Tonight I performed two lip sync drag numbers at Swankety Swank for the Divisadero Artwalk. It’s a fantastic event that happens four times a year in which businesses along the street showcase the talents of local artists while giving folks an idea of what they have to offer. It’s always a great experience and they seem to be getting better in attendance and overall excitement each time. I have invested a lot of my energy in Swankety Swank, a boutique that specializes in hand-crafted, hand-painted furniture and other local artists’ work. My Heroic Tarot business has blossomed in that space. To say that I consider 289 Divisadero home would be an understatement. It has been a launchpad for my dreams to take flight. It still is.
This evening I had an amazing time being appreciated for the energy I brought to the songs of Cyndi Lauper and P!nk. I lost myself in each song as I performed, feeling the community of the people in attendance. I knew many of them, but over half were strangers. Despite that, I felt immersed in community. I felt accepted, even celebrated, for the unique creature that I am. It’s been a few months since I’ve performed and the attention that I was given was a great gift. That sacred moment in time uplifted my spirit. It gave me hope, strength and conviction that my dreams were possible.
Tonight my heart was open. It opened so wide I saw a glimmer of light on the surface of a reservoir so deep that I could share its life giving waters with the world. I saw the light of the moon and the stars upon its face and I felt connected to everyone and everything.
After the evening came to a close, I walked with two friends to Gracias Madre, an organic, vegan restaurant in the Mission District. After a great meal, we decided to go to Om Shan Ti for tea. En route, I reached out to both of my friends and we held hands down Mission Street. Some people looked at us with surprise, some with disdain, and one man animatedly spoke to us in Spanish and smiled suggestively, but we never broke stride. Most folks simply ignored us. We had almost arrived at the tea house when we passed a man on the sidewalk. Immediately after seeing us, he rushed behind us and started threatening violence. One of my friends is not a small man–he’s much taller than my 6’1″ frame and has a broad build–and he was preparing himself to fight. My other friend was lost in his own thoughts and oblivious to the situation. Though yelling at all of us, the man was fixated on me, and his face came within a foot of my face. His head was shaking, filled with white lines of taut blood vessels. His pupils were tiny pinpricks of black surrounded by a white iris ringed with baby blue and an outermost ring of dark blue. This blue was not cool. Instead, it reminded me of the hottest part of a flame. I was incredulous at the man’s hatred and was wondering how three guys holding hands threatened his existence when a young woman came out of an apartment and ushered him away. My oblivious friend had never stopped walking and had kept us moving forward until we were at our destination.
My friend who was willing to fight for us said, “Oh, he was definitely on something” and my drug experiences would have me agree, but is that really the point here? If that man hadn’t been on drugs, wouldn’t he have still been feeling that revulsion, that anger? Perhaps it might not have come out as aggressive behavior, but the feelings would still have been there, wouldn’t they? I have to admit, that moment when I was looking into that man’s eyes and hearing his threats and invectives has been replaying repeatedly in my mind all night. I cannot determine exactly why. After all, I have endured much worse. Perhaps my victorious sense of community earlier had made me feel comfortable. Perhaps my heart was too open.
When we went to tea, I tried to ignore it and move on as I have done with other times, and perhaps I would have. My protective friend and I bid our other friend good night, and as walked through the Haight, we encountered several men at different times, who upon seeing us, scowled in disapproval and flexed their upper bodies as if they were going to fight us. They appeared intoxicated, and their weaving and bobbing as they struggled to maintain balance might have been humorous if their faces weren’t etched with hatred. All of them looked at my tall strong protective friend and kept on going. I certainly didn’t slow down my stride. We both arrived home safely.
The truth is, these kinds of things have been happening with a frequency I have not wanted to admit. I think tonight’s near altercation has shown me how much I have been ignoring in order to simply keep moving forward and living my life. I didn’t move from North Carolina to San Francisco to receive the same second class treatment. Yet I see now that I have been wearing very similar armor over my emotions to keep the unsavory aspects of the world out. Unfortunately, that survival strategy has done me a disservice. It’s a form of disassociation that is no different than the behavior I adopted as a child to survive a verbally and physically abusive home environment. I am not comfortable with that correlation. It is not how I want to live my life.
A guy from New York came into Swankety Swank mid-afternoon today and after he found out that I was going to perform drag, he said, “Oh man, San Francisco is so cool like that!” and when he found out I was from North Carolina, he asked, “I bet it was harder there to be–(short pause as he couldn’t even say the word gay)–uh, you, right?” I told him he was right. That yes, the cliche of backwood rednecks is real and I’m even related to folks just like the stereotype. I also told him that living in San Francisco was a far cry from the oasis of acceptance I thought it would be. That having a gun to put to my head and told “Jump, faggot” within my first three weeks of moving here had never happened to me in all of my years in North Carolina.
There’s no neat resolution to this post, folks. I do not think I am going to find closure about a lifetime of handling hatred in one night. However, what I am taking from today’s experiences is this. I want to keep my heart open. I didn’t get angry tonight. I felt sad, hurt, and disappointed. I think this evening’s man with with the fiery eyes is not so different than the kid that put that gun to my head five years ago. I will even go so far as to say that both of them have a lot in common with those folks of mine that abused me as a child. I do not know specifically know how they fell so far as to hurt people around them, but I think somewhere along their paths they gave in to fear. I think they lost hope and they gave up on finding a better way to treat themselves. I am not defending their actions. I do not believe they are right. However, I do believe they deserve my compassion.
I know there is a connection to all living things. I felt it tonight in sacred performance space. I know it is real. I know it is natural. I know that an open heart can be all inclusive. That is my truth. I will dream for everyone who wishes to better understand their fellow spirit beings and I will dream for those who choose to twist their desires into prisons. I will pray to the moon and the stars for a better world and I will do my best to be worthy of it. I forgive that man tonight. I forgive that boy from five years ago. I forgive my mother and father. I wash away my sorrow with the tears from the reservoir of an open heart.