This is a somewhat personal entry; if you want fun sex stuff and pranks and porn, come back in a day or two and we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Labor Day weekend turned out to be the weekend that my lover’s father and stepmother came to town for a visit. I got all prepared to be a San Francisco tour guide and number-one supporter of the man in my life for a pair of Christians who were coming to the city of sin to see some family — this means I knew I’d need to give the family version of SF history, etc. We started out great; on the way from the airport we chatted and I interjected things like "this is where they filmed the freeway scenes from The Matrix," and "those big cranes are where George Lucas got his inspiration for the big walkers in The Empire Strikes Back." They seemed to be humoring me, but I didn’t think much of it.
Next stop, the SRL compound, where I gave a tour of the shop and machines, and they met Mark Pauline. I didn’t show them the adult male tattooed human skin we have, or explain that it’s turning green from mold and is being eaten away by rats, or even dare to explain that it was from the Modern Primitives show we did, or what that means. The stepmonster seemed to be uninterested in all of it, while the dad was pretty excited. As we were leaving he told Mark, "I’m going to tell Violet how belt drives work later." I don’t think he meant it to sound condescending, or seem like a "little lady, between us guys" comment. But there it was. As he continued, Mark got a bemused smirk on his face and looked at me the whole time, both of us making eye contact. It was one of those moments. We both know that I’m an 8-year veteran, a mechanic and roboticist. So I did something I rarely do — I smiled, and secretly winked at Mark, prompting him to break into a full toothy smile.
One thing the dad did say that stuck with me was when I was showing him one of the many nooks and crannies we have machine tools stashed in he said, "Wow, you really could get lost in here — I bet the whole world just fades away when you’re in here." I said, "Yes. That’s exactly why I come here."
Little did I know it was one of the last times I’d be able to get a full sentence out, or make a comment without being interrupted or having the subject changed every time I said something — for the rest of the weekend. The stepmonster wanted to go to Fisherman’s Wharf, which is gross, but we smiled and took them there next. The stepmonster could not be made happy. She stopped talking to me directly. When I’d ask her how she was doing, or suggested we could stop and rest with some iced tea, she just waved me away and kept walking. After the third or fourth time, I gave up. Left alone with her, she did not respond when I would start a conversation. A couple of times over the weekend, when left alone, she would simply walk away from me and go somewhere else. Everyone talked about the weather, the family, their dogs, their cars, but no one really talked to me. Even my supportive conversational comments were interrupted. Was it my breath? My tattoos?
We took them to dinner at a cheerful Italian restaurant, and I was feeling dejected so I ordered a beer. The stepmonster was rude to the wait staff. I was embarrassed. I gave up trying to start conversations, or even join in, and the beer made it easier to just sit there and keep my mouth shut. Their flight experience came up, and the stepmonster told us in a hushed tone, "There was an Iraqi on the plane." (to her husband) "I was so scared, when I saw that turban." (to me) "Do you have them here?"
WHAT!? Do we have what here, exactly? I was totally freaked out by the naked racism of the question, one that I was now expected to answer. I was dying to ask her, just how did you know they were from Iraq — please tell me, and take your time. This woman works for the correctional system (she later said, "you don’t need a degree to work with criminals."). Instead, as if to a child I said, "San Francisco is a very international city. We are home to a very diverse population, including many people (and families) from the Middle East." (See — dealing with TV interviews and shock jock radio hosts *has* given me a real-life skill.) That was the end of her dinner conversation with me, and I was okay with that. A few minutes later a big African-American man came into the room, and the stepmonster halted mid-sentence to glare. Then I got it — it wasn’t just me, after all.
After dinner we came back to the apartment I share with my lover. Our house, though mostly my stuff in it. They sat on my couch, my knockoff designer chairs, drank out of my glasses. They didn’t care to leave the living room, though I really wanted them to see the pictures of me and Hornboy all over the house smooching in various California locations. I especially wanted them to see the picture I keep behind my office chair of the Bible next to a can of Coca-Cola. So after over 8 hours of time together, the stepmonster asked me, "Violet, what is it you do for work?" I thought about the bookshelves full of books behind me, one shelf with seven titles bearing my name. "I am an author." "Oh!" she said. "For my day job I am the staff writer for a woman-run sex toy store that has been in operation for over 25 years. I write book and video reviews, and help write educational materials that our outreach educators take to give workshops to all kinds of people, from colleges to Planned Parenthood, to teaching high school students and developmentally disabled adults about safer sex." The dad stared at the floor, my lover did too — but he was smiling.
The stepmonster was shocked, so I continued. "In my personal life I have over seven books out, most are books I’ve written about sex education. The seventh one just came out last week and I’m very excited about it. You can find my books on Amazon, in Barnes and Noble, everywhere. A couple are even best sellers." (you could hear crickets, so I went on) "I’ve been in dozens of major magazines, interviewed by news media and next month I’m in Oprah’s magazine." She asked, "Oh, which magazines can we read your articles in?" I said, "I don’t write for these magazines — I am interviewed as an expert." Then they said something nice about picking up O Magazine next month, and changed the subject to the dad’s other son. I knew that even though I was stating facts, it probably sounded incredibly vain. But I knew it was my only chance to try to share who I am. And I was right. I was never spoken to again about my job, what I do, what I care about, and spent the rest of the weekend being ignored or interrupted when I spoke. My lover was in pain. After I had given my big speech in the living room, and the subject changed, I went to the kitchen to get everyone water and popped a Vicodin.
I have an unusual concept of family. I don’t really know how to behave around family, and I am trying, through my lover, to understand traditions and hanging around people that you have nothing in common with. My mother had an engineering degree from Stanford, but fell in love with cocaine when I was 8 or 9. By the time I was thirteen she was a crackhead, and had taught me how to cook her rock. She was a drug dealer for most of the time I knew her, and I was a straight-A student with a freakishly high IQ (I started in 4th grade reading classes instead of kindergarten). I knew my grandmother, an aunt, and an uncle for only a very short time (my memories are dim) because they didn’t want anything to do with my mother.
Until I was ten she told me my father died in Vietnam, then she told me he was actually alive somewhere. I never knew any of my family, only my mother, and I ran away from home when I turned fourteen because I was worried for my life living with her — I knew I’d be safer on the streets, and I was.* I slept in squats, in the park, in abandoned cars and on rooftops. I got food from begging, stealing, going through garbage, and later, doing a few hours of work for restaurants in exchange for a meal. Two gay men who ran a cafe helped me (and a bunch of other kids) get off the streets just before I turned eighteen. I worked in restaurants and took a proficiency test to get into college, on state funding (I sucked at math). I met with my mother again when I was 20, and she was still doing and dealing, and "borrowed" the money I had saved for books, and disappeared (thank the gods). I hunted down and met my father when I was 23, but when I found him in person, he told me to leave and never come back. I was really glad I met him as an adult, and not as a young girl.
The gay couple who helped me off the streets were my family, as were the other kids. SRL is my family, and not only have we been through death-defying (and arrest-risking) situations together, they’re so proud of me it’s sometimes embarrassing. So I’m still trying to figure it out, and it’s especially confusing after this weekend. Is that how family is? If so, I’m happy to keep my holidays to myself.
* Contrary to stereotypes about people in the sex biz, I was never molested or abused.