Another world possible through… poetry?

On art and social change:

I’ve always had this crazy idea that I’m gonna somehow change the world through writing. If not through my writing itself, then at least by helping others find their voices and discover the power of words.

I’ve also always thought, of course, that I’d have to be a little bit crazy to think this way. Of all the various kick-ass ways of going about creating social change, could sitting down and writing really be counted among them?

Some folks at the U.S. Social Forum certainly seemed to think so. Many led workshops sharing their wisdom and inspirational stories surrounding creativity, the arts and social change. There was much to learn, not only about creative practices but also about where I stand on their place in social justice movements.

So I’m going to start small. Rather than try to answer the bigger question of whether I believe in art as social change, I’ll begin with what I know. This I believe:

  • We can speak through writing when our voices are lost. Whether we’re forcibly silenced or held back by our own lack of confidence, writing can help us find and project our voices when we don’t have any other way.
  • Anybody can write (shh…). Now don’t let this one get out, because writing is supposed to be my thing, but I believe that anybody can write. No amount of talent or training (or lack thereof) matters when it’s just you and the pen, and you’re writing from the heart, telling your story like only you could. Don’t believe me? Get in touch with me, and I’ll help you dare to try.
  • Writing has made change before. There are countles examples from history, and I really believe that the world would not be the same if not for writers like the Beat poets or those of the Harlem Renaissance, who insisted on telling their stories in ways the world had never heard. If nothing else, the literary arts can capture a movement from the point of view of those involved, so that their stories will not be forgotten.
  • Writing can help communities heal, reflect and grow. I believe that simply by telling our stories, we can shake off pain and shame, celebrate our lives and communities, and learn to love ourselves and each other. Facing injustice, being constantly put down and out, we can feel stuck, and become unwilling or believe we are unable to take on the hard work of making change, even if it is for our own good. Celebrating and sharing with our communities through writing can help remind us that we’re worth it, deserving of a world in which we can thrive as we are.

So, I guess the answer is yes, I am crazy. Crazy enough to believe in the power of writing to create social change, and to not find the idea so crazy after all. What do you think? How do you see art as social change?

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I must write,

for I find the call of the blank page,

like the call to revolution,

irresistible.

Poetry I’m not supposed to write

I’m back from the U.S. Social Forum. And I’m not a poet, but this is what came out when reflecting on the experience this morning:

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This Isn’t a Poem About Justice

This isn’t a poem about justice

I’m not supposed to write about wild and out there things

            that you can’t get your hands on

                        that might not really exist.

But if you promise not to call me crazy

I’ll tell you in a whisper

            that I felt justice.

            it was soaking the earth

                        in warm rain falling

                        and lightning bolts striking the Detroit River

                                    lighting up the sky

                                    like the eyes of a hopeful child.

Promise not to laugh

when I say I looked into the soul of a stranger

            Our eyes met,

                        our energies passed between us

                        like the shared tremble of an earthquake.

            No need to ask did you feel that?

                        I can’t call him a stranger anymore.

Promise you won’t turn me in

when I speak of bonds formed

            on darkened dance floors

                        between banners calling for revolutions

            I’m pretty sure what I did

                        violated some part of the Patriot Act

                        and if they lock me up

                                    and torture me

                                    and ask what I know about terror

            I’ll say her lips tasted like cinnamon.

We spit justice into microphones

            spilled it from paint cans onto canvases

                        wore it on t-shirts

                                    and fried it into foods,

                                    so it burned our tongues

                                    and slipped from our lips when we spoke.

I say justice is alive as the red rose of so many poems

            but its scent thickens the air like the heat of the sun

                        and its thorns are inescapable.

Published in: on June 28, 2010 at 9:20 AM  Comments (6)  
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Part 1 of Finding my focus as an activist: It’s not in marriage

In the past, I’ve had trouble finding my focus as a social justice activist. It’s hard when the general feeling is that there is injustice everywhere, and there seem to be a million different ways to get involved.

In moments like these, preparing for this week’s U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, I realize I’m still having a hard time narrowing it down. I could attend any number of workshops on anything from women’s rights to media justice, climate change to disability rights.

But one thing I know, in light of the recent events surrounding marriage equality in California, is that the marriage fight is not where I belong.

I used to think that it was. Frustrated with feeling discrimination on a personal and institutional level, I took the November 2008 passage of California’s Proposition 8, banning same sex marriage, to heart. I wanted to join the fight for marriage rights as an activist, and in May 2009, when the California Supreme Court decided to uphold the ban, I engaged in civil disobedience with 210 others in protest until we were arrested.

I was certainly proud to participate that day among activists, clergy and folks who stopped by and wanted to join the fight for justice. But soon after that event, I began to realize that my involvement in the marriage equality movement was misguided and ill-placed. I had been swallowing a rhetoric that claimed that the achievement of marriage rights would mean equality for all LGBT people, but I have since had a hard time believing that.

I still believe in the right for all people to get married. There are over 1,000 rights and benefits given to people who are married and denied to those whose marriages aren’t legally recognized. Those who choose to get married, and maybe have children, should have the right to do so and enjoy the benefits for themselves and their families regardless of their partner’s gender.

Part of the problem, though, is the assumption that all people will want to get married. Some won’t choose to, and what happens to the queer people whose partners and families don’t reflect what’s socially or legally recognized as marriage? Who don’t fit the mold of a nuclear household with same-sex parents of two children and a golden retriever? Do we have to try to fit into this image in order to gain so-called equality?

Historically, marriage has been an institution that has limited the rights of women and people of color, and some critics of the gay marriage movement have pointed out that its leaders have failed to address this issue. And personally, I felt very uncomfortable in my position as a queer person of color during the scapegoating of the Black community after the passage of Prop 8. With the gay marriage movement all but ignoring communities of color in the No on 8 campaign, and then blaming them for the loss, it’s hard to believe that the leaders of the movement care about the rights or needs of queer people of color. And it doesn’t seem like they’ve gotten any closer to addressing this problem since that election.

Anyway, my point here was supposed to be not just a critique of the marriage rights movement, but also a reminder that there are other needs that we can focus on to achieve health and happiness in queer communities. There are folks suffering from a low sense of self-worth, from a lack of education about how to stay healthy and from dangers to their safety and their lives. Luckily, rather than feeling completely excluded from and lost within LGBT activist circles, I realized I’d simply misidentified my goals. I’m not setting out to change queer communities but to celebrate them as they are and help support them so they can thrive. When we gain the right to marry, I’ll certainly celebrate, but I’ll also know that it’s not the end of our struggle for justice.

I’m glad to attend the Forum with CUAV (Community United Against Violence). I first got involved with CUAV last year, when searching for queer groups that were less marriage-focused. They’ve been around for over thirty years, doing amazing community-based anti-violence work for LGBTQ communities.

My association with CUAV will certainly help me find focus this week, as I attend workshops that explore ways for communities to prevent and heal from violence without relying on the prison industrial complex. I will also bring my perspective as a writer, seeking out discussions of topics like art as social change. I’ll keep in mind my goals of empowering, celebrating and embracing those who shouldn’t have to try to resemble mainstream communities to enjoy the same rights and privileges that they do.

I’m going to try my best to blog from Detroit, but I don’t know for sure if I’ll be able to. Be sure to check back for possible updates! Until next time, faithful readers!

Published in: on June 21, 2010 at 10:05 AM  Comments (4)  
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Beyond Tolerance

There are more great queer-themed movies playing!

Frameline, the LGBT film festival, is going on this weekend and all through next week. I’ve been working with the Family Acceptance Project to promote the film they put together, “Always My Son.” There’s another showing on Sunday but last night was their big premiere (it was paired with a film that’s been getting a lot of press, “The Mormon Proposition”). It was followed by a reception featuring a Q&A with the family featured in the film. It was all a great success and I’m very happy for Caitlyn Ryan and Jorge Sanchez, director and program coordinator of the Family Acceptance Project.

“Always My Son” is the first in a very promising series of films created by the Family Acceptance Project (FAP), a program affiliated with my alma mater, San Francisco State University. The films will focus on the stories of families with LGBT children. FAP has been conducting studies about such families and working with them to promote familial acceptance of queer youth.

The studies have shown a huge impact for youth whose families accept them for who they are. The results may be obvious to folks who grew up as queer youth, like me. Young people whose families show behavior of rejection, such as trying to change the child’s sexual orientation or forcing them to hide it, are at a much higher risk for things like attempted suicide and drug and alcohol abuse. Those whose families showed acceptance had higher feelings of self-worth and were more likely to believe that they could grow up to be happy, healthy adults.

The Family Acceptance Project is doing really great work that’s long overdue, serving as a resource for families who may feel like they’re alone in trying to deal with a child’s sexual orientation. The family featured in “Always My Son,” for example, is a religious Latino family living in the Central Valley, where I grew up. When their son, EJ, came out as gay, they felt lost. EJ’s father, in particular, struggled to reconcile his son’s sexuality with the macho Latino ideology he was used to. After a crisis showed them that they were contributing to the suffering that might have them lose their son, the family shifted and went beyond tolerance to full acceptance, embracing their son for who he is. They got help from the Family Acceptance Project, found an affirming church and provided their home as a space for queer youth to come together and find support.

It was an incredible story, and watching the family at the reception last night, I couldn’t get over trying to imagine how EJ must feel. To go from feeling rejected and hated by your own family to having your family serve as an example for others learning to accept LGBT youth must be a great feeling, and it’s probably why I never saw EJ stop smiling. The fact that this was a Central Valley family of color from a faith background touched me personally on multiple levels, and I’m so glad that the film showcased a family that people may not ordinarily think of as a leader in LGBT equality. I think it really shows the potential power of unconditional love to transform hearts and minds in ways that may be difficult to imagine.

I really recommend seeing this film, if you get a chance. There are rumors that Sunday’s showing may be sold out, but it’s definitely worth it to try to get some of the tickets they’ll sell right before the show starts. Even if you don’t get a chance to see the movie, check out the Family Acceptance Project and see if there’s any way you can help. It’s wonderful work that will hopefully continue for a long time.

Published in: on June 19, 2010 at 9:27 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Dad meets the family

I wrote this as an opening scene for an end-of-semester reading a couple of semesters ago. Recently I found it again and I’ve been working on it more, developing the story further. I’ll share it now and see how it feels.

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As soon as the music began, I knew it was a mistake, bringing my father there. The audience had grown silent, the cold air still as the lights went down and some overeager mom began to pump shrill, lively tones into the auditorium. She apparently believed that the less rhythm a song had, the easier it was for children to dance to it. The spectacle on stage said otherwise. Two dozen kids were bumping into each other, their eyes wide as they looked up at the teacher who led them and gazed past her bobbing head to see the dimly lit faces of their parents behind her.

I tried to imagine how my father, standing beside me, was seeing it all. His eyes falling upon his grandkid for the first time, frosty white lights beaming onto the stage to show her standing out like a fly on a potato salad. One side of her white dress was tucked into the side of her loud orange underwear, and as if she didn’t look alien enough already, her braids were standing up on her head like antennae. The other folks’ kids were picking up the dance pretty quickly, doing what looked like four easy steps and repeating them over and over again. My kid, on the other hand, was bouncing around on her feet in any old way, to music that only could’ve been in her head. I’m not saying I was jealous or ashamed of my kid or anything – kid’s seven years old, and what man is cruel enough to be ashamed of a seven year old? No, I wasn’t ashamed, just wished I’d practiced a little with her at home or something is all. I could see what all the other parents saw when they looked at her, a kid who couldn’t even tap her feet to a beat, probably the product of another absent black father.

More importantly, I could see what my father saw when he looked on stage. My wide-set eyes and sturdy jaw on the kid’s dark round face, each misstep a sign of bigger mistakes, the tapping of her feet sending out thunderous echoes of many years of disappointment. Since I’d picked my father up at the airport and driven him to the recital he’d had a strange look about him, his narrow eyes wrinkled in the corners as if everything he was seeing was a part of some joke and only he knew the punchline. As I glanced over to see the look still fixed on his face, the audience began to stand.

Standing. Really? My father stood with them, and I rose only because I couldn’t see over their balding heads. My wife Elsie, of all people, led this premature ovation. She stood on my other side, opposite my father, and though she’d shaken his hand briefly just before the recital began, I knew this moment would sear itself into my father’s mind as his first impression of my wife. Elsie thought our kid was perfect. She was convinced that kids were flawed because they were kids, and couldn’t grasp that maybe our kid would be better off if she didn’t have a mother who was so willing to accept her flaws. Elsie was gaping at the stage, her eyes bouncing with joy, her hands clasped in front of her like she was uttering a prayer that was being answered as she said it. Thrilled that our kid was standing out, Elsie was too dense to realize that standing out for being the black kid unable to dance among white kids isn’t a good thing.

I’d always hoped to help the kid out before she turned out like her mother. I never liked kids, but of course I loved my own, and I knew that if she followed what her mother told her, all that crap about being herself even if it got her off track, then she’d end up being stupid. Happy, maybe, as they say ignorance is bliss, but stupid. And if she got smart enough one day to realize I didn’t let her turn out that way, surely she’d thank me.

She stopped dancing. Music still playing, white kids swaying around her, and the kid stood still as a tree on a windless day. I looked at her big brown eyes and saw that they’d found mine. She grinned, teeth glowing, reached up her hand as far as she could and started waving, not at Elsie or anyone else, but at me. For some reason this kid thought I’d be glad to see her up there waving like a fool.

Through the corner of my eye I saw my father look at her and look at me, and I was sure I felt the lights above me grow brighter. A chill rushed through my body. Should light be cold? The kid’s eyes were locked on me and I didn’t break their gaze. It was the only way to avoid eye contact with my father, and with the other audience members who had surely turned to look at me. Beside me, Elsie was shrieking her high-pitched giggle. It was all too much – the lights, the music, the eyes on me. I watched the kid as I sank back down into my seat.

All I could see now above the audience’s heads was her small palm, pale under the spotlight, as she slowly brought it down to her side.

This was my father’s introduction to my family. It was the first glimpse he’d seen of my life since he’d vanished from it nine years earlier.

Published in: on June 18, 2010 at 9:25 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Queer words

In an ideal world, maybe, we would be free of labels. We would respect and care for one another not because of what we’re called by others but because of who we are. People often claim to have moved beyond labeling but clearly we have a need to hold on to some types of categorization as a way to understand and evaluate each other.

“What are you?” we ask, squinting at the light-skinned girl with freckles and an afro.

“Wait, are you gay or straight?” we ask the guy whose ex-girlfriend introduced him to his boyfriend.

So, though I’d ideally rather not label my sexual identity, the closest I come is identifying as queer. I’ve heard and participated in many debates and discussions regarding this term, queer, and about categories in queer communities in general. I’d like to explain my use of “queer” and what it means to me, but I want to emphasize that this is my perspective on terms as they apply to me. Part of what can make these conversations so difficult, I think, is assuming that what works for me works for everyone else, which simply can’t be true.

That said, since I could ramble for days about queerness, I’ll organize my thoughts into reasons I identify as queer:

1) The pressure to identify as something. I suppose if I wanted to I could refuse to succumb to all labeling when asked about my dating experiences or attractions, because it’s frankly nobody else’s business, but for the sake of those whose minds seem to be BLOWN if they can’t identify someone as gay or straight, I identify as queer so that I have something to say if asked. They might get it then, or they might still be confused, in which case it’s a chance to teach them about something they don’t know much about.

2) Also because I’m very proud to be queer. Don’t think that wishing I didn’t have to label my sexuality means that I’m ashamed of it. I’m proud of who I am, and one advantage of finding a word that fits is being able to declare it proudly. I love that identifying as queer means taking a word that was once used to oppress people and declaring that we have nothing to be ashamed of.

3) I find it easier/more inclusive than trying to find an all-encompassing acronym. Besides simply rolling off the tongue easier, I feel more comfortable using queer than LGBT… (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender…) because the acronyms always seem to leave someone out. In some circles saying “GLBT” is sufficient, while in others it’s “LGBTQQI…” and so forth. While I don’t have a problem adding on letters for the sake of inclusion, our attempt to do so suggests that we can include everyone. We might say, “well, as long as I include both Qs and the T I’ve got everybody!” when in fact we’d have to include every letter of the alphabet, twice, if we were to truly seek out how each person in the world would like to identify. There are many other questions too, like why is the “T” so often added at the end as a sign of inclusion while transgender concerns are ignored? But on the other hand, perhaps it’s a mistake on my part to use “queer” as a substitute for all these terms, because inevitably there are some within those categories who are uncomfortable being identified as such.

4) “Bisexual” doesn’t cut it. I guess if I were to find myself in the often-used LGBT acronym, I would fall under B, because I’m attracted to both men and women, which implies bisexuality. But in my experience, identifying as bisexual often leads to a fundamental misunderstanding about my sexuality. For one thing, in our society the term comes with several negative connotations, such as a person being “confused” or “slutty.” I could reclaim the term and fight for its true meaning, of course, but its true meaning doesn’t resonate with me either. The prefix “bi” supports the binary gender system that I believe is so hurtful to those who don’t fall under typical understandings of gender and sexuality. To say that I’m bisexual would imply that I’m attracted only to traditional men and women, disregarding the genderqueer folks in between. And I view my sexuality as fluid, rather than strictly defined, so I feel that “queer” comes closest to capturing that.

5) And finally, queer can refer to more than who I’m sleeping with or dating or attracted to. Like the dictionary definition, it can refer to someone who’s just different in some way. I feel that it encompasses more about me, supporting what I believe about my identity, that I am who I am regardless of the romantic partners in my life. So often we base our opinion of people on who they date, labeling them straight or gay and piling on all of the ideas we have about either identity. For the love of all divine things, I am not confused. I’m not going through a phase. I am. I just…am. I only ask to be accepted for who I am today. Because let’s face it, I’m a fucking weirdo. I do things like take myself out on dates, and have conversations with my cat, and then I don’t even have the sense not to blog about it. So yes, I truly am queer, in more ways than one. It works for me.

But like I said, this is only what works for me. What do you think of the word queer, or the acronymns? Are there any arguments against queer that you think I’m missing or don’t understand? I’m always open to conversation about this.

Published in: on June 17, 2010 at 9:48 AM  Comments (3)  
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Nature’s Way

New fiction from this morning:

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As a child, Evelyn never would have confessed to something while her mother was gardening. She knew better than to deliver what might be called “bad news” while her mother was on her hands and knees in the dirt, her earth-colored skin glowing beneath the sun as she tended to her flowers with such gentle care that she might simply turn to a tulip in bloom and say, “why can’t my children be more like you?” if Evelyn disappointed her.

Now, as Evelyn was getting older, she reconsidered this strategy. In her eyes, it wasn’t bad news she was delivering, and perhaps if she was in the garden when she heard, her mother wouldn’t see it that way either. Evelyn could only hope, as she approached the towering woman brought down to the size of a hydrangea bush crouching in the garden, that her mother’s oneness with nature in this moment would make everything easier. Perhaps she would listen to what Evelyn had to say and then turn to a tulip with acceptance in her heart, remembering all that it went through before it came to bloom, the winter it hardly survived, the way she planted it carefully in hopes that it would face one direction, only to have it grow to face the opposite, surprising her with the discovery that that’s what she preferred all along.

As Evelyn got closer, the harsh gleam of the sun suddenly felt more hostile and she wiped a line of sweat from her forehead as she began to wonder what she would say, exactly. She’d had the words planned out but now, watching her mother’s fingers abandon a shovel and dig through the dirt themselves, tunneling quickly and carefully as ants, Evelyn felt like her words were buried too. She’d forgotten everything. How would she explain? There was nobody to introduce her mother to, no deep love of which to speak. She was only describing an inkling, a feeling she got around some girls that told her that there would, someday, be a love of which to speak. As her mother looked up to greet her, Evelyn tried to smile, but could only open her mouth in a terrified grimace. Her throat was closing. Her fingers trembling. Her heart and her stomach tightened as one entangled mess.

“Ah,” her mother said, smiling and nodding when she saw her daughter’s face. “So. You’ve finally come to tell me.”

Published in: on June 17, 2010 at 9:45 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Exposed

I’m naked on this blog.

No, I’m not actually blogging in the nude (though maybe if I said I was I’d get more views?), but I look at the page and I feel exposed. Not only about writing some of my thoughts, many of which I often feel but rarely express, but also about posting my creative writing. About sharing about my writing process, and also sharing work that’s so fresh, coming out so early in the process.

There was a time when I wouldn’t show anybody what I was writing. Okay, so maybe I had a right to be ashamed of some of what I was coming up with, but mostly I had irrational feelings about my work being judged. Those feelings still haunt me now, but I have to push through my fears if I want my work to reach anyone so that’s what I’ve learned to do. Blogging has helped encourage me to push myself, but I still can’t really believe I’m doing what I’m doing here. Sharing new writing that I haven’t yet had a chance to mull over, eliminating the step when I usually decide I hate it and throw it away before anyone can see what I’ve done. Instead, posting it here without disclaimers or apologies (or maybe this entire post is a disclaimer slipping out — uh-oh) about how, you know, “it’s just something I just started working on, something silly, it’s not very good really, in fact not good at all, in fact you can just go ahead and forget you ever saw this…”

Part of the writing process I’m developing is trying to eliminate the disclaimers, so if I post something I’ve written and give it a preface about how much it sucks, you can go ahead and say “ahem” and remind me of this post. Even if it really does suck. Perhaps especially so.

I may feel naked, but I’m going to stand my ground, exposed.

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She woke up to blades of grass tapping her bare shoulders like the fingers of children eager to play. She didn’t have a blanket, she knew, but she felt herself wrapped in the warmth of her own skin. She moved her head from side to side to smell the morning, the damp dew nourishing the earth beneath her. She sat up, recognizing that she was nude only because of the way her body shifted, her hips falling in exchange for her body lifting, her breasts swaying slightly before coming to rest. There were murmurs above her, and she knew that she was not alone, but she wasn’t ashamed. She raised her arms to the sky, opened her mouth and let out a laugh louder than a lioness’s roar.

Published in: on June 16, 2010 at 9:20 AM  Comments (4)  
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Yeah, I’m looking at you

I don’t mean to be creepy.

But I like to look at people. According to my mother I always have, ever since I was too young to know it was rude to stare or too curious to care. She says that people used to laugh at the way I’d sit and observe, so silently and intensely that people often thought I couldn’t speak. I’m jealous now of babies who get to sit and stare. Wish I could park myself in a stroller and sit and watch people without looking like a creeper.

Now my excuse is that I’m a writer. I find people intriguing and I can often get story ideas just by watching people around me. A lot of times when I’m around people in settings like public transportation I bury my head in a book, but nothing can tear my eyes away from a good book like an interesting fellow passenger.

The problem is that people don’t appreciate being stared at, which is understandable. I wish I could communicate that I don’t have any ill intentions, wish I could just stare shamelessly wearing a t-shirt that says “I’M NOT JUDGING YOU.” For example, when I come across somebody with a truly unique sense of style, socially acceptable or not, I’m so appreciative of their individuality and courage that I just want to look them up and down and take it all in. But of course, I’m sure I’m not the first person to stare. And I’m sure most other stares have been accompanied by judgments, glares or giggles, so I understand when they catch my eye and glare right back.

I find myself staring at unconventional romantic pairs too, like interracial couples or lesbian couples. I’m not staring at the them with envy or with lust (okay, not always), but with appreciation of their freedom to love one another and show it in public. I think of places like my hometown or other more restrictive places, even places within the Bay Area, and I think of images from the media that would have us believe that all romantic relationships look a certain way. And I’m still (happily) in awe, sometimes, when I find myself in situations where these partners can be together without fear of judgment or violence. These are times when I want to bust out my “I’M NOT JUDGING YOU, I’M QUEER TOO AND I LIKE WHAT YOU’RE DOING THERE” t-shirt.

Sometimes I’ll run into another starer. We’ll keep making accidental eye contact as I look around,  and I’ll notice that curious gleam in their eye as they look around too. I’ll think, “Aha, I know what you’re up to,” and give them a little smirk, but it turns out I’m the only weirdo who wants to acknowledge things like a shared love of staring so usually I don’t get anything back.

That’s different from when you catch people staring at something everybody looks at. That can be my favorite thing to do sometimes, when something happens like the guy mumbling to himself on the back of a crowded bus makes an outburst. Instead of looking at the one causing the scene, I’ll take a look at the people around him. The kids riding home without their parents, their eyes widening as the girl wraps her arm around her younger brother. The young woman who’s talking on her cell phone, who rolls her eyes and pulls her bag closer to herself, as if the whole thing is about her and her purse.

You can learn a lot about people just by being an observer, just tuning into their habits and behaviors. I feel guilty about it sometimes because I don’t mean to intrude on anyone’s privacy or make them feel uncomfortable but sometimes that’s what happens. I could use another lesson in etiquette, I guess, to remind myself that there’s a reason people don’t like when you stare. But that reason usually has something to do with a fear of being judged. I’ll try to keep my eyes to myself, but just remember, if I slip and you catch me looking at you, I’m not a creep or a judge. I’m appreciating you for who you are. Try looking in the mirror to see what I see.

Published in: on June 15, 2010 at 10:05 AM  Comments (1)  
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Thoughts after the Queer Women of Color Film Festival

I began this post by titling it “Queer people of color and the arts,” and then sat here as my mind went on a million different tangents. Obviously I could say a lot on the subject, but I’ll start here:

I love San Francisco in June! There are so many great things to do, from literary events to queer events to self-created sit-at-Dolores-Park-and-play-with-other-peoples’-dogs events, that I hardly know how to choose. Happenings that make it fun to be queer in this city in the month of June include: Frameline, the LGBT film festival; the National Queer Arts Festival; and, of course, Pride.

This past weekend I volunteered at the Queer Women of Color Film Festival, which was tremendously fun, thought-provoking and empowering. I always know it’s true, but each time I see an event like this I’m struck again with awe at the power of the arts in communities like these. This is what thrills me — I have my nerd moments over seeing things like women who once felt powerless and voiceless finding their voices and sharing it with others.

I’m not thrilled when people try to divide these communities, using powerful forces like faith or family or tradition to say that queer people and people of color live in different worlds with opposite ideas. The strength, joy and community in the space at the theater yesterday says otherwise.

CUAV co-presented a group of films that included Susannah Hong’s “Pretty Ugly,” challenging standards of beauty that fail to appreciate queer women of color; “Ferment Me My Heart,” Louije Kim’s hilarious kimchee chronicle; and “Our Houses,” in which queer women recount self-discovery and desire in their own terms. KB’s “Bulldagger Women and Sissy Men” approached a subject that’s close to my heart, queer people in the Harlem Renaissance, to illuminate their undeniable place in the movement.

All of the other films were incredible too. An audience member commented during the Q & A session that we are in a renaissance now, a thought that sent chills down my spine. The Harlem Renaissance intrigues me as a time when Black people, including many Black queer people, demonstrated the use of the arts to celebrate themselves and each other, to heal from their wounds and to proudly show beauty and strength. Even if it’s not as pronounced as the Harlem Renaissance, if we’re in a time when the arts can have a similar impact, then I’m thrilled to the bone.

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Let’s tell them where we’ve been, sisters,

so they will know our stories.

I’ll tell them where I’ve been,

and maybe I’ll remember too.

Published in: on June 14, 2010 at 12:29 PM  Comments (1)  
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