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Maybe What Openness Is About

"Nobody Passes," Make/shift, Fall/Winter 2007

Waking up into this sinus headache drill, shoulders feeling like a collection of bruises, tension everywhere even in this soft and comfortable bed, do I have to get up? The clock: 2:45 p.m. I need more rest, but I have to keep my schedule overlapping somewhat with daylight or else I’ll sink further into that web of pain wrapping around exhaustion, fibromyalgia drama surrounding me, help!

I want to write about all of the moments on this book tour that send me to the sky and back again, to record and integrate all of this beauty both inside and outside all of my struggles with the everyday. Like in Minnesota when I’m having a surprise conversation in the kitchen with someone I literally just met, she’s already talking about the intersections of passing in the lives of the drag queens she helps with makeup: they’re engaged in these passing performances, but they’re also dealing with the passing crisis of immigration, trying to stay in this country instead of being forced to return to the places they fled. Exactly the kinds of intersections I’m examining in Nobody Passes, my new anthology. Then I go to take a shower, and when I reenter the room where I’m staying there’s a gift box on the bed. I untie the ribbon and inside the box is a cake decorated with all of these pastel sprinkles and larger decorations like sequins but not shiny—you eat them—the cake says: Nobody Passes. Except. Mattilda!

The truth is that I can’t separate the inspiration from the exhaustion, I want the rush from all these connections to bring me somewhere else but still I end up struggling to deal with the overwhelm of the everyday. Although I can feel myself changing in some sort of emotional way and that’s what I’m attempting to describe here: a collection of feelings, me. Perhaps it’s no surprise that I’m experiencing an internal space not unlike the intersectional politics of dissolution and deviance and defiance and disaster that Nobody Passes invokes. I feel the edges so much more here on tour, but also the possibility outside of collapse—I want to hold that.

When I’m touring, I need a bed in a room with a door that closes, plus a kitchen where I can cook big pots of vegan food—I need home, really, and what’s amazing is that I keep finding so many sweet people who welcome me into their queer homes. The hospitality is astounding, really, something like commitment even when we don’t know one another. Makes me wonder about that place where I usually live, what will it be like when I get back? I’m worried that I’ll fall into a hole—help, dig me out! 

Of course, I may need that hole to recover, but I’m worried that I’ll lose the raw and complex and rigorous engagement that I feel on this two-month tour—something explosive and saturated with emotion and vulnerability. Like when a college student tells me the gay-marriage movement is her life’s work, and asks what exactly I find racist and classist about it—and I’m able to answer with so much emotion about the violence of gentrification that gay assimilationists engage in, “beautifying” their neighborhoods by getting rid of people of color, immigrants, homeless people, seniors, people with AIDS, trans women, whores, and anyone else who gets in the way of property values; many of these gay gentrifiers originally fled scary places where they couldn’t express their gender, sexual, or social identities—they wanted to find somewhere safe and now they are so intent on policing the borders. My voice is filled with so much feeling and I can tell that at least I’m getting my point across; I want to continue this lightness in my eyes, even if it gives way to headache heartache. I don’t want to be overwhelmed again by the thought of carrying groceries, moving my luggage from car to train, sitting in the wrong chair, holding a book or magazine, sleeping—all of these things that give me pain.

How to challenge a world that wants you dead—that’s a skill I’ve cultivated, but still inside my body gives way. I try not to let that matter. Of course it matters.

Usually I cry while listening to the news, but one day I’m crying because one of my earlier hosts says he misses me. Or because someone says she’s buying Nobody Passes for her teenage daughter who is exploring “all the options.” Options—that’s what I’m interested in—creating more.

How to make all of this permanent even as my exhaustion sinks in, headache pushing eyelids forward and closed—that’s what I’m wondering. Not just when entering a crowd filled with so much emotion it waves around me, or not right when entering because that’s when my nerves always go crazy, but when I begin—when the crowd is with me and I’m with the crowd, yes.

A sense of my own history, that’s what I’ve been feeling on this tour. Like I’m finally managing to integrate all the parts of my life and so many people are asking about feminism, what is this radical queer feminism I invoke? A feminism I learned from whores and runaways, incest survivors, addicts, vegans, dykes, activists, a few fags, a few books. In Toronto, poet Tara-Michelle Ziniuk says, “you called it feminism and I called it anarchism and it’s the same thing,” and I love it when someone else’s analysis gives me insight into my own politics. 

Space: in Boston, I drive over the same bridge where I used to go when the after-hours club closed, driving back and forth across that bridge as the sun was coming up, on ecstasy it was like we were flying through the air and I will admit that I still like that feeling—not the drugs but the flying anyway.

But where does flying lead? Like after one particularly emotional event at Wagner College on Staten Island, where I got to spend time before my talk with the students and professor who brought me—I’m all upset that I didn’t take a photo of the audience, I mean I’m kind of choked up about it. That’s where this emotional access brings me—I’m immediately missing people I don’t necessarily know, which is maybe what openness is about.

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