“Are you going to stop dressing like a gas station attendant now?” This wasn’t the first time my mother had asked me that. We’d been fighting about my appearance since the seventies, a decade that still employed gas station attendants.”
Ty Bo Yule, Chemically Enhanced Butch
Happy Pride Queers! I know it was yesterday. That means today, I get to promote the book I wrote. It’s called Chemically Enhanced Butch. It’s a queer memoir, but funny. It’s the coming of age tale of the old school butch you’ve been waiting for. Look at that carabiner on my belt loop. You have to earn that many keys. I opened the last dyke bar in the upper Midwest to get those keys.
The bar didn’t last, because the best things in life never do, though I did accidentally nail some guy in the junk with that hammer. I eventually made the decision to grow my own sideburns instead of pasting hair clippings to my face, so I don’t know if I still get to call myself a butch, but I do, and we can talk about it.
“For the space of a song, I achieved the Rainbow Connection that Kermit the Frog had once promised me as a child.”
Ty Bo Yule, Chemically Enhanced Butch
I’m of an age (fifty) when I can still remember Ronald Reagan and Tammy Faye (before she became a drag queen) and mullets unironically. I got to spend my twenties in San Francisco. That was the 90s y’all, RIP. So many girlfriends, so many drugs. I had a motorcycle and a mohawk. I really miss being that attractive, but I don’t miss being that dumb.
“But if I had to pick a moment in my life, like if a genie was forcing me, to go back and whisper some hard-won insight to a younger me, I would go back to early 1991, when I drove over that hill by Candlestick Park and saw the San Francisco skyline for the first time. I would tell that twenty- one-year-old dummy, “Pay attention. This is special. You’ll never see anything like this again.”
Ty Bo Yule, Chemically Enhanced Butch
I didn’t take testosterone until I was 41, during my second semester at Harvard Divinity School. That’s another good story. Spoiler alert – it involves another doomed encounter with a pretty straight girl. Could my character be any more inevitable?
“She couldn’t have anticipated the out-of-control rock-’n’-roll semi, overloaded with grief and tornadoes, she was encountering when she made her first clever jest to me. She was just hoping for an escort into the forbidden roadside queer juke joint she hadn’t yet had the occasion to see.”
Ty Bo Yule, Chemically Enhanced Butch
Butches are hot and insecure, heroic and unsympathetic, well-meaning and woefully overwhelmed. We wrangle an unfathomable amount of complexity into that Dickie’s short-sleeve button up. Often we spend a decent majority of our energy trying to showcase our magic to our parents and normative society, in general. Alas, the only way their untrained eyes would ever be able to discern it, however, would be if we managed to change the world. That is why we spend the rest of our time pretending we are secret Hobbit superhero, unless we are busy getting a new cute girl an almond milk, half-caff, chai latte.
After decades of depression and terrible decisions, sifting through cliches and archetypes, some of us find a place in our bodies to negotiate a truce with our demons. I’ll take this happily ever after. That is an act of resilience and transgression that does actually change the world.
Come read my story. Be a pirate with me. Be weird with me. Have difficult conversations with me. If you’re a misfit, you’re not alone.
Links to buy the ebook on my homepage. Paperbacks coming in July.
“Then one day while I was still in college, I was taking the train from Minneapolis to Winona, and I had with me a copy of Burr, Gore Vidal’s 1973 novel about the Founding Fathers…America’s legendary Founding Fathers, according to Vidal, were all seriously flawed…The book horrified me. What it says isn’t true, I told myself, and I put it down…I realized a snide dismissiveness toward American history and American institutions had become the essence and thinking of the chattering-class gatekeepers of the culture.” – Michele Bachmann describing the exact moment she became a Republican as a young woman in her autobiography, Core of Conviction: My Story.
Remember how much fun we used to have mocking Michele Bachmann? We called her crazy. We dismissed her intellect. We obsessively fact-checked her like we thought the truth could possibly deflect the punishing fury of her mouth capoeira.
Well, look at us now. A bunch of Hermiones surrounded by platoons of Dolores Umbridges. How do we all like our facts now? Was Michele Bachmann an oracle? Did she foresee the counter-factual apocalypse now omnipresent in the global media as well as the White House? She did tell you she put that book down.
The scene Bachman crafts in her memoir is illuminating and deceptively clever. She juxtaposes the passing iconographic Midwestern American scenery from her fucking train window against her conscious rejection of a challenge to the sanctioned mythology surrounding America’s Founding Fathers made by a “chattering-class” gay man. She told herself it wasn’t true. She put the book down and chose an alternative set of facts. And she never looked back.
Look at her smiling at the camera while Trump gives her the thumbs-up with that dumb cartoon smug face. Look how happy she looks. She’s thinking to herself, I helped do this. I’m still the fucking Butter Queen at the Minnesota State Fair and there is nothing uncomfortable about the reality I have chosen. Suck it history losers.
What have we got to say to her that might dissuade her choices in reality? Never mind history’s most boring dinner party that is the Democratic primary contest right now. (I love you, Liz. Please save us.) I’m talking about scientists, historians, reporters, activists, decent humans – all liars, losers, and nerds now. An impenetrable force field has descended around the Children of the Creamed Corn and all the facts, logic, and empathy in the world has not been able to dent it. How did it get there? Trump didn’t conjure it. His hair does not power it. I think he might be the thermal exhaust port that leaves the Death Star ultimately vulnerable, but where the fuck is Luke?
Have you ever noticed how consistently physically repulsive conservative Republican men are? When you Google “most handsome Republican men,” you get Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney. Admittedly, Romney got a whole lot hotter when he hinted he might support impeachment, but he’s still an asshole. Kind of like, is it really okay to hang out with George Bush at a football game now that he’s no longer starting unwinnable wars using made-up intel just so his buddies can make money? I’m sure his accent is very charming. But, would you really want to hang out with any current conservative male legislators, leaders, or Fox News pundits? Are they at all intriguing? Could you make it through dinner with Mitch McConnell without vomiting because of the pouch? Could you have beers with Don Jr. without punching him in his greasy lipless face? How about a wine and cheese plate with Giuliani, trapped between a ficus and his verbal seizure, your sweater bedazzled with denture-spewed Triscuit flecks?
I think this current shit jacuzzi fraternity of beta barf boys should line up to kiss Michele Bachmann’s bleached asshole. In fact, there are a number of terrifying and freakishly charismatic women without whom I do not believe our present nightmare would have been possible. They are the dark Jedi masters of alternative realities. They do not fumble and sniff their words. Their presence in this Hellscape lends some kind of sinister, matriarchal legitimacy to idiots like Tucker Carlson and Trump. They are an elite cabal of malevolent mind-benders and I admit I’ve dreamt of sitting quietly under my invisibility cloak at their dark arts slumber parties with their ostrich feather slides, automated cabana boys, and bottomless Bellini bar.
Nine Women I secretly want to get drunk with only to find out if they actually believe the words coming out of their mouth:
#1 Michele Bachman
Seen here prophesying crushing Mitch McConnell’s tiny nerd balls.
Sun sign: Aries
Favorite cocktail: Boxed Pinot Grigio.
Three things she’s said: “He (Trump) is highly biblical and I would say to your listeners [that] we will, in all likelihood, never see a more godly, biblical president again in our lifetime.”
“I will tell you that I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Florida, after the debate. She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter.”
“Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful. But there isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas.”
Michele is largely politically irrelevant these days, but I have to honor her place in evil empire history. She started as a tax lawyer. Mother of five, foster mom to twenty-three more, she and her husband ran a Christian therapy center that offered gay conversion therapy. She was Minnesota’s first Republican woman elected to Congress and she started the Tea Party Caucus in the House, you know, those guys that stormed closed-door impeachment depositions to have a pizza party. She fought to keep the Tea Party in the GOP instead of starting a third party. It looks like her wisdom paid off.
She was an early pioneer of the con with conviction. I think she was ahead of her time. I envision being stranded in an airport Applebee’s with her, sipping mango hurricanes, laughing about how historically accurate the Flintstones really was.
#2 Ann Coulter
Sun sign: Sagittarius
Seen here throwing up gang signs for her home planet while sermonizing about the size of her dick.
Favorite cocktail: Pappy Van Winkle, neat, double.
Three things she’s said: “I’m a Christian first, and a mean-spirited, bigoted conservative second, and don’t you ever forget it. You know who else was kind of “divisive” in terms of challenging the status quo and the powers-that-be of his day? Jesus Christ.”
“Long before there was discrimination against blacks, there was discrimination against white southerners. When large numbers of these country people moved north during World War II, they were aggressively excluded from neighborhoods, jobs, and homes – not because of their skin color, but their accents.”
“I want the Dreamers [deported] first. Keep the felons, get rid of the Dreamers. Because they’re arrogant about it.”
Oh Ann, tell me how Christian you are again, it tickles. Coulter is also a lawyer. She has written thirteen best-selling books and publishes a syndicated newspaper column. Ann manages to do that whole radical Nazi gay man thing while presenting as a cis-gendered straight woman. She’s never had children because, eww, and she’s never been married because none of the men she’s dated enjoy pegging that much.
She’s recently been blackballed from Fox and other conservative media outlets because she picked a fight with Trump over his lackluster xenophobia. She’s become the yappy, telegenic face for the segment of Trump’s base disappointed by his lack of progress in building the wall. She has been relentlessly unsatisfied with his tiny-handed capitulations. He’s responded by calling her crazy and cataloguing his many, unprecedented cruelties toward immigrants for her on Twitter.
She has yet to be moved. She is six feet tall and her unique superpower is forcing grown conservative men to defend the size of their wieners childishly in public. No matter how many times she claims to be antifeminist because of how Christian she is, she feeds solely on the terror of under endowed male egos. She is a classic and effective phallofascist. Republican men are actually afraid of her.
Remember when Wolverine killed Jean Gray? I think because I’m masculine but don’t have a penis, I could get close enough to Ann at her local leatherboy bar without my skin disintegrating. We would bro down over Fireball shots before she slurred her daddy issues into a urinal while I held her hair.
#3 Kellyanne Conway
Sun sign: Aquarius
Favorite cocktail: Hpnotiq spritzer.
Seen here exactly as racist and dismissive as you think she is.
Three things she’s said: “You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving — Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.”
“I’m not in the job of having evidence.”
“I never threatened anyone. Don’t use those words … No, no, no … If I threaten somebody, you’ll know it. If I threaten someone, you’ll know it.”
Kellyanne might be the queen. She’s the one barefoot in the Oval Office.
She was the Blueberry Princess, cheerleader, leading scorer on her field hockey team, and salutatorian in her high school. Her estranged grandfather was a South Jersey mobster. Abandoned by her father at three, she was raised by her mother, grandmother, and two unmarried aunts. She got her law degree with honors from George Washington University then founded her own polling company, WomenTrend, which consulted with companies and politicians on consumer trends, usually focused on women. She was the first woman to run a successful presidential campaign and it looks like she’ll outlast them all in the Trump White House, despite her husband’s well-publicized Twitter ridicule of her boss.
Kellyanne’s superpower is her tenacity. She also commands a subtlety that often escapes her sensationalist sisters. The hardest part about finding crazy shit Bachmann and Coulter said was narrowing the choices. With Kellyanne, her warped oral bravado usually requires context. Taken independently, her words almost seem innocuous, kind of like, “you have a nice pizza joint here, be a shame if something happened to it.” She is a willing favorite of mainstream news shows precisely because they know she will calmly and enthusiastically dismiss all visual, written, or oral evidence that contradicts her pronouncements of reality. Many liberal-leaning journalists make at least a portion of their living having self-righteous fits in her presence. It only makes her stronger, like sweet, sweet fetal tissue injections.
The only way I see having cocktails with Kellyanne is if she has me kidnapped and brought to her blueberry lair under the abandoned Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. There, she plies with me Long Island slushies (I use a long crazy straw because I’m tied to Elizabeth Warren’s golden retriever,) while she shares her list of the seventy-four people who will survive the approaching “asteroid,” right before she feeds me to all the unpaid contractors kept in old tiger cages.
#4 Laura Ingraham
Sun Sign: Gemini
Favorite cocktail: Bombay Sapphire (because colonialism) and steak with extra straws.
Who let the poor person in?
Three things she’s said : “‘White privilege’ — how about the privilege of being a protected member of a class that you can never criticize, lest you be called racist? That’s privilege. I think Victor Davis Hanson called it ‘minority privilege’…, that the people who are the most protected are the people who are the first to say ‘white privilege,’ because then, you can’t ever criticize them again.
“But the thing that’s really sad about it, guys, is that innocent Brits and people traveling to London and all over the western Europe, now the price they have to pay for multiculturalism is the risk that you’re walking on the sidewalk and a man will — or a woman — will purposefully mow you down. And then while you’re maybe finishing your cappuccino in a cafe, or having a drink, someone will put a knife to your throat and slit it with the attempt, perhaps, to behead you. That’s what we all have to live with for the free and open society that [London Mayor] Sadiq Khan and all these other multiculturalists want Britain to become.”
“Oh we have a new transgender update for you as well. Oh no, new transgender news for all of you who are bathroom-goers and public — you use public restrooms? I think a lot of people are going to be walking around with just Depends on from now on. They’re just not going to use the bathroom. Adult diapers, diapers for everybody. No one’s going to be going to the bathroom. You have little kids, there’s going to be no bathrooms. We’re just going to all wear Depends. Everyone will just be happy. Then you’ll be in your own bathroom. Everyone’s bathroom is just their own clothes, OK? So this is what we’re going to go to.”
So Laura has a gay brother who publicly criticizes her and she’s never been married. Her adopted daughter is from Guatemala and her two adopted sons are from Russia. Her brother has confirmed that their father was emotionally abusive and a Nazi enthusiast. My gut tells me that Laura is a closeted lesbian. She wrote numerous opinion pieces for her college newspaper against the gays in that ‘I hate myself so much’ way and she just looks like a volleyball dyke.
To overcompensate, as we all do, she also became a lawyer. She clerked for Clarence Thomas before writing six best-selling books, syndicating her own radio show, and landing her own Fox News segment. On Fox, she is especially fond of the “white replacement” narrative and the “libs won’t let us have any fun anymore” whine. She famously lost substantial corporate sponsorship after berating a teenage Stoneman Douglas shooting survivor as a whiner. She most recently experienced backlash when she accused impeachment witness, Lt. Col. Vindman of espionage, despite being a decorated veteran.
I think Laura is the third wheel that Anne and Kellyanne invite out for cocktails when they want feel superior. The three have dated many of the same men. I haven’t tracked the dating timelines, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Laura was the comfortably unavailable third option for men after being scarred by the other Heathers.
I feel like Laura probably has her own top-secret power closet lesbian underground social scene in DC. They all have adopted children and probably dogs. What if I was their transman dog-walker that they’re obligated to label a public restroom rapist, but Laura secretly valued my perspective. We stealth meet at Olive Garden over Chianti and breadsticks, Laura sobbing over Kellyanne’s lack of attention, while simultaneously berating me over what I can bench.
#5 Sarah Huckabee-Sanders
Sun sign: Leo
Favorite cocktail: Skinny Marg
You shut your filthy pie hole, Acosta.
Three things she’s said:
“I volunteered to join Mr. Trump’s campaign because he is a champion of working families, not Washington-Wall Street elites.”
“Just because reporters say something over and over and over again doesn’t start to make it true.”
“It is very biblical to enforce the law”.
Those eyebrows though. The husky Southern drawl. The pearls and the waggy finger. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has never lost control of a Sunday school class. She wasn’t a mean girl in high school. She was the plainer girl that got to be around the mean girls because of her loyalty and hard work. She didn’t get her law degree or write a best-seller. She started working on her father’s political campaign when she was eight. If you see pictures of her older brothers, it’s easy to imagine Sarah being daddy’s favorite. She’s always been a team player.
Sarah is the soccer mom among she-sharks. What she lacks in intrinsic sadism, she’s made up for with consistency, diligence, and longevity. The Mueller Report revealed that Sarah actually admitted to lying to the public when investigators pressed her for details regarding the firing of James Comey and Jeff Sessions. That fact, coupled with the fact that mean girls and Republicans will always betray the pudgy girl in the end, makes Sarah Huckabee Sanders my one candidate for future redemption.
I predict that after her kids are out of the house and she’s heard just one too many narcissistic temper-tantrums, she will pull a full Tammy Faye. I’ll encounter her plucked arches thirty years from now, as the Grand Marshall of some small-town Pride parade, and she’ll let me ride on her rainbow-mirrored podium float. We will drink Cosmos from a flask while she rambles in non-sequiturs like “Melania was a Russian sleeper agent” or “that Ingraham sure was a bulldyke” or “ya know I saw his balls once.”
#6 Stephanie Grisham
Sun sign: Leo
Favorite Cocktail: Corpse Reviver #2
I will absorb your soul.
Three things she’s said: “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President.”
“As you know, Donald Trump has traveled the country and world talking to children about Lebron James well-being, healthy living, and the importance of responsible online behavior with Donald Trump Be Best initiative.”
“We’re really focused on quality of the experience over quantity of attendees.”
Where did this crazy-eyed death eater come from? She honestly scares me on a personal level, mostly because she’s always making some version of this puppet-master face and she seems to have been elevated to her current role in a more unusual way than the rest of her cohort, meaning of course that she was likely hatched by Satan or inserted by a hostile dictator. Her only credentials seem to be two failed marriages, losing two jobs over embezzlement then plagiarism, and two DUIs where she ignored all court orders for fines and treatment before being recruited from Trump’s local campaign office in Arizona to play local press liaison for his national campaign stops in 2016. She then became Melania’s press secretary before replacing Sarah Huckabee as the White House’s press secretary. She once physically shoved North Korean soldiers out of the way so that American journalists could access a meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un. I highly recommend the video. Her only taste of the notoriety she has always known was her destiny has come from her rabid devotion to Trump’s defense narrative. I’m fairly certain she crushed Jeffrey Epstein’s larynx with her mind and the video evidence was erased by the dark matter in her soul.
Whereas the other women on my list seem to have crafted lives prior to their role in Donald Trump’s political career, Stephanie has hitched her entire opportunistic soul to Trump’s cult of personality. She will not break character until that moment when the GOP begins its inevitable cannibalistic orgy buffet. The coming apocalypse will begin with Stephanie and Melania toasting each other with chilled Russian vodka over the bloated, orange, Louboutin stiletto-pocked body of the Republican Party, while I move into the shipping container buried in my back yard.
#7 Paula White
Sun sign: Taurus
Favorite cocktail: Kessler’s and Hawaiian Punch
Trump’s spiritual advisor.
Three things she’s said: “I think so many people have taken biblical scriptures out of context on this, to say stuff like, ‘Well, Jesus was a refugee… Yes, [Jesus] did live in Egypt for three-and-a-half years. But it was not illegal. If He had broken the law then He would have been sinful and He would not have been our Messiah.”
“Now we lift up our president. You declared in Jeremiah Chapter 1:5 that before he was ever formed in his mother’s womb, that you had set him apart and you had ordained him,”
“Each January, I put God first and honor him with the first of our substance by sowing a first fruits offering of one month’s pay… When you sow a First Fruits Offering of $75 or more, I will rush to you the book, the devotional and also a Paula White 2018 wall calendar! Track throughout the entire year prioritizing God with me!”
Paula White is everything you think a televangelist should be. Netflix docuseries White is the New Orange out in 2022. Paula heard the call at age eighteen. She set up her first tent revival ministry with her second husband at age twenty-four and by her early thirties, she replaced her husband as the leader of the seventh largest church in America. Her syndicated sermons aired on nine networks and she was the hottest preacher on BET. Of course her church was investigated by the Senate, and despite the fact she raked in over $150 million in 2004-2006, she let her ex-husband take the fall for that church’s bankruptcy while starting a new ministry all her own.
Trump supposedly called her in 2001, wanting to be her friend. She bought a condo in Trump Tower in 2003. She was the first woman to deliver the invocation at Trump’s inauguration in 2016 and she now holds an official position in the White House as a special adviser to the Faith and Opportunity Initiative. It’s easy to see why Trump likes her. Except for the fact that she came from poverty in Mississippi and she was the victim of sexual abuse instead of the perpetrator, she and Trump are largely the same creature. They are both their own brand. They are genuine unapologetic frauds, utterly American, like oversized anthropomorphic fast-food mascots who feed you shit sandwiches and laugh because you pay to eat them.
Paula and I dated briefly in the nineties so I’ve already seen her drunk. She kept cocaine in my dildo and spoke in tongues when I went down on her. Goddamn I miss the nineties.
#8 Ivanka Trump
Sun sign: Scorpio
Favorite Cocktail: Vanilla Stoli and Coke Zero.
Totally not creepy.
Three things she’s said: “Everything about mediocrity kills me.”
“You can be born into privilege, or you can not be born into privilege. You can be born into the opposite extreme and into poverty. I think from there on, though, you really do have to make your luck.”
“All women benefit immeasurably by architecting their lives”
Self-made daddy’s girl. I almost didn’t include Ivanka in this list. She doesn’t fit the personality profile. She didn’t need ambition and sociopathy to weave gossamer fictions into a designer shroud for kleptocratic fascism. Her oral ipecac comes in the form of relentless vapidity and earnest oblivion. She’s the Marie Antionette we deserve. She would never advise us to eat gluten, but suggests self-care and resilience as key ingredients to our collective success parfait. She once played herself on Gossip Girl because that’s exactly who she is. Her mother was thirsty so she never had to be. She is her daddy’s flagship brand extension. No matter how uncomfortable or nauseous that makes the rest of us, she continues to use her exclusive, intimate access to her father’s and America’s coercive bravado to completely shit on the ethical considerations for conflict of interest we at least used to pretend we had. At some point, she started sitting on his lap on purpose and that’s just profoundly disturbing.
She never really had a chance to become interesting. I might sacrifice a Wednesday afternoon to meet her for Happy Hour at a bowling alley, but only to watch her put on rental shoes.
#9 Betsy DeVos
Sun sign: Capricorn (I’m ashamed to admit)
Favorite cocktail: Immigrant tears and Everclear
Jesus was special, he won the Special Olympics.
Three things she’s said: “My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee. I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”
“Social justice and economics are both issues to me.”
“I think probably there, I would imagine that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”
Betsy is the queen of the Lizard People. She is a conspiracy theory wrapped in a pussy bow. It’s rare to see a Priestess of Xenu bring such public scrutiny to her evil order. It can only mean that we mortals cannot fathom the true depth of the Hell her cabinet appointment portends.
Betsy comes from a billionaire and married into the Amway billions. Her brother founded Blackwater. He wants to privatize national security, for all the nations. She has a major financial stake in a massive national chain of daycare facilities which might illuminate her resistance to universal early childhood education. She has investments in a national chain of elder care facilities under investigation for abuse and widespread Medicare fraud. She not only owns shares of a for-profit private prison contractor who houses child immigrants and benefitted bigly from Trump’s family separation policy, but her foundation is the major funder for a Christian foster care facility that has petitioned for and received permission to house those same immigrant children, only to later put them up for adoption without trying to reconcile them with their parents. Government funded child trafficking. Her special interest is education, obviously. She has been fighting to privatize public education for thirty years. She of course owns stakes in private for-profit colleges, but has even larger investments in debt collection firms that specialize in aggressive collections on student loan debt. She has recently been found in contempt of court for collecting on debts accrued by students defrauded by a discredited for-profit university. She also tried to defund the Special Olympics and made it much harder for students with disabilities to bring suits to gain equal access to services – ditto for LGBT students. The “School Voucher Programs” that have long been her passion are also a dog-whistle to white supremacists longing to re-segregate schools.
That paragraph was too big and there weren’t any jokes. Her family’s fortune is the 88th largest in America. Do not take for granted this tiny glimpse of rich, evil people plans. Betsy is also one of those rich Rapture ding-dongs who devoted millions to moving the US embassy to Jerusalem to bring about the apocalypse. This is very important to rich Republicans and none of us snowflakes really know why. What is the end game of conservative politics for the very wealthy?
The evidence points to not only an accelerating and ongoing extraction of all wealth and resources from almost everyone else, but also an erosion of expectations and hope. Generation Z seems to understand that they cannot reasonably expect affordable housing, healthcare, education, safety in public, or even a planet to age upon in their lifetime.
I began studying the origins of Christianity in the late eighties. I wanted to argue intelligently with conservative Christians because they were terrible people then, too. I was a big butch dyke and they really did not like me. They said a bunch of stuff that seemed very unChristian. I thought that if I learned the truth, I could helpfully point out how they were mistaken. Then they could stop being so mean.
After thirty years, I’ve realized what a poor career choice that was. The conservative movement in this country is a lot like Scientology. Only those with enough means to achieve Thetan Level 8 might eventually benefit from the religion’s secret mission. Everybody else is just in a cult. Except for Betsy, the women on my list are just mid-level enforcers. These are the ones who define and administer the purity tests. Don’t be swayed by some mealy-mouthed centrist in a NYT op-ed trying to remind us how we used to engage in civil conversation. There aren’t two sides to this. There’s facts and humanity and then there’s a fascist cult.
That’s what I have to remember every time I think I want to get drunk with Michele Bachman. Just because I have a John Waters fascination with the characters these women play and their varying levels of authenticity, doesn’t make them interesting. They should all be locked in a house with RuPaul and cameras in every room. I want a Survivor type format but Drag Queens versus famous Republican women. RuPaul’s the only one tall enough to defeat Ann. Weekly shade battles. Behind the scenes confessionals. Let’s face it, Maddow and Cooper aren’t the gays we need right now. Somebody call that Bezos creep. If he won’t pay taxes, he could at least give us this.
It’s Pride Month 2018! Time to check in on the State of the Gay. As the modern LGBT movement nears its Golden Anniversary, it is important to take a moment to wonder over all the magical milestones we have wrought.
We need not amble far into the past to stumble upon our national relevance. In just the last week, I have learned that even modern country music is, at last, crooning cornily about our traditionally reviled special love for one another… sort of, if you listen real hard and interpret the lyrics positively, and don’t blink while you’re watching the video, that is, if you can make it all the way through video and the rest of the lyrics without falling into a diabetic coma from all of the America that you’ve just eaten.
I would have remained completely ignorant of this aww-inspiring, unexpected endorsement from such a formidable champion of heteronormativity had the New York Times not decided to honor June with a parade of homo interest stories. Kicking off our rainbow month was, “Country Music is Singin a Pro-LGBT Tune”. This opinion article cited Luke Bryan’s current country hit, “Most People Are Good” as a reason for optimism about a broader cultural shift.
Luke Bryan is not gay and didn’t write the song. He has clarified his love for trucks and tits with the title of an earlier album, Tailgates and Tanlines. But, within the refrain from “Most People are Good”, we encounter the lyric that inspired the thought piece. “I believe you love who you love. Ain’t nothing you should ever be ashamed of.” Robert P. Jones, who authored the Times article, backs up his observation of unanticipated tolerance by pointing out that the accompanying video includes images of same-sex couples and non-traditional family configurations.
I watched the video twice, so you don’t have to, and I may have briefly seen an image of two women holding hands. And maybe my cheaters aren’t strong enough, but I don’t remember any startling family configurations, unless Jones was referring to images of families who aren’t white, also unexpectedly present in a modern country music video.
While I never want to discourage any members of the dominant paradigm or supremacist fringe from not actively attacking the queers, nor do I even want to poop ungraciously on this heartfelt gesture of shit-kickin inclusion, it is important to look at the full portrait this song is painting.
It is a list of People and Behaviors That are Good. Alongside the subtle suggestion that gays may not be that bad, is a wholly predictable, genre-reasserting family of wholesome clichés. Also Good are mothers, people who go to football games and bars, people who work for a living, children who behave like children, and Heaven, even if it has shitty infrastructure. The video is a montage of smiling faces, diverse in age and ethnicity. A female military member and aging fire-fighter are gratuitously inserted in case we forgot we were watching a country music video. Bryan also exhorts us to disregard the nightly news to preserve our faith in humanity. Because, “most people are good”.
Nothing in this narrative is inherently offensive, except maybe one little dig at the unemployed. I am certainly not mad at Bryan for gently introducing concepts of diversity and tolerance to an audience not known for its diversity and tolerance. It’s a goddamn public service. I’d happily buy him a beer.
However, my queers, I have higher expectations of you. Before you go getting all weepy about a bunch of MAGA hats not hating you, I want you to think very carefully about where this puts us…well, some of us. What does it mean to be written into the cheesy, idealistic twangs of Americana? Perhaps we should not trade in our cynicism for a pick-up truck just yet.
Three days later, as a Pride surprise, the Supreme Court handed down its long-anticipated decision in the Rude Masterpiece Cake Baker v. Empathetic Gay Men in love case. The court narrowly decided in favor of the baker. This decision prompted immediate demonstrations and prolific displays of ready-made, HRC-emblazoned protest signs, #It’sNotAboutTheCake, #OpenToAll in front of the Courthouse, as well as a torrent of Facebook tears and self-care memes in my feed. A few level-headed Facebook contributors, as well as sympathetic journalists, have tried to assuage the gay panic and grief, by pointing out that due to the specificity of the court opinion, this ruling actually did nothing to degrade the non-discrimination directives already on the books in Colorado.
First of all, Yay for queer activism! I am almost always a fan. Second, that’s super neat that this case didn’t destroy the hard-won advancements for civil rights in a state that is also the birthplace of Focus on the Family. But, could we all take a moment to objectively critique the sources of ire and grief currently dominating our Rainbow hive-mind?
I must confess my queer sins at this juncture. When I first encountered this case last year, I was viscerally annoyed with the gays. I know at least some of you also questioned their litigiousness in this circumstance. Why couldn’t they go somewhere else? Why couldn’t they publicly shame his business? What about using Facebook? These hypotheticals are irrelevant to my own impatience. When this case arrived on the steps of the highest court in the land, it temporarily became the public face of our beloved, complicated queer movement. It did so again on Monday when it suffered its “benign” defeat. It’s presence on that pedestal demands my solidarity as a known, queer representative to the many straight allies in my life who sometimes look to me for progressive guidance in all things queer. Is there some way we could start voting, as a community, on the issues we give a shit about?
As far as I understand the details of the case, the baker didn’t flatly deny service to the couple. He was meticulous in distinguishing his discrimination. Though he offered them cookies and cupcakes, he declined to use his artistic abilities to create a cake for their gay wedding reception, as he felt that would amount to tacit support of an event he finds objectionable due to his religious beliefs. He also does not make Halloween cakes, which could also be construed as condemning another gay holiday.
He also did not attack them, shoot them, or call the police. The couple, along with mom, left the establishment embarrassed, inconvenienced, and feeling disrespected, but unscathed.
To help make a federal case out of this deflating encounter, one of their lawyers, Ria Tobacco Mar, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, last year when oral arguments were first being made. In it, the first legal precedent Mar cites in defending her clients’ dignity is the 1964 Supreme Court decision against the Piggie Park barbecue establishment owner who refused to serve black people at his restaurants because he believed integration violated his interpretation of Biblical dictates. She went on to cite the Supreme Court decision against Bob Jones University in 1980 for its discrimination against students in interracial couples, and ended her article by recalling the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She, almost exclusively, relied on historic legislation that has incrementally attempted to ameliorate the ongoing horrors of institutionalized racism in this country, to buttress her arguments in this case.
Dear Queer People, please stop doing this. Just don’t. We have our own history of discrimination, violence, police harassment, and public humiliation from which to draw our own defenses. Even if we were to attempt to relegate slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow laws to a realm of unintelligibility in the modern American landscape, we need not look hard to find their current incarnations. To name just a handful of examples; mass incarceration and coerced prison labor, unarmed black men gunned down by unpunished police and vigilantes, and effective urban segregation, due to ongoing bank policies of redlining and racist city planners and school boards. Racial profiling by police is continually aided by concerned white citizens fretting about black people napping, not drinking coffee, not waiving to neighbors, having BBQ’s and pool parties, or simply walking down the street. If that gay couple had been black, they might be dead.
So, for the love of glitter and softball, never make this argument again. I will not defend it or you. Never again should you skitter non-consensually onto the shoulders of the catastrophically violent history of combatting institutionalized racism in this country and use its largely disregarded, but heroic victories to defend your entitlement to a life free from discomfort. Especially without acknowledging that our own queer movement has been complicated by its own racism and classism since its inception. Did you know that some queer people are also black?
Let’s see what’s been happening with the queers who are not white, cis-gendered, financially fine gay men for the past five years while this case has been winding its emotive path through the court system.
Trans people have been kicked out of the military. There has been a rollback of protections for trans people in federal prison. Transwomen must go back to men’s prisons which translates to rape, violence, or solitary confinement. The Department of Education issued a directive to summarily dismiss all complaints from trans students. The Department of Health and Human Services is now encouraging health care providers to deny services for trans patients. And the Justice Department handed down a directive making clear that federal law does not protect people trans people from discrimination, which it never has.
In case you think I’m too trans-focused, let’s see how women have fared. They can be queer, too. The Supreme Court decided that a huge corporation could also hold sincerely-held religious beliefs and deny health care coverage for contraception. Planned Parenthood is in the process of being gutted and hobbled. The federal ‘gag order’ has been reinstituted here and abroad preventing any health care facility receiving federal funds from talking to women like grown-ups. FOSTA and SESTA were just passed under the unobjectionable guise of curbing child sex trafficking. This had the effect of driving the sex work industry even more underground and sex workers back to pimps. It also eliminated most of the few resources trafficked youth had and put them into even more danger. It’s the reason that Craigslist personal ads disappeared. Did you know that a disproportionally large percentage of sex-workers are queer?
If none of these signs of the impending Rapture registered the same number of sad-face emojis over your morning coffee that the cake case did, it may be time to consider your own queer complicity in our collective decline in popular and legislative dignity.
During one of the many sympathetic interviews conducted with the gay men involved in the cake case, one of the men, in recalling the discomfort of that day he was denied a wedding cake, recounted his experience of being bullied in high school. He said that he was initially surprised by the baker’s response to his request and perhaps he had been lulled into a false sense of security in his adult life and especially after the legalization of gay marriage. He thought things had changed.
Things have changed. But, if you are a firm believer in incremental social justice advancements, consider that the erosion of achieved civil rights is probably going to happen in the same manner. If you put all of our tastefully-decorated eggs of hope into the basket of respectability and legitimacy conferred by assimilation into the happy, hegemonic, heteronormative model of marriage, you might be tempted to think that the misfortune of those other queers has nothing to do with your own domestic ambitions. But the Religious Right did not concede when segregation became unconstitutional. They did not give up when women gained discretion over their own bodies. They certainly did not shrivel after same-sex marriage became legal. They might hate us most of all. Their just picking off the pawns right now. But they are coming for you, queen.
My personal, emotional support of gay marriage is boundless in its enthusiasm. I cry at every gay wedding and I am profoundly grateful for my own stability and joy. I’ve earned it. We all have. But it is never far from my mind that the model I have stylized into my own queer version of marital equity, support, and community is based on the same paradigm that has traditionally been used to control women, wealth, and power. It also structurally excludes non-participants from access to common entitlements of cultural and economic ambitions. It is a pillar of capitalism at its heart, and not the sporting kind. It is much more efficient for the wealthy to extract more wealth from a society when that society is governed by conservative social norms. It is easier to control potential populations of resistance by segregating them into categories of legitimate and illegitimate. This strategy has an added bonus of enticing a small number of representatives from the outlying communities with some traditional entitlements in exchange for their apathy toward the further abjection of the less privileged members of their own cultural groups, thus creating an additional layer of preservation for the status quo.
Currently, the Conservative Right has their shit together. They are better at this game than we are. They have been for a long time. Did you catch the part about the wingnut in Colorado who went to three different cake shops around the same time as the wedding cake incident, asking for a cake in the shape of a Bible with a depiction of a same-sex couple X-ed out and the two Bible verses condemning sodomy in red icing? He was also denied service and he sued on the grounds of religious discrimination. It was because he lost his suits that the Supreme Court was allowed to narrowly decide the cake case on religious liberty grounds instead of treading into free speech territory like the Trump administration suggested.
I’m a big fan of conspiracy theories. I often don’t think they go far enough. I think Russia actually manipulated individual voting machines in swing states. I also think they rigged the 2016 Superbowl as a favor to Trump and so that the underdogs wouldn’t win. I am certain that bible cake guy was a plant. Nobody needs that cake. It’s too busy. What party was he throwing with that thing?
There is some serious Handmaid’s Tale shit going down right now. Do you think conservatives in all those states that pushed for “Religious Freedom” laws after same-sex marriage was legalized are going to be disheartened by the subtle nuances of Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in the cake case? If you’ve seen the Luke Bryan video, you know that rational critique of complex legal ramifications didn’t make the list of things that are Good. Most assuredly, there are already secret cabals of joy-hating wingnuts all over Red America strategizing how to get back to the Supreme Court. It’ll take a few years. Justice Kennedy is almost 82. Justice Ginsburg is 85. What court will they be facing? How much will they be able to destroy?
Justice Kennedy is a life-long Republican and was appointed by Reagan. He’s the guy that wrote the majority opinion legalizing same-sex marriage. He’s also the guy that wrote the majority opinion in 2003 that finally decriminalized homosexuality, nationally. Through some cosmic serendipity, he has become our guy. I think he was hoping to flesh out his legacy with this case. I think we sent him the wrong case. He suggests as much in his opinion. “The adjudication concerned a context that may well be different going forward…The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts.” I think he was expressing a bit of remorse that he wasn’t able to further our standing in polite society, but I am also a little chilled by his tone. Maybe he’s hinting to us that we better get our shit together, because next time, he might not be there to protect us.
In the last few years, we have lost a lot of ground. It isn’t much of a leap to the nightmare of two new Supreme Court Justices nominated by the Trump administration, or worse, the Pence administration. If that happens, how many cases will it take before they invalidate same-sex marriage once again? You know we are all on a national registry now. What will our LGBT alliance look like after this apocalypse? How have you treated the rest of the acronym in the last decade? How can we stop bitching at each other about pet etiquette/care and renegotiating polyamorous boundaries long enough to be creative about our alliances and our strategies for resistance? Log Cabin Republicans can eat a bag of dicks, but the rest of our comfortable, neo-liberal, home improvement homos should perhaps start thinking about how welcome they will be on the fringe, once they’ve been deported back there.
It is entirely possible that many modern country fans have no idea what Luke Bryan is referring to when he tells us to not be ashamed of who we love. Maybe they think he’s talking about that pretty girl who never talked to that short guy who didn’t make the football team. Are country fans going to be the go-to allies for newly remarginalized queers? We have not traditionally showed them much beyond derision and ridicule. But, besides having the capacity to love and behave responsibly toward our communities and our families, we also have in common with these Good people that we are all currently being screwed by a small population of wealthy oligarchs and corrupt politicians. We are more natural allies with transpeople, people of color, and poor people, but issues of discrimination and injustice belong to us all.
We can do better. Queers are resilient and creative and fierce. We have a built-in reserve of our own fearless wingnuts that could be strategically implemented. Celebrities love us. “We Are The Champions” was written for us. We can’t let Freddie down. That isn’t a campaign song for Donald Trump or a football anthem. It’s a war song. We are fighting a larger darkness now. We must find a way to care about each other’s experiences and fight together. Let us not be cake-eaters.
I’ve heard conflicting reports. It’s so hard to get to the real story. But, I think in the last week, it’s become official. Hollywood has announced GLB and T are getting a divorce. Actually, I’m not sure of B’s stance. There’s a reason that visibility has always been their main agenda item. And honestly, I think that for the past decade, G&L have believed the rest of the acronym to stand for perhaps, Boston Terrier.
But, apparently, after 45 years of an arduous, fragile marriage, where T has basically been the homely, resented wife who worked three jobs in the beginning just to support G&L for the promise of their mutual benefit and has always been responsible for the family’s dirty laundry, G&L is simply moving on. They’ve been cheating on T for some time with some younger, hotter arm-candy called Respectability.
However, this shocking announcement was not the result of a chair fight on Jerry Springer, because dreams don’t always come true. Nor did it come out in a press conference held by the HRC, announcing its own irrelevancy and bankruptcy in light of the recent legalization of same-sex marriage, though I’m sure that is forthcoming. No, the imminent dissolution was revealed in the form of public awkwardness on a daytime talk-show, the harbinger of all cultural upheavals.
Ellen Degeneres, for the premier of her thirteenth season, invited Caitlyn Jenner on her show for a chat. I’m sure this seemed like a brilliant and generous idea to Ellen. The long-reigning darling of Likable Lesbians Institutionalizing Cultural Knowledge (LLICK), would magnanimously arrange a popularly-viewed summit of sorts with the newly-crowned Most Recognizable Representation of the previously invisible world of TRANS for mainstream America. Caitlyn edged out Laverne Cox for the title, sadly, because of the whole Wheaties Box/ESPY thing…basically because straight white dudes know who she is.
So, despite the fact that representatives from only two of the four letters of the acronym were present, the L and the T, and they are both also wealthy, famous, and white, (exemplifying basically no one) the drama was sufficient to expose our irreconcilable differences to the audience of popular culture. As a bonus for the G&L’s, emotional damages and righteous sympathy were clearly awarded to Degeneres. I’m sure this will factor significantly in the upcoming custody disputes over freedom rings and other heirlooms, and perhaps even the beloved family pet, Pride.
Dear Judge Judy, pretty please do this for me.
Personally, I will admit that I would have remained completely ignorant of this paradigm-shattering announcement had I not been directed by Facebook to the profuse and lively chatter surrounding the incident. Thank the Goddess for Facebook. How embarrassing would that have been, as someone who is perceived as trans, to show up, unprepared, at a lesbian wedding, say, to which I was invited before the Ellen incident, only to learn that everybody now assumed me to be an unsupportive dick and a real downer because of the divorce and everything?
Before even watching the actual Ellen footage, I casually clicked on a related link bringing me to an article entitled, “Why it’s time to take the T out of LGBT”. It was published in an English Ezine called the Independent and written by a transwoman so it must be authoritative. The link had been shared by several of my friends with brief solicitations for opinion on the subject. “What say you?” Are we voting?
The article begins with, “Why do so many people believe that if you’re transgender, then you must be gay?” I don’t know. Why do so many people believe that if you’re English, then you must be smart? Are you saying that transpeople should have a separate movement so nobody thinks we are gay? She quickly transitions into what I believe was her intended critique of the recent Ellen interview of Caitlyn. Her argument becomes more about ‘Why do gay people assume transpeople are automatically supportive of gay issues?’ Although this question could introduce a productive discourse on the historical power imbalance within the LGBT movement in general, or even why this coalition intuitively seemed beneficial in the first place, the article moves into some weird, uncomfortable queer family reunion picnic territory, where everybody brought hummus and no one brought quinoa salad. The last line of the article should be read in a thick, Minnesota-nice, Michele Bachman accent, “But reactions like Ellen’s tell us everything we need to know: LGB’s and T’s are getting a little too close for comfort.”
While I could gleefully go on picking apart this specific article, it strikes me that uncritical queer narratives, moored to reactionary identity politics, are simply the situation we find ourselves in now. From the sinister whitewashing of queer history (please watch trailer for the upcoming movie, “Stonewall”) to the mere fact that Ellen’s smug entitlement reacting to Caitlyn’s smug entitlement could possibly herald a new frontier of queer political stratification. What is clear is that we have become a Lifetime Channel Meredith Baxter-Birney version of ourselves. This means that important and complex social and personal realities are being distilled and consolidated into consumable generalizations and then redramatized for sensational effect to startle a mainstream audience under the guise of liberal moral education.
To illustrate, let me offer a short critique of the actual interview.
So, what had happened was…Caitlyn sat across from Ellen. Everybody cheered, cuz they’re supposed to and then Ellen told Caitlyn she looked “fantastic” while supportively grasping Caitlyn’s hand and making sincere eye contact. This is an obligatory greeting for a talk-show host when interviewing: famous women over the age of fifty (previously forty), famous women wearing a dress size over eight, and now famous transwomen. The thrust of this gesture is to convey the host’s, and by extension her show’s position that despite strict conventional, regulatory beauty norms, the guest has been awarded an honorary place somewhere on the sanctioned beauty continuum. ‘You look almost life-like’ is what I always hear. This is also Ellen cueing the audience to cheer in agreement. Ellen knows what she’s doing. She is in the business of cultivating her vision of liberal social empathy.
Ellen is the Sesame Street for homonormativity. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy both shows, but I don’t watch them for my personal edification. My grasp of the number 8 has been pretty solid for only slightly longer than my awareness of the importance of the vest in lesbian fashion. Neither show is readily equipped for complexity or confrontation. Ellen was offering Caitlyn a spot on her happy gay muppet float. Everything was working just fine in her diversity skit, until Ellen asked Caitlyn about her “former” Republicanism. (Maybe Ellen was recruited by the lesbian mafia to precipitate this public split.) Caitlyn answered that she was still a Republican. The audience reacted as if there was an inexplicable pile of shit in their Wheaties, so Caitlyn quickly went on the defensive, maintaining that being a Republican isn’t a bad thing. In this uncharacteristically edgy moment, Ellen tried to reason with Caitlyn explaining that now that Caitlyn had transitioned into a T and had officially obtained her membership into a marginalized acronym, that it would be a conflict of interest to maintain her conservative social values. And then Ellen asked about same-sex marriage, which Caitlyn quickly renamed gay marriage, then tried and failed to assuage the escalating atmosphere of lesbian judgement by stating that, indeed, her views had softened recently. That while still a “traditionalist” and as someone who is older and doesn’t fully understand gay marriage, it was not her place to stand in the way of anybody’s happiness. That obviously did not cut it, Caitlyn.
Not allowing the beloved sanctity of same-sex marriage to lie besmirched upon the coffee table, Ellen tried a different angle. She asked Caitlyn who she thought she was going to date now, even going so far as pointing out Caitlyn’s lifelong track record of loving women. I must say, it shows perverse dedication to the official gay agenda to be the only person in the world who would quiz Caitlyn Jenner about her sex life solely in hopes to label her as a lesbian and thusly, logically bound to support same-sex marriage, rather than to ask Caitlyn Jenner who she’s going to fuck because everybody is fetishistically fascinated by her possible genitals and how they might imagine them interacting with other possible genitals. Well played, Ellen. You get the toaster.
As an important, yet largely overlooked addendum to this interaction, Ellen appears on Howard Stern, like the next day. I used to listen to Howard Stern in the nineties, so I don’t know what he’s like now, but I would have previously considered this an unlikely booking for both parties. That’s what happened though. Ellen, looking like Grover got scolded by Maria, obviously still befuddled, confided in Howard Stern about her feelings over her conversation with Caitlyn. To my surprise, instead of calling her a carpet-muncher and asking to see her boobs, Howard, unprompted, echoed Ellen’s exact logic, positioning himself as Ellen’s sympathetic wingman in solidarity with her emotional distress. Ellen then submits the final piece of evidence to the court in the divorce proceedings. She tells Howard that she doesn’t really understand Caitlyn or the whole thing (the whole trans thing), but she doesn’t want to stand in the way of anybody’s happiness.
you mad, Maria?
So see what happened there? She said exactly the same thing about being trans as Caitlyn did about gay marriage. And she did it on Howard Stern, which adds a whole other layer of irony that I haven’t even finished processing yet.
So what does that mean? That we just don’t understand each other anymore and we should break up? That we are growing in separate directions and we should break up? Did we ever love each other?
In the real world, the Ellen interview of Caitlyn Jenner has absolutely no relevance in answering these largely irrelavant questions. To be fair, Caitlyn herself in the interview acknowledged that her experience has been completely unlike those of others “in the community”. I think she was astutely referencing her own privilege which completely demystifies her continued conservatism. There are G&L Republicans, too.
There have been stirrings for years in the trans community about launching a separate movement. After all, trans people started the first one. It is entirely too common for gays and lesbians to “not understand” the whole trans thing. The last three times I have been harassed about my gender presentation has been by gay men. I have also noticed what I perceive to be an increasing reliance by the trans community on a political narrative that makes a clear and binding distinction between gender presentation and sexual orientation. I’m not sure what the efficacy is of this distinction other than to clarify political identities and to engage in really specific identity politics.
Sentimentally, I guess I understand the impulse to sever one’s journey of gender realization from one’s seemingly supplemental sexual orientation, as it may be perceived by the individual to have caused the larger part of one’s suffering. However, from a theoretical psychological perspective, it makes no sense, whatsoever. You’re gender is completely tangled up in who you have sex with or don’t have sex with and it’s messy. Different partners actually make us feel differently about our bodies and our perception of who we are in the moment. The problem with strict identities is that they’re no fun and they allow no flexibility for the lived complexity of being human.
I was born female and the majority of my first sexual encounters were with men and they weren’t all terrible and I derived a sense of power from the desirability of my female body. However, I was butch from a young age and was really exited about having sex with girls and feeling like a guy. I didn’t start testosterone until I was forty and I did it because I wanted a sex drive, muscles, and some facial hair. I don’t really think of myself as a man and I still have attachments to my butch identity. Also, after a few months on T, I started having fairly strong urges to touch penises for the first time in a very, very long time and it makes me feel kinda gay. But I’m married to the sexiest woman in the world and I like to have sex with her more. So, I have been waiting for some time for the identity authorities out there to give me a label and send me a t-shirt. Thanks.
I know that emotionally satisfying identities have had the potential to be powerful political tools and they can be empowering on an individual level. The problem is that it just becomes increasingly difficult to accurately define or build solidarity around the proliferation of individual identities, precisely because of their specificity. People end up with a daunting list of multiple identities, and because of the restrictive nature of any label, may suppress or hide desires that seem incongruous the socio-cultural niche that they have crafted. It sometimes feels to me as if we have stepped back into the closet to accommodate all of our visibility.
In addition, there are glaring social complexities. The experience that I have had as a white, masculine dyke who transitioned into passing as a white, straight man with the adversity and privilege that has brought is a much different experience than that of a black transwoman who perhaps does not pass. We have much different issues to face, even as we may share a history of individual sadness.
If the big queer divorce is actually being imagined as a realistic public debate, the Ellen interview of Caitlyn must not be its catalyst. If you are at all queer, and have found yourself, in the last couple of weeks, actually engaging in any un-ironic side-taking with regards to this interview, don’t tell me because I will make you do push-ups. Instead, ask yourselves if transpeople, as an encompassing political identity, could actually build a brand new movement that steadfastly incorporates intersecting oppressions involving racism, classism, sexism, as well as transphobia? Not centering these issues has been sabotaging the GLBT movement since its inception. I don’t think Caitlyn will be an appropriate spokesmodel for this vision.
I think, once upon a time, there was a fleeting vision that all of the non-normative experiences contained within the GLBT coalition had something in common. Intuitively, it made sense, even though we’ve never really gotten along. Sissy gay boys and butch dykes are just as familiar with aggression toward their gender expressions as any transperson. Initially, the intended concept was that we were all fighting for freedom of expression and we took a certain Pride in all being different from the norm.
What has happened is that the dominant normative cultural paradigm in America has expanded just enough to allow a certain segment of the gay and lesbian population to assimilate into a certain marginal visibility in the outer reaches of its scope. Homonormative couples are still secretly considered, by even the most liberal example of the dominant culture, to be charming facsimiles of heteronormative couples in this model. The success of this recent mobility has been largely dependent on clear political identities that are not dangerous to the overall structure. I think that there is a bit of an identity crisis going on now that some respectability has been achieved.
There are still plenty of queers out there wishing they could figure out how to be a threat again, to the whole establishment, that honestly, at best, makes everybody feel like shit about themselves. Same-sex marriage was never everybody’s agenda, and the campaign to make it a litmus test for GLBT inclusion has been an integral part of the mainstream organizing efforts the whole time.
I feel like this kind of divisiveness has been trending since the nineties. I’ve been trying to discern the origin of it for quite some time. But, social justice movements in general, historically just have life spans. People don’t feel personally validated by a larger political alliance and retract into a self-preservation individuality or much smaller, more intimate subcultures. This is incidentally also why we can’t have dyke bars anymore.
I wish marginalized and oppressed people all just turned into muppets. The remaining humans would be the only easily identifiable representatives of the dominant culture in this metaphor. There are all kinds and varieties of muppets whose only commonality is that a human’s hand is shoved up their ass or pulling their strings. Then there would be a world-wide muppet revolution and after the take-over, if any muppets strayed outside of the “Rainbow Connection” paradigm, they would just turn human and have to undergo Big Bird’s Empathy Achieved through Sexual Submission Training (BBEASST)…again.
Moving forward, if we are to allow any celebrity to represent our collective suffering and hope, please let it be Kermit the Frog.
St. Vern/Virgil, Patron Saint of hats with beavers on them.
Assessing the inventory of discarded treasures that the building still housed was one of the more amusing activities that we indulged in while taking in the weight of new fortress ownership. Highlights on the list include a 22′ shuffleboard game, an impressive air pistol found under an old, but comfortable couch, a bonanza of furniture carts and dollies, various crutches and wheelchairs, and this picture of this handsome guy we named Vern. Later, after we were open, an older hottie with red hair who, I swear, introduced herself as Trixie used to come visit the space on occasion. It had been her bar home when it was the Legion. I took her on a tour during one of those visits including the large room we set aside as office/liquor storage space where Vern’s framed picture was enshrined to the right as you entered. She picked it up and shouted, “Oh my God, where’d you get this picture of Virgil?” And even though the two names are not similar in any way, except that they are both old-timey and start with ‘V’, it was enough to confirm the pre-ordained order of righteousness in the universe and Pi’s place in the history of awesomely fighting the good fight. This was actually kind of a regular phenomenon at Pi, which is one of the things I miss the most because normal life is often not overly filled with hearty pirate-dick-grabbing Fuck Yeah’s.
When we were done newly investigating the crannies, Benny and I had serious work to do. I now owned my very own commercial building. It was also legally owned also by my soon-to-be ex-wife, who understandably didn’t want to hang out there much and my new business partner who was already colorfully expressing her disinterest in understanding magnitude of the build-out process at hand. Mostly she liked to smoke pot and dream of feeling like Sam Malone in Cheers, which at the time seemed relatively benign. Neither one of them were there much at all, so, it was 12,000 square feet of my uninterrupted vision in all practicality. Promise and mold. Benny and I had made it look a little prettier on the outside on our first day. I remember the gleeful blend of terror and some sort of emboldened queer psuedo-nationalism. I felt important. I felt devoted. Then I had to go home.
As I’ve referenced, immediately prior to spontaneously deciding to open a dyke bar in South Minneapolis, I had been obsessively courting a straight woman for nearly a year and a half while simultaneously trying to resist this same compulsion because it was destroying my long-term relationship. If you’re a butch, you’ve probably experienced the addictive rush of a pretty straight woman alternately expressing a never-before-felt, supernatural, inescapable, deeply spiritual connection to you, and then 45 minutes later, acting like they’re struggling to remember your name. This situation can drag on for some time, as you know, as well as nudge your sense of identity into the realm of make-believe. Well, I happened to win this particular round of butch/straight-girl I Want To, But I Can’t, No Wait… and found I had a new girlfriend. Subsequently, my beloved friend and partner of nearly a decade moved out of our house. Most of our friends sided with her, as they should have.
You know when you do something like this to your life, you gotta act like you knew what you were doing all along, right? Meanwhile, whenever I thought about my ex, the pain and nausea was overwhelming. What a coward. Hanging out with my new ‘girlfriend’ also felt uncomfortable from the start. What a coward.
But, my new building offered an unmanagable number of tasks to face every single day. I was also sincerely under the impression that I was doing this in order to provide a necessary haven for the lost and overshadowed in my community. Somebody had to do it. Gay marriage was out to Tone Down our tacky, shitty, fabulous culture. Perhaps I could work off my psychic debt. If I succeed, perhaps I could redeem myself and my character. I would also never really have to go home and face the destruction and failure that dusted every surface in my house. It was only during the short commutes to and from my fractured existences that I would allow myself to cry in fits of self-pity and regret.
Now that we have the protagonist’s emotional low point firmly established, let’s start the training montage portion of our story!
Post #1. Day #2.
After our initial, sunny triumph over the weeds, there was necessarily the following day, and another one, and another one. The building was in such a state of disrepair and decay that it was not even worth developing a list of potential renovations at this time. It seemed reasonable to focus on removing things that smell or were potentially hazardous. Honestly, a good portion of time and energy is expended merely trying to decide what the next step should be. Many prospective restaurant owners hire people for this very task. Lack of money was my only project manager, so specific missions were defined by this driver of ingenuity. Demolition and clean-up can thankfully be done fairly cheaply.
My ego has historically been very attached to my ability to perform long days of hard and messy physical labor. Such is the impoverished identity of an old-school butch. So my initial inclination was to tackle the mess. Benny quickly intervened and told me to go find some money and get us a liquor license. There were only two of us at this time and he also possessed the martyr laborer instinct, but I was the sole vision manager. It was my fault we were here doing this. He would thusly take charge of the demolition and crap removal department. He also independently assumed the responsibility of bringing me turkey sandwiches every day. It was around this point that I became completely unable to shop for or feed myself.
It was time for me to go talk to some grown-ups. Never having even worked in the service industry or received any kind of business training (besides being my parent’s offspring), it is difficult to just decide one day that you should assume that you have any kind of legitimate access to the gate-keepers of capitalism. For us over-educated, life-style underachievers, it feels very much like a private club that perhaps our parents belong to, but our only glimpse of the inner-workings and protocols has been from the lifetime kiddie table at carefully scripted holiday events. But at least I had been to those events, and I grew up around my parent’s businessy super-powers, and I’m white. I instinctively knew my privilege would aid me now.
I knew we would obviously need a liquor license to operate a bar. I did not quite understand how complicated it actually is to obtain permission to sell alcohol in Minneapolis yet. I also had a rudimentary understanding that a Business Plan was some sort of magical document that made banks give you money. These responsibilities framed my immediate agenda.
I made an appointment to finally receive my Liquor License Application. These are acquired at a business licensing office on the first floor of City Hall downtown. They don’t just hand them out. You have to actually have a meeting with a liquor inspector. I was wearing my usual summer uniform, Dickie’s cut-offs and a black t-shirt. I grabbed my bag, a canvas shopping bag from a book store in San Francisco. I had casually grabbed this tote one day from my home and now carried it with me everywhere. It contained my Spiderman notebook, a date book, and the remains of a bag of sunflower seeds that had spilled. It is now one of many priceless artifacts with which I still cannot bear to part.
still contains seeds
I rode my trusty, crusty mountain bike to City Hall one sunny morning. City Hall in Minneapolis was built to look like a kind of old-world stone fortress. I will admit that in all of my many meetings with the necessary grown-ups that police your ability to open a business, I generally felt intimidated and out of place. My mother would have also been appalled by my wardrobe choices. I made my otherness public, contrary to my mother’s life-long advice, but I felt like I was out to change the world, or at least challenge the arbitrarily appointed powers that denied my legitimacy. An adolescent rebellion to be sure, but it provided the requisite resolve to face the faces of authority. (Crap, was all of this to prove something to my mother? Probably, but moving on.)
oooh, it’s so big and hard.
Once at City Hall, I passed through the initial clusters of people who believe in striding everywhere and checked in at the correct plexiglass. I was then ushered into a small office within the licensing department. I was sat at a small round conference table. A short time passed and three large polished older white men in really nice suits with impressive briefcases came in and sat at the table with me. They were followed by a slightly scruffy, compact man in a short-sleeved button-up and khakis. Phil.
Phil sat next to me and began his spiel, carefully distributing professional respect with equity around the table. When he noticed my Spiderman notebook, he told me about his twin two-year-old boys who loved Spiderman everything. He was nice to me.
When the subject of the food and non-alcoholic beverage revenue requirements came up, one of the lawyers on my right informed him that their corporation would be seeking a “nightclub” exemption for their venture. I told Phil that I too was seeking an exemption to the revenue requirement, but since the “nightclub” exemption was only possible in zoned specific areas downtown, I had sought out a location that met the other required geographical criteria that would allow me to sell as much booze as I wanted. When he told me that, after fifteen years as a liquor inspector, he was not aware of such an exemption, I simply recited the pertinent code word for word and even offered the reference number. I do not have an idetic memory, I was simply obsessed.
The smile he offered me then seemed to convey that I had found a magic ally to aid my quest, like running into the scarecrow on the yellow brick road. One of the businessmen chuckled and half-jokingly offered me a job. The amusing contrast of my antagonistic appearance with my casual eloquence was obviously playing well in this tiny room. I was beaming with the potential of eventual success and probably subconsciously, being validated by white men. I had passed through a gate. I left that initial meeting with an application that was, itself, nearly thirty pages in length, each detailing a different leg of the bureaucratic scavenger hunt I was now responsible for completing.
The next important task to begin would be writing a business plan. I called my mother first, who promptly Fed-exed me three different books on the subject. I also looked for templates on the internet. All of this research yielded mostly tips on how to make your plan “pop”. I hate that word used in that context. What I needed was practical step-by-step consultation. Someone told me about Women Venture, a non-profit established, in part, to help female entrepreneurs find funding for their projects. I had high hopes that such an institution had just been waiting for a project like mine. They had even been featured on Oprah who had donated boots to help women get into the construction industry.
This experience would be the first in a substantial list of bewildering experiences where a woman-run or woman-centered company or individual stunned me with disinterest, disorganization, or greedy self-importance. I was a butch woman opening a dyke bar. How much more vagina cred do I require for your assistance and solidarity? It happened with enough regularity that it began to be a source of private, probably offensive humor for me and Benny. It also began to slowly reveal our perceptions of who our people were, who we were really trying to open this bar for. Sometimes, being a lesbian or a gay or a groovy liberal feminist does not make you interesting and brave and insightful. Sometimes it just makes you an unimaginative, self-aggrandizing little punk.
Women Venture requires you to attend an introductory informational meeting. I think it cost $35. I eagerly attended. Surrounded by images of Oprah, they wasted an hour of my time encouraging me to indulge in one of their spa retreats, which would not only provide necessary, relaxing ‘me’ time, but would allow me to network with other would-be professionals. Not one useful word was uttered. After the meeting, I cornered the facilitator, asking if there were people there that could help me write a business plan, or if there were classes, or if they could talk to me about what banks required or how did people get grants from them. She actually seemed confused by my determination to open my own business, which, in turn, confused and angered me. She awkwardly helped me make an appointment with one of their advisors for some individual consultation. This appointment yielded nothing but a “good job, you seem to be on the right track” and cost an additional $80.
I left their offices gape-faced and crazy-eyed, wondering what I was going to do next. Then, as I was walking out of the building, I noticed a small office with its door open. The sign on the door said something about the Small Business Administration. I knew from my online research that this organization had something to do with fostering small businesses. I poked my head in and saw an older man with distractingly bushy eyebrows watching the Price Is Right on a small portable TV sitting on the corner of his desk. I don’t recall the conversation that we had that first day, but turns out, not fifty feet from the offices of Woman Venture, housed in the very same building, the SBA had built a small satellite office and its sole purpose was to help people write business plans. They had free computers to use, with free business plan writing software, and a retired business owner and ex-city councilman would not only help you through the process for free, but take your completed plan home to read and provide free thoughtful feedback. Tom. Tom would also give you free coffee and sometimes doughnuts.
Suck it Women Venture. And Oprah, too. Just kidding Oprah. I’m scared of you like a Catholic school girl is scared of Jesus making her pregnant.
I hung out with Tom for endless hours at least twice a week for the next couple of months. Benny came with me once for support. He fidgeted like we forgot his Ritalin, but I think I just wanted to show him. I wanted someone to know what I was doing. I was writing mission statements and making up projected revenues and pretending I knew what repairs the building needed and how much it would cost and how much we would need for an ice machine and glassware and an initial liquor inventory. It was a lot like playing some ‘build-a-bar’ board game or Facebook app. Tom told me that it was all just guesses anyway. It was most important to promote your idea and yourself…two activities with which I am still quite uncomfortable.
Another theme established at this time was some kind of sick cosmic recurring cycle of facing the crushing disappointment of immanent failure quickly followed by the exhausting exultation of some sort of benevolent, serendipitous, magical intervention that cleared our path for at least the next short leg of our journey. Benny and I came to cautiously expect miracles, Pi miracles. We started to understand we were facilitating a project that was charmed. The business plan and the liquor license, at this early juncture, were my two big projects that loomed like circling dragons on the road between me and the portals of queer glory, but I had already gained the favor of two unlikely straight white male demi-wizards with conventional entrepreneurial powers. It was up to me to trudge forth with my canvas tote of hope.
Benny still had his other job at the coffee shop, but would still come to the bar whenever he wasn’t working. His to-do list was considerably more vague at this time. I had asked him to be my bar manager. We were a long way from having a bar to manage. It was still August at this point in the story. He busied himself throwing away less awesome leftovers from the previous business and demolishing any drywall that was stained with mold. There was also a long hallway of filthy, ancient bar carpet that was welded in place with an overabundance of old adhesive. At a pace of several inches a day, armed only with a 3″ rigid paint scraper, he steadfastly removed it all. I rented dumpster after dumpster.
sad to see the cheese sauce go
the cart and barrel mold abatement method.
All of these projects were happening simultaneously, along with a hundred other details I’ve forgotten, but I do recall a mere day or two after acquiring my liquor license application, barely two weeks into this endeavor, sitting on the steps of Benny’s Powderhorn duplex, I received an unsettling call from another emerging ally, Elena.
Elena was a regular at the coffee shop where Benny worked who flirted with me and Benny. On the surface, Elena was a powerhouse. At the time, she was the director of a nearby important Neighborhood Association, not Pi’s. She loved the intrigue and drama of City Hall and municipal politics and was really good at her job. She was also a hard femme who hadn’t fully explored this aspect of herself and was drawn to Benny and me, Benny for his earnest, and deceptively simple butchness, and me for my history of sexual recklessness and love of obscure 80’s R&B. We had always been friendly acquaintances, but with the initiation of the Pi Project, she gladly made herself our own consultant and City Hall mole.
Elena called to inform us that a prominent City Councilman had already heard about our liquor license application and had been rumored to say that under no circumstances would he ever allow us to get our license. Something about over his dead body, I don’t know. This news was initially confusing because the councilman in question was not only openly gay, but also represented a ward historically inhabited by Minneapolis’ own old school version of the Lesbian Mafia. These women were not the self-proclaimed Facebook Familia. They were the middle-aged lesbian feminists active in the 70’s who now held various respected leadership positions at non-profits, school boards, community organizations, and co-ops. They were all connected through past romances and grudges. Thankfully, Pi was in another councilman’s ward, but it still seemed like a big deal that a City Fucking Councilman had declared Pi anathema.
So, I freaked out a bit. I even called his office to try to talk to him, but was rejected. And then another emotion took over. I was sitting there on the stoop with Benny, asking him whether I should continue trying to open this bar or if I should run away to Hawaii with my new girlfriend and live in a hut on the beach. That fucking Benny face.
I’m so sorry I couldn’t find a better picture and I’m so glad we eventually took testosterone.
It made me want to be brave. It made me want to be not disappointing. My life suddenly turned into a cartoon with the appearance of an actual mustachio-twirling villain, who in real life, irrationally and prematurely, condemned our dreams with a mwah-ha-ha. I had no idea prior to this that anybody was actually taking me seriously. Thanks Councilman Oldtwink. Over the coming months, the circumstantial evidence would become overwhelming that he had some personal grudge against this endeavor and it just made me want to win.
I asked for an audience with my old boss from the co-op who happened to be one of the pillars of the older lesbian guard and had known this councilman when he was still a Woman Studies major at the U. At our meeting, she, of course, expressed concerned about the riskiness of my venture and the fragility of my mental state, but also obliquely intimated that she would ‘make inquiries on my behalf’. I have no idea if any backstage blackmail phonetree actually took place, but I had the feeling that some kind of torch-passing blessing had occurred.
I was now aware that people knew what I was doing. The hornet’s nest had been kicked. Everyone started to transition into allies or enemies. I began to understand that there was more at stake than my personal need for redemption.
Obsession is necessarily melodramatic. One end of the line distinguishing poetic from creepy is clenched in the teeth of the obsessed, the other is held by the people you imagine are watching you. The plausibility of real-world benefit from your compulsive visions is determined by the quality of your hustle. I had serious game just then. I made myself mayor of the Island of Misfit Queers and people were starting to encourage me in real life. I imagined it was like those kids running behind Rocky in Rocky II. A good training montage is a worthy spirituality.
Even before Facebook quizzes, the question of which super-power you would choose if you could would occasionally come up at parties or on first dates. For as long as I can remember, I have always chosen the ability to see the entire history of a specific location as my superpower. I imagine myself standing still, eyes open but not focused on the present. Maybe they’d get that cool opal cloud covering like Storm in X-Men or the old master in the opening credits of Kung-Fu. My surroundings would begin to morph into their previous incarnations, activated by the ectoplasms of the individuals that have occupied that space in the past. I can see them laughing, drinking, dancing, fucking, and dying in cyclical ceremonies of inhabitation.
I could solve crimes. I could see where rad stuff is hidden. I could reveal the mysteries of the ancient past. I imagine there would be lots of cool hats. Of course, at some point, I suppose I would have to travel to the pyramids in Egypt or Stonehenge, but for a long while I would be content standing and watching the past in old bars.
There is something special about the feeling of refuge and calm that bars create for the loyal misfits that assemble to form clots in them. That warm, tangy aroma of stale cigarettes and old beer that gets pulled over your damage like a fuzzy blanket when you open the front door smells like a secret that belongs to you. Bars are relatively safe places for the more intense versions of yourself that feel vulnerable in the daylight. Many bars are even made to attract a specific segment of the fringe that polite culture would like to forget. I believe in a kinship of consciousness that exists between the bold outskirts of an individual’s bar persona and the audacity necessary for true social transformation. I fully realize and am intentionally ignoring the many fantastically destructive scenarios that also occur at bars, because occasionally, rare moments of the singular clarity of the dangerous beauty of humanity are birthed only by the alchemic orgy of desperation, dance, sweat and alcohol. Bars briefly become Dionysian temples. These shared experiences also create unique tribes, bound thenceforth by special initiation. I could spend a lifetime rewinding through an old building’s secret rituals. Perhaps just to salve an internal longing to bear witness to a human intensity and turbulence that I fear is being irredeemably dulled.
not my favorite dyke bar, but I was there when it opened
The demise of dyke bars in the last ten to fifteen years is just truly sad. In 2006, I had set out to resurrect a dying paradigm. But, there was no alternative. How much queer history has happened in bars? I was truly worried about the kind of legacy we were creating without them. The cultural stability that gay marriage provides is a cushy gig if you can get it, but I had set out to remind the queers that we are at our most fabulous when we are laughing loudly at our own jokes, half in the bag, bedazzled with transgression. For this task, I required an old bar that felt forgotten.
I arranged to meet the owner of the old American Legion building the following afternoon. I do not recall the showing specifically or what the guy looked like. I remember only that I already knew that this was the place, even before I saw inside.
At some point while he was showing me the building, I wedged a rock or something into the jamb of an inconspicuous side exit. I came back some hours later so that the building and I could become better acquainted in private. The ruins of this brotherhood of Veterans had summoned me. Somebody’s shadowy nostalgia stuck to the old school cafeteria tile, reanimating with my footsteps. The mold, the standing water, the rotten carpet, the smell, all faded from perception as I saw what was to occur here and as what had happened here came out to meet me. The decay was meant to deter lesser advocates, and obscure the magic from the unworthy. The building had been waiting for me.
The invisible interaction of past and present occasionally and fleetingly reveals its bustling machinations to the corner of your eye. Right now, I am trying to remember what I felt like and how the building felt to me as I walked through it for the first time. But, considering the unlikeliness of the building’s materialization within the parameters of my obscure geographical criteria and its availability within my shaky financial reach for the purpose of Pi, I have to wonder… what are the metaphysical desires of a space? How do people and events dent and deposit their creature residue onto a particular location, especially one that has been a place of gatherings? When first encountering the abandoned surroundings of a previously well-used structure, there is a natural inclination to sift through the remaining artifacts or make note of smooth, shiny irregularities of wear, fabricating likely or fantastic scenarios of explanation. But this innocent curiosity is not the totality of the negotiation of promise that is occurring. I projected my own desires onto the remains of another clan’s ceremonial hall. The wreckage granted me permission and also gave me a caved-in mirrored disco ball as a housewarming gift.
I bought it the next week. It was for sale, contract-for-deed. What that means is that as long as your check for the down payment clears and you keep up with the monthly interest and tax payments (almost $6000 a month), the owner will hand you the keys to a building you can’t actually afford and you have two-years to get a successful business up and running and create enough credit to convince a traditional bank to pay the owner off and give you a regular mortgage. If you’re unable to secure the financing after two years, possession of the building reverts to the former owner along with all the money you have already given him as well as any improvements you have made to the building.
My half of the down payment was the entire inheritance my mother had given me in addition to half of the total amount that my secret investor was going to invest. I had not even started a business plan yet, which was apparently necessary according to everyone that liked to tell me what was necessary. I also had no plan for how I would continue to make the monthly interest payments, but the urgency and clarity of the vision I had in my head demanded that I proceed. At the time, it felt very much like the point of no return. I constantly had the sensation I was in a movie, one of those movies where improbable things happen to and for the protagonist toward the climactic fruition of a specific dream.
I would quit my regular, low-wage job the next week. My partner, Patricia would move out of our house three weeks later. My only source of income would be my home equity line, about $40,000. With this, I would be paying my house mortgage and bills, the interest payment on the building, and within a few more weeks, I would be paying my best friend to keep me company in my new haunted, moldy castle. There was no other money in sight yet. I had a very limited understanding of even how much money it would take to rehabilitate this derelict shell into a permissable business. I had a laptop, a cell phone, and an old phone book that I found in the building. At this point, a few of my friends tried to talk me down. I just told them that I had been called by god to open a dyke bar. The part of my brain that could not face my real-life grief and self-hatred made anything reasonable or practical taste terrible.
I am sure there is technical diagnostic language to explain my mental state at that time, something fancier and more precise than merely delusional. Also, traditional psychology is not inclined to encourage uncommon states of consciousness in an otherwise functional cultural participant. The correlation to dangerous outcomes is too unnerving. However, I also believe that finding yourself temporarily unmoored to mundane practicalities can open unexpected conduits between the part of you that has been broken and the place in others that is unsatisfied. Most people, if given the opportunity, would rather not give a fuck about all the things about which they are supposed to give all their fucks. I felt like I surreptitiously locked onto an invisible low-humming frequency that called out to the romantics and the lost. It was like my fairy godmother sobered up for a minute. I found, at this time, with shocking regularity, that people and things seemed to gravitate toward the success of my unlikely endeavor, usually exactly at the juncture they were necessary.
The day I rode my bike all the way to some office building in St. Louis Park to sign all the building contract documents and get the keys to Pi, the scenery on the path changed. I had left the Shire for sure. The acquisition of the building meant that I could start my liquor license application. The gravity of the financial doom I was now facing certainly compelled me toward the task of writing a business plan. But on the first day in my new broken-down, smelly-ass building, it was just me and Benny. I don’t know where the fuck Gandolf was. It was hard to know where to start. What would be our first task?
The building and I had a new relationship. I was the one who held the keys. My instinct was to let the building know that it had a responsible new caretaker. I also knew we would have to win over our new neighborhood. We were surrounded by other functioning businesses. I think I had even already had a conversation with a proprietor directly behind us, across the alley, that had revealed her extensive concerns about our future patrons uncontrollably urinating all over her parking lot. I also knew that we would eventually need to get formal approval from the Seward Neighborhood Group to advance our liquor license application. My endless teenage hours spent mowing, raking, and detailing my parent’s various suburban yards suddenly unearthed my father’s wax-on, wax-off karate wisdom. The very first thing we did on this leg of our journey was clean the yard.
Pi had a twenty-four space parking lot and a patch of grass out front. The parking lot was full of cracks, through which a prairie had been trying to emerge for the last several years. We spent an entire Minnesota August day clearing weeds, mowing the lawn, and trimming the bushes. I think I might have even purchased weed-killer for the parking lot, a modern evil that my progressive politics had previously prohibited. I remember Benny and I making jokes about our yard work that seemed like an inconsequential gesture toward the tidal wave that was our to-do list. But, if there is anything that growing up in suburbia teaches you, it is that the maintainance of your yard is the foremost indicator of your sense of responsibility and accountability as a neighbor.
When we would later canvas the surrounding businesses and residential areas for support, almost everyone mentioned their appreciation for the new tidiness of our lot. They believed it would discourage suspicious behavior in the neighborhood and showed that we would be responsible and accessible business owners. Thanks mom and dad.
The old Legion smiled on us and liked its new haircut.
So what is the first step when you finally decide to open the gay bar of your dreams? Take a moment to think about it. What is the first logical thing you would do set this phantasmagoria in motion on the physical plane? I know so many of you have thought about it. Your own economic treehouse is the charming, undiscovered, magic trinket shop in the bohemian district of capitalism. It is sporadically even more alluring to you than, building your own tiny house (organic farm and strawbale home are so ten years ago), or thinking about how it would feel to be in witness protection. And among queers, especially queers born with vaginas, talking about opening a dyke bar is one of our favorite party games. We all want the fort. What do you do to get it?
Well, first make sure you’ve had some kind of psychotic break. Make sure it’s severe enough to completely disable your ability to participate significantly in any relationship in your life. Next, embrace the obscure, but persistent suspicion in your head that you possess magical powers. Allow yourself to believe that you are now an actual pirate action hero, secretly charged by the collective powers of history to build this enchanted hideaway. The outcasts have always been your people. You have been called to build the sanctuary that suspends normal time and space within its walls so they can conduct their clandestine and awkward social rituals within the safety of the anthropologically appropriate diorama that only you can manifest.
The first necessary incantation for manifestation of visions is transcription. You must say it out loud, and preferably write it down. You may use the vehicle of your choice. Mine was a spiral-bound Spiderman notebook purchased from a Walgreens on the way to my first “meeting” about the bar. “Meeting” needs to have the ironic quotes at this stage because having a secret meeting about opening a bar when you make $12 an hour stocking shelves at a co-op feels roughly like planning your wedding when you’re eight.
It is essential to have an ally, more than a friend attend this first meeting. Otherwise, you would be that person obsessively and furiously writing in a Spiderman notebook, in a bar, by yourself. You need someone who takes you seriously, and believes in you, but still has some tether to the real world you’d rather not interact with just then. They can relay messages and make you sandwiches.
Benny and I had our first planning session at Bryant Lake Bowl, a familiar Minneapolis hipster hang-out that was once a divey old bowling alley. The woman who owns this establishment is a lesbian who has built a local empire from her prowess collaborating locally-sourced meat, midwestern kitsch, and zero-waste aspirations. Managing to set aside my jealousy for her success for a moment, we accomplished three things at this meeting: I roughed out a sketch of the actual space I was imagining, we made a long list of the items and services we imagined a bar would require, and we decided on a name.
The first page of my notebook, recalls the imagination of the bar’s physical space.
This drawing is titled Joe and Jack’s Pi Hut at the top. It includes renderings of a stage, dance floor, bar, pool tables, and a quieter area with tables. There are three restrooms, with one set aside as gender-inclusive. The resemblance of this drawing to the as yet unmet building that eventually housed Pi Bar feels a bit supernatural.
People often assume that because I eventually acquired a Master’s Degree in Theological Studies I must be religious or spiritual in some way. This is inaccurate except in the most intimate and cryptic sense. What I am may be more precisely conveyed as superstitious. Sometimes I sense unseen voyeurs. They frequently receive mundane offerings from me in the form of a pinch of salt over my left shoulder while making breakfast or a modified cadence while walking my dog to avoid sidewalk cracks. This could be merely a shame-induced psychological projection, or perhaps it is a subconscious perception of an alternative reality where underdogs prevail and all that is necessary to access aid from this morally-attuned universal dark matter is earnestness of heart and a narcissistic disdain for commercial practicality. Whatever the situation is, the universe wanted me to open this dyke bar. The serendipitous Hobbit quest that followed that day can only be truly comprehended in retrospect as fairy tale, complete with fortuitous fairy encounters, chance treasure finds, and the obligatory gauntlet of trials of faith.
The next several pages of my Spiderman scripture are occupied with a long, subdivided list of all of the things we could think of that this space might require. My favorite passage can be found on page 1, category 2, under the heading “Building”. Under it was the simple instruction: “Buying”. I do not recall why the participle form is used.
Step 2: Find Grail
I am so grateful to still possess artifacts from this time. I was drinking a lot so it’s helpful. I remember where Benny and I were sitting and I do have a fairly strong memory of the portion of the meeting when we were trying to come up with a name. I do not recall any of the other ideas, but I remember us both feeling the magic of Pi when it appeared at the table. We knew we had guessed the right name and in uttering it together, we conjured the specter of its future.
Many have asked me about the name or even more think they know why we called the place Pi. Some know I used to be a Math geek. More know I turned into a classic philosophy geek with a special love for translating ancient Greek. In math, Pi is the constant no matter how big the circle gets – an apt metaphor for our endeavor. In philosophy, it has been used to hypothesize some existence of order or harmony or plan in an ostensibly chaotic existence. Pretty deep, kinda cool, a bit esoteric for commercial application. There is also the double entendre created by American slang. (Pie is a word for pussy) Belly up to the pussy bar. Get it? Oddly, all the boys, including the gay ones assumed this to be the implied allegory and thought it quite amusing, which it is. Lesbians, for whom the bar was founded, always acted like they had never heard of that euphemism. Whatever lesbians. The name Pi, in addition to being all of those things as a bonus, was my nickname for my partner at the time, Patricia.
She had meant everything to me for over nine years and I knew I was in the process of wrecking our relationship. The name was a form of homage to one of my very favorite people from whom I was distancing myself and trying to deal with the pain that caused us both.
This brings up one of the guilt sections of processing this story. Patricia was still my partner when we would buy the building a short four months after this initial meeting and also legally became my business partner that same month…less than a month before she moved out of our house. She was obligated financially and legally after our divorce, to ride this ride with me. For those of you who think I’m an asshole, I will not argue with you. I can only try to assure you that profound gratitude and contrition have always been a part of this story.
I left our secret meeting with a marginally more detailed list of tasks for myself and a transcendent sense of resolve, or perhaps refreshed delusion. Benny had recently gotten a third job barbacking for some douchey nightclub downtown and would now add the task of reconnaissance to his duties. I was about to finally graduate from college and thought that perhaps the bar could be thought of as a research paper. I headed to the public library.
On the fourth floor of the Minneapolis Central Library in downtown, one can find the entire collection of Municipal Codes and Ordinances for the city of Minneapolis. I eagerly read the entire tome devoted to Liquor Codes. Prior to this, I had some vague understanding, somehow, of the 60/40 rule. That is, Minneapolis requires establishments that sell alcohol to make 60% of their revenue from food and non-alcoholic beverage sales. An archaic and restrictive zoning fascism. I also knew of businesses in Minneapolis that operated as nightclubs and wanted to understand the seeming contradiction. I knew that Pi would never, ever meet those standards. I didn’t even want to sell food. I also wanted to be in South Minneapolis where I didn’t actually know of any other examples of the type of establishment I wanted to create. What I found went something like this: any new liquor license granted to an establishment south of 22nd St (out of the old patrol zone -whatever that means) would only be given to a restaurant, hotel, or fraternal organization (like the Elks Lodge). All new licenses would be held to the 60/40 rule unless the following exemption criteria were met: The building must be in an area zoned I-2 (light industrial and commercial), must be in a 7-acre contiguous plot, and be 500 feet away from the nearest residential zone (R-1), and 300 feet away from the nearest school or church.
Later, I would be accused of exploiting a loophole in the liquor code, that happened to inadvertently be also in direct contradiction to some other zoning code. Right now, in the library, holding the biggest three-ring binder I had ever seen, I felt like Indiana Jones, or one of the Goonies and I had just discovered a long-lost treasure map.
My next stop would be to a beaurecratic zoning catch-all office that Minneapolis had established on the second floor of a government office building kitty-corner from City Hall. It used to be called simply “One-Stop”. I would visit this office many times in the coming months. Upon my initial visit, a ritual of sorts was established. Among the mounting pressures of my dissolving partnership, the partially-secret development of a new romance, finals, and devoting any spare time to advancing my fantasy bar plan, the stress was beginning to feel heavy. “One-Stop” was the first place I was going to have to talk to a representative from the governement-business-capitalist complex whose world I was trying to infiltrate, a muggle, if you will. As I entered the building, I remember feeling kind of like a spy or burglar. But at least, I didn’t feel like the asshole I normally felt like. However; as I stepped onto the escalator, I felt time stop. The feeling that overwhelmed me was that as long as I was simply riding up this escalator, I didn’t have to do anything else. These escalator rides became dear to me so I never rushed them. Then I got off and was a magic pirate again and proceeded.
I met my first fairy here. I don’t recall his name. He seemed gay. His job seemed worse than working at the DMV because people will kill you if you tell them that the addition they want to put onto their house is eight inches too high and their $15,000 architect should have known that. When he called my number, I tried to sound confident as I explained why I was there. I felt like a child explaining my plan to catch Santa Claus. I wanted to open a bar. I had read the liquor code and recited the necessary geo-political details for the exemption I required. I was wondering if he knew of any areas of South Minneapolis that met those criteria and what applications I should require for opening said bar. He looked at me for a moment, obviously taking in my appearance, which was butch dyke in sweaty cut-off t-shirt and dickies. A widening grin crept across his face. It was not condescending as I feared it might be. It somehow said, yeesss, let me help you shove something large and uncomfortable into city hall’s ass. Or maybe it was completely patronizing and he was just trying not to laugh. Regardless, he pulled up a zoning map on the computer. It did not take long for us to discern from this map that the only appropriate area in South Minneapolis that met my needs was an awkward, semi-industrial area Southwest of the neo-liberal Seward residential neighborhood and just North of the developing East Lake St. commercial corridor.
I knew that area from commuting from my house to the U of M on my bike. It’s filled with short, 30-40 year-old small warehouses built on the ruins of an old rail hub. It’s actually quite accessible by freeway, light rail, and it’s right off the Greenway (one of Minneapolis’ main paved bike thoroughfares). I was confident, looking at that screen that the treasure was hidden there.
After Pi’s demise, many cited location as one of its main detrimental qualities… Thank you for your input. How’s Chicago?
The “One-Stop” fairy also informed me that my fleeting fantasy of converting an old warehouse was financially untenable as the city would require an EPA report and any facility not used previously for food service would have to be brought up to code as if it were a new construction. This introduced two new obstacles. One, we were not going to get out of serving food. This required a “nightclub” exemption which was only possible in specially zoned areas of downtown. (Lesbians were not going to pay for parking). Also, I would have to find a building in my as yet non-existent price range, in the middle of that small area full of old warehouses, that used to be a restaurant or a bar. He also informed me that I would need a location to even start my liquor license application.
I was sure my benevolent invisible forces were watching me walk out of that office in slow motion that day, to face insurmountable odds. 70’s power chords beginning to lay the mood. Back in Black maybe.
A lot happened that summer. I will leave my complicated and uncomfortable romantic debacle largely out of the narrative, mostly to protect the feelings of those involved who have moved on with their lives. Benny and I revealed our plans for the bar at a birthday party in late June. The artistic, hip gayborhood in attendance was enthusiastic and offered their input. This brought a new element of reality to the pursuit and propelled me further down the path. Occasionally, someone who was not at that party would approach me to ask if I needed help with anything. Word was spreading. A collection of expectation and hope was started and everyone seemed to take us seriously. I started to develop charismatic glamoring abilities when I talked to others about my vision, which now included a venue that would provide a space for the many talented visual and performing queer artists that I knew. I just needed to find a space. Oh yeah, and money.
My mother had planned a trip to Yellowstone for the two of us that summer. It was there that my mom informed me that she and my father had inherited $50,000 from my Grandpa Buddy, who had died the summer before. My father wanted me to have it for my future, since they are relatively financially secure. This brings us to part two of my guilt, remembering this story. My parents have always believed in my intellect and potential and have wanted me to succeed professionally. I’m not sure what their visions for me have been, but I’m positive they did not include a queer nightclub. I timidly told my mother about my plan. It made her incredibly uncomfortable, mostly because she thought it was risky as a business owner herself. But I think she might have also doubted the eventual fruition of this crazy scheme. She gave me the money anyway. And again, thank you and I’m sorry is all I can say about that.
In addition to this unexpected seed money, Patricia and I also had a home equity line for an additional $40,000. Then a woman I didn’t know, but apparently had been to one of my Halloween house parties (I have a picture) and was good friends with an acquaintance of mine had heard about the bar and wanted to meet with me about investing.
This is perhaps the most complicated thread of this whole saga and I’m just not going to explain it really. It is the third and last section of my guilty conscience side-plot. My sadness concerning her investment is complicated by anger, but certainly not enough to want to cause her any additional distress. For now, I will simply state that there was a third investor, who wanted to be a part of this. Without her willingness to risk so much and believe in my plan, Pi Bar would have never happened. At least, not in the way it did. Anyone who knows more of this story, including her identity, and has questions or is mad at me can contact me personally. I’d be glad to explain my side of the story.
So, just like that, money unexpectedly appeared. I called a commercial real estate broker and set an appointment. A few days before our meeting, I rode my bike through the weird little Seward industrial dead zone. On a side street, just one block long, I passed an enormous, low-slung, brick building. Judging by the prairie growing in the parking lot, it had been abandoned for some time. I cupped by hands around my face to block out the sunlight as I peered into one of the few windows. I was looking into an office with bent and broken aluminum blinds. There was a for sale sign that had partially fallen out of the window. I called the number on the yellowing sign and got a voice mail for some software company. I thought I had gotten a wrong number, but left a message, nevertheless, explaining my interest in the property and my desperate desire to see inside. I left my phone number.
I probably tried not to look like a total miscreant in preparation for meeting a real-life commercial real estate agent for coffee at Muddy Water’s in Uptown. We sat on their outdoor patio. I tried to patiently listen to his well-informed expertise as he explained to me that most aspiring bar owners can usually expect to search for up to two years to find the perfect property, and can use that time to refine their business plans and secure build-out financing. He was obviously not privy to my other-worldly time-line. I became increasingly anxious as he droned on and was acutely aware that he was not part of this adventure. I nodded in eager agreement to mask my growing impatience in an attempt to politely expedite this dead-end conversation. I even muted an incoming call without looking at my phone so I wouldn’t appear rude.
When I safely on the sidewalk, preparing to unlock my bike to escape this unfruitful encounter, I checked my message. It was the owner of the building I had called about wondering if I had any free time to look at it tomorrow.
Soundtrack changes to Flashdance. What a Feeling. My watchers had sent me a portent of their intentions. I obediently hit redial on my flip-phone.
“Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an identity that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness’s domain.” Jose Munoz, CruisingUtopia
I think what is secretly seductive about fictional apocalyptic scenarios, especially ones that involve few survivors, is the allure of fantasizing about the ideal circumstances necessary for all of the horseshit that causes all of our anxiety to be completely erased. I think many start this kind of avoidance therapy early in life. It’s a little like praying for a snowstorm or a minor car accident when you fail to finish your book report the night before it is due. As we mature and our anxiety becomes more complex, so does the fantasy. In the increasingly elaborate best case situation (the one that is obsessively recreated in your mind) all of your friends would survive and your most beloved family members, though because of the state of crisis, all of their disappointment and failed expectations connected to you become meaningless. Debt, financial and emotional, is irrelevant. Your only New Year’s resolution is survival. Dominant regulatory norms for privileged attributes disintegrate. The complex, evolved global systems of oppressive power are reset. Your mother would finally understand your moral priorities and see your true leadership potential.
And, of course, you know you’ll be among the survivors. Because you’re good at surviving. And you think you already understand loneliness and deprivation. And maybe, all the dickheads die. Maybe the aggregate, dark forces of demonic global injustice are scorched and reabsorbed into cosmic dust. Wouldn’t that be dreamy?
Besides just incidentally roughing-out the origins of the Christian faith, I am merely trying to conjure a common state of mind that often accompanies the timeless suffering of just being human, tethered to social and cultural networks and relationships that sustain us and crush us. I think this perverted little end-of-times delusion is a gift of evolution to the human brain meant to temporarily relieve the burden of consciousness. Coming down from a particularly vivid round of daydreaming about a utopic apocalyptic outcome, or your off-the-grid, eat-pray-love Airstream fort can be harsh. Familiar interpersonal cramping sets in, the fit of your shirt reminds you that you haven’t been to the gym in two weeks, while your laundry, bills, and achievement deficiencies line up around your bed in blitz formation. Is it really just another Tuesday? Stupid apocalypse never shows up.
Another, more tangibly destructive way to try to escape your own existence, and one that I chose as a lifestyle, is torching the life you’re in, alienating people who could have cared about you, and hurling yourself at a new potential life, imagining that this time, you’ll be able to stay, and somehow, your own skin will cease being completely uncomfortable. Please keep in mind, anyone caught quoting Confucius (“no matter where you go, there you are”) at this juncture, shall be excluded from surviving the apocalypse in my head.
At the end of the 90’s, the end of my twenties, San Francisco had become uncomfortable. I was exhausted. The city that had been my refuge and my enlightenment, seemed equally exhausted by the 90’s. People were moving away. Some didn’t make it through the decade. The scene was changing, dissolving. Speed-fueled, dirty girl punk shows were morphing into straight-edge, academically-informed riot grrrl shows.
A subtle, but important transition. Heroin was the pace at which the city was now limping into the new century, subduing the exquisite anger that had been its hailing beacon. And, of course, I had sufficiently pissed off most of the people I knew and it was time to go.
I thought it was time to grow up. Certainly my parents were wearied by my lack of maturity. I thought I knew what adulthood should look like and that I should go there. I had lucked into a relationship with a woman who actually seemed to be a perfect match for me. Patricia is one of the smartest people I had met. She was unfailingly caring and supportive. She has lots of rad tattoos and cool fashion, and she actually loved me. I’m sure one may be able to anticipate in this story that I screwed this up as well, but for now, we had been together for almost two years when I had somehow talked her into moving to Minneapolis, where grown-ups have back yards and play board games.
I’m sure Patricia would have happily stayed in San Francisco. She’s one of those people who everyone likes and she can stay at the same job for years and years. Nevertheless, at the end of 1999, we packed all of our stuff onto a moving truck, put our two cats, some clothes, and anything of value (not much) into my 1966 Chrysler 300 and started driving out of San Francisco in the middle of a warm night, at the end of August. We had a difficult time finding a hotel that night because of a beanie-baby convention in Sacramento. We had no jobs, no place to stay, and we knew no one in Minneapolis. Minneapolis had no idea that we were on our way.
mine is white
I wanted to buy a house and have a grown-up job. Actually, I, more accurately, “envisioned” those things more than I’d say I “wanted” them. It’s what my new life looked like in my head. I usually have no idea what I want, or even what that word means. It is important to note that my visions usually come true and there is often unforeseen collateral damage. Yes, I am magic. No, I do not completely understand my powers, but four days after arriving in Minneapolis, we had an apartment and jobs.
We both got jobs working for the Wedge Co-op in their new produce distribution warehouse, Co-op Partners. Patricia still has that job. She does their books. I split my time working in the warehouse, driving a truck for them, and working in the produce department at the Wedge. We had both worked for the same woman-owned, woman-operated, organic produce distributor in San Francisco, so our expertise had extra-fancy liberal credentials. We had the usual, palatable urban and queer confluence of affinities. We were good-tipping, transgressive politics-oriented vegetarians, with tattoos, who liked to drink and smoke. We were the new butch/femme power couple in town.
With our exotic San Francisco mystique, and our charming demeanor, we made friends easily. In March of 2000, we closed on our house. It was a boarded-up, abandoned, 100-year-old mess in a South Minneapolis neighborhood that our new friends cautioned us not to buy in. (The same one that is, fifteen years later, to be the home of the new Seward Co-op, which is likely our fault.) To be fair, neither Patricia nor our realtor wanted us to buy this house either, mostly because of its condition, and maybe the smell, but my visions will not be denied. Patricia made the best of it, as she always did, while I set about acquiring new butch skills, pretending I knew how to fix-up our house.
My intention of becoming a grown-up seemed to be fleshing itself out. The house was becoming functional, though still very much in the style of a 90’s apartment in San Francisco. We had people over. We went out a lot. I became the warehouse manager at Co-op Partners which could be perceived as a real job. Our friends admired the stability of our relationship. We got a dog.
It’s hard to say whether I could have sustained that life, had my brain allowed me to enjoy it. I think lots of people fashion lives by assembling psychologically pleasing bits and baubles of expectations and accessorizing with personal cultural affiliations. Bargains on identities can be found at your local Home Depot, thrift stores, and antique architectural doo-dad establishments. I assume many are content with the identity that occupies their space, how it looks, how it is reflected by their community, their family. Some may even be happy. Some experience ennui. I just always felt like my brain was on fire and my face was melting.
Don’t get me wrong, I truly loved Patricia. I loved our house and our pets and our friends. I wish I trusted psychology more to enlighten me on the demon jamboree that has been banging out maniacal banjo duels in my head for as long as I can remember. I think the destruction began in 2003.
I was fat. That has always been a thing. I hadn’t ever been this big. Since I stopped doing speed in ’98 and started drinking nice beer, I had steadily packed it on. My job was less than satisfying. My boss was the most repugnant, vile person I had ever met. Edward, seriously, you are disgusting. Working for him gave me irritable bowel syndrome. The fact that I had never finished college actually caused me nausea every time I remembered it. I had also started wearing sweaters.
I hated being a grown-up. Patricia hated it too, but I think she was just trying to be supportive. One morning, we were having breakfast at The French Meadow on Lyndale. I had ordered a dish that normally came with poached eggs. I don’t like poached eggs, so I asked that they come scrambled or something. They gave me poached eggs. I spent the next three hours, outside, in my truck sobbing uncontrollably. I think I quit my job the next day.
mmm, scrotum toast
I applied to the University of Minnesota soon after. Because of the many F’s I had collected from dropping out of school twice, I had to go into an individualized degree program through the College of Continuing Education. This actually meant I could take any classes I wanted. I loved it so much. I had it in my head that maybe I wanted to go to grad school, too, so I took a language, Ancient Greek. My heart was actually touched by the beauty of something for the maybe the first time. I ended up with twice as many credits necessary for a degree, with a 3.94 GPA. I don’t know how people finish school in their twenties.
I had also started working out. I rode my bike everywhere. I even started taking yoga at the U. I lost all the weight and was probably in the best shape of my life. I eventually completed a real triathlon.
Patricia and I threw away our sweaters and remembered that we were cool in the 90’s. And even if we were actually nerds by SF standards, Minneapolis didn’t need to know that.
Our social circle also started expanding. We made friends with all the South Minneapolis hipster queers. We started throwing fabulous parties at our house that everybody came to.
Meanwhile, on the other side of my brain…I started spending more and more time at the gym or the coffeshop writing papers, or even sitting by myself on the porch, anywhere but in the house. My familiar, amiable daily suicidal thoughts were showing their more sinister sides. I wanted to run again. I didn’t know why.
That’s the part that torments and mocks your intellect. Compulsive, self-destructive behavior has never been sufficiently explained to me. Psychology can try to carve it up and name a disorder or disease specific to your behavior that is socially unproductive. Religion can talk about attachment as suffering or the seven deadly sins, which are just severe attachments that create hell in your brain. But those explanations are egocentric and diagnostically unsatisfying. We evolve on a much larger scale. Human culture, with its homogenizing nature, is arguably beneficial to tribes with more cohesive cultures, but I think the force of assimilation is also an elegant and cruel metaphysical test of evolution. If you fit in and thrive, it is likely your genes will be passed on, renewing an assimilating model of human. If you are shunned and alienated at a young age, you are given a second and much harder test. Your own brain will start to weed you out of the pack and no one ever suggests it’s a test. Depression may paralyze you and cause your own destruction. You start to believe that you are of no value to your own pack. Your compulsion to escape leads to all sorts of unsavory and dangerous behavior. You may start to have completely obsessive visions propelling you away from anything that makes you happy because you were not meant to be happy. Happy is for those stupid cake-eaters that fit in.
uh-oh thumbs down for nerds
There is a benefit to humanity that you give by running this gauntlet, however. If you make it through, it means you possess magic mutant rainbow unicorn genes and you really are the only hope for any further human evolution. It’s taken me a long time to realize that my torment was just a dare from Mother Nature. You think you’re acting out of desire, but really you’re just picking yourself off, or at least making yourself more vulnerable to predators.
There are many flavors of compulsion. Mine usually took the form of obsessive crushes on pretty straight girls. C’mon butches, back me up. This may seem benign until you start to recognize that the onset of these epic infatuations always seem to coincide with times in your life when you are closest to potential intimacy and stability. The objects of my preoccupation have never been meant to lead to a successful relationship (and never have). I think I have just wanted to win, like any masculine animal brutishly overpowering rivals, while also overcoming the obstacles of my own anatomy, and achieving some bullshit identity whose entitlements I will never really possess. Maybe I subconsciously believe it’s a way to earn my spot in the pack. As an added benefit, these episodes also completely destroy whatever life situation you’re in that was providing some measure of that completely foreign and unwelcome feeling of actual security and accomplishment.
where are her arms?
The first crush I had while I was still with Patricia was on my African History professor, which caused me to fail my final. The second was on my yoga instructor at the U, which resulted in me never being able to return to the athletic center. The third was ultimately fatal to my relationship with Patricia. Patricia was even smart enough to know that I was destroying something that I actually didn’t want to destroy and she wondered what the fuck I was doing. I felt like I was possessed. I felt helpless. I felt like a monster. It took over a year to exhaust Patricia enough to leave. I didn’t realize that I could disappoint myself that much or that I could be that sad, but I could not stop myself from wrecking everything and isolating myself.
The only helpful thing I had done, subconsciously, is back myself into a corner. I couldn’t run. I had a dog and cats. I had a house that was basically a psychic projection of myself. And there were a couple of people I couldn’t live without. One, in particular, I have known in all of my previous lives, and once I recognized him, I couldn’t just leave.
I met Benny Benson within a few months of my arrival in Minneapolis. I was pulling a pallet through the Wedge at 6am. As I passed aisle 4, I saw a new person stocking shelves. I thought to myself, “Shit, that’s cute. Look at that new baby butch who works here.” I introduced myself and asked if I could buy her a coffee. She said no and looked at me like I had poop on my face. Over the next few weeks, I saw little sporty spice roll into the Wedge with a super hot femme girl a few times, which delighted me more than it probably should have. We chatted occasionally at work and we were definitely drawn to one another, but there seemed to an odd barrier to our friendship. Then one night, I was playing in a Euchre tournament at Bar Abeline in Uptown. I saw Benny there with that same pretty girl, but the girl seemed to be on a date with some bio-boy and Benny was wearing blue eye-shadow.
The next day I approached Benny at work, confused, and asked, perhaps a bit too aggressively, “Are you a dyke, or what?” Benny started to kind of choke up and finally said, “I don’t know.” Instantly, I felt all of their pain flood into my own chest and knew it. I knew him. In my teens, I was sent a protector. In my twenties, I was sent a mentor. In my thirties, I was given a brother.
I took him to Cafe Wyrd and we talked about butch stuff and that pretty femme girl he’d had a crush on for years, but never kissed. I got him laid by sending an older woman after him. He still likes to bitch about that. Then over the next few years, Benny started going to gay bars and getting himself laid. He played softball with the lesbians who shave their legs. We didn’t actually hang out that much, except that we were the part of each others lives that remained constant no matter what other dumb shit was going on.
In Early April of 2006, I was in my last semester of coursework at the U. I was in a class called Dissident Sexualities in U.S. History which cast new light on my own history and provided new perspective on the communities I had known in San Francisco. I realized that the queers, in the 90’s, in SF, were special, and that it wasn’t just me that had gotten boring in my ridiculous quest to grow up. Across the nation, the gays were treating fabulous like herpes and liberally applying gay marriage ointment to stop the oozing of awesome. Rich old homos were publicly bitching about drag queens and leather daddies in the Pride Parade because we couldn’t scare the hets anymore if we hoped to be just like them. The Townhouse in St. Paul put a security guard outside the men’s room to check ID’s lest a transman tried to pee in there.
So that’s when the fire started. My marriage was ending. Unbelievable sadness worked with my socially reprehensible behavior to effectively burn all ties to the identity I had been crafting. I couldn’t run away, but I couldn’t find safety. The gays were now crusading for assimilation and vying for membership in the dominant paradigm by burning the heretic queers. Where would the misfits go? Where would I go?
Sanctuary. Apocalypse. Creating the circumstances under which the brutality of cultural norms could be suspended for a time, and not just in my head. In order to find the island of misfit toys, I had to build it. I really could see no other alternative for my life or my tribe.
The next morning, I went into work at Linden Hills Co-op, to stock shelves with Benny Benson. I told him I was opening a bar and I wanted him to be my bar manager. Without hesitation or question, he simply said yes. That was in April of 2006, we were open in February of 2007.
4/20/06 so high
It’s finally time to tell you how Pi Bar happened now that you know why.
His name was Omar, I think. He was probably in his fifties, with a considerable paunch and a greasy, salt and pepper ponytail drooping from the back of a backwards black flat cap. Sitting on a stool, under a dim backdoor lamp, he barely looked at Rhodie Mae’s old military ID and knew I was lying to him. After fondling my tits and pocketing the $10, he opened the door.
Anticipation gave way to panic as I took in the situation. Are these the women I will have to date? Is this what lesbians look like? Grand Central will always remain in my distant memory, the hardest, seediest, stickiest gay bar I have ever encountered. Located in Riverside, California, forever in 1987, it was within fifteen miles of three military bases. The women inside were not just butch, these were bulldaggers. I had never even seen other butches, let alone this rare tribe of government trained militia mullets. Not a femme in sight. I had walked into a prison porn and I was the bad little school girl. At that age, I was very proud of what I thought of as a natural ability in looking like I knew what I was doing. At least, I thought I appeared undaunted. I must have looked ridiculous. I had been to plenty of clubs by the time I was seventeen, but they had been straight, and mostly black. So I was dressed like I was going to an R & B nightclub circa Janet Jackson, Nasty Boys.
I was hellu fly.
I took a seat at the bar, facing the dance floor. I was scanning the room, trying to find someone, anyone I could ask to dance. It was mostly boys dancing. The women were playing pool. I don’t remember how long I sat there. I couldn’t just leave without talking to someone. And then she came in. She was tall and beautiful… and feminine. I watched her for a while as she danced and talked to people. I was trying to gather the courage to ask her to dance. So I finished another Rolling Rock and finally pushed my stool out to get up. I felt a firm, meaty hand grip my left shoulder, keeping me in my place. The voice behind me said, “Sit down son, that’s a man.”
The butch’s name was Yoli. She laughed warmly and put her arm around me. She took me into the bathroom and gave me a line, then spent the rest of the night playing pool with me. That was my first time in a gay bar. It was only a week or two since I found out they existed, that there were other gay people and they had their own bars.
I had already had my first girlfriend a full year before I ever found out there was a whole big, gay world out there. We played softball together. She played center field and I was the catcher. The summer after our sophomore year, we spent every day together until it dramatically turned to more while “wrestling” one day. Our teenage passion went Thelma and Louise the night her mom found out and beat her. We ran away for about two weeks to San Francisco, a ten-hour greyhound ride away, because we had heard that’s where the gays went. We didn’t find any. We spent most of our time in the bus station bathroom, fighting because I didn’t want us to turn tricks. We came home to even more drama. Our romance ended the night her mom told me to kill myself and I swallowed two bottles of sleeping pills in her backyard. After finally being rushed to the hospital and having my stomach pumped, my parents put me in a locked mental health facility for two and a half months. It would be over twenty years until I communicated with her again. Upon my return to high school, I found that everyone had known where I had been and what I was. My girlfriend had to switch highschools, a merciful option not open to me. My mother does not accept punking out, not even from hell. My high school was in a podunk shithole called Apple Valley, California, about thirty miles south of Barstow, a larger shithole in the middle of the Southern California desert. These were communities founded by people just wanting to escape the growing diversity of culture in Los Angeles, so they could do some seriously creepy, ignorant shit out in the middle of nowhere. I even got kicked out of high school sports for being a lesbian. The irony of that would not become hilarious for some time.
I had actually been running away for years, but I was usually home in time for dinner. When I was eleven, we lived in a suburb of Phoenix, I started calling real estate agents about listings for land in the Sedona woods. I had this idea that I could live in a tent and work at Burger King or something. I just knew that my presence in the suburban landscape was more mutually corrosive than even The Breakfast Club could hope to portray. I would hop trains and hitchhike home as a day trip. I had a whole life only strangers knew about. My parents are dynamic, successful people and I am their only progeny. I was smart and strong and powerful, but I was not of their people. Growing up in the suburbs, doesn’t matter which one, you grow up in the dominant American model. It has a way of completely obscuring everything else. Nobody tells you about the other worlds that have been excluded from yours. They think there is no logical reason you would want an alternative, except that if you don’t fit in, they also have a way of squeezing you out like a zit on the nose of their pasty, doughy face. I made a habit of flinging myself at the nearest passing exoticism that caught my eye. Any misfit or marginalized individual was automatically my friend. I felt duty-bound to protect them from the injustice of the culture that had forged me, like so many young, bleeding hearts. It didn’t take me long to understand my relative privilege. I tried to minimize it. At that time, it didn’t make any sense to my parents or me for that matter, that I seemed to be rejecting my world of relative comfort and future social and economic certainty. I also felt unworthy of the pain I was in because I was smart and not unattractive and white. My secret life was my problem and I was the only shameful, slutty, chubby, oddly-masculine homo to blame. You know those white suburban kids with dreads or cornrows that inflect their speech with poser gangster rapper? They are being expelled by their own culture, or at least, that’s what they think. It is a completely unsympathetic behavior pattern, I will not deny. Kids are kinda dumb though and struggling for identity, all of them. I’m positive I’m also guilty of some youthful, idiotic cultural appropriation, but mostly, I tried to keep my mouth shut and learn. I had basically three tiers of existence. The person I was at home, the person I was with my school friends, and the no one I was when I was with strangers. I got to know some people who lived in the shadows. I knew lots of people who avoided the shadows. People told me their secrets because I was always just traveling through and I had become very adept at being whoever someone needed me to be, regardless of how ignorant I was of the actual experiences of individuals coming from non-dominant American cultures. I think of this as “cultural dysphoria”, easily as prominent and problematic as its distant, gender related cousin, but wholly more potentially offensive, philosophically and emotionally. Optimistically, someone born into some amount of privilege may develop a richer empathy with a broader world if one’s implicit social power is kept uncomfortably lodged up one’s ass like a weathered fencepost, reminding one, with each shift of body weight, of the humility of individual existence and the guilt-informed honor of personal accountability.
I spent most of my time feeling inauthentic, wondering if I was a sociopath. I understood emotions logically, as theatric apparel, and performed them on cue. My own private sadness and anger felt inappropriate and indulgent. Looking back at how my own values were formed and how my physicality developed, I have come to believe that those who grow up in substantial existential conflict with their surrounding cultural expectations and norms, have a predilection toward various forms of sorcery later in life. Of course, this is frequently offset by wildly self-destructive behavior patterns and a profound skepticism concerning the legitimacy of human intimacy and trust, but we’re fun at parties. Cultural outlaws tend to be drawn toward the mysticism of the human condition, while secretly clinging to the belief that their own uniqueness may very well change the world. Because, when everything you do and feel is wrong, a natural reaction might reasonably be to make up a world where you’re right. And while live-action role-playing games serve many thousands of the misunderstood, I believe there are also other kinds of weirdos who may eventually confront the need to suddenly and violently invert their interminable self-hating inner narrative with a substantive attempt to reveal to the world that, actually, it’s you world, that’s wrong, not me. Is there a way an individual can become completely unhinged, productively?
Mercifully, once a decade, I was sent a sort of shamanic guide in the guise of a best friend. Their authenticity and strength as people in the world lent a transcendent quality to their characters, like yoda. In my teens, through high school, this was GeeGee Hayes. While calmly disregarding my existential flailing, she seamlessly transitioned from being the girl who took me to the NCO Club at George Air Force Base, which is basically a bar out of normal jurisdiction that served underaged girls so they would “entertain” soldiers, to being my personal bodyguard who walked with me between each class at Apple Valley High, psychologically slamming any potential threat against the wall before they said one word. Being certainly the toughest one of the five black people out of three-thousand at my high school, she was also from Los Angeles, and had allegedly shot some guy at a public pool when she was twelve. She is important to this story because she protected me. She taught me that I wasn’t as smart and privileged as I thought I was and that, as an outcast of sorts, I would need to become much, much tougher and more resilient.
At my mother’s insistence, and with Gee’s help, I finished high school.
After a few years of college at Cal Poly Pomona and a few more girlfriends, I moved with one of them to San Francisco. This time I found the gays. It was 1991. I was 21. I was still naive, and still a nerd, but the difference between LA lesbians and SF dykes was revolutionary. Within three months of arriving, I had shaved my head, gained thirty pounds, and purged my wardrobe of all pastels. My gender narrative had me cultivating the blue-collar, truck-driving, pretty-girl wrangling butch dip-shittery. While my outsider, culture-deprived, Opie-turned-white-trash Rizzo side had me awestruck with the cornucopia of transgressive freakdom San Francisco had to offer. San Francisco was once where all the disaffected, small town expatriates landed. Everybody who just could not make it work where they were and managed to find passage, found some kind of refuge there, a collaborative din of the damaged.
It is hard to say whether my fledgling butch identity merely morphed to compliment each new girlfriend or if the hollowness of each new apparition just pitifully begged for somatic legitimacy from the eyes of a new lover. Regardless, I hurt a lot of people. Twenty years later, there are probably still a handful that would not talk to me if we ran into each other on the street. I was cute for the very first time in my life, and apparently, this was too much power for me to handle. I simply experienced this as a blur of chaotic compulsion, untethered to any intimate connection or sense of self. I was a cocky and selfish and ill-equipped to make better of the cacophonous, kaleidoscopic upheaval that was San Francisco in the 1990’s. I didn’t even know it was special until years later. If Dominant Culture wages war within each new psyche, this decade, in this place gave space for riot. Whenever briefly unoccupied with my own defense, if the veils of shame and penitence fluttered aside, stunning gestures of coup found my spine.
The 90’s also gave me Pally.
backward baseball cap in the middle.
Pally was completely unimpressed with my swagger. She thought my girlfriend collection was dumb. It’s like she could actually see a person past the facade and seemed to like me. Gee was my protector, Pally was my guide, a mentor of sorts. She taught me things by laughing at me, and thereby somehow illuminating the folly of so many of my attachments to norms of propriety and appearance. She taught me about rock and roll. She taught me about drugs. And there may have been some sex, in that Ancient Greek kinda way. I had a reverence for Pally, still do. I watched the way she saw people and aspired to her instincts. She helped the world seem less intimidating by showing me that it was just full of people. She even introduced me to my first wife, or more precisely, told us to date each other instead of both being in love with her, which we did, and it was a really good thing, for a really long time.
It’s so hard to sort out which stories to tell, that are truly relevant to the story of Pi, which is the story I intended to tell. I think they are all important to the story, but perhaps most important to reading the story is just enough to make it about everyone. My first time in a gay bar, the damage of the eighties, the dissent of the nineties, my personal flaws and struggles, and the significance of a couple of relationships are all part of an identifiable path. I ran away again to Minnesota at the end of 1999. I found my tent in the woods in an abandoned VFW in South Minneapolis, surrounded by runaways. I probably would have made more money working for Burger King…
Another Pride Season came and went this summer as it does every summer. What does that mean anymore? Did you go? Were you inspired? The Homocorporate Jamboree is part of Americana now. Should we still bother to believe in the Gay Holiday Spirit? Should we yet look upon the trails of rainbow glitter, dusting the urine-soaked sidewalks with wide-eyed wonder imagining the glorious, radical fairy that may have left us a shimmery trail of hope for profound subversion and true transgressive potential? Do Towanda and the goddess still swell within your vagina as big dykes on big bikes rumble past, engines rattling your diaphragm? Are you truly Proud? Or has the HRC and Absolut Vodka stolen our magic beans forever?
When was the last time you truly felt that gushy, choked-up, heart-pride at the beauty of the solidarity of a bunch of freaky misfits engaging in the simple, profound bravery of resistance? I’m not talking about that feeling that you get when you’re at some awesome, completely self-aware activist fundraiser, watching yet another performance by that local queer artist that seems to land every activist fundraiser gig, that you’re secretly not into, but you can’t wait to tweet about it anyway. I’m not talking about facebook proud. I am talking about that rare moment when you suddenly realize that you are in that spontaneous, organic location of choice… providential, morality-forming choice. And you choose correctly, courageously, with your whole heart. This can happen when you simply chose to be utterly possessed and cosmically aligned to the unexpectedly compelling queer performance art. In that moment, when you watched that aging trans-woman, whose voice was cracking while you were sobbing, sing Christina Aguilera’s “I Am Beautiful”, you understood, completely, you might kill or die for her because nothing else is as important to vanquishing evil in the world as her bravery. You let that experience change you. Good and evil may again reveal themselves when you choose to stay on the front line of a riot because you watched the cops, in full riot gear mace the people standing next to you, who (not surprisingly) happened to be transwomen, and your initial impulse to provide care or help them escape, transformed into fanatical awe, watching five of them simultaneously draw mace from their own purses to return the gesture. The fire-hoses did not move you. And maybe, at some point, you saw, in an instant, an unlikely opportunity to actualize a fantasy of a physical sanctuary and community venue for the purpose of fomenting that exact feeling of pride and that rare potential solidarity you feared was fading with each passing Pride Season? You knew you could actually do something real for the community you have most admired and loved, but it was a huge risk. Would you take it? Even if it meant there would be nothing else in your life? And you could lose everything? Is that swelling in your heart real or are you just having an mid-life identity crisis? Does it matter? Because if you truly believe in the Spirit of Queer Past and you let it fill you with gooey psuedo-nationalistic, epic We Are The Champions Pride, is it any less of a miracle when what you envisioned actually manifests in the world? Is there anything else that you are doing with your life that might end up being as important to you as creating something that touches others and changes things, just a little? What are you willing to give up to see what your heart desperately wants in the world? To overthrow cynicism, even for a tiny fraction of your life?
Queers aren’t what they used to be. It’s probably time to refresh the taxonomy of queer. To me, it feels like a purely emotional and moral classification. Anyone who is not an asshole, but must also be some some sort of awesome. This is important because queer still has potential. Queer still antagonizes the foundational assumptions of the dominant, Western, cultural paradigm – sex and gender. The regulatory norms of the dominant culture still fuck everybody up. They also undergird the principles of colonial capitalism which are, at heart, paternalistic and cause unimaginable destruction and suffering globally. This is not friendly paternalism, dad is an evil dick. Perhaps you’re wondering what this has to do with Gay Pride. The only thing that has ever kept the zombie apocalypse at bay throughout human history is the magnetism of the outcast, the gumption of the underdog, pirate mojo, and the “Pride” of moral certitude in acts of solidarity and resistance to a common evil. Being gay has become kind of boring…and worse than that, lots and lots of the younger generation of queers seem to be pretty ok with that. The rich, old Republican dykes and fags are a lost cause, but it’s the kids I’m worried about. My worst fear is that they never get to experience that cool feeling that is sort of like when a group of improbable heroes in a cheesy action movie are strutting together in slow motion to face impossible odds. That feeling actually happens in real life and it is the only thing that has ever organized people and started movements. Did anybody remember to pass the torch?
I will be the first to admit that I am one of those disparaging, crotchety, aging Gen-X’er that too often and too vocally laments the loss of the nineties. I bark and bark about the demise of the music and the politics, the fashion and the spirit of that decade. I growl about “kids today” and I confess to having called them whiny, overly sensitive, boring, and mostly big pussies. (Don’t talk to me about my use of the word pussy.) And I am not alone in freaky, wrinkly-tattoo, used-to-be-angry-now-I’m-just-grumpy geezertown. Courtney Love wrote a cute little song a couple years ago about (in my reading) an aging nineties rock star’s annoyance toward Millennial’s insipid pop, called Skinny Little Bitch. A lyrical sampling…
And you would be oh so dumb to fuck with me
Cause baby you’re much too young to end up with me…
In my vile sex horror and my cheap drug hell
I am all the things you’ll never live to tell
And you will never see the light
I’ll just obscure it out of spite…
Skinny Little Bitch, Skinny Little Bitch…
God I love that woman. I have also listened to human interest stories on NPR that suggest that the lack of unstructured playtime and over-protective or indulgent parenting might be contributing to a generation of young adults with stunted social coping skills and underdeveloped life strategies. NPR is always so polite. But then I read Jack Halberstam’s recent blog, “You Are Triggering Me: the Neo-Liberal Rhetoric of Harm, Danger, and Trauma” which largely echoes many of my own complaints. As I was reading it, I found it wholly entertaining. Yeah! Put a trigger warning on my fat, dyke, tranny, hairy tits and ass! Yeah! I was completely ready to roll my eyes at any critiques. But, I read about four or five responses to his article and found, at least, a handful of compelling counterpoints, most significantly that this esteemed, published, queer theorist in academia leveled critiques at the proliferation of rhetorical constraints on academic queer theory ironically created largely by the work of established queer theorists. This started an internal critique of my own belligerence. I realized that I have friends in their twenties, many of whom have heard my rants, who I like and respect very much. I have experienced a great deal of intelligence and wit from some young people recently. It is not entirely helpful for me to bully youth into adversity or even make them do pushups every time they whine. I don’t want to be an old hater. But, something is nagging at me. Something is missing that I don’t think has ever been missing in a young generation. What is it? Am I just out of touch?
Also, let us not forget to place this whole polemic squarely in the unavoidable poo-pile of privilege into which all mostly white, largely academic, socially urbanized and queerified mo’s are sure to step and then act like everybody’s got shit on their shoes. Young, educated privileged queers, are you sure you have sufficient training and experience to create a fluffy cloud of verbal prophylactics that speaks to and for everyone in the community? And hey, grumpy old gender studies professor, have you done your due diligence and qualified your curmudgeonry with deconstructive, anti-colonial critique? I will point out that nobody in this debate is calling young transwomen, especially poor transwomen, or transwomen of color overly sensitive. And I’d wager that they are probably not present at many backyard safety summits that alter queer custom and speech for their benefit. And that is because transwomen of color do not now, nor did they forty-five years ago, have the luxury of expecting a world free from potential harm. They are still fighting for that. While all the gays are getting married and adopting babies or riding their fixed-gears in a polyamorous peloton, transwomen are still fighting for basic human consideration. In case you missed the first day of Queer History 101, it was transwomen who fought back at Stonewall in 1969. A couple years earlier, it was transwomen who rioted at Compton Cafeteria in San Francisco. It was these events that precipitated the great, slogging, back-biting circus that has been the GLBT Movement for the past forty-five years. Transwomen were fighting against police harassment and brutality. They were fighting against housing and employment discrimination. They were fighting for their personal safety and individual freedom. And we find out from Time Magazine this year, that transgender issues are “America’s next civil rights frontier”. The concerns discussed in the article are exactly the same as they were half a century ago. “It Gets Better”, but not for everyone.
The Time article begins with, “Nearly a year after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, another social movement is poised to challenge deeply held cultural beliefs.” There are so many things wrong with that sentence, that I’ve been unable to move my head for a half-hour trying to figure out where to begin. I’m not going to bitch about Time or the journalist. They both get the ‘way-to-go mainstream publication’ pat on the head. You have exceeded my expectations of you which are zero. However, queers, I have higher expectations of you. It is your fault this sentence was published. First of all, it would appear that the gay and lesbian agenda of legalized marriage is being juxtaposed to simply being transgendered as similar challenges to dominant culture. This might imply that the movements have something to do with each other, but wait, “another social movement is poised”. This mainstream, and traditionally conservative publication has casually named something that should cause shame in the hearts of every Wells Fargo banking, Chipoltle eating, rainbow bracelet wearing, Pride Parade enjoying mother fucker. There was never a T in GLBT. Transpeople and gender deviants have always born the brunt of societal discrimination, violence, and exclusion, not to mention all of these things from within their own supposed movement as well. They started a movement that has been so shitty to them, that it is not surprising at all to find that mainstream America thinks it’s a brand new “frontier”.
To those of you that believe in the efficacy of an incremental civil rights strategy…well, yes, certain things do change, but it appears to be at the cost of reinforcing by renegotiating a timelessly brutal matrix of oppressive power dynamics. By simply expanding the obligatory guest list of those vying for a seat at the table of dominant class entitlements, you just make the bouncers bigger assholes. The categories of exclusions become ever more specialized and aggressively policed (often most enthusiastically by the newly entitled). Racism and classism, you are like gravity, nothing on earth escapes your force. Gender, however it is perceived internally and externally has everything to do with everything you do every day everywhere. These mega-categories influence the power dynamic of every single human interaction we have. And no matter how much you think has changed in the last fifty years, the dominant model of power in the Western World has really not changed at all. That’s why getting married became so much more important to gays than any other queer issue that had anything to do with poverty, race, or gender presentation. But I know why those gays fought for that. They were willing to leave the dominant regulatory norms in place and assimilate as much as possible to the dominant model, to gain access to not only legal entitlements, but a certain gain in social cachet. That happens in all social justice movements. But, something sincerely troubles me about the queers that seem so aware of all of these easily identifiable problems with mainstream G&L politics. Something diabolical has seized the great tentacles of traditional, American, clumsy, shit-kickin oppression, against which it was so satisfying to mobilize, and trained them into millions of tiny, wiggly, tickly tadpoles of easily consumable, oppression-friendly, magic chicken fingers that make complacency delicious.
The real reason that some of us old nineties activists get so grumpy about the younger generation of activists is because it actually seems to us that oppression in the fringe is getting more severe, and the global situation is becoming more dangerous. When we look for signs of clever and functional resistance, we often only find facebook links to Jon Stewart or Beyonce. I honestly don’t have any answers. It’s my fault, too. The main reason I started this blog is that I’ve been having a very difficult time finding my shine. I don’t know how to begin to fight the situation we are in. I have been transitioning for almost four years. I look like a middle-aged white man. Perhaps the absence of daily micro-aggresions has dried up my access to outsider magic. At least I know what I’m missing. Nothing can take away my personal history and my memories. Or my stories. That’s what this personal project is for. Right now, it is all that I have to give. I am hoping, by the end of telling my story, I will have more. However, to those adults who were born after I graduated high school, you killed rock ‘n’ roll, so I have to think that you don’t know what you’re missing. Perhaps you think my emphasis on the emotive power of the Spirit of Queer Past is corny. It is. But, I got to live a real life Fairy tale. I know a story seems anticlimactic after all of my proselytizing , but a good story is a much more efficient way to pass on what you think is important and it is the best reason to risk it all.
So clap for Tinkerbell. And I will tell you a story of fairy dust and pirates, real heroes and real villains, and destiny made. And just like a creepy, animated Tom Hanks movie that makes you cry when the kid hears the jingle bell or a creepy Tom Hanks prison movie that makes you cry when you realize that a death row prisoner is kinda like Jesus or something, you will get that cheesy, childlike gut rush of endorphins and believe again in queer miracles.
This will be the story of Pi. It was a queer nightclub in Minneapolis that I began to envision in early 2006. It closed in late 2008. Though short-lived, the enormity of the experience has delayed it’s telling until now. I will try to be more diligent about posting the chapters of the story in a more timely manner. I honestly have just felt intimidated about writing it. I don’t want to fuck it up.