Sunday, December 06, 2009

Entrenched

Even the personality of the group became kind of like mine -- our proclamations were always grandiose and flamboyant, meticulously grounded in politics yet queeny and absurd -- suddenly we were all calling each other Mary, yelling nurse! Sure, we were invoking a camp queer history of Marys, a respite from the masculinism of both gay and queer subcultures -- this was a personal history near and dear to me, but something new to try on for many in Gay Shame. Maybe it makes sense that the people who did the most work ended up with the most power, even though power was something we wanted to challenge. I do know that Gay Shame ended up failing me, even after everything it gave me, which was everything. And I think one of the failures was that people still saw me as the leader, even after years of our attempts to undo this. People still saw me as the leader, both inside and outside Gay Shame, even as Gay Shame meant less and less to me. Even as there were other leaders who would never have called themselves leaders, for whom it meant more. I would always hold a certain amount of power because I’d started Gay Shame -- I’m saying that now, because even though we never said it then, it’s what everyone believed. And it was true -- “not simple, not right, but true,” as poet Tara-Michelle Ziniuk says in an entirely different context.

I don’t know what it would have meant, in a nonhierarchical direct action activist group, to wear the badge that said founder, in order to undo its power. I don’t think that works. Or, I haven’t seen it work. I know it’s not what I wanted, not what we wanted, not what I want; I’m saying it now not to claim it, but to declare a different kind of truth than the one we were creating, the one that said Gay Shame emerged as a collective we, which was true too, but not really.

Maybe I need to tell you more about Gay Shame, because first it was just that one event, a queer autonomous space in the industrial ruins of our lives. That first event that drew several hundred people to this weird out-of-the-way space and people did crazy things like pouring concrete for a mosaic or providing child care in a space strewn with glass; someone dyed people’s hair; there was an argument with some guy trying to distribute AIDS Is Over flyers, which ended up in the bay; there were speakers about trans youth activism, the colonization of Vieques, prison abolition; someone even brought goats, although that person was there by coincidence. Most of the people who attended were dykes and trannyboys entrenched in the Mission scene, which wasn’t a surprise but what surprised me was the way in which Gay Shame could be consumed. The event had become a hot space for queer bands to play -- one band even argued about the order, they didn’t want to go first, they’d been around longer than several of the other bands, it wasn’t fair. We moved them to a later spot, but little did they know that the cops would arrive before they got a chance to play.

The bands undoubtedly drew much of the crowd, and the crowd ignored everything else -- drinking 40s inside or outside paper bags, they talked loudly over anything overtly political. In New York, radical-identified queers were so alienated that there wasn’t really a scene; Gay Shame provided something unique that still attracted a particular demographic of mostly young, mostly white queers, but it felt open and communal. At least it seemed that way to me. Our first event in San Francisco became the hotspot for the Mission scene; in spite of our success at drawing so many people with such short notice, some of us started to wonder how we might connect the politics with the spectacle in such a way that they couldn’t be so easily separated.

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