Monday, December 28, 2009

What we were creating together

Socket: I think the social and the political parts of Gay Shame were more merged than you thought -- you’re drawing a really clear distinction but most people didn’t see it that way. You were a social commodity and when you were really popular the group was really popular -- you were the central character and people moved around you. A lot of it was just mirroring. I was reading about Huey Newton at the time, and the cult of personality, and I wondered if this was it. To be honest, I came because of you, that’s why I was there. And when you recruited me to teach people how to do police negotiation, I remember saying to take down the badge numbers, or to repeat the officers’ names over and over, for subversive intimidation, and people thought I had created that idea -- they didn’t have organizing experience. They listened to me because I was your friend. They were cute and sweet and interesting, partiers and drinkers and artists and creative types, but not organizers or activists. At Tire Beach I remember feeling out of place -- I went expecting something like Gay Shame in New York. Me: That’s right -- that’s where we met. Socket: yeah, but at Tire Beach I ended up feeling out of place and insecure and uncomfortable, my entire experience was about what I wore and whether people thought I was hot. And you had asked me to bring someone who was a former political prisoner to talk about prison organizing and that was a total disaster because she felt so out of place.

Me: and she was the type of person I wanted to get involved, people a generation older and with more organizing experience, but it never really happened because when those people would show up, no one would pay any attention to them at all. Socket: that’s when I was doing a lot of prison abolition organizing, and those people had great politics and amazing process -- if I wanted political integrity, then I would organize with them, but it was boring. Gay Shame brought the intellectual and non-intellectual together, it was the opposite of boring. Remember that action with the Vomitorium? Me: Of course -- when we were confronting the Pride parade, and we made that big Budweiser can out of cardboard and you could go inside and vomit out your Budweiser pride. And we also brought official Gay Shame vomit bags, in case you couldn’t make it to the Vomitorium in time. Socket: that was brilliant and raunchy and so much more enticing than the organizing I was used to. I remember someone telling me about going wheatpasting with you because he was making out with one of your friends at a bar, and she said come on, let’s go wheatpasting, because she had already made plans to meet you, and when you all got together the first thing you said was: remember, if you see the cops, just yell nurse! So then everyone would be warned, but the cops wouldn’t know what it was about. It was that merging of the social and political that made Gay Shame so sexy. And people were willing to take political risks. But most people left during all the processing, they weren’t interested in doing that kind of work -- and that’s when I started showing up more often, because the group was becoming more of an organization. And around then I was talking to someone about Gay Shame, and they said oh, you mean Mattilda’s children?

Me: but who did they mean? Socket: they meant everyone, even though there were people older than you and you didn’t want to be that kind of leader, but at the same time you were. You had a strong hand on the framing of everything and how things were worded, the performance, the slogans, it was a social enclave you had created. And you were so dedicated to this process of open meetings, consensus, so when my friend said Mattilda’s children of course it was meant to be shady and I felt kind of complicit, because I wanted you to know what people were saying, except I couldn’t think of a way to acknowledge that it was fucked up, but that there was still a critique worth hearing. Me: I knew people were saying all kinds of shady things, but I didn’t want that to get in the way of our organizing. When someone would try to tell me something like that, I would say I don’t want to hear that stupid shit. Socket: I think that’s what you said to me. But you were really in this role where you were teaching people something totally new. Me: but that’s not how I thought about it, I didn’t want that kind of power. I thought we were meeting each other on our own terms. It took me a while to realize that sometimes people would just say what I wanted to hear, that it gave them credibility to be friends with me, that I was this sort of status object. But I don’t think that happened as much at meetings. Socket: you thought people had the political analysis, but they didn’t, the social and political were all combined, they were never very distinct. People were nice to me because I was your friend, but no one was my comrade except you, and you weren’t because you hated that word. Organizationally, I related more to the people I was doing prison abolition work with, but socially speaking none of them were my friends. Gay Shame collapsed those boundaries, it was exciting, I never thought I was going to get laid at a prison abolition conference. In reality I got laid more often doing prison work but it definitely wasn’t as sexy. Me: but I had this rule that I would never have sex with anyone in Gay Shame, that was never a part of it for me. Even though that eliminated a lot of the people I might want to have sex with, I didn’t think it was worth the risk. Socket: I know, because I remember suggesting people to you, and you said honey, I don’t have sex with people who I’m doing organizing with -- but you had different standards for yourself than for the group. So all the partying, even though you weren’t doing it, it became a Gay Shame thing, and since you weren’t doing it you didn’t have the same influence over how it happened, or how people treated one another, that you did in meetings, or at actions. I remember going to parties where people would get really messy and sexually desperate and treat each other like shit.

Me: that’s why I didn’t go to those parties, because then I would see how people acted, and I wouldn’t want to do activism with them. And I didn’t want to sleep with people in the group because of the way it would play out at meetings. When I was in Fed Up Queers, and most of the people in the group were dykes, and people would get in these insane fights over the wording of a flyer or how early we were going to meet before an action, and it took me a while to understand that really they were arguing because of who was sleeping with whom, and who was jealous or angry or felt betrayed. I didn’t want that to happen with Gay Shame, and sure there were some exceptions, but I think it was a lot better than with other groups. Socket: so for you it was about transparency, and that’s why you’re drawing a distinction between what happened at meetings and what happened outside, because what happened at meetings was transparent, it was a shared value. Me: exactly. Socket: but if half of the people weren’t transparent about anything else in the rest of their lives, then I don’t think they were really getting it. Me: You’re right. I remember telling you, when we had that challenging white supremacy workshop, that I didn’t want to go because then I would hear what people would say and I wouldn’t want to do organizing with them. And that was the most important thing to me, the activism. So I didn’t go to that workshop. Socket: and I couldn’t do activism with people who I wouldn’t go to a challenging white supremacy workshop with. Me: I know what you’re saying, but I’ve never been in an activist group where I felt that close with everyone -- politically, socially, culturally, emotionally -- there are always so many gaps. For me the important thing was what we were creating together. I do remember I wanted to start an affinity group with you and a few of the other people who I really trusted, like Derek. Socket: but I never trusted Derek. Me: exactly.

4 comments:

syllabled said...

digging this post... i have conflicting feelings about the social aspect of being an activist-- you mirrored a few pretty down pat.

--tasha

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Yay -- thank you so much, Tasha!

Love --
mattilda

EM said...

You just totally read Gay Shame.

And as usual, you hit the nail on the head...at least, based on my relatively short experience with it. So much I want to say but too much wrist pain to type.

Thanks for your fearless honesty.

Elián

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Thanks, Elian -- I hope I'm reading myself too :)

I'm finding this whole section kind of difficult to write, so it's good to hear that it's translating...

And oh no for more wrist pain, oh no!

Love --
mattilda