Friday, October 26, 2018

A BREAD FACTORY (2018)—All Feast, No Famine

"The Bread Factory once made bread, whereas now there are only crumbs; but, what they make of those crumbs is miraculous!!"

A new film by Patrick Wang is always a cause for celebration and his latest—A Bread Factory, Parts One and Two (2018)—makes up for his absence since The Grief of Others (2015) by providing a four-hour narrative bifurcated into two independent acts, each roughly two hours. By necessity, each act requires treatment as a separate film. Fans of duration will attend all four hours when A Bread Factory opens at the Village East Cinema in New York and at the Laemmle Monica Film Center in Los Angeles on Friday, October 26, with other cities to follow. But those with half the attention span will not be disappointed by only catching the first two hours (subtitled For the Sake of Gold), which—of the two acts—is the most cohesive and satisfying in its narrative thrust and trajectory, perhaps for providing at least a temporary sense of remedy to a complicated social issue.

After being around for 40 years, the Bread Factory—Checkford's local community arts center run by partners Dorothea (Tyne Daly) and Greta (Elisabeth Henry)—comes under seige from the May Ray Foundation, which purports to spread a message of global culture (most notably China, front and center), but is actually a financial ruse to siphon money away from the children's art program of Checkford's school system. To save the Bread Factory from financial ruin, Dorothea and Greta rally the community to defend their funding, which the school board is proposing to reallocate to the May Ray Foundation's FEEL Institute. For the Sake of Gold begins with the community's protest (scored to the Greek wind of tragedy and orchestral strings), then proceeds to a sequence where Dorothea and Greta escort guest filmmaker Jordan (Janeane Garofolo) to the Bread Factory where she is scheduled to show a retrospective of her films and teach a class on filmmaking to the students.

Patrick Wang remains one of the most challenging filmmakers working today precisely because he wants audiences to be engaged with cinema as the seventh art and eschews the formulaic tropes that have made many contemporary films marketable while making their audiences passive. Audiences can't be passive with a Patrick Wang film. This opening sequence between Daly, Henry and Garofolo initiates a labyrinthine plot that begs for Ariadne's clew. One never knows what to expect next, particularly as Act One veers into Act Two (subtitled Walk With Me A While). What at first strikes the viewer as meandering, disconnected and absurd narrative threads build through their own intricate and internal logic to weave a complex portrait of an alarming sea change (i.e., a "groundswell") in the American cultural-political landscape (or should I say seascape?).

One of Wang's recognized directorial strengths is his rapport with actors and—most notably in A Bread Factory—he directs an immense ensemble of more than 100 actors to create a cultural imaginary in which an independent art organization argues for its right to exist against a school board seeking to reallocate its funding. The intricacy of Wang's script elicits the best from each of his actors to specific purpose as their performances steer the script—through humor and pathos, through metaphor and farce—to Act One's heartbreaking finale. It's on the strength of his actors' performances that multiple themes are introduced, addressed, and articulated, themes that are ideas full of blood, so many ideas in fact that—in some ways—Act Two feels like Wang's surfeit of ideas requires complication and reiteration to achieve any sense of completion or resolution. I'll attempt to focus on how these performances provide nuance and tease out the script's tangled ideas.

Not only is A Bread Factory brimming with ideas, but the script is rich with chiseled lines. "You can always count on the Italians to be sensible," newspaper editor Jan Barley (Glynnis O'Connor) quips. Her intelligence is given a slight southern drawl as she questions the tax exemptions granted the May Ray Foundation and as she seeks to mentor her young intern Max (played earnestly by In the Family alumni Zachary Sayle, whose striking talent shines with natural delivery and enthusiastic charisma). Not knowing any better, Max is taken in by Man Ray's self-congratulatory press releases, as members of the school board are likewise fooled into believing that Man Ray's flaccid artistic experiments—intended to shock audiences with their incomprehensibility—are genuine art. The built-in applause and self-affirmation of May Ray's performance pieces discount valid criticism and discard critical rigor. They might as well be shouting, "Fake news!" May Ray's ridiculous performance piece of encouraging their audience to walk in hats, instead of shoes—with the calculated intention of selling photos to the participants of their feet in hats—represents the commercial justification for allowing affect to replace substance and artifice to stand in for art. Janet Hsieh (May) and George Young (Ray) represent compromised performances, and Act Two provides evidence for how disingenuine they truly are.

Jan warns Max to always be on the lookout for what he doesn't know and, as a journalist, to not rely on press releases since they are only trying to tell people what to think and are, in effect, selling a perspective. "Words have to mean something," Jan tells Max. "If words don't mean anything, then conversations built on those words can't possibly mean anything." This is as transparent a critique of the Trump administration as one might hope for in a film.

Jan also demonstrates how community is built upon concern for each individual within the community. She comes upon aged actor Sir Walter—Brian Murray in his final performance (and Murray, some might remember, portrayed the compassionate lawyer in Wang's first film In the Family). Sir Walter is disoriented and confused and—not wanting to embarrass him or disrespect him—Jan asks in her sweet southern drawl if he might walk her home, assuring him that she doesn't live very far from where he himself lives. For me, Sir Walter's importance as a character is his theatrical vigor from an older generation of stage acting, which articulates a critique he is therefore qualified to make later in the film, whereas Jan represents the moral compass of A Bread Factory. Her disappearance in Act Two signals a disturbing absence of critical rigor and a direct challenge to the young, which again speaks to the state of our nation. As an aside, I must mention Wang's moving tribute to Brian Murray for Talkhouse.

Another of Wang's directorial strengths is knowing how to balance farce with depth; in fact, how to use farce to accentuate depth. Jan's interview with visiting poet Ted Hugo (Noah Averbach-Katz), for example, is near slapstick in how the poet passes out and clunks his head on the table when he learns that Jan has actually read his volumes of poetry in order to prepare for their conversation. "Memories can be bad poetry," Ted states (in yet another lapidary line). Ted's interactional session with the students reveals the importance of different types of teachers to elicit different learned responses. His gondolas poem indirectly inflects the overall theme of the film: "Though we sink, we do not fall." Again, I may be reaching, but I can see how the film speaks to our current national crisis.

Quite brilliantly, Wang also exhibits a gleeful genre-within-genre abandon—he offers a staged play within a film; a film of a staged play—and he artfully maneuvers the connective tissue between stage and screen. Ted's poetry reading, in turn, is recognized as a staged performance and emphasizes the importance of a local arts organization to provide as many different types of staged performances as possible.

A "little movie theater play humor" comes in the guise of the dashingly handsome Hollywood actor Trooper Jaymes (Chris Conroy) who sees these various genres as all being "in the biz." In his introductory café scene with Julie (Erica Durham) where they're talking about "craft", he knocks the table and spills her drink, then takes off his shirt to wipe up the mess, causing everyone in the café to do a quick take as he grins sheepishly and winks at the camera in direct address. Conroy's performance is exactly what it critiques: the prurient interest of the average audience member in fantasized sex. It's a comic bit, but a brilliant bit, not only in itself, but for setting the stage for increased naturalism as the film evolves away from such artifice towards the community's confrontation with the school board. In his testimony at the town meeting, Trooper's artifice speaks for the opposition. His earnest emotionalism—as moving as it first appears—reveals itself to be a bought and ill-learned script. He needs to ask for his final, most important, line (which concerns the future welfare of Checkford's youth). This is when Sir Walter cuts him down to size: "That," he pronounces, "is not an actor." Which is to say that so many contemporary performances by young hunks displaying their vulnerabilities belies shallow sentiment and the lowest denominator of audience expectation.

Tyne Daly (as Dorothea) excels as a woman frustrated by the evident political maneuverings that seek to rob her beloved Bread Factory of its funding. In the face of members on the school board who think "it's time" to accept new trends and who—by saying so to her face—demean decades of effort and achievement, Daly is disillusioned to realize her years of involvement at the Bread Factory are seen as "bumpkin" efforts and not high art. The heirarchy of "high" and "low" art is as vapid as Man Ray's rant: "Down with the hierarchy of furniture!" Or—as in the case of Pat (Kit Flanagan), board chair—Dorothea is startled and saddened to discover that Pat's vote to reallocate funds away from the Bread Factory is cored on a smoldering need for personal revenge. Whereas Jan, for me, represents the film's moral compass from an intellectual and critical perspective, Dorothea represents the film's moral compass from an emotional and frustrated perspective.

Janeane Garofolo has created a career based on comic inflections of corrosive cynicism. Her character Jordan's Q&A session after her film retrospective is hilarious for being barren of meaningful interaction between her and her audience, except for Greta's query of how she deals with actors? "I treat them like my baby sister," Jordan answers Greta, "unless they're acting like assholes." Simon (Keaton Nigel Cooke), the tween projectionist, later questions Jordan why all her movies are so different from each other and why people get mad about those differences? One wonders if Wang isn't guising his own frustration with audience expectation on his films? Jordan's class with the Bread Factory's young students is cruel but pointed. If digital filmmaking is so readily dispensible, then what does it matter? If the filmmakers themselves don't care what happens to their work, why should anyone else? Jordan threatens to delete a young girl's video who meekly responds okay, which infuriates Jordan who says that's how she knows it's crap because if the girl is so willing to let her delete it, it must be crap. "I have it on my phone," the little girl counters, as if this alone justifies her digital creation. Exasperated that the student is missing the point, Jordan then threatens to kill the girl's dog, which earns an honest reaction. That's all I want from you, Jordan argues soothingly, that you care about something when you pick up a camera, that you want to cry for something. "What if I don't want to cry?" one of the other kids shouts out and Garofolo, as Jordan, answers without missing a beat, "Everybody cries when they make movies." Again, is Garofolo's character standing in for Wang? Is she his actor fatiche? How the young Simon interprets and incorporates Jordan's lesson and brings it to his family's dinner table suggests the efficacy of good advice that accentuates the importance of a heightened, meaningful life.

It's always a pleasure to watch Trevor St. John (the love interest from In the Family), whose handsome countenance is put to good use here to guise the charismatic lure of unchecked hypocrisy and unbridled threats via his character Karl Muller. He threatens to bring the Bread Factory to the attention of the Department of Labor because Simon is underage and "working" all the time as a projectionist. Muller is confident they will shut the Bread Factory down. Simon overhears this conversation and it is heartbreaking the sacrifice he makes to insure that Muller cannot achieve his end. Clearly, Muller displays a heartless lack of regard for why Simon is so often at the Bread Factory. It is Simon's place to be himself, to learn, to participate and feel useful. Worrying why he is staying away, Greta comes to visit him and to affirm that he is missed and that he is loved for being such a good friend to artists and that—whatever his decision—their good time together will always be remembered. Elisabeth Henry's performance in this scene is particularly poignant, showing—by contrast to Muller—how invested she is in Simon, how much she cares about him, but how she is willing to grant him the sovereignty he needs to make his own decisions.

The tender naturalism of Henry's characterization of Greta is contrasted against the broad gestures of Tessa (Elaine Bromka) who is introduced as a drama school chum of Greta's. At surface, somewhat like Sir Walter, Tessa exemplifies the cliché of the exaggerated personas of theater actors; but, when Tessa performs Yelena's (purported) soliloquy from Chekhov's Uncle Vanya (presumably as a guest piece at the Bread Factory), she is breathtakingly articulate and beautiful. What I need to point out here is Wang's adept usage of so many different approaches to acting and his facility for reconciling them into compatibility and continuity. Again, Wang is not only showcasing the remarkable talent of Elaine Bromka but exercising a genre-within-genre technique to texture and strengthen his narrative.

It's perhaps important to note Chekhov's plays—now recognized and accepted as permanent fixtures of international theater—met tepid reviews when first performed. It took audiences some time to understand Chekhov's emotional nuances. Wang has applied Chekhov's aimed philosophy of challenging actors and audiences by replacing conventional action with what Chekhov himself termed a "theater of mood" and a "submerged life in the text." He is, in effect, providing Ariadne's clew (i.e., clue) to guide us through the labyrinth, by placing this piece of Chekhov seemingly out of place and yet absolutely essential and appropriate to the narrative's traction. But most importantly, as far as I am able to determine, the soliloquy Tessa performs is Chekhovian, though not actually Chekhov. It appears that Wang has written a soliloquy adapted from Chekhov. Now why would he add this scriptural complication to a script already heavy-laden with ideas?

It's perhaps of further importance to note that—though Chekhov himself described his infamous quartet of plays (The Seagull, Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard) as comedies with farcical elements, directors such as Konstantin Stanislavski elected to present them as tragedies, spotlighting the dual nature of the texts themselves. By including his Chekhovian soliloquy within Act One, Wang is perhaps speaking to the dual nature of his own text, which as noted earlier is at times absurd and comic before plunging into relevance and depth? I may be wrong about this presumption, but I could find no credit referenced to Chekhov at film's end, nor could I locate this particular soliloquy when I re-read Uncle Vanya. It is this kind of ingenuity that identifies Wang as one of contemporary film's most remarkable screenwriters working today. And again I may be presuming too much when I suggest that his tip of the hat to Chekhov also addresses the increased social stratification of our current moment when "peasants are falling out of the trees."

But Wang doesn't stop there with his genre-within-genre scriptural device as throughout Act One the characters are in rehearsal for a staging of Hecuba at the Bread Factory. Wang's script for the Bread Factory production of Hecuba has been compiled, with permission of the publisher, from Euripides' classic plays Andromache, Hecuba, and Trojan Women. Again employing Chekhov's technique of submerging life within a text, the Bread Factory production of Hecuba mirrors the central social issue plaguing the Checkford community (encapsulated in Act One's subtitle For the Sake of Gold), namely that the adults who are supposed to responsible for the welfare of the young abandon that responsibility in pursuit of personal financial gain. Instead of allowing the Bread Factory to continue in its rightful education of the community's youth, Checkford's school board becomes complicit with efforts to do away with what the children truly need.

Elsa (Nana Visitor) is introduced as the translator for Hecuba. Her interactions with Sandra (opera star Martina Arroyo) are whimsical and offbeat. Sandra is sitting in on the rehearsals for Hecuba, allegedly because her grandson is playing the role of Hector. Whereas Elsa disclaims she is a writer, and identifies herself only as a translator, Sandra treats her respectfully as a writer and remembers her own husband—a writer of warranties for appliances—who often told her that more people read him than Faulkner. Sandra cogently disagreed, arguing that no one reads warranties, people read stories (which is also to say that audiences prefer to watch stories). She challenges Elsa to write down her own hard stories about family members in the war, but Elsa backs off in panic, though a trust builds between them. Eventually, Elsa reads her translation to Sandra who compliments her writing, saying "it was like being there." Then when Elsa is arguing with Dorothea about how the original Greek script calls for Hecuba to be singing her lines, Sandra begins singing, though she seems bemusedly disoriented as to why she should be singing. What is important in the interaction between Elsa and Sandra is a sense of respect for each others' distinct integrity and, by Act Two, Elsa is brought to a painful realization of what she has missed by not accepting Sandra's offer to listen to her family story.

Elsa is also a character whose integrity struggles to find itself beneath the weight of self-abnegation and denial. Her husband Jason (James Marsters)—presented as a local hero arguing for teachers' rights against the school board—is, at the same time, having an affair with the board's secretary, Mavis (Nan-Lyn Nelson). Mavis bolsters Jason's resolve to fight for their mutual concerns, and then Jason returns home to browbeat his wife Elsa and his son Max. What's said here about the hypocrisy of men who take their families for granted while promoting their stature within the community speaks to the psychological flaw that is corroding the American family unit.

Act One of A Bread Factory comes to a rousing and fascinating denouement at the town meeting to determine the school board's final budget allocation. Though the press notes refer to this scene as a "circus", I suggest it is much more than that. It shows how reasoned language has become gutted by bullying pretense. Both sides of the issue are given time to present speeches in support of their view. Muller, in his arrogance, offers lies at every turn to advance his cause (sound familiar?) while Dorothea and Greta, supported by Jan, rely on human truth. Muller brings in false experts to pronounce false results. Just as Sir Walter nailed Trooper Jaymes as a false actor, Professor Jean Marc (Phillip Kerr), an art critic resident of Checkford who has won a Pulitzer and National Book Award, undermines the false expertise of Alan Chen (Andrew Pang), the "art critic" brought in to argue for Muller's team) and reminds those present that the Bread Factory once made bread, whereas now there are only crumbs; but, what they make of those crumbs is miraculous!!

Act One concludes with Max despondent over Julie's decision to leave for Hollywood with Trooper. Though his failure to show up at the board meeting to help out with the vote is distressing, Max nonetheless arrives at the Bread Factory for solace, where Sandra is waiting for rehearsal to begin. When Dorothea arrives and assesses the situation, she uses the ritual of theater itself to help Max find expression (and catharsis) for his conflicted feelings. She brings him onto the stage and turns him towards the empty auditorium, noting, "Things look different from here" and then has him cold read a soliloquy from the script for Hecuba. The soliloquy is that of the ghost of Polydorus, the Trojan prince entrusted by his parents to be protected by a king who, instead, kills him to steal the gold his parents have sent with him. Polydorus, standing in for the youth of Checkford, as well as the youth of America, is killed for the sake of gold. He has no peace in his death. He has not been buried but thrown into the sea. His ghost arrives to the tent where his mother and sisters have been taken as slaves. "You're the ghost of Polydorus trying to find peace," Dorothea directs Max and walks away leaving him alone on stage.

Though protesting that he is not an actor, Max nails the narrative thrust of the soliloquy in his cold reading and the power of this, the power of his identification with the text, is amplified by the sure and steady camera work of cinematographer Frank Barrera, which glides in on Max slowly, intensifying his recognition of the relevance of the words he is reading aloud. Then suddenly Sandra joins him on stage, embracing him and singing about the poor prince who has been killed for gold and—despite the gravity of the moment and the script—Max giggles and smiles. It is an incandescent moment that illuminates the value of the Bread Factory, as well as the efforts of Dorothea and Greta, as champions of youth.

Finally, before leading into Act Two, Chip Taylor's wry and self-reflexive "Whose Side Are You On?" lyricizes about how the audience has come to the end of Act One with the credits rolling, but wanting to take a moment to assess why the victory of Act One might not be sufficient to tell the full story or to satisfy the need for simply more story, which Act Two then amply provides. It also makes it clear that you can't drive through a living room without revealing whose side you are on; a sober reminder of the divisive times in which we're living. Chip Taylor's songs, it might be remembered, were featured in Wang's debut feature In the Family. Their collaboration continues with A Bread Factory. Along with the film opening today in New York and Los Angeles, Taylor is releasing a new album of six songs; three songs are in the films, and three are exclusive to the album, available on digital and streaming sites, with the CD available for purchase on Amazon.

Friday, August 24, 2018

DARK MONEY (2018)—Q&A With Director Kimberly Reed and Former FEA Commissioner Ann Ravel Moderated by Daniel Newman (MapLight)

On Wednesday, June 20, 2018, Larsen Associates invited me to attend a special San Francisco screening of Dark Money (2018) at the Delancey Street screening room with director Kimberly Reed present to introduce her film and an after-film discussion with Reed and Ann Ravel, former Commissioner at the Federal Election Commission (FEC), moderated by Daniel Newman, President and Co-Founder of MapLight, an East Bay watchdog organization monitoring money's influence on politics.

Opening at The Flicks in Boise, Idaho on Friday, August 24, 2018, and just in time to educate the public for Fall elections, Dark Money is infuriatingly informational. A winner of the Amazon Studios Production Award at Sundance, Dark Money succeeds in relaying how dark money trafficks behind a curtain of secrecy to buy (and thereby steal) democracy from the citizenry. As Dennis Harvey wrote in his Variety review, Dark Money is: "Potent! A rather harrowing portrait of democacy under threat, even if ultimately there is hope."

It's this tangible sense of remedy that makes Dark Money an effective, and hopeful, working primer, even as administrative forces rally to make the disclosure of dark money increasingly difficult. Shortly after seeing the film in San Francisco, the IRS announced a policy shift that will allow dark money nonprofits to go almost pitch-black by no longer requiring 501(c)(4) and (c)(6) nonprofit organizations to provide the names of their donors.

As detailed at Maplight: "The nonprofits, which are already known as 'dark money' organizations because their donors' names aren't disclosed to the public, have become high-profile players in U.S. campaigns by virtue of their ability to funnel unlimited amounts of anonymously donated money into elections and other political contests. Before the IRS announcement, however, the nonprofits were required to disclose the names of donors to the government.

"Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center, said the disclosure requirement 'was one of the few ways that the government could identify illegal foreign money in elections. Today, that requirement is gone. Dark money just got a lot darker.' "

An informed vigilant citizenry will now have to help light the way forward in order to preserve the democratic effect of their right to vote.

* * *

Daniel Newman: Watching this film about what happened in Montana 100 years ago made me think of how here in California more than 100 years ago the Southern Pacific Railroad owned the legislature and the newspapers, and would even have the state write checks from the State Treasury directly to the corporation. It was in rebellion to that over the space of many years that the State of California passed an initiative where it gave citizens a right to recall. Why was it important to tell the story of what happened in Montana 100 years ago to tell the story of what is now going on nationally?

Kimberly Reed: In general, as a filmmaker and as a storyteller, the challenge in telling a story about money in politics—which is difficult and abstract and gets complicated real quick—the most important thing was to find human faces to wrap this story around, and to make it about real people doing real things. Also, for viewers, to make them feel these issues about money in politics and corruption in their gut and not in that part of their brain that processes pie charts. We needed to find a story that we could get our arms around.

What was happening in Montana—well, first of all, I'm from there so on a practical level I had access. I had a place to sleep and a car to drive. I knew I was going to be able to finish the film and follow it and be able to get access in a way that I figured I'd be able to walk the walk and talk the talk and have the access to the people that I needed to have access to. Having that access, it was clear that the flashpoint for a lot of these debates were actually happening in Montana. The same group of attorneys who were behind Citizens United were opening law offices in one other state besides their home office, and that was in Montana. We saw that they were going after these relatively strong campaign finance laws. You could see the pressure coming from that one side of this group of attorneys.

But, also, having grown up in Montana and learning in grade school about the Copper Kings' battles for "the richest hill on Earth", I knew that there would be a pushback from the citizens who have a more built-in skepticism of the role of money in politics. Seeing that lay of the land, and hoping that there would be some drama that was going to build up, a drama that could be wrapped around real people, is what led me to follow that story.

Daniel Newman: Ann, at the close of the film you read a letter of advice to President Trump. Did he take you up on your advice?

Ann Ravel: Not only has he not taken me up on that advice, he's never even actually responded to that letter.

Daniel Newman: The one thing that really strikes me is that as a Presidential candidate, Donald Trump pulled on this issue about the special interests in money and politics. The frustrating thing for me is—I'm simply trying to raise awareness of this issue better—while a candidate obviously used it to propel a story that he was doing something about it.

I found it striking in a wonderfully positive way that you tell this story, as you said, without pie charts, without a lot of numbers, and that's a hard thing and an important thing to do. What else do you see out there in terms of media, or films short or long, what else needs to exist so that we can—hopefully, everyone in the country will see your film but probably no one's going to see any one film with everyone else in the country—so what else is needed? We have a lot of creative people here in this audience. What else can be done to spread this out there that doesn't exist?

Kimberly Reed.  Photo courtesy of the filmmaker.
Kimberly Reed: Citizens United right now is the law of the land. Hopefully what our film points out is that it's all about disclosure. If you know where this money is coming from; if you ask for that; if you demand that as a voter; if you get involved and run for a public office—make sure that's part of your platform. As a voter, make sure you're holding your elected officials accountable on that level. That sort of public dialogue is what's really needed. It's something that started to happen in Montana after the 2008 and 2010 elections where voters started to pay attention to this issue and now, if you watch the dialogue, Jon Tester's running for re-election again in 2016, and part of the public debate is about this issue of money in politics. It's at the forefront. People are examining it and voting on that issue and that, more than anything, is what's needed to hold our elected officials accountable.

Daniel Newman: I often tell people to join a group, like Common Cause, or my organization Maplight, because that way you're not just doing this by yourself; you're part of a collective effort. Ann, you served on the FEC and hoped it would be better than it was in terms of getting things done. Is the FEC important nowadays? What's going on there? What can be done?

Ann Ravel: The FEC is clearly important. What was great about the film was showing how significant it was to have a regulator and an enforcer that was active and doing something about what they discovered. Because, also, investigative reporting is important in getting to the facts and having it out to the public; but, having that consequence is so important. And yet the FEC as it is now is worse than it ever was because I have been gone over a year, they have not filled my position, and one of the other commissioners has left so there are only four members. Congress doesn't seem to care. Obviously, the President doesn't care; they're Presidential appointments. That's really important because—as I think Jonathan Rowland said it, and it's true—the whole purpose of campaign financing laws is to assure trust in government. If you don't have what you think is a fair electoral process with people who are believing in the law and enforcing it, it's hard for people to feel that trust.

That's another thing that I would add to the list of people's involvements. These are senate-confirmed appointments so you should talk to your congress people, your senators, and make it an important aspect of what they do for the disclosure that we need, and also to insure that there is somebody there watching.

Kimberly Reed: I also wanted to thank Ann Ravel for her service here in California on the Fair Political Practices Commission. It's the first time, as you see in the film, that the Koch dark money network was broken open and disclosed. Thank you for that.

Daniel Newman: What is the motive here behind the secrecy? There's been a concerted effort to keep things in the dark. Why is it so important?

Kimberly Reed: Usually it has to do with issues that people don't want their fingerprints on. A lot of times it's environmental issues. You see that going on in the film here where people don't really want to be the person who created the Berkeley Pit that is killing a bunch of snow geese. I see it in a lot of civil rights issues, LGBT issues a lot of times. Montana's not this perfect place. You'll remember that the representative for the U.S. House from Montana, Greg Gianforte, is the guy who brought in the reporter from the Guardian during the elections. He was not only a recipient of dark money when he was running but also a major donor to prevent anti-discrimination clauses in his hometown of Bozeman, Montana. He basically wanted to shut down all of those resolutions from the city council saying we won't discriminate against LGBT folk. He was opposing that. Another example of not wanting to really own that argument. If he wants to express that or if he wants to articulate that in a public debate as policy, then I think he should be able to express that point of view; but, to hide that point of view in a 501(c)(4), a nonprofit group that's supposed to be for the social welfare...? I think he should put his name on it.

Ann Ravel.  Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call.
Ann Ravel: Let me add, because the groups are dark and the 501(c)(4)s don't disclose their donors—they aren't required to do so even though they should be required to do so at certain points—we don't know who's actually contributing to them; but, the belief is that a lot of corporations do contribute to them and contribute to them through lots of other circuitous means, say first they give to the Chamber of Commerce and then the Chamber of Commerce puts it through either a PAC or a 501(c)(4) or some other group. The reason that they don't want it known is because there is backlash from the people who are the consumers of whatever it is that the corporation gets involved in, or has been, once it becomes public. It's not well thought-out because sometimes these things do surface publicly but that seems to be the reason why a lot of corporations when they give, give in that way.

Daniel Newman: I'll add to that too. In reporting by Jane Mayer in the book Dark Money and in Nancy MacLean's Democracy in Chains, that the Koch Brothers in particular who fund a lot of these groups have a philosophy of overturning them, and it's just not popular, but they're not able to get past by lobbying.

Kimberly Reed: I also want to point out that it's groups like Maplight that are investigating those corporate contributions and uncovering the roles of these corporations that is really crucial.

Daniel Newman: Thank you. I want to take notice that Don McGahn, featured in the film in the Federal Elections Commission as one of the obstructionists, is now White House counsel.

Ann Ravel: Actually, let me say that is why I said at the end of this film that I thought it was like a test case at the FEC because that was Don McGahn's test case of how to insure that a government agency can be totally dysfunctional. We are seeing now that it's true with many of the other government agencies that also exist for the protection of the public.

[At this juncture, Daniel Newman opened the discussion to include questions from the audience.]

Q: The Copper Baron you were mentioning was Senator William A. Clark. Did your film originally include more about him personally vs. his being generally grouped within the Copper Kings? He was basically the Rockefeller of Copper.

Kimberly Reed: Unfortunately, there's lots of stuff on the cutting room floor. There's a beautiful chapter about Don McGahn and his role in the current administration and that's on the cutting room floor. Also, for those of you keeping score at home, do you remember about six to eight months ago Trump appointed somebody to stand for a position on the Federal Bench during his Senate confirmation hearing? It was revealed that he had never taken a deposition and didn't know anything about law? Remember that guy? He was the other guy at the FEC that you can see in some of the old footage beside Don McGahn. His name was Matthew Peterson.

Ann Ravel: And he's still there.

Kimberly Reed: But, yes, there was a lot about William A. Clark. He was one of the main copper kings. He is the reason that we have a 17th Amendment. The 17th Amendment led to the direct elections of U.S. Senators so that state legislators would not elect U.S. Senators. Long story short: he brazenly bribed members of the Montana legislature to vote him into office in the U.S. Senate. He actually got the seat after paying Montana legislators $10,000 each—this was back when state legislators voted for U.S. Senators—he paid them money on the floor of the Montana capitol, right? Went to Washington D.C. and the sitting senators at the time were so disgusted with the rampant corruption that was going on back in Montana that they refused to seat him, and that's ultimately what led to us having the 17th Amendment and also to the Corrupt Practices Act of 1912 that was passed.

Q: Just to play the devil's advocate, the 17th Amendment was passed at the end of the Muckraker Era as a result of all the muckrakers. In your film you're basically showing in a very responsible state a terrific drama, but I wonder what will tip the national public conscience into this being a national issue? Because, again being a devil's advocate, Don McGahn is considered one of the good guys. He opposed a lot of the lawyers' recommendations to Trump and I wonder if the Kochs in any state have played to bigotry or uglier things in the state? This was a clean "citizens deserve a right to speak", but they're very dirty players. Do you think this issue is going to come to a national tipping point? What will tip this towards a national interest?

Kimberly Reed: I think the core of your question is: "Okay, this is great that this has happened in Montana, but is that isolated or can this example be applied to other states?" Short answer? Two states with probably the strongest campaign finance laws are California and Montana. California, it's pretty understandable with a lot of presumptions that we make. Trump took Montana by 20 points and it also has really strong campaign finance laws. Long story short: If you can do it there, you can do it anywhere. There are maybe some exceptions that are a little bit unique: this long history of corporate exploitation leading to environmental disasters makes you attuned to the role of corporate money in politics and makes you skeptical of that. That's the devil's advocate part of your question, I think?

There's always some way that we can vocalize our politics. I think this issue is going to move like marriage equality moved. We're going to have one city council, then another city council, then a municipal resolution that says, "We want to repeal Citizens United." And then another municipal resolution that's basically going to follow along, and another statement that's going to move from the bottom up, from local to national. We're already seeing lots of local resolutions. We're seeing state movement. My Dark Money Google alert is pinging all over the place in all sorts of states that were not happening two years ago. In this mid-term election, it really is happening. So, yes, by focusing on local politics, municipal politics, even school boards are starting to come up with a lot of these resolutions. People are fed up. Like you were saying, Daniel, in the last Presidential election cycle, all of the major candidates had the same position on campaign finance reform. They said this system is busted and we need to fix it and—whether or not they intended to fix it is a separate issue—but, it's clearly something that's resonating with the general public. I just have to believe with so much broad base support, that it's inevitable.

Q: What was the fallout for the young woman from Colorado who testified?

Kimberly Reed: Sarah Arnold is a real hero. I was just at a film festival with her in Telluride, Colorado, close to where she lives, a couple of weeks ago. She said that she fully expects retribution and she fully got retribution, not because of the film but because of her testimony in that trial. She basically went back to school to become a data analyst. She used to work as a political consultant in those same circles. She's had to reboot that. But it says a lot about her character. She knew it was coming, but she did it anyways, and she did the right thing.

Interesting sidenote: Colorado is strange and unique in that they don't have a little house where the commissioner for practices to enforce campaign finance laws. They say that individual citizens have to bring suits. Sara Arnold is married to the guy in Colorado who has brought more suits than anyone else. The two of them have been making a big dent in campaign finance corruption in Colorado; but, just a couple of days ago, there was a State Supreme Court ruling—I don't know if you're following this—but, it basically shut that down and said that it's unconstitutional for citizens to be the main enforcers of this, which there's some sense to be found in that. But the upshot of that is that now—going into mid-term elections—there's not going to be anybody minding anything and nobody is going to have the authority to bring suit for campaign finance violations.

Q. On a national level, all of this is tax-free. What's the difference between a 501(c)(3) and a 501(c)(4)? They're not mutually exclusive. The NRA has both.

Ann Ravel: The difference is that 501(c)(3)s are not permitted to participate in political campaigns in any way. 501(c)(4)s, which are considered social welfare organizations, are permitted to do so but under both the IRS rules as well as the campaign finance rules. If they spend a majority of their money on a political campaign, then under the FEC rules they become a political committee and, thus, have to register and they have to identify their donors. They don't do that. That's the difference.

Q: So the IRS is not enforcing their own rules?

Ann Ravel: The IRS isn't enforcing it because—when they attempted to implement some rules many years ago—they were attacked by some Republicans in Congress, which is a fact, and they backed away from them and, thus, have not actually written any rules since ... I think it was about 2013 when that happened, 2012?, and the FEC isn't enforcing.

Daniel Newman: Kimberly, Ann, any last comments?

Ann Ravel: I wanted to say ditto to what was said before about reform and what might happen in other states and on the federal level. Even in California, where we have good laws, there is a lot of money that's coming in to whether they be judicial races or school board races and the like. At the Federal level, there has been more money spent by outside groups than were spent by the candidates and the parties combined, for the first time ever. So this is an issue that is increasing, it's not getting better. It's getting worse, if anything. I do think that this is a time when people who feel this way already need to mobilize and do more of what we've talked about, which is to be more activist about this situation.

Kimberly Reed: I want to acknowledge our wonderful composer Miriam Cutler. Documentaries are made in the editing room and our editor Jay Arthur Sterrenberg was my co-storyteller in this.

As a final wrap-up, I would just say that there is some scary, discouraging stuff in Dark Money. We all know that those dots are out there and, hopefully, one of the things that our film does is connect those dots and make you go, "Oh. So now I see how these dots work and see that there's proof." We were able to tell that story in Montana because of some bizarre revelations and accidental disclosures. This stuff is going on all the time and it's going on in other states all the time. I hope you're able to get a glimpse of hope that—because we see the game, because we know how that shell game works—we know that it's all about disclosure. Usually it's about a law that we already have on the books and just need to enforce. Don't forget this: even Citizens United says in an 8 to 1 sub-decision within that: the only reason we can find that moneyed corporations are people and Citizens United is the law of the land is because we're presuming that there will be disclosure. We're presuming that we're going to know where all this money is coming from. The key is disclosure. If they can do it in Montana, which is a pretty darn red state, then we can do it anywhere.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

BODIES IN PROTEST / PARADE OF BODIES—The Evening Class Conversation with Kin Folkz

Photo: Unknown.
"What kin are we all to each other, anyway?"—William Goyen.

There are many critiques, most quite obvious, as to why Facebook (FB) might not be the best virtual community to inhabit; but, I approach it with the tools I learned when I was a participant of The WELL, namely the importance of bridging online interaction with offline interaction in order to truly create community. On the morning of January 20, 2018, the date of the Womens March in San Francisco, I watched and listened to a video by Kin Folkz whose FB timeline I have followed for several years, first knowing her as Monica. Kin asked in her video: "When a house is burning—and you have the resources to save the person in the building—do you save the person that is already standing outside of the building first? If you do, why?"

It was a question posed as a powerful if discomforting metaphor; yet, as the resistance sophisticates, some articulations necessarily question, lead to doubt, and lean into uncomfortable regions of inspection. On the morning of the Womens March, I was grateful for what Kin Folkz helped me recognize and what to be cognizant of later at the march.

Although Kin's request for dialogue was primarily directed at women, her elegantly-phrased interest in hearing opinions on the Womens March motivated me to finally contact her to meet face to face, which she was only too happy to do. Not only did I want to address the issues and concerns she had raised in her video, but I wanted to discover if she could help me shape a personal form of activism at a time when our country is in desperate need of concerted activism and I feel a desperate need to do something.

Of the hundreds of conversations that I have had for purposes of The Evening Class, I can honestly say that my conversation with Kin was one of the most personally satisfying and helpful and it is with great respect and pride that I add it to my site. Shortly after our conversation and my return to Boise, Idaho, I was delighted to receive the news that Kin has been selected as this year's Grand Marshal for San Francisco's Pride Parade.

* * *

Michael Guillén: Kin, I wanted to talk to you directly in response to the videotaped message that you sent out on Facebook the morning of this year's Womens March. Your critique of the march articulated something for me that I was sensing but couldn't quite place my finger on.

Recently, I had a conversation with Luis Ospina, a Colombian filmmaker considered by some to be one of the fathers of Colombian cinema. I enjoy talking to elder peers. Luis is five years older than me and only slightly ahead of me by generation. We got together in Berkeley and walked around reminiscing on the "old days" of the 1960s into the early '70s. The problem with young people that's going on now, he explained to me, is that in our youth our generation believed it could change the world. Our youth entered the society of the 1960s-'70s believing we could fundamentally create change. Today, Luis opined, young people don't have that luxury. They're too busy trying to save the planet.

In consequence of that, in trying to save the planet, it becomes necessary to micro-manage, to choose and champion a cause—whales, rainforest, human rights—and devote energy to addressing specific issues that have gone wrong. Unfortunately, micro-management siphons from a collective strength that, some might argue, is of equal if not more importance. Would you agree with that assessment?

In response to your video critique of the Womens March and your aimed question of why I would be attending, I wanted to admit that I attend the Womens March nostalgically because I feel a need to believe in the collective strength of mass protest. Even though this year's Womens March may not have been well-covered by major media, there was still sufficient social media coverage that showed thousands upon thousands protesting across the United States.

Kin Folkz: We all have smart phones.

Guillén: And yet ... I go to the Womens March with thousands of others and observe how most of the marchers are on their smart phones as they're marching. Everybody's taking proud pictures of themselves, documenting their costumes, taking pictures of the signs they're carrying, and those signs cover a variety of concerns; but, I don't get the feeling that there's any cohesion of purpose or strategy.

Kin Folkz: Ooooh!! Agreed! Your Colombian friend and you are both right. Part of this is situated in the loss of healthy rites of passage. When you have a healthy rite of passage, you are given some goals. You're given a skill set that you're building toward. We actually don't have the kind of rite of passage that existed during the '60s, and earlier in the '50s, where primarily the Black Civil Rights Movement started to stand up and say, "This is what adulthood looks like. It's collective responsibility. It's accountability. It's a peaceful approach to conflict."

For the first time since the colonists came with their almost ruckus adolescent energy—like, "Yeah! We're gonna tear through stuff and we don't care about our parents anymore"—there was a loss of a rite of passage. Indigenous tribes who had for a long time created a stewarding of community and of nature were being slaughtered by a mindset that said, "You can own another human being." That two-year-olds could literally own an entire adult flipped the notion of rites of passage toward adulthood on its head. I think that's a large part of the problem.

Guillén: You're talking about anthropological rites of initiation from childhood into adulthood?

Kin Folkz: Yes. What does it take for you to be a healthy contributing member to the collective? How are you taking care of the elders and the youth? That takes some stewardship. That takes mentoring. That takes an apprenticeship. We have lost the understanding of how crucial that is if we want to keep evolving as a society. So that's part of it.

The other part of it is that—if you don't have a rite of passage—then you start to focus on what is performative vs. what is transformative. A rite of passage, by definition, looks at transformation. Lacking that, the best you can do is to ape mannerisms. You guess what adulthood might look like and we have very poor examples right now of what adulthood actually looks like. So much so that young folks, millenials, have come up with a verb of "adulting" and "adulting" is the last thing a young person should want to do when, indeed, it is an honorable rite of passage; it's just something that we've lost grasp of.

Guillén: And what would "adulting" look like?

Kin Folkz: From millenial standards?

Guillén: Let's start there.

Kin Folkz: "Adulting" is used to describe the performative adult things that are tied to uneasy, uncomfortable or laborious activities.

Guillén: Like getting a new job and keeping it?

Kin Folkz: Yes. Not being able to pursue your passion. Part of an indigenous rite of passage—and I'm meaning "indigenous" throughout the world because we have many indigenous tribes, all stemming from Africa and then migrating forth. We already know that we all share a common genetic root so I'm going to put this out there: we're all Black. That's what we're dealing with as a way to qualify where we come from.

Guillén: That's the science.

Kin Folkz: We already know that. So with that being the truth, once you eliminate the way that indigenous practice allows through the transformation of rite of passage the culling of what your passion naturally is, you can ask: What is your bliss? What did you come here to contribute to the whole? We've lost the opportunity to really give that to ourselves when we start looking at "adulting" as jumping on a treadmill and staying on a track. For example, universities actually should be a place of ongoing continuing learning; but, when we're told that graduation day is your out, in my opinion that is an awkward rite of passage. If education ends with the cap and gown, then we're somehow denying the beauty of what you've learned from the skills that you're taking into the world. So rite of passage also exists in indigenous tribes for elders. A lot of elders are not elders; they're just old. There's a huge difference between eldership and just being old.

Guillén: I agree 100%.

Kin Folkz: There's a rite of passage for us too. I'm 52 this year and I'm blessed that I was raised in a tribe of mostly indigenous and Black elders who were really clear with me—even when I was very little—that when you become an elder, these are your responsibilities. On Saturday when other children were watching cartoons on television, my mother—through the church—would say, "Well, let's go over to elder such-and-such's home and help her. Let's see what she needs. Let's take her some food. Let's clean her house." And while you were cleaning, you would get this amazing education about the history of the family. So you're cleaning off a little shelf and there are multiple photographs and every photograph has a story. That's part of the rite of passage too. If you are blessed with a long life, you are part of a fabric, of a beautiful tapestry. We don't have that as a priority anymore. We have performative "adulting" as the centerpiece of how someone decides whether or not they're making a contribution.

Guillén: I want to make sure that I'm clear on this. You're saying that the performative is, in essence, inauthentic?

Kin Folkz: If it replaces what is truly transformative, then it is. Because a part of transformation is about stepping outside of yourself and seeing yourself. Sometimes you need to see that reflection in others. That's why a lot of rite of passage is peer sense. There's always an elder or a mentor involved; however, the majority of other folks involved are your peers.

Guillén: Let me shift this slightly off-angle here.

Kin Folkz: Okay, dear.

Guillén: When I moved from San Francisco to Boise, Idaho, I had never been embraced as an elder like I was when I first arrived. I discovered a hunger for mentorship among the young filmmakers and musicians that I met in Boise inspired by the fact that I had come from an urban center like San Francisco with an attached suite of experiences that you could only have in such a metropolitan center. The fantasy of such an experience meant a lot to these young people I was meeting. Boise isn't small. It's a city. But it still has a provincial feel and reminds me of the '60s. It was mainly young straight men and women who were coming to me for eldership and I couldn't help but think, "But where are the young gay people?"

This is something I have long thought about it and it's an inner conflict for me. Why in the gay subculture is there not an understanding of not only the continuity of family but the respect for elders? Generally speaking, as a gay male I died at 35.

Kin Folkz: Definitely.

Guillén: So what is that? And how do we correct that within the subculture?

Kin Folkz: The beauty of, once again, an indigenous perspective is that you see in other cultures that there's still a word to describe third genders. There are words to describe third gender in all of its multiplicity. In some cultures, like Hawaii, you can't speak of three or four or five genders; there are over 50 genders.

For the purpose of creating a system of moving bodies and ownership, somewhere around the 15th century, I would say there was a concerted effort to define what is male and what is female. It became more delineated as colonialism spread out. Because the third gender is less about our sexuality and more about our Spirit, when we were being told that we didn't exist (and, if we did exist, it was as some fringe sexual malevolence), for so many years we had to work within those confines because it was also legally impossible for us to express ourselves as spirited individuals. When we were legally oppressed it was through sexual codes and so there was this clear connection and an association of who we are with whether or not we were sexually active.

For example, when you spoke to someone who was heterosexual they were clear about being heterosexual even though they'd never had sex, whereas for us the implication was that we didn't know who we were and so we had sex. When we start to look at that sort of oppression that we are being confined through a lens that is (I think) oppressive for heterosexuals too, young folks now—and I love saying "young folks" now that I'm 52!—they all of a sudden have something that we didn't have growing up in our teens, which is the opportunity to start becoming politically involved in some of these changes regarding our legal definition of humanhood. What are our natural rights? It's a very exciting time and it's also a very confusing time because we haven't done the type of work that we need to in our own house, so to speak, within the rainbow to start to deconstruct this issue of sexuality through the lens of these heteronormative folks. So you see a lot of us engaging in heteronormative practices that are actually abusive to who we are and how we are. When people start saying things like, "To be a butch you have to look like this and sound like this and this is what you have to do" is just as detrimental to us as a community as when our heterosexual non-allies and non-accomplices start to look at us through these narrow boxes. It's the same kind of hurt. It's probably even more hurtful when it comes from us.

A lot of young folks who are seeing so much opportunity are, at the same time, feeling like the elders are coming from a perspective that boxes them in. That's where you see this huge divide. When a young person says, "I don't identify as butch or femme; I'm a futch" there are a lot of elders who will look at them and say, "What the hell?" Or when young people will say, "I'm a demisexual" there are a lot of elders who will look at them and ask, "What is that?" So there are some nuanced understandings of how we exist and how we express our Spirit that is happening so quickly.

The other thing is the advent of technology with smart phones and the internet (though the internet was around when we were young); but, I'm just saying that now the easy accessibility for people, especially young people because they are just masters at being able to take information and quickly share it with others, is why social media marketing is really a young person's reality. They're able to take terms and share it amongst themselves quickly and for us, some of us, who are a little bit more removed from the technology, it's a language that we're being left out of.

Guillén: I have some reactions. The first is to say that for me it's a form of poetry when you resist the ready-made terms that even the generation before you has created. [Kin snaps her fingers in agreement.] Secondly, I have a concern. My concern about young people, largely through their attraction to technology's allure and their technological savvy (which you're describing), is that they have shifted away from what I would say is the initiatory practice of direct experience for a practice that is an aggregated, indirect and accessed experience. For example, I know young people who have never taken a hike.

Photo courtesy of Spectrum Queer Media
Kin Folkz: That's why we have the QTPOC Soul Stroll where we take people out into nature.

Guillén: Within myself, I know that an activist has to know themselves first and then proceed from there. One of my pet peeves is that I don't really want a person to talk to me about something they have read on the internet. I'm busy enough as it is on the internet. I would rather take a hike with a person. I would rather go have a martini, especially if they have never had a martini. I remember once I had a young woman who had just turned 21 over for a birthday brunch and she was asking me, "How did you refinance your mortgage?" I said, "Why are you asking me that?" She answered, "Well, I am practicing at being an adult." I said, "Oh no, no, no, no. If you want to practice at being an adult, you meet me at Chandlers at 5:00 for a 10-minute martini. Then we'll talk about being an adult." Which she did and we had a lot of fun, much more than if we continued to discuss refinancing mortgages.

Kin Folkz: You're talking about a personal revolution, which takes place during a rite of passage. Most indigenous rites of passage called for you to be in nature and to be in a lot of silence actually so that you can reconnect with your Spirit within. What you were doing was you were saying, "You need to get out of your head, girl. You need to get out of your performing. You need not perform. So let's figure out how to enact your own personal revolution. What does that look like?" In order to do that, you have to figure out what your personal manifesto or womb-manifesto is. What is it? What do you believe? And what is it based upon? To do that you really do have to have a guide who is protecting the process. With so much information coming at folks, it's difficult to know where your thoughts begin and someone else's takes over. Is there even a possibility of new thought?

Guillén: I also know a very young woman, 12-13, who was no longer going to respond to the name she was given at birth because she had decided she was going to be a boy and not a girl. She had chosen a new boy's name. Her mother, who is a progressive activist, supported her and was, of course, behind her decision. Her grandmother, however, had distressed reservations about having not even been consulted about her grandchild's decision. She learned about it via the internet on Facebook. So I have concerns that these personal revolutions, which I "get" in principle—my whole life has been a personal revolution and still is a personal revolution—yet I'm struggling to make sure that I'm part of a collective, part of a tribe, part of a community, that I still practice communitas. How do you herd up all those cats and their personal revolutions and get them to show up for something collective?

Kin Folkz: Well, of course you know that rites of passage should be based upon best practices over time. There is a collective wisdom. So when we look at this young person who is not yet an adult but is still clear like a lot of other people about their gender, I honor that he discovered that truth. To discover that truth at 12 or 13 is a blessing in this society. The grandmother's concern about learning of it through a public admission on Facebook is, I think, probably more the issue than the news itself. We've lost the ability to honor the community, the family as tribe, and the community as an extension of that tribe. We now think of families in terms of units, which creates a feeling of ownership. I understand how that grandmother feels. I also think that we need to harken back to how the tribe consisted of multiple "family units". I would love to chat with the grandmother and help her understand how there's been this expansion of tribe for her grandchild and at the same time speak to the mother and grandchild about how the grandmother is a necessary part of that expansion. We have left a lot of elders out of the conversation around how to announce publicly who we are and how we are in our revolutions. Rite of passage allows that.

Guillén: I'm heartened to hear so much of what you're saying because I am feeling many of these things within my own experience. I've always been an activist ever since I was young but I didn't really know I was an activist because I saw it within the framework of the cultural changes of the late '60s to mid-'70s. As you referenced earlier, I had to know myself as a sexual creature first to situate my identity. I remember once I was having a dinner party and expressed that my only regret about the '70s into the '80s—before AIDS activism came along—was that I didn't do more politically. I felt that I could have and should have done more. And then one of my guests protested and said, "No. You're thinking about it wrong. You did a lot just by being present and physical. That was what we were supposed to do. That was how we found ourselves. Through those sex clubs and bath houses and cruising grounds, that was how we found ourselves and began to know who we had to be." Mind you, to get stuck in that is another thing.

Kin Folkz: You use that word "begin." I actually believe that we begin by acknowledging our Spirit, that spark, that energy that titillates. When we are told that we are deviant then even in that thought the act is forever framed within that understanding.

Guillén: And then there's the personal danger of romanticizing that deviance.

Kin Folkz: Or fetishizing it. When we begin to acknowledge that this is the human experience of multiple Spirits—we all have these growth curves, if we're lucky, if we live long enough and our bodies are helpfully evolving—but our Spirits are trying to economically move forward and connect. If we're told when we're very little ones that if we have a spark of energy, an attraction, that is considered aberrant, then your entire physical being is problematic. So, yes, standing up and using our bodies in ways that we are being told we can be punished for is definitely revolutionary. I also believe that acknowledging the spark, the Spirit, is more important.

Guillén: I agree it is more important, yet made precisely problematic by sexual license. That's what I learned from that experience in the '70s. It wasn't really until Marlon Riggs' Tongues Untied (1989) where, within my gay experience, I recognized where I was truly suffering.

Kin Folkz: But using our bodies sexually was revolutionary. You see that the move from protest to parade is also about the loss of our Spirit, right? So the parade is about our bodies; the protest was about our Spirit, and about acknowledging that we have the right to love. We have the right to be respected as loving beings even if we never touch another person sexually ever. We have the right to say how we love.

Guillén: Since you've mentioned parades, let's go back to your critique of the Womens March. Did your videotaped appeal get responses?

Kin Folkz: It did. I had great conversations with women that I had connected with a year earlier. Those conversations for me were the most profound ones. Remember when Obama and his wonderful campaign team—who were a lot of young folks who knew how to use social media marketing—took this great piece from the '60s Civil Rights Movement where Black people, primarily, were in segregated situations and so they were meeting in their homes? They would literally share political information and educate each other in their homes. Obama's lineage and Michelle's—oh, I love me my Michelle!—was melded with this new technology and what they created were these in-house conversations. I loved it! It was all sort of organized via the internet so you could sign up to moderate or facilitate one of these conversations within your home and they would provide conversational guidelines. Then you would be invited again to come back and watch the debates together, and possibly even film reactions and share them with this wonderful community that was emerging internationally.

I think that if the Womens March took the same approach, we could probably get more done. We would be more inclusive in some regards. The internet part would still be problematic because not everyone has access and I do think that encouraging people to reach outside of the internet to connect physically—as we did today—is important. A year ago I would not have felt comfortable going to the Womens March, initially because my pussy is not pink. It's black like a starless midnight sky.

Guillén: I want to make sure I understand this, were there statements made about pussies being pink?

Photo: AFP / Getty Images / Andrew Caballero-Reynolds
Kin Folkz: Women were encouraged to wear their pink pussy hats.

Guillén: I didn't know this!

Kin Folkz: We were encouraged to create signs honoring the sanctity of the vagina and not all women have vaginas. So there was this immediate lens of privilege and a limited understanding and perspective that comes—unfortunately, oftentimes—with privilege that pushed a lot of us out. We were supposed to feel comfortable coming and standing as one unified force and yet I was interacting with people who didn't show up when unarmed Black women and indigenous women were being murdered by police officers.

Guillén: When I heard you express this in your video, it actually hurt me because I felt and knew its truth. I had been to protests here in San Francisco where I thought there would actually be a protest, but instead I ended up being one of five people trying to help some elder from being evicted from their home. I thank you for speaking out.

Kin Folkz: I thank you for listening. It was something that had to be said on that day. Where I live in Oakland is literally two blocks away from where the parade starts. I remember last year there was some debate about whether it should even be called a protest or simply a march. I thought, "What is the distinction?"

Guillén: I really like your distinction of bodies in protest vs. a parade of bodies.

Kin Folkz: Right? I invited some women who I saw with BLM signs to share with me how they acquired them and what the signs meant to them? What I discovered in every single case is that the signs had been given to them. They picked them up from a safe space. They did not march in order to gain access to them. I explained to them that a lot of BLM signs are actually hand-made. That was my first clue, when I saw these consistent BLM signs and then in small print: "Sponsored by ___________" and I didn't see BLM there in the sponsorship. That's when I asked them, "Have you thought about the beauty of authenticity in equity? Do you understand that authenticity and equity are one and the same? That if you're truly pushing for equity, then you need to be authentic in your lens? If you are not someone who is experiencing what the everyday mania of oppression around what being a Black transwoman is, knowing that your life expectancy is reaching 30 very quickly, how can you say that you stand for equity when you don't even notice the absence of those voices? So why don't we re-orient ourselves? Please give me your posters. You may have them back at the next BLM action. Let's create an invitation if that's what it takes. Do you need an invitation?"

I, personally, showed up because this didn't require an invitation. This is my struggle. What's happening to us should be your struggle. It's a human struggle. Equity calls for us to really look at everyone's struggle as our own. So a year later some of those same folks were still out in the street. They saw my post and contacted me. They chose for this to be an anonymous share so I'm sharing some thoughts without naming names or any identifiers. What they said was that the reason why they had not shown up at any other actions in a whole year—other than anything that had the Womens March stamp of approval on it—is that the police were nice during the Womens March. The police did not create an aggressive tension at the Womens March. They felt that it was a safe space for women to be free and liberated, to be ourselves, and their rationalizations felt so much like the performative quality of a young person not understanding the dangers of how our society will still sexualize a young body running out to their first pride parade fully nude and then encountering partygoers who are not part of our community, who have come to lie around the fringe and harm us. So there's a wisdom that these women were lacking in looking through their lens of privilege. Black women couldn't afford to do that.

The very few of us who were at the Womens March were always being platformed on the stage but you didn't see us in the audience and nobody actually thought that was odd. That reinforced this notion of a lens that's limited and that can only see us marginalized, and equitable treatment being given to us only when it's on the stage so that this performative quality is reinforced. How about within the leadership? What would happen if Miss Major was in charge of organizing an entire region of Womens Marches for next year? Oh, honey! Yes, yes, yes, yes!!

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski.  Miss Major in SF's 2014 Pride Parade.
People are definitely taking in money for their labor for the Womens March. There are people giving vast amounts of money to these endeavors. I think that's a beautiful thing and if you're resource-laden you have a responsibility then to make sure of the leadership. If you're really seeking equity authentically, leadership should reflect the most marginalized amongst us because they tend to have the greatest perspective, right? That's the largest lens. They're multiple lenses. Miss Major is Mama and Papa. Miss Major has seen and witnessed what it feels like to both triumph and lose in the same instance. Not a lot of folks have had that particular experience of being in the street at Stonewall and screaming, "Yes!" while seeing all of your sisters, seeing your brethren, standing with you against police with billyclubs and guns and then to be hit with a brick, to be felled and incarcerated, to have the beauty of the clarity. Not a lot of people marching in the street during the Womens March have that capacity or that experience. We need to value that. Miss Major makes decisions with everyone in mind.

Guillén: One of the insights I gleaned when I first moved from San Francisco to Boise was its ally-supported civil rights movement fighting for LGBT rights. Idaho is one of the 23 states where LGBT queer people do not have equitable protection under the law. Many, though not all, queer people are afraid to rally in Boise. Those who do are incredibly brave or have negotiated some safe way to do so because, otherwise, being identified as queer risks the real and present danger of losing your job, losing your housing, and/or losing your doctor's care. Therefore the fight to add the words in Idaho is a strong ally-supported movement that recognizes how wrong it is that LGBT people are not protected under state law.

When I first witnessed this, I thought it was lovely; but, then I began to recognize other issues. I thought, maybe I need to get out there as an elder in this subculture and inform them of certain undisclosed footnotes of queer history. One small part of LGBT history that no one ever talks about anywhere, let alone Idaho, is something I feel is important and—if there's one thing I contribute to the LGBT history line—this should be it: in the 1970s the strategy of the then burgeoning Gay Movement in San Francisco was that rather than suffer over having been left out, of not getting to go to the prom, of not getting to date in high school where it wasn't a closeted pretense, of not being chosen for the team—whatever your particular longing and loss was—the strategy was of creating a visible community: "Well, let's make our own village with our own restaurants and coffeehouses, let's have our own bank, let's have our own hardware store, let's have our own gathering places where we can go and see each other, recognize each other, love and celebrate each other in our multiplicity." So we claimed the Castro.

Kin Folkz: And community centers.

Guillén: But specifically in the Castro, during what I call the Castro Flourescence, these gathering places—Fanny's Cabaret, Burton's Restaurant, Ivy's, the Cafe Flore—these thriving businesses were kickstarted by a handful of gay guys from Twin Falls, Idaho! One individual in particular who is an unsung hero of the Castro Flourescence is Scotty Williams who was a cook at several of these restaurants. Scotty brought his mother's pot roast recipe to San Francisco and it was the most popular item on any menu, reflecting the power of food to instill a sense of home and of belonging. It was like: "We're home. I'm going to eat this pot roast with my boyfriend in this place where other guys have come with their boyfriends and no one is going to harass us."

I went to the LGBT rally a few years back in Boise and announced this historical footnote on the steps of the state capitol building and was truly surprised to get a negligible response. Perhaps because most of the people there were straight allies who might never have suffered from not having a gathering place? I also began to realize—through young LGBT people who have admitted it to my face—that they didn't really care about my memories. The '70s were not just history to them; they were ancient history.

Kin Folkz: What was it in particular about your memories that you think they didn't care about?

Guillén: I sensed they thought I was inflated with myself, highfalutin', and overly proud of a history that I thought they would welcome as their history as well; but, they didn't experience it that way.

Kin Folkz: So it was the fact that you had information?

Guillén: Information that they didn't want or didn't seem to know they might want. What I try to teach young people is what was taught to me when I was young. It's what I try to impart. I first ran away from Idaho at 17, arrived in San Francisco at the age of 20 with $20 in my pocket, was a street hustler for a while, and met an older man Lee Jarnagin who told me, "You're better than this. Come live with me." He got me into San Francisco State. He helped me attend my first seminar (with mythologist Joseph Campbell). He helped me develop a legal career. He took me to Europe for the first time. He was, in effect, one of my first mentors. So now that I'm older, I feel it's my responsibility to give back to young people what was given to me when I was young. As you said earlier, I know this is my responsibility as an elder. I have to pass on the wisdom of how to recognize opportunity, how to individuate, but most importantly: how to live an authentic life.

I have come to believe that inauthenticity is one of the main problems in our culture. Trump and his administration, if you can even call it that, evokes these issues of authenticity. His supporters voted for him against the other candidates because they perceived him in all his boorishness and hatefulness to be authentic.

Kin Folkz: It's cognitive dissonance, which is America's number one problem.

Guillén: His voting base liked him because they think he's authentic, which made me realize how hungry people are, especially Americans, for authenticity. But the great danger, where they shoot themselves in the foot, is they don't know what it is. They don't even know where to look for it. Of course, you have to look inside yourself to find what is integral and authentic. That's why I appreciated your comment earlier today when I first expressed to you the trouble I was having finding a group to practice activism with, and you said simply that activism begins individually, and sometimes is best at the individual level. How can we address the definition of authenticity? Is it a word that can even be used anymore? Are young folks going to have to come up with a new term?

Kin Folkz: Authenticity—and accountability also—are lovingly aligned, and by accountability I mean to both the individual and the collective. How do you navigate that space of your wants, your needs, your ego? How is the economy of grace to be met within the collective that we each contribute to? In many ways, just as with the Womens March, there is this authenticity of passion. That's why I support the Womens March. I support the evolution of the Womens March, more specifically. I love that the Womens March is happening. I love that there is opportunity for voices like mine and Miss Major's and other folks who don't see themselves reflected in leadership decision-making roles. I would like to see more of us there, right?

So, when you look at Trump, there is—as with the Womens March—this authentic passion that he has somehow tapped into. We should respect and understand that passion. People feel that being deceptive and performative is actually part of the nature of being a human. That's what happens when you don't have a rite of passage that acknowledges everyone's Spirit, which allows you to reflect on who you are and why you're here. Without that, folks are able to repeat what the President is saying: outward lies; duplicity is the new norm. The authentic shares that we're getting from people who have been mired in this pathology of lack of rite of passage is something that we should take seriously.

Guillén: I would say that Orwellian "doublespeak" comes right out of the lack of initiatory practice. I agree with you 100%. My concern—and this is something of a personal question for you—how do I do this better?

Kin Folkz: You mean as an elder?

Guillén: Yes. How, as an elder, can I be a better personal activist? My problem is that—whenever I become involved with a group—my initial passion becomes diluted. Perhaps I haven't found the right group yet? Maybe the group approach isn't the right way for my particular form of activism?

Kin Folkz: Understanding context is important. For example, we still haven't had a proper tribunal for the atrocities meted upon Blacks and the indigenous people of this country. We still haven't acknowledged that California was wrestled from Mexico, greedily, hungrily, and with the spilling of a lot of blood. I think there is karmic damage that blocks our ability to be able to create real, authentic mentorship when we skip over these ways that we could be evolving spiritually. Everyone's aware of that conversation not happening in the context of making decisions that would recalibrate our human-ness. Things like deciding who gets to make leadership decisions is vital. Standing Rock was a great opportunity for us to return rightful, authentic, loving, deeply intelligent stewardship of the land to people who did it before the colonists arrived. Instead, they were met with sound cannons, rubber bullets and negative media. If we really plan on shifting, then we need to look at a paradigm shift. We need to look at where context lies.

In the Castro, for example, there was a build of community. That build of community had been happening for people of color, though, for centuries. For example, the notion of a "house" developed out of Black and Brown gay communities primarily who were being thrown out of their homes into the street and found each other and decided, "Well, if you don't have a mother and a father, let me be that mother or father for you." In the 1920s in New York there were "houses" because folks couldn't outwardly express themselves because of our oppression along the lines of the color of our skin, oppression of non-binary bodies, and of presentation. A lot of this had to be done within four walls. That's where we got the vogue competitions and the performative quality that was almost mocking—not almost, definitely mocking (and, at the same time, honoring)—the ability to blend, to fuse with the expectations of society. So a gay guy is wearing a dress in the house all day, honey—heels, face, feet, wearing all the make-up—and then he puts on his corporate suit, tie, etc., he wipes off the make-up, takes off his wig, and goes to work to make money for the house. When he comes back to the house from work, he's allowed to be who he is. This is the beauty—oh my gosh, the beauty—of the houses! The oppressed mind is the deeply intelligent mind. The oppressed and high-functioning mindset in society allows you to be able to say, "Well, I can't deny that I have this performative quality in the real world. I need to remember that that's the matrix, or I'll go crazy. So why don't we set up these staged opportunities to buffoon who we are forced to be out in that 'real' world?" That's lovely. So that we can draw a line that acknowledges that we're clear, this is performative, and when we take all that off, honey, I might put on something else and this is who I know I am. And that might shift from day to day too.

My gender is Spirit, which means that there are various energies in the world and in my dream state that—when I come back into my waking state—will inform me what my gender is for that day.

Guillén: I love that. I relate to that. It's been difficult for me, right? I've always known something that others have not known. I've known it since I was three years old.

Kin Folkz: It's also because you couldn't speak it.

Guillén: I'll tell you how I knew it. This year, just a few months ago in fact, I was told by my mother that the man who I thought was my father was not my father and that I was the child of a rape. My mother has hidden this from me my entire life, and I understand her decision. When I asked her, "Who else knows?" She answered, "Everyone." By that she meant all the elders of our family knew that I was the child of a rape, not so much my siblings or my cousins. It was such a shame on the family that they felt compelled to hide it. "Ooooh," I responded. "This explains why I've always felt that I was being duped somehow." I've always felt that something was being hidden from me, something was being withheld, and it was a sense that I have always felt. I internalized that sense. I reproached myself for it. I reasoned that maybe I didn't deserve to have this information, that maybe I wasn't good enough or intelligent enough to understand it. That something in me was lacking.

When my mother finally revealed this information to me at the age of 64, certain memories began to resurface and become recontextualized as inauthentic memories, planted memories like those given the replicants in Blade Runner. I thought, "You went to your father's funeral and wept for a man who wasn't even your father."

But the memory that really surfaced with a vengeance was when mother lost custody of us when I was two years old. My sister Barbara and I were sent to live with the parents of my "father" and I knew, even as a two-year-old, that they hated me from the moment I walked through their door. As a child, I could not understand why or what I had done to deserve such hate. After my mother's admission, I suddenly realized that it was because they knew I was not the child of their son. They knew that I was a bastard child that they were forced to take care of and who they hated because it meant in their minds that my mother had gone out on my "father", their son. As a consequence, they were cruel and they mistreated me. They would starve me. They would lock me in the house. They would beat me with a belt.

One day, I don't remember how, but I got out of the house. I was three years old. I saw the neighbor woman emptying scraps into a dog bowl. I was starving. I waited until she was gone and then I fought the dog for those scraps. I remember them being sweet because they were pancakes. That's why—whenever someone is first invited to my home—I always feed them pancakes. It is a ritual for me of good will, so that no one else would ever have to do what I had to do when I was three years old. After I fought off the dog and ate the pancakes, I remember feeling—this was not articulated, but sensed—the realization: "You are different than other children." And I somehow knew that I was always going to be different from other children from that moment on.

That's why authenticity is of such importance to me. It has something to do with acknowledging difference. Even though there has been a concerted legal effort towards sameness in the gay community—or at least of equal protection under the law—I find myself wishing that the legal language was actually protecting difference; but, I don't believe it is. I think the strategy was purposeful in wanting the law to protect sameness. When the shift towards gay marriage occurred, I was a gay man who wasn't sure about the strategy. I understood it. I got that it was effective and that it achieved its intention; but, I have had a legal career my entire adult life, and I'm the one who had to insert all those amendments to the law in the back of each law book once a week. I have a palpable, tactile, understanding of law as an evershifting game of language. A law that protects me now might not protect me in the future.

Kin Folkz: Or in another location.

Guillén: Exactly! Which was underscored for me when I moved away from San Francisco back to Idaho. I ran away from Idaho at 17, returned at 61, and discovered it had not changed, it was exactly how it was when I escaped. Idaho is one of the 23 states in the United States that will not recognize LGBT people as equal citizens. They contest the federal recognition. So, law as to location, as you've pointed out, is exactly right.

But this time around there was an interesting complication. After 12 years of celibacy, and of not thinking of myself as a sexual being, I began to notice that men in Boise, particularly straight men, were attracted to me and expressing their attraction. I decided to explore that as a sociological issue. Boise, Idaho, for as righteously moral and upright as they present themselves through the state's legislature, has a thriving sexual underbelly of not only human trafficking of underage females, but of a bi-married male, straight-curious community of men exploring relations with men. The "Boys of Boise" have become the bi-married straight-curious men of Boise. That has evolved alongside gay emancipation.

Whether for better or for worse, as a self-identified and individuated gay male, I was startled to find I was attractive to the men in this scene. Not so much, perhaps, for identifying as gay, but because I am experienced and mature. I went through the Gay Liberation movement. I understand gender in contradistinction to sexuality. And what I've realized is one of my most attractive qualities to these men is that of being a father they have never really had. A 35-year-old man will come over to my house to visit, but what he's really there for is counseling. He'll say, "My father hates me. He hates who I am, what I have made of my life, and who I want to be. I'm so pressured by this. What would you suggest? What do you think?" And because I do think of myself as an elder, I will tell him, "You should do what you want to do. You should be who you want to be. You should celebrate your own journey." As you said earlier, and as I learned from the mythologist Joseph Campbell, people must follow their bliss. And instead of quarreling with their fathers about the meaning of life or the purpose of life, they really need to have an authentic experience of life. So, again as you mentioned earlier, as an elder I am providing a safe, discreet, and private place, a house if you will, where these younger men can potentially experience a personal revolution.

I have a large library of books on sexuality and gender and queer emancipation. These straight-identified men react to these volumes sometimes with fear, sometimes with confusion, but they always react. I assure them that—even though I have identified as queer—they don't need to. I'm not one of those gay guys who feel that every man who has had a homosexual experience is a closeted gay man. I don't believe that at all. In fact, I believe that the construction of masculinity has been complicated and muddied by mistaking verbs for nouns. Like Michel Foucault, I believe that men can commit homosexual acts and they can commit heterosexual acts but neither necessarily define them as either homosexual or heterosexual. I believe people can be whoever they want to be and I believe there is a hidden danger of self-limitation within identity politics. As you said when describing the young folks in the houses, gender can change daily. I don't believe gender is fixed. I think gender is attached to the potentials of the imagination and the circumstantial experiences of a personal life.

I ask these men who court sex with other men, "You don't think you're gay?" "Oh no, no, no," they protest, "I'm straight. I'm married. I have children. I've signed a morality clause at my place of employment." "Okay," I'll say, "I accept you on the terms of how you identify and situate yourself. All I require from you now in this room is that you feel comfortable in allowing yourself an authentic experience."

Kin Folkz: That's right. How about just being Spirit?

Guillén: Spirit as gender is something I have never heard expressed before. Is that your's?

Kin Folkz: Yes. I think it is every indigenous person's reality. Any place on the face of the planet where there is a history of acknowledging that Spirit is your first awareness. It's not your genitalia, which most people think defines you. As soon as you're born, everyone looks and says, "Oh! You are a...."; but, actually it's your Spirit. Your Spirit enters before your body does.

Guillén: Whereas among Native American communities, they allow the individual the ritual of the bow and the basket. Rather than tell you who you are, they let you choose, and they honor and accept your choice.

Kin Folkz: Yes!

Guillén: They figured that, at least by the age of three, your Spirit will have begun to know itself.

Kin Folkz: That's right. And there's the expansive quality of Spirit. Gender is expansive; even biologically it's expansive. That goes back to what you were saying about trying to effect sameness. Everybody, every body, is unique and connected to the lineage of everybody, and every body, that led to us being present. The inability to traverse through what seems like some kind of strange paradox—I don't know why it would be—this is how expansive nature is. This is how expansive creation is. It makes sense that Spirit—being our first awareness—would be intimately and eternally expansive. So why not say, "Spirit is my gender"?

Duplicity and the movement towards narrative quality is very much a calculated game meant to undermine and divide our community. That's what it is. There are over 13 different societal, legal and financial benefits for someone who is married vs. someone who isn't married. This also involves children and how children still don't have rights and are considered property. I was struck by the fact that on the very same day when in California we were celebrating the triumph of gay marriage, we also lost the Voting Act. That affected us during this last election. In our haste to focus on the bells and whistles over here, we forgot about something that we had acquired three-four decades or so before that we actually needed. Nothing had improved in those decades. The protections that would allow marginalized people to feel safe going to the voting booth, protections that would allow marginalized people to have equal access in terms of time and location, even whether or not it was ADA accessible, those were important protections for us to maintain. As soon as we said, "Hey, we have the right to marry; that must mean that things are cool now", we lost grasp of something that then damned us most recently.

Guillén: This is a bit of a non-sequitur, but your comment about losing grasp of something while we're celebrating what feels like a victory reminds me of the revolving door that most people don't understand is associated with being in the closet. When, as a movement, we came out of the closet and everyone was cheering, "We're out!! Yay!! Everything's changed!", I said, "No. It hasn't really changed like you think." What happened is the closet became empty because we stepped out, and nature abhors a vacuum, so all those homophobes got sucked into the closet where they have been waiting all these years for their turn to celebrate coming out, which of course is happening in our contemporary moment. We hear them cheering, "We're out!! Yay!! We can hate things again!" This makes me concerned. What is this mistake we keep making by reasoning that—because we think we have legislative protection (Idaho proves to me that we do not) and we think we are at least silently approved of—the hate actually remains firm and intact.

Kin Folkz: It's cognitive dissonance, which as I said earlier is the number one addiction globally that is affecting our ability to evolve. We want to protect our egoes and believe that we're "good" people when, instead, we should be focusing on whether we're healthy people. I don't understand thinking of people in the context of good and bad. We have unhealthy behavior and practices, and an unhealthy status perhaps in different parts of our lives, and we could still be healthy in other parts of our lives.

Guillén: I would call that a dyadic impulse. I'm heavily steeped in Jungian tea and as I consider the archetypes of the collective unconscious, I try to claim which one is mine. I finally have come to recognize which one governs me and it is a dyadic one, it is the senex-puer archetype. It's a hyphenated archetype. It's two things at once. It's the old man-young man archetype. When I was a young man, I interacted with older men. Now that I'm older, I interact with younger men. For me there is something so authentic in this impulse. It addresses the need for mentoring and what I was saying earlier about my concerns regarding my responsibilities as an elder. When I was young, I needed and was blessed to find older men who mentored me. Now that I am older, it is a deep need in me to mentor those who are younger who need mentorship and guidance.

Kin Folkz: You feel naturally compelled.

Guillén: Yes. I feel compelled to return what was given to me by way of mentorship through mentoring others. Mentorship helped me immensely. It is a lineage I situate myself within that comports with the senex-puer dyad.

Kin Folkz: It's part of the cycle of evolution. If I had some tools that you might need—maybe you don't need the full accompaniment; maybe you just need two or three out of a hundred—why wouldn't I give them to you? I'm not going to take them with me. So I'll give all of my tools to you. Use what you can.

Guillén: When I first moved to Boise, I met and hung out with a lot of young straight male musicians. They were putting on lipstick, wearing earrings, and going to thrift stores to find granny dresses they could wear on stage. They really thought they were tough shit. I ran into one of them one day downtown and he had on this beautiful maroon-colored lipstick and he asked, "What do you think?" and I said, "It's a beautiful color. But let me tell you what I really think. I honor that you are maintaining a lineage." He looked at me puzzled and said, "What are you talking about?" I answered, "Well, you do understand that back in the 1920s there were young people in New York and in Paris who would go to thrift stores and put on dresses and make-up to critique gender? And in the 1940s there was another generation of young people who would do the same. And in the 1960s, and in the 1970s, the same."

Kin Folkz: In the 14th century there were men who put on heels and powder and lipstick and rouge!

Guillén: He seemed a bit miffed by my comment. "Are you trying to say I'm not original?" he asked. "Oh no, no, no," I said, "you're misunderstanding me. I'm honoring that you maintain a lineage of gender critique." For me that was more important than thinking of himself as original.

Kin Folkz: And see? Even that push away from the notion of legacy.... Lineage and legacy are one and the same, right? You can't have real lineage unless there's the promise of legacy. Legacy is based upon lineage. This schism is based on the lack of initiation. Having a salon in your house and being intentional upon how to help the Spirit involved helps. Back to when we were talking about sameness: authentic rite of passage, even when you're going through it with your peer set, is not to create group think. That's not the purpose. The purpose is to give you the opportunity to figure out your passion, your mission, and your bliss, and then reflect that out to your peers because they need to hear that. They're going to be around to support that, statistically speaking, moreso than the elders who are there to help nurture that. You might have seven people going through rite of passage where someone is interested naturally in astronomy, and someone else is interested in music and making drums, while another person really understands how to grow plants. All of that comes out of the rite of passage, understanding that the community needs people who know agriculture, the community needs people who understand the night sky. Our community needs this. It's not that everyone has a group think mentality around getting on a track and all trying to reach for the same golden apple.

That's where your role as an elder is: of creating an intentional salon in your house and inviting young people in to just listen to them and then to impart what you do when they ask you, "What do you think?" You step in with lots of thoughts.

Guillén: Thank you for that. You confirm me. Long ago a friend described me as someone who starts with others from the inside out and I knew she was right. With you, Kin, it's as if I have always known you the moment I met you a few hours ago, right? And in my enthusiasm of recognizing you as a life friend, I forgot to ask who are you? What's your bio? You're a poet?

Kin Folkz: Yes.

Guillén: A published poet?

Kin Folkz: Yes. I'm a polymath.

Guillén: Where would I find some of your published poetry?

Kin Folkz: I like to publish with other authors. I believe in anthologies. I believe in publishing together because my voice is meant to be part of a chorus. There's a wonderful book called Letters to My Bully [website / Facebook] and it's not just an LBGTQ perspective; it's a human perspective. I have some pieces in there. When it was reviewed by The Huffington Post, my pieces were chosen as showcase pieces in that book.

Guillén: I'll go looking for that. Are you a musician?

Kin Folkz: Yes. Hand drums. But it's been such a long time. I used to organize these healing drum circles for women of all genders, especially marginalized women and children, and I traveled as part of a group called Rhythms of Africa Worldwide (RAW). We played in South Africa, Japan, locally here in the Bay Area. At some point because I have lupus, I developed intense neuoropathy so I don't have feeling in this finger and only partial feeling here. I don't have any feeling in my feet. I couldn't tell whether I was harming my bones. Using the hand drums I broke a finger and that's when it was decided that maybe I should switch to sticks. But it just wasn't the same as touching the skin and connecting with the vibration through my fingertips. Now I'm going back to it. I'm determined to go back to it. There's a group over in San Francisco and they show up specifically for actions. I'm going to jump on that.

Guillén: Are you a scientist?

Kin Folkz: Always! Because I'm fascinated by us as nature and the way that we are part of a chain of experiences. We have the QTPOC Soul Stroll that started in 2010 intentionally with a group of community members where we felt that people of color coming from our LGBTQIA+ perspective needed—not only to understand the equity that a tree possesses—but, we needed to also let the rest of the world see us engaging in that equitable practice. Going into park-protected public spaces is absolutely crucial. Nation-wide there are all of these opportunities for not taking, for giving and sitting in reverence of understanding our connection to nature. The first half hour is spent in a Vipassanā meditation. There's always this push to connect because we very rarely have safe spaces to connect. Actually, the first connection should be internal. Nature speaks a language that is so profound. We connect to the original creation that is so many steps away from asphalt and concrete buildings. We're hugging trees, man!

The scientist in me is also interested in what we can do to help people develop their agency, and to think about efficacy with regard to their bodies, because our bodies are the vehicle encompassing part of the Spirit. I got deeply involved in HIV and AIDS research at UCSF in the division of adolescent medicine and I also taught as part of the McGann series when I was employed at Stanford.

Guillén: You're an educator and an activist, so where should I go to learn more about your activism?

Kin Folkz: Spectrum Queer Media is the best place to find a sliver of the stuff that's happening. More importantly, right now I'm really speaking to how we can empower ourselves to dismantle inequity.

Guillén: Thank you so much. You've made me very happy today.

Kin Folkz: Yay!!!