Friday, April 06, 2007

More flair, less glare (I'm having trouble uploading a photo of the drawing with this declaration, so for now I will post without illustration)

I’m trying to be as relaxed as possible, and end up missing my train to Baltimore -- I miss it by one minute, which isn’t the end of the world because then I can catch the MARC train which is the commuter rail, 5:20 p.m., but little do I know what a scam that train is -- two floors on every car, probably 10 long cars and every single seat is taken. There’s almost no standing room where you even have a wall to lean on, great for my fibromyalgia is what I’m thinking. I sit down on the floor, unfortunately on the black slime that’s come off of everyone’s shoes I guess. I lean against the automatic door at the end of the car, jolting forward whenever someone comes through. Oh well -- at least I arrive on time.

My friend Gabby meets me at the train station, years ago we lived in Boston and were clubskids together -- clubkids in Boston? That’s what I sad -- there were maybe 10 of us -- two New York style, a couple of ravers, a few people in platforms, and Gabby and I were working the thriftstore freak show drama. Anyway, it’s fun to see her again.

Red Emma’s where I’m reading is in this great old downtown just-below-ground-level brick-walled space that’s a bit warm and soon enough packed from front to back. This is the first tour I’ve been on where pretty much every reading has been packed, even places where I know almost no one-- and with almost no press, which is pretty amazing -- my frantic emails, press releases, follow-ups after readings, and absolutely word-of-mouth -- the best kind of word-of-mouth, I mean I’m excited that the work I’m excited about has an audience, I mean I can bring together all of these exciting people!

The one person in the audience giving the after-work shirt-and-tie look says to me that he’s been reading my blog and he brought a digital recorder to record the reading if I want to. That’s incredible! It’s absolutely what’s so amazing about having a blog, that people who I don’t necessarily know yet can keep up with what’s going on in my life and be so present and sweet!
The reading goes well, even if I’m a bit hypoglycemic and hot plus I’ve reached the point where I wake up in pain and it does get better if once I get up but sitting on the floor of the MARC train hasn’t really helped matters + carrying my bag too far really and hurting my shoulders which are burning most of the time now, ouch! Plus for some reason my calves feel extra-tight, I need like 16 feldenkrais sessions in a row.

But back to the reading, I mean I guess this is the reading too but back to the part of the reading where I’m talking, I like that part -- it’s that space of engagement I’ve been talking about, cultivating, experiencing and channeling, right? The questions are all over the place -- right now as I’m writing this, I’m wishing I wrote it yesterday right after the reading because now I can’t replicate the events as well. But yesterday when I got back to where I’m staying I was too exhausted, right now I might also be too exhausted but I’m not as too exhausted as I was last night, if you know what I mean. There are more can’t-we-all-get-along questions that are not my favorite, some great questions from a professor who has brought her class to the reading (but I can’t remember them now!), several about identity politics and the limits, some strange ones including one about what I think about transwomen in public, more or less -- the angle is that these women are doing things with their bodies that people used to think were totally crazy, but now that’s been normalized. I answer that one by saying that yes it’s great that there are so many possibilities in emerging trans, gender queer and gender-defiant cultures, identities and communities -- possibilities to create our own gender, sexual and social identities… one person asks what I think of abortion.

There’s a question from someone in art school who wonders whether she should feel obligated to make art that takes into account that she was socialized as female, when of course male artists are never asked to takes such things into account, they are just considered “artists.” Irina has a great response to that, she says wouldn’t it be great if male artists were forced to do such things, she gives the example of Matthew Barney who acts as if he’s created new forms, when so much of what he does is coming directly from feminist art critiques and practices. There are a couple of questions directed to Irina about assimilation and essentialist ideas about race and “community.” Irina also has some great things to say about identity politics, I’ll have to ask her to repeat them. One of the people who works at the store gives me the drawing you see above (or week you don't see it because the "add image" icon isn't working) -- it says More flair, less glare.

Afterwards, I go to dinner with Gabby, Irina and Nick, the person who brought the digital recorder -- dinner is fun and very chatty, reminiscing about all these places in our lives I think because Gabby and I haven’t lived in the same place in so long. Nick is more quiet at dinner, but he’s offered me a ride back to DC -- forget the train! I’ve to go to the bathroom on the street because the bathroom in the restaurant is actually in the bar next door which is filled with smoke, help! But wait -- wasn’t Gabby just complaining that they’d outlawed smoking in Baltimore? Apparently not in that bar.

On the ride back, Nick mentions something about his girlfriend and I will admit silently trying to figure out his engagement with radical queer politics, but I don’t want to ask something tacky and invasive that I wouldn’t ask someone else. I mean, he came all the way down from DC for the reading, he’s fun to talk to, he’s asking great questions, and he brought a digital recorder-- what more could I ask for? But suddenly it all falls into place -- he used to be in a queer activist group at college in Arkansas, he wrote to Gay Shame to interview us, I was the one who corresponded with him but the interview never happened. Turns out the group fell apart when Nick left school or graduated, or maybe before then, but anyway it fell apart because it was dependent on leaders and he was one of those leaders, even though interested in building something based around consensus -- that was one of the reasons he contacted Gay Shame in the first place, I remember. So it all falls into place and I’m excited to finally meet Nick, I mean I was excited already but all of these details make the connection deeper and more intimate, Nick says he’s had trouble finding radical queer culture in DC, especially since he’s in a heterosexual relationship. It’s difficult for anyone to find a radical queer culture in DC, I’m certain of that. When we get to the place where I’m staying, Nick gets out and gives me a wonderful hug out in the over-illuminated street thanks to the extra-bright streetlights in gentrifying DC neighborhoods.

Fast-forward to DC the next night, the reading at Busboys and Poets, which is this insanely large restaurant with a bookstore at the front, in the back is the room where the reading takes place. The whole space is super-fancy and bustling -- certainly pretty high-end, but surprisingly multiracial. I don’t quite know what to think of it. It somewhere I discovered on my last trip to DC, this random person who I met at a bar drove me over after they were closed and it looked like a good place for a reading, plus my understanding is that it’s run by an organization called Teaching for Change, but I will admit I’m confused how Teaching for Change manages to keep this whole enormous space on the ground floor of a brand-new condo development on one of the most shocking of DC’s gentrification corridors, nonstop lofts and condos for blocks and blocks in an area where white people used to be afraid to go.

The theater where the reading takes place is set up with booths and tables like a dinner theater I guess except more contemporary, kind of confusing with waiters taking orders while I’m speaking but luckily the microphone is loud. I start with anecdotes about growing up in DC, going to a private school that prided itself on being the “first integrated school in Washington, DC,” but then why wasn’t it integrated when they declared this at every assembly? Then the gentrification of this neighborhood, where soon even my mother will move to after abandoning her suburban home.

Lots of questions, one about the boundaries between empathy and passing and lying -- that one especially makes me think. Oh, and the first question is about where I got my sparkly belt, I like that one too. I like adding personal anecdotes from DC, like when someone asks about the fact that as a trans-man he passes as straight in queer spaces and people want to know why he’s there oh actually it’s a different question about passing as the right kind of genderqueer in punk spaces, especially with respect to race and style and class -- that reminds me of going to Fugazi shows with my friend Ellen when I was growing up and how they were so intensely masculinist even though supposedly political and we would stand in the back so that we wouldn’t get slammed, dancing in our own special way -- the queeny one who couldn’t pass a straight and maybe the only Asian woman there, we created our own space until we realized that dance clubs would be better, like Tracks where we listened to Tainted Love already being recycled in the late ‘80s but we didn’t know that yet, we just liked that outside wooden dancefloor upstairs by the volleyball court in the sand-- one person sort of claps when I say Tracks, that’s when I remember it doesn’t exist anymore, torn down I think for gentrification although I’m not sure what type -- it was in Anacostia, then the neighborhood most feared by white people, among several other black gay bars and porn shops, not sure if any of them still exist.

Someone applauds when I say something about the vapid scenester culture of supposedly radical queers in San Francisco, Irina has a great insight that everywhere we’ve gone people have been talking about how much they don’t like hipsters, that they are not hipsters (and implicitly that they may perhaps be hipsters). Of course, hipsters and queers and artists are first-wave of gentrified us (myself absolutely included, in several different neighborhoods and cities), if perhaps we could figure out a way to alter that first wave then maybe we could change something, usually it’s too late by the time anyone is challenging gentrification -- it becomes hipsters critiquing yuppies or activists critiquing hipsters critiquing yuppies, or something like that.

Afterwards, it’s one of the liveliest dinners so far -- many wonderful people who I’ve just met, and Irina too, we’re at the Ghanaian restaurant with a vegan menu that I loved before but this time it’s not as delicious. It’s funny talking about DC with a tableful of people, most of whom didn’t grow up in the DC area. I’m interested in hearing about all of these different neighborhoods and spaces and places that I didn’t get to know growing up, or at least not from a self-actualized queer perspective, although I do have anecdotes like the bar where I used to go with friends when we were 15, drinking pitcher after pitcher of margaritas until we’d say why do we drink, it just makes us sad? And then I also have a historical perspective about some of the neighborhoods and what they used to be like, as well as the stereotypes about them versus the realities.

Meanwhile, I find out more about Busboys and Poets -- turns out the nonprofit does great literacy work, but the restaurant is owned by someone who owns a much posher restaurant down the street, so he opened up this place to make more money, so the book sales go to the nonprofit but everything else probably goes to the restaurant owner. That makes sense -- I couldn’t figure out how the nonprofit can possibly operate such a huge endeavor, although I still can’t figure out why it’s so crazy-packed and bustling, which does make it a great place to have a reading, even while I’m standing at the front register of the bookstore people are coming up to me who I think have just walked in and asking me to sign their books after just noticing the book on the front table. It’s also open pretty late, which of course I can’t help but love -- a bookstore open late! Outside, it turns out that the building is called The Langston (as in Langston Hughes), one of the people I’m with says they should have called it the Hemingway, would have made more sense -- apparently “busboys and poets” also comes from a Langston Hughes poem, such a complicated web of gentrification and appropriation and still a great place to have a reading, I’m not sure what exactly to think about all of it.

4 comments:

MrMakeBelieve said...

i was at this busboys and poets reading, and it really is a strange space. despite looking posh, their prices are confoundingly reasonable! someone described it as having an identity crisis and that in a few years it might make more sense...but then in a few years a lot of things in dc will look different and maybe thats what the current ambiguity is really about? ::shrug::

ps i met you at whole foods once! you're devastatingly adorable you are!

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

Identity crisis, indeed!

And I can't tell from the picture whether you are the person who was working at the ultimate gentrification whole foods in November and I met you then, maybe from Northern Virginia and you'd moved recently to DC? But I don't think I spotted "you" at the busboys and poets reading... In any case, thanks for being in touch.

Love --
mattilda

MrMakeBelieve said...

wow i can't believe you remember! yes it is i who works at the ultimate (i'll add another) ultimate gentrification whole foods :p

yes that gentleman is actually from national geographic, as are the birds who are either about to attack him, or just enjoying his lovely accordian music...i don't judge, i only document.

i should have come over and said hi, i was sitting at a table with the person who made the comment about sceney punk spaces in dc. :::sigh::: dc....

great blog....you make me wanna use mine... :)

! <3

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

Yes, next time you MUST say hi... and I'm glad you like the blog -- keep in touch!

Love --
mattilda