In January I took part in the RADAR ‘Show Us Your Spines’ residency at the San Francisco Public Library. Over the course of the month in the library I got to read, watch, touch, and visit with ephemera created by and for Black queer people. Among these were the letters between Pat Parker & Audre Lorde, a short documentary called ‘T’ain’t Nobody’s Business’, and Cheryl Dunye’s early works. I wrote this piece after watching ‘T’ain’t Nobody’s Business’ wherein a historian talks about a police raid that ended one of Ma Rainey’s queer house parties where the cast of her show, predominately Black women would join together and dance around to music together in her living room (clothed and unclothed, lol). I read this piece in February at the residents reading in the Hormel Center at the Main Library.
The Castro has never been my place because it isn’t packed with people who have felt pride in smelling clean. People who have known the satisfying smell of hair grease and hot iron. It’s not full of people who forget to cover their mouths when they laugh and who remember to leave a lil’ meat on the bone in mixed company. There aren’t enough people there who had to wear a different outfit than the one they’re wearing now, just to get out of the house.
I’ve explored all of the Castro’s dark corners and only found myth. No magic. No deep flavor bursting in the middle of a bite. This place has never been mine, but when I get a white lover, the magic of the Castro glows a little brighter only momentarily when we stand close enough together.
Where is that place where Blackness and queerness are celebrated at the same time? Is it only in this body at this moment?
I’m looking for a place where the walls sweat and someone notices the nuances in my gender expression and nods or grunts in agreement.
Where this story is true: I’ve always been gay. Even at eighteen, being dropped off at The Crib by my straight boyfriend.
Where this story is also true: My queerness is Black. My queerness is growing up no the same block, so we cousins.
I lust deeply for that place where the song drops and it feels all at once like 1997 in my mother’s heels, pretending that I’m going out to the club with her and simultaneously it feels like 2008 having lust dreams about a frenemy and also it feels like 2013 when I find myself in a mouth that looks just like mine.
In myplace I see myself spinning spinning spinning to Minnie Ripperton’s high notes alongside my Uncle Rodney, who has to marry his mother’s friend’s daughter for citizenship before sneaking out of the backdoor of the house to go out dancing with his boyfriend. In myplace we meet eyes when he walks into the door and we’re holding each other’s faces and laughing and admiring each other’s afros, despite his having been dead just months before I was born.
In myplace people dance close despite sweat and are conscious of joy leaning on the bar. Wrap arms around the necks of their lovers and neighbors and dance partners in awe of their ability to show this love without shame, without dying, without being white.
In myplace I’m walking the category of “mostly newly recovered from trauma and figuring it all out” and there are 10-10-10-10-10s across the board.
In myplace my identity is not a trauma. I am not a sore. I am not an injury. In myplace this life, this body is not a sentence that we have to make the best of. There’s a wildness and a cunningness and lovelovelove too big for this body—so I carry it on the top of my head in a basket. Make coats out of it. Pull it along in a wagon to hand out to people on the street like ice cream on warm days.
In this place, myplace, when the disco ball turns. When the street car dings outside. When the theater lights buzz up and the bass beats through the walls, it is all for us.
This is the place that was made for you and me: Kingdom of shea butter and oxtails. Bay leaves and Murray’s. Duct tape and cashmere. Durags and bonnets. Bring me all of your cries—sopranos to barrotones and all of you in the middle. There is a place for us and there’s no pattywagon waiting out front once the lights come up inside. And there is no bitter DJ playing dubstep mixes of Whitney Houston.
Myth has it, that ever since myplace was even a languid dream oscillating between the heads of two lovers, it’s been a place the cops have tried to shut down. And they wasn’t even late on the rent at that point. They say two cold lovers were spooning for life in a twin bed and their heads were so close together that they had the same dream. They dreamt of myplace.
Myplace started off as someone’s grandmother’s living room. They’d move the couches out and hide the silver and open the doors after midnight. The big women and their big voices would come in their suits and ties, their petticoats and layers of dresses, their press n’ curls, their matted underhats. It was a place where the wicked took deep pleasure at the rest of the world’s fear of them. Where the basic-asses would leave them the hell alone—to read and dance and make music and smoke and sing all night ending in deep solemness with the stringy yellow sun rising. Needless to say, there were a few failed séances. A few broken tables. Missing shoes. Food and body odor that could make you giggle into your handkerchief. It was myplace.
It was myplace then and it’s myplace now, despite whatever new name they have for it. Despite the new wallpaper and the dingy cover over the jukebox. And whoever they put behind the bar these days. I have friends from gradeschool in the bathroom line and at least one former lover in each room pretending we’re okay as friends again this year.
When the children come down from their beds into the bar, all of us auntles and unkies misty eye over them growing up right before our eyes and point out the locations of their parents, maybe they’re dancing in circles to Donna Summer or getting out a new black trashbag for the garbage from underneath the sink.
Over the lights and the music the child is cared for at eye level. Is kissed on the head and ushered back to bed. This is myplace.
Myplace. The daytime eyesore selling cheese grits for hangovers on football Sundays.
There’s a botanica in the back and a love spell with your name on it. More lit candles in tubs of water than I can count and a beaded curtain leading out to the back porch to the smoking yard with the broken down gazebo, where the lovers got married all those years ago.
When they first began letting outsiders in, they came with their film rolling and their short writing pads full of pages and pages of questions. They wanted to know what we thought about politics, who we voted for, insisted on how hard our plight was despite having not lived it. But nobody had the nerve to fix their pen or their mouth to ask about the joy we cultivated by pulling it down in particles through the thick air. Nobody asked about the endless soultrain line where it was always almostyour turn. Nobody asked about all the great loves of our lives we found and re-found on the back porch. I think part of it was that they couldn’t feel it like we could. They couldn’t feel us, like we could. And that’s how we’d known (for the millionth time, really) that we had built something special. Something that would outlive all of us. Something that could never die.
The Crib was a very messy but babygay cute 18+ queer club event that took place at City Nights (also lovingly referred to as Shitty Nights) in San Francisco.
 In the first version of this work, this line read: ‘in myplace injury is not the center of my identity.’ Inspired by an essay I read during my residency called ‘The Whiter the Bread, The Quicker You’re Dead’ by Allison Reed found inNo Tea, No Shade(an anthology). The essay explores white queer theory and the centering queer white identity as an ‘injury’ that perpetuates violent erasure(s) particularly of racism and classism. I replaced this line with a more descriptive one because without this very specific context (of Reed’s essay), the line reads as ableist.