100 Funerals

I have been working on this post for the last 2 hours. It’s not especially elegant, but some things need to be put plainly:

Growing up, coming of age, and coming out in San Francisco during The Plague Years (I was born in 1983 to hippie parents with a lot of queer friends, and I came out young in 1994) profoundly shaped my relationships with death, sex, desire, notions of “safety” and safer sex, chronic illness, queerness, perversion, politics, communities of care, and my body. I am still puzzling all of these lessons out today, at 30, when the political and social landscape of both queerness and HIV is very different indeed from what it was in the late 80s and early 90s.

I am also thinking about Trans Day of Remembrance just a few days ago, and International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers coming up later in December. There is a lot of overlap between these three days — TDOR, World AIDS Day, and Day to End Violence — for me. I’m pretty damn sure I’m not the only person with that experience.

I am also thinking about the (mostly) older queer men (both cis and trans) who were my pervert mentors when I came out into kink in my late teens and early 20s. About the rich and under-valued and often ignored history of dykes & fags in queer s/m communities crossing orientation lines to play and fuck and love and, above all, fight for and take care of each other during awful times. About the self-described “Old Faggot” friend (and at the time, fuckbuddy) who I used to organize safer sex parties with, who taught me most of what I know about modelling safer sexual behavior and standards in community. And who said to me: “It just… changed how I approach death, Gina. After my 100th funeral in a row, something inside me shifted. It had to!”

I’m grieving the friends and family members I’ve lost to AIDS today (my Uncle Dennis in particular, who passed when I was 9). I am very thankful that my friends who are positive have, for the most part, access to baseline decent care and better options than what was available even a decade ago, let alone 20 or 30 years ago. I’m thankful that an HIV diagnosis is no longer an automatic death sentence, that many people with HIV live very, very long lives in 2013.

That said: AIDS is as much a political disease as it is a disease of the body. Institutionalized homophobia and transphobia and racism, stigma against sex workers, and stigma against injection drug users still run rampant, still do damage. This fight isn’t over. And I don’t want any of us to ever have to go to a 100 funerals in a row again.

my grandmother’s granddaughter

  • My Nana started training me in strega — specifically, in practicing strega protection rites — starting when I was a teenager. I don’t talk about this in specifics very often, because my religious practices, while deeply important to me, are also honestly pretty private.

  • Omertà is, you know, kind of an important fucking thing? And as I have said here before, omertà is not just about mafioso bullies with guns, although of course when most people without the cultural knowledge that I have hear the term, what they think of is the Cosa Nostra.

  • But my very recent ancestors stood down the State and the Mafia more than once, so? (There are some pretty incredible family stories about my great-grandparents. I will tell them here some time, but that is for later.)

  • Omertà, as I understand it, in it’s very old world, pre-mafioso meaning, is more about the preciousness of some things. About what’s for insiders and what’s for outsiders. Sometimes, you just don’t wanna give everything away, esp. to people who aren’t gonna get it.

  • So. I don’t talk about my religious practices in much detail. Some things are best left between you and your makers.

  • And: I just sent a note to a friend in the queer community who is in particular need of protection right now, offering up my services in that realm. Because I have been trained well.

  • This didn’t feel casual, but it did feel natural to me. Like, you know, it’s just something I fucking do when someone needs help, right? The same way I pass on the name & number of a good therapist or clinic or arts space or publisher or whatever the hell else. That this is just another resource to provide, another connection to build, the same ways I provide resources and connections to lots of people every day. Like, what?

  • And then I had The Lightning Bolt Moment of: “Oh. Wow. Damn… I am officially my grandmother’s granddaughter.”

there is more church in my future

Today was a very, very, very good day. I feel awesome and bad-ass and in my power and energized, in short.

That said, I am a liiiiiittle sad that I forgot that it was Ash Wednesday and forgot to go to services tonight.

Esp. because the last time I went to church on Ash Wednesday (last year):
1) The priest was hella sweet & hella queer.
2) The priest loved my St. James Infirmary hoodie and was hella excited that I was a former St. James employee & connected to sex worker community.
3) One of the other parishioners recognized me from a bathhouse (specifically, from an all-genders sex party that was held at a bathhouse that is usually dudes-only). He was all adorably like “Hey!!! I know you from…” and then he looked kinda stricken and dropped his voice to a whisper “Oh, wait, should I say that out loud? Oops.” (I smiled and said it was fine, ‘cause it was.)

I am really thankful that a church like this exists, and that it is not even the queer church in town (but it is obvs a church with lots of queer folks front & center). Just… First off, it is amazing to live somewhere where there is more than one spiritual community option for queer genderqueer pervert sex worker outsider me. And it was pretty amazing, last year on Ash Wednesday, to go to this church I’d only heard about in passing, and pretty magically & unexpectedly have all those parts of myself acknowledged & affirmed, to have all of those parts of myself actually get to come to the table.

I’m realizing as of late, for a lot of reasons, that I really need to get myself back to church. And to that church, specifically.

tell me what you do and that’ll tell me a lot about who you are.

Can somebody remind me of the history/story behind National Coming Out Day? I am curious.

Also, why the hell not: Queer femme genderqueer pervert. And a whole bunch of other things, too, but I suppose those’ll suffice for now.

*

For someone as deeply integrated into queer community and the queer lit & arts world as I am, I’m also less and less and less interested in identity politics these days. I’m a lot more intrigued by what people do out in the world to make it a better place than what they “are,” esp. because (speaking from my own experience, at least) sexuality and gender are both so malleable. But I also get that the lines between “doing” and “being” can be fuzzy, and I see the importance/strategy of something like NCOD.

I guess what I’m saying is, tell me what you do and that’ll tell me a lot about who you are.

* * *

Edited to add: See also, I am *well-aware* that I am saying all this as someone who has the HUGE privilege of living in a very queer metropolis, and who also mostly grew up in said queer metropolis.

Although, I gotta say, my access to “safe” queer youth spaces was hella complicated by my family’s class background, my age (I initially came out when I was 11), and the ‘hood I lived in. Getting a scholarship to the fancy-ass, hella liberal private high school across town from the Lakeview/Ingleside and bussing out there every day COMPLETELY changed my relationship to my queerness as a teenager. I went from getting queer-bashed every single fucking day for 3 years at my middle school/out in my neighborhood to a high school where I was able to articulate who I was without much anxiety. That scholarship made my life infinitely safer in so many ways, and I am still grateful for it, and god, the injustice of the class/money elements still make me sad and furious. Esp. for the other queer kids in my neighborhood/at my school who weren’t scholarship babies.

Anyway, my feelings about identity politics remain, well, complicated. But believe me, I get the importance of coming out and how existence-affirming it can be. And I find that, even in the queer urban bubbles I tend to move in, I end up doing quite a lot “coming out,” esp. around gender and sex work and pervert and disability stuff (perhaps even more than sexuality/sexual identity stuff, actually — but maybe that is another conversation?). Part of why I work so hard in queer arts community is because I KNOW how life-changing it is to see reflections of yourself in art and media.

So, like I said, it is complex.

"If it weren’t for the unconventionality of my desires, my mind might never have been forced to reckon with my body."

— Alison Bechdel, from Are You My Mother?

Oh oh oh oh OHHH. This line just shot me right in the fucking heart.

"

I used to work on the market on Saturdays, and after school on Thursdays and Fridays, packing up. I used the money to buy books. I smuggled them inside and hid them under the mattress. Anybody with a single bed, standard size, and a collection of paperbacks, standard size, will know that 72 per layer can be accommodated under the mattress. By degrees my bed began to rise visibly, like the Princess and the Pea, so that soon I was sleeping closer to the ceiling than to the floor. My mother was suspicious-minded, but even if she had not been, it was clear that her daughter was going up in the world.

One night she came in and saw the corner of a paperback sticking out from under the mattress. She pulled it out and examined it with her flashlight. It was an unlucky choice; DH Lawrence, Women in Love. Mrs Winterson knew that Lawrence was a satanist and a pornographer, and, hurling it out of the window, she rummaged and rifled and I came tumbling off the bed while she threw book after book out of the window and into the backyard. I was grabbing books and trying to hide them, the dog was running off with them, my dad was standing helpless in his pyjamas.

When she had done, she picked up the little paraffin stove we used to heat the bathroom, went into the yard, poured paraffin over the books and set them on fire. I watched them blaze and blaze and remember thinking how warm it was, how light, on the freezing Saturnian January night. I had bound them all in plastic because they were precious. Now they were gone.

In the morning there were stray bits of texts all over the yard and in the alley. Burnt jigsaws of books. I collected some of the scraps. What does Eliot say? These fragments I have shored against my ruins …

I realised something important: whatever is on the outside can be taken away at any time. Only what is inside you is safe. I began to memorise texts. We had always memorised long chunks of the Bible, and it seems that people in oral traditions have better memories than those who rely on printed text. The rhythm and image of poetry make it easier to recall than prose, easier to chant. But I needed prose too, and so I made my own concise versions of 19th-century novels – going for the talismanic, not worrying much about the plot. I had lines inside me – a string of guiding lights. I had language.

"

— More from Winterson’s All About My Mother. Sitting here riveted. Just go read the whole thing, already.

"So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy."

From Jeanette Winterson’s “All About My Mother.” The whole piece is riveting & gorgeous, but this bit in particular made me pump my fist in the air.

David Bowie’s “Sweet Thing,” LIVE, & then some really awesome footage of Bowie talking about his artistic process (including writing from cut-ups). This is both totally hot & totally fascinating to me.

I dressed up like a glam rock groupie for the Folsom Eve Perverts Put Out last night, so it feels appropriate to be watching this over Folsom weekend. I’ve said this before, and I really do mean it: Glam rock is not unlike fetish for me. I think that I wear glitter the way some people wear leather or latex. I say that genuinely, earnestly, with a totally straight face. Watching old videos on youtube like this is not unlike porn for me. Everybody has their kinks. For a multitude of reasons — most of which have to do with some of my more complicated gender/genderqueer stuff — this is one of mine. (I may write about that more at some point; I also may not.)

Also, geeking out for a minute: Apparently this is the only available footage of the Diamond Dogs tour floating around. It’s from a documentary called Cracked Actor that is all up on youtube. Also also, the “Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise)” song trilogy is probably my favorite thing Bowie has ever done of all time (“of all time!”). Thx, melissa.

"

You slip the record, still in its dust sleeve, out of the album jacket, and then you very gingerly slip the record out of its dust sleeve, being careful to only touch your fingertips to the very edges of the record, the label, and the spindle hole. “Oil from your hands is bad for the vinyl,” Dad said to me, but I’m not sure how true that is, whether that’s something Ma told Dad because it would actually protect the integrity of the vinyl, or something she told him because she was paranoid he’d ruin her records unless There Were Strict Rules. You set the record onto the player. You set the record player’s dial to 33 1/3. You lift the needle so that the record starts spinning, but you don’t drop the needle yet. You take out the vinyl cleaning tools, the soft velvety buffer with the tiny red bottle of cleaning fluid smartly tucked into its wooden handle, and the accompanying tiny brush. You brush the dust off the buffer with the tiny brush, you apply cleaning solution to only one edge of the buffer, and then you – gently! – run the buffer over the spinning record. First the edge with the cleaning solution, then the flatter part of the buffer to dry the cleaner off of the record. You brush any dust off the buffer with the little brush again. You nudge the needle over the record. Then you let it drop.

I remember this like it was yesterday, the same way I can recite half a dozen Catholic prayers at the drop of a hat even though my last catechism class was eighth grade. At 16, I loved the ritual of it, how it bordered on fetish, this weird little spell I’d cast to the gods of music and sex before I’d get lost in the reverie of whatever rockstar obsessed me that week. Putting a record on was a full-body sensory experience, something you had to do with care and intention, with the right kind of touch and attention to detail. Not unlike fucking, I was learning. That summer, the summer that everything was electric and shimmering, I’d put on the giant geeky headphones my dad had found at a garage sale, the ones that cocooned my ears entirely and made the music my whole world. I’d drop the needle onto Hounds of Love and lie on the living room floor and writhe.

"

— from something new & as of yet untitled. there will be more.

"New York City, August 1999. Oona and I sat outside on the stoop of my friend Elise’s apartment in the East Village. The 100 block of St. Mark’s Place, between 8th & 9th Streets and First & Second Avenues. Such a dreamy location, especially for a queer punk 16 year-old. I say punk, but really I was more New Wave, listening to the music that the kids who’d hung around St. Mark’s Place 10 or 15 years earlier had listened to: Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Patti Smith, Talking Heads. I started having sex that summer, and it was like everything in my world blew open, became filled with a mythic and endless possibility, the electric wonder of what it is to have a body. I was charged by touch, ruled by feeling, and like most teenagers, I had a soundtrack."

— from something new & as of yet untitled. there will be more.