Tag 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.


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

Every city has their big charity race; in San Francisco it’s Bay to Breakers. Folks run from the beautiful Bay, through the city and all the way through Golden Gate Park. Unlike most cities, San Franciscans like to do it in costumes. And unlike other cities that get dressed up, these gold rush kids take their costumes seriously.

My first experience with Bay to Breakers was being handed a paper cup while running, the typical side-of-the-road refresher offered to runners, only to find out the cup was filled with beer. This year I decided to be lazy and wait at the finish line to get photos of some of the fantastic outfits. Nostalgia was in full force this year, with more Mario and Luigis than you can squeeze into a hidden green pipe and so many red-striped Waldos that the irony of finding so many of them was completely lost. There were also a ton of Smurfs, muppets and Angry Birds.

Bay_to_breakers_5-15-2009_8-49-33_am Bay_to_breakers_5-15-2009_10-27-40_am

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

I Do Nothing To Stop the Blaze II

Very Busy People by The Limousines Listen on Posterous

I had a strange sensation the other evening. Riding on the Bay Bridge at night always makes me think of the time that tanker truck blew up and I saw a section of the freeway melt. The bridge is covered, so we couldn't see the tanker fire until we were right on top of it, flames suddenly shooting fifty feet into the black starless sky. That stretch of the bridge makes me metaphorical because it reminds me that there are situations where even if the fire you're facing is enormous, it is possible not to see it until it is too late. It is possible to be barreling down the metaphorical freeway, going 80, with few signs of the catastrophe ahead. I was reminded that the empire I was born into is riding the crest of a crashing wave, a tsunami taking down with it the salmon and the sturgeon and the grizzly bears and the polar bears, etc. 

I turned to the driver and in a dry voice I began to monologue about how lucky we are, not only to be born comfortably into the stack of nuclear weapons and Wal-marts that is the foundation of this nation, but also so lucky to have been born into this generation. To be born a hundred years ago in America would be to live before there were unions and women, men and children worked in unbearable conditions with no weekends for no end in site. But to be born a hundred years from now would be even worse: millions of environmental refugees, widespread ecological collapse, severe droughts and floods, starvation, famine—not to mention the largest extinction event in the history of the world. 

As he was agreeing we had won the time-and-place-of-birth lottery, I was thinking of an unfinished poem I wrote years ago. The poem, like the bulk of my work, is about the contrast between privilege and the knowledge that one's privilege comes at the expense of other creatures' suffering. It isn't surprising. I spent the first fifteen years of my life, for as long as I could remember, wanting to be a writer. Then I went to college, and, as my favorite professor Larry Isaacs put it, I "stopped living my own personal narrative and started living history." I felt a real imperative to change the world, even if it was at the expense of pursuing my dreams. Unfortunately, I'm not very good at changing the world. It seems my only real gifts are impractical things: writing, dancing, drawing. Despite that, I spent the next section of my life raising my fist at marches, running social justice campaigns, meeting influential activists, and generally being a hell-raiser. Now I've circled back to focusing on my writing. I live in a state where my vote is irrelevant, because everyone thinks the way I do. I'm happy and life is easy. But I still feel the pull. I still know the fire is coming. And this conflict is what I try to capture in my fiction and poetry. 

The poem that was running through my head ends: 

The indymedia headline reads: THE ELECTION WAS HACKED. I read it and cry and then corporate radio machine plays "Video Killed the Radio Star" and I dance in the sweet happy-face sunshine that I know is melting the polar ice caps.

And then an odd thing happened. I realized the song playing on the radio was my favorite song from 2010. Immediately I perked up, yanked on the volume nob and started to sing. The very thing that I had written about in the poem actually happened: I was distracted from contemplating the terrible situation we've gotten ourselves into; it was a mere abstraction compared to the immediacy of a simple luxury: a song I loved coming on the radio. What was even stranger was that the song itself epitomizes my life of luxury. The song, "Very Busy People" is about the endless stream of pleasure and distraction I was contemplating:  

We'll end up numb from playing video games and we'll get sick of having sex. And we'll get fat from eating candy as we drink ourselves to death. We'll stay up late making mix tapes, photoshoping pictures of ourselves while we masturbate to these pixelated videos of strangers fucking themselves.

The metaphor had become real. I was caught in a tangle of irony. I was caught in a loop, wherein no matter how hard the universe attempted to send me the message: Your luxury is an illusion, temporary at best, the message was always carried on the back of the illusion itself, ZOMG, I love this song, turn it up! Or perhaps it is the reverse: every moment I'm enjoying myself—knitting scarves, scrubbing my feet soft and masqueing my pores smooth, alphabetizing my CDs, laying in the orderly grass and drinking Saki—all of these things are clouded by the knowledge of my privilege. Even the passion for working in publishing is tarnished by the knowledge of the production cycle that produces millions of books every year. The experience was a reminder that no matter how hard we try, we cannot contemplate anything without seeing it through the frame of reference of our worldview. I felt like the cavemen of Socrates, realizing my reality was cast through the distorted lense of the shadows on the cave walls. And all this time, with the knowledge that I'd slipped back into the comfort of my lifestyle, I kept singing: my shoulders dancing, my mouth smiling, and the shimmering skyline of Oakland baring herself before me as we disembarked the bridge. I felt that I was wearing a mask. But which was the mask? The sulking me, that had so easily turned off when my song came on the radio? Or the smiling me, that dances in the sweet happy-face Oakland skyline?

Posted via email from Future is Fiction

Kid Koala at the Noise Pop Culture Fest


Noise Pop has added a DIY festival this year. It's a little undeveloped now but I imagine in a few years it will be the place to be. (And a few years after that it will be bloated with movers and shakers with something to sell and a few years after that it will be yesterdays news. [I've noticed lately that I seem to be getting out of hand with the parenthesis. You think? {Question is rhetorical, dammit!}])

Kid Koala's space was a DJ set that explicitly stated no dancing. It was chill music, and by that I don't mean dubstep and trance, I mean like Radiohead and ambient chirping. The space was designed as a contemplative drawing session. There were barely any seats to be had, as we sprawled about with crayons and pencils and such. As much as I love to dance, I wish there were more spaces like this, ones where spontaneous communities are borne out of a creative drive. Or at least, spaces that center around something other than drinking and smoking. And did I mention the free hot chocolate?

Here's a Kid Koala video so you can feel the Noise Pop chill too.

Posted via email from Like Dancing About Architecture

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

Another Excuse For SUV Drivers to be Arrogant

Have you seen this commercial? A young girl asks her dad to drop her off on the corner; she doesn’t want her friends to see her parents car. Not because she is worried, as the old story goes, that her friends will know that she comes from poverty. No, all her friends’ parents are driving Hybrids and she doesn’t want them to see dad drive up in the SUV.

At first, this is heartening. Clearly this is an advertisement marketing hybrids to the middle class folks so invested in TV culture. And truthfully, this was how I felt when my grandfather wanted to drive me to my graduation in a monster-sized SUV.

The dad tells his daughter that, though may not look like it, the giant tractor they are riding in is a hybrid. The announcer proudly points out that this SUV gets 32 miles per gallon, the best gas mileage for any SUV.

Which is great because the soccer dads can continue doing their 150 mile-commute while feeling good about global warming by upgrading to a car that gets gas mileage approximately equivalent to a 1985 Honda Civic. Whoopdie-doo.

But then they ruin any joy I might get from the announcement of the inevitable energy guzzling hybrid. The daughter asks why he never told her before. His response: “Gee, it never occurred to me that I needed to.”

And this is not an offhand statement, it is the final line of the ad, the punchline if you will. What is the significance of this?

In a small sense, he is suggesting that daughters not be inquisitive, particularly about these matters that will drastically affect their lives after their parents are dead. More importantly, his snarky remark is tapping into (suggesting? chicken or egg?) some idea that hybrid cars and by association global warming and environmentalism are subjects not to be talked about.

Really? The ongoing debate about whether or not we should do something about worldwide global catastrophe has become a subject not discussed in polite social circles? The enlightened father in the commercial is somehow better than the mom’s and dad driving Priuses because they are the types who brag about all they are doing for the planet. When smart folks know that we are all slowly (very slowly) upgrading to hybrid SUVs so this whole ecological collapse isn’t really that big a deal. Just shut up about it already and buy a new car.