TIFF diary #2: dead cheerleaders + Tsai, Hong, and Breillat


Check out the first entry in Jesse Hawthorne Ficks’ Toronto International Film Festival diary here, and stay tuned for more tomorrow!

All Cheerleaders Die (USA) is the follow up to Lucky McKee’s attention-grabbing The Woman (2011), which stunned Sundance audiences with both its subversive take on gender issues and its violent brutality.

Taking a much lighter tone with co-director Chris Sivertson, Cheerleaders (an expanded remake of his 2001 short by the same name) nicely echoes the ironic horror-comedy vibe of Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods (2012) while still managing to deliver a genre entry for text-crazed teenyboppers. Goths, jocks, some faux feminism, and a bevy of ass and crotch shots should make fans of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers quite satisfied.


In the 1990s, Tsai Ming-liang’s films were often mentioned alongside works by Hirokazu Kore-eda and Hou Hsiao-hsien. But two decades later, only Tsai has stayed the determined course of creating pure, contemplative cinema. Presenting his tenth feature (and showcasing yet again his alter ego, actor Lee Kang-sheng), Stray Dogs (Taiwan) is a breathtaking meditation on a homeless Taiwanese family, who are quietly doing what they can to get by.

With this film, Tsai has almost abandoned story completely, instead favoring long, drawn-out, surreal, one-shot sequences — next-level abstractness that will either send you running for the hills or leave you unblinkingly glued to the screen. Someone should program Stray Dogs with his 2012 short Sleepwalk, which followed a monk as he slowly walked through city streets. (Whether that would equal absolute transcendence or absolute boredom depends on the viewer, of course.)

While Hong Sang-soo’s Our Sunhi (South Korea) is not as monumentally enjoyable as last year’s In Another Country (2012), his new film does represent another solid entry for the director. I admire Hong’s ability to stay consistent with his philosophy on life: give a small group of people a lot of alcohol and let them share their innermost uncouth and irresponsible feelings. Of course, you could argue that he is just making the same film over and over. But if you take the time to notice the structural differences — as well as wonderful choices with his actors (Jung Yu-mi is quite enjoyable in this) — you’ll realize why critics love to favorably compare Hong to Woody Allen.

Watching director Catherine Breillat take the stage at TIFF to present her latest, Abuse of Weakness (France), was as powerful and moving as watching the film itself. After her 2004 stroke (and subsequent personal issues), Breillat decided to make an autobiographical narrative, casting the great Isabelle Huppert to interpret Breillat’s own confused choices.

Abuse of Weakness is perhaps one of the most interesting films about the life of an artist I have ever seen. As the Q&A was concluding, Breillat dropped a bottle of water that was given to her and explained “Even after all these years, you forget that you can’t feel anything in your arm.” And suddenly it was if you were right back in the film again.

Grow some more brain wrinkles at these cool campuses




For anyone who interpreted Amazon’s Kindle as a harbinger of doom, a nonprofit celebrating the production, artistry, and importance of books in an increasingly digital world might be just the support group you need. There’s something for everybody at the San Francisco Center for the Book, which offers 300 classes annually ranging from the basic, such as Introduction to Letterpress Printing, to the obscure, like Miniature Variations on Exposed-Spine Sewings. Take a single-session workshop or enroll in one of two certificate programs offered in printing and bookbinding.

San Francisco Center for the Book, 375 Rhode Island Street, SF. Dates and prices vary. www.sfcb.org



The Public School, originally launched in LA, is an online platform where anyone can propose a class topic, connect with interested locals, and organize the curriculum, meeting times, and location. This year Bay Area activists and scholars opened up a space in 2141 Broadway, Oakl., for Public School classes and working groups. Classes are free and open to all, and some convene outside of the Oakland space. Recent classes include readings of Spinoza, Hegel, Plato’s Symposium, and the Bible, plus cinema, contemporary art, philosophy, radical politics, queer feminism, romance languages, and yoga.

Runs seven days a week, free. Bay Area Public School, 2141 Broadway, Oakl. www.thepublicschool.org



Nerd Nite is held the third Wednesday of every month at Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco. Organizers describe it as being “like the Discovery Channel … with beer!” Throughout the night, speakers deliver brief, fun-yet-informative presentations across all disciplines, which may involve bands, acrobats, trivia, and other shenanigans. Nerd Nite No. 39 will cover “the secret lives of jock brains” and other highly scientific-sounding talks. You might learn a lot from the geeks at Nerd Nite, whose slogan is “be there and be square.”

Third Wednesdays. Doors at 7pm, show at 8pm. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. $8, sf.nerdnite.com.



If you thought you already knew how to cook an egg, think again. Among the many classes offered by foodie education hub 18 Reasons is “Eggs: Elegant + Economical.” Learn to poach, emulsify, bake, braise and revel in the full spectrum of hard-to-easy (in terms of runniness and difficulty level) scrambling and frying techniques. This class is on the pricier end but 18 Reasons, a self-described community food space, occasionally hosts more affordable courses and also operates a free six-week cooking class series for low-income families.

Mondays through August 26, 6-9pm. 18 Reasons, 3674 18th St., SF. $75, www.18reasons.org



Depending on your feelings about new-age style spirituality, you just might find the workshops on offer at the California Institute for Integral Studies to be intriguing. The wisdom of the tarot as it relates to the psychological implications of symbols? Psychological wellness through the mastery of “timelessness”? Tibetan sound healing? Vedic chants? Practicing the path of yoga in daily life? The workshops range from free to a few hundred dollars, but if cultivating a deep sense of inner peace is your thing, consider giving it all a spin.

Dates, times, and prices vary. CIIS, 1453 Mission, SF. www.ciis.edu>.

Baring all: Red Hots Burlesque presents “Burlesque and WHY”


Red Hots Burlesque — the longest running queer burlesque show in the country, according to founder and producer Dottie Lux — moves out of the bars and into the theater with Burlesque and WHY (The Naked Truth), a show-and-tell built around the biographies and personalities of its performers, an eclectic group of burlesque artists comprised of Dottie Lux, the Lady Ms. Vagina Jenkins, Magnoliah Black, Lay-Si Luna, Alexa Von Kickinface, and Burlesque Hall of Famer Ellion Ness. It runs through Sun/4 at StageWerx.

As Lux suggests in her introduction to the show, the theater as a venerated space for storytelling provides a rare opportunity to ‘class up’ the act a little — by talking about class for these working bodies, as well as about race, body issues, feminism, aging, and much more — all in direct address and various states of undress, through two 35-minute sets of vignettes and straight-up striptease that run the gamut from playful eroticism to defiant meditations on self-worth and solidarity with the outcast and oppressed.

Sure, the acting and stagecraft can be stilted, erratic, and a little shaky — everything beyond the burlesque numbers themselves, that is, which are generally sure and precise. But then it’s a theatrical outing like no other. And the performers redeem the rough edges with their agile curves as well as the pride, confidence, and natural charm they bring to the enterprise. These women have strong voices and compelling stories. And away from the barroom din, to the supportive calls of audience members, they ring out clearly, with lots of sass, well-earned brazenness, and even self-effacing humor. But then a burlesque performer knows a little modesty can go a long way.

Red Hots Burlesque Presents: Burlesque and WHY (The Naked Truth)

Tonight, 10pm; Sat/3, 7 and 10pm; Sun/4, 5 and 8pm, $5-$35

Stage Werx

446 Valencia, SF


Who saves the world?



LIT Even humankind’s saviors need a little help from their friends to max out on destiny. In local writerperson Michelle Tea’s world, that support has been culled from the closely-knit community of queers, feminists, and outspoken loud mouths that make up the extended family of the Sister Spit and Radar reading series that she assembled in the open mic wilderness of early 1990s and 2000s San Francisco.

All good young Bay Area writers know what followed: Tea went onto write a series of smashing, lyrical novels and memoirs detailing her journey from daughter of the beleaguered town of Chelsea, Mass., to sex worker, and finally into the lit star firmament with Valencia, a cult classic about the Mission’s slutty turn-of-century Lexington Club set.

Bully for her, but we can’t all chart such exceptional trajectories. Thanks goddess, then, that in Tea’s second young adult novel Mermaid in Chelsea Creek, help comes to 13-year-old Sophie Swankowski from a more likely cast of characters: a flock of well-spoken activist pigeons, a spell-weaving corner store zhakharka, her grandmother’s hot genderqueer garbage dump assistant, and an absolutely filthy mermaid who assures Swankowksi that despite the six-pack plastic rings stuck in her hair, she is big in Poland.

“It’s sort of a bad world,” the put-upon Swankowski is told by Syrena the mermaid. “I come here to help you fix it.” The declaration arrives while Sophie is playing the “pass-out game” (you KNOW) with her obsessive, set-upon-by-hormones best friend Ella at the polluted creek near their depressing homes. The scene takes place at the start of summertime in Chelsea, where “there isn’t any right side of the tracks,” as our protagonist puts it.

What follows is not the story of Swankowski’s world rescue, but a different struggle entirely: the young woman’s realization that she need not hold to the boundaries erected around her by family and childhood friends. She is, as Angel the dump worker-curandera’s daughter puts it, one of the “girls who knew things and had powers and a certain destiny.”

I refuse to consider this a spoiler because the excellent Mermaid of Chelsea Creek, the first book published under McSweeney’s new young adult imprint McMullens, is but the first in an upcoming trilogy involving Sophie and her motley crew. Believe me, there is a lot in the book you’ll have to read to discover (psst dog-grandfathers and the effect superpowers have on dealing with rude neighborhood boys.)

Tea, it would appear, has had a penchant for the epic recently — the hotly-anticipated movie version of Valencia has been crafted by no less than 21 filmmakers, each in charge of their own story chapter and distinct cast. (Cop your tickets to its June 21 and 27 Frameline world premiere, on sale starting Fri/31, at www.frameline.org.) One of Tea’s next projects is said to be a novel imagining the world in the wake of a 1990s apocalypse.

But enough of this future-mongering, because Mermaid of Chelsea Creek is a triumph in its own right, a stand-alone treat that I could not eat without chortling about to my own social circle at every possible juncture. I hope it makes its way into schools across the country, and trickles across the radar of those too young yet to attend Radar. Young adult literature, thank Harriet the Spy, is not without its strong young heroines, but Swankowski’s working-class journey goes beyond pluck. You never saw Ramona Quimby plump for a cereal dinner in solidarity with a hot-mess single working mom, nor decide, ultimately, that gender ambiguity is fine when it comes to a budding friendship-crush.

Ultimately, the book becomes what all Tea projects tend to be: assertions that survival is possible, if not inevitable — and that through achieving survival, we make the world a better place. Not all pigeons talk, but everyone deserves the freaky, feathered friends they need to get them through the summer. 


Booksmith Pride bookswap

W/ Ali Liebegott

June 7, 6:30-9:30pm, $25 for dinner and open bar


1644 Haight, SF


June 18, 7pm, free

Moe’s Books

2476 Telegraph, Berk.


Frankie says feminist pornography



SEX It is hard to imagine an industry as rich, yet as under-examined as that of pornography. We spend billions of dollars on porn in this country, and billions of hours trying to hide that fact, erasing search histories and wedging DVDs under the bed when our parents are coming over.

So perhaps it makes sense that The Feminist Porn Book, the first of its kind to include writings from porn-studying academics and porn performers, is designed so as to resemble nothing so much as a traffic sign. “What are you reading?” I doofily joked to myself on BART while positioning the Day-Glo paperback with its “FRANKIE SAYS RELAX” massive font in a way I hoped would avoid undue scorn-face from my fellow passengers.

It’s their loss, really. The book is a big deal, a first-time conglomeration of viewpoints from across the pro-sex feminist landscape. Its introduction alone was the most comprehensive history of feminist pornography I’ve ever seen (how appropriate that we’re in the middle of Women’s History Month 2013.) The next time anyone has a question about whether porn can really be anti-sexist, I will direct them to The Feminist Porn Book‘s neon glow.

Within its pages, professionals from a variety of nooks and crannies tackle some issues that even we, as feminists who believe porn can reflect and augment healthy sexuality, have trouble resolving. Penn State’s Ariana Cruz tackles the image of black women in porn (and the no-less-interesting reality of being a black female academic who studies black women in porn.) Am I the only one who gets giddy about heavily-footnoted academic essays on the race issues stirred up by Asian porn star Keni Styles’ participation in locker room orgy scenes?

Performers’ voices are well represented here, mainly in first-person testimonials that explain their career paths, complicated stories that don’t dodge critique of the adult industry. Transman pioneer Buck Angel talks vagina, seasoned pro Nina Hartley about being a role model. The Bay Area’s April Flores explains how she busts up the BBW stereotype. Kink.com model Dylan Ryan and director Lorelei Lee explore society’s conception of their professional lives.

In a brief phone chat, one of the book’s editors and longtime feminist pornographer herself Tristan Taormino explained to me that the book came about after a panel discussion in which she participated that featured both academics and porn stars. That fusion, the participants felt, gave birth to a conversation that had to be continued. A few panelists from that chat can now be found within the anthology’s pages, and Taormino is now organizing a day-long conference to take place on April 6 amid the hangovers from the eight-year-old Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto.

“There are feminists in mainstream porn. I’m not the only one, I swear!” Taormino says this in a jocular manner, but given those billions of dollars, her implication that porn is starting to allow more room for feminist imagery and voices is a rather big deal. For now, I resolve to worry less about what other people on BART think of my reading list.


Three years of Oh! Powerhouse, 1347 Folsom, SF. www.powerhouse-sf.com. Wed/13, 10pm-2am, $3. Darling DJ Robin Simmons will give you something to listen to beyond the slaps and moans at the third anniversary of this gentlemanly meet-up for dirty dappers.

BDSM panel for anarchists California Institute of Integral Studies, Room 304, 1453 Mission, SF. bayareaanarchistbookfair.wordpress.com. Sat/16, 6:30-8:30pm, free. Internet flame wars ensued when Native scholar Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz canceled her talk at the Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair upon realizing it would be held in the event rental space of Kink.com’s Armory this year. Today’s discussion looks to re-unite members of the radical community who disagreed over the issue. Pre-open floor, a history of pornography and feminism will be presented, as well as ways to support sex workers, women, and people who think differently than you do.

Our Weekly Picks: January 9-15



RADAR Reading Series

Like a literary-focused Parisian salon, but with vibrant SF genderfucking and homemade desserts, this monthly showcase of emerging, underground writers and artists is routinely the most enticing potpourri of need-to-know talent. The RADAR Reading Series is part of local treasure/Sister Spit(ter) Michelle Tea’s nonprofit, RADAR Productions. This time, there’s visual artist D-L Alvarez, Gaga Feminism author Jack Halberstam (who writes often of gender queerness, pop culture, and bad TV), transnational interdisciplinary artist and cultural organizer Favianna Rodriguez, and author Grace Krilanovich — whose 2010 debut novel, The Orange Eats Creep,was named one of Amazon’s top science fiction/fantasy books that year. With Tea hosting the follow-up Q&A, you know there will be cookies on hand. (Emily Savage)

6pm, free

San Francisco Public Library, Main Branch

Latino Reading Room

100 Larkin, SF



“Unknown but Knowable States”

Dorothea Tanning’s surreal paintings provide a window into the female subconscious with as much style and punch as her male contemporaries. There will be a few of these crisp, symbolic painting in the upcoming exhibit, Known but Unknowable States, but it will also show a different side of her work — one that could easily fit in with ethereal figure painting seen in contemporary art. The most striking works are what she called “prism” paintings, which twist the female form into abstract visions with soft brushwork and unique color combinations. To go along with these will be some of her soft sculptures of strange creatures made of fabric, fur, and a sewing machine. (Molly Champlin)

Through March 2

Opening reception, 5pm, free

Gallery Wendi Norris

161 Jessie, SF

(415) 346-7812



The Art and Legacy of Crime Photographer Weegee

It should come as no surprise that Eddie Muller took a shining to the work of 1930s and ’40s press photographer Arthur Fellig, a.k.a. Weegee. Muller’s the founder of the SF Noir Film Festival, whose hardboiled flicks go perfectly with Weegee’s steely-gazed shots of crime scenes. The photographer is widely credited with bringing aesthetic concern to crime scene photography. Today, Muller explains why the man’s work still matters now, in the era of Instagram and meme mania, with this talk, punctuated by video interludes. (Caitlin Donohue)

6:30-8pm, $5

Contemporary Jewish Museum

736 Mission, SF

(415) 655-7800



“Risk is This…”

If you want to see what Cutting Ball Theatre’s next season might look like, you’d do well to check out this season’s new experimental plays festival, “Risk is This….” Past festivals have foreshadowed full productions of some of Cutting Ball’s most memorable pieces including Marcus Gardley’s “…and Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi” and Eugenie Chan’s “Tontlawald”, and this year’s lineup looks to be just as full of future potential, with new plays written by Sean San José, Dipika Guha, and Basil Kreimendahl, plus exciting new translations of Alfred Jarry’s “Ubu Roi” and the Capek brothers’ “Insect Play.” Presented over five weekends of staged readings, the five plays range topically from transgenderism to crack-cocaine to the corrupting influence of power — which certainly sounds like the very definition of risk to us. (Nicole Gluckstern)

Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 9

8pm, free–$20 donation

EXIT on Taylor

177 Taylor, SF

(415) 525-1205



“Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense”

Alfred Hitchcock is just coming off his best year in decades, with a biopic starring Anthony Hopkins and the news that his 1958 psychological drama Vertigo leapfrogged past the almighty Citizen Kane (1941) in at least one “best films of all time…ever…full stop” poll of influential film critics. Not bad for a guy who died in 1980. The Pacific Film Archive shines a well-timed spotlight on the prolific Master of Suspense with an extensive retrospective of works well-known (1954’s Rear Window, 1959’s North by Northwest, 1960’s Psycho, and — of course — Vertigo) and more obscure (1931’s Rich and Strange, 1937’s Young and Innocent, 1947’s The Paradine Case) — not to mention often-overshadowed underdogs like the series kick-off film, made by Hitch in his pre-Hollywood days: 1935’s The 39 Steps. (Cheryl Eddy)

Through April 24, 7pm, $5.50–$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk.



Mister Lies

Nick Zanca played in several punk bands in high school until he was introduced to electronic music and production in college. This happened about a year ago. Since then he’s caused quite the stir, catching a record deal and tour as Mister Lies. The deep, almost spiritual electronica, or “experimental avant-garde pop” as he prefers, draws inspiration from diverse artists — spanning Steve Reich to Missy Elliot. His generally downtempo vibe might be better scheduled at four in the morning. But hey, there’s no right time to unwind your mind a bit, particularly when it’s Mister Lies’ gospel-infused sound paired with the smooth dream pop of San Francisco local, Giraffage. (Champlin)

With Some Ember

9:30pm, $12

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455



“Rituals of Water”

The most recent work of local artist, Rodney Ewing, manages to distil a lot of history and ideas into a coherent show about water. This theme is embedded even in the creation of the art: the large scale paintings are made of ink, salt, and mostly, water. Through figures and words that seem to be dissolving on paper, he looks at four moments in the history of African American people, the transatlantic slave trade, baptism, civil rights, and Hurricane Katrina. Though his works are heavily political, they don’t seek to make a statement. Instead they perform a sort of ritual in which the viewer and artist strengthen African history by reclaiming memories and stories once lost through diaspora. (Champlin)

Through March 1

Opening reception, 6pm, free

IcTus Gallery

1769 15th St., SF

(510) 912-0792



Mary Armentrout

Old Will wasn’t exactly thinking about installation pieces when he proclaimed, “all the world’s a stage.” Still there is something about the connection between “living” and “performing” that today many dance artists explore by stretching that fragile tie between the two. One way is by abandoning the proscenium theater for more flexible environments. Few, however, go as far as the ever adventuresome Mary Armentrout who is traveling her “reveries and elegies,” essentially a solo piece for herself, from two Oakland locations first to CounterPULSE this weekend, then (Feb. 23-24) to Bakers’ Beach. Each time she shows these “reveries,” she will do the same, of course, not at all. Ideally one would see the whole cycle but since Armentrout has assembled the piece from fragments, fragments is what we’ll get. And that’s OK. (Rita Felciano)

Also Sun/13, 4:15pm, $20


1310 Mission, SF

(510) 845-8604




Newish Bay Area band Kicker features members of Neurosis, Filth, and Dystopia, and sounds like late ’70s anarcho-punk à la Subhumans. Which makes perfect sense, really, as lead vocalist Pete the Roadie grew up in England, went to the same school as Subhumans and Organized Chaos, and has been a part of the worldwide punk scene since that formative year of ’77. Really need another reason to go to this $5 Bender’s show? OK: Bad Cop/Bad Cop — the LA rock’n’roll band with members of Cocksparrer tribute act Cunt Sparrer — opens the whole thing up. (Savage)

With Pang!

10pm, $5


800 S. Van Ness, SF

(415) 824-1800



The Great American Pop-Up

The Great American Pop-Up is back. Because who wants to make dinner on a Monday night? At the first installment, patrons scarfed chocolate raspberry cookies, sustainable sushi, and salty spiced sausages. At this second round — again inside the iconic Tenderloin site, recently named one California’s most beautiful music venues — a few of those patron-pleasing vendors will return: sustainable sushi via Rice Cracker Sushi, Asian fusion dishes via Harro-Arigato and Ronin, along with Dora’s Donuts and Donna’s Tamales. The house Chef James Whitmore will be whipping up dishes, and there will be some crafty vendors including a Yes & Yes Designs booth, should you be in the market for one-of-a-kind jewelry made from recycled books as a delicious side dish to your sushi. DJs Children of the Funk will provide the background beats to your fine (club) dining experience. (Savage)

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF (415) 885-0750



Shabazz Palaces

The retro-future of space hip-hop is here, in disparate senses among headliner Shabazz Palaces and opener Ensemble Mik Nawooj. Led by Palaceer Lazaro — formerly of jazz-rap group Digable Planets — and multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire, Seattle’s Shabazz Palaces are part of a cosmic collective of forward-thinking artists, including Sub Pop labelmates, THEESatisfaction. Their latest release, 2011’s Black Up, was a vortex of jazz, soul, and rap with African percussion keeping the beat. And then there’s Ensemble Mik Nawooj, the East Bay crew behind that alternate universe chamber hip-hop opera, Great Integration, a similarly genre-busting production that follows five malevolent lords who control the physical world, and the assassin who slays them. Prepare to elevate your mind. Countdown to launch. (Savage)

With Ensemble Mik Nawooj, Duckwrth, DJ Orfeu

9pm, $15

New Parish

579 18th St., Oakl.

(415) 371-1631



The Guardian listings deadline is two weeks prior to our Wednesday publication date. To submit an item for consideration, please include the title of the event, a brief description of the event, date and time, venue name, street address (listing cross streets only isn’t sufficient), city, telephone number readers can call for more information, telephone number for media, and admission costs. Send information to Listings, the Guardian, 225 Bush, 17th Flr., SF, CA 94105; or e-mail (paste press release into e-mail body — no attachments, please) to listings@sfbg.com. Digital photos may be submitted in jpeg format; the image must be at least 240 dpi and four inches by six inches in size. We regret we cannot accept listings over the phone.

Local blogs fumble story of sex worker activist named legislative aide


We were thrilled to bits at the Guardian when St. James Infirmary’s longtime program director and former Harvey Milk Club president Stephany Joy Ashley was named Supervisor David Campos’ new legislative aide. Ashley was a speaker on our “Feminism in the Bay Area Today” panel discussion and worked on a number of political campaigns, from John Avalos’ bid for mayor to Rafael Mandleman’s 2010 run for District 8 supervisor. 

However, local blogs read her primarily as a former stripper. “Lusty Activist is the New Campos Aide,” read Misson Loc@l’s headline. “David Campos’ New Aide Is a Former Lusty Lady Dancer,” read the headline on SFist. Way to focus on the important stuff, guys.

Of course, Ashley was a stripper at SF’s amazing worker-owned strip club — six years ago. And we think it’s awesome that we live in a town that doesn’t separate sex workers from the political world. And actually, the Mission Loc@l headline isn’t really indicative of the article’s content, which does focus on Ashley’s impressive qualifications.

But, the fact of the matter is that “Lusty activist” and “former Lusty Lady dancer” are really insufficient descriptors for someone who has continued to play really important roles in the community since her days at the Lusty. It’s hardly the most unique thing about Ashley either, given her achievements since. 

We get it local bloggers, we’re all looking for clicks. But let’s not sensationalize sex work — not to mention completly legal sex work — anymore. This story was already awesome without it.

Trans activists honored in Clarion Alley mural


It was important to Tanya Wischerath that the crowds who came to last weekend’s Clarion Alley Block Party got to see the latest addition to its collection of murals. The new piece is a stirring tribute to transwomen activists, done in jewel tones on a background of night sky and stained glass. “I was told nine days before the street fair [that I got the wall], and I was adamant that I would have something finished by then,” the artist said in an email. We’re glad — it’s lovely. 

Wischerath’s deities, clad in robes and golden halos, are comprised of steller tranladies from California’s past and present. They are: 

Mia Tu Mutch: Youth activist and panelist in the Guardian’s “SF Feminism Today” discussion that took place this summer. Tu Mutch is chair of the Housing LGBTQ and TAY committee of the San Francisco Youth Commission, and is a program assistant at Lavender Youth Recreation Information Center (LYRIC).  

Alexis Rivera: Actively fought HIV/AIDS — which affects one in three transwomen in San Francisco. Was the staff community advocate for the Transgender Law Center, and helped found LA’s Female-to-Male Alliance. Rivera died this year. 

Janetta Louise-Johnson: Works on recidivism in trans communities of color through her job at the Transgender Gender Varient Intersexed Justice Project. 

Tamara Ching: Award-winning “God Mother of Polk” well-known for her consultant work on transgender and commercial sex worker concerns.

“Painting this was humbling in all respects, and the work these women are doing and have been doing for a long time is bigger than one mural,” Wischerath told the Guardian in an email interview. The mural focuses on activists who are close to the Bay Area community for a more immediate feel, and was inspired by the fierce queens in Paris is Burning, a 1990 documentary of ball culture in New York. 

Here’s the dedication that Wischerath inscribed on the wall, along with bios of each of the women portrayed: 

The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot occurred in August 1966 in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. This incident was one of the first recorded transgender riots in United States history, preceding the more famous 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City. Although San Francisco continues to lead in the struggle for equal rights for the LGBTQI community, trans women are often left behind and in the fight for visibility. This mural is a dedication to the work of just a few trans activists out of many who have tirelessly committed themselves to paving the way for a more just, accepting, and righteous San Francisco.

Unfortunately, the work had already been tagged by the time we headed over this morning to take photos of it — but given the nature of Clarion’s infamous taggers, perhaps the community-sourced creativity should be viewed as an initiation ritual. Let the battle for upkeep begin! 

Girl on wall



STREET SEEN Welcome welcome, friends, to my new column. You’ll wanna check back here for Bay Area style — clothes, weed, art, sex, y’know. But this week, international women’s studies: a Puerto Rican street artist on domestic violence, in her home town.

It may have been the moment of my recent trip to check out San Juan’s first street art festival.

Artist Sofia Maldonado was teaching no less than four high school females how to properly shade the middle fingers extending from two painted yellow fists. Lunchtime traffic whizzes past Maldonado’s mural in San Juan’s Santurce neighborhood, site of the 12-plus walls that would be painted as part of the week-long Los Muros Hablan. Small, wandering packs of street art fans stopped by intermittently, snapping photos, talking among themselves.

The 28-year old Maldonado’s mural is pretty dreamy for anyone overdosed on commercial, overly-testosteroned street art. It addresses domestic violence in Puerto Rico, showing a bashed-but-not-beaten beauty and those fists, which — once properly shaded — were lettered with “basta ya/enough already.” The work’s not soft, despite the bright colors she used to paint it.

Days earlier, when the moderator at a panel discussion at San Juan’s contemporary art museum that was part of the Los Muros Hablan programming asked the all-male panel of artists (Maldonado was south, painting a commission in the town of Ponce) to weigh in on female muralists, one responded that he was in favor. “They’re sexy,” he said, to a hearty laugh from the audience.

The domestic violence mural wasn’t the greatest piece of artwork that was created in San Juan that week. But then, Maldonado had a different intention than many of her male peers at Los Muros Hablan.

“Nowadays, I feel like doing murals is how to give back to the community.” It’s the afternoon and Maldonado and I are eating at a cafe a few blocks from her wall. “Especially for girls in Puerto Rico, it’s important to have a strong female representation.”

Maldonado grew up in San Juan, going to the same art school down the street that her eager assistants attend. She started painting walls with brushes when, inspired by the vivid street art on walls in France and Spain, she tired of the dull color palette available in aerosol on the island. She rolled with the boys, mainly. A few of them, from her San Juan crew, are painting alongside her at Los Muros Hablan.

After high school, she moved to New York City, got her MFA, found artistic success inside the studio too. She’s on the board of Cre8tive YouTH*nk, an organization that facilitates art projects that encourage critical thinking in at-risk youth. The week after Puerto Rico, she was at the Bronx Museum, doing a mural with the help of New York kids.

She’s the only female who had a wall at the festival. She’s also the only artist whose work is currently taking up an entire floor at the contemporary art museum. “She’s one of the best-known women these days, not only in urban art, but in visual art in Puerto Rico,” said Elizabeth Barreto, another San Juan street artist who painted in Los Muros Hablan’s all-female live painting and DJ event.

Along the museum’s open-air hallways, Maldonado’s controversial renderings of bra-less, heavily accessorized women of color are displayed. Google search “Sofia Maldonado 42nd Street mural” for the blowback she incurred when she erected them in Times Square. Maldonado tells me that the hurt the figures dredged up among people of color says more than the piece itself.

Her new canvas work also bears the language of graffiti, the strokes, the characters. But as a medium — her work’s not really about “getting up” anymore. She hasn’t rejected the bold artistic mark that you have to have if you paint in the streets, but you get a sense that Maldonado knows that audacity’s a tool, a microphone you use, not an end in itself.

She won’t really stand for all my editorializing. Actually, she kind of wanted me to shut up about her being a female role model. Her feminism is hard to describe in a 745-word article.

“You have to know it’s a male’s world, like any other profession,” she tells me, shrugging off all my questions about her take on the street art gender divide. “You gotta be strong.”

But one can’t help but read into her focus when it comes to education. “I don’t feel like I’m representing,” she concludes. “But I do feel like I need to set an example.”


Men behaving badly


The fiasco that was the candidacy of Julian Davis for Supervisor has shed a spotlight on the long simmering sexist underside of progressive San Francisco politics. For years, men have dominated elections and institutions; the lack of women in progressive leadership has been obvious, but too often unaddressed.

San Francisco has a long history of electing women to high office — Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, Louise Renne, Kamala Harris … it’s not as if politics in general is controlled by men. But most of those women have been from the more moderate (in some cases, conservative) side. The elected officials who are leaders in the progressive movement have, for most of the past decade or more, been overwhelmingly male.

And it’s hard to ignore the obvious questions: How could so many progressives get behind a candidate with such a history of poor treatment of women? Why did it take so long for the truth to come out? When did attitudes on the left devolve to the point where groping was considered a minor detail?

More important, where are we going from here? How is the progressive movement going to encourage a new generation of women leaders? How are we going to address the perception, and sometimes the reality, that the politics of the San Francisco left is not a welcoming place for women?

It’s going to take a while to talk all of this out, but this week, we want to start the conversation.

>>A NEW FEMINISM FOR SAN FRANCISCO: Community activists on a guide to compassion, redemption, and accountability

>>THE “HEIGHTENED SENSITIVITY” BLUES: Hey progressives, why don’t you stop being such idiots? (An angertorial)

A new feminism for San Francisco


OPINION Accountability is one of the hardest things that we have to do. Being accountable stretches us to our very limits as human beings. Blame and deflection is a function of shame, and more often than not, when we make a mistake, it’s more common to point the finger at someone else than it is to acknowledge our mistake and work towards a different practice. The story time and time again is how it never happened — and then when the water gets too hot, there’s generally a soft acknowledgment that something did happen, but by then, the damage is done and trust is broken.

As feminists working in the progressive community for social justice, we are calling for a new type of accountability — one that’s not about demonization or polarization, but instead consists of checking ourselves, checking each other, supporting each other when we are brave, and having the courage and integrity to acknowledge our mistakes and work towards making whole what has been damaged.

Progressives need to take a look at ourselves and come together so that we can advance our vision for San Francisco. We aim to build a progressive movement in San Francisco that is rooted in compassion and love, that acknowledges our contradictions and works to create bridges across class, race, and gender that are so often the typical pitfalls that keep us from accomplishing what we really want and need. Checking ourselves is an act of love for ourselves and for our communities.

The last few weeks in San Francisco have not just been about men behaving badly; it’s also been about women treating each other badly. White feminists in San Francisco came together to “save” Eliana Lopez, an immigrant woman of color, but never actually included her in the conversation — and then treated her like she had Stockholm syndrome. Women who supported Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi were suddenly not feminists anymore. Survivors of domestic violence who supported Mirkarimi and supported redemption were shunned by a large portion of the domestic violence community.

We recognize that there are important reasons why domestic violence law allows charges to brought without the consent of the survivor; however, in this case, these laws were misused. How demoralizing to see a largely white, second-wave feminist advocate community come together around a woman they failed to include in the conversation about what she felt was best for herself and her family. Are we still in the 1950s?

The attempt to remove Mirkarimi from office was a political attack. It does a disservice to the cause of domestic violence to use it as a political tool to unseat a politician. At the same time, it was also regrettable that many progressives supporting the sheriff did not take the domestic violence charges against him seriously enough — both in the initial outcry that surrounded the charges and by being disrespectful towards the domestic violence advocates who testified at City Hall.

On the other hand, following close on the heels of the Mirkarimi situation, District 5 candidate Julian Davis was accused of a troubling history of inappropriate and nonconsensual groping by more than one woman. We have to take into account that there is an unacceptable cultural reality that people are likely to believe accusations against men of color by white women that are untrue, but that is not what has happened with the accusations brought forward about Davis.

In this scenario many in the progressive community knew about this history and were complicit in silencing any real conversation about it. It was only when Davis started intimidating one of the women that brought accusations against him with threats of legal action that a real conversation opened up.

Our goal is not to rehash Davis’s past behavior; everyone deserves redemption. However, it would make it easier for those of us who want to work with him going forward if he could take responsibility for his past instead seeking to silence his accusers.

Many have stood up to support the woman who came forward, but sadly others have not. For women and feminists in our movement it was exceedingly demoralizing to watch people who call themselves progressives attack a woman who came forward or dismiss her allegations because of political allegiances. One blog even went so far as to try and discredit her by alleging that she had been in a pornography film, as if somehow this would cast doubt on her allegations.

We seek a kind of feminism that supports and empowers women to make informed choices about their lives, not the type that falls into the same pattern of erasing the voices of women of color and immigrant women. We are calling for a cutting-edge feminist movement that includes men in our strategy of ending violence against women, and a feminist movement that walks away from this tired dualism between “victims and perpetrators,” when we all know that these so-called perpetrators are often victims of violence themselves.

We are calling for restorative justice that bridges the divides of class and race and gender and makes us stronger to achieve the lives that we want and need. We seek a feminist movement that sees housing and economic justice and racial justice and gender justice as all part of the same movement.

The truth of the matter is that in our progressive movement here in San Francisco, there is still a prominence of straight white men who continue to believe that they are the sole arbitrators of what is or is not progressive in this city, who go after women of color in leadership with a ferocity that they do not for our progressive male counterparts, and who continue to excuse problematic behavior in ways that undermine us all.

So much has happened so quickly that it has been hard to orient ourselves and keep fighting for our rights and our communities. After the election, we call for a public conversation around what it means to be a third- or even fourth-wave feminist progressive that we can build our work around — where men are feminist and women of color leaders can actually get some support from the progressive left. Gabriel Haaland is a queer, transgender Labor feminist and domestic violence survivor. Jane Martin and Alicia Garza are queer, feminist community organizers in San Francisco’s working-class communities of color

SF Stories: Michelle Tea


46TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL When I was about 21, living with my parents outside Boston, I started making zines. I sent my first one, Bitch Queen, to Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll, and it wound up getting reviewed in MRR‘s Queer Zine Explosion issue. I hadn’t even known there was a queer zine explosion happening, but my little P.O. box was soon stuffed with zines from zinesters wanting to trade issues, and with enough dollar bills that I could cross the street to the mall and get lunch. It was the first experience I had of being given something for my writing, and, more importantly, finding community with other writers.

Later that year my relationship fizzled and I found myself unexpectedly moving to San Francisco. It felt like I had stepped right into the zines I’d been devouring — not only because the punk-queer scene really embodied the content and aesthetics I’d become obsessed with — torn, cut ‘n’ paste, glue-sticked and Sharpied, riffing on radical feminism, dirty queer sex, anti-racist, anti-sizest and more — but because the people from the actual zines were slamming up against me at the queer clubs I was dancing at!

There was Lynn Breedlove, whose daredevil fucking-shit-up bike messenger adventure story I’d read in Chainsaw. There was Youme, the sweetly, long-haired girl who inked the pervy, graphic novel-zine Get What You Want. There’s Larry Bob from Holy Titclamps, and Matt Wobensmith from Outpunk! I think that woman with the spiral-shaved head in the front row of the poetry reading at the Bearded Lady is Kathy Acker, from the Angry Woman book. Yeah — it is. And I swear I saw those heavily tattooed, psychotically pierced girls over there in a DIY photo spread in some grainy, Xeroxed number.

An obsessive fan my whole life, it took me an awe-filled moment to understand that I had become obsessed with a scene I could actually participate in. Showing up to dance at Junk at The Stud and getting taken home by the girl on the cover of the latest modern-primitive zine was just something that happened when you were living in the center of everything interesting, San Francisco in the 1990s. No more longing for Warhol’s Factory, the heyday of the Mud Club, front row at CBGBs, a room at the Chelsea, London in the 70s, the East Village in the 80s or whatever cultural moment I was upset at time itself for causing me to miss. I had the tremendous feeling of being part of something larger than myself, righteous with activism and wild with sex and art.

I pierced one nipple at Fakir Musafar (wait, the guy from the ReSearch Book???)’s piercing school, where you only had to pay for the jewelry, the piercing, done by a student, was free. Even so, I could only afford a single ring, so I only pierced one nipple, and the ring fell out anyway, while having sex with someone I don’t remember anymore. The San Francisco queer-punk scene in the 90s was adamant in its invitation that anyone could participate. It didn’t matter what you looked like, you were invited to fuck yourself up a little and whammo, you are getting massively laid. Broke? Write about it, steal copies from Kinko’s –look, you’re a publishing magnate! Got a bad attitude? Awesome, you are now mayor of dyketown, go punch someone. Every bit of antisocial behavior punished elsewhere was here politicized and celebrated in the ongoing experiment of how far could everything be pushed. And at it’s heart, the culture was a literary one, with zines its many bibles, its textbooks, its canon.

Michelle Tea is the author of many books, including the 90s classic Valencia and the forthcoming A Mermaid in Chelsea Creek (McSweeney’s). She is the editor of Sister Spit Books, an imprint of City Lights, and the Executive Director of RADAR Productions, which hosts a Polka Dot Cocktail Party with queer studies scholar and curator Jonathan Katz, at a private home, on October 28th. The link: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/282115


Feminist vigilante gangs to march on Oakland Friday


Oakland’s last feminist vigilante gangs march was a demonstration promoting offensive feminism in response to rape, assault, and murder of “women, queers, gender rebels and allies.” It was also a birthday party.

“The first march basically came about because it was my 30th birthday,” said Lauren, one of the organizers of that march and a second feminist vigilante gangs march, which will take place in Oakland on Friday.

“I had been talking a big game about feminist vigilante gangs and calling attention to the need for people to form affinities for a long time. When I was asked what I wanted for my 30th birthday I said, I want a feminist vigilante gangs march, as a joke. But people were into it.”

Last time, a group, equipped with and radical queer and feminist literature, banners, and glitter, marched from the “fake neighborhood” of uptown Oakland to downtown Oakland, Lauren said, ending with a dance party in “Oscar Grant Plaza,” Occupy Oakland’s longtime home base outside City Hall.

Along the way, organizers “stopped at some places to talk about things have had happened there,” said Lauren. “For instance, the place where Brandy Martell was killed.”

Brandy Martell was transgender woman who was shot April 29. Her murder remains unsolved. Martell’s is a “a high-profile case of transgender bashing. She died, and so we know about. But these types of things happen everyday on the streets in Oakland,” said Lauren.

The next feminist vigilante gangs march begins Friday at 7pm from 19th and Telegraph. It will also stop at the spot where Martell was killed, as well as other spots where queer bashing, rape and assault have taken place.

Lauren says the march is a few things. It’s a call-out “encouraging women, queers, gender outlaws in the Bay Area to start thinking offensively about the abuse that we’re on the receiving end of.”

It’s also “a way for us to practice discipline in the streets. Because we live in a culture that’s so abusive towards women, queers, gender variant people, its really hard for us to form affinities.”

The group plans for a tightly organized march. A security team and a league of bike scouts to protect the march have already begun training, and before the march begins a generalized security training is planned. Anyone who arrived alone will be given the chance to hook up with a marching buddy. Street medics and “emotional medics” from the Occupy Oakland safer spaces working group– “people who have some training to interact with people who are experiencing PTSD or who are experiencing emotions that are making it difficult for them to participate”– will be on hand.

“We have a bloc that is set up for people with limited mobility, that’s wheelchair users, cane users, people using walkers,” Lauren said.

Community self-defense

Organizers of the march hope that its spirit and practice of community building and self-defense can extend to the everyday lives of participants.

One way is by connecting demonstrators “with the resources to begin things like self-defense training, especially in a feminist and collective environment,” Lauren said. Groups like the Offensive Feminist Project, the Suigetsukan Dojo, and Girl Army.

“Something that we should be creating in marginalized communities is community self-defense. That’s something that the Black Panthers worked on. It’s not a new concept, in Oakland we have a lot of history with that,” said Lauren.

Community self-defense, of course, is supposed to be unnecessary; crime prevention and retribution is supposed to be relegated to the police and the criminal justice system. But Lauren said that these institutions are not working.

“I don’t believe that the criminal justice system is just, or serving anyone. And I think that’s a perspective shared by the people who are organizing the march, and probably by most of the people who will attend it,” she said. “I say this as someone who’s watched the police interrogate a rape victim and– interrogate is the correct word. There’s no justice in the criminal justice system for victims of rape and assault. So we want to talk about extra-legal methods of dealing with these issues.”

Extra-legal means of dealing with violence, she says, is “what feminist vigilante gangs is all about.”

After the march, organizers plan to continue this conversation at “a series of plenaries and salons in the East Bay” where participants will discuss questions like “What does feminist vigilantism look like?” Lauren said.

“As these conversations continue we will be spending a lot of time focusing on issues like race, and things like the history in the United States of falsely accusing men of color of assaulting white women so that they can be imprisoned or abused or killed,” Lauren said.

The group also has an open call for entries for a feminist vigilante gangs zine, for those who want to continue the discussion on paper. “People have been writing about bashing back. The Bash Back book Queer Ultraviolence just came out this year,” she noted.

Still, many people have not been exposed to the ideas and practices behind the feminist vigilante gangs march. On Friday, a lot of people will be– the march will coincide with Art Murmur, and downtown Oakland’s streets will already be crowded. A contingent from GLITUR, aka the Grand Legion of Incendiary and Tenacious Unicorn Revolutionaries, is coming down from Seattle. This march might get big.

But never fear, Lauren assured: “We should have enough glitter bandanas for everyone who comes.”