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…
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.