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The Beginning of the End

"Assimilate My Purse," Maximumrocknroll, October 2006

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Recently I was asked to write an essay for a book called Love, Castro Street: Celebrating Queer San Francisco. Now, Castro Street truly represents everything in the world I abhor: rabid gay consumerism, straight-acting/straight-looking conformity, the deification of unquestioning masculinity, ravenous sexual objectification, and a racist, classist, misogynist, ageist, ableist, body fascist status quo that prioritizes property values and pumped pecs over anything that remotely resembles gay liberation, or any sort of liberation whatsoever.

The call for submissions for Love, Castro Street specified that essays did not have to center around Castro Street, and Jim Van Buskirk, one of the editors, assured me that I could be as critical as I wanted. So I decided to write about the end of San Francisco as a place where marginalized queers can go to create community, culture and resistance -- an end coming about due to the gentrification, homogenization and suburbanization of San Francisco, as well as the overwhelming assimilation and apathy of most gay and queer San Franciscans. But then I decided that in order to write about the end, I had to write about the beginning -- for me -- which was the early '90s, when I first moved to San Francisco, a time so filled with longing and desperation that, almost 15 years later, I've barely begun to write about it. I started to write that essay -- I wrote the first section -- but then I decided that there was way too much to squeeze into the two weeks allotted before the deadline. In fact, writing about the end of San Francisco may end up being a whole book -- I'm not sure yet, but here's the beginning of the project:

We knew it was the beginning of the end, but still it was the beginning. Most of us had recently escaped monstrous families of origin, we were scarred and broken and brutalized but determined to create something else, something we could live with, something we could call home or healing or even just help, I need help here, can you help? We were incest survivors, whores, outcast kids, vegans, runaways, and sexual renegades trying not to disappear. We knew that the world wanted us dead, but we were ready for something else -- we didn't always know what it was, but we were ready -- if we weren't ready, then we were getting ready.

It was the Mission in the early '90s and we were queer freaks and artists and activists and sluts creating defiant and desperate ways to love and lust for and take care of one another in crowded, crumbling apartments painted in garish hues and decorated with other people's trash. We paraded down the streets in bold and ragged clothes too big or too small, we shared thriftstore treasures and recipes and strategies for getting day-glow hair dye to last. We were manic and maniacal, craving intensity and sharing breakdowns. We exchanged manifestos and 'zines and fliers and gossip, got in dramatic fights over politics, over the weather, over clothing, over who was sleeping with whom, we held each other, we painted each other's nails and broke down, honey we broke down.

This was the early '90s in San Francisco, and everywhere people were dying of AIDS and drug addiction and suicide and some of the dead were among us, just like us, just trying to survive. Others were more in the distance, the elders we barely got to know except through their loss. We went crazy and cried a lot, or went crazy and stopped crying, or just went crazy. We talked about surviving rape and childhood; we organized potlucks and office takeovers; we fought for syringe distribution and universal healthcare; we fought against police brutality, gentrification and prison; we fought one another.

Occasionally, we won. Our heroes were the writers whose books we exchanged with lightning speed, queer writers who showed us there was maybe a little bit of hope in a world of loss: David Wojnarowicz and Dorothy Allison and Cherrie Moraga, Sapphire and Leslie Feinberg and Monique Wittig. Oh -- and The Courage to Heal, definitely The Courage to Heal.

We were huddled and dreaming outside of the status quo, but still we were gentrifiers -- we knew that. Some of us had grown up rich and more of us poor, but we could see the way that queer freaks and artists and activists and sluts made the Mission a safer place for the yuppies we despised. We had crazy hair and strange piercings and facial tattoos, but still we were mostly white and young and hip, even if we would have denied the young and hip part. We brought the trendy restaurants and boutiques that we gazed at with anguish and disgust, the partying suburbanites we scorned -- it was our fault that clueless white people now saw the Mission not just as a high-crime Latino neighborhood or only a place for thugs and welfare cheats and crack addicts on disability. We were the beginning of the end and we didn't know what to do because we'd just found the beginning.

On another note, I'm absolutely thrilled that I finished my new anthology, Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity, and it's brilliant! After much arguing with the publisher, I did not end up having to cut anything that I didn't want to. The book will be out in January, but I'll give you way more information before then.

Love --
mattilda

 

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