The Outpost, Arenas Road, 11:00 am – 1:30 pm, 15 dec 2017
The Outpost had it’s second public try-out yesterday, again on Arenas Road in Palm Springs, again on a public sidewalk.
i arrived at about quarter to eleven and did a quick reconnoiter to find the spot where on tuesday, the proprietor of the business i was set up in front of told me that her group, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, sometimes held public stunts and craziness.
it was a great spot… a little landscaped cement pad that jutted out into the street, with plenty of room for my tableau and to permit pedestrians to pass without blocking them at all. directly in front was the patio of a popular Bar with a sidewalk passing between that and my spot. there were a smattering of patrons on the patio enjoying the warm late morning air under shady umbrellas in the sun with cool drinks and good company all around.
nobody took much notice as i made the two-trip haul bringing my set-up from the car a few meters away to my spot. i got the table and chairs and banner up, then set up the camera and tripod.
as i was getting the camera going, pointed aimlessly toward the sidewalk, a man came walking by and shouted from a short distance away, “hey! take MY picture!”
i got him in my viewfinder and saw an elderly man with no teeth, a trimmed little beard, a cane and a little bag… he looked like a homeless person. i said “sure!” and asked him to stand still until the timer went off as i clicked.
i invited him over to check out the photo and he told me that no one had ever taken his picture like that before. it was clear that he was homeless and perhaps a little drunk, and/or medicated or just developmentally handicapped. no problem for me… people are beautiful. dangerous sometimes, or just tedious, but beautiful and to assume the worst based on stereotypes isn’t exactly my style. duh. so i told him that i was there simply to converse and invited him to join me for a while. “what’s your name?”… “Joseph.” he said.
we stood there and began to talk. one of the first things Joseph told me was typical of the kind of hyperbolic content of his discourse that followed, being that “no one has ever listened to me talk about my story…” i invited Joseph to sit, and we both did.
i won’t go into the content of the conversation that followed too much, just to say that it is hard sometimes to judge whether Joseph was telling me something that actually happened or…
an orphan at 4 years old, he said he’d only completed third grade in school. he said he’d done 23 years in prison for murder and that he’d been out for about 2 years. he said that what he’d done wasn’t as bad as the story told by the Law to put him away might make it seem. during the course of our talk, i picked up a theme that Joseph had spent his whole life struggling with the definitions that other people put on him and he had never really ever been able to just be himself without second-guessing himself based on these outside opinions… sounded familiar to me. i could sympathize. a couple of times Joseph referred to me as a “counselor” and our conversation as being therapy. but i think he had probably said that to others before… probably to anyone who’d listen.
he said he was homeless and had no idea how to BE homeless… he hated it… he said that he was “motelin’ it” as much as he could and alluded to some source of income, at one point offering to “buy you a soda pop next time” and boasting that he likely had more money than i did. i agreed with that possibility, as unlikely as may have seemed. he said that he had been a bank robber and might have to resort to that again if he couldn’t find some way to get off the street.
i wanted to listen. i felt like it was important to him, he told me it was. i believed that anyway…
i could see how my having invited him to sit with me had been noticed by the drinkers over on the patio a few feet away. this street isn’t for people with no money, and the crowd at the Bar reflected that cold vibe that people give off when they want someone to just go away. i kind of delighted in that actually. here i was, a sort of quintessential outsider myself, frequently misunderstood and sometimes shunned, and the two of us sort of matched up.
as we talked, it became apparent that i was going to be listening pretty much the whole time… at one point, Joseph made a statement in the course of telling one of his stories that “…she was crazy you know, like all Women are.” i tried to pick at that and see what was in there, what could i find out about how Joseph saw Men and Women, what these identities meant to him… but i was clearly way out of his league with that kind of analytical delving…
it also started to occur to me that Joseph hadn’t “clocked” me. i don’t really know, but i’m pretty sure Joseph wasn’t really aware that i am Transgender. i hadn’t made a big deal about that point while i had briefly explained myself at the beginning.
after about an hour, i had to ask Joseph directly to go… he asked me for help and i said i probably hadn’t anything worth much to him but he asked me then if i had a cell phone with “all the new stuff you can do on it” and i said yeah… he needed to get the number of his motel to let them know that he was missing check-out time and needed a few hours to get there. i found the number and offered to make the call for him. he took the phone when they told me he’d have to pay for another night and lied to them that he was being delayed by having to be at a meeting with his counselor. he negotiated that they’d remove his belongings from the room and hold them for him.
Joseph was cool, he took a few minutes doing it, but soon he was on his way down the road. the patrons on the patio seemed relieved, and gave me the “i’m looking at you but i’m looking right through you” look. class wars are no stranger to the LBGTQIA community.
i had an appointment to go to to apply for my new passport, so about half an hour after Joseph left, i packed up and left. without so much as a fare-thee-well from any of the happy guys under the umbrellas.
so, as had happened on my first outing, i’d had a good time conversing, but neither time was there much discussion of “Gender Issues” of sexuality or anything particularly specific to me being Transgender. that’s actually not a bad thing. in a way, it is the desired thing. i want people to stop seeing me as “a Trans person” and just deal with… me. not my gender identity, not a cliché, a symbol or a caricature. if we aren’t going to bed together, why should my gender/sexual identity or anatomy be of much concern anyway?
on friday, i learned a few more things about The Outpost and how it actually works so far.
the first thing is that i still haven’t got any real good place to do it. the Arenas Road venue is safe and full of allies and well-wishers, but in reality, it’s a little redundant there. after all, the idea is for people to stop a minute on their daily rounds and take a few minutes to sit and chat with a friendly stranger… but isn’t that what all the Bars are already providing the folks here? and with better chairs than what i offer, as well as drinks and free appetizers to boot. besides, since the foot traffic is composed of people moving around from one Bar to another, my detour isn’t as attractive as it might be. people don’t really want to stop on their way from point A to point B.
anyway, Trans people are pretty well-known there in the Gay crowd, although i am constantly surprised at the lack of real contact many of these folks have had with Trans people. we’re supported, but not really well known. so there’s a use for The Outpost even there…
but i’d really like to find a place where there are fewer people who identify as LBGTQIA, people who are out and about but looking for a break, people who would see something like The Outpost and be intrigued by the novelty of an unusual person’s inviting presence and hopefully, moved to take a minute with me.
after my passport business was done, i thought i’d go back and set up on Arenas again, but the street was so deserted… it seemed silly.
i decided to go two blocks over, onto the main drag of the Palm Springs scene on Palm Canyon Blvd.
i found that Starbucks, located at the center of it all, with tons of people walking around, shopping and gawking, has a large open area out front. probably City property and so i knew it would make me a target. private or public, my presence would not be permitted unless i was just being humored or got lucky.
i argued with myself over whether i ought to just go ahead and do it anyway. how else was The Oupost going to exist if i didn’t just seize the space and time to do it?
but as i observed i became increasingly aware that this kind of commercial environment is there solely for the purposes of those that paid the millions and gazillions to make it all so pretty and open and accessible. i realized that my idea of a “public square” was hopelessly naive. none of this was here for people to express themselves, it was here for them to spend. the owners made it look nice and inviting, but the purpose both owners and shoppers seemed to have in mind had no room for “off-topic” intrusions like The Outpost.
then there was this more sinister feeling. i thought about Palm Springs’ reputation for being “open and free” but then thought about how the Bars on Arenas are so conveniently tucked away on their own block, a few hundred meters over there, out of sight of the “mainstream”. i realized that there was a tacit understanding that “those people” were fine, as long as they stayed “in their own places” and my showing up in the manner i was contemplating — making a point about being Trans and inviting people to come talk — would disturb more than just the commercial regime on Main Street. it would be a violation of the silent understanding dictating that people keep their places. the “nice people” felt that they were entitled to “their space” as they shopped and took their breaks drinking Starbucks and Coffee Bean. i was welcome to stand in line and pay my money, but not to make too much of a nuisance of myself. that’s a lot of progress in and of itself, and i decided that no one would appreciate my pushing the boundaries anymore. it would upset them.
i don’t want to upset anyone at all. i also realize that people are going to get upset anyway no matter what i do and that the progress i enjoy has been won by people deciding, strategically, where it was right and good to upset people. people don’t just change their attitudes, they have to be moved.
so… i got a coffee and got myself back on the long road back to my little hideaway 60 miles away… back to the boonies. to think about what next.
where will i go next?
all i know is, i haven’t yet found the sweet spot for The Outpost. but i’m not done trying.