Wednesday, February 17, 2010

To deal with

Benjamin and I were trying to get Kelvline to make more sense more often; Kelvline and I were trying to get Benjamin to let go of abstraction and come down to earth. I don’t know what they were trying to get me to do, but I do think they wanted a witness, a witness to their struggles as black fags trying to exist in white counterculture, to exist in racist San Francisco, to exist but also to create, to create and communicate, to communicate with one another. I know that when the three of us entered a room, we were probably the loudest combination of personalities ever to combine in such a small space.

When Benjamin and Kelvline had a falling out, they each called me. Kelvline said: I was talking to Benjamin and she’s just not interested in connecting with me in the ways that we always have. I used to feel like Benjamin and I could have these conversations about race and identity and living in the world. I felt like we had this closeness because we’ve experienced trauma and alienation in similar ways and now she’s telling me that never happened, she said: I’m not interested in that, you’re making assumptions -- I was just interested in your artistic process. Then Benjamin called, and said: it was like a break-up conversation, he expressed the need for certain things from me, and I expressed a disinterest in those things. It became much more dramatic than it needed to be. I don’t want to be another person who thinks Kelvline’s too difficult to deal with.

Later, Benjamin and I had our own falling out; in a way, this made Kelvline and I closer: we bonded over everything Benjamin couldn’t or wouldn’t do. But I also didn’t want to become another person who thought Kelvline was too difficult to deal with. I watched the ways other people related to her at Gay Shame meetings, when she would start screaming about the new Tarantino movie or some blockbuster video game or the current rapper she was obsessed with, or when she would yell at a new person in the room for some unintelligible reason, scaring that person away for good. Or, when we would go wheatpasting, and Kelvline would volunteer as lookout, but instead of keeping a discreet distance she would start rapping and jumping up in the air and screaming at the top of her lungs.

Kelvline’s behavior didn’t phase Darryl; she would just nod her head and move on. It was harder for me because Kelvline and I spent so much time together, but also because I wanted our relationship to become deeper, softer, more nurturing. I wanted to stay emotionally engaged, but often this meant that the dynamic between us became kind of parental: Kelvline would say something completely ridiculous to provoke me and I would try to stay calm but eventually crack. Direct action, veganism, queeniness, sex work, and an outsider queer identity were new to Kelvline, but they were part of my core identity; maybe it was inevitable that there would be some kind of power differential. I had lived my whole life avoiding parental figures, and I certainly wasn’t interested in becoming one: even mentorship seemed suspicious to me. But some of the best Gay Shame propaganda existed in that tension between my calculated satire and Kelvline’s swinging off the earth: when it worked, there was a wicked glee in the resulting flyers, press releases, and posters usually forged in small group meetings in my apartment. But if the process was as important as the product, the dynamic that emerged between the two of us could hardly have invited participation from anyone who couldn’t interrupt.


Shaun said...

matilda, this is absolutely brilliant because it sounds like my relationship with my wife. you have perfectly diagnosed us.

Wil Lake said...

Thanx for the only dose of Homo in my present GENRE of thought...
Peace my friend

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Shaun, that is hilarious!

And Wil, you are too sweet -- thank you for your dose of Homo as well...

Love --