Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Golden Age of Hustlers

I remember when I first heard the wondrous Mx Justin Vivian Bond performing this song in a grotty faux-squat in Oval not long after I moved to London six years ago. JVB was covered in glitter and accompanied by the equally sparkly, angelic-looking Nath Ann. The song cut through everything else I saw that day because JVB imbibed it with such warmth, rawness and emotion. Originally 'Golden Age' was written and performed by transsexual punk chanteuse Bambi Lake and was about the Polk Street hustler scene in San Francisco in the 1970s. I got it in my head today because I was reflecting with sadness upon how much division there seems to be amongst so many trans people at the moment, queers as well. Of course we have differences and we aren't going to agree all the time and the 'can't we all just get along?' thing can be used to silence those with already marginalised voices, but recently I've seen a lot of queer and trans blogosphere discourse, particularly with gender, which has involved pretty strong lines being drawn around identities that for many of us are quite blurry. Of course we're gonna disagree on stuff but I worry when arguments become dogmatic and try to speak to an assumed shared experience which we don't all have, even if we use the same words. I identify as a trans boy but I know many people who ID the same with a completely different idea as to what that means. Julia Serano recently wrote a blog cautioning against generalising about the experiences and positioning of all trans women and all drag queens. 

For me personally being queer was supposed to be about throwing the rule book out the window, but the more time I spend around queer public discourse (the internet) the more I find it has become a total protocall fest. And no one is even sure what the protocall is, hence we're all terrified when we take to our keyboards lest we say the 'wrong thing'. Theory is fine, disagreement is fine, but when arguments try to prove there is a correct way of actually being, living one's life or identifying, or ascribes a universal meaning onto the experience of a particular group we have a problem.

I feel really over judgement, dogma, censorship, us and them.

Anyways, I was thinking about this song today and how it evoked a sense of unity between trans people, hookers, drag queens, gays, queers and other awesome outcasts, so I looked it up and only discovered that they'd finally made a blooming video of it directed by Silas Howard (formerly of Tribe 8, who also made a pretty decent film for Valencia: the Movie/s) and Erin Greenwell. Vid is totally intergenerational and multi-gendered and features people like the amazing transgender activist and writer Kate Bornstein as well as the Brooklyn drag queens Merrie Cherry and Untitled Queen. Me being me, I missed the premiere two months ago and am only now discovering it. Oh well.

There's a good intro to it and discussion with the directors here but I really really like these two things Silas said about it which got me a bit emotional so I will quote them:

'The song takes place in the mid-1970's, an era Bambi describes as an innocent, "golden age" of hustling in a pre-AIDS San Francisco. Yet she side-steps romanticizing the era, honoring the loss of many in a community living on the edge of social acceptance. In this way I feel the song is timeless, speaking not only to the AIDS epidemic but also the crises of a diminishing landscape and the collateral cost for certain creative rebels.'
"I'm obsessed with the idea of queer and trans lineage and how the past and future can live in the same room. Perhaps it's in part due to coming of age in the midst of loss from AIDS, that I feel a kinship to the mentors gone too soon. Though Bambi wrote the song in the early '90s, in a community of "misfit" queers, sex workers, transsexuals, queers and punks, it speaks to a modern time in that many of us still look for places where all parts of ourselves can find home. I'm grateful to Justin Vivian Bond for carrying Bambi Lake's legacy forward, allowing us access to learn from Bambi as a performer and a punk transsexual icon of an older generation, who prevailed and created art that represented an experience of living outside the "mainstream." I think of the music video as a kind of love letter from our past to the next generation."
A FINAL NOTE: if you like Mx Bond, you will like prob like this cover of the Bahamian musician Exuma. I just remembered seeing them doing it live in Soho and it was pretty great.

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