Saturday, April 28, 2007

Maybe changed by all the ideas I’m engaging with



At DePaul, I’m speaking in this huge cathedral-like room that puts even that Yale lecture hall to shame, here the seats still don’t work with the aesthetic but at least they’re comfortable. I’m in this cavernous room with maybe 20 or 30 students, standing at the podium underneath all of this crazy woodwork going up probably 100 feet. I go on right after the president of DePaul meets with queer students, apparently he says something about how you all are so brave because you realized that you were wired differently and one of the students says to me later: I was really offended. But apparently the President also uses the phrase LGTB instead of LGBT and when one of the students asks about that, he says well, transgendered people are such a central part of queer history and I think bisexual is being replaced by queer -- pretty sophisticated for the president of the largest Catholic University in the US.


Meanwhile, there’s me at the podium -- the talk goes well and afterwards I’m answering each question with an entire essay. The first one, wait what is my first essay? Oh, I know -- the question is about how I found the contributions, so I talk about that but also about making sure that my call for submissions are always open and forwarded as widely as possible because that’s how I get some of the most interesting work + anthologies with the first place I got published and I want to keep mine accessible instead of the way so many have become so exclusive, an interior conversation between literary peers or an exercise in how many big names you can squeeze in a book. Also I talk about my editing process, wanting to make each piece as strong as possible on its own terms, getting rid of unnecessary explication to make it as direct and challenging as possible-- that’s my theory, anyway.

A question about the possibilities for radical engagement within the academy, of course that’s a fun one to answer -- I’ve got so much to say that the person asking the question, a professor at another university I think, later suggests that I do an anthology on that topic. We shall see… One student wants to know about how I connect gentrification and racism, classism to the gay marriage agenda, seeing as she has made it her life’s work she wants to know. I’m glad to provide those linkages, which are maybe my life’s work. I try to keep it grounded and emotional, not just rhetorical -- the violence of assimilation, property values over people’s lives, the tragedy of these gay neighborhoods that could have become something else if only the priorities were more humane. And a question about the notion that hiding unconventional or non-binary gender choices makes people safer, since my talk is part of anti-violence week.

Afterwards, one student who’s going to San Francisco for the first time -- only for one evening, he’s being flown there as part of a potential scholarship (The Point Foundation, I think) -- anyway, he wants advice on what to do for one evening that doesn’t involve bars since he’s not 21 yet and so I fill up a whole page with suggestions-- sunset in Buena Vista Park, the sea lions if you can handle the tourists, different gentrification intersections, different walks from the hotel, etc. -- it’s kind of fun to make the list, I don’t expect it. Afterwards, I go to the Chicago Diner, Chicago’s famous vegetarian restaurant that isn’t that great except for the corn muffins I think but what I do love is this more casual and intimate conversation -- 1 of the students is doing her thesis on the attitudes of DePaul fraternity members towards sexual assault and getting all of this resistance from the university even though there are only 300 fraternity members at a university with 25,000 students-- another one of my dinner companions I remember from both Women and Children First and the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, which is also where I first met Cyndi who brought me to DePaul.

I will need to find a way to continue these kinds of conversations when I get back to San Francisco, that’s what I’m thinking as I walk back into the hostel, drained again and ready for bed way earlier than usual, thinking I’m certainly glad that I’m going back to San Francisco but also that I want to go back as someone slightly different I mean changed by all the ideas I’m engaging with -- we shall see…

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