Friday, January 29, 2010

Trademarks

But here I am at Rainbow Grocery, running into Darryl -- I don’t think we’ve ever run into one another at Rainbow before, which seems kind of strange. She called me earlier, but now we’re both in the bulk section, she’s getting rice and I’m getting seaweed and sea salt. There’s a strange kind of discomfort that I can’t quite place, maybe it’s just confusion or maybe it’s not discomfort it’s the way we deal with public engagement in contradictory ways: Darryl shrinks back and I get grander. The other thing I notice is how styley we both look, especially with my hair freshly washed and glowing in a big floppy curl around my head and my cobalt blue coat, Darryl’s clear plastic eyeglass frames and a black jacket somewhere between ‘70s and ‘80s -- we’re working totally different looks that go with our different personalities and I’m thinking about how intimidating it must have been for someone coming to a Gay Shame meeting for the first time, especially if that person didn’t feel they could match or clash adequately with our contrasting personalities and clothes. Even once we were the alienated awkward people and not the ones we considered scenesters, that didn’t change the way we looked from the outside.

Let me pause here to think about my own investment in fashion. Back in the day I would’ve said no, darling, not fashion -- style. Fashion meant consumer loyalty, zombie mirroring, ugly attitude and nothing underneath. Style -- well, you can guess. Sure, there might be some difference but I’m not getting stuck there. I’ve cultivated this strange look that means a lot to me, I mean it’s what helps me to exist in the world, it’s important to me to take it so far that it’s really too funny for fashion, but seriously, if I study other people who look this calculated I usually end up thinking oh, no! Usually that’s because I can see what they’re copying, but don’t get me wrong -- of course I know that authenticity is a dead-end.

Kelvline was obsessed with the quest for true originality, but partially that was because so much of her art involved imitation: that’s how she learned to rap. She always demanded a certain kind of attention, negative attention was what she called it in one of our first intimate conversations -- because her parents always ignored her, that’s how she explained it. It’s what scared a lot of people out of Gay Shame meetings. Later she added: I’m very emulative -- which kind of implies a desire for positive attention too. I guess attention is attention, that was her point: she wanted it either way. I always get scared when friends start dressing like me, in some irrational part of my brain I start worrying that they’re trying to steal my identity: that’s how much clothes mean to me. But also it’s because I want to empower people to express their differences, not sameness, so when Kelvline started wearing bright colors and vintage thrift-store styles I thought well, it’s not exactly what I wear -- maybe she’s just getting more flamboyant. Like with gender: sure, I was probably the one who inspired her to throw off the male pronoun and embrace the queen’s vernacular, but she did her fair share of wacky things with the whole institution, like taking the universal she, and twisting it around with he to such an extent that really you had no idea what she was talking about-- that was her style. Her music was dissonant and fractured and broken and messy and that was the point. Or part of the point, anyway. But back to fashion, at one point Kelvline started wearing a French cuff shirt, with the cuffs undone, one of my trademarks, and one of the other black queens in the Mission said oh no, now there are two Mattildas, and that’s when I knew I wasn’t just imagining it. When I said something, Kelvline told me I was copying her hair -- my hair was big and spiky at the time, but it couldn’t quite compare to her Afro.

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