Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Engagement

At a certain point, Kelvline, Benjamin and I started hanging out after meetings. Sometimes we’d go through the meeting play-by-play, or maybe there was something particularly bothersome that had happened and we would dissect what everyone had said. Or not said. We were trying to say it all.

I met Benjamin when I first moved to San Francisco in the early ‘90s, she was on a panel about AIDS and cultural representation at the San Francisco Art Institute; the panel made it seem like AIDS activism was a thing of the past, and I raised my hand and said something about ACT UP, it was still going on and more crucial than ever. Afterwards I argued or chatted with Benjamin and Eythan, one of the other panelists, who went home with me, or maybe we just exchanged numbers and later he went home with me. Eythan was HIV-positive, and told me that he only got fucked without condoms; this was way before any public conversation about barebacking, and I was stunned. I said: well of course we can do other things. But he said he wanted to get fucked, that’s what he liked to do, so we didn’t even make out.

After that panel, Benjamin and I would see each other around, and we were friendly but not necessarily friends. I always thought she was brilliant but too emotionally distant, comfortable in her artifice, sometimes it seemed like artifice was all she wanted. She had this way of interacting with people that was so grandiose I could only see it as fake. But it was the way she’d survived. She’d grown up poor and black in the South, but had attended boarding school and elite universities. When I got back to San Francisco in 2000, it seemed like everyone I knew from the early ‘90s was poorer and more alienated than ever, and Benjamin was no exception. Benjamin was interested in Gay Shame, but not too interested -- this was part of his way of viewing the world, a political engagement too direct was as suspicious as no political engagement at all. Maybe more suspicious, because it couldn’t be dismissed with the same types of enthusiasm.

Art for Benjamin was what activism meant for me, and we ended up collaborating on a five-week experimental cabaret; when you’re done with something like that you either hate the people you’re working with or you become closer. We became closer. After our show it seemed like Benjamin was more interested in Gay Shame -- she’d already helped to mc some of our first big actions, but always in a detached sort of way. Maybe that’s what changed: Benjamin seemed less detached. Or maybe I just understood him better.

2 comments:

kayti said...

did you stay friends?

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Stay tuned...

Love --
mattilda