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.