“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.
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.
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.