Friday, June 29, 2007

Look at that moon, that gorgeous moon...

I wanted to get away; I didn't believe I ever would

I mean suddenly I'm thinking where did all this energy come from, it's 1 a.m. and suddenly I have all this energy! Then I remember: oh, this is the energy I used to live off, 13 or 14 or 15 I would wait as long as possible to eat, maybe just a little bit of Nodoz and all day would go by it wouldn't go by fast but I’d fix my hair with a big curling brush in the bathroom in between classes, then after school maybe a salad with no-cal dressing or just vinegar. I wanted my hair to keep me safe, they called it anorexia they asked what is that in your pocket? It was my brush, I was not happy to see them. I wanted it to be something more permanent like the end of their world.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Here's a great review of Nobody Passes in Utne Reader...

“The Nobody Passes anthology boasts a diverse crew of contributors – including an ‘Okie,’ a sex worker, an Arab American, a former political prisoner, transgendered individuals, and many others – who offer fresh personal insights into evolving notions of identity based on gender, sexuality, race, and class. Many of the essays resemble candid conversations as authors discuss complicated negotiations of identity and community, making the book more enlightening than many others of its ilk. Frustration with competing identities is a recurring theme; as one contributor puts it, ‘The problem with being everything is that it mostly gets me a whole lot of nothing.’ The volume offers no easy solutions (there undoubtedly aren’t any), but it does put these long-overdue conversations within the mainstream’s reach.”
- Utne Reader

Help, I need to hire a web designer in San Francisco...

I'm looking to update my homepage, and maybe redesign the whole thing -- let me know if you have any suggestions...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Fragile like another kind of sculpture

I'm trying to clear off the table, to organize this madness of papers in a big pile slowly sliding to the floor like one of those sculptures where the ice cream is melting but it doesn't fall all the way to the ground -- they were big in the ‘80s, I remember marveling at them in White Flint Plaza, the mall where upstairs they had a section called Georgetown, with brick pathways like the old colonial center now turned blueblood residences mixed with shoppers wandering in and out of Hugo Boss, Alexander Julian, Banana Republic when everything was still made of linen. Everybody knows that linen wrinkles, I mean not everybody but everybody who's ever put that shit on. Don't get me wrong -- I tried it in the ‘80s, like any teenager tries the wrong things, the International Male catalog, I kept ordering things.

But back to my table, where the papers are holding their icecreamness in midair, I'm trying to catch some of it before all of that stickiness on the ground, my tongue in all those sugary papers floor covered in the bottoms of shoes. That wouldn't be good for my digestion, fragile like another kind of sculpture, the kind where you can’t take a photo because it might break.

Starrbooty's lowest common denominator

Back in clubs in the early-to-mid ‘90s, we were all trying to invent our own histories, I mean I guess this is still the same but that's when I was inventing. We looked to club freaks we could only find in pictures, one of those freaks was Starrbooty, who was RuPaul before she was RuPaul -- more ‘80s and hand-me-down/pull it together thriftstore science project drama than her "Supermodel" glossiness, we might have said something like: "she was pretty interesting, when she was Starrbooty," like we'd met her or something.

So when I heard RuPaul was starring in a movie called Starrbooty, remaking her own character from 20 years ago, I couldn't help but get excited -- I kept saying it better be really really really REALLY bad, not just bad -- you know what I mean?

And the movie is bad, I mean it's supposed to be bad, crisscrossing John Waters newer actors-as-freaks movies (instead of freaks as actors) with blacksploitation and New York club culture. Starrbooty, the world's number one supermodel, goes deep undercover as a hooker to infiltrate Mannerism’s International House of Pancake Makeup, which masquerades as a cosmetics company but really chops up hookers and sell their body parts -- you get the point. The best line is when RuPaul says to her arch-nemesis Annaka Manners: "You're nothing but Colonel Sanders, in a Bob Mackie knockoff." Yes, that's the best line.

But actually the music (and sound-editing) are what keep the movie going -- it probably would make a great short, especially the part where Starrbooty is trying on an endless array of designer outfits and giving runway: Victoria's Secretion, Coco Canal, Talbutt’s, and (my favorite) Forever 41. But it's an hour-and-a-half. A long hour-and-a-half.

I think the best part of the movie is its take on porn -- we get lots of gratuitous full-frontal male nudity, like when notoriously exploitative porn director Michel Lucas asks: which one of you is going to blow it? And then Starrbooty and her partner (RuPaul's old friend from her Atlanta days, Lahoma Van Zandt, who floors me by delivering every line like she's reading it) pull out machine guns from who-knows-where, and, well, blow it away. Then there's a particularly hot scene where Starrbooty's supervisor starts fucking her in the car (since they're trying to remain... undercover), and the camera focuses on his naked ass from behind.

Oh, and the makeup, definitely the makeup -- just watching the angle between RuPaul's lips and ever-changing eyeshadow is sometimes enough. And Candis Cayne, who I used to see do this one drag number over and over and over again, I was looking forward to her, um, performance in Starrbooty -- but she's actually brilliant as an airbrushed Annaka Manners who looks suspiciously like Celine Dion.

But I think this movie is more fun to write about than to watch. Since the movie is doing its best to offend, it revels in a drag misogyny that sees all women as supermodels/rape victims. Also disturbing is RuPaul's minstrelsy when she switches to talking “black” while undercover. But these are the things that drive the audience (overwhelmingly white gay men, in this instance) wild. I wonder what this movie would look like if it didn't play to this lowest common denominator.

This person has a lot of cat furniture, I hope these cats like cat furniture...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Things that give me pain and I hate it

Dancing, I went dancing the other night for the first time in a while and it was amazing I actually felt so present in my body, sweat pouring down my face then walking out onto the street and back to my apartment, clothes off it was like I had different skin, the air around me a part of it.

Editing, that's one of the worst I guess because of the large surface area of the pages plus writing with a pen, but earlier I was looking at the writing from when I went to visit my father and I really want to work on that piece, whatever it becomes.

Reading, it's gotten so that I have to ration the number of pages, magazines are better if they stay open because there are more words on a page. Then I decide to talk on the phone instead, I can't figure out why talking on the phone makes my body hurt, maybe something about staying in the same position, I'm not sure. Movies are terrible, because the seat becomes too constricting and even when I think I'm stretching a lot I'm still holding my body too tightly, probably not breathing enough, which reminds me that I have to breathe now.

But when I'm this hypoglycemic there's nothing but regret

So many go-rounds with no end in sight, I think I need a rule that if I walk around nine times or something, and nothing’s happened, then I need to get going. Instead, it's probably been 30 go-rounds or who knows, it's hard to count, I mean I'm not counting, counting just might make it worse. Finally I’m in one of the glory hole booths with someone who has super-sweet eyes that's what I like about him, he's grabbing my dick through the hole and I'm reaching for his, super-thick in his pants I'm excited and then he walks out. I open my door a crack to see if he's coming in my booth, but no such luck, I grab for his dick out in the hall but he grabs my wrist, oh well I guess this is when I'm getting aggressive but that's really the only way a cruising space can ever get satisfying, right?

But not tonight, I mean today -- it's still only day, just eternal night in here but not the good part of night, just disinfectant and poppers and that rotten saliva smell combining with the mold in the ceiling. This is when I remember that I've always hated video booth places because no one is even attempting connection, but that's the way it feels everywhere now, I mean in all the public sex spaces and I need to master something else.

There's some older circuit type with gray hair who's hot but I guess he's not into me, when I'm getting out of the bathroom for like the 16th time someone looks really excited so I go into his booth, end up coming in his scratchy throat, oh well. Walking out, there’s someone much hotter who looks me right in the eyes, I mean I'm walking out of the bathroom now and I think he's waiting for me. But I have to leave or I'm going to lose it, then I'm on the street regretting it but when I'm this hypoglycemic there's nothing but regret.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Strangely now I'm feeling better about the whole thing, but I like the poetry of these earlier thoughts

I always forget how horrible Pride is, I mean no I don't forget how horrible it is. What I forget is how all-encompassing it becomes. I've only seen a few gay tourists so far, and I haven't been to anything remotely Pride-specific except film screenings, but I already feel like I'm supposed to be experiencing something.

Usually, I think of Thanksgiving as the worst holiday -- celebrating 300 years of genocide with miles of dead turkey, no turkey is what you eat these are dead turkeys. Then there's July Fourth and all of that hyper-patriotism and blasts of mineral-laden bright-skied fury fantasia -- oh no, that's right around the corner! Of course, Christmas is the religious consumer family nightmare (yes, whether you're crossing yourself or just crossing the street). But I actually think maybe Pride is worse than any of these, especially here in San Francisco where it's such a consumer spectacle -- I'm going to a movie later tonight and I’m already worried that it will feel like Pride, just shoot me up with a hundred cocktails and then I can swim!

That's the scary part -- wanting to hold my arms around someone like recognition, like exposition, like heavenly higher-than-the-sky extradition -- do you know what I mean? Oh, the lure the lure the lore the lure of that right-around-the-corner blast-off-and-never-come-down arms out mouth wide open take me, tell me, hold my eyelids open and then pour Budweiser in, drink me I’m nothing but a body waiting, a body waiting for the rest.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The back window

Of course -- that's why I write! But sometimes I forget that pausing and concentrating and searching for that word, that way of expressing feeling, sometimes that can pull me out of that horrible exhaustion relentless all-encompassing overwhelming despair forever no way out devastation drama everyday horror show. Not always, but sometimes -- so now I'm going to the movie, before I thought I would have to cancel but now I'm actually going. And I realize I've never taken pictures out of this window, the back window as they say -- what do you think?

The Fall of '55

Wait -- could there be anything worse than sitting in a packed, sweltering theater with no ventilation at all? Oh, I know, watching a boring movie in a packed, sweltering theater with no ventilation at all -- that's worse. This movie has potential -- it's about a sex panic in Boise, Idaho in 1955 with headlines like "Male Pervert Rings Seduces 1000 Boys," "Harbored Homosexuals to Ravage Our Youth," and "This Sordid Mess Must Be Removed." This sordid mess is sex between closeted men and boys between the ages of 15 and 20, the whole town erupts in scandal about this "infamous crime against nature."

The filmmakers have done a lot of work to unearth newspaper clippings from the time and find surviving relatives and acquaintances of some of the men who were charged, but the whole thing is presented in such an incredibly dull, non-confrontational, talking-heads style with barely any insight at all. The only avowed gay person to be interviewed in the entire movie is already dead -- the interview is from the ‘70s, and it's with a theater director who was pursued all the way to San Francisco -- that's right, the police chief of Boise drove 650 miles to serve this guy with an arrest warrant, then he was prosecuted as the alleged ringleader. His interview, recorded by the historian Jonathan Ned Katz and presented in snapshots to the audience with an image of two reels spinning (don’t we love that visual?), is fascinating because it actually presents a snapshot of someone with a personality (and a queen, at that!), unlike many of the still-living-yet-unemotive creatures telling us things like "it turns out that my father was living a homosexual life." Or, the best, the son of the guy who "investigated" the whole thing, who still thinks his father was a great guy fighting the good fight against the homosexuals or pedophiles or something -- too bad he came up against the powers-that-be, and they snapped the whole thing shut after wealthy powerbrokers were exposed -- the good guy only had the chance to directly ruin a dozen or so lives (and who knows how many more indirectly), dammit!

The movie does ask questions about whether these “youth” were in fact ravaged by these older men or -- gasp -- participating in consensual sex, then just blackmailing the older guys to avoid self-exposure. But the movie still fails to indict the larger culture in any meaningful way, or if it does then it's presented in such a sanitized, straight-friendly, library with-the-books-you-don't-want-to-read snoozy way that all I can really think about is getting out of this stiflingly hot room and away from all these sweating people.

This is a tiring day, a day, this tiring

Yes, a tiring day this tiring yes a day -- but yesterday was so so much worse, I'm grateful for today actually today was better until now when it's just like yesterday no not quite like yesterday because I did send out a book proposal YAY and wait I did a radio interview + I had a great conversation about queer gentrification so wait today was actually good maybe, I even went on a walk to a bookstore that often doesn't carry my books at all, and that seemed like the case this time too until I actually spotted Nobody Passes -- and I'm so easy to please, when the person working there was friendly and excited about me signing, well actually at that point my day was WONDERFUL, then the walk home took longer than expected I got so exhausted out there in the sun, thought I’d go out again but now I'm still here, writing these blurry sentences while my beans are boiling.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Buckwheat and millet is the answer

I can't even describe how delicious this combination turned out --bring five cups of water to boil, add 3/4 cup millet and 3/4 cup raw buckwheat, half teaspoon sea salt, close and lower heat, simmer for a half hour and then let sit for a few minutes and it's yum yum YUM!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Monday, June 18, 2007

Another independent press catastrophe -- the end of Punk Planet

I've always had mixed feelings about Punk Planet -- and punk, really. Punk was what I wanted to be in high school but I was too much of a faggot to ever get accepted among the purposefully downtrodden. I still loved Fugazi shows and imagined myself on double-decker buses romancing with The Clash (I was stuck in DC at the end of the '80s/early '90s), but grew to prefer the take-me-to-the-sky antics of danceclub delirium, and as my aesthetics became an increasingly strange hybrid of high-contrast thriftstore extravagance, I honed my politics into an enraged queer defiant dissonance -- the funny thing is that once I transcended punk I became punk (to certain people, anyway -- although I fled to the West Coast), I guess that's the point or something although I've never tried to claim the word, I'm afraid of such nostalgia. Eventually I finally figured out what thuggish (but far from punkish) guys on the street meant when they'd come up to me and say are you punk? In all my carefully-coiffed day-glo naïveté, I didn't realize they were using punk to mean faggot, well bring it!

But back to Punk Planet, I probably would've loved it in high school because it embodied so many of my contradictions at that point (without admitting them, which I never would have done at that point either) -- a calculated sense of style that was really more design than diy, a certain type of consumer fetish gimmicky resistance mentality. But Punk Planet didn't arrive until I was several years out of high school, by that time I'd outgrown its offerings.

But Punk Planet also developed some amazing journalism -- I remember an issue way back that was about the death penalty, and how excited it made me to see that focus -- sure, alongside pages and pages of whiteboy bubblepunk bands bouncing slit-your-wrists straightness. But I'm getting distracted -- the point is that Punk Planet also ran some great, in-depth political articles and sometimes-delicious interviews (my issues are still in boxes from moving months ago, so I can't list the articles right now, although I loved the Revenge of Print issues which included analysis of independent press consolidation). The magazine also became more stunningly laid-out, impeccably organized and lavishly designed -- perhaps this is confusing, what I mean is that it got gorgeous. Still, there were some of the same tired straightboy rants and endless pages of boring band reviews, but also some inspiring mayhem. But don't get me started on that Miranda July cover story not long ago, after Miranda July had become the toast of Hollywood, declaring that, even after a Prada fashion spread in Interview, she was still "underground."

Truth be told, I have deep critiques of almost every publication, including the ones that make up the independent press that I love (and the publications I've written for, including Punk Planet) – I'll admit that I thought Punk Planet was invulnerable, a glimmering success story even as so many independent publications went down the tubes. Even with recent media consolidation scandals, I thought Punk Planet would labor on, and when I opened my email today to find that this would not, in fact, be the case, I was stunned, mouth hanging open -- I even cried a little bit, truth be told -- I do think the world of independent publications becomes weaker without Punk Planet, this world that does actually mean a lot to me.

I think this part of Punk Planet's statement is the most striking, because it ties it in with so many of the other publication struggles:

... We must acknowledge that the financial hit we took in October of 2005,
when our newsstand distributor announced that it was in dire straits, was worse
than we originally thought. As the dust began to clear from their January
bankruptcy announcement, we began to realize that the magazine was left in
significantly worse shape, distribution-wise, than they let on.

Add to that the stagnation that the independent record world is suffering
under and the effect that has had on our ad sales, not to mention the loss of
independent bookstores with a vested interest in selling our publication, and it
all adds up to a desperate situation. This has been made far worse by the
exhaustion felt from a year and a half of fighting our own distributor. It was a
situation that didn't have an exit strategy other then, well, exiting.

In other words, another casualty of independent press consolidation, and especially the failures/corruptions of the Independent Press Association. What is next?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The show, yes the show: Why Are Faggots so Afraid of Faggots?

Okay, now I can write about the show. I can't say that I'm rested, but I did sleep. Okay, back to yesterday...

The funny thing is that I'm actually running on time, I keep checking the clock to see if maybe it's actually an hour later, I even compare it to the computer to make sure that I'm right. Then I get to the theater over an hour early, in spite of the incredibly long bus ride down Mission Street where the bus is so crowded that people are getting in arguments about whether anyone else can fit.

I've never been in the front room at Jon Sims, but it's actually really spacious. The only problem is that there aren't any lights, just fluorescents on the ceiling and a few clip-ons. Luckily it's the time of year when it's still light out, and there are these huge windows that face Mission Street, we open the curtains and it actually looks kind of glamorous with the light streaming in. It's just me and Calvin, the sweet tech person, since everyone else who was supposed to get there early hasn't yet arrived, and then when everyone does arrive it's kind of frantic figuring out details -- I hate that frantic part, especially when I'm exhausted, but then it gets worked out and the room is packed from front to back and that's always exciting.

My intro is very short, but I can already tell that this is an incredible audience because everyone's so excited! Then I read the piece I wrote after one of my recent trips to Blow Buddies, I was planning to play the role of discreet hostess so we could get to the discussion as quickly as possible, but after that trip I can't help sharing -- it's under five minutes, anyway, so I figure maybe it will keep everyone else on time too. It's especially fun to read the part about Hillary Clinton, where I can tell the audience is thinking what, where are we going now? Then Nico Dacumos performs, I like the way he uses the mirror when he mentions looking in a mirror in his piece -- oh, I didn't mention that the wall facing the windows is a mirrored wall, and the mirror reflects the sun as it starts to go down. Nico's performance is very precise -- I like that precision, he's talking about standards of masculinity and who has the ability to pass or not pass, all within his own family history and his places in the world. I especially like the part where he's talking about studying the ways that different male bodies hang, comparing them to his own transgressive and transmasculine postures and endeavors.

At some point during Nico’s performance, one row of fluorescents comes on, so when I introduce the next performers I mention that this show may not be called Why Are Faggots so Afraid of Fluorescents?, but I will be right back to do something about that, and I walked slowly to the door, out to turn off the light switch, and then I'm back.

Then Kirk Read and Logan Knight deliver the results of a social experiment of sorts, they went to the Eagle and engaged the regulars in conversation, complete with drumming and background music at points -- they are both such great storytellers, and it's fun to see how they interact onstage. I especially like the part where they're talking about different adjectives they do and do not like to describe body parts or sexual acts. Logan, who is trans, likes cunt but not pussy, cunt has power he says and Kirk says you're right, that's a word my mother does not allow. Kirk doesn't mind pussy for his own sex life, and he likes pretty but not dude, but did I mention that both Kirk and Logan are from the South and this plays a hilarious role in most of their conversations, both onstage and at the Eagle.

Wickie Stamps reads from her novel-in-progress, and the moment for immediate audience reaction definitely occurs when she mentions the narrator videotaping the goings-on in a confession booth -- we are all waiting for the rest! Thandiwe Thomas starts with a tongue-twister, and then a story about a boygirl who likes to put on his mother's makeup, and the violent consequences -- Thandiwe performs the preacher father and grandmother's voices in an especially evocative way. And the final performance of the evening is Seth Eisen, who comes out in gorgeous flamboyant attire as Faygele, a Jewish faggot who gives an amazing invocation/rant on faggotry in all forms, and especially his own issues with body image and masculine performance/requirements -- the performance ends with a ritual to banish all the trauma, but not without a certain audience discomfort as Faygele asks everyone in the audience to put their hand on a part of themselves that they hate, then a part of the person next to them that they hate. I don't notice anyone in my row (the front row) doing the latter, but everyone does chant for Faygele during her ritual.

Then we have a break, and I decide quickly to ask people to move the chairs in a circle for the discussion. Most people leave beforehand, but we still have a great circle of about 30 people, and one of the first people to speak says he wasn't sure before the show whether it would feel like a welcoming space, but it does feel that way and I'm excited about that because that's certainly what I'm trying to do. Unfortunately, we only have a half hour for discussion because we have to be out of the room by 10 p.m., but there is a lot of excitement in the room, this is my favorite part. One person mentions that this space feels much more diverse than the events ze usually attends, and looking around the room I realize that's true -- lots of trans and non-trans fags, a mixture of ages and races and body types. People talk about the potentials of inhabiting the category of the other, particularly about the possibilities and the ways in which gay men have gone from outsider status to insider clout and the lack of possibility for inspiration or challenge through that trajectory. Also, about sexual and sexualized longing for this certain kind of masculinity while also resenting its power. And the ways in which a certain kind of masculinity is prioritized in so many spaces, how it allows and furthers this male/female-masculine/feminine hierarchy -- whether heteronormative straight masculinity or gay masculinity or transmasculinity or butch dyke masculinity.

People talk about the possibilities of inclusive spaces instead of exclusive, niche-marketed identity categories where everything becomes smaller and smaller instead of expansive. The question of who exactly we/you are in community with, especially in San Francisco where there are so many queer and gay spaces, but so many of them feel so limited and limiting. Perhaps the community part comes through doing, through shared actions and values and not necessarily identity, or perhaps identity as starting point not endpoint (that's something I always say, anyway). There's an invocation of past radical faggot moments, such as the White Night Riots after Harvey Milk was assassinated, there seems to be a general consensus that more windows need to get smashed.

The discussion ends just when we’re getting started, I can tell people are excited by the possibilities -- this is something I've sensed all night, and certainly what I want to invoke with my new anthology -- there must be a way to invoke the radical potential of faggotry to create new possibilities instead of the dead-end of consumerist gay culture.

After the show, people are talking about where they're going next and all I can think about is that I need to get home right away and rest, afterwards I'm demolished and drained and disastrous but today I'm back to feeling the potential -- it's hard to inhabit both of these spaces, one so deeply marked by the limits of my body, the other a space of what my mind can invoke. I'm hoping for a place or space or time where it's not always such a battle between hope and hopelessness, inspiration and exhaustion but I'm not there yet.

Here's my new call for submissions, yay the call for submissions!!!! -- please forward far and wide...

flaming challenges to masculinity, objectification and the desire to conform


As back rooms are shut down to make way for wedding vows, and gay sexual culture becomes little more than straight-acting dudes hangin’ out, where are the possibilities for a defiant faggotry that challenges the assimilationist norms of a world that wants us dead?

Masculine ideals have long reigned supreme in male sexual spaces, from the locker room to the tea room, the bars to the back alleys to the beaches. But is there something more brutal and dehumanizing about the calculated hyperobjectification of the internet? How do we confront the limits of transaction sexuality, where scorn becomes “just a preference,” lack of respect is assumed, and lying is a given? How can we create something splendid and intimate from that universe of shaking and moaning and nervous glances turned inward now groaning?

I'm especially interested in essays about community-building experiments, public sexual cultures, faggots not socialized or presenting as male, cruising, HIV, consumerism, transfaggotry, polyamory, feminism, sexual safety and risk-taking, norms for faggots outside of the US, and gender transgression (of course). I'm looking for essays that expose hierarchies of gender, age, race, nationality, class, body type, ability, sexuality and other identity categories instead of imposing fascistic definitions based on beauty myth consumer norms. That's right, honey -- I'm talking about interventions that are dangerous and lovely, just like you.

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is the editor, most recently, of Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity (Seal/Avalon, 2007) and an expanded second edition of That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation (Soft Skull, forthcoming June 2008). Her second novel, So Many Ways to Sleep Badly, will be published by City Lights in September 2008. For more on Mattilda, visit

The basics:

*Submit non-fiction essays of up to 6,000 words. All submissions must be typed and double-spaced, and sent by post (no email submissions, but feel free to contact me with queries, Please include a short bio.

*Deadline is May 15, 2008.

*Send submissions to:

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
537 Jones Street, #3152
San Francisco, CA 94102


After the show

The new show I curated, Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots? (The Sequel), happened earlier tonight, and I want to write about how amazing and inspiring and emotional it was, but instead I find myself in a familiar place of complete exhaustion, so drained that now I can’t even write notes really. As soon as I got home, I got in the shower, thinking that hot water would ease the pain from sitting in a chair with armrests because I didn't know where to rest my arms, I mean they couldn't just rest and that's what gave me pain. I stood in the shower for a while, but actually just standing was hurting too. Plus, I moved a few things around in the theater that I shouldn't have lifted, nothing heavy but still -- then, standing at a mike always gives me pain because of the awkward posture. And carrying a heavy bag on the way to the show. Performing always gives me pain too, it's all of the energy I have to channel and the channeling does feel incredible, in the moment I feel glamorous and almost invincible but then the moment ends. After the show and a really sweet discussion, all these people were talking about what they were doing next and all I could think was I need to get home now.

Now I'm home and everything hurts, it's all familiar but still overwhelming, that eyes-glazing-over feeling competing with the headache while and staring at the computer. But I will write more soon about the show, all of the beauty and inspiration since right now I have this cramp in my stomach or intestines, all of this digestive drama I've been having recently. I'm having this moment of self-consciousness about this entry for anyone who might have been at the show and might be reading this blog for the first time and might not know that I'm constantly dealing with all of this chronic pain/fibromyalgia exhaustion drama that wraps around me, keeps wrapping around me even when it lets up it still lingers. It doesn't mean the show -- and especially the engagement and connection in the room -- wasn't amazing, it just means that I need to wait before I have the energy to write more about it. Last night was a terrible night of sleep, I'm hoping tonight is better.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Alexis Arquette: She's My Brother

It's amazing how glamorous a little press accreditation can feel, my favorite part is getting inside the theater before everyone else so that I can choose the seat of my choice! Soon the theater is packed with so many gays, I don't think I've seen this many gays in a while. Not all together, at least. Here are the kinds of things these gays say:

A bourgie tweaker type with disappearing jawline, to one of his friends: I need a dollar because they only take cash -- I'm like hello, the dark ages!

A lesbian to her companion: there's nowhere to get a burrito around here, is there? (This movie is premiering in the Mission, where there are probably 20 taquerias within a five block radius).

Then I'm bonding with the guy next to me who at least has a good sense of humor, he says I think the real show is taking place right now. He's right in a lot of ways, it's fun to watch the crowd, but then I realize he's saying this while looking at this one particularly glamorous transwoman, the guy says: because you can't tell what anyone is.

Oh, but the movie -- right, the movie -- Alexis Arquette: She's My Brother. It starts with Alexis practicing her voice training, it's pretty hilarious because she’s been acting since day one so she's got it down: deep voice for when she's angry, queeny voice for day-to-day, high ditzy voice when she's trying to pass. The movie is about her transitioning from so-called male to so-called female, it follows a familiar trans narrative where we’re going to be present for all the steps to the endpoint of a new vagina. The twist is that, when Alexis Arquette outs herself to the media as trans, the paparazzi line up to snap photos. I guess I don't have that much experience watching paparazzi events of this sort, they are all behind barricades while Alexis is doing runway -- it's much more glamorous than I expected.

Alexis is also quite smart, and she decided she doesn't want to take any hormones because of the way the anti-testosterone drugs destroy your liver, and she also is it down with the "Harry Benjamin thing," the assumption that all transpeople are unstable and therefore unsuitable for surgery until proven otherwise by qualified medical doctors, it's a code of ethics from the Harry Benjamin Gender Dysphoria Association. We watch Alexis resentfully go to therapy, but mostly we watch her enter her car in an endless variety of makeup and outfits, she's worrying about how she's going to make a living since it won't be from acting because Hollywood won't give transwomen the parts they want, but then suddenly she buys a new house.

Here's someone with all of this privilege, she might need to borrow the money for surgery from her wealthier actor sisters and brothers, but there's never an issue about whether she'll get it. What is an issue is the media circus around her, which includes most of her friends and their crass questions about whether she’s chopped it off yet, even though none of the other Arquettes appear on camera with her for more than a few moments (in one scene, her brother David appears chummy, but then dashes away as soon as he's needed by more important media). The title of the movie is a reference to Alexis’s sisters and brothers awkwardness with the transition, but we never get to see this on camera -- the title doesn't really make sense without it, so I'm guessing some footage was cut because the filmmakers couldn't get permissions.

By the end of the movie, we’re bored by interviews with a few club personality bimbos and the surgeon defending the Harry Benjamin rules and the therapist voicing her acceptance and Alexis doing her makeup again and putting on yet another wig and the bleeped out curse words since I guess this might have been made for British tv. But what’s most interesting about the documentary is that Alexis ends up refusing to disclose whether she's had any surgery. Even after taking the audience on trips to the surgeon and the therapist, Alexis declares that the important part is her self-acceptance as a transwoman -- it's all a bit hackneyed, since she invokes the "right to privacy," which rings just a tiny bit false since she’s such a publicity hound (she just wants to control the attention), but still it's refreshing that the movie doesn't tidy itself up with the ordinary trans narrative of "I have arrived!"

(This is part of my coverage of the Frameline Film Festival for bilerico)

Lambda Book Report review of Nobody Passes

There's a great review of Nobody Passes (my anthology, that is) in the current issue of Lambda Book Report -- it's not online, and it's not the kind of review that's easy to excerpt, but if you happen to see the issue around, definitely check it out.

Meanwhile, I barely noticed that I've now written more than 200 posts on this blog -- here's to more and more and more!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Tension extension, my head

The bus at rush-hour, okay? Just don't take it! What the fuck am I doing on the bus at rush-hour? I mean, getting on at Union Square with all the tourists and the bus just started maybe five stops before and already it's so packed that people are squeezed all the way to the bottom of the steps, leaning against the door and when the door opens its slams up and hits people, then there are more people trying to squeeze on and the woman behind me is saying frantically: I need something to hold onto, I need something to hold onto!

It's ridiculous -- this isn't fucking New York, okay? There aren't that many people in San Francisco! Why can't there be more buses? There should be a fucking subway line on Geary, anyway -- not this packed bus polluting everything in sight, or even those tiny toy cars trying to pass as a subway but bypassing most of the city -- they aren't even underground most of the way, and then there’s that tired commuter rail BART thing with literally 8 stops in the city before speeding out to the suburbs, why don't we have an actual subway? It's embarrassing, truly embarrassing.

But what's even more embarrassing is that San Francisco has better public transportation than anywhere else in California, hands down, and pretty much every other city in the country except New York which is 100,000 times better but then you're living in New York. Forget it -- I'll stay on this cramped bus, slammed against the door -- I don't even have that far to go, I’d walk home if it wouldn't give me so much pain but whatever, here's my stop I'm getting off, even today during the heat wave the air is so much better than the best possible day in New York, I mean my sinuses are already throbbing from the pollution, knotting up into some kind of tension extension, my head.

These routine things, it all adds up

Nightmares all night long, maybe that's why I wake up after 11 hours in bed and kind of a lot of sleep feeling utterly hopeless, like I won't wake up all day and then even when I'm lying in the sun out on the fire escape I still feel drained. Laundry, that doesn't help. Then I'm home, thinking there's no possibility of anything, really, except the way it feels like my bones are cutting into my muscles or just me I guess, which part is me? I decide to put on this movie Chris gave me -- I don't usually watch DVDs because I get too conscious of sitting still and staring at the screen, in a theater it's different because of the experience of it all but at home I don't relate to it.

But I'm so exhausted, I figure why not -- I put on Chain, by Jem Cohen, all of these gorgeous and horrifying landscapes of prefab stores and malls and office towers like still photography except faster because something moves. In the middle of the movie is when I'm feeling lighter, even in the coldness of desperation -- but then that fades and it's just desperation again because the movie's going on too long, I mean it should have ended earlier with a sharper cut, like the juxtaposition of the sun behind a demolished fill-in-the-blank prefab thing or really any of these incredible layerings of crumble over glossiness under the other surfaces. But it goes on too long, like there's an extra half hour just to make it feature-length -- too long for me and my ergonomic desk chair, rolling around to different positions -- at least my body doesn't hurt like it does in the theater, or I mean not my muscles from sitting but I get to that place where my eyes start to hurt, then it feels like the muscles between neck and shoulders are connecting wrong because of carrying the laundry I guess or trying to figure out why the modem behind my desk wasn't working -- these are the things that destroy my life, and of course the place above my eyes, burrowing into my skull this fog.

Then I'm stretching on the floor, I mean on a mat on the floor -- don't worry, I still have a mat -- there's so much pain in all of these upper body muscles, more than it's been in a while I guess because of these things: laundry, groceries, the modem, was there something else? Oh -- typing a little bit at the internet café, maybe. Putting the sheets on the bed. Taking the ladder out to change the lightbulb in the bathroom. Taking my laptop out to see if maybe I could get wireless. Putting the laptop back. Now there is burning in my right arm, one tendon spasming although if I close my eyes and breathe then it's as if my whole body pulsates and that's okay. These are routine things, I know, routine things I know, I know these routine things. It all adds up, I don't like the way it adds up.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Oh no, my internet is down!!!!

There's some problem with the connection at my house, so I'm at a cafe but at the cafe I can't use voice activation software, dammit-- pain drama! I hope to be back soon!!!!!

Monday, June 11, 2007

This Saturday, June 16 in San Francisco... WHY ARE FAGGOTS SO AFRAID?

Get your questions (and answers) ready, I'm looking forward to the discussion... And, I will also be debuting the call for submissions for my new anthology!!! Here's the show:


Curated by Mattilda a.k.a. Matt Bernstein Sycamore
Devastating performance, spoken word and troublemaking featuring Kirk Read, Seth Eisen, Nico Dacumos, Wickie Stamps, Thandiwe Thomas, and Logan Knight

Saturday, June 16, 7:30 p.m.
Jon Sims Center for the Arts
1519 Mission Street near 11th
$8-15, no one turned away for lack of funds
Click here to purchase tickets

As back rooms are shut down to make way for wedding vows, and gay sexual culture becomes little more than straight-acting dudes hangin’ out, where are the possibilities for a defiant faggotry that destroys the assimilationist norms of a world that wants us dead? It’s time for flaming challenges to masculinity, objectification and the desire to conform…

This sequel to last year’s packed event will feature brand-new work and a delicious discussion to follow the show.

This event is part of the National Queer Arts Festival, and is sponsored by the Queer Cultural Center and the San Francisco Foundation

Sunday, June 10, 2007

About to discover something

There is a reason to go outside because I'm sitting at the bus stop staring into the sun, appreciating this warmth. A friendly crackhead shows up, he says rach there crantrach. I hold my hand over my eyes so that I can see him: excuse me? I have computer parts, he says. He's holding a pot with a dead plant in it, maybe it used to be ivy but it's all broken off. Oh, no thanks. He's still looking at me -- what is the most pleasurable thing you do, he says. I think about it. He says no, what is the most pleasurable thing you do physically? He's looking me right in the eyes like I'm about to discover something.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Like breathing in three extra dimensions

I wake up at 2:56 p.m., thinking about my 3:15 appointment with the ear doctor to clean out the wax, I've already decided that it's okay to cancel the appointment but the good news is that it's only 2:49 on the computer so I decide to do the unprecedented -- get dressed without a shower or stretching, heat up some lima beans, do my hair and run out the door. No earrings, even -- probably the ear doctor would just make me take them out, anyway. The bus arrives just as I'm running out the door, and it actually waits for me -- that's how I know I'm having good luck, although it might also be because the bus is stuck in traffic, but that doesn't usually prevent the driver from speeding up -- who cares if I hit a few cars, at least I'll avoid those terrible bus riders!

I'm thinking about the elevator door panels, painted navy with gold trim -- that's old money, for sure. Or maybe just old. When the elevator opens, I’m face-to-face with a tanning salon/plastic surgery experience working a spaghetti-strap blouse with safari shorts and stilettos. This person's face is so even it's startling, for a moment I'm just standing there staring at her nose: an office divider, state-of-the-art. Meanwhile, the doctor says he told me to come back in six months, not sixteen -- he says at least you got the six part right. Then he pushes his tongue deep into my ear canal -- at first I'm surprised by the feeling of his chapped lips against my soft lobes, but then I'm transfixed by the way his tongue lengthens and expands and pulls my head to the side while he sucks everything out -- the pressure is so strong that he only has to do one side, I guess both ears are connected with a special tube through my brain and I don't know what to say because this method doesn't hurt nearly as much as the vacuum cleaner or scalpel or high pressurized water-peroxide mixture drama. The doctor spits something into a tissue and holds it out for me, something gooey inside -- like breathing in three additional dimensions, it drops to the floor and neither of us looks. Come back in six months, the doctor says.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Thoughts on the consolidation of independent print media, and my place within this madness

There's been a lot of turmoil recently in the world of independent publishing. In January, the Independent Press Association (IPA), advocate and distributor of hundreds of independent magazines, went bankrupt while owing thousands of dollars to individual titles ($81,000 to Bitch, for example). Immediately following this announcement, Clamor, one of the most wide-ranging and inclusive of independent magazines, and Kitchen Sink ("for people who think too much"), one of the most lavishly produced, went under (LiP, perhaps the most politically sophisticated and intersectionally-engaged of new lefty magazines, had recently collapsed as well). In These Times, an earlier-generation lefty stalwart, immediately went from biweekly to monthly, and many other magazines shuffled production schedules due to cash flow issues.

Immediately following the demise of IPA came the bankruptcy of Advanced Marketing Services, owner of Publishers Group West (PGW), distributor of over 150 publishers (Grove, Avalon, Soft Skull, McSweeney's, and Cleis, just to name a few). PGW was perhaps the largest distributor of independent publishers (the other distributor of comparable size is Consortium, purchased by Perseus Book Group in 2006 -- Perseus is a medium-sized publisher that consists of a number of imprints that were originally separate publishers).

Okay, let me state here that I'm not exactly a publishing industry insider, so if I get some details wrong then just give me a six-figure check and call me boss (I mean, feel free to correct me). And before I get lost in all of these specifics, let me explain why I’m talking about any of this: distributors are crucial to the success of independent publishers and publications -- you can put out something amazing, but if it doesn't get into stores then no one will see it. Of course, there are tons of incredibly valuable, innovative and dynamic publications that have no interest in large-scale distribution, but for those that do, the distributor can make or break the publisher or publication.

I imagine that it goes without saying that I'm interested in the survival of the independent press because it's one of the few places where I can find any inspiration, knowledge, challenge or critical engagement that might give me the tiniest shred of hope. Of course, I've also been following all of this bankruptcy, corruption and consolidation because I've written for numerous independent magazines and newspapers, including Bitch, Clamor, Punk Planet, Tikkun, Make/shift, Lambda Book Report, Maximumrocknroll, Gay and Lesbian Review, Heeb, LiP, Slingshot, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian (many of which were distributed at one point by the Independent Press Association -- or Big Top, it's predecessor). And, of course, I write books and edit anthologies that are brought out into the world by independent publishers: Seal, Soft Skull, Suspect Thoughts, and Haworth (and soon City Lights).

My last two publishers, Seal and Soft Skull, were distributed by Publishers Group West, and both have gone through dramatic changes since the PGW bankruptcy. Seal is an imprint of Avalon Publishing, and after the PGW bankruptcy, Avalon was immediately snapped up by Perseus, a publisher similar to Avalon (purchaser of several smaller presses that became imprints of a larger company). This announcement happened within a week of the PGW bankruptcy, so obviously it was an insider deal arranged ahead of time.

But all appeared to be fine for Seal, publisher of my most recent anthology, Nobody Passes. But get this wacky switcheroo -- Charlie Winton, Chairman of Avalon (and original founder of PGW!) -- leaves Avalon, and joins forces with Jack Shoemaker, founder of Counterpoint (an imprint of Perseus) and Shoemaker and Hoard (an imprint of Avalon) -- together, they acquire Counterpoint and Shoemaker and Hoard from Perseus/Avalon, and then... they purchase Soft Skull (publisher of That's Revolting!).

But what does all this mean? Seal has already been gutted, their staff reduced from seven to three, and they will be publishing 15 books per year instead of 40. While I have been quite critical of Seal for their narrow, niche-marketed "books by women for women" politics and all the editorial battles we had over Nobody Passes (which I summarize in the introduction to the book, as well as in my October 2006 MRR column), Seal is still perhaps Slate actually the most visible and consistent publisher of a wide range of feminist titles, and a loss of 25 books per year is indeed steep. Of course, if a niche-market catastrophe like Cat Women: Female Writers on Their Feline Friends disappears in favor of the forthcoming Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System or Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, that might not be a terrible thing, but Seal’s recent list includes many innovative, boundary-pushing titles, and it will be chilling indeed when the more daring forthcoming projects will surely be subject to even stricter market analysis. Already, my experience with Nobody Passes was that Seal wanted to define it for niche-market salability before I'd even circulated the call for submissions, so I can only imagine that such pressures will grow more pronounced.

As for Soft Skull, things are a bit more complicated. Publisher Richard Nash will become Executive Editor at the newly-formed Counterpoint (where Nash will be editorial director of the Soft Skull imprint, but without any of the previous Soft Skull staff). What this means in terms of editorial direction is unclear. I can say without hesitation that Soft Skull’s editorial vision over the past several years has been unparalleled, from the maximalist, erudite pranksterism of Wayne Koestenbaum to the fiery and practical politics of Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground and the humor, experimentation and renegade vision of The Amputee’s Guide to Sex (a book of poems). Editorially, working with Soft Skull was a pleasure because they trusted my vision and supported my choices, but the more practical side of things was a mess. In short, I think Soft Skull grew way too fast (going from publishing 10 books a year to 10 books a season in a relatively short time), and they didn't have the ability to support their authors. So my first response to the purchase of Soft Skull, after the surprise wore off, was to think oh, now hopefully the second edition of That’s Revolting! will finally come out (let’s just say that it’s a bit behind).

But then I thought about the editorial implications of Soft Skull becoming an imprint on a larger publisher. I began to wonder if they would be able to publish such crazy and intoxicating diversity, from Classified: How to Stop Hiding Your Privilege and Use It for Social Change to Ronald Palmer's flaming formalist poetry (published as an eight-by-eight square!) to Josh MacPhee’s Stencil Pirates (a history and guide to stenciling as public redecoration).

I became aware of perhaps the most shocking details of the consolidation while reading Soft Skull publisher Richard Nash’s blog, where I learned that after Perseus purchased Avalon, they decided to close two of the larger and most extensive imprints, Thunder's Mouth and Caroll and Graf. Thunder's Mouth was a current affairs, popular culture and science publisher that sometimes took on innovative work like The Apocalypse Reader or the collected writings of performance artist Karen Finley. But what floored me was the closure of Caroll and Graf, a publisher that has come to publish more queer work than probably any other. Over the course of four years, editor Don Weise (previously an editor at Cleis) has acquired an incredibly wide range of queer work at a time when this is considered impossible or impractical on most presses the size of Caroll and Graf (and certainly on any larger press) -- from novels by luminaries like Sarah Schulman and Leslie Feinberg to emerging writers like Ali Liebegott, Keith Boykin's Beyond the Down Low, an anthology edited by Michelle Tea, an anthology of vintage porn edited by Simon Sheppard, and even titles by establishment figures like Edmund White and Dale Peck (as well as republishing out-of-print work and plans for a series of AIDS writing). In short, Weise/Caroll and Graf bucked the corporate industry standard that gay/queer work was no longer marketable, and the demise of Caroll and Graf is a big blow to queer publishing.

Of course, there is still brilliant work -- queer, feminist, experimental, politically challenging -- done by a wide range of small publishers (Suspect Thoughts, Semiotexte, Akashic, Seven Stories, South End and New Press come immediately to mind). And I can't resist plugging City Lights, who will be publishing my new novel! But I think there's no question that all of this consolidation will narrow the options for many boundary-pushing writers.

As for independent publications, I'm inspired by something Jessica Hoffmann, one of the founders and editors of the new feminist magazine Make/shift (where I’m now the books editor), said at the New York launch: "Capitalism tells us that we're crazy to start a magazine right now, but we're not particularly interested in what capitalism has to say."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A journey up the hill

The elevator.
The lobby.
The hill.
Yes, the Nob Hill Theatre.
And I ran into someone who wanted to burn Billie Holiday cds at my house!


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Next-door neighbors, I can appreciate these sounds

First it's the woman moaning, moaning, moaning for probably 30 or 40 minutes it goes on so long I stop noticing until I hear the guy grunt OHHHH or maybe it's more like ahHHHH or ohHNHHHahHHHH then it becomes a series I've got my ear pressed to the wall, ah ah aOhhh and then they're both giggling until I start thinking they can see me through the wall because of the shadow which I know doesn't make sense but still I'm thinking it.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Sleep and exhaustion, exhaustion and sleep

I can tell that I'm holding off going to the bathroom way longer than usual, I mean that's the new strategy for attempting to get a good night’s sleep -- until it almost feels like time to get up, but just in case I want to stay asleep I piss in a bottle, two bottles actually which reminds me that I need to get a bigger bottle so that I don't think about when it will overflow. That's what I'm doing now, I mean what I was just doing, before I got back underneath the covers, hugged the body pillow and adjusted my eye mask because the light was coming through and that reminds me that I need to get curtains or shades that block out all the light but this is what I'm not supposed to be thinking about. Maybe I also need a different comforter because this one is too warm it makes me sweaty, is it warm out today or is that just the comforter?

But then I know I was sleeping because I wake up, actually feel calm and I look at the clock. Does it really say 3:30?

Then as soon as I get out of bed, I crash -- I can't tell if I'm depressed that I got up so late and that's why I'm exhausted, or if I'm just exhausted.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

I can't help posting more pictures of the sea lions...

This one is my favorite because it's all the little ones cuddling and you can see them up close, Grant took this photo since I couldn't figure out how to get my camera to zoom in close enough

Oh, look-- here are some of the people watching the sea lions (Grant took this photo too, she's on the left, then me, Gina, Chris and a little kid that you might not be able to see at first because he's wearing blue camouflage)

That first cocktail

Okay, every now and then I like to go to Borders just to see what crazy shit they have on display, like David Hasselhoff's autobiography on the front table -- it's literally called Don’t Hassel the Hoff -- what the fuck is that supposed to mean? Wait: who the fuck is David Hasselhoff? I read the bio: Baywatch, Knight Rider -- Knight Rider, my sister and I used to watch that amazing piece of high art, before we got into V, where the aliens peeled off their skin in search of something deeper.

But then I'm looking at the magazines, I like to look at the gay crap to see what's been reviewed, but then I'm reading some of the articles too. First I look at Curve, and I'm surprised to see that there’s actually an article that kind of mentions the consolidation of the independent press, something I've been meaning to write about -- they don't use those words or anything, but it's kind of an article.

Nothing in Out could possibly pass as an article, it's the hot issue and I can't figure out what is hot about any of these people or who they are or why we're supposed to care. Genre has an article that’s surprisingly critical of the term "LGBT" as something that doesn't mean anything, but then the writer seems to prefer gay, of all things. I might be getting hypoglycemic, but I think he says that we know there's a gay community because of all that feeling or connection or something at Pride celebrations. Um, that would be Budweiser.

Meanwhile, Instinct, the trashiest of the gay glossies, but the one I actually prefer in some ways because it doesn't pretend to be anything but trash -- Instinct has a back page essay by none other than testosterone-infused punk rocker Henry Rollins. I guess he has a talk show now, I saw ads for it on billboards in New York. The column starts out surprisingly okay, I mean a basic leftist rant but then in the middle it turns into some garbage supporting gay marriage -- oh no, the nightmare of straight leftists trying to be supportive of the gays without connecting their leftist politics to their supposed support!

But my favorite is a column by Lady Bunny in Genre, which starts out as a queeny rant against the military -- I'm actually impressed -- until all the sudden Lady Bunny says she doesn't generally like to support politics but we need more feminine energy in the White House, and then the column turns into a plug for none other than warmonger Hillary Clinton.

At this point, I'm thinking that going out for cocktails might be a great idea, a few cocktails, just a few cocktails, right? Is this just extreme hypoglycemia, or a result of all the shirtless, musclebound men in all the ads and photo spreads, those images that always make me feel vaguely horny but mostly desperate and alone? Plus, the articles that start with a valid critique and then go terribly wrong, like that first cocktail that leads to the second that leads to the third that leads to some terrible coke den staring at the wall because I'm so wired I can't speak.

Luckily, I get home without further incident.

Friday, June 01, 2007

It's my birthday, and how can I resist the sea lions, yes the sea lions!

Today's my birthday, so I went to visit the sea lions on Pier 39 with a few friends -- there were so many baby sea lions, I've never seen so many tiny ones -- I don't mind the tourists so much when I can watch the sea lions! Here's something I wrote about them, a little while back:


Maybe you remember this. Adults would peer down and say: enjoy it while you can! They meant childhood. I studied their eyes for evidence: were they lying to themselves, or just to me? I never figured it out.

I refused childhood, but still I asked: do animals have souls? I didn’t want to eat them -- I flipped over mousetraps to rescue someone. I tried to bury my grandmother's fur. I rushed outside to set a lobster free in the yard.

My father could unlock my door with scissors, but I locked it anyway. I stared through the vertical blinds at two huge pine trees, wondering if I could live in them. Later, but still before I could drive, my father would scream and pound on the door while I turned up Tracy Chapman’s "Fast Car," tears pouring down my face, repeating "fly, fly, fly, fly away-ay..."

Eventually, I arrived in San Francisco. I heard about the sea lions at Pier 39, but I thought it must be some kind of scam, thrown in with the sourdough bread, clam chowder and postcards of the Golden Gate Bridge through a foggy sunset. I didn’t want to be near any of that, so it took me a while to learn that the sea lions initially arrived uninvited, taking over boat docks in the late eighties, when I was also desperate for a safe place to rest. Since then, the sea lions have become a fixture—apparently they don't mind the tourists.

The sea lions look so comfortable, even when they’re jumping on top of one another and jostling for space. Several dozen of them will squeeze onto one tiny dock, and leave the rest of the docks empty. They argue loudly and cuddle and kiss and I like to watch their facial expressions, my eyes studying their emotion.

I still have trouble sleeping. My brain won't shut off -- the more exhausted I get, the harder it is to relax. It's gotten so bad that it's difficult for me to function. Sea lions have no such trouble. A bunch of them will get into a screaming fight, and push each other off a dock, while right next to them a friend snoozes. The friend will lift up its head for a moment to watch the commotion, maybe sneeze once or twice and do a few yoga postures, then go right back to dreamland.

I have a postcard of two sea lions sleeping together on Pier 39, one sea lion is resting its head on the other's neck, its flipper wrapped around the other sea lion’s back. When I look at them, my mouth starts to pout, and I can feel my face adjusting to the eyes behind my eyes.