Back from Oakland — and there is a “there” there

It is 10:00 Monday night, October 30th. In one hour I’ll have been back on the ground in New York for an entire week. It seems like I got off the plane at JFK, blinked, and a whole week has passed. I’ve had a difficult time adjusting to being back in New York. I love living in New York. This isn’t going to be an anti-NYC rant. But while I was in Oakland I had the time to relax and reconnect with myself — my whole self — in a way that I haven’t been able to do in a long time. In fact, in preparing to spend a week with Wendy, my close friend in Oakland, I realized that one thing I miss about the time in our lives when we lived in the same state was the way that my life was so much more clearly integrated then. So I went to her with a project and the project was to reintegrate my mind and my life. To remember how to stop privileging one part of my identity — the professional part — over all the other parts. It worked beautifully in Oakland, of course, but has been harder to maintain here, where that part lives. In Oakland there were friends and other people who had connections to other parts of my identity and experience — the sexual parts, the contemplative parts, the meditative parts, the political parts, the communitarian parts — and who did not have any immediate connection to my professional life, so it was easy to let that professional part of me recede a bit into the wallpaper and let the other parts of me step out onto the floor. Now, back in New York, I want to find room for all those parts of me to be active and visible. I suspect blog entries in the future will explore this working toward greater integration.

Meanwhile, my time in the Bay Area was not spent only meditating on inner harmony. My first four days were spent at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association. It was a great conference, and my favorite session was led by Lisa Duggan of NYU‘s American Studies program. The session was called “Queer Victories” and featured one of the smartest people I’ve ever heard speak: Anna Marie Smith of Cornell University’s Government department. (She had an agenda very much in keeping with Queers for Economic Justice.)

Then I moved on to my friend’s house and discovered that there was much more to Oakland than the area around the major hotels and Jack London Square. Oakland is a great place to spend some time. It’s a different place than it must have been when Gertrude Stein said “there is no there, there.” It’s got interesting neighborhoods, shops, restaurants, and on Lake Merrit, which is a fantastic walking place, it’s even got pelicans! pelican on lake merritt And it is very easy to get in and out of San Francisco using public transportation. The ferry is cheap –5:50 each way, and the ride is wonderful. The BART is cheaper, and easy to navigate. If you’ve never been to Oakland, do give it a try.

If you go to Oakland, I recommend Arizmendi, a co-op owned bakery/pizza place (locations in San Francisco, Oakland and Emeryville), a walk around Lake Merritt, and, in Jack London Square I recommend taking in the view of the container port Port of Oakland, Sunset Container Ship Loading , and then having a drink at Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon heinolds first and last chance saloon (Heinold paid for part of Jack London’s college tuition, and London did some of his writing at the bar there), and the treat yourself to dinner at Il Pescatore. There are fantastic farmers’ markets in Oakland, and a lot of interesting political activity as well.

In San Francisco, you have to see the Women’s Building in the Mission. It hosts all kinds of advocacy, support and information resources for women (topics range from immigration help to education support to day care resources to BDSM lectures and workshops). The outside is painted with spectacular murals. Women's Building It isn’t far from Good Vibrations — a company I have known via their mail order business for years. It has recently ended it’s existence as a co-op and has become a profit-sharing corporation, but the feel of the store is exactly as one would imagine it to be if one knew it’s web site and mail order business: clean, bright, well organized and uncluttered store with relaxed, helpful and relatively informed staff. It’s homier than Babeland here in NYC and larger than Grand Opening, which had been favorite sex toy store in Boston, but has recently closed, and a Good Vibes outlet opened in its place. Also in the Mission is Modern Times, a collectively owned bookstore, and repository of all manner of printed work from radical political tracts to well-used copies of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Also in San Francisco I had a wonderful dinner with my friend Wendy, Carol Queen, her incredibly warm, sweet, and sexy partner Robert Lawrence, and a new friend of theirs whose privacy I won’t intrude on by naming. I hadn’t seen Carol or Robert in seven years and in the intervening time a mutual friend had caused a great deal of trouble that I very much wanted to talk to them about. It was helpful to hear their sense of the whole matter. I also learned about the new space the Center for Sex and Culture is about to move into — or about the two spaces they are considering — and I can’t wait to get back out there in the Spring and see how the new place is doing. Carol and Robert are amazing people. Chris Hall calls them parent figures to the kinky community in the Bay Area and I think that practically speaking he’s right. But they’re so much sexier and friendlier than parent figures!

While thinking about sex-related spaces in transition (Good Vibes from co-op to profit sharing, CSC from one location to another) I also got to learn a bit more about the troubles at the Lusty Lady. They are struggling to find a balance between democratic process and power trips and to survive as a co-op and the outcome of that struggle is not clear. I wish them the best and hope that they can make the democratic, worker-owned peep show thrive!

I returned to NYC to disturbing news and to good news:

The Foley scandal emails were originally posted on the Internet by a staffer at Human Rights Campaign. That story broke just after I returned. It hasn’t gotten a great deal of attention, and HRC fired the employee as soon as they discovered what he’d done, but I can’t imagine that the revelation does much good for the cause of gay rights on any level.

New Jersey’s highest court didn’t rule that marriage was constitutionally available to same sex couples, but did at least rule that the legislature had to find some way to create equity between same sex and opposite sex couples. (For the ruling itself, in PDF form, click here.) This is something, but not enough. And really, marriage isn’t enough either. As Anne Marie Smith pointed out during her wonderful presentation at the ASA, to focus on marriage — especially when focusing on the sharing of benefits like health insurance and retirement benefits — is to ignore the needs of many married and unmarried people whose jobs afford them neither.

At the same time as the marriage debate rages, the New York Times reported that fewer households than ever before contain married couples. For the first time, historically in the US, the percentage of households containing a married couple dropped below 50%. Interesting. Of course people are still tending to marry, but they’re doing it later in life rather than earlier. I wonder what the impact of ‘abstinance only’ sex education will have in combination with this trend!

Some things I’ve been thinking about while away and plan to blog about soon:

  • Are kids today really losing their childhoods and growing up too fast, as some people suggest, or are they growing up to slowly and extending their adolescence too far into their young adulthood? Do they need more protection or less? More freedom or less?
  • How can we best support efforts to destigmatize sex work?
  • How can we improve access to emergency contraception and to abortion services where they are still legal? And how can we best keep them legal?

1 Comment

Filed under News and politics, public discourse, Travel

One response to “Back from Oakland — and there is a “there” there

  1. i enjoyed this whole article but only the very end inspired comment.

    yes and no. kids today really are losing their childhoods and growing up too fast AND once they reach adolescence are sitting in that stage of growth for far too long into their young adulthood :)