“The word “art” is something the West has never understood. Art is supposed to be a part of a community. Like, scholars are supposed to be a part of a community… Art is to decorate people’s houses, their skin, their clothes, to make them expand their minds, and it’s supposed to be right in the community, where they can have it when they want it… It’s supposed to be as essential as a grocery store… that’s the only way art can function naturally.”—
I just stumbled upon a queer porn film that calls itself “Lesbian and Transgender” and it got me wondering. Which film doesn’t really matter, it’s a few years old, it’s not by a director I’m working with, and there are probably plenty of others that did or still do the same thing.
The don’t mention it, but it seems like all the lesbians are cis and all the trans folks are men. On the face of it, that seems misleading. I mean, if you had a porn film including several short lesbians and couple tall men, then called it “A Lesbian and Tall Film,” that would be confusing, right?
Yet enough folks thought this phrasing made sense for it to become a part of the final copy for promoting the film, and a wide enough audience agreed. In a world where dance events, night clubs, and sex parties will sometimes call themselves “women and trans,” this makes sense. But it’s based on the degendering of trans men, and the complete othering of trans women. Trans men become some kind of pseudo-lesbian creature, and trans women are made to be neither women, nor trans — as if we don’t exist at all in this community space. All too often the reality is that we don’t. This way of defining us out of existence is both a product of and a factor leading to queer women’s spaces being devoid of trans women.
I drove down Ridge Avenue and made my turn onto Master Street. I found myself tapping my hands against the steering wheel and nodding my head slightly as I immersed myself in the Dr. Dre song I had flowing through my car’s stereo. As the numbered streets made their way into the 20’s, things became much more barren. The abandoned homes and businesses appeared to outnumber the occupied. The Norman Blumberg Housing Projects kissed the sky and overlooked the entire Sharswood neighborhood. Alas, I parked my car at 23rd Street, and began my journey.
Today, I decided, I would do a photo essay on two schools located within a quarter mile of each other on 24th Street: Roberts Vaux High School and John Reynolds Elementary School. Vaux High School is a 4 story building built between 1936 and 1938 between 23rd and 24th Streets along Master, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. It was named after Roberts Vaux, a jurist, abolitionist, and philanthropist born in Philadelphia, and was initially a junior high school before being converted into a high school.
Reynolds Elementary is also a four story building, but is pretty much just a giant square on the corner of 24th and Jefferson Streets. It was named after General John Reynolds, who served in the Civil War and was killed early on in the Battle of Gettysburg. Both Reynolds and Vaux served the Sharswood community for decades before being closed due to budget cuts at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.
Walking down Master Street directly in front of the entrance to Vaux was an almost eerie experience. Across the street stood a vacant house and a garden, presumably tended to by students at Vaux at one point. It was also seemed unusually quiet for a Saturday morning.
After examining the front facade of the building, I made a right down 24th Street and began examining the sides of the building. Immediately, I noticed an enormous dumpster filled with miscellaneous things and garbage strewn about. This was all stuff that I presumed had been ripped out of the school to prepare it for its next life. Suddenly, I hear a voice.
"Yo, you coming to clean this shit up," the voice asks. I look down 24th Street and there are two men there. One man is sitting in a lawn chair, and the other man is standing next to him sipping a Bud Ice wrapped in a black plastic bag through a straw.
"No, I’m just here to take pictures of Vaux," I explain. We begin talking about Vaux and its closure. The two men, who introduce themselves as Lucky and Saint, live in the neighborhood and felt very strongly about the school’s closure. "Man, it’s so backwards," Lucky says, "you got all these kids traveling miles just to go to school. This place was important to us. I miss seeing all the kids around here. It’s like a ghost town now, like we been forgotten about, you know?" I nod my head, listening with great intent, when Saint chimes in.
"Let me tell you, my brother, this shit don’t make any sense. A few years ago they built this nice fence around the school. Then they built these handicapped ramps and shit. Then they built that nice parking garage jawn over there. They sink all this money into a school that was giving kids an education and helping out our community and then just like that it’s gone. If that’s how the city feel about us, why bother putting money into it? Just close the thing and stop playing with us." Saint takes another sip of his drink and shakes his head. "It’s fucked up man…but you’re doing a good thing calling attention to it."
After we exchanged handshakes and well-wishes, I continued my walk. The amount of access I had to Vaux was quite staggering. The garage that Saint had told me about was still completely open and accessible. The school itself was not fenced off entirely, making me wonder if this could become a whole different problem in the community. As I walked back up 23rd Street towards Master, I noticed a sign for the Vaux Health Center and another sign informing people where to go for their services. This was an example of the community services that Saint had discussed. The last thing that I saw was probably the hardest to see: the empty “Roberts Vaux High School” sign. What once informed parents and students of upcoming events was now empty, just like much of the neighborhood.
I began my short walk up to Reynolds when I came across an elderly woman who identified herself as Scott (she requested not to be photographed for this project). “Good morning,” I say to her.
"Good morning. Are you coming to buy this building," she asks. I say no, and I explain my project. "I wish someone would buy this. I live across the street and it just hurts me to look at it. All these kids live in the projects. They have so much to worry about already, and now they have to walk to schools far away. My son worries about how they will be successful, I worry about whether they’ll actually get home from school," Scott says as she grasps my hand.
"How have things changed since Vaux and Reynolds closed," I ask Scott. Scott looks at the ground briefly and looks at me with a sense of pain in her face. "It’s very different. Very quiet. We don’t have much around here. We have the schools, we have Girard College down there, but we never see those kids around. My kids went to Vaux, my grandkids went to Reynolds. It’s very quiet. I hear the kids over there (points towards the Norman Blumberg Projects) playing outside and that makes me smile, but I know what they are up against and what they are doing during this time of day during the week. I used to sit outside and the kids would walk by with their textbooks or musical instruments and say, ‘Hello Miss Scott,’ and I always enjoyed that. Now it’s gone. All gone."
Scott’s words were hard for me to hear, but it was something that seemed to be a reoccurring theme: people in the community enjoyed having these schools around and miss them dearly. To close two schools that are less than a quarter mile apart seemed more than just wrong, it just seemed cold-blooded and heartless. Along the side of Reynolds stood a blacktop with two basketball hoops that was fenced off, meaning people who lived across the street in the projects couldn’t even play basketball there any more unless they hopped a fence. Scott’s words began to resonate even further with me as I came across an area that was locked off and filled with litter. I began to realize that if Reynolds were still in operation, this would have been cleaned up. Since it’s not, why bother?
Feeling as though I had finished what I set out to do, I slowly sighed and began my walk back to where I had parked my car on 23rd and Master. Before I got there, however, I noticed a quote painted on the fence surrounding the garden across the street from Vaux: “A garden to be free of stress; to have the freedom of choice, thought, and creativity. Free to imagine freedom in all its forms.”
Education teaches us from the time we are put into pre-school all the way to the day we graduate high school to utilize our freedom of developing independent thought and ideals, and how to be creative enough to find our own unique path towards success in our short time on this earth, and make the garden that is our mind, grow. This particular garden had been left, neglected and abandoned much like so many other homes and businesses in Sharswood and like Vaux and Reynolds were many years ago. The flowers in the lush garden that was once education in Philadelphia have become wilted, and unless the receive water from the powers that be, they will continue to die and never bloom again.
“If you or someone you know have a fairly comfortable life, and want to try to go for that “can my family live/eat well on a food stamp budget for 30 days?” challenge, don’t half-ass it. Immerse yourself in every reality that soul-crushing poverty has to offer you. It doesn’t mean much if you bought a pound of hamburger and Minute Rice at a discount if you’re going to cook it in your nice kitchen, in your nice house, where all the bills can be paid in full like clockwork, the kids’ clothes are clean and didn’t come from a donation bin or Goodwill, and they’re not the least bit embarrassed to bring friends over because how you live isn’t stigmatized as shameful and wrong, and your neighborhood probably isn’t “one of those” neighborhoods, the car (cars?) is relatively new and works fine, and your job and your partner’s job pay well enough (and maybe one of your jobs is simply just “to give one of you something to do” a few days a week).”—Zander Collins [Zander05]
Welcome to the second installment of the Shove It Out Of The Nest series! For those of you who missed the last one, the idea is that every other week I write a full short story in one sitting, do one round of edits, then shove it out of the nest and move on.
The idea was that my ambitions were getting too big for me to ever finish a story, but this week’s story is probably one of the more ambitious things I’ve written. Commentary on the security state, gentrification, the stratification of cities and the idea that there’s a unified trans community, all wrapped up in a sci-fi/fantasy/surrealist porn story about a submissive trans guy having a brutal, sexy hookup with a trans woman. Funny what falls out of my subconscious.
No immediate medical needs (bless all of you who hit the tip jar last week!), but I’m disabled and permanently broke (plus, tomorrow’s my birthday), so if you like the story, please do drop a couple bucks in the tip jar and/or reblog. Thanks!
Shove It Out Of The Nest Stories #2: Control
by Rachel K. Zall
Marble, glass, steel. Cameras peering down from above the doorways. He looked directly up at one of the old buildings, one of the ones still left from the old days of the city, and a gargoyle spread it’s jaws back at him, its granite claws digging into the cornice of the building. Inside its mouth one glass eye stared passively back, a bright red LED drawing in the attentions of anyone who looked up, just to let them know they were watched, to let them know they were safe, to let them know that if they looked up from a crowd of people, someone somewhere was going to look back.
Somewhere a computer ran the picture of his face through its databases and confirmed that he lived nearby and that his score was acceptable: no outstanding warrants, no criminal records, no radical activities or associations with extremist religions, solid credit, good job. That he’d had a name change raised a red flag, but an officially approved doctor’s letter on file confirming he was transsexual lowered it. His score was a 96, the computer decided, a good citizen who could be reassured that the cameras were only there keep him safe.
The woman to his left, on the other hand, was impossible for the eye to understand. Her hair made scribbles across her face that baffled the software, puffed out like a black and white spray of frizzy spikes and hid her from view. The computer calculated her height as being above average and she seemed to be keeping pace with the 96, so it could guess her birth assignation from that, but couldn’t determine if she was properly identified to be sure she was even officially a she. Her picture was passed along to a human operator, who took one look at her and knew perfectly well that she didn’t live anywhere nearby.
The operator sent a signal out, and a nearby police officer set down his coffee and drove slowly past them, the camera on his car a next-generation model that was capable of thwarting the standard ways of avoiding facial recognition software. Bad credit, questionable associations, an arrest for soliciting but no conviction, officially male. No outstanding warrants. The officer took into account that her company was a 96 and decided not to stop and frisk her, but he drove past several times as they walked so she would know she’d been noticed. As though she’d had any doubt.
But then they walked north and crossed the line out of his district, into the place where she no doubt belonged. The officer wondered what a 96 would be doing walking over that line with her – there was no record of drugs or even public intoxication, but why else would someone from the district be walking so far north? The officer pulled into a “no parking” zone right near the line, and decided to sip his coffee and wait. He notified central that cameras should keep an eye out for where the 96 reentered and do a full analysis on his behavior.
Shove It Out Of The Nest Stories #1: Secret Identities
Free erotica! But also I need help.
I have some medical stuff coming up at the end of the month that I can’t afford, and although I’m far too proud/obstinate to just put up a donation ask, I’m comfortable putting up some free erotica and including a tip jar. That way, even if you’re not interested in erotica and you’re just a lovely person, I can still pretend I was providing something in return.
Also, I think this is going to be a bi-weekly series. I have a history of endlessly working and reworking stories until they’re so large that they can’t ever be realized. (The Exile, for instance, was cannibalized from the remains of a story I did 11 drafts of over the course of 6 months.) So this series is going to be one draft, one revision, and done. Shove it out of the nest and move on.
Anyway, on to the porn!
Shove It Out Of The Nest Stories #1: Secret Identities
by Rachel K. Zall
Jean’s lips part just a little as Linda hunches over a pillow in front of her. Linda’s arms stretch as though she is reaching for the bars of the headboard, though with the scarf tied around them she could hardly reach elsewhere.
The scarf is wool – neither of them wears silk – red with a pattern of yellow chevrons, knitted by Jean’s daughter. Jean watches Linda’s muscles strain at her bonds and hopes that her daughter’s knitting is built to last. Jean’s not sure how she’d explain it to a daughter who has never been told why her parents divorced so close their 40th anniversary , who probably has no idea her mother likes women. How do explain that to the grandchildren? How do you even bring that subject up? Certainly not by explaining that a woman you met in the grocery store damaged a handmade gift while arching her back and pulling in frustrated helplessness.
“Now then,” Jean says, tightening the warm leather straps of the harness around her waist, “are you going to scream? I prefer to know these things in advance.”
Linda sticks out her lip defiantly, but she fumbles through her mind trying to think of what the right thing to say is. Her late wife never had any interest in tying Linda down; this is all new. Should she promise to be good? Threaten to scream and be exquisitely tortured for it? How did those fantasies practiced with a belt go when she was 16?
Linda sucks in a deep air of embarrassment – how can she not know things like that at her age? When she was 20, she was sure she’d know everything by 30; at 30 she was sure she’d have it by 40; at 40 she set a more modest goal of 60. And now poor 59-year-old Linda, living in a freshly renovated body and trying on new lovers as the pain of mourning recedes to muffled ache, realizes she doesn’t know any of the answers anymore.
“Do you want me to scream?” She asks, calmly as she can.
Jean smiles. “Good,” she says, “very good. Yes, I think we should let the neighbors know what we’re up to, don’t you? I do so enjoy jealous neighbors.”
There was a mass demonstration that started in East Harlem in the fall of 1970. The protest was against police repression and we decided to join the demonstration with our STAR [Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries] banner. That was one of the first times the STAR banner was shown in public, where STAR was present as a group. I ended up meeting some of the Young Lords that day. I became one of them. Any time they needed any help, I was always there for the Young Lords. It was just the respect they gave us as human beings. They gave us a lot of respect. It was a fabulous feeling to be myself—being part of the Young Lords as a drag queen—and my organization [STAR] being part of the Young Lords.
I met [Black Panther Party leader] Huey Newton at the People’s Revolutionary Convention in Philadelphia in 1971. Huey decided we were part of the revolution—that we were a revolutionary people.
Notice that the Young Lords and the Black Panther Party were better at trans inclusion in the 70’s than some “radicals” and “LGBT rights groups” are now. (via kinkykinkshamer)
“Nothing can be sole nor whole that has not first been rent.”
(tw: self-harm, panic attacks, abuse)
Reading Grant Morrison & Richard Case’s Doom Patrol, I always envied Crazy Jane, the depths of her carefully organized by a butch conductor/caretaker, dear Driver Eight. All the different parts, the broken ones and the ruined ones and the apparently functional ones she needed to survive, all precisely filed. I always wanted madness to be so tidy.
I say it’s better on the new medication, that I have so few panic attacks now, and I never know how to say that I resent having that taken from me in the name of functioning among other people. In the name of pretending to be normal and maybe someday being able to earn money somehow.
(That’s always what matters most, isn’t it; that’s always the point. It’s always money. I can’t just be insane - that’s for people who have money already, or at least who have families. I need to get better so I can work as a temp destroying my wrists on an assembly line again, or go back to having 3 A.M. handguns pointed at me for eight bucks an hour at the 7-11.)
When I’m panicking, really panicking, I’m down deep in the warm, violent darkness of myself, and there is nothing down there but me: me at the center cowering, me surrounding myself as a swarm of winged piranhas, a hurricane of knives, myself a room made of jagged glass sliding shut all around myself. No more pretending, no more struggling, just me and the pit which is me too.
When I am in the pit it is silent, unlit, and though I’m told that outside I scream and I sob and I claw at myself and I murmur repeated phrases in a high whine, I don’t experience any of that. The pit is the pure, messy Nirvana of a fist in the face – my father, childhood bullies, violent transmiogynists, but the fist is only me and if my skin is ripped or bruised the bruises are only mine.
The part of me the says I should be hurt is satisfied; the part that is frightened of being hurt is relieved. When everything is danger there is no danger; when everything is fear there is no fear. “Nothing can be sole nor whole that has not first been rent.”
I try to keep it private – bathrooms, bedrooms, anywhere with a door – though sometimes it happens on sidewalks and then I’m that crazy person everyone has to step around, and when I come back to consciousness I’m very embarrassed. Sometimes at home my girlfriend hears my glasses hit the wall or hears me scream or hears my body crash to the floor and she slips in and strokes me silently and slowly, gently guides me back up. When it’s all over, she kisses me on the mouth and tells me she loves me, which is something she never does otherwise. I love her too and I’m touched by her concern and her kindness, but I resent her.
Because what I really wanted was to stay down there. Kindness is only the glimmering bait on the barbed hook that rips me back up into the world where I have to pretend I’m in control, have to act like I’m normal. Where there’s every bit as much hurt, but it’s all exogenous and I have to act like it’s not happening.
I wish I was Crazy Jane, who got to keep most of herself deep down in the pit always, safely locked away, alone forever with her own horror.