Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

The beginning of the end

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | May 31, 2007 11:06 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: blogging for LGBT families, childhood development, drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, San Francisco, suicide

We knew it was the beginning of the end, but still it was the beginning. Most of us had recently escaped monstrous families of origin, we were scarred and broken and brutalized but determined to create something else, something we could live with, something we could call home or healing or even just help, I need help here, can you help? We were incest survivors, whores, outcast kids, vegans, runaways, and sexual renegades trying not to disappear. We knew that the world wanted us dead, but we were ready for something else -- we didn't always know what it was, but we were ready -- if we weren't ready, then we were getting ready.

It was the Mission in the early '90s and we were queer freaks and artists and activists and sluts creating defiant and desperate ways to love and lust for and take care of one another in crowded, crumbling apartments painted in garish hues and decorated with other people's trash. We paraded down the streets in bold and ragged clothes too big or too small, we shared thriftstore treasures and recipes and strategies for getting day-glow hair dye to last. We were manic and maniacal, craving intensity and sharing breakdowns. We exchanged manifestos and 'zines and fliers and gossip, got in dramatic fights over politics, over the weather, over clothing, over who was sleeping with whom; we held each other, we painted each other's nails and broke down, honey we broke down.

This was the early '90s in San Francisco, and everywhere people were dying of AIDS and drug addiction and suicide and some of the dead were among us, just like us, just trying to survive. Others were more in the distance, the elders we barely got to know except through their loss. We went crazy and cried a lot, or went crazy and stopped crying, or just went crazy. We talked about surviving rape and childhood; we organized potlucks and office takeovers; we fought for syringe distribution and universal healthcare; we fought against police brutality, gentrification and prison; we fought one another.

Occasionally, we won. Our heroes were the writers whose books we exchanged with lightning speed, queer writers who showed us there was maybe a little bit of hope in a world of loss: David Wojnarowicz and Dorothy Allison and Cherrie Moraga, Sapphire and Leslie Feinberg and Monique Wittig. Oh -- and The Courage to Heal, definitely The Courage to Heal.

We were huddled and dreaming outside of the status quo, but still we were gentrifiers -- we knew that. Some of us had grown up rich and more of us poor, but we could see the way that queer freaks and artists and activists and sluts made the Mission a safer place for the yuppies we despised. We had crazy hair and strange piercings and facial tattoos, but still we were mostly white and young and hip, even if we would have denied the young and hip part. We brought the trendy restaurants and boutiques that we gazed at with anguish and disgust, the partying suburbanites we scorned -- it was our fault that clueless white people now saw the Mission not just as a high-crime Latino neighborhood or only a place for thugs and welfare cheats and crack addicts on disability. We were the beginning of the end and we didn't know what to do because we'd just found the beginning.

Mattilda also blogs at

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Thanks for sharing, Mattilda. I'm too young to remember the early 90's clearly (and yet I've been having deep thoughts about my own mortality this past week), but I classify that time period as one of those times that I'm glad that people were doing all that they could to make my life better then, but also exciting in a certain way.

I LOVE Leslie (I had the privilege of meeting hir a few years ago and ze's way cool!) and Dorothy's book "Bastard out of Carolina".

Anyhoo, thanks for posting this, Mattilda!

Bruce Parker II | June 1, 2007 4:31 AM

later this month I am in San Fran for two weeks - would love the chance to get coffee or just hang out with you mattilda.

i definitely relate to the feeling of being broken. great post!