand Loyal Gay Consumers

(Lambda Rising is one of the oldest gay bookstores in the country, and maybe the largest -- since it is a mini-chain with stores in four cities)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A sample phone conversation with my mother

My mother: what do you think you might say to him?
Me: I don't know, but I need to talk to him alone.
My mother: I don't want you to say anything too damaging.
(What I don't say here, but I should have -- HE's the one who has damaged ME).
Me: he's dying of cancer, what am I going to do -- kill him?
My mother: I just feel protective of him right now.
Me: that's interesting, because you've never protected me.
My mother: it's not a matter of choosing him over choosing you.
Me: of course not, because you've always chosen him.

Getting off the train in this nation's capital

Here's the scene upon exiting Union Station at 1 a.m. on an incredibly rainy, disgustingly humid evening after finishing an 88-hour train ride: a uniformed police officer maneuvers himself on some kind of high-impact scooter that consist of a pogo stick and two big wheels with some kind of motor that prevents it from ever falling over. This cop is here to direct the taxi stand -- of course, he is assisted by a uniformed security guard who stands by as the cop shouts out destinations, various neighborhoods in DC, and then whoever wants to go to that area rushes forward and attempts to enter a waiting cab. The cop knows some of these people, probably commuters from New York or Boston or workers in the station, one of them is even practicing sign language with him during downtime. When I finally get in a cab, I smile at my fellow passengers, business travelers or law students who turn away like they can't believe I'm trying to chat with them -- they continue talking about how late the train can be and how irritating that is. After I open the window a crack and the car goes through a huge puddle, splashing me just a little, I laugh and turn to the guy next to me to ask him if he got wet. He says: no, but good thing you didn't open the window farther.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

These tiny violences

Okay, so I'm just about at the end of my 88-hour train ride and I actually feel calm, mostly I'm thinking about... well, I was just about to write about all of the interesting interactions I've had when this train employee just started yelling at me because I had the nerve to put my bags in the same empty compartment where everyone was directed to store theirs for the last several stops, plus I'm using my computer in the room across from mine since the electrical outlet in my room doesn't work and this sweet man says I can't possibly be in two rooms at once, it's not allowed. This is the same friendly staffperson who, when I asked for help with boarding due to chronic pain issues, told me I could carry my own luggage, and when I repeated that I needed help, he said: don't get started with me. Whenever I walk by him, he can't even look at me. He doesn't seem to have the same issues with anyone else, so I can only assume that he doesn't exactly love flaming faggots, or at least not flaming faggots like me. Oh, the subtleties of homophobia!

Anyway, right now is really the last time I need extra stress-- I was holding it together quite well until just a second ago, actually -- I hate these tiny violences that accumulate until you suddenly can't function.

But I was going to start by writing about Lesley, single mother from a small town in Ohio who was so incredibly friendly that she made all of us in the sleeper compartment into some sort of family unit: Howard Dully, who received a lobotomy when he was 12 and now he's written a book about it (he's in his late-50s now), 16-year-old Kathy and her mother from Nebraska, who described herself as "extremely conservative," then talked about alternative medicine for a half-hour, and me (who am I? I'll let you decide). Lesley and I even had a date -- we went to that wonderful restaurant onboard, where I could only eat the potato and the rice pilaf since there was nothing else vegan on the menu (and I don't even eat potatoes usually, since they're hard to digest). My favorite part was that they were out of herbal tea, so I got a delicious glass of hot water. We ended up talking about Lesley's new love and the complications in their relationship (I won't reveal these here, since they might be secret -- or should I create a pseudonym? The intricacies of straight post-marital drama are not my specialty, so I'll ask Lesley). I talked to Lesley about visiting my father, who is apparently now rapidly deteriorating and in the hospital -- Lesley said: I've learned that when someone is in a drugged stupor, they actually understand everything -- you should tell him exactly what you want to say, don't censor anything or worry about what he's thinking because he can understand and it's important for you to tell him what you need to. I thought that advice was really sweet and beautiful and wasn't pushing any strange agenda other than maybe my mental well-being, which was pretty impressive from someone I'd just met on the train.

Oh wait -- the friendly steward just pounded on my window -- I mean, literally pounded -- to tell me I've got 15 minutes until hideous Washington, DC, so I guess I will pack this computer and return later.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

88 hours

Oh no-- why did I just count the number of hours I'll be on the train from San Francisco to D.C.?-- what a nightmare! The hardest part is packing enough food that doesn't rot, since I'll be a hypoglycemic disaster area within minutes. Plus, the only train of the day leaves at 8 a.m. in the fucking morning, which is the middle of my insomniac evening. Believe it or not, taking a plane is much worse-- it wrecks my health for like a month, then I sink into a bottomless depression which does actually bottom and then I realize: oh, that was the plane. So I'll probably be in trainland and out of contact with most of the world for about five days, until I land among the horror of this horrible nation's capital city. But I will be back with a vengeance.

Love--

Monday, October 23, 2006

What I would've wanted from Mark Foley

Midterm elections are just around the corner, and the big issue is... the Mark Foley Congressional Page Scandal! That's right -- forget about that war in Iraq and Afghanistan, US funding of the Israeli war on the Palestinians, the repeal of habeas corpus rights, expanded militarization of the US borders, criminalization of immigrants, and the revitalization of the nuclear power industry... it's time to talk about -- INSTANT MESSAGES! That's right -- Mark Foley has admitted to exchanging lurid instant messages with underage pages.

Oh -- did I mention they were MALE pages? I know -- it comes as just as much a revelation to me that there are lecherous, closeted Republicans with homosexual tendencies jerking off online while asking underage boys-to-men to get comfortable, feel free to remove your shorts... okay, I can't find the exact quotes right now, but sure -- they read like something out of bad porn, including one exchange where a page says he has a fetish for casts (ha ha, what a good one!). But that didn't throw Mark Foley off -- in seconds, he was asking something about length or girth -- a man with focus.

Within days of the scandal, Mark Foley suddenly revealed that he was -- GASP! -- an alcoholic. No way -- an alcoholic in CONGRESS? And then -- guess what? -- he was sexually abused by A PRIEST!

Meanwhile, Democrats are suddenly talking about taking back Congress, now that a Republican moral values crusader has been exposed as nothing more than a FAGGOT (read: pedophile). The violence of this homophobia on all sides is simply breathtaking.

This all reminds me of growing up in DC, oh that beastly city of my childhood memory! I met so many men like Mark Foley, in public bathrooms at department stores, shopping malls and libraries in Northwest Washington. Men like Mark Foley shook as they took my dick in their mouths, sweat drenching their starched business suits, the pockmarks on their skin flushing deeper. I didn't know what I wanted -- I just knew that I didn't want to feel, that I didn't want to go back to those bathrooms and yet I did.

I thought I had discovered something that no one else knew about -- the tapping of feet underneath stall walls, notes written on toilet paper and wrapped around pens, the texture of hairs between pants-below-knees and everything above. This was my gay world of desire and loathing, the place I inhabited so many evenings after school -- it's where I learned about men like Mark Foley -- at the urinals, between stalls, in the stairwell, in their cars in the parking lot.

I remember this one guy who drove me to my father's office -- it was just one block away, but he really wanted to drive me. He handed me his business card -- Capitol Hill, lobbyist. I wondered about his audacity -- did he know I was 15? I hoped that I was passing as older. I wondered what would happen if I called him, but that was his desire not mine. I wanted so much more.

Here is what I would've wanted that lobbyist -- or Mark Foley -- to say to me, if I'd run into him at Woodie’s department store or Mazza Gallery or Georgetown Park: This is a monstrous world we live in, but your defiant faggotry will take you to places as brilliant as you can imagine -- if you need somewhere to go to talk about your dreams, your hopes and hopelessness, don't hesitate to call -- I will require nothing of you.

Unfortunately, Mark Foley will probably never utter these words, and that is the real tragedy.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A letter to my dying father

I did this event called the Radar Salon recently, a new series hosted and curated by Michelle Tea where two writers (in this case, me and Bucky Sinister) engage in conversation while Michelle asks questions. At one point, Michelle asked how we were both able to be so vulnerable in our work, and I'm not sure exactly what I answered, except that later she asked what we were looking forward to, and I couldn't think about anything except what I was most fearing: deciding whether to visit my father, who I haven't talked to since I confronted him 11 years ago about sexually abusing me -- he's now dying of cancer. I'd just written him a letter, and at the event I said -- in between sobbing -- that I just wished he could say that he sexually abused me, because it would actually make it easier for me to go on living, and he's going to die and what good will it do him to have not acknowledged anything. I usually don't cry like that -- especially not in public -- and it was an incredible moment of public vulnerability where I actually felt supported, both by Michelle and Bucky -- and the audience. It's so important to reveal the violence, the trauma, and the struggles to survive -- and I'm hopeful that it makes me stronger to do so.

So I've decided to visit my father, even though he will almost surely give me nothing that I ask for, and almost everything about the visit will probably be horrible. But I've decided to visit him, because I can't decide to visit him after he dies, so I might as well do it beforehand.

Here is the letter that I wrote to my father:


October 11, 2006

Dear Dad:

It surprised me, after so many years of wanting all traces of you to disappear from my life, but when I first heard that you had cancer, I started fantasizing about ways that I could save you, maybe by offering health advice that you might not seek out-- acupuncture, meditation, guided imagery. Then I started thinking about all of these mundane things -- like talking about publishers with you, the differences between this one high-end lefty publisher with the gorgeous square books and the other one moving into their territory, plus oh the drama of working inside the whole disastrous publishing machine. Most people aren't that interested in publishers, but it seemed like something you might like to hear about. That's when I realized that, even after 11 years of not talking to you, I still held some hope that maybe you would come to terms with sexually abusing me, that you would finally admit it and then perhaps we could have a mundane conversation about publishers.

There is no question that, as a psychiatrist, you have had access to absolutely any possible way to come to terms with sexually abusing me, more resources for dealing with your abuse than almost anyone in a similar situation. Instead, like most parents (and psychiatrists) who sexually abuse their children, you have chosen to deny it. You even contacted a “false memory syndrome” specialist, someone whose job is to assure abusive parents that their children are confused at best, that their memories can be dismissed and discarded, that it's never too late to cover up the violence in order to bolster the status quo.

I know that an abusive family is like a boulder landing on a glass of water -- even if you succeed at lifting the boulder, what is left to drink? When I confronted you, I was certainly aware that you might very well never accept the reality of your abuse, and that I might never again speak to you. Still, I continue to feel angry and disgusted (and yes -- sad and abandoned) by the ways in which you have chosen to maintain a veneer of “respectability” at all costs, including the loss of any relationship with me. I am grateful that you have respected my request not to contact me unless you could say that you raped and molested me, but sometimes it shocks me that you haven't been able to step out from the comfort of denial in order to face the reality of your abusiveness.

Especially now, when you may not live for that much longer.

Sometimes I resent that I have to be the strong one -- even here, against all hopelessness, I’m attempting to facilitate your epiphany that may never come. I am not strong, I am falling apart -- my body is failing me -- you know that. The smallest activities are painful -- chopping vegetables, sitting in the wrong chair, holding the rail on the bus, walking one block too many, carrying a bag. Writing more than a page by hand is enough to make my wrists, arms, shoulders and neck burn, my whole body aching afterwards. Bed is a place where I can sometimes stay, but it fails to nourish me -- many days I'm so exhausted that just leaving the house can be completely overwhelming. I have a strong will, otherwise I would have been dead long ago from the wounds you enacted. I'm strong, but I'm falling apart.

I learned will from surviving you, shutting everything inside even when it pushes back. There are other ways of showing strength. I am still learning them.

Some people, when dealing with a terminal illness, decide to make dramatic changes in their lives. That is what I'm asking from you. I'm not asking whether you love or miss me, whether you feel miserable or guilty. I'm asking you to hold yourself accountable for the pain you have caused me, the pain you continue to cause me, the pain that sometimes I'm worried I won't survive. I'm asking, once again, for you to acknowledge that you raped, sexually abused and molested me. I'm asking you for this because it would make it easier for me to go on living.

On a more mundane level, I would also like for you to ensure that I have enough money to meet my basic needs for the rest of my life. That is something I know you can do, but the most important thing is that you acknowledge that you sexually abused me -- I want to make that clear. I don't think this is a lot to ask.

In any case, I would be dishonest if I didn't say that I would like to see you before you die. Obviously, our conversation would be much richer if you decided to admit that you sexually abused me, but that is your choice.

I haven't yet figured out the parameters of a potential visit, and I will be in touch. Please do not write to me at this point unless it is to acknowledge sexually abusing me.

Love –

mattilda

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I should do more lectures

I gave a talk at University of San Francisco today, and it was so much fun! On the way there, it was kind of confusing because the campus is so dark in the middle of the city and people were kind of surprised when I came up to them to ask for directions. The architecture of the building where I was scheduled to speak was kind of hilarious -- institutional 1960s meets institutional/industrial 2000s meets Catholic school I guess. They hadn't spent much time recently on the bathrooms because the dividers were seriously rusting at the bottom, and the drop ceiling was moldy. I wondered about the shower in the corner.

But then the lecture -- it was in a large formal hall, which always makes me kind of nervous, but there were plenty of people to make it crowded and I guess I made people comfortable enough to laugh with me, as I delivered my serious yet performative and hopefully entertaining talk, titled "Sweatshop-Produced Rainbow Flags and Participatory Patriarchy: Why the Gay Rights Movement Is a Sham," based on my article from LiP Magazine -- I thought it worked really well as a talk, much better than I expected actually. I was pretty relaxed once I started, and used a lot of vocal shifts -- which was fun. People definitely seemed engaged. Then there were all these great questions -- we actually had a conversation about hierarchies of oppression, how to articulate anti-assimilationist politics, the limits of simplistic identity politics, the difficulties of getting a point across to people from varying backgrounds, how to both utilize and challenge privilege, how to challenge marriage, Gavin Newsom and the myth of the ruling class straight savior, the horrors of the Castro and similar gayborhoods -- consumerism, gentrification, racism, classism, misogyny, anti-youth hysteria valorization of the worst aspects of mainstream culture while simultaneously fearing a "straightening" of the neighborhood without challenging gentrification or assimilation... and so much more.

The whole thing felt so rewarding -- I thought: I should do this more often. And maybe I will.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The effect of terrorist attacks on live animals

The Lawrence Livermore Lab, located within two miles of two active earthquake faults, plans to add biowarfare tests to their arsenal of nuclear experiments, potentially testing anthrax, salmonella, hantavirus, HIV, hepatitis, bubonic plague, herpes and botulism on live animals. The lab has been blocked from proceeding by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals until further studies on what would happen to humans nearby if the lab were attacked by terrorists. No mention of the effect of these deadly agents on the test subjects.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A quote from Alice Walker

Alice Walker (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Color Purple), reading from her new children's book, Why War Is Never a Good Idea, stated (this may be paraphrased):

I tried to get my publisher to publish it, but he said: "What do you mean -- there's no market for that!"

Saturday, October 14, 2006

What am I doing starting a blog?

Okay -- I have fibromyalgia, which basically means chronic pain all over my body and an inability to get restful sleep, so what the hell am I doing starting a blog? Well, it all comes down to this: I have a lot to say! And I don't always say it all, or as much as I want to, and then the thoughts end up circling in my head when I'm trying to sleep or when I'm really too exhausted to think but I'm thinking anyway and then I can't stop thinking, and then I just feel worse. So I'm going to give this a try.

I'm also going to let go of my need to edit everything 16 times before putting it out in the world, so this will be a bit more... what's the word?... I'll let you decide.