Saturday, May 30, 2009

A public conversation

How did I get to this place where I listen too much, listen to the point where it shuts me down? With Ralowe I guess it’s from the time when our relationship was the one we both prioritized more than any other in many ways, or at least the one we both spent the most time on. When we were working toward a certain model of trust that all came crashing down for me almost 3 years ago when Ralowe decided to question my integrity for deciding to visit my father before he died, while I was literally in my father’s office getting ready to visit him after 11 years of not speaking to him -- and, at the same time, Ralowe insisted on talking about that fateful Wall Street Journal article yes I was at my father’s deathbed and Ralowe needed to talk about the Wall Street Journal, needed to make me think that he trusted their version of our interview as much as mine, and then that’s what ended my direct involvement in Gay Shame, this project that was so central to me from the very beginning, or at least it ended my direct involvement until now, other than advice from time to time. Anyway, it’s this history -- I mean my history with Ralowe before our falling out, our history of trying to take care of one another so that we didn’t feel too alienated, both inside and outside Gay Shame -- it’s this history that makes me want to listen too much.

Ralowe is talking about marriage and what is there to do to bring the whole thing down, there must be something that could just end the whole thing, some connection we could make and suddenly it would all make sense and I’m saying we’ve already made all those connections, and no one cares, and then somehow Ralowe is talking about straight anarchists and their inability to make connections and how to make them make connections and I guess this relates to marriage because they don’t make connections about marriage and Ralowe saw a movie about the public relations industry and how it came from psychoanalysis or was it psychoanalysis that came from the public relations industry but Mattilda, we have to figure out how to make that connection and this is where I can’t speak anymore I get so tired that I can’t say anything, and finally I say I’m too tired to talk right now, and Ralowe says I’m sorry, did I tire you out, and I say no, because I can’t say anything, and then we say goodbye.

Sure, sometimes I just get so tired I can’t function, but usually in a conversation it means that suddenly I feel like there’s a wall between me and the other person and it’ll never be breached, or if it is breached then it always comes back and the distance drains me. Ralowe calls two more times, the first time I’m stretching and the second time I answer because I think maybe Ralowe understands what happened, but actually he’s calling because he figured it all out, the thing we can do to bring the whole thing down, and that’s if we go after the public relations firm that developed the marriage campaign for Gavin Newsom, and then I’m listening again.

But I’ve also thought about what I want to say, and so then I say that’s a good idea, if it’s possible to figure out the exact specifics, but let’s switch directions for a few moments and talk about us, I mean me and you. And I say you know, I was reading this book by Ben Shepherd earlier about the politics of pleasure in direct action activism, I mean I was reading the manuscript and Ben Shepherd interviews me and I sound so hopeful about direct action, I mean even when I’m critical I’m hopeful and I don’t feel that way at all anymore. And the beginning of losing that feeling of hope was when we had our falling out, and I realized that the relationships I thought I was building in Gay Shame didn’t exist in the way that I’d imagined, especially in terms of trust, and then it didn’t mean anything for me anymore. And reading that interview I thought oh, I have to figure out how to get to that place where direct action means so much, I mean I sound so inspiring and I want to be inspired again. And the best thing would be to find another direct action project that’s going on that would suddenly give me that burst of inspiration, but there isn’t one, at least not one that I know of, and then the most logical thing seems like going back to Gay Shame, since there’s the action you’re working on now, but I don’t want to go back unless something’s different, I mean unless something is different for me. And maybe something is different, or would be different, I’m just not sure.

Ralowe says I’m not trying to pressure you to come back to Gay Shame. I say I know. And I say: I like you, and I think you’re smart, and you have great ideas, and I respect the history of our relationship, and I want to be able to listen to your ideas but you go all over the place and it doesn’t exactly make sense and when we were in a relationship it made more sense to listen, but now I just end up feeling drained, like I’m there for you but it’s totally one-sided, and I don’t even know what I’m asking necessarily -- I don’t know what it would mean for it not to be one-sided, for our relationship to fuel more mutual, but I know that it gets to the point where I’m overwhelmed and I can’t speak and then I just think why did I do that?

And Ralowe says: do you think I’m using you? And I do that thing where I say no, I don’t think you’re using me, I mean I wouldn’t use that language, but maybe it does feel that way. Ralowe says I don’t want to take advantage of you, I know I get to that place where I’m only thinking about the thing, this important work that needs to happen right away and whatever else is going on feels secondary, and maybe that’s authoritarian.

And Ralowe says: I appreciate you. And I don’t know what to say to that, except thank you, and then I say what do you mean? I mean what do you appreciate? And Ralowe says I appreciate being able to call you and talk about these things, there aren’t that many people who can understand.

And I don’t know exactly what this conversation is, but it feels like a doorway. Because there are three parts of the block I have with trying to figure out what direct action means for me now -- one of those parts is the collapse of my relationship with Ralowe, my relationship with Gay Shame, and finding the things that used to give me hope feel more like hopelessness. Another part is all of my physical limitations -- with pain and exhaustion, and I’ve even stopped doing readings for a while because they end up draining me, and how can I do direct action without feeling drained? And the third part is that I don’t know if radical queer direct action means what it used to mean for me, I mean sometimes I look around at the possibilities that exist now and they just seem contradictory, simplistic, self-important and shallow, and that might mean that I’ve changed and I have to think of other dreams. But then reading that piece by Ben Shepherd really made me think oh, this is one of the things that’s missing in my life, and there are a lot of things that are missing but since I’m at this point where I’m trying to figure out how to reframe everything in a way that actually holds me I mean in a way where I can dream, one of the things I also want to think about is direct action, and my place within it, and this vision of what a radical queer identity means, and what it means for me if most of the people that embrace it don’t inspire me on any level at all.

Meanwhile, Ralowe wonders if we could figure out a more sophisticated way of talking about emotional engagement and activism, the emotional component of activism and the emotional component of relationships within activism. Our relationship started within activism; Ralowe came to the first Gay Shame action in San Francisco way back in 2001 and that’s where we met. And back to our relationship, Ralowe says: I know I have this tendency to ramble out the quest for the holy grail and whatever’s going on and I don’t want this to be a masculinist project, I mean I want to be aware of what else is going on and not just run people over with some sort of authoritarian tendency.

Suddenly I have this idea that maybe we could have a public conversation about our relationship, from the beginning until now, with all of the places of connection and tension and holding and hurting and bonding and breaking, all of it as a public conversation about these issues, I wonder if this would feel like a way to further both our personal and activist engagements and whether this would be interesting or instructive or inspiring for other people. Whether for me that public vulnerability would help me feel safer or less burdened not as weighted down more open.


Hilary Goldberg said...

I love this idea, a public conversation, and think it would be useful and inspiring to many people, myself included. Or to simply make an I statement, I would love for you to do this.


Hilary Goldberg said...

...and...I'm am thrilled to hear more people having manic freakouts over queer rights hijacked by a marriage campaign that seems to be an endless distraction from everything else that needed to happen yesterday.


mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Thanks, Hilary :)

Love --