Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore ‘s The End of San Francisco; a Review

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end of san franciscoPublished by San Francisco’s iconic City Lights and winner of a Lambda Award for Transgender Non-Fiction in 2014, The End of San Francisco is first-rate Resistance Literature.

 Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore refuses to separate the personal and political, capturing the creation (and in some cases disintegration) of radical communities in a way that will be familiar to those who were there and enlightening to those who weren’t.

At breakneck speed, the stream-of-consciousness narrative tears through a decade of personal discovery and anti-assimilation activism. It examines the intersection between pain and activism, the broken child and fearless agitator, while struggling as we all do with the desire for trust and intimacy in the communities we’ve built outside the prevailing culture.

Mattilda's critique of the mainstream LGBT movement cannot be ignored and this unmistakable, unrepentantly unique voice is one that should be amplified.

[For more trans voices, check out The Reading List]

 

The Twisted Pig Escapes That Guy Guy

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twisted pigMoTown is all atwitter after that Guy guy rolled into town with his whole Diners Drive Ins and Dives shtick. Guy-Lovers and Guy-Haters alike wanted to know – Where did he go? What did he eat? Who’s the smartass that spit on the hood of his car?

As it turns out, the Guy guy brought his camera crew, hot rod and nightmarish fashion sense to Commonwealth, a damn fine burger & beer joint across the street from my office. He also visited the Kickstarted Food Fix sandwich truck near MJC and McHenry Village’s Bauer's 66 1/2 , the best little hole-in-the-wall-eatery-at-the-back-of-a-dive-bar that you’ve ever seen.

The exposure and ensuing rush of new customers is good for them. I get that. But it's not so good for those of us who’ll now have to wrestle the newcomers and looky-loos for a table. All of this is kind of okay though. I can live with it because that Guy guy came and went without discovering my beloved Twisted Pig Bar & Grill.

Just blocks from the house, in a familiar old building, The Twisted Pig is serving up the best pub food and drinks in town. The chef is brilliant, bartenders badass, and wait-staff lovely. Their food is smart, their daily specials crave-worthy and prohibition-era cocktails rule.

When we first discovered the place, I was a zealous evangelist, telling everyone I knew to check it out. After a while, as they got more popular, I got quiet, not wanting to talk myself out of a seat.

Last week, The Pig celebrated their 1st Anniversary by roasting a whole pig on the back porch. They were packed wall to wall by 6 pm. Despite the crowd, they maintained their warm, welcoming atmosphere as regulars and newbies chowed down plates of Hog & Fries, toasted with copper cups and tried not to sing along with every song in the local band's setlist.

On Fridays, it’s Prime Rib and brussels with bacon. Maybe it's wrong, but I can’t help but be delighted that The Twisted Pig escaped that Guy guy’s loud-mouthed reality tv rodeo, ‘cause I just might get a table tonight.

Gold By The Inch; The Book That Nearly Beat Me

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gold by the inch(Please excuse me if this review gets a little heady. It's been a decade in the crafting.)

A battered borrowed copy of Lawerence Chua's Gold by the Inch resides on my shelves, a perch from where it has glared at me for nearly a decade. Every couple of years, I'd tackle it again, hoping to peel back the layers enough to finally understand the subtext's subtext. I even read a scholarly article on it, finding points of agreement but dismissing the thesis in the end. The article did focus other elements for me, on  themes of exclusion and identity within a commerce-driven global marketplace.

Yes, Chua’s novel is a critique of colonial consumerism in Southeast Asia, but it is also a rich tapestry strewn with lush imagery and an inescapable sense of loss. Moving about in time, perspective and tense, it is best described as the travel tale of a young, queer Asian-American of Thai descent. Excluded at home and abroad, his search for an authentic Thai/Malaysian identity is met with distrust and amusement, hampered by his own Western privilege.

Arriving in Thailand after the death of his estranged father, the narrator drifts from his brother’s high-rise apartment in Bangkok to the hospitality of relatives and strangers in outlying villages, eventually reaching his grandmother’s grave in Penang Malaysia. Trailed by the ghosts of estrangement and remnants of pre-colonial life, Chua evokes the homeless felt by those in diaspora.

Despite his craving for a native identity, Chua’s nameless protagonist tears through the bars and brothels of Bangkok with Western appetites. Reeling from an affair in which his own body was commodified for its otherness, he engages the affections of a prostitute, imagining them as equals in the exchange. 

In the end, the dense, often opaque prose of Gold by the Inch is the oddest mix of explicit hedonism, global commentary and passionate sorrow. It is a book that stays with you, even  when you've barely scratched its surface.

 

Scholastic Press Celebrates Trans Voices with GEORGE

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trans voicesI read Alex Gino’s middle grade book GEORGE and was overcome with both sadness for the past and hope for the future.

I still have the dog-eared copy of “Marvin K Redpost; is He a Girl?” that Ashlie stole from the Westlake school library while she was masquerading as a 10-year-old boy. I wouldn’t understand its significance until she revealed herself, but the story of a boy accidentally kissing his elbow and turning into a girl was the closest connection Ash found in her grade school library.

You see, GEORGE is the book that Ashlie needed.

And rather than the Freaky-Friday farce of Marvin Redpost, it is the book she deserved.

 “When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.”

Published by Scholastic Press, with smashing reviews (including The School Library Journal), Gino’s GEORGE brings trans voices and characters into the school library mainstream. Age appropriate for 8-12 year olds and engaging enough for a quick adult read, I’d like to shove GEORGE in every pre-teen reader’s backpack and slip it onto grade school shelves everywhere.

Books like GEORGE will pave the way for a new generation of transgender allies and ensure that the questioning kid thumbing through the school library can finding their own experiences reflected there.

(cross-posted at The Daily Kos)

Miss Major – Still Fucking Here

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Major!

MAJOR! is a documentary film exploring the life and campaigns of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a formerly incarcerated Black transgender elder and activist who has been fighting for the rights of trans women of color for over 40 years.”

The above description and few additional details from Miss Major’s Wikipedia Bio were all I knew about Major Griffin-Gracy a few weeks ago when I accepted an invitation to attend film’s premiere at the 2015 Transgender Film Festival in San Francisco.

It’s not that I didn’t know the statistics.

I did.

From the advocacy of Janet Mock, I learned about the increased risk of violence faced by transwomen of color and through the incarceration of CeCe McDonald, I learned about their disproportionate representation in the criminal justice system. I’ve seen the graphs and charts, but Major! explores these issues through story; tracing the harrowing yet exuberant life of an irreverent, irrepressible and utterly disarming woman who has built family and community for transgender women in and out of prison.

 

TGI Justice

Miss Major’s TGI Justice Project works to create “a united family in the struggle for survival and freedom… working in collaboration with others to forge a culture of resistance and resilience to strengthen us for the fight against imprisonment, police violence, racism, poverty, and societal pressures.”

The staff and volunteers at TGI Justice visit prisoners, write letters, do research and advocate for their sisters behind bars. It is a noble work. It matters.

What I experienced watching this film is akin to the religious conviction of a lapsed evangelical during a barn-burning sermon. I was deeply affected and ultimately shamed by how little I have done for others. in my life. As I witnessed Major’s struggles and losses, I became acutely aware that for too long, I have excused my inaction by wrapping myself up in grief.

I am too sad, too anxious, too broken to do the work that must be done is an easy out, but for how long? At what point do the injustices of this world demand that I snap out of it?

One of the most powerful moments of the night was Miss Major’s defiant battle cry; I am still fucking here. At the film’s close, familiar and unfamiliar transgender women appeared on-screen, echoing this refrain. It was evidence of the resilience of the human spirit in a society and its systems which seek to destroy. And yet, there are so many who are not still here.

The empty seat beside me was glaring and I wept throughout the 8-minute standing ovation. Leaving the theater, I felt the full weight of having been a useless ally – mostly in theory and woefully out of practice. My daughter is gone, but I am still fucking here and I should damn well be putting that grief to work in her name.

For such inspiration and a renewed fire in your belly, I highly recommend checking out MAJOR!, when and where you can find it.

MANY THANKS to AJ Russo, who squired away tickets for J., Mouse and I to attend the event.

Visit the MAJOR! doc’s website: http://www.missmajorfilm.com/

Find out more about the work TGI Justice does here: http://www.tgijp.org/