In solitude, in community

Writing’s supposed to be a solo thing. Right? That’s what I signed up for anyway, something I could do while holed up in my room with nobody but my cat as company, when nobody and nothing else matters but me and the words I put on the page. Something that would go well with my affinity for taking myself out on dates, so that if nothing else I can take out my notebook in an attempt to prove that yes, I am a weirdo who wants to be alone.

But when I signed up I didn’t read the fine print, of course. The part that said that there are a whole bunch of other weirdos out there, and at some point, we will find each other.That’s the funny thing about writing, that it’s a solo activity that ultimately creates community. Like-minded folks find one another. People connect over mutually recognized parts of the human condition, aspects of life you thought only you noticed until someone else reads that line of poetry that makes you go, oh.

Something exciting is happening here in San Francisco these days. At events like Literary Death Match, Queer Open Mic and more, writers and readers and lovers of the written or spoken word are finding one another and creating community. There’s nothing like being in a room where a writer puts her heart on the stage and the audience reaches out to keep it beating.

This Labor Day I was lucky enough to spend time with some of this community at September’s edition of Quiet Lightning, a monthly reading series hosted by the fantastic Evan Karp and Rajshree Chauhan. The event began with a litnic (thanks to Matthew DeCoster for that term) at Dolores Park, where the weather was beautiful and the food was plentiful and the love of writing was in the air. And writers weren’t the only artists to find each other, of course. Musicians also came out to not only provide the day’s soundtrack, but also add to the sense of community that was coming together. Then, as evening set in, the group moved to the Mina Dresden Gallery for the reading. Folks like Andrew Paul Nelson and Katie May and Jesus Castillo (I’d really like to name them all, they were all so great) read back to back without introduction and took our collective breath away, so if nothing else our simultaneous gaps and oohs reminded us that we were in this together. It was really a marvelous day.

I’d like to blog more about these events, as I witness the creation of a community of writers, people who spend enough time alone with their own maddening thoughts (so maybe I’m speaking for myself here) that the chance to come together and share words is an inevitably explosive event. So expect more of these posts. Evan Karp, of course, always does a brilliant job of keeping up with these things at the Examiner, so when I miss out, be sure to check in with him there.

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Published in: on September 8, 2010 at 9:33 AM  Comments (6)  
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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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Uniting in our difference

It’s funny what isolation can do to us sometimes. We can feel alone in our struggles, convinced that we truly are alone, that nobody else could possibly understand the individual intersection of the identities that make up who we are.

As a Black queer person, for example, it’s easy to feel this way. And I could pile a bunch of other aspects of my identity on top of those to make this point. It’s a feeling of never being whole in the way one presents oneself. Always having to leave a part behind, based on surroundings. I find myself in communities of faith and communities of color where I can identify with those around me on one level, but in order to do so I must keep another part of me hidden, like my queer identity. Or, I might be in queer circles where issues of race and gender are trivialized, and I’m expected to set aside my perspective as a Black woman for the sake of queer unity.

The intersection between Black and queer is on my mind especially because of a meeting/gathering I went to last night. I’m really glad that I went because it was one of those instances when I would’ve assumed I was alone if somebody (namely Eric Martin) hadn’t reached out to see if anyone else was out there.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be attending “Another World Is Possible,” the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit. It’s a huge event full of workshops put on by activists and organizers from around the country and the world. I’ll have more details on the event and on CUAV, the incredible organization I’m going with, later. Last night’s gathering was called “To Detroit with Love,” and it brought together Black queer people, most of whom are attending the USSF, to discuss our role, hopes and goals for the USSF.

We might think that at an event like the USSF, filled with folks who envision the world as a place of equality, it would be easy for anyone to come as you are. But it might be harder than it seems. Even the most informed social justice activists can play a role in the systems that exclude certain identities. There will certainly be workshops that discuss racial and gender equality while disregarding or forgetting about what the inclusion of queer voices brings to the table. Likewise, there will be activists who focus on queer issues without including the perspective of queer people of color.

The process of full inclusion is a complex one. I’m trying to find a different word than “inclusion” to use, because it doesn’t feel like quite enough. We must include without tokenizing. Speak to the voices that couldn’t be present without misappropriating their struggles, and claiming to understand without walking in their shoes. Move beyond the differences that divide us by finding our common ground, while recognizing those differences that make us unique, that make it so that there can be no one voice that speaks for an entire group.

At “To Detroit with Love,” we all brought our unique experiences and perspectives to the table, creating what felt like some multicolored quilt of thought that held both our similarities and our differences. It doesn’t mean that our experience at the USSF will be perfect or that our presence there will make the change we see necessary to let everybody be free to be all of who they are, but we’ve started a conversation that will continue on. To really make another world possible.

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From the morning’s freewrite:


How will I find you in the dark?

Our black bodies swallowed by the shadows

Remembering what we’ve been told

about what darkness means:

confusion and loss,

wickedness and despair.

How will we find each other?

By remembering we were born in the dark

and within us still

the proud, dark continent

is unearthed in our blood.

Some will call Black a bad word

so we’ll claim it as our own.

A word whose power grows as we do.

Published in: on June 10, 2010 at 9:53 AM  Comments (3)  
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Writing my way into history

There are many reasons why I write. I could call this part one of an epic series on the subject. But one reason that has been coming up quite a bit lately is to make a place for me and for others whose stories are often erased from history.

One of the recent events that inspired this post was Sunday’s Imagine How Free We Can Get: A Radical Queer Walking Tour of the Mission. It was part of the Queer Arts Festival, started at Modern Times Bookstore and was led by the wonderful Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Leah showed us vibrant corners of San Francisco’s Mission District that were rich with queer history. The only question was, why was this all a part of marginally recorded history? Why were so many of these stories, of places and events like the Catacombs and the Valencia lesbian stroll, made up of distant memories and attempts to recover what has been erased in the writing of history?

I’ve struggled with this issue a lot, feeling like I want to make an impact on a world in which the stories of people like me, women and queer people and people of color, are often silenced. So, though I’m not always consciously thinking “this will go down in history” as I write, I know that on some level each word I put on the page is driven by my need to put out the stories that won’t always be heard. They may not make it into history books or the canon of literature or any other realm usually dominated by heterosexual white men, but they’ll be out there, and the very presence of these stories in the world will declare that they matter. So that someday, maybe someone who has been told that her voice is unimportant will learn otherwise. Once we let our words be heard, they cannot be erased. They’ll keep echoing through our bones for as long as our communities’ hearts are beating.

This is adapted from part of a more personal piece I write in a Writing Ourselves Whole workshop:

I worry so much that my voice won’t be heard.

So then I write a stupid poem.

Go outside and read it aloud, look around and see people who don’t care about the world beyond their big toe.

Go home and throw away my stupid poem. They didn’t hear a thing.

Saw a house once where queer women used for fuck each other, just meet every Friday and fuck, as their way of getting their voices heard.

Had to put sound-proof glass in the windows, the neighbors heard their voices so much.

There’s a young white family living there now. Soundproof glass keeps the neighbors from hearing the wife’s cries at night.

It’s like I want my voice recorded as a part of history, but I’m afraid as soon as I speak, my words will go down into history’s basement, where queer voices, where voices of color can so easily be erased.

It’s like I’d rather not have them say, “this is what she said,” but “Listen up. She’s still speaking.”

How can I write in permanent ink? Ink that echoes, that trembles, that shakes so much it can’t stay on the page, but goes on and on to reach ears that haven’t even been born yet. To say, “Hey, baby. Someday you’ll feel different too, and that’s all right.”

Because if my words matter, then so do theirs. So does everyone who’s ever been silenced. Historians have erasers they use as weapons, but they’ve yet to meet the weapons of my words. If my words matter, then so do the voices of all those queer women who lifted their voices in ecstasy each Friday night, and so does the voice of she who cries within those walls now.

Once I was afraid to lift my voice. Today I say, Listen up. I’m still speaking. I never got to finish telling my story.

Published in: on June 8, 2010 at 10:35 AM  Comments (1)  
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