Newsom loses control


› steve@sfbg.com

In the early days, the mayor tried to sound like a practical, hands-on executive who was ready to run San Francisco.

Mayor Gavin Newsom used his inaugural address on Jan. 8, 2004, to emphasize that he was a uniter, not a divider and that he wanted to get things done.

"I say it’s time to start working together to find common purpose and common ground," he proclaimed. "Because I want to make this administration about solutions."

It’s a mantra he’s returned to again and again in his rhetoric on a wide range of issues, claiming a "commonsense" approach while casting "ideology" as an evil to be overcome and as the main motive driving the left-leaning majority of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

"Because it’s easy to be against something," Newsom said on that sunny winter day. "It’s easy to blame. It’s easy to stop…. What’s hard is to hear that maybe to come together, we need to leave behind old ideas and long-held grudges. But that’s exactly what we need to do."

But if that’s the standard, Newsom has spent the past 17 months taking the easy way.

It’s been a marked change from his first-year lovefest, when he tried to legalize same-sex marriage, reach out to BayviewHunters Point residents, and force big hotels to end their lockout of workers.

A Guardian review of the most significant City Hall initiatives during 2005 and 2006 as well as interviews with more than a dozen policy experts and public interest advocates shows that Newsom has been an obstructionist who has proposed few "solutions" to the city’s problems, and followed through on even fewer.

The Board of Supervisors, in sharp contrast, has been taking the policy lead. The majority on the district-elected board in the past year has moved a generally progressive agenda designed to preserve rental units, prevent evictions, strengthen development standards, promote car-free spaces, increase affordable housing, maintain social services, and protect city workers.

Yet many of those efforts have been blocked or significantly weakened by Newsom and his closest allies on the board: Fiona Ma, Sean Elsbernd, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Bevan Dufty. And on efforts to get tough with big business or prevent Muni service cuts and fare hikes, Newsom was able to peel off enough moderate supervisors to stop the progressives led by Chris Daly, Tom Ammiano, and Ross Mirkarimi at the board level.

But one thing that Newsom has proved himself unable to do in the past year is prevent progressive leaders particularly Daly, against whom Newsom has a "long-held grudge" that has on a few recent occasions led to unsavory political tactics and alliances from setting the public agenda for the city.

Balance of power

The Mayor’s Office and the Board of Supervisors are the two poles of power at City Hall and generally the system gives a strong advantage to the mayor, who has far more resources at his disposal, a higher media profile, and the ability to act swiftly and decisively.

Yet over the past year, the three most progressive supervisors along with their liberal-to-moderate colleagues Gerardo Sandoval, Jake McGoldrick, Aaron Peskin, and Sophie Maxwell have initiated the most significant new city policies, dealing with housing, poverty, health care, alternative transportation, violence prevention, and campaign finance reform.

Most political observers and City Hall insiders mark the moment when the board majority took control of the city agenda as last summer, a point when Newsom’s honeymoon ended, progressives filled the leadership void on growth issues, problems like tenants evictions and the murder rate peaked, and Newsom was increasingly giving signs that he wasn’t focused on running the city.

"Gay marriage gave the mayor his edge and gave him cover for a long time," said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a queer and tenants rights activist. "About a year ago that started to wear off, and his armor started to be shed."

Daly was the one supervisor who had been aggressively criticizing Newsom during that honeymoon period. To some, Daly seemed isolated and easy to dismiss at least until August 2005, when Daly negotiated a high-profile deal with the developers of the Rincon Hill towers that extracted more low-income housing and community-benefits money than the city had ever seen from a commercial project.

The Newsom administration watched the negotiations from the sidelines. The mayor signed off on the deal, but within a couple months turned into a critic and said he regretted supporting it. Even downtown stalwarts like the public policy think tank San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association noted the shift in power.

"I think we saw a different cut on the issue than we’ve seen before," SPUR executive director Gabriel Metcalf told us. "Chris Daly is not a NIMBY. I see Chris Daly as one of the supervisors most able to deal with physical change, and he’s not afraid of urbanism…. And he’s been granted by the rest of the board a lot of leadership in the area of land use."

SPUR and Metcalf were critical of aspects of the Daly deal, such as where the money would go. But after the deal, Newsom and his minions, like press secretary Peter Ragone, had a harder time demonizing Daly and the board (although they never stopped trying).

Around that same time, hundreds of evictions were galvanizing the community of renters which makes up around two-thirds of city residents. Newsom tried to find some compromise on the issue, joining Peskin to convene a task force composed of tenants activists, developers, and real estate professionals, hoping that the group could find a way to prevent evictions while expanding home ownership opportunities.

"The mayor views the striking of balance between competing interests as an important approach to governing," Ragone told the Guardian after we explained the array of policy disputes this story would cover.

The task force predictably fell apart after six meetings. "The mayor was trying to find a comfortable way to get out of the issue," said Mecca, a member of the task force. But with some issues, there simply is no comfortable solution; someone’s going to be unhappy with the outcome. "When that failed," Mecca said, "there was nowhere for him to go anymore."

The San Francisco Tenants Union and its allies decided it was time to push legislation that would protect tenants, organizing an effective campaign that finally forced Newsom into a reactionary mode. The mayor wound up siding overtly with downtown interests for the first time in his mayoral tenure and in the process, he solidified the progressive board majority.

Housing quickly became the issue that defines differences between Newsom and the board.

Free-market policy

"The Newsom agenda has been one of gentrification," said San Francisco Tenants Union director Ted Gullicksen. The mayor and his board allies have actively opposed placing limitations on the high number of evictions (at least until the most recent condo conversion measure, which Dufty and Newsom supported, a victory tenants activists attribute to their organizing efforts), while at the same time encouraging development patterns that "bring in more high-end condominiums and saturate the market with that," Gullicksen explained.

He pointed out that those two approaches coalesce into a doubly damaging policy on the issue of converting apartments into condominiums, which usually displace low-income San Franciscans, turn an affordable rental unit into an expensive condominium, and fill the spot with a higher-income owner.

"So you really get a two-on-one transformation of the city," Gullicksen said.

Newsom’s allies don’t agree, noting that in a city where renters outnumber homeowners two to one, some loss of rental housing is acceptable. "Rather than achieve their stated goals of protecting tenants, the real result is a barrier to home ownership," Elsbernd told us, explaining his vote against all four recent tenant-protection measures.

On the development front, Gullicksen said Newsom has actively pushed policies to develop housing that’s unaffordable to most San Franciscans as he did with his failed Workforce Housing Initiative and some of his area plans while maintaining an overabundance of faith in free-market forces.

"He’s very much let the market have what the market wants, which is high-end luxury housing," Gullicksen said.

As a result, Mecca said, "I think we in the tenant movement have been effective at making TICs a class issue."

Affordable housing activists say there is a marked difference between Newsom and the board majority on housing.

"The Board of Supervisors is engaged in an active pursuit of land-use policy that attempts to preserve as much affordable housing, as much rental housing, as much neighborhood-serving businesses as possible," longtime housing activist Calvin Welch told us. "And the mayor is totally and completely lining up with downtown business interests."

Welch said Newsom has shown where he stands in the appointments he makes such as that of Republican planning commissioner Michael Antonini, and his nomination of Ted Dienstfrey to run Treasure Island, which the Rules Committee recently rejected and by the policies he supports.

Welch called Daly’s Rincon deal "precedent setting and significant." It was so significant that downtown noticed and started pushing back.


Board power really coalesced last fall. In addition to the housing and tenant issues, Ammiano brought forward a plan that would force businesses to pay for health insurance plans for their employees. That galvanized downtown and forced Newsom to finally make good on his promise to offer his own plan to deal with the uninsured but the mayor offered only broad policy goals, and the plan itself is still being developed.

It was in this climate that many of Newsom’s big-business supporters, including Don Fisher the Republican founder of the Gap who regularly bankrolls conservative political causes in San Francisco demanded and received a meeting with Newsom. The December sit-down was attended by a who’s who of downtown developers and power brokers.

"That was a result of them losing their ass on Rincon Hill," Welch said of the meeting.

The upshot according to public records and Guardian interviews with attendees was that Newsom agreed to oppose an ordinance designed to limit how much parking could be built along with the 10,000 housing units slated for downtown. The mayor instead would support a developer-written alternative carried by Alioto-Pier.

The measure downtown opposed was originally sponsored by Daly before being taken over by Peskin. It had the strong support of Newsom’s own planning director, Dean Macris, and was approved by the Planning Commission on a 61 vote (only Newsom’s Republican appointee, Antonini, was opposed).

The process that led to the board’s 74 approval of the measure was politically crass and embarrassing for the Mayor’s Office (see “Joining the Battle,” 2/8/06), but he kept his promise and vetoed the measure. The votes of his four allies were enough to sustain the veto.

Newsom tried to save face in the ugly saga by pledging to support a nearly identical version of the measure, but with just a couple more giveaways to developers: allowing them to build more parking garages and permitting more driveways with their projects.

Political observers say the incident weakened Newsom instead of strengthening him.

"They can’t orchestrate a move. They are only acting by vetoes, and you can’t run the city by vetoes," Welch said. "He never puts anything on the line, and that’s why the board has become so emboldened."

Rippling out

The Newsom administration doesn’t seem to grasp how housing issues or symbolic issues like creating car-free spaces or being wary of land schemes like the BayviewHunters Point redevelopment plan shape perceptions of other issues. As Welch said, "All politics in San Francisco center around land use."

N’Tanya Lee, executive director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, said the Newsom administration has done a very good job of maintaining budgetary support for programs dealing with children, youth, and their families. But advocates have relied on the leadership of progressive supervisors like Daly to push affordable housing initiatives like the $20 million budget supplemental the board initiated and approved in April.

"Our primary concern is that low- and moderate-income families are being pushed out of San Francisco," Lee told us. "We’re redefining what it means to be pro-kid and pro-family in San Francisco."

Indeed, that’s a very different approach from the so-called pro-family agenda being pushed by SFSOS and some of Newsom’s other conservative allies, who argue that keeping taxes low while keeping the streets and parks safe and clean is what families really want. But Lee worries more about ensuring that families have reasonably priced shelter.

So she and other affordable housing advocates will be watching closely this summer as the board and Newsom deal with Daly’s proposal to substantially increase the percentage of affordable housing developers must build under the city’s inclusionary-housing policy. Newsom’s downtown allies are expected to strongly oppose the plan.

Even on Newsom’s signature issue, the board has made inroads.

"In general, on the homeless issue, the supervisor who has shown the most strong and consistent leadership has been Chris Daly," said Coalition on Homelessness director Juan Prada.

Prada credits the mayor with focusing attention on the homeless issue, although he is critical of the ongoing harassment of the homeless by the Police Department and the so-called Homeward Bound program that gives homeless people one-way bus tickets out of town.

"This administration has a genuine interest in homeless issues, which the previous one didn’t have, but they’re banking too much on the Care Not Cash approach," Prada said.

Other Newsom initiatives to satisfy his downtown base of support have also fallen flat.

Robert Haaland of the city employee labor union SEIU Local 790 said Newsom has tried to reform the civil service system and privatize some city services, but has been stopped by labor and the board.

"They were trying to push a privatization agenda, and we pushed back," Haaland said, noting that Supervisor Ma’s alliance with Newsom on that issue was the reason SEIU 790 endorsed Janet Reilly over Ma in the District 12 Assembly race.

The turning point on the issue came last year, when the Newsom administration sought to privatize the security guards at the Asian Art Museum as a cost-saving measure. The effort was soundly defeated in the board’s Budget Committee.

"That was a key vote, and they lost, so I don’t think they’ll be coming back with that again," Haaland said, noting that labor has managed to win over Dufty, giving the board a veto-proof majority on privatization issues.

Who’s in charge?

Even many Newsom allies will privately grumble that Newsom isn’t engaged enough with the day-to-day politics of the city. Again and again, Newsom has seemed content to watch from the sidelines, as he did with Supervisor Mirkarimi’s proposal to create a public financing program for mayoral candidates.

"The board was out front on that, while the mayor stayed out of it until the very end," said Steven Hill, of the Center for Voting and Democracy, who was involved with the measure. And when the administration finally did weigh in, after the board had approved the plan on a veto-proof 92 vote, Newsom said the measure didn’t go far enough. He called for public financing for all citywide offices but never followed up with an actual proposal.

The same has been true on police reform and violence prevention measures. Newsom promised to create a task force to look into police misconduct, to hold a blue-ribbon summit on violence prevention, and to implement a community policing system with grassroots input and none of that has come to pass.

Then, when Daly took the lead in creating a community-based task force to develop violence prevention programs with an allocation of $10 million a year for three years Measure A on the June ballot Newsom and his board allies opposed the effort, arguing the money would be better spent on more cops (see “Ballot-Box Alliance,” page 19).

"He’s had bad counsel on this issue of violence all the way through," said Sharen Hewitt, who runs the Community Leadership Academy Emergency Response project. "He has not done damn near enough from his position, and neither has the board."

Hewitt worries that current city policies, particularly on housing, are leading to class polarization that could make the problems of violence worse. And while Newsom’s political allies tend to widen the class divide, she can’t bring herself to condemn the mayor: "I think he’s a nice guy and a lot smarter than people have given him credit for."

Tom Radulovich, who sits on the BART board and serves as executive director of Transportation for a Livable City (which is in the process of changing its name to Livable City), said Newsom generally hasn’t put much action behind his rhetorical support for the environment and transit-first policies.

"Everyone says they’re pro-environment," he said.

In particular, Radulovich was frustrated by Newsom’s vetoes of the downtown parking and Healthy Saturdays measures and two renter-protection measures. The four measures indicated very different agendas pursued by Newsom and the board majority.

In general, Radulovich often finds his smart-growth priorities opposed by Newsom’s allies. "The moneyed interests usually line up against livable city, good planning policies," he said. On the board, Radulovich said it’s no surprise that the three supervisors from the wealthiest parts of town Ma, Elsbernd, and Alioto-Pier generally vote against initiatives he supports.

"Dufty is the oddity because he represents a pretty progressive, urbane district," Radulovich said, "but he tends to vote like he’s from a more conservative district."

What’s next?

The recent lawsuit by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the Committee of Jobs urging more aggressive use of a voter-approved requirement that board legislation undergo a detailed economic analysis shows that downtown is spoiling for a fight (see “Downtown’s ‘Hail Mary’ Lawsuit,” page 9). So politics in City Hall is likely to heat up.

"There is a real absence of vision and leadership in the city right now, particularly on the question of who will be able to afford to live in San Francisco 20 years from now," Mirkarimi said. "There is a disparity between Newsom hitting the right notes in what the press and public want to hear and between the policy considerations that will put those positions into effect."

But Newsom’s allies say they plan to stand firm against the ongoing effort by progressives to set the agenda.

"I think I am voting my constituency," Elsbernd said. "I’m voting District Seven and voicing a perspective of a large part of the city that the progressive majority doesn’t represent."

Newsom flack Ragone doesn’t accept most of the narratives that are laid out by activists, from last year’s flip in the balance of power to the influence of downtown and Newsom’s wealthy benefactors on his decision to veto four measures this year.

"Governing a city like San Francisco is complex. There are many areas of nuance in governing this city," Ragone said. "Everyone knows Gavin Newsom defies traditional labels. That’s not part of a broad political strategy, but just how he governs."

Yet the majority of the board seems unafraid to declare where they stand on the most divisive issues facing the city.

"The board has really, since the 2000 election has been pushing a progressive set of policies as it related to housing, just-taxation policies, and an array of social service provisions," Peskin said. "All come with some level of controversy, because none are free." SFBG

Porn 2.0


› pornomovies@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION In downtown San Francisco, if you wander off Fifth Street down a small, twisting alley nestled among the sky-high monuments to money, you’ll find a freshly installed steel door, the glowing numbers affixed to it bearing little relationship to the other addresses on the street. If you’re lucky enough to get past the security cameras and locks, you’ll find yourself at the edge of a huge warehouse space full of stages and sets.

Climb up the stairs that lead away from the "medieval castle" set, and you’re in a huge office space full of computers. People are on the phones, or swapping stories as they return from a trip to the Starbucks around the corner, or gathered in tight huddles around large, flat-screen monitors full of partial layouts. Only the bathrooms offer a hint about what’s really going on here. No ordinary office would stock its toilets with an enormous rack of baby wipes, paper towels, and every feminine hygiene product known to woman. This is Kink.com, home to half a dozen of the Web’s hottest porn sites.

Everyone always asks what porn has done for the Web, but they never ask what the Web has done for porn. A place like this, full of queer hipsters, geeks, and models, would never have existed before 1995. It certainly wouldn’t have looked quite so Ikea.

I’ve come here to visit the set of Fuckingmachines.com, a Web site devoted to images and movies of women having sex with machines. Usually the machine involves some sort of piston and at least one moving part to which a dildo can be attached. The sensibility is perfectly San Francisco: a cross between high-tech fetishism and sexual fetishism. Tomcat, the site’s understated Web master, wears a tie and jeans to the set. With a degree in film and digital media from a large public university, the self-consciously androgynous Tomcat is precisely the sort of hip young professional who is attracted to second-generation Web porn operations like Kink.

Tomcat makes sure the first machine (called "the chopper") is ready to go and picks out a pale blue dildo from a huge, tidy cart that contains laid out with surgical precision an array of silicone cocks in various sizes, a fanned display of condoms, towels, baby wipes, and several lube bottles. Next to it is a pine cabinet full of carefully labeled drawers containing "large dildos" and "small dildos." A tiny table holds some soft drinks packed in ice, as well as a handful of lemon Luna bars.

"Last week we did an alien abduction scene," Tomcat says. "It was great I got to be the alien." Today’s model, a tall brunet with a lascivious smile, named Sateen Phoenix, arrives in a little dress and fuck-me shoes. Like Tomcat, she’s the sort of person who has the education and resources to choose from many careers and has chosen this one because she likes it. "I’m moving to LA to get more work," she says, sipping water. "But I just got into this about six months ago I like having sex in public, so I thought, why not do it here?"

Settling onto the chopper, Sateen poses and reposes, replaying her naughty grin as many times as Tomcat asks. The scene behind the scenes here is all business. PAs discuss the merits of various lubes and dildos; everyone tries to figure out the ideal position for Sateen’s pussy so that everything fits together when the machine starts pumping. Tomcat manages to issue directions in the tone of a nice but task-masterish boss.

"I know it’s awkward with your knees and the handlebars, but go ahead and insert it so that it’s comfortable," the Web master says. "Now just wank a little until you get off."

"I don’t know if I can get off like this," Sateen suggests. "I’m too lubey."

"Get some baby wipes for her to take care of that lube," Tomcat directs the PA.

Eventually, using another machine called "the predator," Sateen starts screaming in a way that marks this whole scene, again, as something that could only happen in the world of Porn 2.0. She’s had a genuine orgasm, the kind of thing you’d almost never see a woman do in porn before the Web took over.

Ten minutes later, still shaking and sweaty, Sateen pulls on a robe and stumbles over to the snack table. She falls into a chair and lets out her breath in a whoosh.

"Hard work, eh?" she sighs, grinning at me. "Having orgasms all day?" SFBG

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who’s never met a machine she didn’t like.

Cruel and unusual punishment


OPINION Homelessness was recently put on trial in California. It was found not guilty.

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit declared April 14 that the city of Los Angeles can’t arrest those who have no choice but to sleep on its streets. It’s a victory for those of us who believe that homelessness is not a crime, but a symptom of an unjust economic system.

At issue in the LA case was a 37-year-old law prohibiting sitting, lying, and sleeping on the sidewalks. Six homeless folks brought the complaint in 2003 with the aid of the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild.

In her ruling against the statute, Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote: "Because there is substantial and undisputed evidence that the number of homeless persons in Los Angeles far exceeds the number of available shelter beds at all times," the city is guilty of criminalizing people who engage in "the unavoidable act of sitting, lying, or sleeping at night while being involuntarily homeless." She termed this criminalization "cruel and unusual" punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution.

Her enlightened opinion should guide public policy everywhere, especially here in San Francisco. In our "progressive" city, we have gay weddings at City Hall and an annual S-M street fair, yet our views on the homeless are as 19th century as the rest of the country’s opinions on gay marriage and kinky sex. The majority of voting people here still favor the old-fashioned method of punishing the poor and the homeless. That’s how Care Not Cash and our current antipanhandling measure managed to become law.

According to Religious Witness with the Homeless, in the first 22 months of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s administration, San Francisco police issued 1,860 citations for panhandling and sleeping on the sidewalks, as well as 11,000 "quality of life" tickets. That’s more than were issued under former mayor Willie Brown in a similar time period. How many officers did it take to issue those citations? How much money did it cost the city? What better things could San Francisco have done with the money to actually help those who were cited? How many of the people cited are now in permanent affordable housing with access to services they need to put their lives back together?

Homelessness can’t be eradicated with punitive measures. Addressing homelessness in America doesn’t mean sweeping the poor out of sight of tourists or upscale neighbors. It doesn’t mean taking away the possessions of homeless folks or fining people for sleeping in their cars. It means addressing the basic social inequities that create homelessness, among them low-paying jobs, the immorally high cost of housing, and the prohibitive price of health care.

It means having drug and mental health treatment for those who need it when they need it.

That’s the real message behind Wardlaw’s ruling.<\!s><z5><h110>SFBG<h$><z$>

Tommi Avicolli Mecca

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical, working-class, queer, southern Italian activist, performer, and writer.

Our gang


"Oooh, I do detect/ I can’t go on/ Without you," the latest lesbionic Chaka Khannabe, Leela James, rasps in the spooky reedit of "My Joy" that’s dominated dance floors worldwide for about five months now. The mix is by NYC’s deep house genie Quentin Harris, whose last smash crack-up, of Jill Scott’s "Not Like Crazy," whistled lonely through the graveyard on the grounds of soul’s asylum. "My Joy (Quentin Harris Shelter vocal)" is a classic melancholic spine-tingler. A Hammond B3 swirls toward climax, the bass skips a heartbeat, strings of life collide, and the woeful diva’s voice is drawn and quartered, pulled in four directions, wailing "My mind! My mind!" despite an uplift in the chorus: "No, no, no, ain’t no way/ You gon’ take away/ My joy, my peace, my strength." In the end, James dumps her psycho lover and moves on but we’re all left shaken to the bone.

Whatever happened to house? It devolved into circuit, all shrieking modulations and lame-ass breaks, the pale lingua franca of gays worldwide. It rode the elevator down to easy listening lounge, the wallpaper tube-topped bimbos spilled appletinis on. It got all lush and gospel, overeagerly fronting its blues-black roots. It stripped off its base and went seriously loony, fattening up Fat Boy Slim’s paycheck and Paul Van Dyke’s portfolio.

Poor little house, kicked to the curb with its shoelace untied, crying foul in its white-label milk. What’s an unabashed househed freak who loves working it out gonna do?

Go to Fag Fridays at the Endup, for one. Despite all the lip service to a house revival and a titilutf8g resurgence of underground queer clubs dedicated to old-school jacking, the national house scene’s been whittled down to a mere trifecta of well-respected bastions Shelter in NYC, Deep in LA, and our very own Fag, which gathers all the varied arms of house back into one long, sweaty embrace. I’m not saying Fag’s the only happening house gig in town, far from it, but it’s the only weekly joint where you’re guaranteed to hear slices like "My Joy" and not feel obliged to wonder if you look a mess while you lose your shit over it. No matter what you do, you will never, ever be the messiest-looking freak up in there.

Fag was started by grassroots impresarios David Peterson and Jose Mineros a decade ago, when queer was still a dirty word and sex columnist Dan Savage was getting hate mail from homosexuals because he allowed readers to address him as "Hey Faggot." The golden age of local fun houses Klubstitute and Product had just petered out, folks were still dying left and right of AIDS, and gay men were heckling me on the street because I sported gasp! baggy pants and a wallet chain. Homo-hop was unheard of, gay youth was a derogatory term, and Manhunt hadn’t been invented. People who did drugs had to actually leave the house to get laid! For the group of streetwise queer kids of color who clustered around Peterson and Mineros and had roots in House Nation, Fag was heaven a clubhouse, a get-down, and, for some of us, a home.

Now, 10 years later, Fag’s still going strong, featuring not only some of the best known SF DJs as regulars (David Harness, Pete Avila, Neon Leon, Rolo) but pulling in the globally acclaimed as well (Frankie Knuckles, Tony Humphries, Angel Moraes, Honey Dijon). The upcoming anniversary celebration kicks off with singer Dajae, she of back-in-the-day "Brighter Days" and "U Got Me Up" fame. Sure, Fag’s now become a kind of institution, associated by some with shirtless boys, GHB casualties, shit-faced queens, and on one occasion, raids for Versace’s killer. But it’s hung in there, proving that house isn’t dead. It’s alive. It’s joyful. It’s kicking.

It’s also relevant. I went there last month to hear Quentin Harris himself on deck, and he did this thing all night where he kept a little fuzz box of white noise going on behind the mix, which to my overanalytical mind, at least (metaphors! metaphors!) was a perfect representation of the global mess outside we were all hopping around to escape. Groovy, cute, and smart? Hey, Quentin, wanna date?


10th anniversary with Dajae

May 12, 10 p.m.–6 a.m.


401 Sixth St., SF


(415) 646-0999





First off, what the frig’s up with Schwarzenegger’s hair? It’s like all day-glo puke-brown and shit. It looks like someone yodelled beef stew on his coif. Just sayin’.… Secondly, the Alternative Press Expo may have come and gone, but curator-cartoonist Justin Hall’s double whammy of gallery shows, featuring classic queer cartoonists at one and hot-hot Bay Area doodlers at the other, are still going strong — and you should really check ‘em out.

Cool stuff from Lark Pien, at “APE$#!T”

No Straight Lines” is at the Cartoon Art Museum, and it’s a mad dash through all the wacky, wonderful gay comics we wymynhandled when we were younger. Alison Bechdel of Dykes To Watch Out For and Howard Cruse of Wendel get a spotlight, and there’s even a vitrine full of the complete Gay Comix series. We’re finally under glass — eek The whole thing’s a wayback freakout for those of us who huddled under the blankets with such things, and actually brought a tear to my one good eye about how actually great (and, alas, perhaps, topical) the stuff still looks. The show benefits the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

APE$#!T” is Hall’s collaboration with Bay wunderkind Jesse Reklaw, at Space 743 in S.F., and features some of my ultrafaves – Lark Pien, Paul Madonna, Mats!?, Hsaio-chen Tsai, and others, as well as Hall and Reklaw themselves. Hall’s gotten pretty famous for his “True Travel Tales” and “Glamazonia” comics (I wrote about him last year here) and my bf has a yummy Reklaw hanging in his bedroom, so please buy more of his stuff so the value goes up. Mama needs some rent, baby. Just kidding.

Warm fuzzies


› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Fur suit! Is there anything better? The darling buds of May are peeping through, the beautiful ladies of the Bay are showing out their zirconia belly-bling, and clubby bears are waking up from long, wet winter naps with raging hankerings for fun (as opposed to raging hankerings for little girls in Appalachia). "Lhudely sing goddam!" the poets shout, "it’s spring & all." And for once they’re right, you know? I feel downright exuberant. The city stretches out its arms, scratches its stubbly ass, and yawns. What’s for breakfast, Goldilocks? A party, dude. A freakin’ party.

So what could be more natural than to throw on a big, fuzzy purple costume and break-dance in public on a sunny afternoon?

At least that’s what I’m hoping. Do you know the guy I’m talking about? He’s at almost every street fair, hopping around like Jiffy Pop, cute as a Great Grape Ape. You know spring’s really arrived when you see him making the scene on the sidewalk, a violaceous blur, all velutinous and shit. I’ve had a super boy crush on him for years now. We once connected briefly at Queer Pride when I was Gaydor the Cockodile, but it would never work, I realized. A furry Grapeasaurus and a drunken, gay green reptile the time had not yet come for our illicit kind of love. Sigh.

Still, my heart beats faster when I see his head spins zagging down the pavement, and I’m wishing that he’ll send me all atwitter at the upcoming How Weird Street Faire. Not that it’ll be easy to spot him, mind. The joint’s a jungle of fabulous freaks, and that’s just how we like it. In all its fur-suited, stilt-walking, fire-twirling, rave-a-licious glory, the How Weird’s in its seventh year as the kickoff of San Francisco’s outdoor festival season, but this year seems to be the first it has appeared on so many party folks’ radar screens. There are a couple good reasons for that.

The first is that How Weird was always a kind of stealth fair, dedicated to both the underground psy-trance scene and the techno-hippie notion of global peace through half-naked dancing. The joy of it was that one minute you’d be strolling through SoMa on the way to a beer bust, when blam! there’d be several blocks of booming Goa beats and shirtless gyrators waving glow sticks in the daytime. It was like you stepped through a quasi-magical doorway into the mid-’90s. The fair didn’t promote itself much, which made it seem spontaneous and comfy. This year it’s stepped up its outreach efforts and expanded its offerings, with seven stages of local floor-thumpers manning the tables and a Mermayd Parade up Market Street featuring art cars, wacky "mobile works of a naughtical nature" (i.e., pirate ship floats), and some sort of undelineated May Day celebration of the spring equinox. Don’t quote me, but I’m guessing it’ll somehow involve nude pixies.

The second reason is that many folks affect being allergic to such things. "What is it supposed to be, some sort of daffy collision of Burning Man and the Renaissance Faire?" they wonder, retching into their lattes. Well, kind of. The guy behind it all is indeed Brad Olsen, he of the legendary, way-back-when Consortium of Collective Consciousness parties and a prime Burning Man mover. His organization, Peace Tours, is dedicated to "achieving world peace through technology, community, and connectedness," which, as mentioned above, pretty much plays to woowoo shamanism type. (The fair even has booths selling "peace pizza." I shit you not.) And, of course, all medieval jouster wannabes are welcome as are their jangly jester caps.

But the time for trendy uppitiness about such things has passed. There are no big clubs in the city left where you can get down with thousands of freaks anymore, and the millennial explosion of street protests has keyed more people in to the power, if not exactly the purpose, of vibing with crowds who share their general intentions. As the drag queen said, it’s all about expression. And these days (has it really come to this?) any expression of hope and peace especially if there’s beer available is very greatly appreciated.

So please, purple fuzzy boy, if you’re reading this please come down to the How Weird Street Faire. After all, it’s spring. We need you. SFBG

How Weird Street Fair

May 7, noon–8 p.m.

12th Street and South Van Ness, SF

$10 donation, $5 with costume, free for kids


Lesley’s turn to talk


Lesley Gore is in town this weekend, singing at Brava Theater Center. I recently had the chance to call the ‘60s teen queen who is forever linked to classic pop hits such as “It’s My Party” and the proto-feminist “You Don’t Own Me.” Today, the richness of Gore’s voice is a bit duskier, as evidenced by the new CD Ever Since. Whether reminiscing about a certain mega-producer or discussing fictional movie imitations of herself, this lesbian icon – a heroine to queer zine-maker and artist G.B. Jones, amongst others – is refreshingly honest.

Bay Guardian: Can you tell me a bit about meeting and working with Quincy Jones?

Lesley Gore: It’s extraordinary that a man of his distinction – even at that point in his career he was well accomplished – could put himself in the shoes of a 16-year-old kid. That is his art in a way, knowing how to make people comfortable and get the best from them. There may have been a 14-year difference between us, but he never talked down to me.

Quincy not only thought it was important to do well in the studio, he thought it was important to perform well onstage. He’d often call me on a Friday and say, “Lil’ Bits, meet me at Basin Street [in New York] at 8.” We’d go see Peggy or Ella or Dinah Washington. He’d say, “Listen to this opening number – this is what an opening number should do.” He took mentoring seriously. He wanted me to understand.

The bar was set high for me. I worked with some great producers, such as Quincy and Bob Crewe [the astrology-obsessed mastermind behind the Four Seasons, Music to Watch Girls By, Disco Tex and His Sex-o-Lettes, and Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade”].

BG: One little-known Quincy production that I love is The Amazing Timi Yuro.

LG: Timi Yuro was on the very first tour I did in England — Timi and Trini Lopez and Brooke Benton and Dion [DiMucci] without the Belmonts. I fell madly in love with “What’s a Matter Baby.”

BG: Joan Jett and others have covered “You Don’t Own Me.” Are there any particular versions you enjoy?

LG: I rather liked Joan’s interpretation. Dusty [Springfield] covered that record almost minutes after it came out.

We could put a song in the key of G and it would be comfortable, but if Quincy didn’t see the veins popping in my neck he wouldn’t be happy. He’d raise it to the key of A so I’d sound younger. That’s why my [early] recordings are so poppy and bop-y.

This [new] album [Ever Since] is letting my voice do what it does without forcing into a range where I have to bleat all the time. That’s how the combination of old and new can make wonderful sense.

BG: Did you feel a kinship with or especially admire any other singers from the era of your biggest hits? I’m a Dusty Springfield fan.

LG: Who wouldn’t be? I did actually come to know Dusty when I was living in LA during the ‘70s. She did a song of mine called “Love Me By Name.” But she didn’t just do a song – she annihilated it. She invited me to the [recording] session; Joe Sample was the piano player.

They are doing a musical [Dusty] of Dusty’s life. Vicki Wickham, who was Dusty’s manager, is a dear friend of mine, and they consulted her.

BG: A favorite song of mine by you from that era that hints at what you do now is “What Am I Gonna Do With You.” Would you agree with that?

LG: Isn’t that a great song? That was co-written by Russ Titelman, who worked with [Eric] Clapton. When I get to expand my show, songs like that, and “All of My Life,” and “The Old Crowd” – which was written for me by Carole King and Gerry Goffin – are the songs that I’m looking at including within it.

We’ve stripped the songs in the show down to rhythm section and voice, and it’s clear what holds up and what doesn’t. It’s fascinating. “Judy’s Turn to Cry” has completely erupted for me as a new song after taking out those strings and horns and bop-y things. Without horns, “Maybe I Know” has a groove. It’s like re-singing them [the older songs] all over again.

BG: How did the writing of “Out Here on My Own” [sung by Irene Cara on the Fame soundtrack] come about?

LG: When my brother [Michael] started working on Fame he asked me for lyric writers. Much to my shame right now, I didn’t consider myself one. I was friendly with Peter Allen, and through that, Dean Pitchford and Michael got together. My brother was living in Manhattan and one afternoon I was up at his apartment and he played me the melody to “Out Here” and described the scene. When he first played it for me I knew what the title was. I was at my friends Carole Hall’s and Leonard Majzlin’s flat — I stayed indoors for 48 hours and knocked out the lyrics and became part of the Fame family. It was a very liberating step. It means a lot to me in that sense.

BG: What did you think of the movie Grace of My Heart, and of the character played by Bridget Fonda [a Gore facsimile]? Did they wholly miss the mark? Did they have the right spirit?

LG: Actually, nothing rang absolutely true in that movie. I think they were trying to exploit my character. The actual history is that I didn’t know I was gay until after college. So whatever they put in the movie was more of a projected scenario than a reality. Certainly, the [Fonda character’s] affair with the PR person is their own storyline.

They asked me to write a song [for the movie], and it wasn’t a completely pleasant experience, to be totally honest. I realized they asked me to do it so they could exploit my name. They sent me a track that had pretty much already been written. I felt the need to doctor it, and the changes made it better. Then they had the lack of decency to pretty much not invite to the [movie’s] opening.

I love musical movies and I’d like to see more of them made. But it took a lot of people’s lives and distorted them. They glued together scenarios — I think the lead [male] character is supposed to be Brian Wilson? Still, I’d rather have a bad version of a movie musical than no movie musical. And I think the idea of pairing different people [in the story] could have been a good one.

BG: Any hints about what you have in store for San Francisco?

LG: I’ll hit the stage with the band that helped me create the new album. You’re gonna get a show we’ve been doing steadily for 4 or 5 months – it’s grown in dimension, and everyone is going to have a great time. I expect they’ll go from laughter to tears as well. People may have to turn their hearing aids up — but that’s what friends are for.

BG: As someone once wrote –

LG: [Laughs] Exactly.

Sweet squares


SUPER EGO Hi, sexy. I’m a bored robot. I’m doin’ the strobe-lit worm on linoleum irony. I’m freakin’ worn poses in the mirror of YouTube. Klink klank klunk. Drink drank drunk.


Yesterday morning I had a Technicolor waking dream. I was flipping through the Gospel of Judas, standing outside Trendy Hair Fixin’s on Seventh and Howard at 6 a.m. under a sky that looked like God shit his underpants. The ice-blue veins of the overpasses crisscrossed in the distance, the distance you feel when you realize your absent-eyed friends are all television addicts. (Not you, though. No, never you.) I was shivering wet in my "Bitch or Slut?" spray-painted halter top, Leslie and the Lys’ "Gem Sweater" rocking my knockoff iPod. It was cold, but if I layered on even one spare shred of poly blend, my Bang Bus implants would be partially obscured, and then what krunkhed mens would want me? I’d be childless forever.

Suddenly, my nueva amiga Frankenchick coughed up a pair of fake eyelashes and gasped, "When I was a little kid, I use to own a frog named Sweet Squares!"

It’s so boring reading other people’s dreams. But, of course, it wasn’t a dream. It seemed, just then, my life. And more important, my nightlife. When it feels like your whole being’s been dunked once too much in the reborn-again media stream, there are only two ways out: You can either blow up or get down. Drop the cooler-than-thou attitude completely, or go all in and get extreme.

DJ Jefrodisiac’s our homegrown version of NYC club whiz Larry Tee, and his wild nights are our closest energy-equivalent to the world’s reigning name-drop weekly, Misshapes, in Manhattan. Of course, Jefro’s been eating postirony for breakfast since way before Misshapes tossed up its hectic brand of antiposeur-poseur Corn Pops (cf. his long-running Frisco Disco, at Arrow Bar, every Saturday), but no one takes our club scene seriously. We’re too dang "out-there." Like most top jocks today, he’s less a turntablist than a mood meddler; his clubs may draw in more literal-minded people with one-off Bloc Party B-side remixes but just as quickly drive them out for a smoke with Eric Prydez’s "Call on Me" (an endless, cheery loop of Steve Winwood wailing "Valerie" … eek). The folks who say "fuck it" and stay on the dance floor, anyway, win.

Blow Up, at Rickshaw Stop, is his best joint yet, and every third Friday he and table partner Emily Betty whip their fan base into an antitaste frenzy with records from the outer bins up front and outré sex acts on the side. (What is it with all the het-porn lesbo action at clubs these days? I love it.) If some see the supertight, dressed-to-the-tens crowd as impossible snobs, they don’t get it it’s rising above by screwing it all. User-friendly nihilism on a MySpace Mountain level. It’s Blow Up’s first anniversary this week, and the guests are apocalypto-emblematic: LA street-whore rapper Mickey Avalon, London’s shambolic DJ teeth-kickers Queens of Noize, the Star Eyes of Syrup Girls from NYC, and our very own Richie Panic. Too cool for school? Nah. This is school.

And then there’s something completely different. Blow Up’s the go-all-in, but also this weekend’s let-it-all-out. Believe it or not, square dancing just got fierce. Seriously. Pimping itself as a "thriving, boisterous DIY alternative to the queer bar and circuit scenes" (thank you!), the San Francisco Queer Contra Dance may just be the perfect antidote for today’s style-fatigued clubbers. At the very least, it’s a return to what we loved about going out in the first place: meeting up with like-minded strangers at someplace new (a church, even) to dance new dances to music you can’t hear anywhere else attitude free. Contra dancing’s a venerable form of folk dancing, all whirling skirts and changing partners and whatnot, and while it may seem goofy well, look what you’re wearing, hot stuff. Everything’s goofy right now, and in this case it’s also sweet. The monthly event has taken off (even organizer Robert Riley has been shocked by the unbridled turnout), and Saturday marks its second anniversary. Dances will be taught, punch will be imbibed, and new friends will be made. Kilts and Mohawks encouraged. All bored robots welcome.

Blow Up’s One-Year Anniversary


10 p.m.–2 a.m.

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

(415) 861-2011



SF Queer Contra Dance Second Anniversary


7:30-10:30 p.m.

United Methodist Church

1268 Sanchez, SF

$10 sliding scale


{Empty title}



Editor’s notes

I used to say San Francisco politics was a contact sport, but these days I think it’s more of a steel-cage match, which is generally fine with me. I have no beef with blood sport, and most of us are consenting adults who chose of our own free will to participate in this high-stakes game. But even ugly fights have unwritten rules, and one of them is that you don’t make disparaging comments about people’s gender, race, or sexual orientation. It’s just not OK.

I mention this because there’s a pretty serious furor in the queer community over an attack by developer Joe O’Donoghue on transgender activist Robert Haaland.

Ol’ Joe, who also likes to think of himself as a poet, is fighting with Haaland over Proposition D, which would bar the city from sending some mentally ill people to Laguna Honda hospital (and would, as an aside, rezone lots of city-owned land for private nursing homes). Haaland works for the big city-employee union, Local 790, which is campaigning against Prop. D; O’Donoghue, who is a major backer of the measure, has decided to personalize the campaign. In a lyrical missive that’s been widely distributed, O’Donoghue refers to "our transfigured Robert" and (in the not-so-subtle cloak of biblical language) suggests that Haaland is a bitter and angry human being because he was born a woman. Another letter refers to Haaland as "Robbi" and threatens to donate to the Prop. D campaign the same amount of money as the city had to pay to Haaland to settle a transgender police-harassment case. It’s actually pretty vicious stuff.

Some queer leaders are arguing that there ought to be a city law banning political "hate speech," which is entirely the wrong approach: You can’t outlaw any kind of speech without bad First Amendment problems. But we all can, and should, tell O’Donoghue (whose political statements are getting increasingly mean-spirited and personal) that he’s crossed a very big line and that if he’s going to pull shit like this, he’s no longer welcome in local politics. The guy has a lot of campaign money to throw around, and it’s tempting even for folks on the left to take it. But every decent San Franciscan ought to tell him to take a hike.

Now this: I’ve enjoyed all the historical stuff in the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner about the 1906 earthquake, but everyone’s leaving out one of the best parts. It was the failure of the private Spring Valley Water Company to maintain its pipes that helped doom firefighting efforts and that was a big factor in the passage of the Raker Act, which gave the city a public water system. Of course, the Raker Act also required us to run a public power system, which (as I’ve probably mentioned a time or two) has been blocked by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. all these years.

And this: The axes are falling with fury over at the Village Voice, where longtime Washington bureau chief Jim Ridgeway one of the top alternative press reporters in the country was canned the first week in April, and writer Jennifer Gonnerman resigned. Sydney Schanberg, the Pulitzer Prizewinning media columnist, had already left, and the Bush Blog had been canceled. All of this drew the attention of Democracy Now, which did a lengthy report April 13. They even got me out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to join the East Coast discussion. Somehow, though, nobody from the Phoenix-based New Times crew that just bought the Voice was available for comment. Chickens. >SFBG

For a full transcript, go to www.sfbg.com.

Faggots everywhere!


So I was falling out at promoter Scott Brown’s fave queer monthly Faggot at the former Daddy’s, now 440 Castro, last week (somebody slipped me a half-ate Payday bar, and I was using it to terrorize gaybots on their way to Bar on Castro down the street — needless to say the nutty goo got stuck in an overwrought fauxhawk and sashayed doe-like away) when doorboy of the moment Jacob Laurent lassoed me into a mutual admiration session with Jon Ginoli of Pansy Division. No sex, just love.

Payday means “faggot” in French, har har.


Jon’s and my affection from afar has blossomed ever since homocore kicked ass in the early ‘90s, though I lost touch a bit when P.D. went through their Green Day phase — oversize frat house fauxpunk fame makes my amour awfully itchy. Fortunately, the Pansy asses just released a 30-song retrospective that serves to remind me of the good, actually superb, ol’ days. But now that our teenaged dreams of circuit-music death and gym bunny submission to the power of rock ‘n roll (or at least electroclash) have been realized, does that mean old skool homocore is THE MAN IT MUST BE STUCK TO?

I’ll let you know when they stop putting fucking Madonna on the cover of Odyssey Magazine.

Meanwhile, Felecia Fellatio took the stage and did a rousing tribute version of “He Whipped My Ass at Tennis (So I Fucked His Ass in Bed).” Considering she could have cashed in on the current Boreback-Willie-Nelson-meets-iTunes-stoked fever for “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other,” I thought it was mighty ballsy of her. But then anyone who’s seen Felecia in a tennis skirt knows she’s pretty ballsy already…

(doozy of a photo by Guillermo Torres)

Inside the belly of the dog



Homeland Security asked the usual dumb questions when I slapped my passport on the counter: what countries did you visit? Business or pleasure? The laser page did not trigger any alarms yet. I advanced to the carrousel to pick up my luggage. My suitcase had burst apart in Mexico City, spilling incriminating documents all over the terminal floor. Now it came down the ramp swaddled in plastic. As I reached to pull it off, all hell broke loose bells began to clang, buzzers burped jerkily, strobe lights flashed crazily on and off, and an automated voice on the intercom kept repeating “this is an emergency walk do not run to the nearest exit.”

I did not walk, nor did anyone else in the San Francisco International arrivals terminal. We were under terrorist attack! The twin towers were coming down upon us! Young and old, some in wheelchairs even, stampeded for the sliding doors, luggage carts tipping, travelers stumbling, elbowing each other in their mad rush to escape as customs inspectors implored us to return to have our suitcases checked for contraband once the emergency had subsided. No one in his or her right mind ever did.

Meanwhile, the escapees kept jostling and tumbling and the bells and buzzers and whistles and lights kept yowling their siren song. Yow! Burrrp! Pow! It was like a Saturday morning kids’ cartoon.

Of course, in the end, the terrorist turned out be some poor schmuck caught smoking in the men’s room.

It was a prescient re-introduction to the land where my father croaked. My month inside the belly of the Dog was kind of like a perpetual cartoon. I often felt like poor Bob Hoskins surrounded by a world full of Roger Rabbits. Cartoons were, in fact, motoring worldwide mayhem. Bim! Baff! Boff! The irreverent Danish magazine Jyllns Posten had published a dozen blasphemous cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in one, he wore a turban with a bomb in it, in another the Messenger of Allah was depicted as a pig (the magazine had reportedly turned down caricatures of Jesus Christ as being in poor taste.) The publication of the cartoons had opened the scab of Islamic wrath and the Muslim world was on a murderous rampage from Indonesia to well, Khartoum.

The religious leaders of 57 Islamic nations meeting in Mecca declared fatwa and jihad on the infidel Danes and their damned cheese. In Tehran, a smirking Ahmadinejad announced big-money competition for cartoons of the Holocaust (he doesn’t believe it happened) and spurious drawings appeared in Europe of Anne Frank in the sack with Adolph while she scribbles in her diary.

The Christian anti-Muslim cartoon backlash tumbled Muhammad’s rating to an all-time low in U.S. polls. The New York Times Style section reported that rebel youth were jumping out of the djalabahs and into “extreme Christian clothing.” In Nigeria, Christians slaughtered their Muslim brethren, daubing “Jesus Christ Is The Lord” on mosque walls in their victims’ blood.

Then came the anti-Christian, anti-Muslim cartoon backlash. Churches were neatly stenciled with icons equating the cross to the Swastika in Santa Cruz (Holy Cross) California. And to close the circle, three white boys in Alabama took the crusade a step up and just burned the tabernacles down to the ground.

If you don’t think our nation is being devoured by religious psychosis, consider two recent Supreme Court decisions. Just the other day, the Supremes voted unanimously, with Justice Roberts on board, to uphold the right of a religious cult to guzzle potions brewed from the hallucinogenic Amazonian root Ayahuasca while they gabbed with god. Last summer, that court, with Sandra Day O’Connor still in place, voted to deny brain tumor victims medical marijuana to ease their agonies.

The ultimate cartoon was Cheney plugging his hunting partner in the ticker just like good ol’ Elmer Fudd. Ping! Pong! Blamblam! Senator Lindsey Graham, who shares a similar war-mongering dementia with the veep, reports that Dick Cheney told him that killing small birds kept him “sane.” Blap! Splat! Shazam! The late night joke mongers had a ball with the caper: “This Just In! We’ve learned that Vice President Cheney tortured his hunting partner for an hour before he shot him!” Yuk! Yuk! Did you hear the one about the CIA agent caught rifling housewives’ panty drawers during working hours in Virginia (you could look it up)? Yok! Yok! The U.S. teaming up with Iran to keep Gays out of the United Nations? Tweet! Tweet! Bird flu in of all places, Turkey (and Iraq)? Kaplooey!

Elmer and Daffy Duck scoot off into the sunset and the screen rolls up into a little round porthole where Bugs is cackling, “th-th-th-the-that’s all folks!”


The problem is that that’s not all folks, and this may be loony tunes but it certainly isn’t merry melodies. These bastards are for real and it’s not really very funny. The title of Lillian Hellman’s slim volume on how HUAC hounded her and Hammitt is an insufficient one to describe these scum and their perverted torture war.

Every day the Seattle Times runs a few inches slugged “Terrorism Digest.” Aside from the usual shorts on Moussaoui, a rumored attack during March Madness, and an elderly ice cream truck driver in Lodi California who is accused of planning to blow up skyscrapers in Hollywood, most of the news is not about terrorism at all but rather the torture of alleged terrorists, perhaps tens of thousands of them in secret torture chambers hidden away in U.S. client states like Bulgaria and Morocco.

Here’s one. Ali Shakal Kaisi was the hooded man on the box with the electric cables snaking from his limbs, the poster boy for the abuse at Abu Ghraib. The photo is now on his business card. Originally, he was arrested for complaining to occupation troops about throwing their garbage on a soccer field in his Baghdad neighborhood. The Pentagon, in a display of perhaps the most hideous chutzpah in the Guinness Book of Records, refuses to comment on Mr. Khaisi’s case because it would “a violation of his Geneva Convention rights.”

Connoisseurs concede that Bush et al (heretofore to be referred to as “the scum”) have added some innovative techniques to Torquemada’s little catalogue of horrors. The reoccurring sexual pathology is disturbing. One accused Jihadist at Gitmo was wrapped in an Israeli flag and forced to watch gay porn 24 hours a day by military interrogators who passed themselves off as the FBI. Sadistic commandants shove feeding tubes up the nose of hunger strikers and rip them out roughly as the men piss and shit all over themselves while restrained in what Rumsfeld euphemistically describes as “a rolling padded cell.”

Why are these men being tortured? We learn from 5,000 pages of heavily-blacked-out military depositions released on court order to the Associated Press that at least three were detained because they wore Cassio F91W watches that have compasses on their face pointing to Mecca. “But our chaplains here all wear the same watch” protested one detainee.

All of this pain and suffering is being orchestrated in the much shat-upon name of freedom, the “freedom” as Sub Marcos puts it, “to choose between the carrot and the stick.” You know, as in “free elections” Iraq’s three fraudulent elections that have led to massive bloodshed in that benighted land being the role models. But elections are not “free” when the Bushwas don’t win, like Hammas and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez and most probably, Lopez Obrador in Mexico this July. Maybe free elections are not such a hot idea after all.

The third anniversary of this despicable war is only days away as I write these scabrous lines. Extrapoutf8g the Lancet study, it is probable that 150,000 Iraqis have been crucified in this infernal crusade. The 2,300 or so GIs who died with their boots on fill just a few slabs in the charnel house Bush has built in Iraq.

I suppose the up side is that two thirds of those Yanquis surveyed think he is a liar and a baby killer but many more will have to fall before the infidels are finally run off. Clearly, the resistance is working on it. Blowing the Golden Dome sky-high was a malevolent stroke of genius by the terroristas to incite sectarian (not civil) war, a scenario designed to foil the White House’s scheme to pull out of this treacherous quicksand and start bombing before the body bags queer the November elections.

Will it work? Shia death squads operating out of the Interior ministry are kidnapping dozens of Sunnis every day now and hanging them for public consumption. We can expect roadside gibbets next. The imminent spread of Shia-Sunni hostilities into neighboring oil lands has Washington biting its nails. We’re talking $100 a barrel here.

Sasha has a Skype pen pal in Baghdad, call her Fatima. She is a medical-science professor at the University, a middle class, somewhat secular woman who lives in a high rise in a mixed neighborhood. She writes when there is power and an Internet connection the last three generator operators on the block have been shot dead. Her absence on the screen is always a cause for alarm. Fatima says she no longer sits writing in her window to take advantage of daylight because she is afraid of being hit by a stray bullet. I am forever amazed how concerned she is for us. Last week, she wrote “I am sorry my dear for not writing. I am ok but I am more afraid than before. Things are going from bad to very bad.” If we never hear from Fatima again, the blood will be on George Bush’s hands.

Is George Bush impeachable? He has committed multiple felonies in spying on 350,000 unsuspecting citizens without a court order, a stain on the Constitution and way beyond the pale of even Nixonian paranoia. He sold the country an illegal war based on shameless perjury in collusion with oil barons and defense contractors who have grown obscenely fat on the blood of the Iraqi people.

And he sought to sell off vital U.S. ports to “Arab terrorists”! Or at least that’s what his fellow Republicans seem to perceive. Fanning the fumes of anti-Arab racism has come back to bite Bush and the corporate globalizers of the planet on the ass. Who does Bill Frist think was operating these ports up until now? The bloody Brits, that’s who! This is Globalization, Savage Capitalism, Dog eat Dog. It’s the American Way. What do you know about Sheik Mo? Vital elements of the food chain (Church’s Chicken and Caribou Coffee for example) have already fallen into the hands of “Arab terrorists.”

Where was I? The Bill of Particulars, right? I’m sorry it’s my birthday and I’m on a vent fueled by the one good thing about this country, Humboldt County sinsemilla.

George Bush guilty of nuclear proliferation! What else would you call giving India enough fissionable material to blow a hole in China and Pakistan?

George Bush guilty of blatant racism and incalculable callousness, strumming his guitar while the levees were bursting down in New Orleans, an interval much like the goat story on 9/11 of which Osama has reminded us in a recent communique. J’accuse George Bush!

Will a mush-minded congress apparently dosed to the gills on Ambien, the new sleepwalking (and sleep voting) wonder drug, vote to impeach? “Que se vayan todos!” the cry of the 2002 Argentinazo, “that they should all be kicked out” is an anthem for our time.


I’ve spent the last month sleeping in Seattle. Daytimes, I’ve churned out tens of thousands of words on my soon-to-be-published-if-it-ever-gets-finished opus, “Making Another World Possible: Zapatista Chronicles 2000-2006.”

Seattle has spectral vistas but at heart, it is a city without a soul. It has been bitterly cold here, the wind whipping off Puget Sound like The Hawk off Lake Michigan. A sullen rain falls most days. When the sun comes out in Seattle, they say the suicide rate goes up because people can’t deal with the brightness.

I have been lucky to have had Sasha’s cozy room and half to hole up in. A lot of people in this city don’t even have a roof over their head. Old men sleep rough in Pioneer Square these freezing nights, young tramps camp out under the bushes up here on Cap Hill. There’s a Hooverville under the Viaduct.

The merchants don’t care much for all these deranged pariahs dragging around ragged sleeping bags like batman capes or curled up in fetal positions in one of Starbuck’s many doorways. Seattle has more pressing matters on its mind. Howard (Starbuck’s) Schultz is threatening to move the Sonics if he doesn’t get a new arena free of charge from the city. Then there is Bill and Melissa, the world’s wealthiest nation.

This is a smug city that has grown soft and wealthy on the backs of software billionaires, where no one gives a damn about anything that is not on a screen. The Stranger ran the Muhammad cartoons and no one flinched. The next week, the paper ran a feature on a man who was fucked to death by a horse. Again, no one flinched. Meanwhile, the homeless are dying out there in the street.

On Valentine’s Day, Sasha and I died in on the City Hall steps she was the 50th victim to have died on the streets of Seattle in 2005. I was the 53rd. The Raging Grannies died in with us. I dedicated my dying to the spirit of Lucky Thompson, who recorded with Miles and Bird and spent his twilight years sleeping in Seattle parks. Seattle has a way of damaging its black geniuses. Octavia Butler, the towering writer of “conjectural fiction” whose work hones in on race and class like a laser, fell down the steps of her home here a few weeks ago. She lived alone she always lived alone and no one found her until she was dead. There is a statue of Jimi Hendrix right down the street.

What’s been good is watching Sasha blossom as an organizer. She’s been busy 25 hours a day putting together the visit of Eman Khammas, a courageous Iraqi journalist who speaks to the plight of women in Bush’s genocidal war. I saw Khammas last summer at the Istanbul War Crimes Tribunal and she is a firebrand speaker. Eman is part of the Women Say No To War tour put together by Global Exchange, two members of the delegation who had lost their families to the occupation, were denied visas because they did not have enough family left to “compel” their return to Iraq.

On the third anniversary of this madness March 18th, Eman Khammas will be a speaker at the march and rally set for the Seattle Federal building. That evening, she will talk at greater length at Trinity Methodist Church in the Ballard district. The kick-ass rebel singer Jim Page will open. No one turned away. Some of the moneys raised will go to the Collateral Repair Project (www.collateralrepairproject.org) which Sasha and her pal Sarah have created to help out the family of Mahmoud Chiad, an ambulance driver in al-Qaim who was gunned down by Bush’s crusaders October 1st, the first day of Operation Iron Fist in al-Ambar province, as he raced to aid victims of the massacre. There’s a widow and six kids, and Collateral Repair hopes to buy them a piece of land and some goats.

So I’m in the air back to Make Sicko City. The globalphobes are acting out at the World Water (Privatizers) Forum, which kicks off this week and when last heard from, Sub Marcos was trying to break into a prison in Guanajuato. I’ve got to finish this damn book in the next six weeks.

And Sasha and I? Who knows? I wear her name on a grain of rice around my neck and her door key is still wedged deep in my pocket and maybe it will open her heart to me again someday. We met in Baghdad with Bush’s bombs on the way and the bottom line is that we continue to fight this heinous war together. That’s good too.

John Ross has landed. But these articles will continue to be issued at 10-day intervals until “Making Another World Possible” is done. The deadline is May 1st. “Making Another World Possible” will be available at cost to Blindman Buff subscribers this fall.






"You sound like such an old fogey when you go on about ‘the club kids.’ And how you do go on," hissed a perfectly middle-aged acquaintance sporting a ginormous fun-fur cap with big floppy ears sewn on. Oof. It was bad enough I was frittering my nightlife away at yet another no-host-bar art opening while half my friends were at the GayVN Awards (the "Oscars of gay porn") in LA, another bunch were rocking out at South by Southwest in Austin, and the rest were sunning their itchy waxes in Miami at the Winter Music Conference. But old fogey? What the heck’s a fogey? Isn’t it a talking rooster?

My first fightin’ instinct was to read the poor queer back so far she’d need a history book just to take a shit. "And you use Raid for hair spray, byotch," leapt to my quivering lips. But my yawp was too stuffed full of free hors d’oeuvres to get barbaric, and besides, she had a little point.

Mmm … this Belgian endive–smoked crab salad canapé is delicious.

Whether owing to political parallels, restless scene malaise, or just a primal yearning for glamour, the kids who scraped their way into Bush I–era seminotoriety using only the power of platforms and a killer makeup kit have somehow staged a resurgence. (Whatever else it was, the last decade of club life was decidedly unglamorous. Big pants, little purses, and sideways haircuts on everyone is not glamorous, peeps.) So many sort of famous freaks are squeaking out of the woodwork, it’s like Night of the Living Drugged or something.

"We’re baaack!" squeals the outright leader of SF’s club kid renaissance, Astroboy Jim. "If you’re gonna bring ’80s music back, you better make room for the club kids with it." Already his Endup monthly Revolutionary has shipped in the likes of Lady Miss Kier, Amanda Le Pore, Cazwell, Corey Sleazemore, and Tommy Sunshine (that licentious LA messy-mess with a bullhorn, Alexis Arquette, predictably flaked), and it certainly helps that his resident DJ is old-skool Manhattan heartthrob Keoki, who — owing to a 1993 Club USA Tour incident involving two seven-foot-tall drag queens, an unmarked white van, and a supermarket snack tray — will always be known affectionately to me as "baloney fingers." Don’t ask.

But it isn’t all tired-smile retread — Astroboy’s made room for supastars of a more modern ilk as well. This weekend’s Revolutionary is cohosted by Jeffree Star, a mesmerizing creature who owes his outsize fame wholly to the Internet, specifically MySpace. Microsoft can make you famous! With five million profile views a month, this "living mannequin" is second only to that other fabulous fame-for-fame’s-sake strumpet Tila Tequila, featured this month on the cover of one-handed frat-boy mag Stuff, who clocks in at eight million. Many of you are raising your whoop-de-do eyebrows right now. Would that Jeffree had eyebrows left to raise with you! He’s a gorgeous little sprite, and already his fame’s had a dark side. A couple weeks ago some haters hacked into his profile and spewed violently sickening homophobic bit barf all over it, forcing Jeffree to alert the FBI and pull a Salman Rushdie, hiding out at an undisclosed location. She’s wanted! SF is the only safe place for Jeffree’s curiously immobile face, it seems.

Also at Revolutionary this week, red-hot ‘twixt-vixen Miss Guy, best known for fronting gender-thrash legends the Toilet Boys (and backing everybody else), will rock the wobbly tables, providing a vital link from late-’80s VIP hoo-ha through late-’90s nihilistic indoor pyrotechnics to the virtual fabulism of the present. Viva los kidz, because we sure as hell ain’t going away yet. *


With Jeffree Star and DJs Miss Guy and Keoki, Sat/1

First Saturdays, 10 p.m.–6 a.m.

The Endup

401 Sixth St., SF

$20 ($15 before midnight)

(415) 646-0999







In the transgender community, to have full-time work is to be in the minority. In fact, a new survey of 194 trans people conducted by the Transgender Law Center (TLC), with support from the Guardian, found that only one out of every four respondents has a full-time job. Another 16 percent work part-time.

What’s more, 59 percent of respondents reported an annual salary of less than $15,333. Only 4 percent reported making more than $61,200, which is about the median income in the Bay Area.

In other words, more than half of local transgender people live in poverty, and 96 percent earn less than the median income. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that 40 percent of those surveyed don’t even have a bank account.

TLC doesn’t claim the study is strictly scientific — all respondents were identified through trans organizations or outreach workers. But the data give a fairly good picture of how hard it is for transgender people to find and keep decent jobs, even in the city that is supposed to be most accepting of them.

It’s been more than a decade since San Francisco expanded local nondiscrimination laws to cover trans people, but transphobic discrimination remains rampant. Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents said they’ve experienced some form of employment discrimination.

And interviews show that job woes are hardly straightforward.

Navigating the job-application process after a gender transition can be extraordinarily difficult. Trans people run up against fairly entrenched biases about what kind of work they’re suited for. Sometimes those who are lucky enough to find work can’t tolerate insensitive, or even abusive, coworkers.

Marilyn Robinson turned tricks for almost 20 years before she decided to look for legal employment. She got her GED and, eventually, a job at an insurance company. The first six months went OK, but then a supervisor "thought he had the right to call me RuPaul," she told us. "And I look nothing like RuPaul." Suddenly the women in the office refused to use the bathroom if Robinson was around. She left within a month.

Once again, Robinson was on the job hunt. She interviewed for a receptionist position, and thought it went well. But on her way out, she saw the interviewer toss her application into the trash with a giggle.

"The reality is, even a hoagie shop in the Castro — they might not hire you," she said.

Still, many activists say the increased attention being paid to trans employment issues is promising.

Cecelia Chung from the Transgender Law Center told us there’s a "silver lining" in the effort the "community is putting into really changing the playing field. We’re in a really different place than we were five years ago."

Activists say true progress will require broad education efforts and the cooperation of business owners throughout the Bay Area. But the project is well under way, with San Francisco Transgender Empowerment, Advocacy and Mentorship, a trans collaborative, hosting its second annual Transgender Job Fair March 22. More than a dozen employers have signed up for the fair, including UCSF, Goodwill Industries, and Bank of America.


Imagine trying to find a job with no references from previous employers. Now envision how it might feel to have interviewer after interviewer look at you askance — or even ask if you’ve had surgery on a fairly private part of your body.

These are just a couple of the predicaments trans job-seekers face.

Kenneth Stram runs the Economic Development Office at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. "In San Francisco there are the best intentions," he told us. "But when you scratch the surface, there are all these procedural hurdles that need to be addressed." As examples, he pointed to job-training classes where fellow students may act hostile, or arduous application processes.

Giving a prospective employer a reference may seem like a fairly straightforward task, but what if your old employer knew an employee of a different gender? Do you call the old boss and announce your new identity? Even if he or she is supportive, experience can be hard to erase. Will the manager who worked with Jim be able to speak convincingly about Jeanine? And what about your work history — should you eliminate the jobs where you were known as a different gender?

Most trans people can’t make it through the application process without either outing themselves or lying.

Marcus Arana decided to face this issue head-on and wrote about his transition from living as a woman to living as a man in his cover letter.

"It became a matter of curiosity," Arana told us. "I would have employers ask about my surgical status."

It took him a year and a half to find a job. Fortunately, it’s one he loves. Arana investigates most complaints of gender identity–related discrimination that are made to San Francisco’s city government. (Another investigator handles housing-oriented complaints.)

When he started his job, in 2000, about three quarters of the complaints Arana saw were related to public accommodations — a transwoman had been refused service at a restaurant, say, or a bank employee had given a cross-dressing man grief about the gender listed on his driver’s license.

Today, Arana told us, at least half of the cases he looks into are work-related — something he attributes to both progress in accommodations issues and stagnation on the job front.

TG workers, he said, confront two common problems: resistance to a changed name or pronoun preference and controversy over which bathroom they use.

The name and pronoun problems can often be addressed through sensitivity training, though Arana said that even in the Bay Area, it’s not unheard of for some coworkers to simply refuse to alter how they refer to a trans colleague.

Nine out of ten bathroom issues concern male-to-female trans folk — despite the fact that the police department has never gotten a single report of a transwoman harassing another person in a bathroom. One complaint Arana investigated involved a woman sticking a compact mirror under a bathroom stall in an effort to see her trans coworker’s genitalia.

But a hostile workplace is more often made up of dozens of subtle discomforts rather than a single drama-filled incident.

Robinson told us the constant whispering of "is that a man?" can make an otherwise decent job intolerable: "It’s why most of the girls — and I will speak for myself — are prostitutes. Because it’s easier."

The second and third most common forms of work-related discrimination cited by respondents in the TLC survey were sexual harassment and verbal harassment.

But only 12 percent of those who reported discrimination also filed some kind of formal complaint. That may be because of the widespread feeling that doing so can make it that much harder to keep a job — or find another one. Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, in Washington, DC, said that "it’s a common understanding within the transgender community that when you lose your job, you generally lose your career."


Most of the trans people we spoke to expressed resentment at being tracked into certain jobs — usually related to health care or government.

Part of that is because public entities have been quicker to adopt nondiscriminatory policies. San Francisco city government created a splash in 2001 when it granted trans employees access to full health benefits, including sex-reassignment surgery. The University of California followed suit last year.

But it’s also because of deeply ingrained prejudices about what kind of work transgender people are suited to.

Claudia Cabrera was born in Guatemala but fled to the Bay Area in 2000 to get away from the constant insults and occasional violence that befell her. Despite her education in electrical engineering and business and 13 years of tech work, it was difficult for her to find a job — even after she was granted political asylum. In 2002 a local nonprofit she had originally turned to for help offered her a position doing outreach within the queer community.

Cabrera doesn’t make much money, and she sends some of it back to her two kids in Guatemala. But that’s not the only reason she would like another job. She wants to have broader responsibilities and to employ her tech savvy.

"There is a stereotype here in San Francisco [that] transgender folk are only good for doing HIV work — or just outreach in general," she said.

Whenever she’s gotten an interview for another kind of job, she’s been told she is overqualified. Does she believe that’s why she hasn’t been hired? "No," she laughed. But she also acknowledged, "Even though there is discrimination going on here, this is the safest city for me to be in."

Cabrera is now on the board of TLC and is working to create more job opportunities for herself and others in the trans community. She often repeats this mantra: "As a transsexual woman, I am not asking for anything that doesn’t belong to me. I am demanding my rights to live as a human being." *


March 22

1–4 p.m.

SF LGBT Community Center, Ceremonial Room

1800 Market, SF

(415) 865-5555




True grits


Punk doesn’t get much more soulful – or outta hand – than Beth Ditto. After watching her tear up the stage at Bottom of the Hill, pulling her enraptured audience members up to dance and taking on "I Wanna Be Your Dog," I shouldn’t have been surprised to find myself chasing the Gossip vocalist down for a phone interview over the course of days, hooking up at the absolute last second. I, like all her other fans, wanna be led around on a leash by the baby-faced diva from Searcy, Ark.

On the line from Portland, Ore., late on a recent midweek evening, Ditto proves that she gives just as good phone as she does soul-stirring performance. Fresh from viewing The Exorcism of Emily Rose ("It was an advertisement for Gambutrol as much as it was an ad for the Catholic Church – they only said it every other sentence!"), Ditto is so winning, earthy, and outright fun in conversation you completely forget about the terrors that came with getting in touch with her in the first place. Runaround – what runaround? I’d much rather get the scoop on Ditto; guitarist Nathan Howdeshell, 26; and their new drummer, Hannah Blilie, 24 (Shoplifting).

"I’m such a grandma," the 24-year-old Ditto says disarmingly. "I’m no good after 11. I got my face off, my glasses on, bra’s off, and my tits are sagging."

SFBG: Were you into punk rock early on?

Beth Ditto: I really identified a lot with Mama Cass. I really like Wizard of Oz. My mom listened to Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd and my dad listened to a lot of Patsy Cline, Kool and the Gang, and the Bee Gees. And, of course, there was a lot of gospel music around. I was a choir kid.

SFBG: How did you come to riot grrrl?

BD: I was a feminist before I was a riot grrrl. I just hated so many things about the world, growing up, in elementary school, my stepdads, and I thought it was annoying how irresponsible they were. I got sick of that. I heard the word feminist, and I thought that’s what I am. I was 13. I did my seventh grade speech on Gloria Steinem.

SFBG: Now the Gossip are huge in the queer music community.

BD: I think the first time it dawned on me was a few months ago, when I realized that people are listening to Gossip records the way I used to listen to Bikini Kill and Need records. That’s crazy because now when I go out to a party, there’s at least one drunk girl who will stop me and talk about that.

SFBG: Do you feel any pressure?

BD: Those are my people. I feel more pressure from the music industry to be more straight-laced or be more thin or to be more toned down. The hardest part is definitely the pressure to be something I’m not.

SFBG: What about your fat activism – has that become more challenging?

BD: The bigger we get the more challenging it is. No pun intended. I think it is hard now because we’re dealing with people who have no fucking idea who Nomy Lamm is, people who have no idea what fat activism is. They don’t have a smidgen of an idea, which tells me they haven’t even dabbled in anything remotely punk or feminist or political. I have my shit figured out, and you realize you live in a bubble with people you think, or hope, have your back.

SFBG: Who turned out to be clueless, in your experience?

BD: People who do your makeup and hair at photo shoots, for fucking sure! Clueless! Not all of them but a lot of them! I can’t have someone do my makeup if they don’t know who I’m talking about if they ask me if I have any ideas and I can’t say, "Debbie Harry ’79" or "Divine the last scene in Female Trouble." If they look at me and say, "Who’s Divine …?" It doesn’t make you a bad person, but I don’t think you should be doing my makeup.

SFBG: What did you want to accomplish with Standing in the Way of Control?

BD: We had a goal of finishing it. We hadn’t put out a record since 2003. Our old drummer was busy all the time. It was obvious that her heart wasn’t in music anymore – she wanted to be a midwife, and she was in school all the time. We toured very seldomly, and we had to say no to all these things we wanted to do.

SFBG: Will you be touring now?

BD: That’s where I’ll be for the next year – on the road, in a van. I’m excited about the West Coast and Europe, but separately – I can definitely not do three months consecutively again. Time home is really important for me. My best friend just pointed out to me, "Beth, you need to be grounded." By grounded, she means being around all of my shoes instead of 10 pair. It drives me crazy. And all of my makeup. I need to be around all of my clothes. Leaving my sweetie [Freddie Fagula] is really hard.

SFBG: How many pairs of shoes do you have? That’s very Imelda-like.

BD: I know it is! I don’t know. Sometimes I’m afraid to know. I’m a high punk femme!

SFBG: Any good gossip?

BD: I burnt some oatmeal cookies. I cook with meat. I’m so meat-and-potatoes – I was raised so Southern. I make chicken and dumplings and cornbread and biscuits and gravy. When it comes to vegetarian things, I’m not a good cook, but I will sure eat the hell out of it.

I had this one person in a band say to me once – we were going out to eat somewhere – "Do you guys eat meat?" I said, "I’ll eat anything. I’ll eat dirt." And he turned around and looked at me and said, "Well, meat is murder." And I said, "No fucking shit! Just turn around and drive the car!" Like I didn’t live in Olympia for four years. "Oh, thanks, you’re really clueing me in." This particular person was just so self-righteous.

SFBG: What did you think of Walk the Line?

BD: Being Arkansan, my Aunt Mary picked cotton with Johnny Cash when they were kids. She used to say to my mom, "Well. He ain’t much. He just that old Cash boy."

Third time’s a charm


It says so right there in the bio: A rock album that all others will be judged against this year was recorded in the same spot where Lionel Ritchie created "Dancing on the Ceiling."

Bear Creek Studios no longer has so much to answer for. To others, that name may conjure visions of an ex-Commodore tripping the light Astaire-style on some drywall. To me, it’s now known as the birthplace of Standing in the Way of Control (Kill Rock Stars).

In my household, up until now, the word on the Gossip has been that their recordings don’t catch the wildfire of their live shows. When Beth Ditto and company first toured the United States with Sleater-Kinney, Ditto was already hinting she could make punk’s great siren of the ’90s sound small, but you wouldn’t find proof in the pinched, monochromatic quality of the 2001 debut album, That’s Not What I Heard, on which each track largely resembled the one before or after it.

The first big hint of a difference came with 2003’s Movement. Some people think its songs aren’t as strong, but the first things I noticed were that the drums had more kick, Ditto’s voice didn’t sound like it had been shrunk by a cramped studio and crappy mic, and the ballad "Yesterday’s News" showed her blues were getting deeper and darker. C’mon, I thought. Bring it.

Then, early last fall, I walked from Bimbo’s 365 Club’s lush lobby into the main room and saw and heard the Gossip that you’ll find on their amazing new album. Ditto had ditched the swirl ’do and basic black fashions for shoulder-length straight hair and a striped, strapless dress. Together with guitarist Nathan Howdeshell and excellent new drummer Hannah Blilie, Ditto launched into what I now know is the title track, and it was obvious from the bumptious hooks and beats that the Gossip were communicating with post-punk disco’s rawest queer spirits, both alive (ESG) and dead (Arthur Russell). This was a band reborn.

Except "born again" doesn’t quite fit the Gossip, who’ve been true believers in a lot of great things like the power of a woman who says what she wants to say and does what she wants to do from day one of their life in the Arkansas swamplands. Strong enough to initially work over both Olympia labels that begin with a K, their guitar-drums-voice approach may have owed some spare change to the Spinanes, or come across as the fun flipside of Heavens to Betsy’s extreme angst, but when it first hit town, you best believe it scorched Fifth Avenue, Washington Street, and the heartless Martin.

Standing in the Way of Control isn’t rocket science just a recording by Guy Picciotto, of Fugazi, that finally captures the sweaty, untamed energy of Ditto and company in concert, letting you start your own dance party whenever and wherever. With a band this great this alive that’s no small feat. The strut of Ditto’s voice is lighter and there’s more snare happening in the rhythms. On "Listen Up!" a cowbell kicks in behind her as she schools children: "There’s some people that you just can’t trust … on the playground, you learn so much."

Ditto’s awesome voice is a source of pure energy and uplift there’s something wonderful about the way it acquires a razor’s edge as it reaches higher on a ferocious anthem like "Yr Mangled Heart." Yet while she sounds upbeat, her words on these songs are haunted. The title track’s stance of defiance amid the everyday-and-endless brainwash bullshit of the Bush era is typically stressed-out.

One song later, on the somewhat Romeo Void<\d>ish "Jealous Girls," Ditto’s wrestling with a feeling that kills girl love and doing so in way that goes beyond sloganeering she explores the pain of the emotion, and the paths that lead to and away from it, before tacking a declaration of independence ("No matter what the price, they can’t take me") to a chugga-chugga finale.

"Coal to Diamonds" could almost be a ballad by the Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas from its empty nighttime atmosphere to its sudden, bereft ending. Even if the instrumentation doesn’t move beyond thrift-punk sparseness to include a string arrangement, Ditto is still more than equipped to carry the song on her own. One thing is for sure: There isn’t a more powerful or charismatic frontwoman frontperson in rock these days. Karen O? Please. Frankly, Ditto could teach most of today’s slick R&B ladies with the exception of Mary J. and Keyshia how to go rage as they race up and down the scales.

At the moment, the Gossip have 4,305 friends on MySpace. That number is about to grow. Listening to Standing in the Way of Control, I can only back up what one of those friends has to say: "It even got the little hair on the back of my neck dancin’."


With Numbers, Tussle, and Dynasty Handbag

Jan. 27, 9:30 p.m.

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF


(415) 474-0365

Glamorous disease


 DO YOU LIKE  to celebrate Christmas? Do television commercials fill you with desire for the products advertised? Do you wear gender-appropriate clothing and hairstyles? Do you think everyone should have a job, get married, and have children? Have you ever laughed at someone for acting "weird"?

 If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might just be a neurotypical. The term, coined by autism and Asperger’s syndrome activists in the neurodiversity movement, is being used more and more within this community to describe the sort of person whose fixation on "normal" mental activity is tantamount to discrimination. As diagnoses of Asperger’s and autism skyrocket, especially among the most driven members of the scientific and arts communities, the idea that people whose minds work atypically are suffering from a terrible disease is starting to ring false. That’s why the non-neurotypicals are rebelling.

 At the Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical, a parody site that has lived since 1998 at isnt.autistics.org, a pissed-off autistic writes about the spreading problem of normal personality, which is "a neurobiological disorder characterized by preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority, and obsession with conformity."

 On Wikipedia you can find lists of famous people who have Asperger’s, including electronic music pioneer Gary Numan and Steven Spielberg. For anyone familiar with minority politics, it should be no surprise that there are also lists of people who might be non-neurotypical because they exhibit autistic traits. Bill Gates usually tops such lists. It reminds me of similar lists on queer rights Web sites, in which activists try to figure out which famous people might be gay.

 When BitTorrent programmer Bram Cohen came out last year as having Asperger’s, it was like a 1960s rock star saying he’d done LSD. His altered mental state became part of his allure, part of what inspires him to think creatively. Among the geekigentsia these days, you just aren’t glamorous unless you can lay claim to being a little obsessive-compulsive sometimes, or at least unable to engage in ordinary social interactions.

 In another era, non-neurotypicals would probably have been called eccentrics: notoriously weird but still lovable and socially useful. Nicola Tesla, who invented AC power and only ate food whose volume he had calculated before consuming it, would certainly have been one. Modernist poet Wallace Stevens, who wrote by dictating poems to his secretary at Hartford Insurance, would have been another. The novels of Charles Dickens are full of such characters. They’re weird but certainly not diseased, and they even have an honored place in their communities.

 Clearly, the neurodiversity movement is aiming at a similar kind of acceptance for autistics and Aspies. As someone who could hardly be accused of neurotypicality, I can’t say this isn’t a worthy goal. But there’s an important difference between celebrating eccentricity and glamorizing Asperger’s. Eccentricity describes a behavior, while Asperger’s is an identity.

 The non-neurotypicals may have taken the pathologizing sting out of the names for their conditions, but they’re still rallying around the words that doctors came up with to label them freaks. Even this strategy isn’t a bad one. I love it when epithets like queer become badges of pride; even better is when a term like hysterical, spawned by a sexist medical community hell-bent on suppressing women’s sexuality, gradually gets converted into a slang term for something that’s hilariously funny.

 But I must admit to a bit of a squicky feeling when people seek to define their entire identities in terms of one particular thing, whether that’s Asperger’s or femininity or being an alcoholic. I’m especially leery when that particular thing, in this case Asperger’s, becomes a kind of personality chic.

 The glamour of being non-neurotypical elides the very real issues people face when they suffer from full-blown neurological trauma. It also, in some sense, deprives people of the ability to take credit for their own behavior. Cohen’s considerable talent with the Python language becomes not a spectacular behavior but merely an outgrowth of being an Aspie. I guess what I’m saying is that I’d rather act eccentric than be non-neurotypical. The former lets me take responsibility for my weirdness, and the latter lets other people define me by it.

 Annalee Newitz (atypical@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who refuses to eat chocolate-covered garlic. Her column also appears in Metro, Silicon Valley’s weekly newspaper.

Cruisin’ for a bruisin’


EVER SINCE THAT fateful day on the family farm when our stud calf Beauregard threw me from his back and rammed me several times against a large oak, giving me one heck of a concussion, I knew I was destined to become a leather queen. I was only 11 at the time, and the options were few for actual experience, but dammit — if I couldn’t have the sex, then at least I’d have the outfits. “And what are you?” my innocent neighbors would ask when they opened their doors at Halloween. “I’m Freddie Mercury!” I’d reply with a wiggle of my little homemade chaps (Hefty bags and duct tape) for emphasis. And then they’d give me candy.

Nowadays everyone’s got to have at least one kinky fetish on their sexual resume — thanks, Madonna — yet often the men, women, and “other” of that twisted tribe known as the Leather Community still get a bad rap, especially among young gay club patrons. Part of this is fear, of course: Doesn’t all that pain hurt a little? And part of it is shame: The leather generation that came of age in the ’70s and ’80s has had to shoulder not just the burdens of age and rejection, but also a ridiculous cross between jealousy for living through the hedonistic homo heyday and blame for AIDS. And then, of course, there’s the primal terror of turning into one of those old men with cottage-cheese buttocks and a basketball belly who strut around the Eagle wearing nothing but rainbow flip-flops and a leash.

Oh sure, we’ll let them take us home and spank us on weeknights, but when we see them at the disco, we just shudder and throw shade.

In response, it seems, the leather queens closed ranks. No longer feeling welcome, they became a kind of secret society in the ’90s. Once-omnipresent social institutions like the Imperial Court of San Francisco and the Rainbow Motorcycle Club went underground ��� and, sadly, saw their profiles dwindle. Tight-knit contingents like Mama’s Family and the Men of Discipline sprang up, with their unique rituals and dress codes, shunning the clubs in favor of charity Golden Gate potlucks, cabaret fundraisers, and converted-garage play parties promoting safe-sex awareness. (Leatherfolk are all about the benefits, these days.) The sash circuit moved to the suburbs. Half the community morphed into bears. Even the dawn of the Internet connection only increased the generation gap.

But as the first Arab American leather hip-hop disco clubkid muppet queer San Francisco Drummer Boy 2001 (runner-up), I feel it’s my deep responsibility and honorable duty to reprazent my peeps in the hide. If there’s one thing my leather dad (love you, Ray) taught me, it’s respect, and if there’s another, it’s how to keep from passing out after hanging upside-down for 40 minutes. It’s time for all this nonsense to stop. This year may have seen three more local leather haunts — Loading Dock, My Place, and Club Rendez-Vous — close to become upscale, straight-type martini lounges; the baths are still outlawed; and creepy tweekers have invaded the sex clubs; but the leather lifestyle is still brilliant and vital, bouncing back up through the queer underground and swelling its ranks with curious alternaqueers and radical faeries, who fetishize being open-minded.

Today, the only places the whole queer community can come together regularly are our precious few leather bars. Daddy’s, Aunt Charlie’s, Marlena’s, and The Eagle have all undergone recent renaissances, fueled by a combo of renegade young promoters, indulgent owners, and a healthy new lust for the underground. Where else can beef and chicken meet? Not to mention old punks, baby dykes, hustlers, drag queens, bull daggers, grandpas, gymbots, ex-clones, Aberzombies, club kids, A-gays, bikers, circuit boiz, transgendered hotties, Log Cabin Republicans, and the odd closeted TV anchorman. It seems the more the mainstream media bleaches out our filthy abominations, the more we return to our fruitful past, when lust was the glue that held us together, and abomination was a kind of gang handshake. We may be more diverse than ever, but leather’s still our common ground.

Daddy’s. Daily, 9 a.m.-2 a.m., 440 Castro, SF. (415) 621-8732, www.daddysbar.com.

Marlena’s. Mon.-Fri., 3 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sat.-Sun., noon-2 a.m., 488 Hayes, SF. (415) 864-6672.

Aunt Charlie’s. Mon.-Fri., noon-2 a.m.; Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m.-2 a.m., 133 Turk, SF. (415) 441-2922, www.auntcharlieslounge.com.

The Eagle Tavern. Daily, noon-2 a.m., 398 12th St., SF. (415) 626-0880, www.sfeagle.com.

E-mail Marke B. at superego@sfbg.com.




San Francisco Bay Guardian, 1998-10-07, v33-n01 – 01alerts

Save Ward Valley!

Wednesday, Oct. 7, the Colorado River Native Nations Alliance and the Ward Valley Coalition sponsor a protest march to save Ward Valley, sacred Indian land, endangered species, and the Colorado River from a planned nuclear waste dump. Noon, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 75 Hawthorne, S.F. To volunteer, call Greenaction (415) 566-3475, BAN Waste (415) 752-8678, or the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe/Colorado River Native Nations Alliance (760) 629-4591.

‘Critical Video’

Thursday, Oct. 8, The Bay Area Video Activist Network sponsors “Critical Video,” an evening of videos about the rapid growth of the prison-industrial complex and how people are resisting. The feature presentation will be Lockdown USA, a production of Deep Dish Television. 8:30 p.m., Artists’ Television Access, 992 Valencia, S.F. $5 requested donation but no one turned away. (415) 824-3890.

School board
candidates forum

Thursday, Oct. 8, Parent Advocates for Youth sponsor a Board of Education forum to find out where candidates stand on issues like fiscal oversight, school safety, and privatization. All 13 candidates have been invited to participate. 7 p.m., California State Building, 505 Van Ness, S.F. (415) 641-4362.

Clinton exposed

Friday, Oct. 9, Compañeros del Barrio and Socialist Action present “10 Real Reasons to Oppose the Clinton Presidency.” 7:30 p.m., 3425 Cesar Chavez, S.F. $3 donation; $1.50 for students, unemployed people, and retirees. (415) 821-0458.

‘The Last Front’

Friday, Oct. 9–Sunday, Oct. 11, students, educators, and activists gather at S.F. State to learn about and organize against the privatization of public institutions, including the police, welfare, housing, government, public education, and prisons. The program begins on Friday with “tours of the privatizing campus” and continues all weekend with panels, workshops, and exhibits. San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway, S.F. To register, call (415) 826-2850, e-mail lastfront@mailexcite.com, or visit userwww.sfsu.edu/~wolfsonj/welcome.htm

Protest privatization

Friday, Oct. 9, in conjunction with “The Last Front” conference, a protest of the corporatization of public education is being held outside the Marriot, where Steve Forbes, Pete Wilson, and Milton Friedman will be among legislators and business executives meeting to discuss corporate America’s agenda. 5:30 p.m., Marriott Hotel, 55 Fourth St., S.F. (415) 826-2450.

Fundraiser for Prop. G

Saturday, Oct. 10, the Queer Tenants Union, in conjunction with Housing for All, hosts a benefit for Proposition G, featuring Karlin Lotney, a.k.a. Fairy Butch, Joan Jett-Blakk, Joel Tan, author of Queer Papi Porn, and Reginald Lamar, singer and performance artist. 7:30 p.m., Metropolitan Community Church, 150 Eureka, S.F. (415) 552-6031.

Bad Business

Saturday, Oct. 10, Economic Justice Now!, POCLAD, and the Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community host a conversation with Richard Grossman, codirector of the Program on Corporations, on “Reckoning with the Corporate Insurgency Against Democracy.” 7 p.m., Unitarian Universalist Center, 1187 Franklin, S.F. $812 sliding scale, no one turned away. (510) 601-5512. 

Mail Alerts to the Bay Guardian, 520 Hampshire, S.F., CA 94110; fax to (415) 255-8762; or e-mail cassi@sfbg.com. Please include a contact telephone number. Items must be received at least one week prior to publication date. Call (415) 255-3100, ext. 552, for more information. For more events, see the Benefits listings in the Calendar section or visit the Bay Guardian Action Network on the Web at sfbg.com/action/.