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the dance floor was the one safe place to have a body

CW: violence, sex, grief, a graphic detail about rape

This morning, I’m out at my neighborhood cafe, where they are playing club music to wake up the patrons. Or maybe in solidarity and grief and resistance. this cafe is queer-owned/-operated, and has sizable queer clientele. A handful of folks come in who I read as queer; we’re subdued this morning. We don’t smile big. We give each other the side eye, we purse our lips in that sort of sad smile that says, I’m grieving, too, even though I’m out in the world trying to look like I have my shit together. The world feels quieter today, muted, and not just because of the fog dampening the trees and the morning commute.

This morning I am grieving like so many of us are grieving because we’ve had a mass shooting hit us in our back yard. Many others of us are grieving because this is only the latest shooting to target someone or some community we love.

My love and I spent early Sunday morning with the New York Times, out on the back deck in the sun. After more than a week of doing everything I could to avoid hearing or reading about the Stanford Rape fiasco, I finally felt like I was ready to look. To open my eyes and look. To pull my head out of the sand and look, read, take it in. I’d been avoiding the news because I didn’t want to be surprised by details of the violence, I didn’t want to hear any more about how a white man’s future is protected by all the white men in power, even though he raped a drunk woman in the bushes and was witnessed in the act. I didn’t yet want to read her letter. I wasn’t ready. I just didn’t have the room in my body for the details, and for the rage that rises up in me every time I even think about it, and I wanted to wait until I did have some room in me before I tried to take in the story. I avoided Facebook even more studiously that usual, not wanting to run into excerpts of the survivor’s letter, into yet another story about the rapist or, even worse, learning the details from some ironic Facebookable image or satirical story.

Just yesterday, sitting on the back porch with the New York Times review section, I ran into yet another article about the case — I suppose I should be grateful that rape is finally deemed newsworthy in this way — and thought, Ok. All right. Fine. I’ll read it. I took a deep breath, and got about a quarter of the way in, until I reached a line that included details about gravel in the victim’s vagina. And then I shouted, “That’s enough!” and turned the page. My beloved looked at me sympathetically as I was shrieking at newsprint.

Until we got in the car an hour after that to drive the 45 minutes to the little church that I fell in love with when I lived in Tiburon, I didn’t know about the violence in Orlando. We switched on the radio, which was turned down low, and heard the whisper of one of the NPR announcers talking about special coverage of yet another mass shooting — and then I grabbed my phone and looked up the news.” It was a gay bar,” I said. “A gay bar.”

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I still haven’t read anything that explains why it took the police three hours to get into that bar after patrons started calling 911.

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Yesterday, driving down the hill from church and looking out on the San Francisco Bay, I thought about how it could have been us. I thought, Those were kids, the people in that bar — queer youth looking for sanctuary, looking for sweetness and solidarity and, yes, sex.

They were like us, who piled into Anna’s suburban late on a Sunday to head over to the one bar in the Upper Valley that had an “alternative lifestyle” night, who knew that if we timed it just right, the bouncer wouldn’t care that some of us were underage because the bar was going to close in an hour anyway, and we tumbled into the place like a bunch of oversexed puppies and took over (we thought we took over, I thought we took over) the dance floor, and we preened and performed for each other and the “older folks” (who were what, 35?) and spun and bounced and flirted and had one place that we were “normal,” we were the majority, we were right. This place was one of the few sanctuaries I had in the world, one of the places my stepfather would have never thought to try and track me down, one of the places where sometimes I almost even forgot about him and what he had made me into. The club, the dance floor, was my reclamation space, my resistance to incest and rape; it was, for some years, some many years, the only place it felt truly safe to have a body.

I thought about the majority young, majority-Latinx queer folks at Pulse this weekend and what that night, last Saturday night/early Sunday morning, was supposed to be for them. I thought about how hard some of the people in that club had had to work just to walk in the door. I thought about the joy and delight, the sexuality, the history and ache throbbing in that place.

The word we have for the act of violating a place of holiness and worship is desecration. What the shooter did on Saturday night was a desecration.

Where can we go to be safe? Where can we go to let down our guard? As women, as queer folks, and I think even more for my QTPOC beloveds and community, what does ‘safe space’ even mean?

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 I listened to the news yesterday, learned that the shooter was of Middle Eastern descent, and thought, Just wait for what Trump is going to say. Just wait for the Republicans to pretend to be friends of the queer community now. Meanwhile, LGBTQ rights are under assault across the country. Meanwhile, the same politicians who called us perverts yesterday are going to try and use us now to further their cause for war. They don’t care about queer people. They care about power and violence.

Meanwhile, queer men still can’t donate blood unless they’ve been celibate for a year. (In protest of this rule, I myself haven’t donated blood since the 90s.)

I’m afraid of what white gay folks and queers will do, are doing, with news like this. We tend to make it all about ourselves, and only about ourselves — all gay and only gay, forgetting about or actively erasing the intersections. This was an attack on queer folks, yes, and primarily on queer people of color. Yesterday I turned on the radio for a minute, just to be with people who were talking about the horror, and I heard a reporter relay the comments of someone at a rally: “This is our Charleston, SC!” I can only imagine this was a white person speaking, though I might be wrong; I make this assumption because white queer folks have a history of laying claim to Black struggle with entitlement. I had to turn off the radio immediately, because I started shouting again. Queer folks have been under attack throughout human history; we don’t have to appropriate an atrocity committed on Black folks (some of whom may certainly have been queer) in a house of worship (who were targeted for their Blackness in a place of sanctuary by a white man whose actions were not called terrorism and initiated no calls to remove all white men or white people from the country, though because historically violence of this nature is committed overwhelmingly by white men, a case could be made that we might be a safer country if we did just that).

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At the end of last week, while having sex with my beloved, I ran my hands up and down her body, over and over, and felt a kind of thick astonishment that I get to be with this woman. With this woman. It was an old feeling, like I imagine dykes in the 50s or 60s felt, this terrified wonder, this sense of transgressing, of holding something I was never supposed to be able to hold, of experiencing a kind of joy and pleasure I was never supposed to be able to experience. Like I was doing something wrong. Maybe that feeling is my legacy, a kind of queer bone memory. I thought, But why should I be feeling this way today, in 2016, when queer folks have so much acceptance, when no one cares anymore if you’re queer?

Then I remembered the number of trans women murdered just so far this year. Then I remembered that I live in a bubble here in the Bay Area — that when I met my sweetheart at the airport in Omaha when I was there visiting a couple of weeks ago, we both hesitated before kissing hello. I put my lips on her forehead instead. Just taking her hand and wrapping her up in my welcoming arms felt wildly visible, potentially dangerous. We laughed about it nervously, but I kept an eye on the people who were keeping their eyes on us. (A few days later, back in the airport on our way out, we passed a man arriving in Omaha wearing a tshirt that read Black Guns Matter – and I was so sad to acknowledge that I was glad to be leaving.)

Then I heard the news about Orlando.

Yes, it’s still transgressive to love and want a woman the way I love and want mine. Yes, there are still plenty of people who want to see queerfolks “cured” or fixed or killed. Yes, there are still plenty of people who “love the sinner and hate the sin. Yes, there are politicians – and plenty of folks in their constituencies – who would happily legislate queerfolks out of existence.

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These are days for grief and rage. We live in a white supremacist patriarchy that privileges access to weaponry over the sanctity of human life, that cares more about the future well-being of a white male rapist than about holding him accountable for his crimes, that over and over deems Black and Brown bodies expendable, that treats gender transgressive bodies as crimes against nature. Change is possible — isn’t it true that change must be possible, that resistance and solidarity and the vision of something different must take precedence over hopelessness and resignation? But today it’s a struggle to pull away from the quicksand of hopelessness.

I have been thinking since yesterday of a poem by Essex Hemphill that I’ve handed out at many of my erotic writing groups – his words speak louder and more clearly than anything else I could say.

American Wedding
by Essex Hemphill

In america,
I place my ring
on your cock
where it belongs.
No horsemen
bearing terror,
no soldiers of doom
will swoop in
and sweep us apart.
They’re too busy
looting the land
to watch us.
They don’t know
we need each other
critically.
They expect us to call in sick,
watch television all night,
die by our own hands.
They don’t know
we are becoming powerful.
Every time we kiss
we confirm the new world coming.

What the rose whispers
before blooming
I vow to you.
I give you my heart,
a safe house.
I give you promises other than
milk, honey, liberty.
I assume you will always
be a free man with a dream.
In america,
place your ring
on my cock
where it belongs.
Long may we live
to free this dream.

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proud that she got us here

graffiti from Gay Youth Galway -- Big rainbow "OUT" with the words "No to homophobic bullying!"Happy Friday! Here where I am, it’s blue & green outside the windows, sunshine pushing into everything, lettuces quietly growing like gangbusters, puppy curled in a fed-n-satisfied-n-sleepy ball. The carpet is in desperate need of vacuuming, and the puppy toys are gathered up and tossed on top of the fire box. What’s it look like where you are?

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Just spent about 25 or 30 minutes typing more of that first journal entry from 1993, and am paying attention to what happens in my body as I do so. I got very cold, and my fingers would go from being able to type quickly & accurately to slipping and stumbling all over the place. But this entry is from right after I broke contact, or rather, right at the beginning. He called me constantly, trying to get me back ‘in.’ It’s hard to just type the words, just be with that voice, that 21-year-old self, who is still stuck in the perpetrator’s language, trying to argue her way out of his boxes with his words and persuasions, still thinking that if she’s able to do so well enough, he’ll let her off the hook. I want to respond to her, clarify as I’m typing, say it out loud: that was all bullshit, Jen! You didn’t have to think that way!

Of course I know it now. The blessing of all these journals is that I get to see, again, when I started to shift in my thinking, when I began to get free in my head. This entry is the beginning of that. It was one of the first times I’d written down (and not destroyed, or sent to him) what he was doing to me, and that it wasn’t ok with me). This entry is a revolution, quietly sitting there in black ink in an unlined Artists Sketch Book. I am proud of us, of then-Jen and me, now, for doing it, for both taking the steps and writing about them. She got me started. I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing now without her. As hard as it is to read her words, and how she/we/I thought then, that ever-present tangle of cognitive dissonance, I won’t change them. They’re ours.

I’m grateful for this record, for the opportunity to be, again, with that voice, that self, this written memory.

I’m going to take a long shower after I post this, and leave more transcribing for another day. It’s heavy work, that reading & typing, moving those words through my body again, from paper to eyes to brain to nerve impulse to fingers: I want to take good care of me as I do this. Take the transcribing in small bites, drink lots of water, stretch, play with the dog, wash it through & clean.

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It’s Pride weekend here in SF.

Today’s the Trans March— are you gonna be there?

Tomorrow’s the Dyke March, and Sunday’s the big Pride festival (which I wish were still called the Gay Freedom Day Parade — I like that so much better).

Have fun, if you’re going to be partying, and stay safe, ok? You deserve it! Keep an eye on your friends, watch one another’s backs — let’s act like we matter, like it matters that we’re safe.

So much going on, for so many of us — and lots of folks still feel overwhelmed, left out, deep loss and shame.

What does pride mean for you? Maybe let that be your write this morning — and you don’t have to be queer-identified to write about Pride, of course! I don’t just mean pride as big gay celebration, but pride as a concept related to your whole self. What does it mean to feel pride? What about yourself/your work/your relationships/your communities brings you pride? What would bring you pride if it were manifested? Take 15 minutes (set a timer), settle in with your notebook and coffee, and dive in. If you’re going out into queer community this weekend, what do you hope for with respect to pride? Let it all down onto the page. “Pride is…” or “I’m/She’s/He’s/Ze’s/We’re proud of…”

I’m proud of you, of him & her, of all of us. I’m proud of how high we fly, how we stay grounded, too, even through all the voices that tell us Never & You Can’t & Forget about it. I’m grateful for how you remember and fly anyway. I’m grateful for your words.

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Safetyfest 2011 is less than a month away!

Promo Poster for Safetyfest 2011 - April/Abril 14-17, 2011

Mark your calendars: CUAV’s second annual Safetyfest is coming, April 14-17!

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From CUAV‘s Safetyfest Blog: Safetyfest is a 100% free festival celebration of all the fierce ways queer and trans people in the Bay Area stay safe and strut our stuff. Our communities already have so many of the tools we’ll need to end violence and be truly safe in all the ways we deserve to be–we just need to share them!

It’ll all kick off with a sexy launch party in Downtown Oakland, followed by dozens of amazing free workshops, cultural events, and art and healing activities on both sides of the bay, and wrap up with a hella fun closing party in SF.

The first-ever safetyfest took place in 2010 and was super fabulous beyond our wildest dreams–over 300 people attended! This years festivities will build on last year’s strengths and deepen the impact of what we can do together. We’re bringing back the most popular workshops from last year like self-defense, sexual consent, writing, BDSM, Bay history bike tour, and more, and adding new workshops based on feedback from attendees and other folks in our community. What do you want to see at safetyfest this year? Send your ideas to safetyfest@cuav.org.

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Visit www.cuav.org/safetyfest to We need your help to make safetyfest a reality!
, check out the  full calendar, get updates and learn how you can participate! (And, speaking of participation, visit http://www.volunteerspot.com/login/entry/322345634360052045 to learn how you can volunteer with Safetyfest!)
Please also visit the Safetyfest Indiegogo page at http://www.indiegogo.com/safetyfest-2011 and donate, donate, donate! Safetyfest is free to all attendees, and we need your help to make safetyfest a reality! While you’re at the Indiegogo page, make sure to watch the incredible video that CUAV/Safetyfest staff & volunteers put together so that you can learn more about this amazing, revolutionary event and why it’s so necessary for you to be a part of it!