Pi Love, Ch. 5, “What are we going to do tonight, Brain?”

St. Vern/Virgil, Patron Saint of hats with beavers on them.

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.

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

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.

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.

image

respect

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

sad to see the cheese sauce go

 

the cart and barrel method.

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.

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.

Pi Love, Ch. 4, Queering the Legion

always cover genitals during astral projection

always cover genitals during astral projection

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

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.

 

 

Pi Love, Preface (Do You Still Believe in Fairies?)

2011-06-27-Gay_Pride_Parade_NYC_2011_H   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?  images-4

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… tumblr_lgocat5ryr1qdhwt8

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.  joker-clapping-hollywoods-best-unscripted-moments  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.

Me and Caroll and Chaz and Cher

chastity then gettyScanned Image 140800017When I was two years old, my favorite TV show was The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.  It was 1972. Perhaps this is my first memory or perhaps my mother has told the story so many times that I think I can remember it.  I believe I do remember watching one of the many times when Sonny and Cher used to close the show by bringing out Chastity for their final number.  I would insert myself into the TV with them.  I might have made my first petty comparisons between my cuteness and Chastity’s cuteness, preferring my own.  Perhaps I might have thought that I would make a more suitable famous TV child.  Apparently, I used to carry around a picture of Cher with me wherever I went.  I also told my day-care providers that was, in fact, Sonny and Cher’s child and that I was just on loan to my parents.  They must have told my folks, because my parents started calling me Tara Bono, which was eventually shortened to just Bo.  This is the name my parents have called me my entire life.  Fortunately, it has  enduring gender neutrality.

Thus began the paranormal resemblance of my life to Chastity Bono’s.  We are almost exactly the same age.  We both came out as lesbians at around sixteen.  We both transitioned later in life.  I didn’t think about it much over the years.  It was a cute story my mom liked to tell about my childhood.  My mom.  She is not like Cher in so many ways.  Who is?  But, she is pretty and thin.  There is also something relatively uncommon about her femininity and presence that is quite Cherlike. My mother has a larger than normal life aura surrounding her, like Cher.  Not in a theatrical sense (although she has that side), more associated with her superhuman competency.  Think Annette Bening in American Beauty or Robin Wright in House of Cards.  I just realized that Kevin Spacey is the husband in both of those shows – weird.  She is super capable and really pretty and she is kind of a big deal in her own community.  She also has a sense of entitlement that borders on the masculine.  Many pretty women know that they can manipulate because of their beauty.  Caroll and Cher seem to bend cumulative human folly to their will, using their beauty merely as a jedi mind trick that disguises their true alien forms.  Their looks are not the most significant thing about either of them.  They are significant people.  As to their femininity, there is something additionally performative about it for both of them, almost as if it is not a naturally occurring gender role.  There is a similarity to the way Cher wears a Bob Mackie spider web dress and the way my mother dons a St. John’s knit pant suit.  They are intimidating, not titillating.  I think what I am saying is that my mother and Cher actually are drag queens.  What choice did Chaz and I have but to become men?

There is a huge difference between a drag queen and a masculine woman.  One is entertaining and powerful.  The awkwardness of the other is just uncomfortable for everyone.

Occasionally, we would do our best to make our mothers happy.

Scanned Image 140800009chastity:cher
Scanned Image 140800012CHER & DAUGHTER, CHASTITY BONO. PIC.GREGG DE GUIRE/LFI

But the transitional lesbian mullets happened…

Scanned Image 140800013mullet

which is actually the fault of…

rosie mullet

And this, of course, happened…

Scanned Image 140810000 Exclusive- Chastity Bono & Girlfriend Out in LA

but then this…

DSC_0040  hot chaz
Unlike my mother, Cher has another child, a son. I think his name is Who Gives a Shit.  I believe Cher rolled her eyes upon hearing he was getting married.  Cisboys with drug problems are boring.  I think Chaz and I have mothers who actually ended up really liking us as people.  And I’m pretty sure we are the only ones who understand our mothers.

While I was at grad school in Boston, about a year after I had started transitioning, my mother called one night.  Her voice was a bit frantic.  “I need you to send me a current picture of yourself.  A good one.  I can pay for you to have one taken if you don’t have one.”  I say, “I think I have one, ma.  What do you need it for?”  She explained, “I got tickets to Dancing with the Stars…and it’s for the night that Cher is going to be there.”

Because my mother is magic, she just assumed that she was going to be able to meet Cher and tell her the whole story.  She also told me I was more handsome and a better dancer than Chaz, but she is my mother.  I sent her a picture I had actually taken for my girlfriend back in Minneapolis, so I was trying to look hot, which of course, my mom loved, because she’s just so happy that I’m good-looking now.  “You always did suck at being a girl,” is what she said when I told her I was transitioning.

My mother took the picture with her to Dancing with the Stars, but she didn’t meet Cher.  They stuck her way up on the third tier in the back.  I’m sure Cher would have taken care of that shit had she known my mother was there.  I’m not sure if Chaz and I are evidence for some obscure psychological template.  This is what happens when magic drag queens raise butch dykes.  I’m sure we are very different people, simultaneous hairdos aside.  I wonder if Chaz dresses in drag every Halloween like I do.  I bet I walk better in heels.

Wet Dream Messenger

I’ll measure time
I’ll measure height
I’ll calculate
My birthrite
Good Lord I’m big
I’m heading on
Man-size 
Got my leather boots on – PJ Harvey, Man-size

Are wet dreams common?  For whom?  I haven’t heard much talk about them lately.  I have had one.  It visited me when I was around sixteen.  It was a ‘point-of-view’ production.  I was driving an old muscle car with black leather bucket seats and a long-handled gear shift.  I was alone, driving fast.  I especially remember the sky as a hi-def, David Lynch dream sequence kind of hot orange.  There were mountains on both sides and I was approaching a narrow, flat bridge across an impossibly wide and deep gorge.  I felt rising pleasure and excitement.  I looked down and noticed my big, hard cock in my own left hand.  The mountains receded from around me as I drove faster onto the bridge.  I watched myself stroke myself faster as I drove faster, not looking up at the road.  As I was about to cum, the car/I veered sharply to the left, quickly breaking through the low guard rail and into mid-air.  I never saw the bottom and I didn’t fall for long.  I woke up sweating and panting with throbbing clit.

I am not someone who remembers my dreams often, nor even many singular waking events in my life, but this was an omen with no intention of being forgotten.  The uncanny physicality of the actual dream and of me and of the darkness of my bedroom continues to stick to me, though it’s been almost thirty years (or more, my age is the most arbitrary part of this narrative).  I immediately thought I had just witnessed how I died in a past life.  This is hilarious, if true, that there may be some part of my eternal soul that is so fascinated with my own penis and touching it and admiring it that it not only caused my death at least once, but that this self-destructive compulsion follows me into every incarnation.  I am still a little cockcentric, though I do not possess one in this lifetime.

Occasionally, I pull out this wet dream to help me think critically about gender.  I think it is a versatile metaphor for gender experience.  Had I been born with a penis, I imagine that I would have been experienced this dream as fairly unremarkable.  Having a penis and dreaming about touching it probably doesn’t stimulate much analysis of the link between masculinity and a cock in cis-men.  I have had sex in other dreams with my own body, but never resulting in spontaneous orgasm.  I don’t recall ever having another dream where I so viscerally embodied an alternate flesh.  It felt real.  This sensation of ‘realness’ and its fickle presence is a bit of what I believe gender performance desires.  It was probably the most experiential moment of maleness in my life, but much of the time, I don’t even know if ‘male’ is what I have wanted to achieve.

This vivid dream, an altered state of consciousness is not completely unlike the daily involuntary masculinity I perform.  My masculinity perpetually defies the fact of my body.  When I am alone, I must touch my female genitals to masturbate, though I may be fantasizing about having an erect penis and putting it where I imagine it would feel good to my phantom limb.  When I am not alone, my gender performance, to the extent that it is successful and fulfilling for myself and others, must necessarily be collaborative.  When I put my silicon penis on and have sex with my girlfriend, we must both suspend disbelief to achieve the desired intimacy.  It is infinitely hotter to tell someone to suck your cock, than to suck your strapon.  I cannot feel my penis inside her, but the illusion helps me orgasm nonetheless.  Practically speaking, it might seem more desirable to have her go down on the anatomy I do have, but the reaffirmation of my masculine identity is just as important, if not more, than an orgasm.  This is why stone butches exist.  At least they used to.

When surrounded by other urban queers, being a masculine woman is an intelligible identity, easily integrated into social discourse, verbal and non-verbal.  When in normative surroundings, the dominant paradigm polices and excludes and mocks the masculine woman.  Cis-gendered, heteronormative people sometimes don’t like to play dress up with you and your arduously crafted gender identity.  Suddenly, the recollection that your masculinity is a dirty adolescent dream you once had hits you like shame pie in your girl face.  In the life of a young butch, those moments of cognitive dissonance assemble to form a relentless clown parade of humiliation.  Oh, young butches, I just want to send you all to Pippi Longstocking Island with horses, and femmes, and proud moms who never want you to wear a dress, and dads you can beat at basketball.

At forty-one, I made the decision to transition.  Into what, is unclear to me, possibly because I am one of those people who uncritically link maleness with penises.  But, I love taking testosterone.  Adult puberty is so much more fun than menopause.  One of the multitude of benefits that I perceive for my life is simply the public plausibility of my act.  It is exhausting to be a constant subject of internal conflict for others.

Once I had a dream that I was a man.  I came all over myself, then I died.  The body that bares the life that I have had deserves the entitlements it has earned and the pleasures it can experience.

Silence my lady head
Get girl out of my head
Douse hair with gasoline
Set it light and set it free, PJ Harvey, Man-size

Suspension of disbelief or willing suspension of disbelief is a term coined in 1817 by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a “human interest and a semblance of truth” into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative.

I’m too old to do this.

Image

I tell stories all the time.  I think I am a good storyteller.  I think I have good stories to tell.  That is what I have instead of a fake job at Target Corporate that doesn’t even make sense.  That’s me in the picture.  I was taking that for my new girlfriend.  I don’t remember if I sent that one to her or not.  That’s my little apartment in Brookline, MA.  I stayed there while I was getting my master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School.  I went to Harvard because the dyke bar in Minneapolis that I opened, closed and I was emotionally broken and forty and I didn’t know what else to do.  My new girlfriend stayed in Minneapolis.  Long-distance relationships are horrible and I was crazy jealous and had just started taking testosterone.  You can see the hint of a new goatee as well as a little cleavage under my creepy bathrobe, which I think is hot.  I’ve been home for a couple years now, and things are great.  I just have some stories to tell.  I have more facial hair now, but I still have my tits.  I wanted to call this blog ‘hairy tits’, but people keep cringing every time I say that.  I do actually want people to cringe a little at this blog, though.  I want commentary and resistance and conversation.  I want to talk about sex and gender and body parts (silicon or flesh) in a more uncomfortable way.  The blogs I’ve read about queers, transmen, and butches (and that’s not really that many) have been pretty tame and have narratives we have become comfortable with.  They talk about bowties, and binding, and bathrooms, which are fun and fuzzy subjects that warm the queer cockles like a drag queen doing Whitney Houston, and these stories create community and are important.  I think my transition is one of my least interesting stories, but it will be fun to read, nonetheless.  I am a lazy, lazy transman, if you insist upon calling me that.  I do like muscles and wanting to fuck all the time.  I miss San Francisco in the 90’s.  I miss punk rock.  I miss sex-positive, bald, dyke whores… most of the time.  I am also getting to old for that shit all the time.  I do not miss being a baby butch disco queen in LA in the 80’s, but that happened.  I really like being happy and well-rested.  I have a lot of great stories though.  I wanted to write a book, but Katrina told me that people blog now.  After much initial resistance, I found the rambling serial format might actually work better.  My best stories are about opening a dyke bar, but that requires background.  I want to talk about sex and gender deeply.  I want to know about your dark sides and tell you about mine, because I tend to think our common narratives, as valuable as they are to our community, are mostly incomplete, and largely horseshit.  My dream would be a community of weirdo truth-tellers. Let’s fix modern psychology together and even teach Judith Butler a thing or two about gender.  Mostly, I’m going to tell stories though, really good ones.