A New Poem — From the Queer Open Mic

Identity politics is an interesting thing.

So last night I was the first “mostly straight” artist (the organizer’s words, not mine…but I do agree) to get invited to feature at the amazing Queer Open Mic in San Francisco. The show was amazing, with some of my favorite writers from the Bay and some stunning new voices (including a French poet who made everyone swoon with the romance of her native language — her “love poem” could have been about pigs and toaster ovens, and we still would have been shouting Oui! in response).

Ever since I got the invitation, I thought about my set. I’ve performed at Black history month events, interfaith Jewish/Muslim events, all sorts of crazy festivals and hippie drag parties. Sometimes I feel very much part of the community that’s organizing the event, sometimes I feel humbled to be invited into a space that’s outside my world. Being an ally to other groups is no easier than being a leader in your own. It’s just different. And it changes over time.

My relationship to, and participation in, the queer community has definitely changed over the last couple years. My politics, my friendships, the way I look at my own sexuality…all of those have evolved. And no doubt will continue to. Which I feel great about.

All that to say, thank you to everyone who came out last night, and especially to Baruch Porras Hernandez for inviting me and creating such a beautiful space.

Here’s a new piece that I performed last night for the first time. I first wrote it over a year ago, but like everything else I’ve talked about here, it’s been a work in progress. Well, this is where I’m at NOW. Take it or leave it.

Seeing Milk in the Castro with my Cute, Straight Friend Nick

we are in the middle
section of the theater

the place is crazy
packed, definitely gay,
meaning happy,
to see the local boy
gone Hollywood

and also meaning gay,
meaning the draq queen
in gorgeous heels
sitting next to me,
meaning the two men
holding wrinkled hands
walking down the aisle
to find their seats,
meaning Nick and I
working extra hard
to make sure our fingers
don’t touch in the popcorn bag

the lights go down
a huge roar
greets Sean Penn
like a slap on the ass

another cheer at the shot
of Castro and 17th:
Irish pubs, union halls,
right-angled storeowners
beginning to find their curves

who knew overalls could be so hot?
i hear someone whisper

scenes of ’77
not as different as they first seem:
Briggs Initiative to ban queer teachers
booed onscreen and in the audience
like the No on Prop 8 rally
Nick took me to last spring

The man onscreen says
his name is Harvey.
he’s here to recruit me

Penn’s a good actor
but no replacement
for the real thing

by the time the Milkman gets elected,
Nick is sweating through his seat

the theater smells like a high school locker room
after a hard practice — shirts and skins.
just like the shower room, Nick and I keep enough space
between us because that’s what guys do.
Don’t get so close to me, dude.

sitting cool in this theater, I wonder
whose team am I on now?

what jerseys do the children
of Dan White wear?

what balls or bullets
are they shooting
to stop men from being together
at the movies, at the altar?

when White pulls the trigger on screen,
Nick grabs my arm and squeezes.
I don’t pull away

One. Two. Three. Four shots,
and White walks away
like he just set San Francisco’s record straight

the Castro is silent
watching its own birth
that came from death

Milk was a mother
and a martyr
another fairy godfather
killed for standing up
to the closet mafia
and saying he wanted out

the lights come up.
smiling through tears,
Nick and I walk outside
now with the crowd
a jazz dirge for a king

we head over to Market
down to City Hall,
the golden dome where Milk
took his last breath,
and pay our first respects

looking up to the heavens,
my old friend at my side,
I offer my prayers, my body,
to all the angels still here with us