Friday, January 08, 2010

Alienation and kinship

Darryl was a student at UC-Santa Cruz, and he’d managed to get the university to pay for him to go to the conference, so there he was in Michigan. I was just about to write that maybe we hadn’t officially met in person beforehand, but here’s Darryl on the phone, reminding me of a time several months before when he came over my house to make copies of activist documents for a class he was teaching on radical queer activism; and a few meetings he attended before the Marina action; and even the time when he went to the Neo-Dandy Cabaret, a five-week theater show I created with three other dandies. But the conference was the first time we really bonded. We talked for hours, two nights in a row. Darryl was as scathing as I was. Even though he was becoming part of academia, he had dropped out of high school to run away from his parents at age 14. He would be the first person in his family to graduate from college, but he did not buy into the myth of upward mobility. He’d lived in outsider queer cultures beforehand and he recognized the hypocrisy of institutionalized violence masquerading as critical engagement.

We talked about growing up and abuse and escaping and veganism and cooking and drugs; I remember talking about Boston and one devastating K-hole or another, if I was talking about growing up and abuse and escaping then I had to talk about at least one K-hole, right? Darryl said she’d never done drugs; it always confused me when I met someone who hadn’t done drugs, but Darryl had seen the way heroin surrounded her friends and she already felt surrounded enough. Darryl was certainly familiar with drug culture: as a teenaged runaway, he’d smuggled massive amounts of mushrooms cross-country, a journey more mundane and harrowing than your usual trip, acid or otherwise.

We talked about sex, so of course I talked about sex work and how it was starting to feel like a trap. No, it had felt like a trap for a long time, maybe it was kind of like academia for Darryl: a certain kind of safety through something we were never supposed to know. We talked about relationships and romance and what we were looking for, but I remembered Darryl had said something about monogamy on the phone, she was in a monogamous relationship. I was surprised. I asked her what that meant for her. She said it was the only way she felt safe; she didn’t feel like it was better or worse politically or ethically, it was just what worked for her.

Darryl and I were bonding out of that strange combination of alienation and kinship that always felt so hopeful to me. I think we were both shocked by the conference, even if intellectually we knew all along it was different to feel it. Or, if she wasn’t shocked, then I was. We kept talking, talking for hours, sharing life stories that looped around one another in an embrace. It reminded me of the beginnings of my first close relationships.

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