No Place Like Home
Here's how it goes: you escape from your hometown, escape old ways of being, escape the hurt and run - and you come to the city.
The city is dark but you can only see the lights, streetlights slick in the autumn rain, redlights in the brothel district, neonlights at all-night cinemas - lights that call you home. They have a sound: the sound is something like the rippling synths of Scissor Sisters' Comfortably Numb, on quiet days when you meld into the lines of the buildings and the gentleness of rain; and on nights when you are awake and alive, the lights sound more like the opening of Menergy, an immense dimension of SOUND and COLOUR, opening the veil to a new world.
Someone takes you in. The story is always the same. maybe it's a black drag queen who shows you how to be fierce, or a tribe of gutterpunks and diesel femmes who you nick stuff with, or the bodies on the dancefloor - a hivemind of motion - or a fantasy of yourself reformed in light, that you build from lacefronts and heels. In any case - you're [art of an us now, and that keeps you alive, and the city is yours. You lick your wounds in a newly formed world, which is not the same as the world you came from - but more than compensates for it. A new language, a new way of seeing, new places to go and a neighbourhood of loved ones. it's ok.
Your new friends meet in grouphouses and late-night cafes, in femme self defence classes, in poetry readings, in trans sex workshops, in kink bars, in zine markets. You survive together. When you read about who you are, it's a celebration of togetherness. it's mutual aid: we live outside the system by supporting one another. it's sex: of finding yourself in another's body, and them finding themselves in you. Its moments of unity, passed down like a promise - Camp Trans and stonewall and transy house and ballroom.
one cannot be a queer alone.
one cannot abuse alone, either; it's created more by systems, than people - systems that enable and permit it.
Here's how it goes: we survive together. We survive by sharing techniques, resources, and knowledge; speak out, and we deny it to you. We survive by building a new language, a new politics; speak out, and those words will be taken away. We survive by community, through lovers and friends - speak out, and we'll know who you are, the bars will be shut to you and the meetups closed. Abuse in queer communities always collaborates with cisheteropatriarchy; that world will never welcome you, but we will - conditional, of course, on not rocking the boat, on doing what we want. it's easily weaponised against the most vulnerable - sometimes, against people who are clearly the most marginalised in a space (trans women, sex workers...) - other times, in ways that are more subtle (people who lost parental support, or who have to remain closeted). Where there is power, there will be abuse of power; I see our community split down the line of those who can survive without it, and those who can't. That latter group are easy prey. Say no, and you lose everything.
this is a love letter to an imaginary world; it's a love letter to the diaries of Lou Sullivan and the music of Patrick Cowley and Bronski Beat. oh, my loves, who will always be there for me. this is a love letter to the books of Oscar Wilde and James Baldwin and the films of Kenneth Anger. Hold me close, and make me a home.
there's a bittersweetness to my memories of running riot in the city rain, a beautiful September - the city at her best among the puddles. I was cautious about coming out - but never ashamed or afraid. the shame came later. it was something you taught me. I remember the joy i had in my wardrobe and body; I remember how gentle my fantasies were; the delight of encountering a new family. I've been too afraid to go to a pride for over a decade now; i've moved on from groups where i was happy when the wrong people arrived. I try new communities, but i see the same dynamics - once seen, cannot be unseen. safer to stay off everybody's radar. there's only something like 26 transsexuals in the entire blooy country, and so the same people resurface and resurface; they have forgotten, but i have not, how many of them put the social power the community had gifted them at the service of defending abuse
i feel my body is no longer mine: i feel the claim that was laid upon it under my skin, bearing the weight of secrets. i remember the first time i started dissosociating badly, feeling the disgust and loss of ownership that you created, feeling that what i was doing was wrong - feeling the loss of my joy. when my husband says he wants me, here's what my mind does: "your wanting me is an attack on you that I have made; your wanting me is me abusing you; your wanting me is something I have done to you deliberately, for which i need to be punished; and so i should let you do whatever you want, and all the better if it hurts - because my body is not mine, it is public property; and to say no is to abuse". as far as i remember, no-one has ever spoken these words to me; but the secret pathways of abuse hot-poker new lines of meaning into the brain. when i remember the compliments you gave me, i remember they were true once - that i was brilliant, that i was shimmering, that i was beautiful - and with those words you captured parts of me and killed them. i miss being that person.
to be abused in radical scenes is to have the words that were forged for liberation turned into a weapon. how do you survive that? it is to see what-you-are-becoming as a threat, something to be scrubbed out of your body - and if you cant do that, to turn yourself insideout looking away from it. it is to know the places created for your safety are, in the main, little kingdoms built for the delight of their kings who, knowing they lack power in the outside world, claim all the pleasures of wielding it in the secret places we built to escape exploitation.
i fantasise about ballroom and try not to think that the idols of the past, who i imagine are there for me (the way a teenager imagines it), in a fantasy community i have created to compensate for a real one - i try not to think that the people whose names have survived are almost certainly of the same kind as the people who hurt me.
what does survival look like? it's hard to be sure. after all, the Community is where the tools are: the radical survivor circles, the zines, the queer-informed frameworks. You know the outside world is unsafe for you; and now you know the inner world is dangerous too - but there is no more outside to escape to. what does it mean to be queer without a lover, what does it mean to dress but never be seen, what does it mean to get to Oz and take the redbrick road alone, to learn that chosen family is just as dangerous as the biological kind - worse, in fact, because you've already had to escape once. You try not to think about Smalltown Boy, about RuPaul's Never Go Home Again and House of Love, about the Scissor Sisters' Night Life, and how you long like a teenager longs to find that safe community, the one which wasn't there for you when you came out the first time. You think about Relax and Mighty Real, vanishing into dance and sex (you know nowhere you feel safe to go dancing); you think about drag families and leather families. You read the essays by people explaining why cis man is the abusive gender, and you hear the people who harmed you using those words as a deflection tactic - and you try not to fall into those same patterns of thinking about other genders as the abusive ones (though you really, truly believe it - and what does that make you?) You think about when you liked the idea of queerplatonic relationships, before they were used to frighten you off friendship; you think about the peace that came with polyamory, before you saw it as "just more opportunities to be abused". You read first person narratives of the safety and self-discovery and home-coming of queer sex, and try to imagine what that would might like - to have that as a place of safety, not fear. The only kind of person you feel safe with, really, is cis men; it's so wildly off base with what everyone else will tell you, but then what you've experienced marks you out and marks you as alone; you should have kept your mouth shut.
they're still on the scene; and intermittently, i hear that they've hurt somebody new. my speaking out did nothing good, except a mirrorshattering of my safety
i dream of closing my eyes and waking up in 1981; i dream of transforming into Sylvester's scream, spiraling into light and breathing in - breathing out - the rhythm of the dancefloor. a world of friends and lovers and family; to be part of something, and no longer alone. to come home.