I am feeling sad about what went down in Portland, my hometown, over the weekend. Briefly: a white supremacist was harassing two teenage girls, one of whom was in hijab and one of whom was black, and some white men intervened. This resulted in the white supremacist stabbing the three men who intervened, two of whom died and one of whom remains hospitalized. The teenagers fled to safety. The white supremacist was arrested without incurring any police violence.
Since this event occurred, photos and other evidence of the white supremacist’s racist and xenophobic words and actions quickly surfaced, including photos and quotes from Portland Police officers writing him off as a kook “with a head injury,” and protecting him as he made his way to a bus following an alt-right “free speech” protest last month.
I mourn for the people who lost their loved ones, for the girls whose sense of safety is surely gone and who have the rest of their lives to look back on this bloody event, for other Black, brown, and Muslim folks who now have more cause to worry about their kids, families, and own wellbeing as they go about their lives. I fear for the impact this attack will have on future bystanders of hateful harassment and violence. I recognize that there are ways in which the alt right is organized and trained and the left and progressives are not. I wonder when everyone who claims opposition to Tr*mp’s dangerous rhetoric and deadly policies will stop defending nazis’ right to free speech and public rallies and start taking this shit seriously.
Looking at photos of vigils and memorials in my hometown, I saw a lot of “love trumps hate” rhetoric and other heartfelt, but apolitical, calls for unity and care. No mention of Islamophobia, of anti-blackness, of the ways women of color are at the highest risk for white supremacist violence. Now we want to talk about mental health. Now we want to talk about toxic masculinity. We as white communities will do anything to avoid naming white supremacy, and addressing how we are all complicit.
I hear a lot of generalized statements about how the Pacific Northwest was specifically founded on segregation and white supremacy. Some quick history from Oregonian and organizer Keegan Steven:
While many see Portland as a progressive Mecca, it is in fact the whitest city in America, largely by design. When Oregon joined the Union, it joined not as a free state or a slave state, but as a no-blacks-allowed state, the only state to do so. Being black in Portland, Oregon was a crime punishable by 40 whippings a day until leaving the state, on the books until 1974. This was possible because Oregon refused to ratify the 14th Amendment – the equal protection clause – until the 1970s. Oregon also refused to ratify the 15th Amendment, giving black people the right to vote – passed after the Civil War – until 1959. As a result, Portland is still the whitest city in America, with some of the worst inequities in housing, education, and criminal justice.
I know what occurred in Portland is liable to occur anywhere. It’s a fatal, heartbreaking, and infuriating example of what happens when progressive communities are more focused on protecting the right to free speech and store windows than protecting their neighbors. Still, this is all happening quite literally close to home, and I sit in grief, anger, and love for those of us in resistance together. What will we do to strengthen ourselves and our movements, and re-commit to shutting down white supremacist violence?
the following is an interview with my friend alli as part of my home project. we became close friends as similarly closeted queerdos at our catholic high school in portland, where alli still lives today.
Who are you and where are we?
I’m Alli and we’re in Portland, Oregon.
Do you have a place you consider a home of origin?
Yeah, I guess so. The Bay Area in California.
What do you think of when you think of that home of origin?
You know how when you’re driving on the freeways of the suburbs around the bay, the retaining walls on the side have greenery that grows on them, but it’s usually always brown and dead? That always reminds me of home. I remember when I moved to Portland the first thing I noticed when we were driving up here was the freeways were different.
When I think of my home of origin, I think of my childhood, the way I grew up, and the way home was talked about as a child. But now when I think of home I think of it as more of an abstract feeling as opposed to a place.
Can you tell me about that transition of the idea of a childhood home and how that’s talked about, versus how you think of a home now?
Once you start being given the freedom to choose your own home, and create your own home, you realize — I should say, I realize, I’m in control of what home is to me. As opposed to being a child when you don’t pick your home, or decide what the definition of home is. When you’re a kid everything is so literal, right? Every word has a definition, and the definition of home is the place that you live.
So, what is home to you as you are choosing your own home?
It’s hard to put into words. I call where I live my home and I feel like that’s my home. I’m a nester so it’s important to me to have a place to retreat to. But when I’m with people or surrounded by things that put me at ease, I don’t feel like I’m away from home or missing home.
Tell me about the ways that you are building home now, either abstractly or literally.
I think I’m subconsciously always working to build and create spaces where I feel safe, whether that means physical spaces or just spaces in my heart. I correlate safety with home. But it’s hard to think about how and what I’m actually doing to build that because I’m doing it so subconsciously.
Because certain people were in my life, I was feeling I had to present myself in a certain way and be a certain type of person around them. I have recently weeded all those people out. That’s allowed me to sink in deeper into where I am, which makes me feel like my feeling of home has spread out further because I feel safer in more places.
What do you think makes you feel safe?
Being in a familiar place and being around people I know will keep me safe is important. I’ve lived here for so long, I take for granted how important the time that I’ve lived here plays into my perception of Portland being my home now. It’s familiar, and I know it, and I know the places where I can go and see people to feel welcomed and wanted. I feel home in Portland because I know where those places are and I have enough of them to feel comfortable and safe here.
Can you imagine yourself leaving and making home somewhere else?
I would like to believe I can pick up my life and go make roots somewhere else, but I really don’t have any interest in it. The only reason I would like to want that is because there’s a little bit of ‘what ifs’ — like what if that is gonna be better than here, and fear of missing out. But really, the thought of leaving terrifies me. That’s part of why I want to want to go too, because it’s terrifying, and I want to feel like that’s okay, and I’m stronger than this feeling of fear.
So regardless of whether you live here always or go somewhere else, are there ways you envision any sort of future home?
Well I know that Eva, my wife, will be with me wherever I go. I feel like it’s so corny and I’m conforming to what we’re told about love in movies when we’re kids. As scared as I am to leave if we have to leave, if we go together, we’re gonna be fine. ‘Cos we have home in each other. We’ve moved to three different houses in this neighborhood and every time we move, we create the same feeling of coziness. People tell us that when they come into our home. I think the home feeling is about us and what and who we choose to surround ourselves with.
The one question I’m asking everyone is, in what ways are you seeking home, and in what ways have you found home?
I’m quite literally in the process of looking for a house. Not a home, but a house. The intent is so Eva and I can start a family, and in that we are hoping to grow our home.
I feel like I’ve found home. Sometimes you can meet somebody and you’ve never met them and you feel at home with them. I had an interaction with someone I met a couple months ago. We’ve only hung out twice but both times, it’s like we’ve been friends for so long. It’s interesting you can find home in people. But I’m not sure I’m looking for that. It’s so nice whenever you meet people and feel at home with them, but I feel like I’m so content with where I’m at that I prevent myself from looking. A friend told me they knew someone I’d get along with really well, and they asked if they could introduce us, and I said, no that’s alright, I’ve got enough people around, I don’t want to carve out space for anybody else, you know? In that way I’m rejecting something that could possibly be. I don’t know that I am seeking home because I feel like I’ve already found home.
So it feels like a complete journey to you in a way?
I mean, no, but complete enough for me to feel comfortable being here and calling where I’m at home. I’m plateauing. Maybe not staying forever. (laughs).
That’s one way to look at it.
I mean, I’m not afraid of the word plateauing. I think people think plateauing is a bad thing and I can see thats how it’s intended to be used, like being stuck. But I don’t see it that way. I see it as being comfortable where you’re at. I’ll push off again at some point. But I’m happy to plateau. I feel like I’ll go up again some more. Maybe I’ll go back down again, who knows. I’ve got so much more life to live. This is not going to be my home forever, this feeling or this place. But it’s super great to be here right now.
Is anything else coming up for you in this conversation?
I’m interested in this resistance I’m feeling in declaring that home is so engrained in the life I’m building with my partner. I’m so happy being where I’m at, and I wouldn’t change anything, but I feel like part of me that wants to pull away from saying what I know— the person who wrote, like, “A Walk to Remember” would be so happy to hear me saying. Just so conforming! But it’s true and I’m not gonna feel shamed for that. But it’s funny to want to feel like home is more just about me. It’s empowering to feel like I am my own home, it’s me and I’m creating it. But I’ve always been somebody who does better alongside somebody else. So I’m okay to admit that my home is paired with Eva’s.
I mean, you guys are also making your life your own. Just because it has these elements of the ‘white picket fence’ doesn’t mean it’s not yours.
It just all ties in to conformity. I’m conforming to the get married, buy a house, have a baby life path. But then in so many other ways I feel so non-conforming to what society wants us to see. But on this like path of how things are supposed to happen, I’m nailing it.
I think you’re nailing it.
I mean — every night when I go to bed, I smile, and every morning when I wake up, I smile. So I feel like that’s a pretty good way to live.
the following is an interview with my dear friend felecia fox as part of my home project. i met felecia eight or nine years ago and we have seen each other through thick and thin, and lots of transformation. felecia is an amazing musician and artist, and has recently published the zine sick witch (which is in the process of being made available online). this interview is being published on the full moon & on felecia & their mom’s anniversary of moving to oregon.
What’s your name and where in the world are we?
My name is Felecia. We are at Kenilworth Park in southeast Portland. We’re on a blanket that is blue, red, yellow, and green, and there’s lots of stones and bones and friends hanging out too.
Do you have a place that’s considered a home of origin?
My mom. She always made our home. We moved around a lot when I was little, and even when we landed in the pacific northwest, we still seemed to bounce around every year. I had a hard time sitting still for a long time in my life because of it. Now I can comfortably say Portland is my home. It’s not where I come from or where I’ve been, but I miss Portland so much when I’m gone. I love it the most when the seasons change; Portland’s so beautiful. You can drive two hours anywhere, if you’re able, and have a completely different kind of weather.
Tell me more about your mom as your home.
She’s been my constant. My mom doesn’t like to be labeled or defined. She is very loving and has been a pseudo mom for a lot of people in the world. She’s always had an open door. Everyone calls her Mama Katy.
Are there things that are important about a physical space feeling like home to you?
Animal companions. Pictures of family. Little knick knacks that remind you of places and moments and times. My mom always had a lot of candles around, and our kitties.
My current animal companion is King Georgia and his many thumbs in all of his rotten glory. Bless his snaggle tooth fuckin’ heart. He got hit by a car once, and he’s been a little temperamental ever since then. He’s very vocal and opinionated. He has a new spot that he finds to be home about every 12 hours. My wheelchair is often one of them; he really enjoys bedrest.
I wonder if you’d be willing to talk about if your relationship to home has been impacted with the ways your body and health has been fluctuating.
I’ve had to be okay with sitting still. I get itchy feet all the time to go travel and I feel really inspired when I go meet new people and see new places and be out in the elements. This year I’ve been confined to my apartment because of disability and trying to manage my energy more like a budget. It’s kind of dire. Having mobility issues, I just can’t leave the house without help. As many times as I’ve ‘pulled a geographic,’ wanting to experience life from a different place, hopin’ it would fix things, or give me that inspiration — I always come back to my mom. Staying in one place can be a revolutionary act when you’re someone who is that restless.
With my disability, I don’t get to choose my adventures anymore, I have to make them, and I have to create my own happiness since I can’t find it in ways that I used to. I guess I’m absurdly Libra, and my aesthetic around me is really important. If I have things around me I find aesthetically beautiful, I feel more peaceful, and that’s something my mom always taught me. You can make a home anywhere you go as long as you don’t forget who you are.
That reminds me of that line in Start Select at the beginning of the song — “some may call it homeless, but I know that I’m home-ful”
I have to play air guitar to try to remember it. (laughs) That was a long time ago. (sings) Everybody on this street is hungry for a cause…
Do you feel like music plays a role in how you find and make home?
Music is universal language. Music, I am so certain, exists outside of this world. There are high frequencies in the universe, and even earth has its own tone. I see our solar system as a circle of fifths, a grid just like on a guitar. On that type of grid, any which note you hit, even an open strum is a chord, anything you do is a chord. Any which way a planet progresses, it’ll strike a chord and be something.
Music keeps you grounded. I’ve lost a lot of my creative abilities with the more mobility I’ve lost, and singing’s been such great medicine for me all my life. I always knew I wanted to be a singer. Losing parts of my voice that I once used so well because my chest expansion and my vocal chords have all been affected. But my mom’s philosophy of make do wherever we are applies: I get to explore new parts of my voice that I didn’t know before.
I’d be interested in hearing either literally or in a more amorphous sense, what kind of visions do you have for a future home?
There are places I vision myself winding up, but I always want to be close to my family. Home to me is where there’s a rocking chair and a quiet place to go rest if I get overstimulated. And fuck stairs, you know? Fuck that!
The one question I’m asking everyone is, in what ways are you seeking home and in what ways have you found home?
A lot of my family on my mom’s side has died with mysterious symptoms, very young — before the age of 50. My generation has been so fuckin’ blessed with insurance and the medicine that we’ve had. We have a chance at surviving. They don’t know what’s wrong with me and I’m starting to wonder about home in the familial sense. I don’t think I could ever accomplish that home feeling until my family felt more healed. I want to know where my family came from and why we’re so afflicted with this shit…
Moving around so much makes it hard to deal with change sometimes. It can be kind of triggering. Illness has been the strangest gift in that regard. Teaching you to sit still because you have to, and if you’re not working to be okay with it, you’re just gonna be worse off. You’re gonna be more miserable. Pain and exhaustion are miserable enough. You should at least be comfortable. That’s home, as long as you’re comfortable.
Home for me right now is with my partner Cory and our cat King Georgia. Home will hopefully always be close to a hospital and a pharmacy and a park and somewhere where we can go get bottles of Coke if we want to. It’s also my red rocking chair and having a quiet place (cars honking in the background) away from all this shit! With all the people and their honking. I see myself someday in the North Bay in California. I just feel better there. I don’t think I’ll ever be far from the ocean ever again. That’s for fucking sure. I gotta go recharge.