Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Is ‘The Bay’ an Island? 

How Fetishizing The Bay Area Hurts Our Movements and Communities—A Conversation Starter!

May 2018 - Edited to add: I put this into the world 7 years ago. A lot has changed, including some of my own opinions and analysis. I've been asked to share this and am making it public again with the hope that pieces of it are still useful. I may write version 2.0 soon, but no promises. --Savannah

Do you live in the Bay Area or visit frequently? Make sure to pay your Shuumi Land Tax

This conversation starter is a call-out for young, white, ‘radical queer,’ and often class-privileged movement folk in the Bay Area to rethink some of the ways we conjure movement, space, place and community in relationship to ‘The Bay.’ I think we really gotta take stock of how we do community and what that looks like. I’m explicitly talking to white people with class privilege. We’re not homogeneous nor do we exist in communities that are, and though I’m addressing people I’m best positioned to, this conversation starter might be useful for other folks in our communities as well.

I want to intervene in some of the patterns that map whiteness and mobility onto ‘radical queer’ communities in the Bay Area, particularly Oakland. I’m talking about community-building among a dominant group (white people), which is complicated by our many experiences of class, sexuality, and gender, among others. But/and, we live in a white supremacist culture.

I pose this as an offering that enters multiple, existing conversations. People of color have generated and offered many of the critiques I bring here in interpersonal, community, academic and activist settings.


The Bay Area, or ‘The Bay’ as it is sometimes known colloquially, is a regional term for an area of northern California that spans nine counties, several cities and hundreds of towns.

The Bay Area means El Sobrante, Pinole, San Leandro, Berkeley, Daly City, Richmond, Lafayette, Sausalito, Albany, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, San Mateo, Hercules, Oakland, and a lot more.

Specifically, this land is of Ohlone, Miwok and other Indigenous Peoples.

Amuctacv - village near Visitation Valley in San Francisco, Chutchui - village near the present day site of Mission Dolores, Petlenuc - village near the Presidio in San Francisco, Sitlintac - village near Mission Creek in San Francisco, Tubsinta - village near Visitation Valley in San Francisco, Tuchayune - fishing village on Angel Island

My Location

Who the heck am I? Some pertinent information: I’m 24, white, queer/ femme and a survivor.  I grew up in the Bay Area—I was born in Santa Cruz and have lived between Marin County, San Francisco and Oakland since I was seven. My Dad is owning class, fourth generation Bay Area. My Mom is working class. She grew up poor/working class in Michigan and got out at 19 by joining the air force. She’s lived in the Bay Area for about 35 years. As of recently, I have access to some unearned, inherited wealth. Growing up, I had more and less access to the wealth that was sometimes withheld during a bitter 7-year divorce, and relate to having a mixed class background.

I went to college in Oakland and was politicized by women of color in the academy. Growing up, I had very little access to or knowledge of the liberatory movements in the places I called home. It wasn’t till I was about to graduate from college that I began to get familiar with the landscape of organizing and movement culture in ‘The Bay.’ Once I did, it was like a ripple effect. I began to meet more and more people, and more and more young queer folks with shared politics. It felt good. I got connected with communities of white people with a radical intersectional politic and a commitment to antiracism in their lives and work. I had never had that kind of community before. In part, this was because as a teenager and in college I mostly rolled with, dated, and politicked with people of color. The line was that “I just wanted to be around people with shared politics”—regrettably, however, my unchecked desire to distance myself from other white people meant lost opportunities to build and grow with other white folks in my own communities.

The more I got exposed to and began to embed myself in these ‘radical’ mostly white, mostly queer communities, the more uncomfortable and confused I felt. I was new, and people assumed I had just landed.

When did you arrive?
Where are you from?
How long have you been in The Bay?
Oh, your family is in town visiting?
Where did you live before The Bay?
How long do you think you’ll stay?

We need to think about who gets asked these questions. And who asks them.

These questions (and the way people spoke about ‘The Bay’ in general) was really confusing, and the assumption that everyone was a post-liberal-arts-college-transplant from Massachusetts was disorienting. Young queer folks build relationships around having just moved here, which makes sense, and we have to think about who this positions to be included. What kind of impact does this have on how we build community and make movement? It can be really intimidating/alienating (and just plain confusing!) to discover the place you grew up is some kind of ‘radical queer’ magnet and that a lot of the people you’re organizing with have only experienced and conceptualized of it in this way. I remember feeling uncool and inept when I wasn’t familiar with ‘radical queer’ (and mostly white) hangouts, collective houses, and other frames of reference: the trappings of a transient ‘radical queer’ organizer identity in ‘The Bay.’

Let me be clear: we are building beautiful, necessary communities of resistance here and everywhere and that’s important. Our communities are full of glorious constellations of gender, we’re working towards shared resources, resisting eurocentric/classist/sizeist/ableist desire, creating new definitions of mental health and building loving families that share support, resources, meals, and childcare. We are creating meaningful, lasting community that hopes to align as much as possible with our political visions of decolonization and self-determination. Right? Many of us come from homes, families and communities of origin that felt isolating at best, or were harmful and violent at worst. It is from within  this community of folks just trying to figure out how to do better that I seek to complicate and gently push back.

In this conversation starter, I’m using the word ‘radical’ in ways I hear it used in specific communities I’m part of—and I’m doing this in a self-consciously tongue-and-cheek way. I often hear young white people use ‘radical’ as an identity category. Radical queer. Radical queer organizer.  Is radical an identity that we can take on? It’s used in ways that overlap with specific (sub)cultures of resistance, and I think this can work to exclude a lotta folks. I’m not saying that we need to open up our definition to “include” other people (‘radical’ has a ton of definitions and ours is probly pretty irrelevant for most people), but we also don’t want to use it in ways that map people out. Does radical mean we know what the PIC stands for? Know lots of other acronyms? Buy food in bulk? Read Left Turn? Point taken. I think it’s useful to identify our politics as radical when we aspire them to be and also be humble in honoring the ways we learn from long traditions of radicalism. Much like ‘The Bay’ is not a fixed entity where one arrives, neither is a ‘radical’ identity—there are many connections to be made here.

What’s at Stake

Many queer folks who grew up here—especially queer people of color and working class folks— are embedded in families of origin and in community networks in ways that make it harder to exhibit and participate in non-normative/anti-normative behavior, relationships, and communities. It can be dangerous. It’s harder to reinvent oneself, transition, or change your name (to a noun), for example. I think folks often move here seeking this kind of reinvention, and I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that, but we’ve got to situate that in the context of access, mobility, class, etc., and again, think about who this positions to be a part of or have access to our communities.

Several queer people of color I went to college with in Oakland, who had also grown up in the Bay Area, moved to places like New York, Seattle and Atlanta to come out because it wasn’t safe for them in their home-communities. And these were folks with enough resources to leave. So when ‘The Bay’ is cast as a radical queer movement haven, it’s harmful because it holds up and normalizes some people’s experiences over others.

These patterns of assumed transience (among others) invisibilize queer people of color communities in the Bay Area, especially made up of folks who grew up around here—people who didn’t come here to find radical queer “community,” people who are here cuz maybe they depend on networks they grew up with and might not have the ability to move even if they want to. The way that mostly white radical queer community holds itself up as the only way to be queer in the Bay is harmful, prescriptive and builds borders. When I moved to the gentrifying neighborhood of North Oakland, several white folks made comments like “Welcome to the gayborhood!” I knew which kinds of queers were being included (transient, radically-politicked, bike-riding, mostly white queers who live in big collective houses), and which kinds of queers were being left out (the working class Black stud who lives in an apartment down the street from me with her mom and sister).

I want to relay an anecdote that sheds light on the dynamics I’m trying to name and expose. I do not mean to vilify anyone—I am trying to push back against an often-homogeneous culture of resistance that limits our ability to vision and build liberatory relationships and movements. A couple years ago, I was invited to a gathering in a park in North Oakland. The invite detailed kickball, and encouraged attendees to wear spandex and bright colors. The crowd was as-expected: white, genderbending, crusty queers with handkerchiefs around their necks and patches on their tattered Carhartts (forgive my snark!). I intended to bring my then-date, a working class, mixed-race Black woman who grew up in North Oakland and now lives in Richmond (and who was kicked out of her home at age 16 for being outed). Because of her historical ties to that park, and that neighborhood, she felt uncomfortable and unsafe being in a pubic space with those particular markers of queerness and this group of entirely white people. We turned around before greeting anyone.

In this particular instance, this community of self-proclaimed radical anti-racist white folks were/are located in the set of circumstances that led to my then-date and much of her community having to move out of the neighborhood due to increased rent and destabilizing of community networks. We need to be more intentional about the way we take up space and move in communities—sometimes quite literally. Yeah we wanna be fabulous, extravagant and flamboyant. And we gotta think about how our relationship to the State targets us (or not) and how this informs our choices to present in ways that draw lots of attention to us in relationship to space and place. This is how policing works, right? (I’m thinking gang injunctions, policing of sex work, etc.) This is one micro example (of many) of how these dynamics play out—and I think we really gotta take stock of how we do community and what that looks like.

Queers use markers as code to communicate with each other. White queers sometimes use markers that are appropriated in problematic ways. In this case, the bright colors and spandex wasn’t troublesome in and of itself—it was that this homogenous group of white people (a dominant group) was occupying public space in a big way and in direct relationship to the violence of gentrification in that neighborhood. The answer isn’t to not ever wear spandex or be fabulous. I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m excited, as white queers, to find solutions that aren’t punitive while we figure out how to create markers and communicate with each other in ways that don’t harm or alienate anyone.

When white queers get to wear whatever we want and present however we want because we don’t get targeted for it (though some of us are targeted around class, gender, etc.)—and then build community around that, it creates walls, consolidates power, breeds exclusivity and flaunts privilege. This also hurts us because we lose out on potential friends and comrades as it immobilizes and stagnates our movements and communities. There have been so many times over the last couple of years—in mostly white, ‘radical queer’ spaces—that I’ve felt perceived as not radical enough, straight, boring, invisible, capitalist, etc., because I’m femme and often present in a way that’s read as pretty normative (and it’s intense to notice the ways I’ve conformed in order to feel more visible in this community). Insular communities are an instant turnoff, and when folks own the market on what it looks like to be ‘radical’ and queer, shit’s fucked. We can’t afford to assume that folks who don’t present in a ‘radical,’ alterative, or transgressive way don’t or can’t have radical politics.

I’m not hating on being flamboyant or fabulous, or trying to enforce some kind of second-wave conservatism or dress code. A lotta flamboyant-ass queer people of color and queer white folks have fought back in ways that make shit safer for all of us.

And, racialized policing and displacement are forces that are, in part, allowing for the making of ‘radical’ mostly white queer community in places like the Mission District and North Oakland. We know this. Many of us are committed organizers engaged in anti-policing and anti-displacement work alongside communities of color, including queer people of color. We also need to take stock of the ways we take up space—politically and spatially—in communities where we live, work, and play.

Fetishizing “The Bay” or
Insta-Community—Just Add Radical Subjectivity (wink!)

I want to think through the ways people (and sometimes organizations) speak about “The Bay” in a way that flattens and makes organizing cultures and frames of reference inaccessible for a lot of people, especially people who grew up around here. When we conceive of the Bay as an “organizers’ training ground,” for example, and use language that is at once flattening and fetishizing, we invisibilize so many communities with long histories here—communities we purport to be organizing with and alongside. I think this pattern is harmful—and not just cuz it makes me feel uncomfortable—I think it limits the kinds of communities and organizing and movements we’re even able to envision.

For me, and so many others, The Bay Area is a place where my history doesn’t align with my politics or my sexuality or my gender. This is the place where siblings, parents, grandpa and friends from high school live. Where I wasn’t always a radically-politicked queer/femme, where I wasn’t always queer. It’s hard to compartmentalize. When we adhere to the traveling queer trope, it loses those of us that are tied to family/home/community of origin, sometimes out of economic necessity. I’m not willing to cut people out—and by extension not all the people in my communities are ‘radical queers.’

I think it’s easier for some queer folks who move to the Bay Area from other places than for those of us who grew up around here to access radical community and movements here. I call this the “insta-community model”—moving here from out of town and dropping seamlessly into the structures of radical queer community that already exist. That is, as long as you present/dress and play the part. Folks can have a transient orientation to relationships, and I think this dynamic is ultimately damaging. I remember being bitter (and still sometimes am), when ‘radical queer’ folks from out of town move here and suddenly have dozens of friends. I see it happening all the time. It took me years to find and build up the kind of relationships and community I have now. What if we were just as welcoming and excited about building relationships with people (already) here who may not carry the ‘radical queer’ card? I wasn’t out in high school and have never had a neat, clean coming out. Though my parents as individuals have been mostly supportive, I haven’t been cradled in a queer-posi environment since birth. On more than a couple occasions, folks have made really assumptive comments about how easy my queer youth or coming out must have been. Hhhhmmmmm. Comments like that really just make me wanna throw some sass. Actually, the more I get involved in and imbed myself in ‘radical’ organizing and ways of making community, the farther I away I feel from my family. I wish the opposite was true.

Growing up around here and staying around here (or anywhere for that matter) demands a specific kind of flexibility and maneuvering to be able to be in/around family and communities of origin on the regular. We can’t just do family stuff for two weeks a year in Boston (or where-have-you) and turn that part of ourselves off while we’re living our “radical queer” lives in the Bay Area. I hear lotsa folks say things like, “yeah I’m only going home for four days, that’s all I can take.” When this very specific, definitely classed experience of the Bay is normalized, a lot of us get cut out, or at least can’t relate.

This flexibility and ability to roll in lots of spaces and build relationships with people who aren’t like us is super important for doing any kind of organizing. Those of us from the Bay Area bring skills that, in the Bay Area, uniquely position us in relationship to the work. I think this could be drawn upon more, and I’m excited to connect more with local folks.

I have a profoundly different experience of this place than many of the movement folk I’m often around. Without asserting ownership—we’re on Native Land— organizing culture and community building needs to be more accessible to people who grew up around here.  It’s striking to me how often folks in my communities seem to sever their lives off (before The Bay, after The Bay). This can be complicated and really fucking hard around gender, family, and histories of abuse. Connections to race and class and how willing we are to cut ourselves off from family around gender and sexuality is extra complicated. People make really fucking hard decisions. Class and other kinds of privilege can make these decisions easier, and family/community of origin shit can be hard for anyone because of misogyny, transphobia, and the heteropatriarchy. I’m not trying say it’s easy. And, as a white perceived-to-be-gender-normative femme, queer-lez cis woman, I have a lotta privileges in this arena. Our relationships to home and family can look so many ways. Some of us have shitty ass relationships with the families that support us financially. Others of us feel hella supported and loved and aren’t or can’t be supported in other ways. Or neither. Or both. Just wanna shout out that there are so many ways to experience family/community and access the attendant resources our families of origin may or may not have.

Everyday, in ‘radical’ often mostly white spaces, I hear several comments that do the work of flattening ‘The Bay’ and assume a very specific relationship to it:

“Well, we’re in The Bay after all…”
“We live in the queer house on the block.”
“It’s The Bay. Of course she’s gonna leave. It’s called ‘Bay Time.’”
“People come to here to be queer, queers retire to Portland.” (I don’t know what this means and have never been to Portland, but I’ve heard different iterations thrown around a coupla times.)
“The Bay…” (as if there’s only one)
“Yeah, s/he has ‘Bay’ politics.”

Again, who makes comments like these? Who are they made to?

How does this flattening symbolism invisibilize many of the communities that live here, communities we purport to be organizing with and alongside? For the queer and nonqueer low-to-no income youth of color I work with at De Anza High School on the Richmond/Pinole/El Sobrante border, the Bay Area is anything but a safe, liberatory place to be. I think we need to hold more complexity around the multiplicity of experiences in this place we call ‘The Bay,’ and how these experiences are informed by race/class/gender/nation, mobility and all that other important stuff. Unless we do that, we’re normalizing our experiences, many of which are under-girded by race, class, and/or educational privilege, and a fuck-ton of access and mobility. When our narrow, tunnel vision experiences of ‘the Bay’ as a radical, queer, movement hub (mapped onto the gentrifying Mission and North Oakland neighborhoods, to name a few) become blanketing, so many people’s experiences of the Bay Area are invisibilized, a place often not unlike many others if we widen our range of motion and field of vision just a little bit.

Some of the suburbs listed at the start of the essay, like El Sobrante, San Pablo, Pinole, and even farther out, like Martinez, are places that communities of color are being pushed out to. We can’t pretend like those communities don’t exist—they are also ‘The Bay’ (if perhaps not as appealing to the white, ‘radical queer’ transplant).  This is analogous to people saying “North America” when they mean the what’s now called The United States (wait, where did México go?). Is this a sneaky bit of queer nationalism rearing its head?

For young white people, Oakland is a cool place to live. Berkeley is not. I’ve lived in Berkeley and know a good crew of folks who do. When young white people tell other young white people we live in Oakland, we are affirmed and admired. When folks say they live in Berkeley, it’s not so cool, and sometimes comes with a smirk or raised eyebrow. What in our imagination makes Oakland cool? The mystique of danger? Gentrification? The political history? Brown people? What does this say about who we really think lives where? For folks raised middle/upper class and liberal, maybe (some parts of) Berkeley reminds us too much of where we come from. As white folks working to dismantle white supremacy and resist gentrification, we really got some baggage to work out.

A common definition of fetishism is to be excessively or irrationally devoted to something. So many of the flippant comments made about “The Bay” are fetishizing and devoid of nuanced, historical context. Maybe we should consider thinking twice about making a comment like, “I’m going from my radical organizing meeting to my radical queer performance troop. Ugh, do I live in The Bay, or what?!” Who is being rhetorically mapped in? Who’s being mapped out?

I often hear blanketing statements about “queers” in the Bay Area and other cities. “I went to this event where there were all these ‘hot queers.’ I’m so happy to live here in this community of queers.” It’s totally awesome to be around other hot queer folks. And, I wonder how blanket statements like these build borders around what it means to be here, be queer, and have a radical politic (or aesthetic?). Did you know there were lots of hot queers at the event because of the number of septum piercings and asymmetrical haircuts (and can we plz talk about cultural appropriation here?!)[1]. I think we need to loosen our grip on what radical looks like, what queer looks like, while also celebrating the gloriousness of all the genders that exist in our communities!

There is an assumption around shared experience that is startling to me—shared experience around our relationship to ‘The Bay,’ shared experience around our relationship to home and family and queer community. A comrade of mine, in reflecting on what we mean by queer organizing, said, “It’s not who, it’s how.”  How can we learn to talk about being ‘queer in The Bay’ in a more nuanced and less fixed and monolithic way?

Some concessions and caveats: I participate in a lot of what I’m naming here. I live on a gentrifying block of North Oakland. I have tattoos. I think tattoos can be culturally appropriative and draw on histories of imperialism and militarism. I’m calling some shit out here in ways that might feel like finger-pointing. Maybe I am. I’m also really just tryna work my shit out. We’re all doing that all the time—and there are specific things I’ve seen over and over again that haven’t been named in loud ways to large audiences, if talked about on couches and in kitchens and in meetings behind closed doors. I’ve been writing this essay in my head for five years. I’ve been writing it on paper for three. And I think it’s time for me to put this shit out there…It’s important to mention that, again, we don’t exist in homogenous communities. Queer people of color in our communities move to the Bay Area for similar and different reasons—and I don’t think I can or should speak to that. That said, my hope is that this conversation starter doesn’t reproduce the invisiblizing dynamics I’m trying to name. From my location, I’m addressing folks I’m best positioned to.

Gentrification: It’s Hecka Complicated

Gentrification is tricky. As tempting as it is to uncritically map the politics of colonization onto queer white gentrification, it isn’t that simple. One could liken white, queer, class-privileged folks moving to the Bay Area to mine it of its resources to a colonizing project. In many ways, it is. It’s also much more complex than that. It’s true that once we peel back the layers, most of our white lineage is settler and we’re on Native Land. Our mobility is also inflected with histories of class, gender, sexuality, displacement and more. And, within this larger context, we have choices.

I’m not telling anyone to go “home.” Cuz it’s not that simple and lots of our families ended up on this recently-colonized land called the United States in the context of their own histories of forced removal from home-countries and home-lands. This doesn’t justify settler colonialism, and these are the real contradictions we’re grappling with. What does "home" really mean for us and our families—given and chosen? What would it mean to “go home?” I don’t have the answers.

Many of us don’t have “hometowns” to move back to. People move a lot. I don’t know very many people whose parents live together or even in the same town or city. Moving back to the city we grew up in or around doesn’t mean we’re not gentrifying. Folks can gentrify from within the Bay Area. I am. My own parents have each moved over ten times in the past ten years, all within and around the Bay Area, but I can’t really identify a hometown. Santa Cruz where I was born? San Francisco where my Dad lives and where I lived on and off growing up? Mill Valley where I went to high school? Oakland where I’ve made home as an adult for the last six years and where I have long family history? Shit’s hecka complicated and there aren’t easy answers.

I know a handful of people who have decided to move back to their home-states, mostly in the Northeast (that I know of), to build communities and families in places in and around where they grew up and have roots. I’m inspired by this, and I think we can learn a lot from people making these choices. Motivated by POOR Magazine’s Community Reparations and Revolutionary Giving Seminar a couple years back, two young white queer folks with class privilege wrote about their politically important decisions to move home.  I’ve included links to these reflections at the end of this essay, which exist very much in dialogue with this conversation starter.

I don’t have any more of a “right” to be here than anyone else who is settler. I am not trying to assert ownership. People in my family have taken part in the colonization of California for much longer than I have. That doesn’t mean I’m any more deserving of calling this place my “home.” I do not mean to question any one's choice to move here. I do hope that folks from all over, if possible, work to make their communities safe, healthy, thriving places for all of us.

We’re always changing our mind and making decisions. We can always change our mind again and make a new decision. This is praxis.

Moving Forward (or Sideways?): Making New Relationships to Space

Space and place have historically been—and continue to be—important for queer mobilizations, from the spatial creation of “gay neighborhoods” to the rhetoric of a “gay homeland” within the gay nationalist discourse that’s had a long, haphazard history in the U.S. I see some of these patterns reworking themselves in contemporary queer communities in this place we call ‘The Bay.’

Space—literal and figurative—has been part of queer organizing and identity-making for a long time. Neighborhoods and other spaces created around identity are managed and policed, and LGBT organizing has often mobilized concepts of place and space in ways that rhetorically map whiteness onto gayness (Rebecca Kaplan, anyone?[2]), and is embedded in the larger project of single-issue LGBT politics. We’ve seen this over and over: from the Gay Liberation Front of the early seventies (which appropriated an analysis of internal colonization from Third World communities), to the creation and maintenance of the Castro. Theorizing queer space-making as a racial project exposes the ways whiteness and queer/gay nationalism can, in tandem, sneakily rear their heads.

We need to create a new politic around space and place. One that does not conflate ‘The Bay’ with radical queer movement culture, cuz for many folks living here, that just isn’t their/our experience. How do we both hold that The Bay Area has been a generative site of resistance and movement building, and of powerful queer and trans communities, while also holding the complexity of who has access to these communities (or wants to)?

We can learn from the ways that queer people of color organizations are articulating relationships to place and space. Whether organizing around public space, or resisting the narrative that queers must leave “no place” to go “someplace” (i.e. New York or San Francisco), QPOC organizing requires that we rethink some of the ways folks conjure space and place in our organizing. Southerners on New Ground (SONG) is an organization that works to bring queer Southerners—mostly people of color and poor—together to reclaim the South as a place for to queers to stay, not just to leave. “SONG’s work of creating New Ground in the South is about remembering local histories of colonization, slavery, oppression, environmental degradation, and resistance…Building New Ground means planting roots and creating the conditions for our wholeness even on the same land where our ancestors’ blood has been spilled, or the land where we have been forced to migrate.” (Onofrio, Left Turn, 2009). Queer of color organizations and organizing are troubling notions of home, the fixedness of space, and theorizing queer of color migration and diaspora (internationally and within the U.S.).

How do we speak about this place called ‘The Bay’ with less fixity and determination? The colonial border around this state didn’t exist till a little over 150 years ago. How do we jiggle and shake up the ways we identify with space and place in ways that acknowledge settler colonialism? In this essay, I’ve attempted to spell out the ways that flattening ‘The Bay’ into a radical queer wonderland only accounts for some of our experiences. I hope this conversation starter acts as a counter-cartography, adding striation to the topography of this place we call ‘The Bay’ in ways that make room for more of our lived experience and in ways that allow for historical memory. Space is something we do. We construct it, and I think we have some shit to grapple with.

I’m hoping this essay can serve as a conversation starter in The Bay Area and in other cities with large groups of rad young queer folks moving to them and building community—perhaps places like Seattle, Portland, New York, Montreal, and others. How do we lay claim to our beautiful, powerful gay-ass communities of resistance in ways that dismantle borders instead of building up more?

[1] Some markers of ‘radical queerness’ for white people are culturally appropriative! It’s not just dread locks and tattoos of Chinese symbols, folks! In the last year or two especially, the variety of asymmetrical, often side-buzzed or front-buzzed haircuts that draw on Native American cultural aesthetics need some examination. Similarly, septum, nose (and other facial) piercings can be taken out of cultural context in problematic ways. I think they’re thought of as queer cuz they’re thought of as transgressive. Hmmm. And these visual markers are thought to be transgressive because they’re drawing on non-white, non-European tradition. After hearing more than one friend of color be annoyed at white people with nose rings, I took mine out. More than one friend of color has let me know that crusty-punky-white spaces with piercings and asymmetrical haircuts abound (some supposed signifiers of radical queerness) are the very markers that let them know they’re not gonna be okay in a space. We have to listen. I feel like I get the response a lot that, “it’s complicated.” Is it? Someone’s desire to wear/have an item they like is the least important part of this equation, and sometimes it can be a hard lesson to learn that white people don’t get to have whatever we want.

[2] At an Oakland city council meeting, councilperson-at-large Rebecca Kaplan, a white queer person scoffed at the idea of gang injunctions and the criminalizing of queer and trans people being an “LGBT issue,” calling those who had brought it up “outsiders from San Francisco.”

Some things we can do:

      Ask people what they mean when they refer to “The Bay.”
      Take a moment to think about what radical means to you.
      Check your shorthand:
      By ‘the Bay,’ do you mean San Francisco and Oakland? Which parts?
      By radical, do you mean queer?
      By queer, do you assume poly or young or white?
      By community, do you mean your social network?
      Seriously consider moving “home” or to be with communities you were raised in if you can.
      If yr resistant, think about the privileges you might have that allow you to make that decision.
      Pull out a map of The Bay Area.
      Talk to your neighbors and support local businesses.
      Get involved with issues in yr neighborhood in ways that make sense.
      Think about the visual space your house takes up.
      When you get dressed in the morning, think about how you want to be seen and by whom.
      Take time and make space to learn from people who aren’t radical-queer-identified and who might not speak the language or recognize the acronyms.
      If you don’t have the skills to do this, build them.
      Learn about Bay Area history.
      When you host or plan events and parties, expect that lots of kinds of people are going to come. Make the space accessible in lots of ways, and build communities where lots of people will come.
      If you are just moving to the East Bay and can afford it, consider neighborhoods like Piedmont, North Berkeley and other places less in the midst of gentrification processes, even if it means you might not live around friends and lots of other young queer people.
      Think about how you relate to and talk about ‘The Bay.’ Acknowledge that this is coming from your specific positionality—and that there are so many different ways to experiece this place.
      Refrain from making assumptions about what it’s like to grow up here.
      Try not to assume that how people dress/present corresponds to their politics.
      Think about how you might romanticize or fetishize ‘The Bay.’ Who does this leave out?
      If you’ve got class privilege, think about how dressing scrappily might come off to people who don’t.
      Think about which aspects of our communities are portable, which are really tied to “The Bay."
      Learn from the ways queer of color organizations like SONG, FIERCE!, and the performance troup Butchlalis de Panochtitlan are talking about relationships between queerness, gentrification, race, and place.
      Support and give to a variety of local people of color-led organizations.

Some Questions We Can Think About:

      How does capitalism, post-industrialism and neoliberalism destroy all of our communities and in different ways?
      What does transience do to movements in the Bay Area? What does it do to movements elsewhere?
      Is organizing more effective in our home communities?
      What’s lost when local folks aren’t centered in organizing work?
      Like local political/movement history, perspective on changing neighborhoods and communities (when I was young, East Lake didn’t exist, you can thank the developers for that!).
      Where and how do you meet people and build community? What kind of assumptions are tied into that?
      Who do you expect to see at political events? ‘Radical queer’ events?
      Is 'visible' queerness in ‘The Bay’ that much safer than other places? For who?
      And so many more…

This is a work in progress yall, chime in! There’s so much more to be said. If you're reading this, please think about contributing to the conversation on this blog or, email me at:


I want this to get read! If you'd like a bound hard copy or a PDF, lemme know!


Some badass reading:


(for some reason you gotta copy n paste the links!) 

“The Light That Never Goes Out: Butch Intimacies and Sub-Urban Sociabilities in ‘Lesser Los Angeles,’” in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Studies, edited by George Haggerty and Molly McGarry. (Hecka academic. Also so amazing! I can get you a copy!)

(Some more and less politically on-point) Bay Area History:

American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland, by Robert O. Self

How Did We Get Here? Comic Book History of the Bay Area, by Urban Habitat

Hollow City, by Rebecca Stallman

The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in WWII, by Marilynn S. Johnson

Thanks and Appreciations—
Thanks to all of you (you know who you are) who spent hours and hours reading, editing and talking it out. This conversation starter came out of conversations with several people over several years, and it draws on the knowledge of lots of people across time (many whose books I’ve read but never met). With gratitude and appreciation to the people in my life who’ve told me what’s up, and the women of color feminisms I've read to save my life. Shout out to Bay Area Alternative Press for letting me us their machines to print this.