Friday, September 04, 2009

How I feel about you

I met Johanna at a party, actually it was her boyfriend who I was talking to first, barrettes in his dyed black hair and painted nails, I was trying to figure out if he was a fag or if he was from Olympia. His voice was kind of soft, but he didn’t say much, so it was still hard to tell -- in Seattle I would’ve said Olympia right away but here in New York I wasn’t sure. He said: this is Johanna -- to his credit, not: this is my girlfriend, or this is my lover, or whatever, just -- this is Johanna.

So then Johanna and I became friends, this was when I was working on my first anthology, Tricks and Treats: Sex Workers Write About Their Clients, most hookers in New York didn’t really talk about it but Johanna was a dominatrix and she wrote something for the anthology, it was totally fascinating but a bit too interior for the book, and it turned out she lived in Williamsburg too, but the super-hip part, there was only one super-had parted then, and I went over her house and she gave me her zines which were about art and authority and vision, and we became friends.

Maybe I should go to parties, that’s what I’m thinking now, maybe I would meet people. When was the last time I went to a party? I can’t even remember. But now that I think about it, Johanna might’ve been the only friend I ever met at a party, I mean I’ve met plenty of acquaintances but not many friends. I guess there was Michael Greenblatt, who I met at a different party in New York, and we were close until that terrible night when he tried to pretend he didn’t know there was a backroom at The Cock, but that’s another story. Oh, wait -- Steve Zeeland, who I met at Trav’s party in Seattle, before I moved to New York, and that was also where I met Trav -- we were in an anthology together, and the editor, Michael Lowenthal, said you both live in Seattle, you should meet, and it turned out that Trav lived right across the street from me!

Okay, so maybe I’ve met a few friends at parties, but anyway I met Johanna and we became friends and she came to the reading for an anthology I was in, Best American Gay Fiction, which was kind of a big deal. My story in the book was called “Shitpokers,” which eventually became the beginning of my first novel, Pulling Taffy. Anyway, Johanna brought a friend in a leopard print coat named Kathy, and after the reading we went to dinner but Kathy had to go, she told me she loved my reading and we hugged goodbye and my friend Andee was standing there like someone had just smacked him in the face. Afterwards, he said Mattilda, I’m seeing stars!

What do you mean, I said -- Andee said Mattilda, Kathleen Hanna came to your reading. That wasn’t Kathleen Hanna, I said -- she said her name was Kathy. Andee said Mattilda, that was Kathleen Hanna, and I figured he must be right because Kathleen Hanna changed his life, changed a lot of people’s lives actually, but by the time I discovered her music it wasn’t the kind of music I liked anymore. Punk was something I was trying to be in high school, I went to Fugazi shows and danced and swayed in the back with my friend Ellen, as far away from the slamming as possible. I had pretty much every Clash album, and even wrote a story called “Stay Free” about the friends I didn’t quite have -- “we met/when we were at school/never took no shit from no one” -- and when Ellen and I would get lost driving back from Tracks I would think we were sadly beautiful, just like The Replacements song. But really I was too much of a faggot to be punk, I mean to be accepted as punk, at least in DC in the mid-late-80s, I mean I wasn’t out but everyone always knew.

When I discovered dance music, it was such a relief, I didn’t feel like an alien because I wanted to look pretty and get all crazy on the dance floor but not hit anyone. When I first moved to San Francisco, suddenly I was surrounded by music that called itself punk again, music and slam-dancing except now it was by queers who sneered at any mention of house music, techno -- almost like homophobia, I thought. The problem with house music wasn’t the beats, it was that there was nothing behind it. Except that 6 am runway, but that can only go on for so long. And drugs, of course -- yes, honey, drugs. So I danced to house but lived in a different world of dykes and a few fags who held each other and talked about rape and veganism and surviving childhood abuse. We made ‘zines and chapbooks and dyed our hair and painted our nails and stuck nails through our ears and wrote manifestos and organized protests and competed with one another for shoplifting excess, collaborated for success and got angry and crazy and depressed at the same time, but this was San Francisco so we kind of looked down on Riot Girl, I mean we were doing the same things but we thought we were tougher and more sophisticated, maybe even original -- you know how everyone likes to think they’re original?

Wait -- is this really Gina calling? Gina is one of those people whose life Kathleen Hanna changed. She says: Bikini Kill is still my favorite band! And: even after I discovered all those other bands that sounded like her, there was something about the way that Bikini Kill could be screaming, bitchy and funny at the same time unlike some of those bands who were trying to make real songs. And: all that Riot Girl spoken word about getting raped and screaming about it, empowered in anger, talking about what you’re not supposed to talk about. And: this one song called “Hamster Baby,” where Kathleen is shrieking and you’re trying to figure out what she’s saying and it takes forever but then you eventually figure out that she’s just repeating Where is our next show, where is our next show, where is our next show? In Honolulu. In Honolulu. In Honolulu. Do we get to go there for free? Oh yes we do. And I just thought that was so funny. And: even years later, at that Le Tigre show at Dumba, and I wasn’t really inspired by that music, but there was something about staring at Kathleen Hanna putting her guitar strap on, knowing something about someone’s struggle and seeing them exist anyway and sometimes that’s how I feel about you.

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