Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore's new memoir The End of San Francisco captures tumultuous times
And Sycamore has surprising words for those who think queer punk, riot grrrl, the bathhouse disco and clone-look revival, or the scene at the SF Eagle were essential to the queer activist movement (Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill makes a memorable appearance — Sycamore befriended her without knowing who she was, and later attended the first Le Tigre show.) Her habit of questioning everything can often paint her into corners of abrasive self-absorption, but she continues to raise interesting points about the fetishization of machismo in the FTM, leather, and punk communities, the emptiness of hipster activism, and the capitalist-colluding hypocrisy of "alternative culture."
As usual though, she saves her heaviest judgments for the mainstream gay morass, its Borg-like drive toward cultural hegemony via marriage, military, and consumerism — even as she acknowledges the necessary symbiosis that binds queer outcasts together. At 1993's March on Washington, "where suddenly there were a million white gay people in white t-shirts applying for Community Spirit cards": "Gays in the military was the big issue and what could be more horrifying but here's the thing: freaks actually found one another — we were so alienated that we went right up and said hi, I like your hair..."
This, then, is the tenderness that drives Bernstein to keep speaking out, despite the personal costs. As we weather another dot-com boom of homogenizing gentrification, The End of San Francisco is a timely reminder of the community that can spring from resistance.
MATTILDA BERNSTEIN SYCAMORE reads Tue/30, 7pm, free at City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus, SF. www.citylights.com, and Thursday, May 9, 7:30pm, free at the GLBT History Museum, 4127 18th St., SF. www.glbthistory.org