Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Rat Snitch Bitches

I like where I live. In fact, I'm often reminded how great it is to live in the San Francisco Bay Area and Oakland, in particular. I moved here over a decade ago and have lived in different parts of the city. Currently, I live in Maxwell Park, a neighborhood representative of the Gay and Lesbian Atlas' claim that "Oakland has the highest concentration of lesbians in the U.S." Bordered along MacArthur Boulevard, High Street, Trask Street, and Foothill, Maxwell Park is a veritable lesbian utopia: you can find us buying books at Laurel Bookstore, sipping Chai Lattes at World Ground Cafe on MacArthur, and educating ourselves and others at Mills College further down the road. The street that Joan and I live on is full of gays--half the street is queer of color couples (and there's an empty house coming up for rent, so, you know, we're about to tip the balance...). It's something I entirely take for granted. The ease with which I live an out, queer life is not always at the forefront of my brain, especially when I've carved out such a little bit of safe, sweet space in a slow and steady gentrifying area like Maxwell Park.

So imagine what it felt like on my way to a lunch date and appointment a couple of days ago and, as I waited for the light to change, as I do almost everyday on High St., I turned and saw this:



Ok, so I didn't see this exactly. But, I did see a dirty mattress, standing up on the side of the road, at the stoplight. Not a big deal, right? Trash day. Except, when I actually put my attention on it and made out the black magic marker scrawled on the front of said mattress this is what I saw: 


"Pearl is a rat snich [sic] bitch that just wants [to] suck Angela ['s] pussy."


Yeah, it's like that. On the street and at the intersection that I pass by several times a day. At 11:40 a.m. on a Monday. Neat.

Here's how my emotions went:

Confusion (Wait, is that a mattress on the side of a busy street?)
Shocked, but not sure if that's the right word (Wait, is that a mattress that says pussy on it? Wait, is that a mattress that says a rat snitch bitch, wants to, presumably, suck someone else's pussy?)
Calm, as the light changed (Keep driving, maybe that's not what you saw)
Epiphany (Actually, that is what you saw but keep driving, you're late)
Anger (Wait. that. is. what. you. saw. TURN AROUND, TURN AROUND NOW)
Defiance (Make a u-turn and take a picture in the middle of the road, dammit)
Fear (What am I doing? What if someone sees me--obvious--why am I taking a picture of this violence?)
Terror (This is where I live)

And then I had all of these other side conversations, like "Who's Pearl?" "Have I seen her before?" "Who's Angela?" "Where do they live? Are they a couple?" "Wait, is she...." And then I'm back to terror. And I realize that this is often where I live, physically and metaphorically. This is how I felt as I mulled over it the rest of the day. As I drove by it again and again, as it stayed there for the rest of day and well into the next. As I sit here and type up this post. Terrified. That's the feeling I'm trying to shake. I wrote, some time ago, that Joan and I took a trip across country and I was made brutally aware of the difference that living in the Bay Area makes in my life. Filling up our gas tank in small towns in Utah, Wyoming, and Wisconsin and watching men "mug" Joan openly and then set their eyes on me, realize that we are two, interracial women traveling together and then possibly a couple, was, in a word, terrifying. It's still terrifying, when I think about it. But I realize that I'm terrified much of the time as a queer woman of color living in the U.S., even in my Bay Area zip code. On my Gayberry for people of color street (that's an Andy Griffith reference in case it doesn't resonate right away).  

But, I don't experience/feel this terror most of the time. Or, rather, I don't let myself feel this terror, mostly because I really don't have to. Like, ever. And, I have lots of instances in my life that challenge that terror on the daily: My partner is cute, I like her, and I get to look at her everyday. I love our house and our two  black cats (had to put that in). Some of my best friends are queer and they have children that I absolutely adore. I work in a "sexuality studies" department, so queerness is a regular topic, if not embodied in the folks that work there. I can turn on the television and be confident that I see at least one queer person as I flip through the channels (case in point, I'm just going to tell you that I watched Flipping Out last night, the horrible, horrible reality show about a unabashedly privileged white gay man in Los Angeles). The POTUS talks about me and my people sometimes. Both of my parents and Joan's parents came to our wedding ceremony last year. Life is good, really. Really, really good. 

I know that things in my life are better than I could ever have imagined as a young person. When I thought about my life, I really didn't think things would look like they do. And, I have to admit, that seeing that message--because that's what it was, a message to all of us rat, snitch bitches that walk openly up and down these streets, live in this neighborhood, exist--brought up all of the feelings that I step on top of every time I walk out the door. It rattled the tunnel vision that keeps me queerly focused and forced me to look around me: not at my specific neighborhood, I'm not specifically scared here. No, this is a general fear. And while, clearly, it doesn't impede my life, it's a fear that has no boundaries. 

Sometimes, I realize, it's just good to feel it. I still like where I live. But it's good to sit in it for a minute, because that's about all I can stand, recognize it, and then keep going. Cause that's what we--rat snitch bitches, dykes, women--that's what we do.



No comments: