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.
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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
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.
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
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.
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?
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!!!