I’ve been struggling over a love/ hate relationship with the Bay Area for some time now. It’s a similar struggle to how I feel about my country, which I quantified a long time as being that I am a Patriot, and an Anarchist. I love my country, my people, my land, but I don’t trust nor believe in my government. The same is allegorically true of the Bay. I love my home, yet some of the parameters are… trying.
When I first moved to the Bay in 2008 I was a runaway and my destination was unknowingly the circus. The very concept that a city like Oakland would have a circus as a safe haven for a run away is still a mind boggling concept. Truthfully, it was in my blood and community to end up where I did. I was raised in a festival circus environment in Southern California, and it’s really no surprise that the most accessible and accepting space for me was of a like kind and nature. That said, the Bay has always been like that. No matter your type, it historically has been easy(ish)to find a haven. Queer? Sure, we got you. Southern? Absolutely. Eritrean or Ethiopian? Asian? Indian (and I do mean from India)? We have neighborhoods for all of you. With very little work you can find someone on the street who speaks your native language, looks like you, fits your type. And whats more is that the Bay is pretty damn friendly. It’s the runaway capital of the world, and a hot bed of civil rights and community expression. Peaceful protests are the name of the game, and even when they weren’t peaceful, like the Compton Riots, they were a means to a fundamental change which has affected the world. The Bay is a great place.
That said, the Bay is also a bubble. It exists within itself, and its rules and experiences are not regulatory to the rest of the world. The language itself is full of idioms and slang, the standardized problems are really quite unique. I was sitting with a group of friends some time ago talking about all the cars which have crashed into our houses… because you haven’t really lived in the Bay until a car has crashed into your house, or a house of someone you know. It’s like that. We all experience crippling high rent, food deserts, and shitty clientele. We all experience racism, and poverty, and homeless, and stepping over human shit in the streets of San Francisco. We all know, for a fact, that having a car is probably more trouble than its worth, if only for all the damn pot holes in every road everywhere, with the exception of the freeway, which is tolled. And then, of course, there’s the weather. We all loose our minds over rain, and we all emotionally shut down during fire season, prepared for an onslaught of loss guaranteed, and ash raining from the sky. Most of us own respirators, just to go work or the gym. We except the smoke for 2-3 months of the year.
All that said, I’ve always loved the Bay. The Bay has offered me a community and home in a way that was never available to me before. What’s more, even beyond community, its offered a mindset which I ultimately thrive under – that of something beyond survival. It’s not that Bay is particularly dangerous (I mean, don’t get me wrong, like all cities it has its moments), it’s that you have the privilege to express your opinions to their fullest degree in this three-city umbrella. That’s really unusual. To be able to walk down the street with your heart on your sleeve, your sexuality and gender on display, and your opinions on loud, with little to no fear of violence… that’s really something. I know, in writing this, that many of my community would go psssshhhh. Lies. That’s something only a white girl of privilege would say. The only privilege I have in saying this is that I can, and do, travel internationally, and see with my own eyes how much this doesn’t exist in other places. It’s easy, in the hardships of home, to become jaded, to think your situation is the worst. The truth is that in the Bay Area, compared to the rest of the world, even our own country, you have it good and safe and free in a way I think many take for granted. I’m not saying that unhanded racism and bigotry doesn’t exist in the Bay. It absolutely does. Segregation absolutely does. I’m not saying you wont be shot by a cop for being black, because that absolutely happens. That said, if you’re a black male and you get on BART in heals and a mini skirt covered in glitter you’re more often than not going to be fine… and often more than fine, complimented.
Bad things happen everywhere, but overall, the Bay is free in a way that most places arent. That’s provided me with a mentality that I have a right to speak my mind, express myself, and more importantly, defend the rights of others, which I do frequently when I’m out and about in the world. I challenge opinion and statements, because I want people to think about the subtle and long term effects of their language and actions. I’m not alone in this. My community and neighbors aren’t alone in this. Case scenario’s aside, to which there are plenty. 100% of the population has been put down or harassed at one point or another. Amazing how that brings voice.
All of that, that’s my love of the Bay. But like I said, I’ve struggled with a love/ hate relationship of the Bay. My hate, though, that doesn’t come from where I suspect most would think it would. My hate of the Bay doesn’t have to do with segregation and techbros and gentrification, though don’t get me wrong, I feel negative feelings and opinions towards all those things. The Bay is one of the most hypocritical places I’ve ever seen. Wave the flag of civil equality while implementing homelessness. It’s really a thing. But no, the hate I feel for the Bay has to do with sameness. It has to do with preaching to choir.
I’ve never been good at living in one place for so long. I suppose that’s why, after 13 years, I’m surprised to find myself still in the Bay. Whats more, I surprised to call it Home. I’ve lived here longer than anywhere in my life, and my community absolutely makes it worth it. I love our language, our jokes, our memories. I love that I don’t have to explain myself, and that consent is such a large part of our lives. We’re all on the same page, and that’s a benefit of family that is almost impossible find anywhere but where you call home. For all that, walking around the Bay is often the conversation of haunted memories.
It rarely strikes, not really, until I leave home and share with others the details of my life, just how hard living in the Bay has made me. I forget that for many living in smoke is not normal. I forget that social justice doesn’t matter to everyone. I forget that I walk down the street prepared to throw someone at the ground if they try to assault me, simply for being there. It happens. It happens more than I give it credit for, because I live in a city. That’s it really. When you live in the burbs, or rural, or the mountains, you have different problems. In those places its gangs of the ignorant and unruly who cause trouble, and there’s no one there to witness or protect, or come to aid. In the city, it can be as simple as stepping outside your block, because now you’re in someone else’s hood, and they have feelings and opinions about strangers. That said, being caught fully alone in a city is not impossible, but rare, and if you should, you’ll be lucky if a neighbor calls the cops, and luckier still if the cops show AND don’t arrest you as well as the person assaulting you. It’s a stressful mess that crawls under your skin when your not watching. Gawd forbid you make peace with that, and live a life where that stress doesn’t live at the forefront of your mind.
I was chatting with a local born and raised Bay Area friend the other day, who scoffed at me for saying that I find the Bay safe. He misunderstood me, of course. He’s in social work and assumes that I’m speaking from a place of privilege and ignorance, as is so often the case with folks who’ve just moved to town and purchased a 1.5 million dollar apartment in the Tenderloin. I get it, his perspective. Thinking the Bay is safe is just batty. It’s not that I think the Bay is safe, it’s that I know the language of the Bay. I know how to walk and talk, what to look at, how to present. When I walk down the street people don’t harass me, and when they do it’s typically because they’re at a breaking point where they’ve been ignored so much that one more unseeing eye is too much. With those folks I engage them, not in violence, but in acknowledgement. I apologize that my headphones were in and my eyes were forward and my pace was quick. It’s nothing to do with fear, it’s that I had somewhere to go. It’s a city. People got shit to do, but that in no way means I didn’t see that person. On the contrary, I see everything, even what’s behind me. With my friends especially, I walk in the back of the line, always a pace behind. That’s a protection thing, because I want to know where they are, and I know what is behind me. But these things, they are redundant to me. I’m programmed now. It’s second nature, and the truth is, though the Bay is not safe, I am not afraid. Some of this stems from a lack of care about life or death. Not that I want to die, mind, just so much as I’ve squared myself with the inevitable, and when it comes to my community, I’ll give my life to protect them. No question. I don’t have fear. I don’t fear for them and I don’t fear for me. It will be an act of fate, not of foolishness, that kills me.
All that said, when I travel I realize how much daily stress I live in at home, and that makes me hate the Bay. Whats more, with a community you’re supporting their stresses too, and my community… we arent normal. We have the privilege of critical thought, reflection, and the drive and desire to fight for what’s right. That’s different than a lot of the world. We are keenly aware of ourselves and our community at large, not just locally, but nationally and globally. We consider our language, our culture, our rights and frankly, what are not our rights. Cultural appropriation is out. Asking questions is always right and fine, but declaring ownership of something that is not inherently of your own body and mind, is not. It’s this participation that drives me to depression and exhaustion when I’m at home. It’s this effort which makes me see ghosts when I walk around at home. It’s not always my personal ghosts either. You can walk by locations and feel the pain there, see the remnants of violence. Shoes hanging from telephone wires are often a memento of death. Bullet holes in walls are not unusual.
It’s this stress, this pain makes me want to leave, and leave for good. It doesn’t happen like this elsewhere, I say to myself. It’s peaceful other places. And ya know, as a traveler, I can safely say that’s true. It’s a spectrum really. There are places that are worse, and places that are better. Whether that’s on a personal level, as in you personally don’t fit with the space, or culturally, as in the population has been at odds for centuries. There are places too which are truly peaceful, truly safe and accepting. They exist and frankly, they are lovely.
And so I ask myself, after 13 years, where do I want to be? Why do I stay in the Bay? Here’s the thing: anywhere you live is a trade. What I trade in the Bay is a certain level of stress for a certain level of freedom, and that’s the foundation of it. On a cost verse benefit ratio the question to ask: is that trade worth it? Does the freedom out-value the stress? This is a question I’ve grappled with for a long time and honestly, I’m not sure I have an answer for it.
The more I travel, the more I see of other places, the more I’m sure that being home, in the Bay, is the right place for me. Entering with the right mentality, setting down roots and building the life style I desire with the community who loves me; that’s worth the stress. That is, in fact, the reality of home. Nothing about living is easy. An adult knows that. But in cost verse benefit, having a family, support, community, those moments of joy and celebration, they are worth the effort and stress to get to them and have them.
All that said, my family and community have also largely scattered. From Alaska to Mexico, my family has spread out across the west coast to find the homes which suit their pace of life and the stresses they are willing to put up with. We gather for events and holidays, like giant reunions where we laugh, and hug, and scream ‘I love you!’ in each others faces until we’re clear that how we value each other is fully understood. For all that, I miss them being local and at home. For all that, they miss me when I travel. For all that, I can’t find in my heart or mind a better place on this coast to live than the Bay. That stems a lot from the familiar, but also from access. At the end of the day I want a home that is open and accessible to all my extended chosen family. At the end of the day I don’t find my love/ hate feelings of the Bay to be more, or stronger, than my pride in my community and people. Even as gentrification changes the physical world around me, even as smart phones steal dating, truly, I find that the Bay offers me something unique that I’m not so sure I’ll be able to find anywhere else; it offers me the ability to be me, in my truest form. From Mountains to Sea, from parties to meditation, from protests to street art. The Bay is as dynamic as I am, and that, in and of itself, makes it the perfect home for me.