Sunday, February 28, 2010

A fairy tale of Space, occupation, defense and solidarity

I have returned home. Sort of, I have found myself in a city in some type of bizarre explosion of horns and sirens, helicopters and hundreds of cops and thousands of drunk hockey fans. I tried to avoid the olympics but I think I may have returned just in time for the money-shot.

On a separate note I would like to talk about space, occupation, defense and solidarity. This story is about a specific incident in a specific place with specific collections of people. The story is familiar. It is told over and over again. It is a fairy tale that lives on, evolves into different things, characters shift, places change but the story is the same. So this, this is a story about space, occupation, defense and solidarity, change the elements and it may be your own.

While staying at a rad somewhat queer in all kinds-a-ways punk house in Olympia I had the pleasure of attending their final farewell party. I had met some really rad kids in Oly, found some real amazing things and was generally impressed by this capital town at the tip of the head of the puget sound. And I have been blown away by house parties in Olympia, the incredible diversity of those in attendance, the enthusiasm from the crowd and the fact that neither party attended got shut down by cops at any point, or fielded complaints of incredibly loud music, people spilling out into the yards. I am not used to attending house parties that reach such an undisrupted critical mass. I say undisrupted hesitantly.

As I said the hosts of this party were all kinds of DIY queers and friends. As were many of their friends. All types of presentation of gender were in attendance. Including the hyper-masculine generally disrespectfully acting variety that is known in various places as various things. They were practicing the art of douch baggery in numbers. There were little posses of them through doorways that were gathered in fear, discomfort and definite misunderstanding of the people whose space they occupied. They laughed out of puzzlement, fear and a sense of superiority. Their comments aimed to show that they were bigger, stronger, better at being men, ridiculously entitled and really uncomfortable. This is one incident that happened and the way I managed it. I feel like a good person to mediate in party situations because I am quite often one of the few sober ones present. I take pride in that skill and don't let it go unused. When first approached with these specimens of gender play its most unconscious form I walked through. Head on the muddy ground and posture held inwards. I felt that was stupid, I don't need to take that.

I walked into a room in the house that had been designated the free room. All things from the house that needed a new home got put in there for folks to take. 3 men found their way in too. The men laughed aloud, snickered to each other and pointed as I walked in with my black pleather booty shorts and bra, fake eye lashes and makeup in work boots. I stand 6' 1" and was navigating the crowds with a cane. I had just decided I didn't need to take their shit. I confronted them.
"Can I help you guys with something?"
"No..." "Nuthing" "Nu-huu"
"Well I noticed you were laughing, I wanted to know if you were laughing at me or with me?"
"Uh with you for sure.."
"Ya, so funny thing is, I wasn't laughing. You were laughing at me, and I don't appreciate that. How do you think you'd feel if I just stopped what I was doing to point and laugh at you and in your face all the time?"
And then they brought it up a notch.
"Well it'd be different if I was asking for it, drawing attention an all..."
"Oh, you think I am asking for you to laugh at me? Cause of how I'm dressed. Well guys you aren't exactly right, if I wanted you to laugh at me I'd of dressed up like a clown. This isn't a clown suit and I am not laughing, so you should know that your laughter is not welcome. If you think something about this *scan my body like vanna white on wheel* is funny, then y'all should leave."
"uhh oh uhhhh but.. uh...." *drunk stumbling and mumbling and looking into each other eyes for cues of how to react to having the queen sass them back. and laughter, uncomfortable "oh shit" laughter
"Ya, if you think somethings funny, you need to leave."

I know that I was not the only one catching the receiving end of their non-pliments (a negative remark phrased as a compliment), laughter and sneers. The attitudes of others in the party quickly reflected this. The room that had been set up as a make-out room had a hand scrawled sign taped up to the door saying "QUEER SPACE" taped up to the door. The room was packed with folks upset that their space was filled with douchebagery. Understandable. It made me feel militant. I was enraged that my people were held in a part of this house. A closet is a closet even if you label it as such. I thought we were past that. I stormed out, ready to spot those out of line and assist the house with getting them to move along. I would be reasonable and non-violent, clear and uncompromising and entirely hands off. I wouldn't be using tactics like cops and borders, profiling folks on the clothes that they were wearing, the way they were dancing, the colour of their skin or the people around them. I was from out of town and without personal affiliations to 99% of those present.
I chatted with others in the space who were feeling upset, some who volunteered them selves as bouncers, others who left to avoid conflict or continued descrimination, I witnessed some who drank more, got objectified more and repeated to deal. And I found that they way that each of us dealt with this occupation was completely different, in every way personal. I was upset to see some member of the queer community unable to deal with the occupiers in a way that left them feeling empowered. I want my community to know about conflict resolution, and know that the values that we gather around including respect, extend to those who don't demonstrate it. I would like to pass on these suggestions to members of the queer community in hopes that we can learn and grow from experiences like this.

1.) Use words. Learn words, practice them, listen to them and act according to them as opposed to reacting to them. Words carry long fucked up histories, and can sling daggers. They can also heal, negotiate, mend and build bridges.

2.) Playing by the rules of the occupier feels wrong. It probably always will. Sometimes it doesn't feel safe to do very much about that. A big part however of what makes that the case is due to a lack of communcation, see 1. But sometimes while accumulating skills, allies, strength and clarity it seems necessary that we pretend to be following the rules, pretend just enough for those who have a limited view on things to see, but not enough to crush your spirit.

3.)Violence is not the answer. Physical altercations are usually judged by the rules of the occupier, see #2 and #1. Plus getting beat up sucks for everyone, especially those that you were trying to defend or protect or whatever your personal motives were.

4.) Question your own assumptions. For example if you think that a couple of hets are in the make out room hogging the space and flaunting heteronormativity up in the space as some type of afront, think about how you deal with that assumption. Because the two you are assuming to act in malice may just be 2 reasonable, communicative, sex positive transfolk who won't appreciate it much when you tell them that you perceived a female bodied person and a male bodied person getting down in the queer space and that it was upsetting folks. Firstly they may not want to know that you credit their bodies differently than the they way identify or present- that's transphobia. Also, even if you had asked us what are genders or bodies included and different, it's not actually up to you if what's happening is queer or not. But you may have more luck suggesting that their are folks who want/need to enter the space and feel intimidated or uncomfortable about the level of PDA in the space. They'll probably be willing to listen. See 3, and remember that violence is not restricted to the physical.

5.) Check in. With yourself, your community, your friends and people that you feel are making you uncomfortable (see 2). I believe that we have an incredible capability from ourselves and each others. Try it.

I am sure that I will keep thinking of things that I could add to this list. I have been very pleased, and somewhat overwhelmed with keeping up to comments on here lately. I hope that this continues as an open community resource. We manage, survive, resist and deconstruct oppression and occupation every day. How do we do it? Sometimes it's changing the wording on that sign to say "Queers + Friends Space" and posting it above the bumping sound system, sometimes its chocolate bars and sometimes being all gay up in folks places. Everything has it's time a space of course, but sometimes these things aren't as far apart as we think.

Now I guess that coming back to the olympics in my town isn't really that completely different after all.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cane Dancer

This journey down the coast has been a real trip in exploring peoples perspectives on disability and impairments, and where they intersect with a handsome young guy like myself.
My relationship to visibility, pain, management and assistance:
I have a cane. I don't bust it out all the time, but if I know I am going to be walking for a long time (or conversely if I don't know how long I will be walking) I will grab it and use the prop.


1verb,propped, prop·ping, noun
–verb (used with object)
to support, or prevent from falling, with or as if with a prop (often fol. by up): to prop an old fence; to prop up an unpopular government.
to rest (a thing) against a support: He propped his cane against the wall.
to support or sustain (often fol. by up).
a stick, rod, pole, beam, or other rigid support.
a person or thing serving as a support or stay: His father is his financial prop.

as opposed to prop in the theatrical sense:
Also called prop.
a usually movable item, other than costumes or scenery, used on the set of a theater production, motion picture, etc.; any object handled or used by an actor in a performance.

Using a cane is not acting for me. It's assistance. Its a little push from my upper body to get up the stairs, along the road, across a span, down stairs etc when my knee doesn't feel like participating as much as would be ideal.

It is a signifier for those around me too, especially in new and/or crowded space, that I may be moving slowly, I am probably in some degree of pain, and I may be having a low balance threshold. Give me some fucking space. This spurs a whole other topic, in which folks generally are not providing space or consideration for invisible impairments. My body, with out a prop, looks pretty normal. A chiropractor or masseur could see how my spine twists and a thermal camera might be able to show my knee responding to being impacted with an SUV. But from the outside I look "normal". Being a "passing" transman with an invisible disability makes me sometimes feel like the parts that are the biggest things that affect how I go through the world are the hardest for outsiders to perceive.

But when they do: First and foremost it makes people uncomfortable, and they don't want to believe it. And they call me into question. The other day in Fred Meyer I took advantage of their motorized scooters to get around the store while gathering edibles. This is something I have done before out of boredom, out of laziness and because being in those stores is ridiculous and when one must enter through its giant automatic doors to find some bananas 2 km into a concrete and packaging wasteland anything helps. This particular time I left the cane in the car, walked into the store and grabbed a scooter. A sales person asked me;
"So are you hurt or something?"
I said "Yes I got hit by a car." I should have cut her off. I should have told her it was none of her business. I could have snapped back and inquired about her neoprene supported wrists. But I let her drill me. She wanted to know where I was when I was hit. She wanted to know that I could still walk. She wanted to know that her perception of me as a young able bodied man being silly in the scooter wasn't shattered. I left there angry. And then returned to a queer space. At a house party in San Francisco I was called a trooper, assumedly for dancing with a cane. Choice of words, really? This country is full of veterans my age an younger, lots with resulting impairments. So the dude dancing with the cane is a trooper??? Actually I just really like dancing and needed the cane to get into the building and appreciate the extra balance it gives me. And cause if I use it to get in and then set it aside it becomes a prop (in the theatrical sense) the act (as it becomes) is off. I encountered another woman who felt that she wanted the answers to her questions too, how long had I used a cane? Did I really need it? Oh, I have a friend who had to use a cane for a while and then got better, are you getting better? What happened? Is this an early onset condition, something acute or something recent? I felt comfortable in this space to stop her. I told her that its the first thing that everyone wants to talk to me about, and that I am frankly not in a mood to talk about it. There are other things about me that are awesome and interesting, as I am sure there must be about you, if we could move on to them and you could remember that not everyone with a disability that becomes visible to you at any point wants that to be the focus of the conversation. She first got defensive, saying that it wasn't the first thing we were talking about (I'm sorry hun, but a I like your fashion, I like yours too doesn't count as a lets build trust and comfort starter). And then walked away.
I would like to go on about the line between fetishization and a-sexualization of both trans folks and folks with disabilities, but I will save that for later.

Friday, February 19, 2010

On the Road

I got a message recently from one @feral geographer asking if this blog should be removed from its listing as a part of the queer blogs listing. I will admit I may have needed that kick in the pants. Once again its been a year since a post ++ and yet I still hold on to the attachment of having a blog. Let's be honest folks, I have had aspirations of being a blogger. I was decent at it back in the days of geocities and boy band fan sites, but these days I haven't really got it in my ritual of doing things to post public writing very often. I will once again declare to change that. Hold me to it, if you read this, comment, message me, remind me that there is a readership to which I write this. Or at least curious individuals who want to read what I have to say.

So; along the west coast I travel, just me and my little car Del (Deloris when its feeling fancy femme). Packed to the gills with my mess of cds, maps, clothes (oh so many clothes), camping gear, road food, arts and crafts projects and tools. I have been traveling solo, about which I have mixed feelings. I have been reading "Travels with Charley" by John Steinbeck while I rest along road sides and like what he has to say about traveling alone:
"Having a companion fixes you in time and that the present, but when the quality of aloneness settles down past, present and a forecast are all equally present."

"As the time went on I found that my reactions thickened. Ordinarily I am a whistler. I stopped whistling. I stopped conversing with my dogs, and I believe that subtleties of feeling began to disappear until finally I was on a pleasure-pain basis. Then it occurred to me that the delicate shades of feeling, of reaction, are the result of communication, and without such communication the tend to disappear."

I reached that point to a mild degree, the point where I remember that I am an extrovert and am fueled by interactions with others that I have not indulged in for days, save shopping grunts and formalities. Luckily I was to return to the homes of friends, for if I were to continue my driving alone and making noises just to remember what my voice sounds like could have driven me to a new kind of talkative delirium or unintelligible blabber.

The places I passed through and the ones I stopped in were different and yet the same. The salt water taffy made in front of you is the same shit all down the oregon coast and the tourist key chains at the redwoods are the same as the ones you'll find in the olympics and the same you'll find at the sea lion caves. The people change, but they don't. The attitudes and politics shift from place to place. I notice some places feel safer than others. Some places I will make sure to wear a shirt in the pool others I know I am welcome to be out and crude and vulgarly queer. I don't know how I can describe this, I think it will take more than some rambling musings to figure out what makes a place feel safe. What makes a place feel like somewhere that I can break my stealth appearance (no encounters with strangers have had this pleasure this time around- I think the being alone plays into this)? What about a place makes me wonder if I should peel the little rainbow triangle decal out of the window til a new sign of security has been achieved? What makes some places into suction cups for gaggles of queers and radicals? What allows other places to hold a sense of fear over those who appear "outside or different"?

What is safety?