Saturday, February 20, 2010

Stuck

I wanted every relationship to build towards the intimacy I felt with Derek, that soft place of shelter in our eyes. Especially once he started lying about everything, disappearing into addiction. Still, we managed to save a place for each other every Sunday, for the three or four hours where our schedules intersected and I could feel that place in my body where I knew safety. At least, when I wasn’t worried our relationship was going to fall apart.

The interview I gave with the Wall Street Journal was about the end of San Francisco as a place where marginalized queers could try to figure out a way to cope. I was talking about Polk Street, one of the last remaining public spaces for homeless youth, hustlers, trans women, street queens, drug addicts, seniors on disability, and new immigrants, but fast becoming a hot destination for fashionistas and office drones to sip green apple martinis. The Wall Street Journal didn’t exactly talk about this form of ethnic cleansing; they decided Gay Shame was fighting for the neighborhood’s “gritty ambience.” But the article did reveal that Larkin Street Youth Services hired out the kids in their shelter to plant palm trees in front of the architecture firm spearheading the gentrification, at the preposterous rate of six dollars a day. And, they reprinted the Wanted poster we made for the head of that architecture firm.

My apartment overlooked Polk Street, and whenever I walked around I could see it disappearing: the closure of the gay porn shop there since the ‘60s, after the landlord refused to renew the lease; beat cops on the hustling block; the old man’s bar transformed into a rocker-chic hotspot; two hustler bars renovated into sleek lounges; the last hustler bar torn down to make way for a church. But it was hard to figure out what Gay Shame could do -- we wheatpasted that Wanted poster, a map of the gentrification, and several other scathing informational flyers. We made a zine, and distributed it to people on the street -- before the Wall Street Journal, we even managed to land a sympathetic article in the San Francisco Chronicle. We held a meeting in the neighborhood, hoping to draw people who would want to join us, but the truth was that we probably would have had to hold 100 meetings in that neighborhood in order to inspire an action that felt even vaguely homegrown.

While some of us were hookers, some of us were runaways, and some of us did drugs, none of us was turning tricks on the street to get a room for the night, hustling for a shot of speed, or asking for spare change outside the liquor store; we all belonged, in some form or another, to a counterculture that meant we could politicize the world around us, especially when it let us down. If we held one of our typical protests, we were certain to draw our usual crowd of Mission scenesters decked out in ragged extravagance; we worried that the spectacle we would bring to the neighborhood wouldn’t be that different from the gentrification we wanted to challenge. Or, that was my critique, anyway. That’s where I got stuck.

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