Sweet vagary of the San Francisco weekend

San Francisco has historically, of course, been one of the major centers of sexual subcultures. We could only imagine, how queer folks from the smaller towns and villages around the wider area were heading up to the city once they could, to seek for those who thought and felt likewise, to step on for a self-realization on different grounds that small-town rigid morals and tight eye of the “big brother” would perhaps allow. It was not before the 1980s when Castro became the well-known gay-neighborhood, but don’t think that there weren’t any beforehand. I’ve heard it was then around Polk, but I’ve also seen some maps with dots referring to the gay bars of the 1950s, and there were so many all around the city.
I ended up having a drink in Castro already on the very first weeks I got here . Well, I kind of enjoyed it – Lady Gaga and big boys with big muscles on the LCD screens around the blink-blink shaded bar, and cheap tequila. But nonetheless it hasn’t really been an arena where I would rush back into. They say, Castro has become a tourist attraction in itself, and has been even criticized for that by some from the local gay scene here. Interesting. However much critique against tourism, consumerism or homonormativity I could possibly think of, I still feel proud passing the huge rainbow flag when riding up the Market street through Castro. This flag is huge!

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For my personal heart-beat, I find more interesting the scenes that rarely get to be explored by random city visitors. Not that the latter would that much matter, but it’s more about the fact that the scene is small, specific, and gets produced by it’s own exclusiveness, that at the same time is inherently a drop-out.
One of the rules about this/these subculture(s) is not to gossip around the big wide web what is going on in those parties and those scenes, so I don’t have intention to do that. Besides, it would be a really hard task, almost impossible, as the writer, or me, who would try to do that, would sooner or later encounter alexithymia, i.e. an inability to describe emotions in a verbal matter.
This is the scene of vagary, full of unpredictable instances, desires, joys, unusual bodies, ideas and action. This is the scene of the drag, that renders productively the very Real, however chaotic and ungraspable.
Perhaps what Felix Guattari has said about the potential political power of the drag might give another glimpse of what I’m trying to say here: “The question is no longer to know whether one will play feminine against masculine or the reverse, but to make bodies, all bodies, break away from the representations and restraints on the “social body”.
And when I come think about my feelings towards the moments I experienced within this scene, I’d lay out another quote:
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.” (Oscar Wilde)

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The sexual matrix of love

I have been totally  blessed to have lived the first month of my stay in Berkeley with J. He has an awesome girlfriend H, a total reflection of his interests with fit so well with mines. Just couple of days after my arrival she also moved in. So now we’re three. She’s also a reflection of his desires, a fascination for the unexpected. They seem to be sharing love in its purest sense, with no desire for control, no desire for ownership, just pure lust, respect, companionship and joy.

For me they’re almost like an archetypical Oakland couple. Looking really good, mixing up lots of styles from sixties, eighties, nineties, feeling powerful and camp. Secondly they’re open to cross any kind of socially constructed limitations for an institution we call “a couple”. Why monogamy when you could also be polyamorous? Readings of the Ethnical Slut. Thirdly, they’re really having fun with each other and also with other people, being themselves as individuals and partnering when the moment is right. And most importantly, they’re having their crazy love of their life. Sounds like a perfect fit for me.

Hanging out in the city night with them, rocking in the venues, talking on the streets and getting late-night burritos, made me rethink about my formerly raised question about the queer as it’s experienced again. Seems that queer can appear on the heterosexual scale, but it’s good to be aware that this is not a line, but it’s a matrix. Other people can come in, from the same or from the opposite sex. Fantasies can lift you up, no boundaries, only colorful selves. And love. And love. And love.

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Going to San Francisco, everybody’s queered up

In a week time I’m in San Francisco. That’s gonna be my first time in America – the promised land that’s been haunting my childhood since growing up in the post-socialist Estonia. TV has always been the window to the wider world here – starting from the beginning of the media-time when the Finnish television used to be the open source for foreign cultural influence in Northern Estonia during Soviet time, later on during the 1990s when the children like me were carried away to their fantasy Matelle-Barbie-dolls-mini-cars-superhero-world. Oh, I remember how much I desired all these plastic-fantastic toys laying around the cute bedrooms, where frustrated American children in the movies escaped from their beautiful parents, who seemed perfect for me.

Along with age came maturity, another kind of films, different sources, new views on this amazing country that has often claimed to be the best society in the world.  And then came real people, friends from America with whom we crossed paths in different parts of the world. I’ve shared my living with some of them, I even had an American boyfriend, and he was rad.

For the past few weeks I’ve been browsing Craigslist – the most popular web for selling and buying stuff and searching for houses – to find myself a living space near Berkeley. After few days I realized that half of the population in the Bay area defines themselves as queer. They often also claim to be progressive, radical, anti-racist, sometimes also easy-going and 420 friendly. Sounds good to me, I thought. The not so good part would be when they define themselves through TV series that I had never heard about.

But back to part of the radical – so everybody’s queer. I remember Susan Stryker, an awesome scholar on transgender studies, once posted on her FB page about a phone call that she overheard: “Everybody’s queered up! I can’t find no bitches anymore! That’s what it’s like in San Francisco now…”  (by a man sitting in BART drinking something from a wrapped bottle)

Many questions circulating my mind when I come to think about these roommate adds. How come so many people are defining themselves through the gendered or non-gendered selves? How has it almost become the first and most used ‘tag’ to position yourself as a potential roommate? How is it going to be in real life – is their an actual divide between the queers and the non-queers? Can you tell the difference? Are all the queers cool and the non-queers assholes or just boring? What does the “queer” actually stand for – is it about sexual preferences, (non)gendered selves, critical attitude towards gender norms, or has it become a style or a trendy way to label yourself?

And how am I going to cope with all that – am I queer enough for these folks??!

As I still haven’t got any deal, then at least I got my little anthropological experience started. Can’t wait to take it further.

Another thing my American friends here keep on telling is that America is a dangerous country. Rock on!

Party in the hills, Papuan special

This night ended with a Papuan waria crying on my shoulder. In the distance there was a big car stuck in the soft grassy ground trying to speed off – to be exact, all the cars that had climbed up to the hill between Abepura and Jayapura were big and they expressed the wealth of the driver or the company in the car. Above us was a fabulous starlit sky, which here, away from the city hustle, seems as powerful as ever. N isn’t coming with us, “N is flying,” as P says, whose chubby boyfriend is sitting on the back of the motorbike, kicking his heels. P is a driver, the dude is sitting comfortably behind her. And on my shoulder there’s a frizzy haired drunken waria from Serui tribe crying. She was crying over the most important thing. It felt as if all the inevitability of the destiny of the warias culminated in her tears. Love. Love that seems so impossible, love that’s so unreachable. Because between the frequencies of their bodies and souls there’s suddenly some phallic extra.

“What happened? Are you sure you don’t want to go home with your boyfriend?” I asked.
“No, we’re over”, she shakes her head and wipes the tears off. “I don’t need you anymore! We’re through!” she yells once again to the guy who has vanished into the crowd. A few moments ago they’d clung around each other’s necks like love birds. I’d admired the sugar face that cool waria had found for herself.
I’d met L the same night around nine when she’d finished her work and was going home. On her way she’d stepped into U’s salon, where I with N, P, her boyfriend and a few other guys were killing time. We were talking in the hot N salon, where the air seemed to have stopped moving. There was sweat dripping from her neck to her wide cleavage, and a glinting circle appeared on her forehead that was surrounded by her frizzy hair. I remember that when we were talking about sex work she told that she didn’t do that much anymore, because she has a job. Every time she goes out with friends, she goes home at 1 am, langsung tidur, directly to bed. A few hors later we were hanging at Kali Acay and I noticed a beautiful guy trough my camera, a guy who wasn’t shy at all to be in the picture with a group of warias. A second later I saw him sharing a bike with L, they were both so happy. L gave a gentle kiss on the guy’s shoulder, and then she was impishly playing with her fingers near his groin. For me they looked like a hot couple and I was puzzled when the same sugar face came to me to beg my phone number, L still hanging around his neck. N set the things straight: “Her number is exclusively for warias only, khusus untuk waria.” Of course the guy tried his luck a few more times. Unfortunately I had no time to meet with them again, although from a researcher’s aspect it could have been interesting.
Our party started at U’s salon, where we had ordered a few bottles of a weird transparent drink, called Jenefer. Jenefer is bottled into a huge round one-liter bottle, it’s like gasoline and it’s often mixed with green Sprite. We closed the salon’s windows and doors and tried to gasp some air with a help of a fan or a piece of card board. It’s still unbearably hot, although it’s long after 9 pm. But of course no one of the neighbours or people passing by should see we’re sitting with a group in a salon that was opened a few moths ago and drinking alcoholic beverages. Not that it would be something that’s done very rarely on Papua, but social harmony is highly valued here. P’s boyfriend poured a shot of the green bubbly drink and passed it on, the beat coming from the big speakers set under the ceiling was ticking in everyone’s head.
P was seemingly worried when the shot reached me – because I was with a motor bike and I had told him that I didn’t have too much experience driving a motor bike in a Papuan night. But N said it was nothing, because the people in our country are used to drinking alcohol, there’s nothing to worry about. N seemed to have a lot of respect for our distant country. For example, once she introduced me repeatedly as „Cece, dari Estonia, ibu-kota Amerika.” Meaning, I’m from Estonia, the capital of America.
People nodded agreeably. Who wouldn’t know America?! It sounded so wicked that for a while I didn’t dare to correct her. I was giggling on my own. Estonia – the capital of America.
Despite of me having long term health problems on Papua, and of the weather being sweatting hot, and of being in a some stress arising from my research, I still thought I’d know my limits between social drinking and drinking that scatters the state of mind. It took about 3 shots. Actually it wasn’t the alcohol, it was life itself.

Saturday night – the night of the week we all get spoilt

Malam minggu or Saturday night has a special meaning here in Indonesia. This is the night of party, or as one of my friends here said: “The only night of the week, when we all get spoilt – kita semua hancur!”

Meanwhile I had already moved to downtown, to be closer to the night hotspots of the city and see what’s happening in the nightly worlds of the waria. The main hang-out area Tembok Berlin is just around the corner.

The only issue seems to be the fact that this here is not the typical Indonesia, which could be described as rather safe, even when being a single foreign woman at night-time in party locations. Some young warias warned me about motorbike taxis, which are very common means of transport in Irian Jaya: “Don’t you ever use the motorbike taxi at night! They pick you up, take you somewhere where they have group of friends waiting. Then they rape you – all of them!” Supposedly this has happened around here already quite a few times.

One of the nights we were driving to the southern market area in Sorong where there was some open-air party a’la Papua. We stopped the car, took a brief look from the windows and my waria friends stated: “No, no, this is way too dangerous – we can’t go out, you will be beaten up and you’ll get a knife!”

I saw bunch dark shadows of the Papuans dancing drunk in the beats of dangdut music – the kind of party no-one could imagine happening in some dark downtown spooky market area. Papuan spirit. And a drunk Papuan unfortunately is a very common stereotype here, and for a reason – you could really see a lot of drunk Papuan people on the streets, lost in life, probably discriminated for some generations. But my friends just couldn’t let me out to check out this party and we drove off to safer grounds such as Tembok Berlin.

Starlight nightclub stands alone and proud and glorious in Kampung Baru, Sorong, Papua

As it was Saturday night, warias were all nicely dressed up and beautifully shining. One of the older warias was sitting on the wall and proudly poring out strong local liquor – one for the waria elder of Sorong, another one for me, then again to the elder. Until it was time to head on clubbing.

I remembered my friend who’s a local minibus driver here, whom I met one afternoon when he was visiting a hair salon held by a waria. In just some minutes he picked up all the warias and other chicks, so the whole minibus turned into a wild and wicked party-zone heading towards more party. We all seven warias, four women and the driver and his friend took off with a deep beat of dancehall sounds, and it all just reminded me too much of the infamous scene in Wariazone where me and Kiwa together with some nine warias were riding around Jakarta nightlife, singing Indonesian anthem. And of course, it was Saturday night! Wish I had a camera with me up there in Papua, but see the scene of Jakarta in Wariazone trailer:

In Papua, when talking about the waria, commonly people point out  that the parties where the waria are present last the longest and get most crazy. This seemed to be the case with our night in the biggest nightclub in Sorong – the Starlight, or SL as the waria call it. Interestingly, the security took a brief look at us and asked exactly the ticket money for seven people, as if the ‘real ladies’ get in for free, and the warias (as if they were considered ‘men’) should pay the whole price. I tried my best to negotiate, but they were stubborn, and it was really stinking of discrimination based on gender.

But as we entered, the party got wild. There was a band from Yogyakarta, followed by a hot dance party, where the sweat took hold and strip-dancers lifted our sexuality. Some of the waria tried to use me and Minna to get connection with men, and I, of course, was happily playing along. Minna seemed to have a crush on the hottest strip-dancer, who then poored some vodka in her mouth, dragged her on the stage and we were all shouting: “Hancur Minna, hancur Minna!”

This, by the way, is a popular dangdut song here in East-Indonesia, which translates as ‘spoilt Minna’ – a girl who went from village to the city, stayed there for too long and lost her morals.

The island of Doom

“Doom, doom, doom, doom, doom, doom….” the guys at the harbor were shouting. And it’s not that somebody is doomed or this is the doomsday or there’s some great doom rock gig around the corner (wishful thinking, eh), but indeed – there’s a small island just some 20-minutes boat ride from Sorong and it’s called DOOM.

So the guys shouting “Doom, doom, doom, doom, doom, doom….” are just trying to find people that would land in their boat and take a ride to this spooky doomed island.

Doom is the island with Dutch heritage. You can walk around the circular island within an hour – it’s just 4,5km long – and take a look at some dutch influence in architecture and in city planning. It used to be the center of their settlement in West Papua, at the top of the so-called Bird’s Head peninsula, in early 1900s and it played an important economic role for Chinese settlers. Although I remember hearing the stories from the locals that the island used to have a prison, after which it was called Doom, I  have also read that the island known as Dum means that the island is full of fruit in Malamooi tribes.

We also met an older brother of my friend in Sorong, who has lived in Doom his entire life of around 60 years. What intrigued me was the way he explained the island’s lost wonders: “The Indonesians! Since the Indonesians came everything has changed – here we used to have crystal clear water with bright white sand, but now it’s just an extension of Sorong here.” Well, after all, the island still seemed exotic for my eyes, but I could have only imagined the picture he was trying to paint for us from his childhood memories preceding the year of 1969 when Dutch New Guinea was annexed and it became known as West Irian, later Irian Jaya.

I went there to meet a Papuan waria whose family lives on the island. There, sadly, she could never dress up nor express her gender identity, but when she leaves the island for a weekend in Sorong, or travels to other cities such as Jayapura, she feels free to open herself up and enjoy the fruits of life as a waria.  But in front of her local community, she remains this androgynous weird boy, leading double lives and trying to cope with it.

Buginese princess: the making of it

A sufficient amount income for the warias who work in salons, comes actually not from daily hairstyling, but from wedding preparations. Every other week, if not more often, this is the waria who makes the bride and groom pretty and decorates the wedding room. Already at our very first meeting Jaka was thinking that we should do a make-up session, to make a Buginese bride out of me.

When I looked at the photographs of some other brides I had seem before, I thought this is a way to big job we can experiment with. But Jaka told me to relax and give her an hour. And so we did it.

Pardon my narcissism if it looks this way, but I wanted to share the whole process with you. The making of it. The making of a Buginese princess. It took around one hour to cover all my face with powder, attach some fake eye-lashes, paint my forehead, my eyes, my lips, make my hair amazing and dress me up. Jaka could explain every detail of my outfit, some for Allah, some for adat (the local culture).

I felt I was turned into a princess, a Buginese princess, that has to do all the dirty work in the kitchen and elsewhere, but still, she always has to be a beautiful princess and smile. And later when already married, get pregnant, and smile. Just as most of the women in the world, just as we are so often expected.

All photos by Minna Hint