King in King City

I stand in the shower at the Quality Inn, fluorescent light whirring and hot water pounding my skin, carefully plucking out tiny shards of glass. My arms are coated in red freckles from where the razorsharp particles rained down on me, but it doesn’t really hurt and the steamy air is soothing.

The moment the hood unlatched and came flying up to meet my windshield as I flew down the highway wasn’t the worst part of the day anyway. The Highway Patrol pulled over and made the nice family who had been helping me leave, insisting I wait in the back of the patrol car until the tow truck arrived. Brain curled up and fell asleep but my nails were digging into my palms as I smiled and pretended to be grateful for his “help”.

I told the tow truck driver it would be fine, I’d drive it back to Oakland like this, and he looked at me like I was crazy but that was okay. I didn’t want to wait, I wanted to get home. But when I started the car the glass started raining again so I gave up and checked into the hotel room.

The worst part of the day was when I finally made it to the hotel room and turned on CNN and the video of that fucking Nazi plowing his car into comrades on another coast was on again and again and all anyone could say was that Donald Trump hadn’t condemned the killers and all I could think was WHO GIVES ANY KIND OF FUCK WHAT DONALD TRUMP HAS TO SAY ABOUT ANY OF THIS because he has been supporting White Supremacy with every fucking breath and so has every fucking president and because all of this will continue tomorrow no matter what he has to say about it, but even more so because none of these anchors hangs on every word of Black folks who have screamed a million times that they are being slaughtered and NO ONE WHO HAS BEEN PAYING ANY KIND OF ATTENTION CAN BE SURPRISED RIGHT NOW.

I tuned it out all weekend because I was on call for my sister who is having a really rough time, because patriarchy and capitalism are so many kinds of violent to all of us, and because even though she followed all the rules and got a nice job and a nice boyfriend and a nice dog and cat and a savings account she still isn’t shielded from that violence, because no one is, really. We spent the weekend eating our favourite snacks, watching horror movies, and playing with our dogs, and I wished so much to just stay in the cocoon of coffee and Mario Kart and family. But driving back up North felt like emerging for breath to find that the oxygen has been polluted so heavily I can’t even inhale.

After my shower I shook the glass out of my clothing and walked across the street to Denny’s, and the cute waitress was flirting with me so I flirted back. She winked when she put down a plate loaded with pancakes and bacon and hashbrowns and said she hoped I enjoyed it because she made it herself. It was fucking awful but I left a large tip with a heart drawn on it because duh.

I got a $2 bottle of wine at the corner store which I spent an hour trying to open but couldn’t because my wrist hasn’t actually healed enough for twist tops, so instead I ate pretzels and fell asleep watching Star Trek and pretending Earth no longer existed.

I lived like a King in King City.

But I woke up this morning still on Earth so now I’m trying to figure out how to keep moving forward. The day to day work supporting my homeless friend who has been attacked by police and forced to move from her place, supporting my sister through a rough time, supporting my friend who was sexually assaulted, supporting my friend locked up in a prison camp, and fighting to stay in my home demands so much of my heart, and so much of my time. I know this is part of longterm vision to create a world without prisons, without rapists, without exploitative jobs, in which everyone has a home. I know its strategic to stay focused, to keep working. But then again my body is screaming to go and fight because oh my god Nazis are just killing people at protests and my friends are there and they are there fighting for all of us and damn I want to stand behind them right now. I will do both of these things, but I don’t think I will ever find this ever-evasive “balance” I’m seeking.

Today is not a day to go about your normal business and pretend everything is okay.

Yesterday wasn’t either and I’m pretty damn sure tomorrow won’t be. These days call on white people to step into hard conversations with family members, to show up to a solidarity demo, to redistribute accumulated resources to black/brown folks, to form ranks and fight back against Nazis literally killing people in the streets and call out the liberals defending their rights to do so (I’m looking directly at all of y’all giving money to the ACLU).

Give everyone under attack right now a second to breath, to grieve, to regroup. They’ve been in this fight a lot longer.

My heart is aching, racing, raging.

Fuck white supremacy, time to uproot that shit. I’m going to start back up trying to as soon as I get my ass back to Oakland. Wish me luck.

unnamed
my time in SLO

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Something With Whiskey

This alleyway is brightly lit, no place for discretion, and yet here we are, my legs wrapped over his, his fingers gentle on my cheek. I ask if I can kiss him and our mouths pull together. We’re parked by a church, maybe its a school?, and I am here in this new, distant city wanting some kind of tenderness.

When he texted it was already late and I’d been drinking. On the way to meet him I stopped by the liquor store and stuffed a bag of chips in my mouth, hoping the starchy snacks would absorb some of the alcohol. I’d be cool, collected. On the way the silence was broken by two giant black dogs, snarling and barking as they tore down the driveway and after my bike. I pedaled as fast as I could, screaming “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME” and they chased me through a busy intersection.

Luckily I made it across alone.

***

On the other side of night this all seems like a strange dream. A stranger’s lips in the alley, wild city dogs and burnt rubber. It’s almost noon and there is a thunderstorm through the window of this diner where I eat a stack of pancakes alone, staring into the Styrofoam box printed with American flags and soggy with too much maple-flavored syrup.

That bartender who fashioned me a whiskey drink earlier this week gave me her number in the back of a zine she filled with poems, and they made me cry so hard I had to text her. Thank god I did that.

At her house we sort through the mess of precious food items and moldy abandoned things in the fridge and set about defrosting. She tells me about her trauma. I tell her about mine. We talk about our mental health and our class backgrounds and the terrible men we’ve known. Some things we have in common. Some things we don’t have in common.

Her hard bartender voice gets gentler as we talk, and as her words warm I feel them thaw the joy in my chest that has gotten cold from disuse. We’re laughing together and her laugh is beautiful. I think I want to kiss her but I’m too scared so I just laugh.

***

Six months ago our friends died in a fire on the other side of Oakland from where I live. I haven’t been to the spot since it burned down.

People asked how I was for a few weeks, and then somehow everything gradually (it felt sudden) was normal again, and my smile was expected and my aches were considered pathology and I had to go to work. And at the same time my own trauma started to surface. Sexual assault. Heartbreak. Microaggressions. Transphobic violence. I feel crushed by the small things because I can’t even begin to address the big ones, but they are all pains held in my body.

I feel as if I’ve forgotten how to talk to myself. I wave at myself shyly from across a crowded room. How are you? Are you okay? You look lonely.

Most days my heart feels hard. I can’t trust anyone enough to share the tender places in me, to share my genuine smile, my laughter. I don’t want to be seen, I’m too tired to see. And yet suddenly here, halfway across the country, I find myself writing poetry, for myself. Slamming my bike’s brakes and pulling my notebook out of my backpack, like its pages are oxygen.

I write a letter, from my old ancient self to my current self, after we win the revolution: thank you for fighting, thank you for surviving. I promise myself again I will make it through this.

I just needed to start the conversation.

***

On the last day we scrub out the refrigerator and drink coffee and eat vegan Mac N Cheese and I feel so much at home I forget my flight is leaving tonight. We go to the art museum and look into world of Diego Rivera painted on the walls, at old artifacts, at paintings donated when this city was a destination. We go to the beach and swim in our underwear and I worry a little bit but not too much about the fresh wound etched on my arm.

I promise I’ll write.

And when I cry on the plane and try to hide my tears in my sleeves I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad.

Shy

I have never seen so many radicals drinking Starbucks.

Activists from around the country, world have come to Detroit for the annual Allied Media Conference. Everyone around me is buzzing with energy and possibility, dressed in the most beautiful colors, and drinking lattes from the only coffee shop on campus, Starbucks.

I want to say hi to everyone, introduce myself, ask them about the amazing projects they are working on. One person talks about the land project they started that supports a whole community’s food needs. Another offhandedly mentions leading an accountability process within black queer community.

Instead I stare down at my coffee and wish I could disappear.

I am not a shy person. There are many things I struggle with, but the art of introduction, of delving with strangers is rarely one of them. But here, surrounded by the beautiful creative energy of hundreds of rad queers from new corners of the world, I feel a crushing sense of insignificance. Why would anyone want to meet me?

***

My first night here the bartender laughs at me when I order an Old Fashioned. Honey, we don’t make that kinda drink here. But she pulls together some bitters and whiskey and approximates. Its delicious and I get too drunk. She invites me to her punk collective for a trans/poetry reading, and I go, of course I go.

The poet is talking about sexual assault. They warned me but I feel my anxiety building, and I fight back tears. When the poetry is over I run out of the house, get on my bike, and pedal around alone for hours, feeling and crying.

***

When I wake up on day three I am done with shrinking, and I am done with crying. I make a pact with myself. I will smile at everyone today, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me. A few people glare back at me, but for the most part they smile back. I can feel myself stepping back into my body, and I start meeting people. New friends, many of whom are working on things I am also working on, but across the country from me. The isolation I have felt all weekend suddenly transforms, and I can feel the satisfaction and hope that I am not alone. We are all struggling alongside each other, in our big ways and small ways.

That night I try to leave the dance party for hours, but I can’t pull myself away. Everyone is too cute.

***

And then I am face down on the table, arm outstretched, sharp metal burning my skin, trying not to concentrate, trying to meet the pain, failing. My arm is scarred from its meeting with poison oak, my heart is scarred too. The needle etches out a promise of self-defense. As the poison oak defends the forest from human disturbance, I defend myself from heartbreak, from violation.

Overhead is a banner decrying capitalism, the state, the police. The person with the needle is talking and I’m in and out, the pain is intense and also healing.

***

I’m biking through the humid dark hours as dawn creeps up. I bike through an empty lot and see tiny lights flickering on and off.

Fireflies.

Dying Everyday

I hand an older woman on the BART a couple bucks as she paces through the aisles, making an impassioned plea for support. She smiles and thanks me, and then as she walks away she looks back and says “watch yourself on that skateboard honey, we don’t heal like we used to.”

“We don’t heal like we used to”.

These words hit me harder than I could imagine. I think this is the first time a stranger has acknowledged me as an aging person, a mortal being. I feel like she has just told me I’m dying.

This is, of course, not what she is trying to say, but death has been on my mind lately. Or sometimes, at the least appropriate moments, its pouring out my eyes. My friends are laughing around the table at the bar talking about the new Star Wars movie and I am abruptly sobbing loudly, as they awkwardly stare. Less awkwardly than the strangers on BART who expertly avoid eye contact as I cry the whole way to work.

***

The morning I found out Ghost Ship had burned I was calm at first. I looked at the guest list and called my friends, checking that everyone was safe. I left a voice message for Denalda. “Hey hon, I’m sure you’re safe, but just checking to be sure. Let me know!” The calm was over quickly as I read through hundreds of messages from friends, panicking, trying to find their loved ones. No one had heard from Denalda. As the day drug on the hope that she might still be alive clawed into my chest and stomach.

We lost so many people. All at once. So many people.

Since Denalda’s was confirmed among the dead, death has hung heavy in every moment. Me and Denalda have a lot in common. Her nickname, Sea Crust, was the name of my old boat. We were both just getting into herbalism. We had a bunch of shared friends in her hometown in Nebraska, where I had stayed on my travels. We even fucked the same guy there. I know that because it came up while I was teaching Denalda to skate, about a month before her death. It was her New Year’s resolution.

While the Oakland I know broke apart, shredded by grief and attacked by the city politicians, Girlfriend and I left and drove toward the border, looking for healing in the desert. In a dark canyon we lit candles and prayed for our friends, those who died and those who live. We held each other and cried and fucked and whispered to each other. We got really drunk on cheap wine and played chess by candlelight.

Each plant, each insect, gave me so much in that place that looked dead but actually writhed with life. To see these creatures thriving in the most inhospitable places imaginable made me feel like we might survive. We might survive in the most inhospitable places.

Oakland feels more dead than that desert. Within 24 hours of being back I was sitting in bed as Sweetheart and I decided we should probably break up, and then did. And before the tears had even dried I found out I will probably have to leave my housing situation, again. Our landlord is fighting to get rid of our rent control, and it looks like he might win. And it became hard again to feel like I would survive.

Mortality is something I have played with my whole life. I’ve hitchhiked across the country, I’ve eaten food from the trash, I’ve tattooed my skin, I’ve smoked cigarettes, I’ve wasted time, I’ve taken friends for granted, I’ve taken family for granted. I lived in a warehouse that was shut down by the fire marshal and the landlord. Now suddenly death is in every moment. It’s there every time I get in a car. It’s there every time I walk past a stranger. It’s there burning in the fireplace at Christmas. I keep saying goodbye to myself, preparing for the inevitable.

It’s there, too, every time I see a friend. Our hugs last a little bit longer. We respond to texts more quickly. We say “I’m glad you’re alive”, and we both know what that means. We say “I’m sad” and no one even has to ask. I got back from the desert to find a care package from a new friend. Tea. Candles. Chocolate. A protection pouch. People I haven’t talked to in months say hi, say they care about me, offer cupcakes and open ears and liquor and cuddles and hiding under blankets watching Buffy kill vampires.

I feel like I’m dying. And I am. And we all are. We’re all dying everyday.

I just have to get used to knowing it. To feeling it. To holding that in the smallest bones and letting it feed my heart. And when I watch Star Wars and the characters hold each other tenderly as they melt in the sun I might just cry really loudly in the theater and identify with them and every moment I spend writing or singing or making art or making love or making eyes at cute strangers on BART might just feel like those last sweet caresses in the moments before the world ends. And saying “I love you” might hurt a little more gently.

***

I get off BART and get on my skateboard, and remind myself that I’m alive and that I probably won’t get in a fatal crash in the 5 block ride to my house, even though I forgot to wear my helmet. And about 10 seconds later I’m face down on the concrete, rips in my jeans and in the skin covering my knees, and my palms burn like hell. And I just sit there and bleed and cry and cry and cry because oh my god that hurt and also oh my god all of this hurts. Denalda is dead and Oakland is gentrifying and our safe havens are getting shut down and my Sweetheart isn’t my Sweetheart anymore and I don’t have a home and the woman on BART was right.

We don’t heal like we used to.

DYING EVERYDAY by INTROFLIRT – REST IN POWER DENALDA AND BEN

Learning to Celebrate

I often feel really conflicted about how to engage with the colonial holiday Thanksgiving, which celebrates the beginning of what would become an imperial and genocidal regime that wiped out millions of indigenous American people and continues to try to decimate the traditions and histories of many people I care deeply about.

I think Thanksgiving also marks the moment when my ancestors sacrificed their souls and their humanity in exchange for material wealth that they didn’t even know how to appreciate. It is so hard to imagine what could have led white people to believe that we are entitled to entire continents, to the lives and service of entire nations, to the cultures people spent centuries creating. The only explanation I have is that white people have given up their humanity, the ability to feel empathy, in exchange for a parasitic form of power.

And I think I still feel the residual effects of this soul-death. Its the way I can walk past a homeless person on the sidewalk without immediately stopping to see if I can help. Its the fear of talking to strangers on the bus. Its the ability to pack up every year or two and travel, and forget to call my friends to tell them I love them. Because when you sacrifice your soul you don’t just give up the capacity to feel guilt, but the capacity to feel real love.

I have so much to be grateful for, including the time off of work to spend with my family, to whom I owe so much. In connecting with my family this week I will be working to heal the wounds that our ancestors created and to melt away the numbness that has allowed me and all those who benefit from colonial white supremacy to commit atrocities. I will be working to listen, to learn from my parents, and to learn from myself. I will be thanking my parents for all they gave up for me, all they’ve shared with me, and all their perseverance in raising a pretty challenging kid. Particularly I will be working to build a genuine commitment to the people in my life, that will keep me rooted and accountable. I will be working to learn what love means.

And to that end, I will also be fasting tomorrow, in acknowledgement of the violence that my ancestors have perpetrated, the continuing violence of white supremacy, and my participation in this process. I will be mourning the takeover of the Ohlone land, where I am a settler, and the Miwok land where I was raised.

I will be celebrating, too. I’ll be celebrating a future in which land is returned to the people it was stolen from, in which Native sovereignty is respected. I’ll be celebrating a future in which white people remember their humanity and not only apologize for but make reparations (to the extent this is possible) for colonization. I will be celebrating a future with no Dakota Access Pipeline, no Keystone Pipeline, no school to prison pipeline, no pipelines. I’ll be celebrating a future in which every day is a day to be with family, and to give thanks.

Celebrating the future might mean making sacrifices now. I believe it is worth it. I believe that we can win.

#Nothanksfortaking

#workinprogress

PS: Decolonial work needs to be happening year round, not just on the holidays that remind us of our complicity in genocide. This is one of many helpful resources for showing up in indigenous solidarity work.
Accomplices Not Allies

The News

I think I needed to wait until there was good news to write.

The bad news came so quickly my words couldn’t keep up, and they gave up easy. I was so furious when I went to the impound lot and gave them $800 just to be shown to the burnt out shell of what had been the car my family used to go on road trips in, picked up groceries in. What was the car I was so excited to have so I might finally be able to pick up hitchhikers.

But that felt like nothing, quickly, when I was standing in front of a giant glowing TV screen with the face of Donald Trump the rapist. Donald Trump the racist. Donald Trump the fascist capitalist who emboldened the neonazis to march in the streets. Donald Trump the President. I wasn’t sad that Hillary Clinton, the neoliberal bureaucrat, lost. But I hadn’t expected this. Not even at all.

And standing in that room full of white people with buttons reading “I’m With Her” I felt even more scared and isolated. In every possible future the world felt bleak and terrifying. Was this the moment of collapse? It has all already been happening. 3 million people deported by Obama. Attacks in Syria, Lybia, Afghanistan, Iraq, continuing day and, day out. The massive prison industrial complex stocking black and brown bodies branded with the word “CRIMINAL” and cast out. Thousands in my own city sleeping on the streets. Now without tents, thanks to Measure Q. Even Sweetheart started to feel far away.

Surfacing, then, in Oscar Grant Plaza, named by a city in mourning for the lost life of a young Black father, to a sea of other angry, isolated people dressed in black and wearing masks, I felt suddenly held. Held by the writhing mass of contradictory feelings and anger and relief and confusion, and by the flames keeping the cops on their side of the streets. If they can’t keep us safe, we keep ourselves safe. And night after night we took the streets and I felt safe, and I didn’t feel alone.

My lover held my hand as we ran from the tear gas, billowing from the line of riot cops. A fight broke out and they disappeared, resurfacing moments later with blows to the head and stomach, an aching wrist, skin cold, unable to walk properly. And my comrades got the car and we drove to the hospital and I sat there with them until the day changed, and then longer, and we joked and smiled for the first time since we’d heard the news. And the hospital beds slowly filled with kids in handcuffs. And it hurt to laugh.

We left the hospital and walked into the night, and as we climbed into the taxi the voicemails came through, and Sweetheart’s mom was on the other end. He is in jail, she told me. Tell everyone. Which I did, but by the time I woke up next to my moaning lover he was already out, bailed out, which means he is lucky, in some strange reading of the word. Because lucky isn’t ever jail. Ever.

That day my landlord gave us three days to “Pay or Quit” $1200 in made up fees, for paying rent late and for utilities, which we pay directly to our utility company. Because maybe just feeling the ending of the world isn’t enough if you don’t also worry that you may not have a home. He is harassing us, trying to force us out so he can rent it out to yuppies who can grow money somehow. I don’t where I go next. Everything is so expensive, and already I’m scraping.

It felt so impossible last week that I could feel happy again, but these feelings come in waves, as feelings do, and right now I don’t feel so scared, I just feel ready. There are meetings happening all over the Bay Area, the country, the world, and we are feeling.

If the state won’t take care of us, how can we take care of each other?

I am ready for that. I am ready to sleep on the floor, to lend my bed to the friend who lost their housing or who never had it to begin with. I am ready to sit in front of the ICE busses and stop the state from stealing any more people, from protecting false borders. I am ready to see the indigenous people at Standing Rock stop that fucking pipeline from poisoning our scare water, from replaying the colonization that nearly decimated a whole universe. I am ready to make you dinner when you need a friend, to listen to you cry, to get you home safe from work, to cry. I am ready to learn self-defense.

And I am ready to talk to people who may not be ready. To listen to them. To ask what they need to get ready. What would it take for you to fully see the humanity of the homeless stranger, or the prisoner? And if you saw them for who they are, what would it take for you to feel it in your stomach, for every fiber of your being to want to make the violence stop? I am ready to talk about that.

I said I needed the good news before I could find words.

The good news is that a lot of us are ready. And that more of us are getting ready.

The good news is that Ricky isn’t in prison, not yet, and that I’m not being evicted, not yet. The good news is that the charges the state brought against Sweetheart, those got dropped. And the good news is that my lover’s injuries aren’t permanent. We’ll be okay.

And this morning I found out that the legal battle that has dragged on for nearly a year, since that beautiful moment when I followed brave, Black, queer as fuck activists out onto the Bay Bridge, is over. The District Attorney just dropped all charges against the #BayBridge25, people who stopped traffic to assert the right to health for Black people. I am so ready to stop worrying about the looming charges.

Everything still feels heavy. And scary. But I don’t feel alone anymore. Because I’m starting to trust that you will have my back when things get bad. Because I’m starting to trust myself to have yours. Because I am learning what love really is, and because I love you. I love you. I love you.

I love you.