Category Archives: Culture

Why Reclaim the Word “Queer”?

As a woman, the word “gay” does not describe me. I’m told gay is meant to be all-encompassing but if that were so, why do we say “gays and lesbians”? Wouldn’t that be redundant? It is similar to how women are told the word “man” is meant to apply to all of *mankind, yet I still get surprised looks when I walk into the men’s room.

The next solution offered for describing queers is “LGBT.” First, let’s admit that “LGBT” is hella awkward. It’s hardly the catchy marketing hook you’d expect from a people known for being fashion-forward. More importantly the acronym LGBT goes to the heart of why there is a need for “queer.” We need a word that summarizes all the gender and sexuality misfits and tacking together a long string of letters is hardly the best way to do this. “Queer” does not state someone’s sexual preference or gender identity. It doesn’t say which letter they are to be categorized under. It merely asserts that one doesn’t fit into the norm.

I will staunchly defend whatever sexual identity an individual claims—who am I to say I know their loins better than they do? You know that limp-wristed straight guy who carries a man-purse and keeps his eyebrows meticulously groomed? In LGBT circles there’s an ongoing debate about when this fellow will accept who he is and come out. This is a shame because the whole point of this movement is to give people the freedom to be whatever they want to between the sheets. Not that I want to encourage closet cases, but pressuring people is not going to make them more comfortable coming out. The word “queer” gets around all that. I can say, “Sweetie, you may not be gay, but you are definitely a little queer,” where queer means what it has always meant—divergent from the norm. If he takes offense, then we can have a conversation about why it’s OK to be different—fun!

Perhaps what I love most about the Pride movement is that it teaches Johnny Hetero and Susie Vanilla that there’s more than one way to be sexual, and that that’s ok. When Johnny accepts that some boys like boys he can admit his own hetero fantasy of being dominated.  Recognizing the validity of queer desire can help Susie come to terms with the fact that she can only get excited when she’s being secretly watched. Thus even Mr. Hetero and Ms. Vanilla can see the personal value in the Pride movement. While ninety percent of folks are straight, there are very few people who harbor not a single kink in their desires. Deep down, we are all queers.

Reclaiming “queer” is more than a political statement, it can be tremendously helpful to the outliers. This includes not only the perpetually undecided adolescents but also the middle-aged bisexual woman who’s been married into a straight relationship for twenty years. “Queer” still describes the gay male who suddenly finds she is “straight” when she comes out as trans. “Queer” describes the intersexed and the hetero cross-dressers and the whole genderfuck lot. Adding more letters to LGBT is not the solution, because that way of thinking continues the idea that we know all the ways to be an outsider. It puts the emphasis on classifying when the truth is that so many of us came together because we are tired of being classified. In the past there has been in-fighting about whether these people are gay enough, whether they counted. I bet there wasn’t a single person at the Stonewall riot who would have turned away someone sincerely asking to join the fight and gain acceptance under the queer umbrella.

I say “queer” because I don’t want to get hung up on which box to tick. I say “queer” because it is more inclusive and in a game of Us Versus Them, we are stronger when Us is bigger, more diverse. I say “queer” because of all the beautiful people I have known who are not quite straight and not quite gay, but certainly part of this movement. I say “queer” because it reminds people that sexuality is as complicated and personal as the individuals it describes. I say “queer” because there are as many ways to diverge from the norm as their are colors in the rainbow.
Queer Little Ponies pic thanks to Zak Hubbard.

*For example, does Oscar here describe all people, or only men? “What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” –Oscar Wilde

Bay to Breakers II: This is How We Run A Footrace in San Francisco

If you like to see sweaty people wearing costumes and running shoes, boy are you in luck: here’s my second batch of photos from San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers race. There’s even more photos in this batch.

Here we have Towely, Elvis, Carmen Sandiego, Tellytubbies, Ghostbusters, (more)  Marios (and carts, actually saw a much better set of Mario Carts but didn’t get a picture), three Divo heads (the fourth was crossing the street), bathroom boy and girl,a boyscout, Jesus Christ and his two wenches, and a magic lamp that wins any contest for “most phallic costume.” And some other stuff…you can look at the pictures faster than I can list them.

Which ones are running to raise money for charity and which ones are just looking for an excuse to get very drunk early on a Sunday morning? I’ll leave that to you.


Jason Jaworski at the Noise Pop Culture Fest

Festivals like the Noise Pop Culture Fest are ineffective for becoming a better artist. The time with each presenter is too short, the instruction too thrown together. It is a great place to find inspiration, however.

Take Jason Jaworski. He’s not the first poet I’ve seen typing snippets of poetry on old typewriters and giving them away to the sources of their inspiration. But surely he has the most compelling delivery. While other street poets set themselves apart with dapper hats and gloves, Jason wears a prom dress and a wrap of silver crinkly fabric. His head is crowned with an unknown substance and a wreath of false (chicken?) feet. Moreover he sits not in a desk or a chair, but barefoot and cross-legged in a tiny house filled with countless baubles and trinkets and swathes of fabric. The traveling improvisational poet is a rare creature but Jason Jaworski sets himself apart from the rest of the herd.

In truth, I wish there were herds of these poets, legions armed with typewriters and cases full of correctional fluid. I wish there were one on every street corner in every city, waiting with fingers poised on the keys, looking into the eyes of those in line, waiting for a simple unedited poem. These poetry buskers provide an important service. Poetry is the twin sister to music, first formed among cavemen beating their drums around breezy campfires as people huddled together, searching for warmth and meaning. Now it is thought to be a dusty relic, a secret language only understood by MFAs and and smirking grammar dominatrices.

Whereas poetry is thought to be abstract, poetry buskers use the person standing in front of them to create their art.
Whereas poetry is thought to be disconnected from its audience, poetry buskers create a one-on-one relationship.
Whereas poetry is thought to be collections of overly dwelled upon minutia, these intrepid fellows will type out a poem in under two minutes.
Whereas poetry has certainly become narcisstic and static, these poets create hundreds of poems and give them away.

The last part is the one I would have the most difficulty with. Every poem I’ve ever lost lives in my imagination as the greatest thing I’ve ever written. But these poems aren’t lost, they’re set free. They’re created with a view of abundance, a belief that inspiration is as commonplace as fortune cookies. Who knows how many poems Jason Jaworski gave away at the Noise Pop Culture fest? Each poem was unsigned, whatever brilliance it brought became solely the possession of the person who inspired it. I’ve thought a lot about the ways our egos can get in the way of producing good writing. What could be a better way to do this than to write a hundred poems and give them away anonymously?

He never at any point told me his name. There’s no need for names in a simple exchange between a muse and an artist. I gathered that information from his website, which I had the fortune to reach because I asked him to type it onto my poem. I use his name here again and again, so I can remember it if I am fortunate enough to happen upon this gent again. Jason Jaworski. Jason Jaworski. Jason Jaworski. I wish I knew you; I’m glad, at least, to have met you.

Posted via email from Future is Fiction


As part of the ongoing crusade to remove trite words from my speech, lately I've taken to using the word "puppycock." This is not to be confused with poppycock. Or rather, it is too be confused so that I may delight in making the correction. I use this word in situations of surprising dismay, such as stubbing my toe or discovering a parking ticket. "Puppycock" is a perfect curse word. It captures something real that civilized people would rather not think about in the space of nine letters. It conveys a clear image of this thing. It is disturbing enough to furrow the brows of my fellow citizens, so that they may join for a moment in my unhappiness. But it is not so disturbing that polite ladies will not sit next to me in the dining hall.
Christopher is a dog lover (considering the context of the curse, I beg you not to read into that) and he does not approve of my use of the word "puppycock." In retaliation, he has taken to using the word "kitty poon." Alas, his blade has reached a tender spot as my psyche wishes I had never heard him utter that terrible phrase. I am not even convinced the phrase existed before he coined it. I suggested he google it to be sure, he declined—a first for the man who, at the whim of an offhand query, spent an hour on Wikipedia last night learning about the Statue of Liberty. I believe he has outdone me. Because no one wants to think about the vag on a kitten. He pointed out that a cat in heat is all too happy to spread the notion but I responded that kittens do not go into heat—only fully mature, womanly cats. Serendipitously we made the discovery that just as "puppycock" sounds like the word "poppycock" "kitty poon" has the benefit of being easily mistaken for "kiddie porn." We look forward to having a conversation that goes something like this:

Civilized fellow: My word! Did you just say "kiddie porn"?
Christopher: No, no, of course not! What kind of gentleman do you take me for! I would not utter such blasphemy as a simple declaration of displeasure!
Civilized Fellow: Thank goodness! There are women and children present! What did you say then?"
Christopher: I said "kitty poon." KIT-TEE POOHN.
Civilized Fellow: [blank stare]
Christopher: You know! as in the immature snatch of a wee baby kitten!
Civilized Fellow: Come along Margaret. We're going back to the first train car with no air conditioning and the writhing hobo.

Posted via email from Future is Fiction

Mission Buddhist temple

Architecturally, this is one of my favorite houses of worship in San Francisco. Not because it is the most beautiful, but because it is a Buddhist Temple occupying an old Victorian church. The brightly painted Victorians are tied to the city’s extravagant gold rush history. It also touches on the city’s long bohemianism, as the Hippies were the first to paint their Victorians in bold color schemes—the English stuck with somber monochromatic grey-white. But while the bold red paint fits in nicely on this Mission street, it is clearly chosen to mark the space for what it is today, a Buddhist temple. The influx of Chinese is also tied to the Gold Rush, since migrant workers from China built the railroads. Migration from across the Pacific is equally important in Modern San Francisco now it connected to the Brain Drain of Asia’s best and brightest to work in Silicone Valley tech jobs or prestigious Stanford and Berkeley universities. The neighborhood where this structure is planted is certainly bohemian but it is far from Chinatown and Japantown, making its neighbors mostly Central American.

I took the picture on this particular day because it was recently repainted. The building’s Buddhist remake has gilded lion-head knockers on the side doors. At the top of the steps the glass double doors are filled with a giant laughing Buddha.

The tendency to naturally blend eclectic cultural influences marks this temple not only a beautiful representation of San Francisco, but a great piece of Americana as well.

Posted via email from The Bay is Better

Digression, Regression, Return

If there is a reason I don’t finish the-Great-American-Novel it is because I live in a world where I can track down lost sit-coms from my childhood. The kind like this episode of Square Pegs, wherein Bill Murray plays a substitute teacher who tells his student, “OK chocolate lady, do your thing to me.”

This whole Square Pegs thing came up because my sweetie had a childhood crush on Jami Gertz, who plays a supporting role as the prissy gossip (yeah, I’m his type). I’m all, “oh, yeah, I do remember a show where Sarah Jessica Parker plays a nerd.” How could I resist looking that up?

The acting is terrible (except Bill Murray here, but he’s a guest) but the writing is good enough to pull you through. The music is terrific and terrifically eighties. But the true joy is the sheer nostalgia.

The clothing alone is a nostalgia trip. You can’t believe how awful their outfits are. Women in the eighties always seem to wear clothing that’s too big for them. These people have professional costume designers and they all stand around wearing brightly colored sacks and grandpa’s vests. The eighties have already come back in fashion and I still think Molly Ringwald’s character butchered that dress in Pretty and Pink.

But don’t let me digress. Or let me, and let me be grand about it: one of the greatest joys of hitting the big 3-0 is the constant influx of nostalgia (see video above) and the joy of sharing it with the next generation. Continue reading Digression, Regression, Return

Why There Are Riots Tonight in Oakland

I wasn’t surprised that officer Mehserle wasn’t convicted of murder despite all the video footage and witnesses of him shooting an unarmed teenager. I first had my suspicions when Forum reported there wasn’t a single black person on the jury. But then I took heart in thinking that the prosecution would want a whiter jury so it would be harder for the defense to appeal. Besides, the victim, Oscar Grant, was hand-cuffed face down with another police officer’s foot on his neck. So for weeks I held out some hope for a verdict of second-degree murder.

Mehserle claims that he accidentally grabbed his gun when he meant to grab his taser. I asked an ex-cop about this and he doesn’t think such a thing is possible. For one thing, a gun is much heaver than a taser and tasers are designed to have mechanisms that don’t work like firearms to prevent exactly this kind of situation. Moreover, officers’ training drills into their heads over and over the exact location of such things. The location of a cop’s firearm should be second nature.

The defense’s case is based on the very idea that Mehserle was poorly trained. Ironically, the prosecution’s case was based on this too. He probably was, since LEOs receive inadequate training in economies far less strained than California’s. In the last big election there was a measure to give more funding to California’s police force but that didn’t have a hope and a prayer of passing when the budget is taking huge cuts in education and social services. So he probably was under-trained.

When you get down to it though, why the hell should he be reaching for his taser in the first place? It’s not like they were busting an armed robbery. They were responding to a call that a fight had broken out on the BART train. A simple fight, possibly nothing more than kids horsing around—and on New Year’s Eve, the night everyone horses around. If you watch the video it doesn’t appear he’s resisting arrest. So there were lots of reasons to believe that the jury might hand in a murder verdict.

But I gave up hope of that when I heard on the radio that Mehserle cried on the stand.

I don’t think the jury was a pack of outright bigots. Surely they recognized that what happened was a tragedy. But racial identity is a powerful thing. Simply put, they saw Mehserle as one of their own. When they listened to him talk they tried to imagine themselves in his situation. “But it was an accident!” Aw, gee, poor guy, he was scared, the jury thought, I would be too. We can’t put him in prison with those people. Just imagine what they’d do to him! On the contrary, the victim was one of “those people.” They see a boy but they don’t see their own child. They don’t see themselves.

Oscar Grant, 1986-2009

If you don’t believe me, try to imagine it if the situation were reversed. Imagine a black man claiming he “accidentally” shot a white man who was lying on the ground completely defenseless and over-powered. That case would be a joke. It would be a guilty-verdict hands down, case closed. No way it would be a story the media clamor to cover all across the country.

Of course all this is conflated by the fact that Mehserle wasn’t just any white man but a man of the law. One could argue that a black cop who shot a young white man would get just the same sentence. Though I find that very hard to believe, it really doesn’t matter. Because black police officers aren’t shooting white men. Tends to happen the other way.

This sends a very clear message to black folks: the law does not protect you. It is here only to convict you. Protection from crime is for “those people.” They already knew this of course. America doesn’t need another black martyr. Hell, Oakland has enough to last us for the next hundred years, ThankYouVeryMuch.

Maybe that’s why there’s no part of me that cares whether Mehserle deep down and truly meant to reach for that taser. He knows that his behavior was inexcusable and unforgivable. He also knows that his identity as a white police officer is the key to him escaping a life sentence. If he had been a man of honor, he would have settled this case quietly, explaining his side while taking a guilty plea. I’m not saying I would have had the fortitude to do that if I were in his position. But it would have been the right thing to do for Oscar Grant’s family. Sure it would have been a sacrifice, but taser or no taser he took this boy’s life and he shouldn’t have, and he knows it.

So I don’t want to hear a word about how the jury are the only ones who saw all the evidence. Mehserle had a chance to step up and offer himself as America’s white martyr. Because everyone knows we have plenty of slots available.

We Don’t Need Facebook

Facebook has given privacy a kick in the groin. If this is news to you, you should probably check out:

Facebook’s Gone Rogue; It’s Time for an Open Alternative [Wired]


Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook [Gizmodo]


Facebook Further Reduces Your Control Over Personal Information [EFF].

Longer than the Constitution
FB Privacy Policy: Longer Than the Constitution

Those who’ve been watching the plucky start-up were already aware that Facebook is mired in accusations that it was founded by a crook and funded by a nut and some gooks. Into this fray comes Facebook’s controversy over their privacy settings. It used to be that Facebook provided a space that was just for friends and family. “Just” as in “only.” As in, not public.

The new privacy settings even led to a movement last month to have a “Quit Facebook Day.” Even if you manage to tackle FB’s labyrinth of privacy settings, don’t use any apps, or never use FacebookConnect you still can’t control what happens when your friends fail to make their stuff private. You can’t stop Facebook from censoring your messages. Even if we all flock back to Myspace or Friendster or Tribe [or Whatever] we have no guarantee that that data won’t be given away. It would probably be wise to consider anything hosted on a faraway computer you can’t control as potentially public, even email. At the very least we should commit to using sites that have consistent and reasonable privacy policies (thus the total opposite of Facebook [1][2]).

But entrusting Facebook is clearly no longer the way to go. Here’s why. In my myriad conversations about this issue, I get one of three responses:

"I don't care who sees my data"“I don’t care about who sees my data or my friends’ data. I posted it so anyone could see it.”

This person shouldn’t be on Facebook. There are much better public sites that do everything Facebook does but better and more beautifully (more on that later).

“Privacy isn’t a big deal to me but there are some things I’d like to put online that I don’t want the whole world to see.” "I'm not super-concerned about privacy."

This person shouldn’t be on Facebook. These are the people Facebook seeks to confound with their myriad privacy on-off switches, e.g. most of us. Because these folks aren’t too concerned about most of what we put out there, we won’t be meticulous about making sure everything is set to private. We won’t think of our Facebook stream as a blog  for all the world to see and eventually we will accidentally post something that will get us embarrassed, fired, divorced or deported.

“privacy is very important to me. I only want to share stuff with my friends.”

This person shouldn’t be on Facebook. Because this person cares about privacy. If anything, they should be boycotting Facebook. Wake up: Facebook wants our info to be public so they can make more money on their ads. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has admitted he’s ok with the whole thing being confusing because he doesn’t believe in privacy.

"I want my stuff to stay private."

Oh the outrage!

But alas,  Quit Facebook Day has come and gone and your account still remains. Don’t feel too bad…so does mine.

Now that Facebook has decided to make it standard to share people’s stuff, why are we still using Facebook? Simple: because no matter how much better the other sites are, Facebook is where the people are. But having all the people didn’t stop Myspace fom sinking or Friendster before it. We just need a critical mass of people to join these other sites and Facebook will be history.

The thing is: we don’t need Facebook! Even if Facebook were offering a reasonable privacy policy there are much better sites. And here’s the good news! They all allow automatic posting to Facebook. For those of us not boldly motivated enough to quit Facebook, we can follow our friends on these sites while automatically sending updates to those still lost in the land of blue and white status updates. Eventually these sites (which are all still relatively new) will grow full of enough users that we can all jump ship.

“But,” I hear you asking, “what are these wondrous websites?” Patience, dear reader, for you have discovered the subject of page two…

Continue reading We Don’t Need Facebook