This Spaciousness Touring Allows
"Assimilate My Purse," Maximumrocknroll, July 2007
Nobody Passes, except...
Just before my talk at Macalester College, I have a minor passing crisis -- I’ve been talking to this graduate student who lives and works at the bed and breakfast where the college is putting me up, and she’s excited about Nobody Passes and has all these great ideas and questions and intersections to bring up. Not much later, I’m in the bathroom and I hear someone go into my room and then when I come out there’s a box on the bed with a ribbon wrapped around it. I open it up and it’s a cake, a beautiful round chocolate cake with pastel sprinkles and sparkly things that I keep wanting to call sequins but you eat them, and the cake says “Nobody Passes Except Mattilda,” but who on earth could have gotten me a cake? Turns out it’s Thea, the woman I’ve just been talking to -- it’s such a beautiful and sweet gesture and I can’t possibly eat any of it. Not only am I vegan, but I’m such a hypoglycemic catastrophe that I know that if I took even one bite then for about five minutes I’d plan out how I was going to take over the world, maybe my next 12 books and how I was going to get each of them published, plus the activist interventions I wanted to instigate when I got back to San Francisco and who I was going to call, then around minute six or seven I would crash and fall into bed incapacitated. But you can’t tell someone who just bought you a beautiful, personalized cake-- what a lovely and spontaneous gesture, simultaneously rigorous and engaged with the project I'm in Minnesota for -- I don’t know how to tell her that I can’t possibly eat the cake, but luckily I take some photos and she runs out and there are lots of people around the house to taste it.
But then I think: wait a minute, am I passing as having even this cake just for the rules of proper and polite behavior, when I'm on tour for a book called Nobody Passes? So I figure out a way to integrate the cake into my talk that evening, knowing that Thea will be in attendance, and I can see her in the back of the room all excited and amused about being brought into the conversation, so then it's okay -- not only have I succeeded at not passing, but I haven't even offended anyone!
The Jesus jackhammer dildo
My new friend Deena arrives to drive me to Windsor, Canada so I can catch the train to Toronto. I’m not exactly ready, standing around in my boxers trying to fit everything into my suitcases, but Deena is super-helpful and even knows how to quiet the barking dog. We’re off about a half hour late and actually I still haven’t figured out that East Coast time has already arrived, maybe that explains my dizziness or not dizziness just disorientation I guess after getting up to an alarm in the middle of a dream about passing the test to become a schoolteacher
But on to me and Deena in the car, I’m self-conscious that I seem out of it I mean feel out of it, but Deena assures me that ze doesn’t notice since we haven’t met before and that’s true I guess. Deena gives me these great stickers that say “MEDICAL CAUTION,” I’ll be using those for sure. Deena’s great about pointing out roadside attractions and then my interviewer in Boston calls, and I’m doing the interview while Deena’s on the phone with hir mother frantically trying to figure out a way to get to Windsor, I’m just focusing on the interview questions -- my answers are pretty elaborate, considering that I can hear the interviewer transcribing as we’re speaking so I’m wondering how it will all come out.
Meanwhile, some great stories from Deena:
1. Just last night: a Human Rights Campaign (that monstrous wealthy assimilationist gay lobbying group) = bumper sticker on the back of a car, right next to a Marines bumper sticker.
2. Deena’s boss at work, who asked Deena: did you see the she-male?
3. A former coworker of Deena’s, a devout Christian of the anti-sex sort, who asked in all seriousness: how productive do you think you are at work? Deena changed hir screensaver to a Jesus-on-the-Cross dildo, and never heard from that lovely coworker again.
Toronto, how could I not love Toronto?
People always show up late for readings, so when I arrive 20 minutes early and there are already 20 or 30 people there, well that’s when I know it’s surely going to be crowded. By the time we start, the whole room is full -- probably a hundred people and so much excitement, I can tell this audience is going to be loud all the way through which is how I love it. It’s hard to compare anything to the incredible connection I can feel with an audience, when we’re connecting that is -- it’s not like a high exactly although it is a high, kind of -- it’s something like hope, yes hope for sure. Anyway, this audience is phenomenal -- there’s this fire and engagement that’s just lovely, loving -- it’s moments like these when I think things like maybe I should live in Toronto. Of course this is a very specific moment, in this moment I am living in Toronto -- maybe I can take this moment with me.
The way touring opens up all of this emotional access
Everything goes from sad to exhilarating so fast and I also like the points of introspection in all of the different emotional spaces, the immediate intense connections with people because our time together is concentrated.
Wagner College, Staten Island
My talk is in an old-fashioned lecture hall where the seats slope dramatically upwards. I want to get a photo of the audience and I ask Shayne, my host, to take one after he introduces me, but the camera freezes and I’m not ready to take a photo right at the beginning.
I'm speaking to a sociology class called "the Family," -- the students respond well to my anecdotes, it’s funny how I used to hate using microphones but now they make everything so much easier -- I can alter my voice with more subtlety, it’s fun. This time my delivery is the slowest yet, relaxed except I’m always wondering at the end if I’ve spoken for too long.
So many questions, it’s amazing -- one about how don’t I believe two people can love one another (responding to my critique of marriage), several about how to articulate politics around people’s basic needs (housing, healthcare, food, the benefits now procured only through citizenship, etc.) instead of just trying to access privilege, how to respond to people who say marriage is a step in the right direction, my critique of hate crimes legislation, how to win those basic needs I spoke of earlier (I wish I knew), the politics of adoption, then personal questions like how to get to a point of actualizing radical queer politics.
Afterwards is when I feel so emotional-- talking with students individually, then sitting with the co-chairs of the queer student group and Jean Halley, the professor who brought me. This incredible intensity of touring and then it’s over, I mean this event-- the tour is still going on. Jean gives me a ride home, and it’s great to talk more one-on-one --she’s so incredibly smart and sweet and dedicated to a radical critique in an environment where such a critique is rare, much more common among students than faculty Jean says.
Back at the place where I'm staying, I’m sitting here all upset that I didn’t take a photo, I mean I’m kind of choked up about it -- that’s where this emotional access leads, I’m immediately missing people who I don’t necessarily know which is maybe what openness is about.
This spaciousness touring allows
The questions in Hudson, New York start slowly but then boom -- how have the audiences differed, do people use different vocabularies in different places to talk about passing and politics, accidental passing, passing for different things in different spaces, what about passing for minor gains? Someone asks about electoral politics of the presidential variety and so it’s fun to go off. Another person asked about psychiatric diagnoses, gender identity disorder, I go off on psychiatry too. Later, one person talks very emotionally about passing as maybe more or less straight in an activist context where she believes she won’t be accepted as queer, but she's come to realize all of the pain and exhaustion from basing the way she acts on her fears of what other people might think. Someone else adds that sometimes the fears of what other people think are more draining than dealing with what they actually do think, and someone adds a brilliant comment that serves as a great conclusion. The comment is that choosing not to pass can often be a lot about discomfort, not necessarily comfort. But it’s more eloquent than that, I can’t quite remember it exactly.
But anyway I want to record this moment afterwards of softness and desire and calm, sure my body also feels tight and twisted from the bus and traveling, but traveling -- before I left San Francisco, I kept talking about this crazy tour, what am I thinking? Several of my friends said Mattilda, you always do well on tour, you like traveling -- I thought what, are they crazy? Not realizing all of the obstacles?
But actually they are right, I love traveling -- I love being on tour, it’s incredible -- still I’m exhausted and drained, but also living in this spaciousness touring allows.
Thoughts on the bus, when placelessness mixes with place
In line at the Pittsburgh bus station-- which kind of looks like a large trailer from the outside, conveniently located just steps from the county jail-- anyway, in line, this woman who’s with a guy in full cowboy attire says to me: you’re an unconventional person, everything about you is unconventional-- I like the luggage, but I don’t know about the rest of it -- don’t worry though, I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh too, I like unconventional people. Tell me, am I right -- did you go to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh? Well, it was a good guess -- right?
Then I’m telling her about Nobody Passes and three different people hold their hands out for postcards as we’re about to board the bus, one of them wants to know who my favorite author is (hers is Maya Angelou).
On the bus, this guy is talking on his cellphone about hollow-point bullets, that’s why his friend didn’t end up in jail because the bullets weren’t hollow-point, they let them off easy -- the guy is saying I was the only sober one and he took his gun and started shooting it. When we stop, there’s a woman in the back laughing and saying you’re making that up! I figure she’s talking about the guy in front of me who’s now talking more about guns but then I realize she’s talking about my stretching. Why do so many people have a problem with my stretching? On the next bus, a nearby queen who sort of looks on the DL until she starts speaking with an incredibly lispy voice, she and the woman beside her start cracking up every time I reach my hands up and stretch my hips. Whatever.
Turns out the nice woman in Pittsburgh just got out of rehab for the fourth time, I’m guessing the guy in the cowboy outfit got out with her because it turns out that they don’t know each other that well. We get to Wheeling, West Virginia and she’s pointing out the sights, when I take off my eye mask she points out the former gay bar too, she used to work there on Tuesdays. She just calls it the bar, I know what she means -- she says there’s only one at a time, until it gets shut down. Wheeling is beautiful actually -- all of these gorgeous old brick buildings facing large metal bridges over the huge river, maybe just four blocks wide before hills. I wonder about all of these old small towns we pass through between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati -- some of them so gorgeous and old like nothing has changed since the 1930s. I’m in that bus ride moment between complete exhaustion and subtle calm, it’s so surprising the moments when suddenly a feeling of placelessness mixes with place and for a moment I’m living in the idea of what we’re driving through, until the exhaustion comes back and I have to put the eye mask back on.