Waiting for the Ambulance
"Assimilate My Purse," Maximumrocknroll, April 2006
It's ridiculous how many car accidents take place on the corner where I live. I can't really figure out why. It's a busy intersection, but not that busy. I mean, in the five years I've lived here, I've witnessed at least 20 accidents. Usually I hear the accident first, and then I look out the window -- I live five floors up, and a hundred feet back from the street, so I can see the whole intersection. A few months ago, a pedestrian got hit by a car, I looked out my window because someone was shrieking and the person who'd gotten hit was lying face down in the street, a crowd of people gathering. I thought the person was probably dead, because someone yelled: don't touch him!
I swear it took the ambulance at least 10 minutes to get there, and the fire station is only a block-and-a-half away -- someone could've run over within a minute or two. I was staring out the window, sobbing. Then two fire trucks finally arrived, followed by an ambulance, followed by two fire trucks from the other direction, another ambulance and another fire truck. Paramedics took the guy into an ambulance, but it didn't move for a long time so I think he was dead.
Then, just the other night, I heard another accident. Same scenario: I heard a scream, and a skidding car, then looked out the window -- a brown car was speeding off, there was someone crumbled on the ground with a smashed bike next to their body, a crowd gathering. I was shaking. Sometimes it's shocking to realize how awful people can be, that someone would run right into a person on a bike and just drive away. Of course this happens all the time -- the driver was probably smashed, and worried about getting arrested, or they didn't want their insurance premium to go up -- priorities.
The next day, I watched the first of many memorials from my window. A few days later, I learned more details: the car ran a red light, and Tucker, driving a bike, slammed into the car, rolled onto the windshield and the driver turned off their headlights and sped around the corner. Did you get that? The driver was thinking clearly enough to turn off their headlights in order to avoid detection. People are so horrible. This all just made me feel hopeless. I mean, we can't even stop cars from slamming into bicycles and killing people, and then driving off like nothing happened. How could we possibly even dream of ending the death penalty, or challenging US imperialism, or even banning cars on certain streets?
I didn't know Tucker, but s/he looked familiar, a 23-year-old queer/trans person who traveled in worlds familiar to me. A memorial grew on the corner: candles and photos and fabric and flowers, notes and dedications, a bicycle spray-painted white. After a week, someone tore it all down, removing any evidence.
Just after I learned about Tucker, I was reading a random article in the Bay Area Reporter, one of San Francisco's gay newspapers. I often try to avoid the BAR -- its pro-development, pro-cop, pro-marriage, assimilationist, celebrity-fawning, anti-poor politics are a little too much to handle on a regular basis. But sometimes it's good to know your enemies, and this is what I had in mind when reading an article by Molly McKay, current field director of Equality California, fond of showing up at pro-marriage demonstrations in a wedding gown. On the night that the US began bombing the Iraqi city of Falluja into rubble, Molly McKay was marching through the streets of San Francisco in a Statue of Liberty outfit to protest for "marriage equality."
So, in short, I was reading Molly McKay's article to look for more evidence of the complicity of mainstream gay people with state terror, but I found something that took me by surprise. It was an article about Nathan Kristoffersen, a 28-year-old gay man from a small town outside of Fresno, California, living with his Christian fundamentalist parents while also volunteering as the Madera County chapter coordinator for Equality California. On the morning of December 15, Nathan was allegedly found dead by his father on their front porch. According to the father, he found Nathan "down on his knees with his head at on his knees and his butt on his heels, facing away from the house." The coroner found no cause of death, and Nathan's sister stated that "Nathan had been called home by God." The family immediately cremated Nathan's body. In the obituary, Nathan's family asked for donations to be made in the name of an ex-gay church that actively promotes "conversion therapy."
McKay describes the funeral service, where, according to McKay, the minister explained that "God was calling [Nathan] home before Satan could cause any more torment in his life." In her article, McKay expresses a wish to disrupt the service, but instead she rushed to the coroner's office. The coroner confirmed that there were no drugs or alcohol in Nathan's system, only a high dose of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, within recommended dosage levels. The coroner suggested that perhaps these medications caused Nathan's body to shut down.
Okay, so let's review this information. An apparently healthy, 28-year old gay man is found dead in prayer position on the front porch of the house he shared with his Christian fundamentalist parents, who immediately cremate his body and claim that he was suddenly taken by God. What kind of Christian fundamentalists cremate their son? How often does a 28-year-old with no unusual drugs in his system just collapse into death?
Reading Nathan's story, I'm convinced that his parents killed him. I don't know if they literally killed him, then cremated the body to hide the evidence, or if someone else killed him, then they cremated the body to hide the evidence. Or if Nathan just suddenly died after 28 years of living with parents who wanted him dead. He'd survived for so long -- living with his Christian fundamentalist parents, he'd still managed to articulate a vision of queerness that involved gay journalism, support of abortion rights and health care for people with HIV and AIDS.
first impulse was to go down to Madera County and tell Nathan's parents that I knew they had killed them. I wanted to scare them. Then I wanted to write to Molly McKay, to express my horror and grief and ask her for more information. I'm not sure that Molly McKay would be interested in talking to me -- we were once scheduled to appear on the same panel at posh Stanford University, and I was told that she was outraged that we would be in the same room. The event was planned as a conversation between pro-marriage and anti-marriage queers. I wasn't able to attend. Neither was Molly McKay.
I often call attention to the ways in which gay marriage proponents further the goals of the Christian right by silencing any queers who oppose marriage as a central institution of anti-woman, anti-queer, anti-trans and anti-child violence. Gay marriage proponents are eager to further the media myth that there are only two sides to the gay marriage debate: foaming-at-the-mouth Christian fundamentalists who think gay marriage marks the death of Western civilization, and rabid gay assimilationists who think that gay marriage is the best thing since Will and Grace. This false polarization funds both Christian right organizations and marriage equality "nonprofits." While pro-marriage gays will go to great lengths to silence anti-marriage queers, Christian fundamentalists think we're all gonna burn in hell, with or without wedding rings.
So while I fantasize about confronting Nathan's parents, I also wonder about writing to Molly McKay. I'm not interested in perpetuating the idea of a unified or supportive "gay community," since I know this lie serves gay landlords who evict people with AIDS to get higher rents, gay bar owners who arrest homeless queers for getting in the way of happy hour, gay political consultants who engineer the election of anti-poor candidates, and gay marriage proponents who drape themselves in the stars and stripes as the US bombs away. These gay people drag out the rainbow flag to camouflage their greed, to protect their status within the status quo. But still I wonder if there are some things we could fight together.