and sometimes you have one of those very new york days where you pack it all in. see, it wouldn’t make sense to schlep back to south brooklyn from your therapist’s office in manhattan before the show, but four hours is a long time to kill. you duck into a bar just off washington square park and nurse a beer while you read last exit to brooklyn, all the while cringing at the rawness, the violence, the poverty, the buried histories of gender transgression. how hip of you.
and you heard about this talk at an anarchist space near the diy venue and it ought to kill just enough time, so you go even though you hate going new places alone. you hop off the m train and turn yourself around three times before heading in the right direction (i mean, who even takes the m train?). you walk into a room of metal folding chairs, sparsely dotted with fresh-faced and well-meaning white folks. did i mention it’s a talk about gentrification? the bearded and very new york guy at the front makes several self-congratulatory jokes about new york time/anarchist time and decides to start talking 30 minutes late, which is fine, but i guess it means you’re gonna miss the punch line.
your defenses are up. what does it mean to have a conversation about gentrification ring-led by a straight, white cisgender man? what does it mean to have said conversation in a room absent the folks most affected? and, he proves you right within minutes, ‘while gentrification is in large part a race issue, i believe that it’s really a class issue.’ he proselytizes from his privilege, a privilege he’s attempted to skirt by shuffling off his academic life for the life of a union, working-class laborer. and, who gets to choose to be a part of the working class? which good marxists get to ignore issues of race, gender, sexuality, ability for the “good” of the proletarian struggle? he asks if there’s any questions, and you want to chime in with a play on his slightly condescending teacher voice and ask if he knows the root of the word gentrification, if he knows that whiteness is built into the very word that we call this phenomenon, but you don’t and white cis men’s voices continue to fill up the space. you would have left right away, but the only thing worse than offering your tacit consent to be talked at like this would be showing up to the show way too early and having to stand in a corner by yourself.
you leave the talk around the reagan era and maybe he would have disproved your suspicions, maybe he’s a good anti-racist after all, but you’ll never know. back out into the cold you go, and you’re excited because an idol, a real trans idol is playing this real small venue. but, you walk in and it’s stuffed to the gills and that old anxiety creeps in. everyone’s doing that punk show shuffle, which is really more shoving and you always figure out quick who the assholes are. the first one makes himself known, takes up his space during the first set when he yells to the singer, another one of your favorites, to sing the song about how cops suck because subtext: he’s sick of this gender shit. you wonder how so many cis men got into this gig about the end of gender and you wonder is this a good or a bad thing?
she comes on stage and offers intermittent selections from her journals, struggling with feelings of gender dysphoria in the hypermasculine world of anarchist punk. she punches you in the gut, because sometimes it’s harder for you to hear reflections of yourself than fictions about someone else. and, you are feeling it hard and doing that punk show dance that is mostly knees.
SOMETIMES THE UNIVERSE. SOMETIMES THE UNIVERSE JUST ILLUSTRATES POINTS FOR YOU.
because it’s another white cis man behind you, singing (yelling?) flat as fuck right in your ear. he is wailing, “DOES GOD BLESS YOUR TRANSSEXUAL HEART?” and you want to know if he’s allowed to sing along. you want to decide if it’s good that guys like him are being exposed to real trans lives, real gender non-conforming lives, but it’s really fucking unclear. maybe it’s just going to be another way for them to take up space, another battle for them to take up as their own. you want to start a movement in this moment, you joke to your friends that there should be a trans to the front rule like the riot grrrls did. you are only half kidding. and, a shout rings out from behind you, him again, inexplicably yelling ‘FUCK YOU!’
is it wrong to want some safe space, some space safe?
you linger after the show, hoping to meet your idols and do your awkward fanboy duties. and you do and you will spend the next day wondering if you embarrassed yourself because, hey! that’s how social anxiety goes. but, you got a real nice hug and you got to say thank you to somebody doing it right, somebody you wish you had known about when you were young. it’s 2am and it’s cold, a train to a shuttle to a train to a train before you get home and you decide it’s time. you stumble out into the night a little buzzed and say your goodbyes.
that’s always when your privilege smacks you right in the face. right when you’re feeling your own struggle.
she approaches and you pull a few crumpled dollars out of your pocket so she can eat. but, she doesn’t say good night. ‘damn,’ she says. ‘you are beautiful.’ and you don’t know where this is going just yet. ‘i could suck your dick real nice. i bet you have a nice dick.’ (spoiler alert: you don’t have one and you’re bad at lying and what the hell are you gonna say) you fumble with your words, you tell her you can’t and you tell her goodnight. ‘are you gay?’ she asks and you say yes which is only sort of true. ‘it’s ok, i’ll still suck your dick for you.’ you tell her you respect her and you wish her good luck and you hope she has a good night and she’s disappointed and you put your head down and you keep walking.
because, you create this. it doesn’t matter how trans you are, you’re white and you’re masculine-presenting and all the things you have rest on other people having too little. all the things that keep you off the streets keep her on them. and, how can you talk about straight white cis men like you’re not part of the problem? how can you navigate your pain, your trauma, your anxiety without forgetting your place? your race, your role, your consent, your participation.