Sunday, March 17, 2013


A wheelchair-using BART commuter in the early 1970s
My weekend was full of East Bay arts, all of which ended up being, in some ways, connected. For those of you not in the San Francisco area, East Bay is the Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island of the Bay Area.

Some people in San Francisco may dismiss the East Bay, make "bridge and tunnel" jokes. I ride BART a lot, and while a few unpleasant events have happened to me, none of them were serious. The few very violent events - shootings by criminals and BART police have been covered by other media quite extensively. But personally, I can honestly say that it's a pretty amazingly efficient commuting experience.

One of the things I recently learned while researching the sequel to Every Time I Think of You, a novel that includes a disabled gay main character, is that Bay Area Rapid Transit was one of the first mass transit systems that made platforms and elevators and train cars accessible to wheelchair users.

Many is the time I've taken an elevator with my bicycle, simply because hauling my bike up and down stairs is a bit painful, what with my minor chronic knee and shoulder injuries (Thanks, 14 years of wrestling and ten years of professional dancing!)

On these elevators, I often see and meet people who use wheelchairs. We often take for granted our ability to get around, but seeing folks pushing chairs on a regular basis, in an area with a higher than average disabled community, makes me more aware.

The website Wheelchair Traveling cites BART as one of the leading modern mass transit systems for accessibility. It's something to consider as I write about "my boys," Reid and Everett, and their attempts to navigate the Philadelphia terrain back in the early 1980s.

Sebastian Grubb and Joel Brown of AXIS Dance. photo: David Dasilva
My first stop today was in Oakland to see an open rehearsal of a new dance performed by AXIS Dance Company.

AXIS has long reached out beyond the theatrical walls to share their art with audiences, from performances to workshops and schools programs. They've been doing it for 25 years and will be celebrating a quarter century of achievement. Their next major concerts are April 12-14 in Oakland. Visit their website,, for info and tickets. Here's AXIS Dance's Facebook page.

Among the anniversary season's events are the premiere of new dances by Amy Seiwert, Sonya Delwaide and Victoria Marks. (Marc Brew's "Full of Words" is in the touring repertory. Here's my recent BAR feature about that work.)

Here's a spoiler. At one point in Victoria Marks' dance, the company brings members of the audience onstage for a short segment. At first, it feels a little touchy-feely. But it became more than that. There was a simple warm connection shown by basic movements and hand gestures. Well, hand gestures for most, but complimentary nodding from the wheelchair-using woman with no arms or legs.

Other audience members, in the talk afterwards, expressed how it was a high point of the dance, how the theatrical fourth wall was quietly, simply discarded, like a silk curtain fallen away.

Berkeley Rep's 'Fallaci.' photo Kevin Berne
On BART later, on my way to visit with another friend before attending a play at Berkeley Repertory, I let my own personal fourth wall fall, and chatted with one of the audience members who had participated in the dance. I recognized him immediately by his orange jersey. We both brought bicycles onto the train. But more, it was his open energy that drew me. For once, I had a quick conversation, full of sharing and honesty, amid the shuttered phone-obsessed commuters.

Like Marks' dance, we connected amid the noisy train with incomplete sentences, gestures and a little movement as our bikes leaned against a wheelchair designated area (Don't worry! I always move away if a chair-user shows up!).

I then spent my evening with a friend seeing Berkeley Rep's production of Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright's Fallaci, a two-person drama about the famous Italian journalist whose probing interviews with world leaders and dictators aided her rise to fame. But when a young Muslim journalist visits her at a late point in her reclusive life, ideas about truth, objectivity and power are thoroughly examined on a deeply personal level.

As someone who's been lucky enough to pretty much make a living as a writer for two and a half decades – as long as AXIS has existed – Wright's play fascinating me in its portrayal of the dark secrets and eccentricities of a journalist who is accused of bending the "truth" to get her stories.

It made me think: How objective should I be about world issues, and their comparative local version? Should I have supported the actions of the Occupy protests as they disrupted train activity, or kept it on a more personal level, that I could not use BART or visit the East Bay for days on end?

In what might be remembered as my most in-depth work –or what a few critics have called "scathing" investigations of LGBT community controversies– (The AIDS Rides, the Gay Games/Outgames battles), I've been the recipient of some of the most hateful and vindictive attacks on my work. I also received an unprecedented amount of praise in letters to the editor.

Does this mean I hit a nerve? Was I able to mask my personal feelings enough to get to the "truth," or a truth?

BART turnstile
My current writing in nonfiction is much less controversial: arts listings and features. But how subjective am I when I choose what to list and what to exclude? I have definitely been deliberate about listing East Bay arts events, because I'm more aware of non-San Francisco readers and patrons. But I'm also encouraging SF residents to get out to the East Bay, whether it be by train or not.

Actually, I'll admit that I'm being quite subjective. If a press release is unintelligible, or looks too obtuse, unappealing or boring, I may not list it. And increasingly, I've become wary of listing venues that are not fully accessible.

But if I think that at least some of my readers might appreciate an event, whether I like it or not, I try to include it.  Often, an arts event is LGBT-produced or -themed, but I've seen the artist's work, and frankly, don't like it.

Sorry, I won't name names. That's the objective part of my work. But if it's gay, it gets in. That's the limited focus of writing for an LGBT newspaper. As for critique; I'd rather leave that to our talented freelancers.

But obviously, AXIS and Berkeley Rep are among my favorites, even though they only sometimes explore LGBT themes. Art that touches me on a personal level gets priority, no matter where it is, or in this case, it gets a special focus on my own blog. And that's the truth, or my truth.

Visit Berkeley Rep's website.

My previous posts about AXIS Dance here HERE.

(Addendum:) And bringing things full circle, here is one of AXIS Dance's new posters, on BART! (photo: courtesy AXIS Dance Company)

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