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reading tiger

Too Personal For A Book Review: Gentrification of the Mind

So. The Gentrification of the Mind is the book I really, really needed to read to help me make sense of, oh, the past six months and the two suicides therein and all the stuff that brought up into a big muddy churning mess in my head. It helped put certain feelings and experiences in a bright and clear context -- OK, it put my entire adulthood into a bright and clear context. It was also bitingly angry and entertaining in its anger and I needed that too. Yes, dear readers, even I need permission to be angry sometimes.

Not just angry. Schulman explained to me neatly why I sometimes get a little tart when people start wailing the human tragedy of someone they didn't personally know dying when they're 96 or something. (This is something I am smart enough to keep to myself and sensitive enough to feel a little guilty and perplexed by.) But hey, hi! I came out into the queer community in 1990, about halfway through the AIDS crisis! You think I might have some issues buried there? I think I might. I spent a chunk of early last year reading through about twelve years' worth of the archived B.A.R. obituaries, a few each night. It seemed a little obsessively morbid at the time so once again, I didn't tell anyone about it, but now I think I have a better idea of what I was doing and why it was important to me.

(The recent death of Spencer Cox, too, brought to me a broader perspective on some of the issues that Schulman addresses, if peripherally, and that affect me too, again if peripherally.)

And also now there is a place for my anger and confusion and all that to reside, neatly parked between two book covers. That's handy. I've never had it work quite that way before. It woke me up as sharply as smelling salts and then gave everything left rolling around in my head a place to go. I'm still left a bit with a "well, what now?" feeling but it feels a lot less urgent.

(I still have to decide what to do with the Black Sheets list, though.)

In part this is because practically every time Schulman called out a name in remembrance, I knew who she was talking about, doubly so if she was referring to a literary figure like Kathy Acker or John Preston. In fact, I think it was the discussion of the Little Sisters court case (where Schulman testified in defense of Preston's work) that really stuck it to me. Because remember, I used to work for not one but two queer smut publishers. That court case was the queer publishing equivalent of, I dunno, the PMRC hearings before Congress in the 80's, the ones that resulted in the "Parental Advisory" sticker on CDs. Only in the case of Little Sisters, it resulted in books and magazines from publishers working on tiny margins being seized and destroyed. In putting small scrappy bookstores in Vancouver out of business.

"Oh no," I thought to myself. "If [this judge] has never heard of enemas or deconstruction, we are doomed." Reader, I laughed out loud, a laugh full of bitter and hard-earned knowledge.

I don't want to distort things here. I am ten years younger than Schulman. I was ten years younger than Bill Brent. My perspective on this era was necessarily different -- but mine's closer to the people ten years older than me than it is to people ten years younger than me, and Schulman neatly explains why. Because something's missing, and something else filled it up, and nobody's talked about that process quite so clearly before now, at least not that I've come across.

I like to consider Gentrification as a natural companion piece to Delany's Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. They're not about the same era or even quite the same territory but they're still obviously related and it would be fun and rewarding to read a lengthy Nation-esque book review cum literary essay on the two works by someone smarter than I am and who actually lived in New York during the 1970s and 1980s. Preferably by someone bitter as fuck but still breathing, dammit. Breathing and bearing witness, writing and bitching.

Schulman's final chapter articulates a commitment to discomfort. "Being uncomfortable is required in order to be accountable. Being uncomfortable or asking others to be uncomfortable is practically considered antisocial[...]If we want to transform the way we live, we will have to reposition being uncomfortable as a part of life, as part of the proces of being a full human being, and as a personal responsibility." I can work with that.


"But hey, hi! I came out into the queer community in 1990, about halfway through the AIDS crisis! You think I might have some issues buried there? I think I might."

A million times I feel you. And I know that you and I are definitely of different queer generations. But I grew up in SF watching many of my parents' friends die as a kid (it sounds glib, I know, but it is what it is), and then I came out in 1994-95. There's... a lot there.
I encourage you to read the book.
Thanks for writing about it. Gotta put that one on the list.
I will have to read Schulman's book.

Getting older is no cake walk, though it has its own rewards. But, any time I am tempted to rue the passing of another year, I just think of all the people I've known who never made it... to 55, to 40, to 36. That always changes my perspective.

I lurk here now and again, and I did appreciate your take on this book, and again, I will dig in.
yeah, she really fucking nailed it, didn't she?
She really did.
I don't consider myself queer, but I spent the 80s working at banks in San Francisco and I went to way too many memorials for gay friends. I'm reminded of them by professional things, not to mention the personal connections we had. I didn't know about that database and spent a while reading obits for men I knew. And, I found one for someone I'd lost touch with and hadn't known had died. Damn. It is a really powerful document. And, this book sounds like one I'd like to read. Thank you.

Edited at 2013-01-22 10:06 pm (UTC)
yes, reading Gentrification of the Mind felt like many puzzle pieces falling into place.