Thursday, April 19, 2007

My Tribal Home

the title is meant to be a profoundly clunky detournement of christine anu.

It's clunky because honkiness is about aculturation. honkiness is a condition of continuous whitewashedout cultural aphasia. to be white is to be trash, trashed, trashy and trashing.

to reclaim words like 'tribe' is really fucking problematic. It's the same cultural expression as orientalism/primitivism/essentialism/tourism.

and they are all spinetinglingly vile. they mean that we don't face the whiteness that is ours as a colour, as a conditioned condition that is privileged but that projects it's own invisible colours onto others while it retains its own invisible silent blandness.

I don't know how to describe or name whiteness without skirting dangerously into some edgy fucking racial essentialising zone of acute badness.

so i use the term beige. just because it's a colour I hate, because my skin fades into it when I wear it, and i do become sickeningly invisible - clothes, furnishings, carpet merge and sink within my skin. bile rises in my throat and I feel viscerally revolted, nauseous, as I feel myself descending into a psychaesthenic crisis of conformity. and it feels like death.

So, that's the bad news.

the good news is that, here, under the pallid spring sun of dear old blighty, I have found something that is deeply homely, that makes me feel profoundly at home, centred and connected.

Even better - it is within structures that are really precarious / edgy / underground / shaky / flakey and even dodgy.

People use the word 'tribe' often when describing the loose connected clan that is the wonderful world of queer squatters, just like lots of queers use the word 'family' to describe our chosen networks of psychic sustenance - those really close friends who you don't always like but you do love. the people who you can call at 3am and who call you..... sometimes I do this too......

but it makes me squirm in my seat just a little.

Let me tell you where I am, while writing this right now.

Right now i'm sitting in the loungeroom of my friend's house in north london - working off the neighbour's unprotected wireless connection. the household have been squatting together last year in est London and previously in amsterdam, but have decided to try out paying for gas, housing and power while they work day jobs and sort out the stuff they'd been putting off for the past 5 years..... (like dentistry)

I squatted with one of my hosts EIGHT YEARS AGO, and have 2 degrees of separation in 50 different directions with his current partner. this household are friends with a couple of different squatting households in london but especially with one squat a few minutes 9by bus) down the road - where I was staying previously.

i heard about The Dalston Squat through a friend who I knew through the food coops/social centres in sydney and who now lives in France. we haven't seen each other for 4 years - but email quite a bit. she gave me the email of one of the Dalston crew - who invited me to stay - and turned out to know - not only expat -sydney squatters and queers in London - but also a few of the people i squatted with in Paris, SEVEN YEARS AGO. Plus other people in the squat also knew the same queeruption/queer/squatting people/zines/scenes as I did.

Meeting people here has reminded me a little bit of when I first left the country and used to run into people in Sydney who were also from the country. We'd establish redneckville of origin - and then each recite various names of people from the same hicktown and then - having established a mutual acquaintance we'd then recite their personal and/or extended family history, right up to the latest news we'd heard. the more recent news we could divulge - the more 'authentic' our claims to really being form the country actually were.

as much as I whinge and disdain my Mum's propensity to spend one hour per week filling me in on all of the minute sickness/birth/death/marriage details of all of the extended family members of every current or former resident of Hicksville - I know that for my first 7 years out, it served some purpose. I used to think of the Mandingo Griots and the way they were able to store all this lineage of info in the heads and then recite it on demand........

Essentiallly all that has happened in the 18 years since i left hicksville is that my 'hometown' has shifted into a fairly non localised network of queers/squatters/artists/rifraf that has had some connection to sydney but more to certain politico/cultural 'affinities'.

so often - when meeting Australian expats OZ - i feel like the girl that stayed home - that can bring news from home and fill people in on how everyone is doing....

but this time - i've felt a part of something much bigger - and yet far more intimate. I SHOULD be a good little Deleuzian and call it a Rhizome - but it might sounds a bit too pompous.....

But there is a difference. when i meet up wiht a Newtown expat and fill them in on the latest goss/activities etc. - i'm working within and on a narrative lineage - which includes myself, the listener and the subjects spoken of in a linear geneology of nostalgia and gossip. this is nice, but limiting.

when I go to a squat/club/action and meet squatters who squatted with or did a social centre or agitprop/playscene etc. with someone else who i've also done the above with in the past - I THINK it forms a rhizome. because the spaces and activities are usually temporary, they are fleeting little moments of utopian reimagining - that can't be localised within a suburb or town - but that spark off a trail of different connections and possibilities.

This sounds a bit airy fairy possibly, and I wish I could explain the vast deep joy that has fed my soul in the flakey precarious queer spaces i've found myself.

for the past five months I've been around really lovely warm generous people who I really trust and love and who feel like my family. however, almost all of them identify as heterosexual. Within this straight space, I go into my default position of being a single eunuch lesbian. It's not because straight people are homophobic as such. i know this, because all of these friends were deeply supportive of my last wifelife and my queer career in general. but to be a woman, in this world, involves being passive or invisible unless interpellating male attention (either lust, admiration or aggression). if you don't do that, you fade to beige spinsterhood.

I think i wrote somewhere about how joyous i felt wandering into the unity bar in Paris - and meeting sapphic stares with my own sapphic stare - and how it made me feel human. I've felt the same joy and relief wandering into queer bars in New york and finland - even though it was freezing and I didn't know anyone.

Actually hanging out, and talking, dancing, performing and flirting with not only queers, but radical activist squatting queers has been like this multiplied by a million. I always think that the condition of activism, of queerness, of a reactive critical existance and of art - comes from a basic sense that your own existence is impossible in the present world. Idealistically this produces what Sarah Ahmed describes as a type of 'motility', and agitation and excitement that causes things to happen, and new connections to form.

but living it on a daily basis, is often sheer hell. Actually, to be alive, and to sense the impossibility of your existence, your soul life, sex life, desire life and dream life is deeply deeply crushing.

when we can move, agitate and in that movement find connections with others who are just forced to move, agitate and irritate then it can be lifesaving. Literally.and when that agitation can mobilise into a project, a performance, a squat or a social centre - then it's really really magical.

I joked about the Dalston Squat feeling like a 'love camp'. "love camp' was a joke someone coined about an art school camp in the desert about 10 years ago. But the love - and I can't find a word better for what I feel about and within and between the other squatters reminds me so much of the special sacred circle of friendships I have with friends from art school. Art school is also an impossible imaginary and temporary space (at least for the students) and when it works - people do form funny sorts of connections - between imaginary spaces, impossible desires, and disappearing times. (god that last phrase is cheesy)

the problem/limitation or whatever is that, like art school, this place is almost completely white. the squatters come from different countries, but all are fairly beige - and London - and especially north London is not beige. so much so that I tended to assume every honky around Dalston must be a friend or visitor of the Squat.

so i'm back to the problem of colour. I've tried to resolve this with fake tan. trying to hysterically play with the whole anxiety of whiteness. white trash like fake tan, but stirling middle class/alternative honkies like to keep our pallour - and - scarily enough - spread it around the spaces we create between ourselves. this seemed to happen a little less in sydney - but it's still a problem.

and i'm not sure what good - beating my pallid hand against my pallid brow actually does to challenge it. i haven't been here long enough to know what the unbeige queers/suqtters/rifraf actually do and why it's separate from happyhardcorehonkyland.

Maybe Australia isn't as crap as I think.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Ahhh a rhizome, how apt.

And the whiteness - yes you can only evaluate your own culture from without. Australia, as you say, has positives amongst the negatives.

Being different might be uncomfortable but, in my opinion, this condition bestows a sort of insight that is hard to acquire any other way. The discomfort is the price you pay. But I would rather pay it than not.

Have you run into the book 'We weren't modern enough. Women Artists and the Limits of German Modernism' by Marsha Meskimmon? If not, it might be nice to find it in one of those fabulous white British libraries ... since you are on that side of the globe....