Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Literacy for Queers

I somehow landed not one, but two queer-themed literary events on my agenda last week. The first was a Queer Librarian event on Saturday night, and the second was a talk by noted queer author Samuel Delany just last night.

Queer Librarians--as my sister says, "Are there that many of them?" Judging by the size of the crowd at the Stonewall Inn on Saturday, I'd say that's a resounding Yes. Some of the people were from my company, both students and faculty from the Library Science program. There probably were some employees of the Public Library system there, but I think the majority of attendees came from the world of fringe libraries: zine curators, underground film archivists, and of course the editors, writers, artists and filmmakers that produce what the libraries curate. And I'm not going to rule out the possibility of people who were just there to fulfill a sexy librarian fetish--or a book fetish in general, why the hell not? It's the Village!

Although I like to think that Internet was invented just so I could broadcast my misguided sense of importance to the world at large, it's clear that the real beneficiaries of this great cloud of information we humans have created are people and ideas on the fringe. One of the zines I picked up at the event had a story about the writer looking up "homosexual" in the dictionary when she was six because she lacked any other source of information or research tool to discover what she was. Now any person with an Internet connection can go online and find poetry, music, academic articles, political discourse, support groups and pornography that speak directly to them and their experiences. We're unshackled from the myth of monolithic culture in a way we've never been before, and perspectives that historically haven't been aired now have their own Library of Congress classifications. The walls at the Stonewall were decorated with library call numbers for topics like "older bisexual men" and "history of transsexuals," and all the televisions were playing the original British "The Prisoner," which isn't exactly literary but fits the interests of that weird and nerdy subset of people who use library call numbers as party decorations.

Fun detail, when really butch women get dressed to the nines, they look like a cross between Buddy Holly and the 11th Doctor on Doctor Who. ("Bow Ties are cool.")

On Monday, I went to the first hour of a talk by Samuel Delany, who says he hasn't considered himself a science fiction writer since his 20s but is still mainly known as that queer experimental science fiction writer. He's a great public speaker. Some writers aren't--Alice Waters can suck it--and others are, and Delany was one of the good ones. For example, I learned that it's entirely possible to write and publish 5 novels by the time you're 22 if you're also leaving your apartment at least 3 times a day to have anonymous gay sex with half a dozen people at a time on the Lower East Side.

Speaking of different perspectives, Delany told a story about why science fiction is relevant because of its ability to describe different worlds, which aren't as far away as we think. When he was living on the Lower East Side in the 1960s and having all that delicious sex, he was also married to a woman who wore the same jeans size as him. One day she came home wet from the rain and he gave her a pair of his jeans to wear while hers dried off. She stuck her hands in the pockets and gasped. "They're so big!" Curious, he looked at her jeans and realized for the first time that pockets in women's jeans "couldn't even hold a pack of cigarettes." He could barely imagine what it must have been like to live in a world without pockets, and realized then that women lived in a completely different world than men. So he began to write stories from the perspective of women and queer characters to describe these different worlds, some of which have actual aliens but most of which just have people who feel like aliens in relation to the world they live in.

Good stuff, lots to think about. I like to cultivate life on the fringe.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Letters to the past

Dear Past Rachel:
Yes, you're seven years old and you are Catwoman. I know you're feeling awesome about it, even though the costume is a little off-model and you're vamping in a parking lot in front of the pizza parlor in broad daylight. Good for you.

Things are a little tough for you right now. You're cross-eyed and have a terrible haircut. Being Catwoman helps, but unfortunately, it's not going to get better just yet. You'll be cross-eyed for a while longer, you'll have to wear braces, and when you start getting tits, one will clearly be bigger than the other. By and large, it will suck.

But guess what? One day you grow up and you get to look like this.Now you're Catwoman and you're on your way to a party in the East Village in New York City. Hair all grown out, eyes straight, teeth straight, well-titted, got your own blog--life is pretty sweet for you. You even still have those original leather gloves from your first Catwoman outfit, but you left them at home because they have some holes between the fingers now.

Just remember, you may clean up good and know your way around a ball gown, but while you may sashay into parties thinking that you look like this----the vast majority of the time you're still sort of goofy-looking, especially when you're having a lot of fun and haven't practiced your drunk-face in front of the mirror. Observe.In fact, that maniacal grin and scrunched up nose is pretty much your default setting. You don't really need to be drinking. Observe again.
Oy. That's harsh. But your loved ones assure you it's part of your charm. Besides, you're Catwoman! And look, you won a book at the Halloween party! So all in all, we made good, little kitten. Real good.