"Assimilate My Purse," Maximumrocknroll, September 2006
Okay, ever since I met my friend Clio, she's been talking about the Queering Femininity conference she went to last summer -- mostly about how it was a scam -- the organizers split over politics and many left to organize a counter-conference called Camp F. The main organizer of Queering Femininity was a trans man with serious misogynist tendencies, and many of the workshops were conducted by paid facilitators, since the people who organized the workshops refused to be involved any longer. All of these femmes came from across the country to this conference in Seattle, expecting something tremendous and revelatory but received the same old story.
While the details of the Queering Femininity conference were particularly scandalous (Clio wrote a brilliant essay about it for my new anthology, Nobody Passes), it wasn't surprising to me that the whole thing had been a sham. An organizer had contacted me early on to ask me to speak at the conference, I'd looked it up online and had seen that it was scheduled to take place at the Seattle Convention Center -- a soulless corporate hellhole, and probably one of the most expensive places in the city to rent. I'd asked how much the conference was offering as an honorarium, only to find out that they weren't offering any payment at all -- it was a "grassroots" event, maybe they could arrange for a rideshare. Now, I'm all for grassroots organizing, but there is no way to have a grassroots event at the Seattle Convention Center -- I can only imagine how many thousands of dollars they spent on room rentals alone. I actually felt insulted that they would make such a preposterous claim -- at least they could have said we fucked up, we spent $900 million on the space and our keynote speakers, but we'd really like to have you anyway. I didn't go.
But now there's a femme conference occurring this year in San Francisco, literally one block from my house, at the Cathedral Hill Hotel, which is one of those buildings that looks like it was built entirely out of particleboard. Looks like it should be out by the airport or on the motel strip on some highway, except that it's on Van Ness Avenue, pretty much in the center of San Francisco, though Van Ness is a street that basically connects the highway with the highway -- it's a colonized zone of chain stores, corporate restaurants, new condos and mattress stores -- a pretty uninhabitable strip, like it could be any horrible place in the US. Although one block away is Polk Street, pretty much the most diverse place in San Francisco -- trannies, drug dealers, runaway teenagers, old queers, people on disability or welfare, and now a bunch of scary yuppie bars. That's where I live, and I love it (except for the yuppie bars, which sprouted up right around when I moved here, so it's probably at least partially my fault).
Anyway, even though this femme conference is happening in San Francisco, I've heard absolutely nothing about it, except from Clio, who lives in Portland, Oregon. So the other night I decided to look it up online -- sure enough, Femme 2006: Conversations and Explorations, just down the street. Okay, first of all -- what kind of theme is that? Conversations and explorations? You might as well just call it Femme 2006: Forget About It. The keynote speakers looked interesting enough, but the panels were just one-liners without descriptions like "Femme Is, Femme Ain't" or "Performing Femme, Identifying Femme." Who knows -- could be interesting, could be a nightmare. I don't generally go to conferences, but when there's one taking place just a block from my house, I'm ready to suspend disbelief and check it out. The one good thing about conferences at hotels is that you don't have to pay -- I mean, they're charging, of course ($65-$85, in this case), but you just walk right in.
Looking at the website at 3 a.m., I was getting a little manic -- not enough information, really, so I read it all again, and noticed one menu item that I hadn't yet browsed: "Location." Of course, I knew where it was -- the lovely Cathedral Hill Hotel, which I can see from my window. But I decided to check out the details.
First, I learned that the Cathedral Hill Hotel was sweet enough to offer the "special group rate" of $109/night for single or double rooms. Then I learned:
The Cathedral Hill Hotel is more than just a conference location. It houses a variety of amenities including a gift shop, a 24-hour exercise room, a heated outdoor pool, covered parking, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and the Hilltop Restaurant with its tasty fare. Within a few blocks of the hotel you will find movie theaters, a drugstore, a hospital, a grocery store, and eateries of various price ranges. For those with a sense of adventure, the Mission District (great food and local shops), Union Square's shopping area, Fisherman's Warf, and the historic Castro District are a quick cab ride away.
This is when I started to get really depressed. Why was there an advertisement for the hotel? Why, at the end, are four different neighborhoods mentioned as "a quick cab ride away," but not the neighborhood in which the hotel is located?
Furthermore, the hotel ad is followed by a "Cathedral Hill Neighborhood Map," which includes seven corporate chain businesses (including two Walgreens and a Bell Market), a few tourist traps and "tasty, reasonably priced sushi." Every single business of the 13 mentioned sits along the horrid, characterless Van Ness corridor. Absolutely nothing is mentioned about the Tenderloin, the neighborhood in which the Cathedral Hill Hotel is actually located. No mention of the femmes who work in the numerous female strip clubs in the neighborhood, or the femmes who turn tricks one block from the hotel. Or the fact that the surrounding neighborhood is probably home to a higher density of transgendered women (femmes?) than anywhere else in the country. Not even any mention of the 10 Thai restaurants within five blocks, where you can get a meal for under $10. Or the porn shop half a block away from the hotel, where you could purchase last-minute fetish wear. Or the youth hostel just three blocks away, where you could stay for $20 a night (or another one 10 blocks away for only $12), in case you couldn't afford the "special group rate" at the Cathedral Hill Hotel.
While this conference declares that it is "by Femmes, about Femmes, and for Femmes and their allies," it is most certainly not for the femmes who live, work and play in the neighborhood. Sounds like another disaster to me.