Sunday, February 21, 2010

Our closest moment together

Kelvline and I had a lot of conversations about the Wall Street Journal, about Gay Shame, and about our relationship. Some of these conversations went further than others. One of the best ones started when I said: I don’t have any other relationships that are so incredibly giving, but also so uncomfortable -- I want to feel confident that if I call you when I'm feeling stressed out, I'll feel better afterwards, not disconnected and hopeless. I want to be able to hang out with you for a day and not feel completely exhausted and drained afterwards. Kelvline: I don't have that kind of relationship with anyone, I don't even want that. Me: that's the problem, because you have what you want from our relationship, and I don't. Kelvline: I need to know that there’s space for my personality in our relationship, that it's an accepted thing that I'm oblivious and I have a constant need to start shit. Me: my only way to deal with that is to disengage, and I don't want to constantly disengage from someone I love, the person who I've spent the most time with over the last three years -- we've both invested so much energy working on our relationship, I can't deal with you constantly attacking me all the time.

Kelvline: I guess that makes me feel threatened, that if I don't meet those terms then our relationship is over. Me: what terms? Kelvline: I feel like you're making an ultimatum. I get so frustrated with the things I say about how I'm feeling when what's really bothering me is something different that I can’t even figure out how to talk about. And I notice that I develop new ways to process going down the street every day because I forget the old ways, and maybe I need to be supported in that. Except that if I sensed support, then I wouldn't accept it or I wouldn't know what it was and I guess I feel better if I always think that no matter how sunny or beautiful a day, something awful is going to happen -- otherwise I'll be shocked that someone's acting in a racist way, or that there's a cop on my corner. And I guess I need to project this frustration, and make you frustrated, so that I don't have to feel so alone.

Before I went to visit my father, before the Wall Street Journal, and before all these conversations, Kelvline spotted the signs announcing the new Museum of the African Diaspora; she wondered about the white passersby clutching purses and briefcases tighter as they passed what could be double trouble: a black male with an Afro, outside a construction site labeled “African Diaspora.” When it opened, Kelvline asked me if I wanted to go. They didn’t have a free day, so we walked past two black male security guards to pay the white middle-aged fag in retail.

The Museum of the African Diaspora was a project of Willie Brown, San Francisco’s former Mayor, a black man who famously declared that if you couldn’t afford to live in San Francisco, then you should leave. After ridding San Francisco of as many black people as possible, he decided to create a museum in their honor. The museum was dubbed the MoAD, in imitation of more established institutions like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or SFMOMA, which was just around the corner; but it looked like the entire MoAD, building materials and all, probably cost less than one or two paintings in the MOMA, where they didn’t have any security guards at the entrance. Maybe because they weren’t expecting black people.

Gazing up from the ‘70s bathroom tile in the MoAD lobby, we saw the themes of the museum elaborated on the walls, like a diorama at the aquarium: Origins, Movement, Adaptation, Transformation. The place felt like a cross between a rec center, an airport lounge, and a preschool -- gray carpet, indeterminate hues of green or blue paint on the walls, and exhibits that looked like something Bank of America would display in the lobby and you’d say oh, that’s nice -- can I check my balance?

Since Kelvline and I were the only visitors in the museum, we were outnumbered at least three-to-one by security guards. At one point an upscale Asian woman came out of an office to scold two members of the all-black security staff, since they had accidentally allowed Kelvline and me to enter the administrative section. One of the guards was so friendly, though, that she almost seemed like a docent. She told us where to start: it’s a Celebration Circle, she said. We entered a circular room with some cheesy video describing all the important things in life: Family, Church, Births, Weddings, Death. Since many of the people in the video were not overtly black, we were treated to an inspiring message at the end: We All Come from Africa.

On our way out, the friendly security guard asked if we liked the museum: I sensed that she felt a certain kind of pride, and I was too stunned not to tell her yes; I even smiled. Kelvline didn’t respond. Downstairs, the white fag wanted to know if we liked the museum. I smiled. Kelvline showed me the hotel next door, the glittering St. Regis, where rooms started at $529, and the penthouse condominium was rumored to be on the market for $30 million. The museum was built into a back corner of the hotel, since that was part of the deal Willie Brown brokered with the St. Regis -- you get 50 stories of luxury on city-owned land, as long as you allow us to open this dump. The hotel lobby looked like a posh nightclub, with high high ceilings and huge beige curtains dividing lounge areas where big men with swept-back hair, wearing suits with shoulder pads, relaxed on European leather sofas alongside women with tasteful blond highlights and low-cut evening dresses, sipping cocktails.

Kelvline and I walked around the corner to the bus stop; I couldn’t stop thinking about that security guard asking me if I liked the museum, she sounded so excited. I found myself staring at the entrance to Neiman Marcus, wondering about all the ways to actively participate in white supremacy, and Kelvline asked if I was okay. I couldn’t say anything: that’s when I started sobbing, really sobbing, thinking about the audacity of Willie Brown for brokering another corporate giveaway, then sheltering it with promotional materials that talked about this pioneering institution, the first of its kind in the world. Kelvline was sitting next to me, and I knew it was ironic that I was the one breaking down, but maybe this was our closest moment together.

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