Sunday, April 22, 2007

Gentrification, masculinity casualties, geese, and that moment I'm waiting for

Cincinnati coincides with a low moment of fatigue when I don’t even want to turn on the computer and so I barely do, a few days later and now I’m in Chicago trying to bring back Cincinnati -- I know I had some great notes, but now I realize that I didn’t actually write those notes down!

It all starts with a great tour by car with Elliot, my host, and his boyfriend Eric, through a somewhat abandoned downtown with new yuppie lofts nonetheless on the outskirts -- we go to a restaurant with a great (1920-1940s?) photo in the “men’s” bathroom of a woman smoking something that ends with a big rag, big enough to be a Molotov cocktail but maybe it’s opium although there’s no pipe so possibly some form of tobacco-- she certainly looks drugged and dragged out, perhaps a gender-deviant running a brothel or at least that’s what I’m getting. Then to the grocery store, and then when I hear that Burnet Woods, the cruising park, is right by Elliot’s house, I encourage a tour. It’s 11 p.m. and we don’t run into a single person in the park, which looks perfect for cruising actually -- the bathrooms are even open, lights on and everything -- kind of spooky almost like a movie set without actors.

The next day, before the event at University of Cincinnati, I get dinner with Elliot, Eric, and some of my other hosts in Northside at a restaurant that seems to be very popular with dykes in the neighborhood -- first a dyke couple with two kids in a wheelbarrow no not a wheelbarrow a wagon, then a bunch of other middle-aged couples, a few of them interracial. Everyone is kind of quiet, exhausted from our various days, except Jac who is quite the entertainer. It’s crazy warm outside and the grass in Cincinnati kind of smells like the DC suburbs where I grew up, I don’t exactly like that memory.

The UC campus is filled with very large cement buildings from probably the 60s although it turns out that we’re walking through the back side of campus, which is kind of how it seems I guess. The lecture hall is one of those sloping rooms that I’m getting used to, this time the desk chairs even rotate. It turns out that there isn’t a microphone but truthfully I don’t need it -- sometimes my voice gets hoarse after speaking for an hour, but this time it goes on for two hours and I don’t get hoarse at all -- I’m wondering if the feldenkrais breathing exercises are helping, like the new one where at every exhale you hum at one consistent tone for as long as it’s comfortable, then inhale after a pause, pause again, exhale.

The audience is incredibly present --so present that they even laugh at the few times when my words slip, and the slips become part of the talk. One person laughs so loud at several points that I have to pause for a bit longer. Then immediately the questions move into discussion, several between different members of the audience who I don’t think know one another, which is perfect. A lot of the questions end up being about gentrification -- Washington, DC even -- how to resist gentrification when you are also part of it, the role of universities in gentrification. The person with the wonderful loud laugh -- Jill is her name -- asks a great question about doing organizing that crosses the boundaries of gender, race, class, age, etc. and how to acknowledge those differences without tokenizing people. Another question about how to deal with censorship of the content of your work, or when a publication wants to completely change the content -- apparently this happened to the person asking the question, although I don’t learn the details until later (from Elliot), apparently the publication was imposing binary gender rules on a piece resisting those same rules (sounds familiar) -- was the writer Kai? Please write to me and tell me more…

An interesting comment from someone who says that if we were able to tell all the truths that we keep to ourselves for fear of hurting other people or altering their opinion of us, this would bring down capitalism -- an interesting idea, for sure, let’s brainstorm…

Afterwards, a fun photo shoot with the students who brought me, part of a group called Gender Bloc, lots of appreciative comments and great bonding and even an invitation to Jill’s fireside chat but unfortunately I’m way too exhausted, too exhausted even to check out the cruising area -- I stay home and pet the cat when she isn’t frantically running around the apartment that Elliot has left me -- so great to have this relaxing space!

In the morning, Crystal, one of the students, comes to pick me up in a glamorous flowly white outfit and she helps me with my luggage -- yay, femmes helping femmes -- she has fun stories about growing up in a rural area with 30 dogs and 45 cats or something like that, I don’t know how they could possibly keep track of that many animals -- also, her brother’s in the Christian frat but he wants her to come to the formal, he even invited Jac as her date (I think they are perhaps dating, although do correct me if I’m wrong). Oh, and did I mention that the dyke bar in Cincinnati is called Bullfishes? The leather bar is called The Serpent, and according to Yasin, one of the other students, there is always sex going on there without any talking -- he’s maybe disturbed by this, but I’m ready to check it out -- except that I’m exhausted, so forget about that -- maybe on my next trip to Cincinnati.

The bus to Chicago is longer than I expected-- first, it’s seven hours instead of six because of the time change, but the main problem is that there are three different stops within 20 miles or something, right at the end when everyone’s desperate to get off. Before that, it’s dry farms except for this one town that is suddenly very green and apparently wealthy -- Lafayette, where several of the fraternities have put down water slides on the hills that face the highway, jocks in bathing suits hurling themselves down hills. In Chicago, I’m staying at a hostel, when I arrive it’s almost like a frat party there too-- is it the weather? -- drinking spilling down the steps and onto the street. Although there is one incredibly friendly person who grabs one of my bags and runs up the stairs with it-- thank you! The kitchen is spacious and clean and my tiny room is at least private, although I’m wondering again why it is that I’ve never met a single queer person at a hostel. Then I’m on a rush to get groceries at Whole Foods before they close, then a vegan dinner at the Chicago diner which isn’t great but the corn muffin is delicious -- after that, I’m a few blocks from Steamworks, so I decide to go even though I’m almost delirious from exhaustion, in the locker room there’s a hot guy putting his clothes back on, and I ask him if he had fun. Not really, he says with a slightly queeny voice as he slides on suspenders -- well then why don’t you stay, I ask for more like invite, I guess. He says I’m over it, and I can understand that -- I say can I give you a hug? So that’s what I give him, but the hug isn’t inviting more and I’m already worried that that will be the most fun I have, as I wander through the usual middle-aged masculinity crisis drama -- or not necessarily middle-aged, just desperate and angry or snotty and shame-ridden. I actually have a hot time sucking this one guy off, but then there’s like two hours when I should leave but I’m still there, more and more and more tired even with the extra corn muffin that I’ve brought and then I’m sucking this other guy’s cock even though there’s some terrible smell which I guess is his asshole I’m kind of into the spectacle and group we’ve created until he pulls me into a room with him I mean he doesn’t pull me, I just go not-quite-willingly because it’s the spectacle I’m into and there’s no spectacle in this room -- he’s sucking my dick and I’m too close to coming, don’t want to come right now because right now isn’t exactly how I want it -- I mean I know I’ll feel terrible afterwards. So I tell him I have to piss and can you believe he actually says yeah, right -- like he has the right to my body. Later, I realize I could just say I don’t want to come right now, that’s probably a better idea for the future because that’s just what’s going on.

Then I’ve stayed too long but I don’t want to leave before coming because then I might go back again and stay too long, repeat -- forget that -- finally, I end up getting it on with the first guy who I thought was super-hot, not the tall, femmy skinhead-lite (no shaved head, kind of preppy-with-a-twist) guy from the locker room at the beginning, but a short guy with a shaved head and dark eyes who I thought rejected me earlier but anyway then we’re in a closet/room together and it’s all great -- what I realize again about sex like this, the charge I mean -- is it’s the only time when I feel strong in my body, I mean physically strong like I’ve got this guy up against a wall and it’s hot -- it’s a feeling that I can get from dancing or exercise, but I haven’t done those things in so long it seems because of all the pain and what I’m realizing now is that I need to get there again it’s so important. And maybe I’m getting there, with this book tour that destroys me but also gives me so much, and also realizing that now my body can take more I think or I’m hoping I guess -- I’m hoping I can get to that point when exercise can feel like hope again, when I can feel glad that I’m walking around in this body I mean present in the space inside and around me.

But anyway then I’m sucking this guy off -- that’s another pattern I’m noticing, I always get them off first and then for me it’s a rush at the end and sometimes I don’t even want to come but this time I do and we’re hugging and touching and it’s sweet but I already feel way too exhausted I mean I already felt way too exhausted but then it’s 2, 3, 4 a.m. and I’m still cooking lentils and quinoa -- the quinoa is fast but the lentils take longer --so that I don’t have to cook tomorrow, it’s too much work to cook in the morning or the daytime, whatever it is.

Next day is another hot day and I want to get to the gay beach except that I don’t know where it is so I call Yasmin Nair and she gives me advice -- Montrose Harbor, a bird sanctuary -- 4 p.m. and I’m outside walking to the L I guess but then my body’s hurting too much, I don’t have enough water it’s way too hot and humid so I get a cab-- I always want cabs to save me but Chicago traffic is worse than anywhere and we’ve literally gone only three blocks in 10 or 15 minutes, the car is an oven no a steam room with plastic seats-- I get out and give up on Montrose, head nearby to a different part of the lake, this part filled with endless student-types ( DePaul students? I’m near DePaul, that’s where I’m doing my final talk -- are there this many DePaul students?). And straight yuppie couples too but I stop before all of this, the first green area near a pond, on the way there are two different straight guys with their shirts off who look exactly like Abercrombie models it’s so awful it hurts, desire without desire -- just the physical feeling of desperation, which is almost how I feel with every guy who I see with his shirt off I’m not horny -- I guess I just want to be saved. Looking at the gays can certainly bring on the same desperation, but there’s something maybe slightly more comforting about it -- or is there?

I can’t believe it’s this hot at 4:30 p.m., but then I lie down and it gets cooler and I notice that the pond is a bird sanctuary outside of the Nature Museum-- they’ve planted different kinds of prairie plants -- Illinois used to be almost all prairie but now only 1/10 of 1% is prairie, that’s what the sign says. Apparently these prairie plants attract a lot of birds, even these huge geese that are literally walking along this path so close to downtown Chicago I almost can’t believe it -- I even spot a rabbit camouflaging itself in a mulchy area underneath a bridge -- I want to point it out to someone, I wait there for a while until I can find someone who I feel some sort of connection with, or someone with whom I want to build that connection I mean that moment, but no one like that shows up.


becca said...

An interesting comment from someone who says that if we were able to tell all the truths that we keep to ourselves for fear of hurting other people or altering their opinion of us, this would bring down capitalism -- an interesting idea, for sure, let’s brainstorm…

That was me. I'm still hatching more coherent thoughts about this idea--it's just what i was cooking up as i was listening to you speak.

sorry that we left early (my partner knocked over the empty water bottle). we dug your talk but we didn't eat dinner & got grumpy-hungry!

low blood sugar makes angry dykes sad. :)

have a great trip back to SF. :)

mattilda a.k.a. matt bernstein sycamore said...

Hi Becca --

Thanks so much for writing! Of course I understand having to leave early because of hypoglycemia drama:)

Keep in touch, for sure...

Love --