Thursday, September 10, 2009

Labels

But what was Kathleen Hanna doing in New York, and not Olympia? She said she lived right around the corner from the reading, right near Souen, my favorite Japanese macrobiotic restaurant, I mean my favorite restaurant. I don’t miss much about New York, but I do miss the restaurants.

But back to San Francisco, six years before New York and just after I didn’t care about whether anyone thought I was punk and I listened to house music, but that’s when people decided I was punk. Maybe it’s because I made out with boys at a dyke bar where we danced to Chumbawamba and Hole and God Is My Co-Pilot and Bratmobile and really all sorts of stuff from some obscure new wave song to goa trance, but with a punk aesthetic and maybe I need to tell you about this club, it was called Junk and it started with the 99¢ Queer Video Fest and then afterwards people would stay around and a few dykes would play records and then that became the popular part after the 99¢ Queer Video Fest wasn’t going on anymore, I’m not sure why because I never made it to that part, since it happened at the same time as the ACT UP meeting, which was really the most important thing in my life at that point. But then why am I telling you about Junk, and not be ACT UP meeting? I don’t know yet.

Oh, but I was telling you why people thought I was punk, even after I didn’t care much about punk anymore, maybe it was because I dyed my hair crazy colors and wore lots of earrings and even the things I was afraid to wear in high school, like plaid pants and combat boots, afraid the punks would call me a poser, as if we weren’t all posing. Especially the skinheads. Or maybe it was because the ACT UP meeting was the most important thing in my life, the rules are different when you finally get away, away from what you were supposed to be. I was the youngest person at meetings, except for the other two youngest people who I met there but then they were in another group called BACORR, the radical abortion rights group, and then there was another group called RAW, which was people of color against the first Gulf War, and then US colonialism in general, and we did a lot of actions together, the three of these groups, which basically meant that six of us got together and that was a coalition but it was pretty exciting to be part of this coalition, especially when I was 19 and just figuring everything out and the thing about ACT UP that was incredible, I mean there are lots of incredible things but probably the most important for me was the way that queer meant fighting racism, classism, misogyny, homophobia -- connecting everything, that was just a given, and the group operated by consensus and there were all these people who had years and sometimes decades of activism outside the realm of normalcy and this was everything for me.

I mean not everything, but almost everything, and I don’t know if people knew I was the youngest person in ACT UP because they never treated me that way, and that meant a lot to me then too -- I had politics about pretty much everything but not necessarily about being young, in high school I was already going to bars and saying I was 23 and then when I moved to San Francisco this guy who was 26 took me out to a bar, the Café San Marcos, which was the only dyke bar in the Castro but they had a dance floor so fags went there too and then we were standing on the balcony and he asked me how old I was, I said 19. And then he started freaking out, pulling people over and saying can you believe, can you believe he’s 19? So after that, I was 23 again, at least at bars.

But actually, before house or techno I was obsessed with industrial music, the louder and more grating the better you just sat there and let your ears blow out until there was nothing except that sound. And I looked kind of goth, with black lace wrapped around my head, Bella Lugosi’s dead, but death rock was supposed to be more legitimate so I liked when people said death rock, kind of like punk rock I guess but sadder. You see how we’re always looking for labels, even when we’re not looking for labels?

But no: this was the early-‘90s, in the early-‘90s we were all about labels. We even labeled ourselves with day-glo stickers that said WHORE or TRASH or VEGAN or DYKE or FAG or QUEER or something more complicated like QUEER VEGAN INCEST SURVIVOR, the stickers came from Queer Nation I mean not literally because Queer Nation was ending but the idea. Anyway, at the beginning, before these labels, my favorite place to dance was Krash, Monday nights at The Pit, which was called The Underground so people still called it that if they wanted you to know they were old-school. Krash was an industrial club and this was when I tried never to go out with the same outfit more than once, so I was always taking parts of hats and random pieces of fabric and cutting them up and wrapping them around my neck or my wrists with pendants but also throwing down some ‘70s gems like paisley velvet pants. I ended up becoming friends with the DJ and the regulars, and the music got harder and we all started to like techno better so then we’d see each other out at the house clubs. No, not the vocal diva drama, but the way the bass shakes the floors and you can finally find your heartbeat, these beats, your heart. At the time, my favorite place was Fusion on Thursdays and there the floors were glass over and emptied-out pool from the ‘70s glory days of The Stud but I didn’t know that yet I just knew the floors were glass over an empty pool with lights coming through and everything shook. Especially when you were wearing combat boots.

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