Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shady bitches

Remember all those activist meetings where everyone was always tearing each other apart? I would sit so still, respond so calmly. But inside was a different story, the story of my childhood and that’s when I realized I needed to take a break, I needed to figure out activism that felt like something else. This is when I started to realize I did that same thing to my friends, respect meant tearing them apart and this would take longer to unlearn.

I always had friends in different realms: the realm of activism, which intersected but kind of didn’t intersect with Mission dyke culture, and then there was the club world, which didn’t intersect with anything. Of course, we were all between worlds, but most people didn’t want to be. One time I decided to have a big potluck, and invite my friends from all these places, I wanted to see if I could connect these worlds, I mean I wanted to feel connected. It was a disaster: my activist friends were silent; my club friends rambled on about outfits or music or the weather or how vegan food was kind of weird; everyone else just stared into space. One of our roommates who we rarely saw because he was in art school ended up getting smashed and chasing me down the stairs, grabbing me and trying to make out: I love you. I love you, he kept saying. We’d barely even had a conversation.

Afterwards, people accused me of conducting a social experiment, a few of my activist friends in particular -- they were enraged; I didn’t try that again. But that was our kitchen -- people would flow in and out and entire relationships would be negotiated and transformed over that table between a curving sofa and the chairs we borrowed from a laundromat. Like with Andee, he entered our house passing flawlessly as a clueless rich kid, asking a lot of questions and everyone was vicious: we thought he wanted us to do his work for him. We didn’t ask those kinds of questions, or if we did ask it was in a different way, a way that meant we’d always known, even when we were learning. Andee came from Seattle as an official queer youth working for the American Friends Service Committee -- in Seattle their project was the queer youth center, but we couldn’t figure out what they were doing in San Francisco, other than giving Andee a place to live in a rich neighborhood just above the Castro. When Andee started saying he was working class, everyone was aghast -- who did he think he was kidding? When he died his hair blue, we thought he just looked like some prep with blue hair, like the guy he was dating. When he said he wanted to be vegan, we laughed.

But we also listened. No, that’s not true: I listened. I mean, it was Andee who first told me I needed to write my stories down, Andee would sit there for hours and we would drink tea and talk about everything and nothing and still he was kind of outside of our circle, even if he was inside he was outside but then do you see how things work? You remember: when he came to visit me in Boston, and he said: you need to take responsibility for your influence. And that’s a question I’m still thinking about; that’s how influence works. I’m on the phone with Andee, telling him what I’m thinking, what I’m thinking about that point when we met. He says: I liked you because you were a shady bitch. I laugh -- I know I was a bitch, but was I shady? He says: you were from the East Coast and you would read and I appreciated that; I’d come from Seattle, where people thought they knew how to read but they didn’t, but before that it was New York and all those shady queens and I missed it. And: you talked about house music and I liked house music too.

Maybe I was shady: I forgot that we talked about house music, but I remember when Andee would talk about punk and I would change the subject. The other day I thought I should call the people who live in that apartment now, the one on Sycamore Street, I wanted to go back into that kitchen and see what I could find. I mean I did call them, at the same number we had 16 years ago, I guess I still remember it. The phone rang, but no one answered.

2 comments:

Elián Maricón said...

I would have LOVED to have been at that potluck.

I can just see some gay shame folks mingling with Endup fashionista tweaker fags who thought veganism was stupid.

I am happy there was no blood shed.

You are brave.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Yes, my dear -- you would have been a WONDERFUL addition -- although do keep in mind that this was 1993, and the endup was not so much fashionistas -- tweakers, of course, including at least one or maybe two of the dinner guests that night -- and gay shame would not occur in San Francisco for another 7 years -- at that point it would have been the old ACT UP and BACORR (the radical abortion rights group)...

But wait -- are you calling me brave? You are too sweet...

Love--
mattilda