Queering Psychedelics conference aims to expand definitions, minds

magic mushroom

Psychedelics are having a moment that’s turning into a movement. Shrooms are being decriminalized. MDMA is being (re)approved for post-traumatic stress therapy. Ketamine is being investigated as a viable anti-depressant. Microdosing LSD is all the rage in the work cubicles to keep mental energy up. The cannabis legalization ball is already rolling, right around the corner lies a psychedelic revival.

With all this heightened interest in the therapeutic effects of psychedelics—not to mention their cultural explosion as part of the exponentially expanding music festival scene, which traces its roots back to that original Lucy in the Sky miasma, Woodstock—there’s been a contemporary re-examination of the history of psychedelic usage and development via U.S. colonialism (the co-opting of sacred aboriginal psychedelic practices for recreational use) and institutional racism (the imprisonment of disproportionately large amounts of Black and Brown under unjust drug laws.) Both are hot, worthy topics, as is the deconstruction of the traditional straight, male hippie experience as the cornerstone of psychedelic development.

In fact, some of the biggest public names in psychedelic exploration in the last half of the 20th century were queer: Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Ram Dass. Or, as Erik Davis puts it in his introduction to his talk at the highly anticipated Queering Psychedelics conference (June 1 and 2 at Brava Theater Center), called “A Brief History of Queer Psychedelia”:

“Psychedelic experience in the modern era has always been queer—not just in the sense of being enchanted, wayward, and weird, but in the more concrete sense that queerfolk have fundamentally shaped the substance, style, and spirituality of the psychedelic underground. The mass arc of the counterculture, from the ’60s to today, is inconceivable without all manner of psychedelicized style queens, love-bomb DJs, and Dionysian mystics, including Hibiscus and the SF group the Cockettes, Loft party progenitor David Mancuso, the Radical Faeries, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who helped establish the social mores of Burning Man.”

Thanks to queer exploration, transcendence, and marginalization, the freedom (and necessity) to experiment has been wrapped up in queer identity since forever. At one of the seminars at Queering Psychedelia, Kanyon Sayers-Rood offers an “indigenous, two-spirit perspective on the ecology of the land we stand on” in the context of sacred sites and respect for the plants from which some psychedelics are derived.

Other fascinating parts of the weekend include “A Queer Critique of the Psychedelic ‘Mystical Experience,'” which looks at the narrow range of experience represented in the popular imagination; a queer view of how music has been important throughout the history of psychedelic usage; a seminar on how psychedelics can help cure HIV that considers strategies that queer people and people of color “have used to survive, before anyone realized we were left out of clinical research,” plus panels, social meetups, and more.

The speakers are a diverse set of experts in their field, and the subjects range from pop culture to the highly technical. Legendary Grateful Dead historian Steve Silberman will speak about coming out as queer in jam band communities. HIV advisor consultant Dee Adams will talk about addressing the needs of gender and sexually diverse people in psychedelic medicine. Ethnobotanist Claudia J Ford addresses “Gendered Knowledge and the Decolonization of Etheogenic Plant Medicines.”

“This is the first conference like this of its kind. It’s very exciting,” said Dr. Bia Labate, who is organizing Queering Psychedelics. I met Labate, a queer Brazilian who has spent years in the psychedelic community, at Quetzal Internet Cafe on Polk Street in March. She specializes in the study of plant medicines, drug policy, shamanism, ritual, and religion, and is the executive director of the Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines.

The idea for the conference came about when Labate was attending a seminar that was part of the well-known Horizons psychedelics conference in New York. “There was a breakout session that involved issues that affected the queer psychedelics community,” she said. “They said, anyone who wants to talk about queer issues further, please move to this side of the room. Well, almost the entire room got up and moved over there.

“That really pointed out the need for a queer-specific conference where we could explore and address psychedelics history and current developments in a queer context, in a queer space,” Labate said. She sees some unique opportunities for connection within the community about shared traumas and how psychedelics can be useful in addressing the bullying and stigma queer people face.

“We have been persecuted throughout much of the history of the world, and yet we’ve managed to thrive and make our own spaces. This includes mental and mystical spaces, which have been seen as forms of both transcendence and escape,” Labate said. “We talk a lot about gentrification and losing physical spaces, but as psychedelics become more mainstream, there’s a risk of losing the other countercultural spaces we’ve created in order to survive as well.”

LSD blotter Pink Flamingos: “This print depicts 40 hits that were originally issued circa 1987. A celebration of 10 different personality types on these magnificent four-ways.” (Mark McCloud,

She has concerns about the rise of psychedelic therapies in a mainstream psychiatric context that doesn’t specifically incorporate queer identities. “Psychiatry and therapy have often been the enemy of LGBT people. Conversion therapies, the historically gendered binary of medical treatments, the erasure of our history—these have been harmful things for us. As therapies are being developed using psychedelics, we want to ask, Who is doing the training? How are they including this vast repository of queer knowledge? Are they using it responsibly?”

Labate herself has used ayahuasca systematically for 22 years. “It’s central to who I am, and I am deeply grateful for this medicine,” she says. She has watched as ayahuasca has become trendy, and the changes that has brought to indigenous communities.

“These are the kinds of things we need to talk about in a queer context. We’re bringing new voices and different experiences together across the spectrum of what we experience, to share our own knowledge—and of course have fun. That’s definitely a dimension of psychedelics, too,” she said.

June 1 and 2, 9am-6pm
Brava Theater Center, SF.
Tickets and more info here

Queer medalist Adam Rippon talks youth advocacy and post-rink living

Adam Rippon: "Sometimes you feel that taking a risk is just going outside and being yourself." Photo by Stuart Locklear

After figure skating star Adam Rippon came out publicly in the fall of 2015, he became the first openly gay U.S. athlete to qualify for a Winter Olympics. Through his ensuing LGBTQ activism, he’s become a hero to queer youth around the world.

And since hanging up his skates, the two-time national silver medalist and 2018 Olympics bronze medalist has received even more accolades for his LGBTQ advocacy. Most recently, on April 27, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (SFGMC) honored Rippon with the Trailblazer Award at its 41st Season Crescendo Gala, an evening of performances and awards recognizing this year’s agents of change, who use their public platforms to uplift and support LGBTQ youth.

Other honorees at the gala, which took place at The Fairmont San Francisco and benefited SFGMC’s anti-bullying program RHYTHM and the It Gets Better Project, included Tony Award-winning actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth and Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane.

48 Hills spoke to Rippon, whose YouTube show “Break the Ice” debuts this week and whose memoir Beautiful on the Outside is due out this fall, about being a trailblazer on and off the ice, the bullying he experienced growing up, and how it can indeed get better after coming out.

48 HILLS What does it mean to you to be the recipient of the Trailblazer Award tonight?

ADAM RIPPON It’s a little surreal. I’m just feeling really lucky to be here, especially to be honored by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. They’re the original trailblazers and continue to do such great work around the country. So to be honored by them tonight is something that’s so incredible that I’ve been looking forward to for such a long time.

48 HILLS One of tonight’s beneficiaries, SFGMC’s RHYTHM, works to eradicate bullying, something that many of us in the LGBTQ community have experienced. Is bullying something you suffered in your own life?

ADAM RIPPON When I was young, of course, I got bullied and teased. I was always the smallest kid in my class. Then when I started skating, I was in school just a few days a week, because I’d be traveling to go and train, so I was so focused on skating that it never bothered me.

Now, I know that’s not the case for a lot of kids growing up and it can be very intense and very stressful. But the older that you get, you find people who become your extended family or your additional family or just your family. When you find those people — sometimes it takes a few years and making mistakes and learning more about yourself — but when you do that, that’s what really embodies the “it gets better” part.

Brian Boitano (l) presents Adam Rippon with his San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus for supporting queer youth at the group’s April 27 gala. Photo by Stuart Locklear

48 HILLS Speaking of the It Gets Better project, how has it gotten better for you over the years?

ADAM RIPPON I think it got better when I finally realized that I had nothing to lose because I took more chances and more risks.

And sometimes you feel that taking a risk is just going outside and being yourself. But when I was able to do that, that’s when I was my best in my personal life and in my professional sporting career. So that’s when I really started to embrace who I was and just be the best version of myself.

48 HILLS The choice to come out is a very personal one. But for those who are currently grappling with living more authentically, can you talk about the pros?

ADAM RIPPON I think coming out is really personal, but I believe that if you’re comfortable and feel good in your own skin and you come out, you’re giving permission to someone who’s in a situation where they don’t feel comfortable, where they feel like they’re gonna be excluded or lose people in their life that they love, to be themselves, too.

It’s so powerful to see somebody like you being successful, doing good things, and achieving their dreams. When you see that, you almost feel like it’s possible for you.

I was inspired by people who came out before me in sports and I watched so many coming out videos on YouTube back in the day. Watching those inspired me when I was young and wanted to do the same thing.

48 HILLS You have a YouTube show premiering this week and a new book coming out this fall. What can you tell us about these latest projects?

ADAM RIPPON I just launched a YouTube channel and my favorite part about it is that starting May 1st, I’m gonna be premiering a show called “Break the Ice” that I produced at Portal A.

Basically, the concept of the show is that I bring someone onto the ice for the first time and interview them. While I’m interviewing them, they get a skating lesson, and at the end of the episode, they have to put together a performance for me. So we had so much fun and I was lucky for our first season that I got some really incredible people like Billy Zane, Manny MUA, Gus Kenworthy, and the Ziegler sisters.

I have a book that’s coming out on October 15th called Beautiful on the Outside. The book is about me, the thing I know best. But I think it was so fun to write because, in this period of my life where everything is so different and changing, it was like therapy. If you can get therapy and also be paid to write a book, it’s a win-win.

Arts Forecast: The week’s best moments to honor Momma

The 48th annual Stanford Powwow gathers the Bay's Native communities for dance, music, and camping this weekend Fri/10-Sun/12.

ARTS FORECAST Every day is a good day to show Mom love, but this weekend is an excuse to go in big. Mother’s Day is on Sunday! You can take her to a sunrise tour of Muir Woods, a sumptuous feast, an all-women mariachi concert (see Flor de Toloache below), the Doris Day Festival at Stanford Theatre, to breeze through aisles of roses at the Hall of Flowers. Alameda is the site of entire springtime fest this weekend for outdoor wanderings ’n’ mimosas, flagging in the park is a fabulous place to be festive, SoMa has a matcha fest — you could even entice Mom into checking out the beloved Beach Blanket Babylon on last time before it shuts down, or to scout for treasures at Inner Sunset Flea, or to celebrate heritage at the Stanford Powwow (see below.)

Or maybe Mom just needs a stiff drink and a laugh this year? (Hear you, Mom.) Lisa Geduldig (she of Kung Pao Kosher Comedy) is hosting another super holiday line-up of stand-ups on Thu/9 and this time it is 100 percent madre. Diane Amos a.k.a. the Pine Sol Lady headlines the Mother’s Day comedy show, and Flirting With Laughter comedian Emily van Dyke is even taking a moment off of caring for her newborn to hit the stage. Just the ticket if your doting Ma needs a laugh about the complexities of raising your ass.

Plan, book, have a homemade card at the ready. You know she’s well worth it. Here’s a list of other great excuses to see Mom and have a little culture while you’re at it.

THU/9 TALK/DESIGN ON DISPOSSESSION Four graduate student projects from UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design will be presented. We’re talking power relations, late capitalist surveillance states, and the way in which these forces manifest in displacement and misuse of art in urban development. Thu/9, 7-9pm, free. LGBT Center, SF. More info here

THU/9 MUSIC MUSH CONCERT SERIES We stan for community station, and its new free concert series in Jack London Square is gonna be a gas. Today is Same Girls and Samplelov with DJs Miles Otway and Transfiguration — come back May 23rd for Bay chanteuses Ah Mer Ah Su and Maya Songbird. 6:30-9pm, free. Jack London Square, Oakl. More info here.

THU/9-SUN/12 MUSIC FLOR DE TOLOACHE This all-female mariachi group is giving the genre a good stretch when it comes to gender roles — and is a phenomenal intro to traditional Mexican musical genres for those just coming to the sounds. Thu/9 shows at 7 and 8:30pm, $30-45. SFJazz. More info here.

THU/9-SUN/12 STAGE ABRAHAM IN FLAMES It isn’t often that you get a chance to see an all-new opera delivered, and this piece inspired by Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou’s work and featuring the Young Women’s Chorus of San Francisco looks like it could be a welcome breath of fresh air. 8pm Thu/9-Sat/11, 4pm Sun/12. Z Space, SF. More info here.

THU/9 COMEDY VERDI WILD THINGS ARE Nato Green of The Whiteness Album is one of the Bay’s comic gems, and here he takes the stage at a 100 year old Italian social club with a lineup of other yucksters. 8pm, $10. Verdi Club, SF. More info here.

FRI/10-SUN/12 COMMUNITY STANFORD POWWOW All ages are welcome at this important gathering for Native communities in and around the Bay. Hand drumming, traditional dancing, on-site camping — even a fun run — make it an important moment, and the 48th year that the event has been hosted on this site! Starts Fri/10, 5pm until Sun/12, 6pm, parking fee $20, camping fee $35. Eucalyptus Grove, Stanford. More info here.

FRI/10 PARTY AS YOU LIKE IT Call Super, Dr. Rubenstein, and Jason Kendig headline this offering from one of the Bay’s superlative electronic club posses. 9:30pm-4am, $25. Monarch, SF. More info here.

SAT/11 HISTORY TENDERLOIN MUSEUM FOURTH ANNIVERSARY Vietnamese folk dancing, hip-hop, spoken word poetry at this commemoration of four years of exploring the history of one of SF’s most tumultuous yet vibrant neighborhoods. 10am-8:30pm, free. Tenderloin Museum, SF. More info here. 

SAT/11 VISUAL ART BRIAN ENRIGHT The West Oakland sculptor presents his new show, “Neither Created. Nor Destroyed”, which looks to refashion society’s artifacts into relics of hope. Opening reception 7-10pm. Exhibit runs through June 11. Lost and Foundry, Oakl. More info here.

SAT/11 TALK FUTURE CULTURE SUMMIT If exploring the possibilities of future work in community is your thing, you may want to drop in for the panel discussions and networking sessions at this afternoon event. 12:30-4:30pm, $25. Asian Cultural Center, Oakl. More info here.

SAT/11 FOOD + DRINK/MUSIC ART & WINE FESTIVAL Is this … your Mother’s Day adventure? Live music, over 20 NorCal wineries offering tastings — and all to benefit the Oakland Montclair Lions Club. Noon-5pm, $40-80. Jack London Square, Oakl. More info here

SAT/11 VISUAL ART THE NEW EAGLE CREEK SALOON Sadie Barnette’s father created SF’s first Black-owned queer bar back in the ’90s — this spring, the talented artist will create a version of its magic, which will eventually roll down Market Street as part of this year’s Pride parade. Check out a schedule of speakers and other activations of the space. Opening reception 5-9pm, free. The Lab, SF. More info here.

SAT/11 STAGE 140 LBS: HOW BEAUTY KILLED MY MOTHER Susan Lieu premieres her play examining the Geary Boulevard plastic surgeon whose shoddy work killed her mother and other women. Show today 9:10pm, runs through May 19, $13-14. New People and The Marsh, SF. More info here and here.  

SAT/11 PARTY HARD FRENCH FAMILY REUNION Do you miss the days when afternoon soul dance party Hard French raging every month through the sunny seasons on El Rio’s palatial back patio? So do they — hence this get-together with all the HF gang and guest DJs Dizzy Miss Lizzy (Black Rhythm Happening, SF) and Cinnamon Beans (Nicole Whitten, SF). 2-8pm. El Rio, SF. More info here

SAT/11 PARTY POUND PUPPY Town’s best puppy fetish rolls into SoMa’s friendly neighborhood queer bar. Featuring DJs Carrie on Disco & Kevin O’Connor. Wear your collar, make sure you’re house trained before entering. 9pm-2am. The Stud, SF. More info here.

SUN/12 DANCE WALKING DISTANCE DANCE FESTIVAL Three different programs taking place over eight days await you at this exciting lineup of dance productions. Check works by Mary Armentrout, d. Sabela grimes, and Barak Marhsall. Through May 19. Various times and venues, SF. More info here

SUN/12 MUSIC RAICES BENEFIT SHOW Your mother will be so proud if you take her to this lineup of bands playing their hearts out for RAICES, an organization doing essential work protecting immigrant children from the predatory clutches of ICE. Featuring tunes from Frightwig, Chaki, and The LadyKillers. 5-9pm, $10. Oasis, SF. More info here.

SUN/12 MUSIC DIANA GAMEROS Best believe the transcendent singer-guitarist is celebrating Mother’s Day — her own mom Altagracia Estupinan, and Leonarda Renteria, her grandmother, will be present today accompanying Gameros on vocals. 7pm, $20-45. Brava Theater, SF. More info here

TUE/14 MUSIC PRINCE WITH SYMPHONY Or perhaps Mom is more into “Purple Rain”? If so, surprise her with tickets to this symphonic rendering of The Purple One’s greatest hits. 8pm, $49.50-160. The Masonic, SF. More info here

TUE/14 TALK SYSTEM FAILURE: DISPLACEMENT A key presentation by arts exploring the failings of tech, and the ways these result in displacement, featuring superlative data visualization the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. 6:30-8pm, free with RSVP. Minnesota Street Project, SF. More info here.

TUE/14 TALK ANI DiFRANCO Stellar local music journo Emma Silvers interviews your favorite feminist rocker. DiFranco will be chatting in particular about the lessons learned via her new book No Walls and the Recurring Dream. 7-8pm, $20-35 (with copy of book). First Church, Berk. More info here

Candymaker Michael Recchiuti on how music inspires his luscious treats

In chocolate, candymaker Michael Recchiuti has found his ultimate freedom to improvise and experiment in the same way that gives him the most joy in creating music. All photos courtesy Michael Recchiuti

Chocolatier Michael Recchiuti hears music in everything. It’s in some of the machinery he uses to assist in the production of his luxurious candy confections which must follow a certain rhythm to work properly. A corner of the Dogpatch building that houses his kitchen is dedicated to jamming and making songs.

Classically trained with significant experience in jazz and experimental music, Recchiuti continues to push himself as a drummer — and the consistent pursuit of that creative outlet also helps him with ideas for his 22-year-old candy company.

“Sometimes when I’m playing, I get into that trance-like state where I can start thinking about other things because the groove is so repetitive,” he explains. “You have to concentrate on what you’re doing, but it’s not like I’m playing live with anybody, so I can kind of drift off if I need to. Ideas always pop into my head and then I’ll write them down. I’ll have a little book next to me, I’ll write down ideas, or sometimes I’m thinking about something before I start playing and when I go in there and play it helps me crystallize that idea. It’s just like, ‘Oh, I didn’t think of that, let me write that down.’ And a lot of times if I go out to see music, sometimes the music inspires me to think about what I’m doing in the confectionery world.”

“I was playing certain types of music to help me inspire the creative process of creating new chocolate concepts and desserts,” says SF chocolatier Michael Recchiuti. Photo by Tom Seawell Production

That helps to explain the rather melodic beauty of Recchiuti sweets, like the Platinum Collection. Like a piano’s keys, Recchiuti’s ultimate high-end offering sports 88 pieces of chocolate wonder.

Music from artists around the world are his near-constant companions while making confections.

“I was just doing this project for the last three days, so I was just in the kitchen by myself,” he shares. “I was listening to music and I was playing certain types of music to help me inspire the creative process of creating new chocolate concepts and desserts. So I would either play things that were very atmospheric where it didn’t muddle my thought process, it was just kind of almost background, and other times I played more motivated stuff, pretty high beats per minute [tracks] that would give me some stimuli to think about the energy of the piece that I’m trying to create. [I think about] what sort of energy do I want to put in it? And sometimes when I listen to music, it allows me to have energy that I transfer into the piece that I am creating.”

Another mellifluous concoction; the Recchiuti s’mores kit.

In chocolate, Recchiuti has found his ultimate freedom to improvise and experiment in the same way that gives him the most joy in creating music.

“I think one of the problems I had with playing music when I was in music school was that all of the students I was with playing were really talented players but the only thing that they could do comfortably was sight read music and play what was written for them, but they could just play something. And that where I’m really strong at improvising and playing all sorts of stuff. I’d say, ‘Let’s go out and busk the park in New York and let’s make some money,’ and they’re like, ‘What are we going to play?’ And I’m like, ‘Let’s just play, they’re like, ‘What charts are you thinking of reading?’I was so frustrated. It’s definitely a different mindset.

“I’m not a person of complacency,” he asserts. “It’s a word I don’t even understand. So once I’m comfortable, I pull myself out of that realm of being comfortable. I like to be on edge and throw myself into situations where it’s not that comfortable.”

Fab 5 Freddy sheds musical light on racist cannabis laws

Fab 5 Freddy in 'Grass Is Greener.' Image courtesy of Netflix

In the early ‘80s, Fab 5 Freddy helped popularize graffiti art by taking it from the sides of New York subway cars to the walls of hip international galleries. Later that decade, he introduced a wider demographic to hip hop music as the host of “Yo! MTV Raps.”

Now, with his new Netflix documentary “Grass is Greener,” the director of 70-plus music videos for artists including Nas, Queen Latifah, and KRS One is hoping to win more politicians and their constituents over to the idea of cannabis legalization.

To do this, the hip hop pioneer, visual artist, and pot connoisseur packs his feature-length directorial debut with an easy to ingest history of the racially biased war on marijuana that is still hard to stomach. He views this history through a musical lens, bringing in stories and histories of jazz, hip-hop, reggae, and pop icons to put unique spin on the subject.

Featuring interviews with Snoop Dogg, Cypress Hill, Damian Marley, and a slew of experts, the documentary demonstrates how a “harmless” little flower that has influenced some of the most groundbreaking music and culture of the last century and reportedly brought relief to many suffering from anxiety and physical pain, has at the same time destroyed the lives of many in the black and Latino communities, as a result of the plant’s racially motivated criminalization.

To put it bluntly, not only are people of color more likely to be locked up for possessing or selling marijuana but also they’re more likely to be locked out of the growing and highly lucrative marijuana industry because of their rap sheets.

48 Hills spoke to Fab 5 Freddy (born Fred Brathwaite) about making the definitive potumentary about the intersectionality of race, jazz and rap, and reefer, his personal experience with weed, and what viewers can do to help legalize pot in their state and get nonviolent prisoners with pot convictions released from jail.

48 HILLS There are already so many potumentaries out there. What makes yours different?

FAB 5 FREDDY I felt that this was a unique way to tell this story. I’ve seen a bunch of cannabis documentaries, too, but I hadn’t seen anything that got close to this. Some just touched on it. But with the jazz history that I had and being on “Yo! MTV Raps” and being the person that introduced a lot of these guys on my show, I just thought it would be a perfect way to connect and get into it using music as a way to move us through the narrative.

It became more apparent that if you were [the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics] Harry Anslinger and you were racist and you realized that black folks were making music, which was all considered the vilest music you could imagine at the turn of the century, that would make you even more angry about the fact that this was spreading the word and also bringing people together from other ethnic backgrounds that were enjoying this new American music and cannabis flower.

I started thinking about the history of black folks with the plant in America and the music, and I was like, “Wait a minute, there’s been this connection since the beginning.” These are the first major advocates. If you go on YouTube and search for “jazz reefer songs,” just watch how many come up.

48H How familiar were you with this history before making the documentary?

F5F Well, pieces of it. My dad was a jazz head and Max Roach, prominent bebop jazz drummer was my godfather, so my dad and his friends were completely immersed in the music from their era. I had discovered a record as a teenager with all these songs about cannabis on it, so I was like, “What the hell is going on?” And my dad and his friends remembered all that stuff from back when they were kids. So they were the first ones to tell me about [jazz clarinetist and saxophonist] Mezz Mezzrow. They knew that was a cool name for really great weed and they’d heard some of those songs.

48H Had you known about the link between the criminalization of marijuana and race before?

F5F I had a sense that it was really bad, but getting the facts was astonishing and shocking and a lot worse than I thought it was.

It’s sad the way this ugly conundrum of racism still lurks underneath our laws. You used to be able to write race into the law, but now they write drugs into the law to oppress black and Latino people.

I just felt compelled and blessed that I was put in the place to tell this story because I didn’t realize how bad it was. It’s the sad, ugly sore that’s a part of American history, like Jim Crow laws and slavery and all that horrible shit, and we need to let that scab heal so we can move on.

Damien Marley in ‘Grass is Greener.’ Image courtesy of Netflix

48H You feature a lot of rapper-weed proponents in your movie. For young people today, who could never conceive of a time when weed was regarded as illicit, what was the significance of rappers like Snoop Dogg, Cypress Hill, and The Notorious B.I.G. rapping about pot in the early ‘90s?

F5F It put it in your face—things you don’t often hear about or see. You didn’t hear about it from people who come from these places where hip hop comes from. That’s what was important about it. It was a daring move to boldly talk about the plant in that way, knowing that fans would dig people taking those risks and those stances.

In the movie, Cypress Hill talks about the fact that they didn’t just want to be a stoner group. They read Jack Herer’s book “The Emperor Wears No Clothes,” which details a lot of the things that I focus on in my movie—the racist history of Harry Anslinger’s narcotics bureau targeting the jazz musicians, who were mostly people of color. So Cypress Hill was addressing that they were hip to the real conspiracy against the plant and the misinformation that was used to get the plant criminalized. It was all lies-motivated racism and a way to control people of color, and under [former president Richard] Nixon, it was a way to control the anti-war counterculture movement—hippies and black folks.

48H As early pot advocates, Cypress Hill was famously banned from “SNL” after blazing up on the show. A lot of people of color suffered far worse, like serious jail time, when they were caught dealing or possessing even small amounts of marijuana. Just as Cypress Hill’s career never fully recovered, neither did these people of color whose lives were irreparably ruined by their criminal records.

F5F Exactly, which is why records need to be expunged. San Francisco has expunged about 13,000 records.

If somebody’s in jail for nonviolent cannabis use or possession and it’s now a multi-billion dollar grossing revenue stream that has killed no one, and the history is clear and blatant, let’s do the right thing across the country and take cannabis off the Schedule 1, which makes no sense to have the cannabis flower in the same category as heroin, and let people out of jail.

When you see how many decent people are in jail right now, who can’t work and won’t be able to get certain jobs when they get out, that’s not cool. Nobody should be in jail for this plant.

Snoop Dogg in ‘Grass is Greener.’ Image courtesy of Netflix

48H In the film, Snoop Dogg talks about his first experience smoking weed. Tell me about yours.

F5F I did have early experiences trying to emulate my dad when I was about seven or eight and trying to take a pinch of his cannabis, twisting it up in a piece of brown paper and lighting it in the bathroom. My dad came in and asked, “What’s that I smell?” I said, “I don’t know.” Years later, I realized he knew but I was just a curious kid. He didn’t really chastise me or anything.

I didn’t start smoking on my own until I was a teenager in Brooklyn, so that was my experience. I remember when he found out I was smoking, he just said to be careful and that it’s best to do it in the house because it was illegal and I could get busted. My dad was pretty cool, but my mom wasn’t too happy about it.

48H How did it make you feel?

F5F You know, cannabis wasn’t as consistently good then as it is now. But I enjoyed cannabis. I’ve never been a big alcohol guy, so cannabis is my intoxicant of choice. Overall, it mellows me out. When you’re with the homies and guys are passing blunts around, it can be too intense. I’m a guy, who likes to light up a nice joint. I like to compare the way I smoke to how wine connoisseurs drink wine. You don’t drink a bottle of wine to get drunk. You want to experience the flavor, the taste and have a nice, mild buzz. That’s what I like. I don’t function well when I’m blitzed.

48H What can we do to facilitate pot legalization so more people can “mellow out” with impunity?

F5F People need to check and see what their representatives are doing about this. If you’re not blessed to live in an area where medical or recreational use is legal, then tell your representatives to watch this damn movie and understand how we got to this point, and we’ll have a better country and people will be better off.

We’ve been hoodwinked for decades about what’s really going on. So we need to get re-educated and do the right thing because there’s a lot of great benefits from this plant that can help people with a lot of issues that should have access to it. Give people access to cannabis products, so they can get relief. That’s my message, baby.

Now playing on Netflix
More info here.

A live cinema event to ‘Remember Los Siete’ in the Mission

Los Siete Defense Committee demonstrates in front of Mission People's Clinic/Centro de Salud in spring of 1970. Photo via Basta Ya/Found SF

On May 1,1969, a pair of cops stopped a group of Latino activists on the Mission District’s Alvarado Street. In the ensuring altercation, one of the officers was shot and killed by the gun of his partner. The tumultuous trial of Los Siete de la Raza, the seven education activists who became suspects in the killing, was a galvanizing force for the Mission District community against systemic police brutality, one whose reverberations can be felt even now, 50 years later.

Artist and Mission District native Vero Majano remembers the story of Los Siete well from adults’ whispered conversations. Her endless proximity to the group evidences the mens’ centrality in the Mission community. So closely did the situation become tied to the neighborhood’s daily life for Majano that on Fri/26 and Sat/27 she is premiering Remember Los Siete, an impressionistic live cinema event based on found community footage and her own memories, at the Brava Theater Center. The production will feature live band The Comrades, and footage that Majano recovered via videographer Ray Balberan of Mission Media Archives, an important local archivist whose work Majano plans on curating in a future project.

Los Siete de la Raza at their press conference after a jury cleared them of guilt. Photo via Lost SF

Remember Los Siete is nearly the capstone of a month of events honoring the 50th anniversary of the seminal trial that included a bike tour, cabaret, art exhibition, and panel discussions. Still to come is a scheduled talk on the women-directed response to the Siete’s arrest on May 8, hosted by Shaping SF and featuring community activists, artist Yolanda M. Lopez, and Marjorie Heins, author of Strictly Ghetto Property: The Story of Los Siete de la Raza.

This collaborative delivery of Los Siete memories is the latest entry in Majano’s body of work, which stakes out space for Latino Mission District legacy in a rapidly-shifting San Francisco. Likewise, her 2015 collaboration with Hard French DJ Brown Amy and photographer Kari Orvik “The Q-Sides” re-staged the covers of East Side Story oldies compilations, re-centering queer bodies in lowrider community tradition.

Remember Los Siete director Mary Guzmán was eager to aid with this recuperation of memory. She tells 48 Hills that Majano can “put words together in a way that has never been put together, and describes a situation better than any words anybody else could come up with. She knows what to leave in and what to take out.”

In measured musings on the footprints a neighborhood can leave in our lives, Majano spoke with 48 Hills about the power of time’s passage and her newest work.

48 HILLS: How did you become acquainted with the story of Los Siete?

VERO MAJANO: I have known about Los Siete de la Raza since I was eight years old. It was a conversation that adults had around me, whispering. I have family members who were part of the supporting of Los Siete, I have an estranged older brother who was connected with Los Siete. I feel like Los Siete de la Raza in the Mission District, it kind of bumps into history, in a way. You know, that somebody’s uncle was involved, somebody’s cousin or somebody’s married to one of Los Siete, somebody did time with Los Siete. It’s a story that bumps into you around the Mission for some folks. It was the first urban story that I was attracted to.

48 HILLS: What made you want to create a play about these men?

VERO MAJANO: It’s not a play that I’m doing. What I’m doing right now is kind of like a new genre, they’re calling it live cinema. I’m going to be live-narrating the story while projecting very rare footage of the Mission District and Los Siete. I have a band onstage with me that will be doing a live score. It’s something that you have to show up and all experience together. I’ve made a couple films in the past, and I’ve also done storytelling, so it’s two of those things merging together.

Most of the footage that I have, I got from working with Ray Balberan. In the late ’60s, KQED didn’t have any people of color producers. So Ray and a bunch of other folks demanded that KQED make them producers, and they ended up getting 15 millimeter cameras. They taught people how to make films and document their community. I would go through these film bins that Ray had and I would find one that said “dance benefit” with the number “7” on it. It was from an actual dance benefit for Los Siete! We’re going to be showing that. The footage is very unique — it’s folks learning how to use their equipment, but 50 years later it’s this lovely document.

48 HILLS: What is the important takeaway for today’s Mission residents, or today’s San Francisco residents — or the world today — about what went on with Los Siete?

VERO MAJANO: With my work, I’m just reminding folks that we were here. I’m also hoping that it inspires other folks to continue to document their stories, whether that is through making a documentary, a book, a podcast, or whatever. Because I’m not necessarily a historian; I’m telling it from my point of view.

48 HILLS: That actually leads me to my next question, which was whether you could compare the creative process that you went through for Remember Los Siete with another project of yours that I love, the “Q-Sides” collaboration with Hard French DJ Brown Amy and photographer Kari Orvik?

VERO MAJANO: With that project, we knew what we wanted to do, but we had no idea what the outcome was going to be — and it was so beautiful, the way that it built community. I think “Q-Sides” has been my most queer-identified work. For me, that was like, “Yo, I was here, and I was queer.” I think what’s similar is that both [projects] are about leaving a mark in San Francisco. With my work, I’m trying to include the Mission in San Francisco history.

48 HILLS: Where do you go when you want to see the Mission that you grew up with — apart from the footage that you work with?

VERO MAJANO: I think what’s unique about me being here 50 years is that I get to age with the people of San Francisco, together. Meaning, the guy who has been on the corner for the last 30 years, or the bus driver that’s been here forever. Some of them are getting grayer, a little thicker. The girl whose a woman now, my age. Damn, she’s still looking good, and she’s aging. They’re markers. That’s very precious to me right now. The homie who used to hold that block, and now they’re not really holding the block anymore, but they’re still there. They may be sitting on the block — not holding it — and they’re still playing the damn same oldie on a tape player. Those are the things that I pay attention to in San Francisco, in the Mission. If you look really wide, you see nothing but hella change. But I think if you narrow it down, just look at the small details, you’ll find that Mission. Whatever your Mission looked like to you, you’ll find it.

Fri/26-Sat/27 8pm, $30 adult, $22 senior and youth
Brava Theater Center, SF
More info and tickets here.

At Mutek.SF fest the techno is ambitious. So is the food.

Chef Anthony Myint in his Mission Chinese Restaurant. Photo by Tamara Palmer

The second iteration of MUTEK San Francisco, the international festival of digital creativity which takes place from May 2-5, is a descendent of the famed, 19-year-old Mutek festival in Montreal, a pillar of the experimental electronic music scene. This year’s SF version features heavyweight names like Kode9, Ectomorph, fuse*, and Dopplereffekt, as well as local players like Mozhgan, Abandoned Footwear, Josh Cheon, Nihar, and Sepehr. The festival has expanded, too, into other digital realms, and there will be such tasty tidbits as state-of-the-art projection shows in the Cal Academy’s planetarium.

But what if the thought of all that intellectual raving brings a rumble to the stomach? Mutek once again brings a culinary component to the festival, beginning a week early with a special Dinner to Fight Climate Change from the festival’s culinary ambassador and ZeroFoodPrint founder Anthony Myint at 18 Reasons on April 27.

MUTEK.SF’s goal for this and all of its culinary events is to raise funds for ZFP and help fight climate change by increasing soil health and putting back as much as 500 tons of carbon dioxide into the soil. That’s equivalent to not burning 55,000 gallons of gasoline.

“A lot of people are still thinking in terms of Farm to Table 1.0,” Myint told Los Angeles Times. “It’s, ‘Oh I want to know about the farmer.’ It’s quaint. I don’t think people are thinking about it like, ‘Oh, this is actually the most practical and biggest-impact choice I can make on a daily basis.’ We need to get Farm to Table 2.0.”

Greens and beats: Anthony Myint at the cutting board. Photo by Tamara Palmer

MUTEK.SF has also partnered up with BiteUnite, a cook and share community space that opened in San Francisco last fall, to host six pop-up dinners between May 2-4—two Nordic-inspired vegetarian meals from underground ramen savants Naomi SF, two dinners from chef Tracy Goh’s Malaysian food concept Laksa Project, and two dinners from Myint which explore bites from his restaurant Mission Chinese Food San Francisco as well as his new Vesterbro Chinese Food restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark.

These dinners offer a perfect prelude to the festival’s juicy music program, taking place at various venues in San Francisco including 1015 and The Midway; the latter will host a closing day “Experience” on May 5 that includes music and a guest chef.

Tickets for the 18 Reasons dinner and the BiteUnite pop-ups are all on sale now and expected to sell out quickly.

Divas closes—and SF loses its ‘trans town square’

Going to the last night of business at Divas on March 30 was like stepping into a time machine. Divas—the only transgender bar in San Francisco, and one of only a few in the country—was an exciting and thriving bar 13 years ago, in 2006, when I moved to San Francisco from the suburbs after getting divorced from a straight relationship. It was a place where trans folks and their friends and admirers met up. It holds a special place in my heart because there I, along with many other girls new to the trans scene, was able to explore this subculture and so many previously unexplored sides of myself.

Unfortunately, Divas has now closed its doors after 31 years due to lack of business, and the owner is selling the building. Business had been in significant decline in the last 5+ years to the point where even Fridays and Saturdays were typically quiet. The same fate has befallen many other alternative clubs, due to changes that the online meetup culture and the tech industry has brought to the city. But on Sat March 30, 2019, the three floors of Divas, each with a bar and plenty of mirrors, was packed as they had their final night of business. I expected to see a lot of old friends, and do a lot of reminiscing, which we did. But what I didn’t expect was how much I would viscerally be reminded how great Divas once was, and how much San Francisco has changed in 13 years.

Divas was a place where worlds met. Where a lot of chance encounters fueled not only a great different kind of fun, but also life changing events and relationships. I loved exploring the culture when I was first getting started out, meeting old and new friends there. Over the years it was such a pleasure to run into new girls who were there for their first time and excited to do the same. I loved being shocked at how smoking hot these trans-girls were. I loved bringing my Ukrainian friends there, and blowing their minds with something they hadn’t seen before. And every weekend night there would also typically be folks from other communities there as well—drag queens, lesbians, gay men, biker folks, leather folks, the Sisters, and even a reverend who would help people in need.

The scene at Divas. Photo by Rain B via Yelp.

What a pleasure to be able to become part of such a diverse and friendly community, where “different” was the norm, and people were so open in sharing some of the deepest part of their lives. I never felt so welcome in my life, in stark contrast to the stiff norms in the suburbs and the corporate world. It took me several years to realize, I’m fabulous just the way I am, thank you. And there were always visitors from all over the world, mostly straight, who were curious and courageous enough to see this world in the flesh. The real world is nothing like you see online or in the movies. And each one of us regulars had the opportunity to be essentially an ambassador, sharing this world and mindset with others.

But today, if you want to discover the trans world in San Francisco, you’re going to have to try A LOT harder, and you won’t really have an opportunity to do so if you’re just visiting. Sure, you can try to meet some people online. That’s a horrible way to meet people, however: You don’t know what you’re going to get, and you can meet one, maybe two people a night. There is no community, no “town square,” no longer lots of chance encounters.

The Internet has been great at connecting people all over the world who have similar interests, especially people who don’t live in a city like San Francisco. But it has destroyed the culture of certain cities such as ours by dispersing the community to the point where there is no longer a critical mass to sustain such necessary meeting places. All that’s becoming left is mainstream bars for 25–35-year-olds. No online technology has the ability to replicate community—that requires people meeting in person. And this loss has significant impact on the health of our society. Some even argue that one of the biggest problems in Washington politics is that Congresspeople no longer eat lunch or breakfast together, something that was very common until the last few decades.

The demise of places like Divas is a sign of the times. Divas regulars have talked about what is happening, where did everybody go? Are they meeting online? Have they been driven out of the city due to the cost? Is it a generational issue as LBGT and Alt lifestyles are more mainstream? Are people working harder to make ends meet and don’t have the time? Are people happier this way? Even the guys running the corner market near Divas said their business has dropped by 50% in the last five years because people aren’t going out as much…and this is in the heart of San Francisco.

I sit here and think about what we are losing which is most precious. One of the most remarkable aspects of frequenting Divas was that there was a huge diversity of patrons (age, race, socioeconomic, casual girls, working girls, etc.), yet we all shared something in common, we love “misfits.” we are curious about or admire trans people for their strength, and we want to hang out with people who just want to be themselves. To me, Divas was an ode to not allowing society to control us and tell us who we are and how we should act. I think so many of us need to be reminded, over and over again, that our most precious relationships and values transcend the demographics-based stereotypes that our advertising and political society has spoonfed us since we were young, in order to sell us stuff and control us.

Another precious part of our life that the online world has taken away from us is the natural joy in meeting people, and instead has left us with a stressful way of trying to have fun. Who wants that—life is stressful enough. Several of the working girls at Divas said that the closing of Divas will actually make their business easier, as guys won’t waste their time chit chatting at the bar. Instead people will just meet in somebody’s place and get right down to the sex. However, meeting somebody new and immediately jumping into bed is not fun for many people. It’s stressful, people often get drugged up in preparation, and it just leaves us feeling empty and ultra-sleazy. Even in my most sleazy and drunk or stoned moods, I still want to chat with somebody and actually get to like then a little bit before getting it on. This may help the working girls, but what does this do to some peoples psyche, self-respect, and its impact on the way we treat family, friends, co-workers, and ourselves?

I was lucky in that I was able to discover this world and become part of it before it was dispersed by the Internet. I’ll manage OK. But where the loss is the hardest to stomach, is knowing that the scores of people new to this world may never know how wonderful and magical San Francisco used to be.

This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, on Maria’s Medium

Join us for the Sixth Annual 48 Hills Spring Gala!

Photo by Darwin Bell of a mural by Sam Flores

Celebrate six years of independent, progressive journalism with 48 Hills, May 2 at the lovely Oasis nightclub in SoMa! We’ll be announcing some very special guests (and celebrating a belated International Workers’ Day). Good food, drinks, entertainment, and a great crowd. JUST ANNOUNCED: Our featured speaker is Pulitzer-winning journalist Martin Espinoza and our musical guest is Latin jazz quartet The Turnaround.

Get your tickets now and let’s keep Bay Area independent media alive. We’re growing and covering more issues thanks to your support—now let’s party!

May 2, 6pm-9pm
298 11th Street, SF.
Tickets here

Don’t cry for Golden Gate Fortune Cookie, owner says, despite huge rent jump

Delectable Golden Gate Fortune Cookies. Photo by Tamara Palmer.

Nancy Tom Chan doesn’t take days off. Instead, the founder of the 57-year-old Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown can be found hand-folding fortunes into freshly made cookies under a giant mural of herself doing the same. Visitors also see her climbing step-ladders to pour batter into her proprietary old-school iron machines, which move 48 little iron skillets through a flame-powered system to create her uniquely light cookies. She’s the only one who knows the recipe.

“Only her,” said her son Kevin Chan from a small room under the shop displaying local Chinese art paintings made by fingers. “She’s been here her whole life. She will get sick if she doesn’t work or if she doesn’t have something to do. She feels sick when she just sits at home. That’s her soul, that’s her heart there.

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory has been in operation for 57 years. Photo by Tamara Palmer

“Can you imagine a lady who’s done cookies for almost 50 years with no days off, spending every day there?” he asked. “She doesn’t want a day off because she thinks that if she takes a day off the visitors and the people who come by don’t have cookies to taste. Can you imagine if we were closed the one day and you came over here, you’d be disappointed because the only day you are in San Francisco I’m closed.”

Tourists with Boudin bags seem to know about this place, but locals shouldn’t overlook how high quality the Chan Family’s product is, with a texture that newer and more efficient machines can’t produce. There’s even excellent chocolate dipped options. The company can produce large or small custom orders within a few days, and if you’re ordering in quantities of 100, you can choose up to three messages. Kevin said that people have commissioned everything from a parent telling their kid to clean their room to marriage proposals.

Nancy Tom Chan pours fortune cookie batter beneath a mural of herself working at Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Photo by Tamara Palmer

The factory got a wave of both local and international attention recently when a March 4 BBC News article revealed that rent had gone way up, from $1,400 to $5,750 in just three years, a perfect symbol of San Francisco greed in 2019. Local outlets ran with the angle that the future is threatened, but Kevin feels like the article made him look like he was only complaining about himself.

“It was a misunderstanding,” Kevin told 48hills. “BBC didn’t really understand what I was talking about. I just told them that we had tough times. Not me, us! We means us in the city, and a lot of people are having tough times. If I have tough times other people have it even worse; that’s what I’m trying to emphasize. And they made it sound like I am having a tough time. I mean, I do have a tough time but that’s not exactly what I meant. I’m still here. People say that I’m closing and it’s just not fair.”

Fresh-baked goods and photos with the famous at Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Photo by Tamara Palmer

The family is committed to continue to promote this unique slice of Chinese culture in San Francisco, although Kevin does credit the sometimes-contested origin version that fortune cookies were created by Makoto Hagiwara from the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco.

“The cookie was invented in San Francisco by the Japanese, I’m not opposing that. They were,” he said. “But the Chinese were the ones who perfected it. The Chinese were the ones who made the machines, and the Chinese were the ones who made the real fortune cookie. At that time the Japanese made them for fun, like a little waffle pancake, but they didn’t make them popular and they didn’t form them the way we are forming them right now. But they still get the credit for it, and they should. The fortune cookie was an American invention in San Francisco.

“If you go to China and ask for a fortune cookie they will look at you like you’re a fool. ‘What are you talking about?’”

A factory worker folds warm cookies at Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Photo by Tamara Palmer

The Chans are touched by the outpouring of customer love and support following the story.

“One of my clients even sent me a $250 check just to support me,” Kevin revealed. “I took the check but I wouldn’t cash it because it’s from the human heart. I’m going to frame it and leave it in the shop. I even brought some cookies to her house last night after I got the check. It’s not the money, it’s the people, it’s heart to heart. They love my cookies and they love my shop, so I’ve got to love them back.”

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie is located at 56 Ross Alley in San Francisco, (415) 806-8243.

A mural of owner Kevin Chan with the Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson. Photo by Tamara Palmer