// Sometimes in my attempts to steer homewards, upon nautical principles, by fixing my eyes on the pole-star, and seeking ambitiously for a north-west passage, instead of circumnavigating all the capes and headlands I had doubled in my outward voyage, I came suddenly upon such knotty problems of alleys, such enigmatic entries, and such sphinx's riddles of streets without thoroughfares... //
One of the beautiful things about being post-phd is that it doesn’t matter how many times you listen to “Buffalo Stance” and dance around the house. It doesn’t matter how long you want to read about student occupations in Zagreb or New York (via @rchive). Words won’t “suffer”, they’re no longer holding you hostage. And as much as I liked this other occupation of my time and affect and brain power (”brain power”! said brain is still evidently mush) it’s rather delicious to be free. Even less than two days in.
Next stop: that third world country I’ve taken a shine to, the US of A. Tennessee in mid-June, for a Dollywood pilgrimage and Idapalooza Fruit Jam, after which San Francisco for six weeks of summer. Then in August I’ll be driving across the southwest and up into the midwest: specifically Bloomington, Indiana. Where I’m going to be living for the next two years, apparently. Because the postdoc gods were smiling on me.
Since I’m still pretty exhausted and have precisely 12 days before leaving Australia for the foreseeable, this post is another promise of future content. There’s furniture to sell, books to pack, clothes to throw away, farewells to be made. But I want to keep this blog going. Or, more to the point, I’ve been thinking about how to blog, nowadays. A lot of my communicative output on the nets has been channelled into Facebook or other more “bite-size” media like Twitter lately. I find the latter especially frustrating: you can’t even begin to say anything in 140 characters. By comparison it seems like a luxury to think of writing blog posts, short essays that might even contain a thought rather than, like, an eighth of one. So. When there’s time. And maybe even when there’s not.
Where is the room to write thesis, when I’m so busy thinking about everything else? I’m replying on my ability to draw things together fast, because this week the deadline is Wednesday. 3000 words, assembled from notes. Whatever. At 4am, unable to sleep and now entirely nocturnal, I listen to The Pointer Sisters’ “Send Him Back”, Pilooski edit, courtesy of s0metim3s, and it mirrors a thrust into thought I’m enacting, arms windmilling in 60’s dance moves, or was that boxing…? And the new email list I’m moderating (which has a name I think, and maybe we’ll even get some institutional support at some point) is finally in flow. But all I can do is read people’s article recommendations and chew over stuff in my head.
Tonight I attended a HREOC sex and gender diversity project public meeting. I’m glad I went, although my horoscope for today said I’d be annoyed by a business outcome, and to “strategise, don’t nark off.” So right. Based on the initial submissions they received, HREOC has already decided that their project will focus on the question of identity documents: recommending federal legislation to make gender marker changes on birth certificates and passports consistent/coherent. So, defer thinking about affordable healthcare, Medicare subsidies, and forget removing gender from identity documents altogether. (S. suggested this latter solution at the meeting and a lot of people laughed, as if it was absurd.) So, the big question the HREOC people wanted to ask: “What line in the sand do we draw?” Because we have to draw a line somewhere, for people to change their document permanently from M to F or F to M. Surgery and hormones? Psychiatric or psychological assessment? Two years or one? Which legislation is better, Spain’s or the UK’s? Oh, so limited. So frustrating.
But the actual comments, the meeting itself, ran so far outside the bounds of this question that I started to feel better, optimistic. Trans legislative questions always run aground on these immense philosophical rocks that simultaneously connect very material every day existence with the whole epistemology of gender as a central category organising bodies violently, and why we find it so difficult to think without it. So, yes, why is it that someone’s gender is M at such and such an institution but F at another? Why is it that one can change one’s birth certificate, but when one gets pulled over by a motorcycle cop on a deserted country road, the cop can check one’s entire police record with previous names and genders and call one ‘Sir’, and throw in a few transphobic slurs as well? Why is it that in the Family Court, a transwoman suing for partial custody of her children could be denied it on the basis that she was upsetting her children by wearing women’s clothing around them? How do we think about these children’s desires to have a ‘normal family,’ and the violence that enacts against this woman, who has a life-threatening disease, and who just wants to be a ‘normal woman’? How do we think the crazily proliferating deployments of ‘normal’ in this context? How do you even think, when the story is so heart-breaking?
What really surprises me is the intensity of a lot of transfolks’ desires to gain recognition, preferably on an important looking piece of paper with a government seal. So much so that this validation forms a kind of fetish. If we have the piece of paper, everything will be okay. But what the meeting really demonstrated is that no, a piece of paper cannot make everything okay.
My favourite moment was when A. started talking about the costs of outing oneself as trans, and how much safer it is to be stealth. But staying stealth has to break whenever you witness violence erupt against another transperson. You have to stand up and tell people that’s not on, he said. “Do we stand up for each other? Can we have solidarity with each other, even if it means outing ourselves? This is the only line in the sand I want to draw.” What a beautiful intervention.
So D. emails me a couple of addresses of people to look up when I’m in LA, and aside from how S. is driving me around on this mad wonderful tour of the city every day I don’t think I have the energy to meet more than one person so I pick W. Who I hear does amazing art and runs a queer performance night slash party somewhere and has long gorgeous hair and is a transboy and and. So I call W. He tells me to come by his place tonight at 9.30 so we can hang out with him and friends of his who just got in from Berlin. We go, and on the way we stop in Koreatown to eat. There’s a Korean sushi place that’s empty and white and black. The sushi train stretches for a good half mile up and down three long table rows. We want it to go, which here means to take away, but it’s so efficient. This ‘to go’. The waiter hands me a plastic container, a glove, a plastic bag and soy sauce and wasabi. He tells us to take plates off the sushi train and transfer them to the container using the glove. Later he produces polystyrene containers of miso soup, a huge portion of ginger, and a smaller container for the seaweed salad. S. and I watch for the arrival of pieces of interesting looking sushi, a roll with tuna, a roll with salmon, two serves of inari, something that maybe looks like sausage but turns out to be cooked tuna. We drive to W’s place. On his floor we talk with the Germans, who are making a film about a film called Salome. Then we follow their green PT Cruiser downtown to the club. We drive through a skyscraper forest, past old movies theatres that are now churches, featuring sessions with God.
At the door a crew of queens greets us. ‘Thankyou for coming.’ ‘Thankyou for having us!’ The club itself is an old theatre. Balconies above, screens with a textual narrative that reads like Judy Blume on Viagra. An innocent double date at a baseball game turns into a gay — shock! — orgy! — ohmygod. We position ourselves at the door and watch the hott faggots walking in. Someone takes our photo. A boy called Angel tells me I am gorgeous. He’s wrong, it’s him that’s gorgeous. I’m wearing a pin that says ‘I am yours from top to toe,’ and I truly am. Inside it’s hot, and we dance. Me and W. especially. Oh, someone to dance with. Someone to vogue with, someone to ‘ooh!’ and ‘ah’ and ‘oh my god honey!’ and ‘what WAS that?’ A faggy nelly queen in just a little more faggy nelly way than I am, but comparative and just so. Hot stepping, butt cranking. Beautiful. I’m thinking of the last person I danced dirty with and how he’s in this same state somewhere and how great that is, icing sugar on his sleeve, art in his skin. All of us scholars and gentlemen. I’m thanking the universe for making each part of this short North American adventure a step up to a higher level of power/joy/knowledge. Angel comes back and wants to know where I’m from. “Australia,” I say. “Where did they MAKE you?” he says. Yeah people have asked me that before. “Do you dance on the ceiling there? Is everything upside down?” We just dance at him. All these fags, we own them, our eyes are dazzling just a little bit more than theirs. Antony said so in Vancouver, and Antony is a hippie but he is right. We do dazzle. We are fearless and we dazzle.
On the way out W. decries the lack of girls. I am thinking of the so many hot boys, so many, too many. And how for once I don’t care how they read me. A gorgeous drag queen thanks me for coming again, and I say, “It’s been splendid,” and she blows kisses to S. and then me: “Goodbye ladies, goodbye!” Oh no. I walk up to her with big eyes. “I’m not a lady! I’m a boy.” “Oh honey,” she says, “I call all the boys here ladies!” My ‘but of course’ face. “I’m so sorry, I get nit-picky. Well, just for you tonight I’m a big girly faggy lady!” “You take care now, lady,” she says, kissing my cheek, and I will, I will, I will. On my last night in LA I will.
It’s kinda embarrassing to plug something that turned up in my last.fm ’shoutbox’ unsolicited. But the Stereogum tribute to Björk’s Post beguiles me. Listening to Post for the first time was like learning to swim without breathing. In the front room of a terrace house in Carlton where for the first time ever I had a special writing desk, I would play “Hyperballad” over and over. I knew exactly what she was talking about: “I go through all this/Before you wake up/So I feel happier/ To be safer again with you.” So much labour, working on oneself in the cracks where no-one else notices, to be safer — happier.
Listening to the tribute album, I’m not so impressed with Dirty Projectors’ version of “Hyperballad”. It’s kind of cute, abrupt and hyperactive, exactly what the original wasn’t, with a gunshot bass drum going off every couple of seconds at seeming random. But the Final Fantasy/Ed Droste rendition of “Possibly Maybe” captures that submerged quality, how everything moves so slowly under water. Because of the pressure, you see. Which translates musically as tension, smooth tension. And I love Atlas Sound’s “Headphones”, although Atlas Sound are experts at submerged swirly dreaming music. This is their home team advantage…
(Play the tracks and download here)
At the Chicks on Speed show at Roxanne last night I felt old. Worse, I felt nostalgic. Roxanne is on the top level of Charlton’s. It’s possible that Charlton’s was the first alleyway bar in Melbourne; but this was when ‘alleyway’ meant sordid, not hip. The clientele seems to consist solely of middle-aged men, who can be seen ferrying their dicks between the bar and the strip club across the way. Charlton’s has a karaoke level, too. In 2002, Charlton’s became the ’so-bad-it’s-good’ karaoke venue of choice for a bunch of my friends. I did Eminem’s “Without Me” there one time, surely the most difficult song in the history of English language karaoke.
That’s just random backstory, it’s not why I felt nostalgic. Anyhow, the tone for the night was set when we walked into Coverlid Place and a dude in an Armani suit wanted to give me a high five on the way past. “C’mon boy!” he said. “High five!” “Get fucked,” I said, not in an unfriendly way. We kept walking. “I used to run most of Melbourne,” he yelled at us from behind. Now I wanted to touch his hand even less than I had a moment before. (Confession: I don’t know if his suit was really Armani. But it looked expensive and had double butt flaps.)
In terms of art, Chicks on Speed are still doing what they’ve always done. They came onstage in postmodern kimonos with cardboard cutouts of various domestic items pinned to their hairdos, like stilettos and sewing machines. The whole show was built around domestic items. Possibly this is because they’re also playing the Melbourne Fashion Festival — odd, but in keeping with the whole idea of playing to different audiences. (Their other Melbourne engagement is some conference at Monash Uni.) A Husqvarna sewing machine in the middle of the stage literally set the beat. Alex was playing a stiletto with sensors, like electric guitar strings but shoe. They really don’t play guitars, and it’s a beautiful thing.
But something wasn’t right. The crowd was too young. And also too drunk. No respect. Some weirdo got up on stage after the first song and began to spout made-up poetry, calling them “girls” and telling them to get off. They weren’t taken aback at all. They just grabbed gigantic sewing scissors and started chopping off his hair. A woman next to me said something about how she’d only heard one Chicks on Speed song. “I like Le Tigre and Peaches more,” she said. It was too loud to give her a quick lesson on grrl electroclash history. Chicks on Speed actually predate Le Tigre; in fact, they released the first Le Tigre album. Peaches came later, was less into contemporary art and more into the sexxxing, and got more famous. Anyhow, shortly after this the woman smashed her hand through the UV tube stuck on the foldback amps and cut herself. She kept pointing at her hand, the blood running down onto her wrist, and at the shards of black plastic, in a kind of drunken wonder. Melissa from CoS ended up bandaging the cut with a piece of fabric she cut off her costume.
Mostly, though, it was weird because the moment of riot grrl electro really was in the early 00’s. For a split second, everyone and their dog loved Chicks on Speed. The space for specifically politicised, art-influenced electro sound of CoS and Le Tigre has been evacuated and in its place enter Justice and LCD Soundsystem: yet more rock boys with mixers. (Not that I don’t like Justice or LCD, but it’s not the same.) Perhaps The Knife has filled some of the gap left, but The Knife are all about the music, not the fucking with shit. And here are CoS, still doing their thing, but at a much smaller venue, with a crowd who like Peaches better. I wanted more for them. And I remembered their other Melbourne gigs, at Revolver and the Prince of Wales, when everyone was packed into the venue like sardines, and there was a serious appreciation for these crazy punk art makers.
Hence, serious nostalgia. The irony of this will not be lost on readers more familiar with the late 70s art punk band Malaria!, who wrote arguably CoS’ best song, “Kaltes Klares Wasser.” But in the encore, “Kaltes Klares Wasser” still rocked out. And here it is again:
Two versions of the same song: “Heartbeats” by the Knife, and a cover by Jose Gonzales. I was going to ask which was better. But in fact they complement each other perfectly. Brash synthetic wails for the dancefloor at 4am, packed with queers busily engaged in that high school thing they used to call ‘heavy petting’. Sincere acoustic noodling for contemplation in the cool of the living-room next afternoon, nursing a sore head. (Apart from the hangover, someone shoved me into a wall while we method acted Kelis’ “I Hate You So Much Right Now.” I have a bump.) Yes, it’s all class this weekend. Or, to put it another way, I’m back on the horse, and the saddle sores are a bitch.
1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.
I, too, am having difficulty with the first instruction. Maybe it’s because of my literal brain. See, my desk is right next to bookshelves. If I reach for the nearest book on the desk, that is farther away than the shelf at my left. (And I reach with my left hand, because I’m a left-hander.) Aha. It’s not Anti Oedipus, How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality or Freud’s Introductory Lectures. It’s — see, I really need to sort my books by subject — Homocore: The Loud and Raucous Rise of Queer Rock. Which is just because it’s a large format book, and the spine juts out further. The three sentences:
“I don’t want my art to be quarantined, filtered, and safe. I am quite open with my sexual preferences, which do give me some sort of edge. If my behaviours are offensive, I take the apprehension of others and use it to my advantage.”
That would be Joshua Starr, from the Dead Betties, who is apparently the “gay Kurt Cobain.”
Don’t think I’ll tag anyone at this point (maybe later) but if you feel like doing it, you can say you were tagged by me. I’m off to see I’m Not There this afternoon, as a reward for being very studious all yesterday and today. And to the travel agent!
I found Actor/Model through a bizarre coincidence — someone mentioned them as ‘genderfucked bluegrass’ in a list of trans musicians on the Chicago-based queer study-l email list. The best local music always seems to come via somewhere else. I don’t think this Actor/Model are bluegrass or particularly queer (maybe), but they are from Melbourne. And their song “My Agent Says” reminds me of the layered euphoria of Pinback.
Last boat, stand in a river;
Muddy river, how I love her
Hawk flying is fooling his folly
Gas hurricanes spray over Heaven
Weeping willow is bawling the light
Humans running for cover,
Wishing for life, gripping the light
House lift up, trees lift up
Cars intersect in the middle of the sky.
No time before, no pull, no gravity on the ground
Give it up–it’s over
The world’s weight is over
Our bodies are exploding
As the sky spills through our mouths.
All the blue blood is flowing
The cities, its contents have been ripped out.
The world is gone.
Did you know it would last this long?
You made it to the dark, now you’re gone.
You are gone.
Frozen in a secret space
A great big place,
Last boat, stand in the river.
(Chan Marshall and the Dirty Three, “Great Waves”, from Cinder)
Sorenson has been talking about this song on her blog already, and now I’ve got it on a mix cd courtesy of nixwilliams — but it’s worth posting the lyrics here. To consider apocalypses, big and small.