Delirium sets in at 10:30pm on Saturday night. A cacophony of chiptunes blares from the stage. On each side, machinima of Kingdom Hearts characters blends with sprite art and instructs the gaming kids in line dancing. The instructions are futile, because each dancer moves and flails to whatever beat they can hear in their head. I grow pale and try to push myself to jump up and down with Anthony on the dance floor. Seeing that I can't jump, Anthony says; "come on, you need food and drink." We sweep past Ricardo who smiles and waves. We run through the doors of the Imperial Ballroom and out into the Garden Level Halls of the Hotel Kabuki. Anthony excuses himself for a few to go to the bathroom, and I attempt to get my bearings. A blue shirt GaymerX volunteer strums a familiar tune on the hotel piano. It's the Princess Leia theme from Episode IV. I'm exhausted. I'm hungry. Overall, it's a good day. The overwhelmingly positive energy of the con moves and flows through Japantown. In these moments, I lean against an artist's table and eke out enough whisps of energy to carry me across the street for a quick snack. Just enough time, I think, to collect my thoughts and recount exactly what brought me to this time.
Anthony, Just Another Guy in San Francisco Anthony Sebastian Abrahamsen, the 25 year old gay Iranian activist from Norway with killer eyebrows, should be easy to spot in an airport. Sadly, it takes me several texts, calls and a phone battery to find him. I spend over an hour chasing my tail around the baggage claim carousel #2 for any sign of Anthony. On his end, Anthony is running around baggage claim carousel #2 as well, but in another terminal. It takes him several attempts to get the staff at SFO to tell him where exactly to go. Finally, I see this tall formally dressed guy walk down to my terminal. He exudes class among a backdrop of shorts and flip flops. I run out the baggage claim doors and grasp him by both arms. We find each other despite my worst nightmares of Anthony being profiled by the TSA. His first words in person to me, "Don't ever do that to me again." His voice is like a horn and each word is a note in a Norwegian fanfare. With my phone dead, I decide that I can't contact my best friends. So, we hop a shuttle down to the cell phone lot.
Lunch is at the International House of Pancakes. It may seem odd, but neither Anthony nor Ricardo really have major American food chains available. My best friends, Malcom and Shamica, take us there and join. We order food. The waitress brings out our drinks and we carry on with our conversation about GaymerX and other cons. We're interrupted by the waitress who comes back with a bowl of blueberries for Anthony's drink. She explains that the drink was supposed to come with the blueberries and she was sorry. He remarks, in Norway that's just not done. If something comes out wrong or if a customer is screaming and cursing in frustration, the most you can expect is a simple "I'm sorry."
After lunch, we drive in to the city. Anthony makes a quick declaration of his photographic memory before his head starts oscillating from side to side. He takes snapshots of his surroundings to fill the scrapbook of his mind. The streets, Anthony remarks, are full of waves of positive energy. He notices how the various cultures of the Bay Area are integrated. "This is a true melting pot," Anthony says. "Everyone always says that this (San Francisco) is where I need to come first when visiting America. New York is too harsh." Malcom and Shamica tour us up and down the steep streets along Lombard. Anthony gasps at the heights and tears up a little at the vistas and people. "I found my place in the world."
Before we reach Hotel Tomo, the subject of Anthony's hair comes up. He needs at least an hour to prepare for Thursday night's activities. Before he flew into the US, Anthony dyed his hair back from a pink mohawk to all black. The origin of that pink mohawk came about at this year's Skeive dager, queer or rainbow days, in Oslo. To know Anthony, one would think that he does this color change regularly. He often speaks of dying his hair pink. This year's event in Oslo brought it out of him as evident in his Facebook cover photo. He stands out of the crowd with a graphic tee that reads, "Gay and Iranian" followed by the Facebook like icon. A candy colored do crowns him. "Masculine, feminine, who gives a fuck?" is Anthony's mantra. The Norwegian folk stop and stare at him as a part of the alternative kids in this look. But how, Anthony wonders, would he be received here. I motion to the streets and the people. As Anthony fills the mental scrapbook, he's already convinced he'll move here. I say, "You'll be just another guy in San Francisco."
Ricardo, One in a Gaming Culture of Three By the time we check-in to Hotel Tomo, Anthony and I receive several messages from our third. Ricardo Valenzuela, 23 year old game writer and game designer at stillalive studios from Guayaquil, Ecuador, sends several status updates. He keeps us up to date on shopping he's doing on Market St. He stuffs bags with all the American brands he either doesn't have access to or would be very expensive in Ecuador. I attempt to get him to come to the hotel room, but he returns to his place instead.
Anthony and I relax in the room. We wait for Ricardo's arrival and the pink mohawk to set. A karaoke night in the Mission is on the schedule, but we were both in need of rest. 10:00pm and I wake from a nap to the room's phone ringing. "Jean-Luc?" Ricardo's voice is gentle and quiet. "I'm downstairs." Ricardo waits in the lobby of Hotel Tomo viewing the three flat screen televisions pumping out Anime non-stop. When I emerge from the elevator, Ricardo stands and I jump back a little. Both he and Anthony tower over me. Not sure why, but I'm not prepared to be the shortest guy on this trip.
The order of the night is take out. I walk Ricardo down Sutter St. and on to Fillmore to the nearest Quickly. We review the menus posted on the walls, and I ask Ricardo if he sees anything that jumps out at him. "The fried food," he replies. We settle on two teriyaki chicken bento boxes, one unagi box, and a few bubble teas.
We carry on a conversation, but are interrupted by one incident. A homeless man wanders into the shop grabs the tip jar and empties the change into his hands. The cook unsuccessfully confronts the guy and dials the police. Ricardo has his back turned. So, I tell him all of what happened. Our order is completed and we leave the shop.
My conversation with Ricardo jumps around a bit from Ecuador's class system to being gay, from video games to family. Ricardo's family is middle-upper class in Ecuador. Because the community is smaller, there is a greater focus on the family than in North America. I ask about how Pope Francis is received in Ecuador, and Ricardo replies that he isn't necessarily a religious person. As opposed to Anthony who I have known for a couple years, Ricardo is a fairly new friend. We talk and he asks about what the con will be like. GaymerX is his first convention. He breaks the conversation a few times to ask about proper pronunciation and use of English words. As a writer on Son of Nor, his English improves all the time.
I gather that Ricardo is still a little unsure at times. He is courageous, however, in his own way. There is very little games culture in Ecuador let alone a gaymer culture. Ricardo says his love of games starts from an early age by watching his brother play Doom on the Sega Genesis. During his college years, Ricardo finds a way to pursue game design by studying Audio Visual design. As a professional, Ricardo attempts to start a chapter of the International Game Developers Association in Ecuador.
We reach the room and Anthony and make more plans for the weekend. I offer Ricardo my bed in the room. His place is too far out for him to return tonight. We crash and get enough rest to run the streets, Friday morning.
An All-American Breakfast in the Castro The sun rises over Japantown. Fog rolls in from the bay. My alarm sounds at 6:00am which Ricardo shuts off. Anthony sets his phone for 8:00am which goes against all our plans. He seems determined to get more rest this trip than originally planned. No matter, I adjust plans and grab a quick nap. Anthony and I wake up soon enough and walk out to the balcony. From our room, we can see the various plazas and pagoda of Japantown. Staring off to our right, we are eventually blocked out by a pot-bellied German in saggy undies chomping on a rice cake. I call him out. "What you got there, Nutella?" The German mutters a reply before returning to his room.
Fifteen minutes later, we make our way onto the street. I walk my boys through Jefferson Park and towards Market St. On the way, we pass people walking dogs. We watch as Asian couples practice tai chi together in the park. I point out the view of San Francisco from our point. And, Anthony and Ricardo get a view of an early morning hipster fashion show as the citizens go about their business. We stop at a Walgreens to make change. Anthony stops to look over a few energy shots. I tell him that he doesn't want those else he'll probably explode from the formula.
On Market St., I walk Anthony and Ricardo past the Gay and Lesbian Community Center. I explain it as a place to go for housing, job placement and other social services. I ask them if they have anything comparable in their countries. For Anthony, services are facilitated through queer health centers in Norway. For Ricardo, the lack of openness of the community along class lines poses a challenge to organizing in Ecuador. We hop on an F line train and head a few blocks down to Castro.
I motion to where I plan on eating breakfast. Before that, though, we head to a bank where Anthony can make a cash advance. I introduce myself to the teller as an account holder and state our business for Anthony's advance. I read into the teller's words and sweat when she calls for a manager's approval. On approval, she starts the advance and prints out a receipt. When Anthony returns the receipt back to her, she reviews his passport once, twice; scrutinizes his face. "You need to re-sign this how you would on your passport," she grimaces. Dammit! Why did I ever watch movies like Argo? The simplest transactions feel like an operation. Anthony re-signs the receipt. Her rumination continues. She decides to give him the cash. He walks away from the counter, sorts his cash. We grab a few lollipops from a jar by the door and head out to the street.
If you're ever with me in San Francisco, I will eventually take you to my favorite spot on the corner of Castro: Orphan Andy's. The restaurant is the community's take on the All-American diner. Barstools with red vinyl seats line the bar. Kites fly above as they hang down from the ceiling. I help Anthony and Ricardo with the menu a bit. They each order eggs and bacon. Anthony gets pancakes. Ricardo gets french toast. The conversation turns from how to say "egg" in Spanish. Turns from shops that Anthony spotted along Castro St. that he wants to visit. Turns to the fact that our waiter is going commando, which is voluntarily offered up by the waiter. There's that American customer service my boys like. Our breakfast turns into a taxicab confessional with our waiter who apparently was groping his best friend's ass at an age of seven. The supervisor jumps in to the conversation with a guy seated beside us. Anthony and Ricardo get a front row seat to how open the neighborhood is.
Back on to the streets, I open up the tour to Anthony and Ricardo. Wherever they want to go shopping, is where we will head. The first shop we see open that Anthony wants to visit is called, "Rock Hard." Now being a New Orleans boy, I think I've seen my fair share of sordid shops. There's all sorts of toys, videos and lube along the shelves. As we enter, the music is upbeat. The first song is "Give Me All Your Luvin'" by Madonna. I browse the shelves a bit and then chat back with Ricardo. He's interested in Bara comics, which is a form of Manga that focuses on bears meaning those guys with the hair and the muscles and the bellies (sometimes). The music in the shop changes to "Girlfriend" by Avril Lavigne. As I continue talking to Ricardo, I look above his right shoulder. And on two flat screens is some hardcore gay porn. Anthony walks over to us and points to the screens. "Did you see this?" Oh, I'm watching. "Why would they do that? Aren't we supposed to be promoting safe sex? Why are they barebacking like that?" I bullshit through an explanation about how the stars all get tested; it's a fantasy for the viewer; and something about... I forget. I'm just trying to digest, "Hey, hey, you, you, I could be your girlfriend" and- well, you know. It's all teeny bopper, cheer leader songs in this shop while watching guys go balls deep in each other. Did they play Toni Basil? I don't catch it.
"Swinging from friend to friend like a crazed spider monkey" After the shopping trip down Castro and Market St., Anthony and I send Ricardo home. We all get ready for con registration and the VIP Boss Party. Now in a group of gay men (gaymer or otherwise), we have several tropes and totems that inform us in social situations. In groups of four or more, you fall into the roles of Sex in the City or Golden Girls. Three is Charlie's Angels. Two, you choose who's the Romy or Michelle, who's the Mary or Rhoda, who's the Patsy or Edina. Walking into registration with Anthony, I remember one scene from AbFab in which Edina mocks the way Liza Minnelli moves through a cocktail party. The quote is, "swinging from friend to friend like a crazed spider monkey." So, here I am. Waving my arms around from clique to clique, "hello, how are you? Hello, how are you? Life is a cabaret!" I spot a really good friend and classmate from Full Sail, Ramona Lafountain. I see her after six or seven years and immediately let out a scream like I won the Price is Right.
Anthony lights up. He's in his ideal state of mind. Of course, he's an accomplished activist in Norway at such an early age. Yet, he doesn't really feel appreciation from the locals. Jante Law places someone like him on the outside of cultural norms. He's not supposed to think that he can enlighten others. Nor can he think he's anything special. Outside of Norway, however, he can shine. He can be among people who say that they admire him and are inspired by his work. Cameras flash from each of Anthony's Facebook friends as we pass. And he doesn't forget anyone. He catalogs each person and reminds me that he needs to meet this one or that. For an extrovert like Anthony, the energy in the room is a buffet and he's ready for the party.
Before the actual party, we head over to On the Bridge at Japantown Mall. A couple of donburi bowls and Shōchū cocktails fuel us up for the night's festivities. Ricardo catches up with us in a button down shirt. Ricardo is more a jeans and t-shirts kind of guy while Anthony is formal in button downs and vests. Together, the three of us make our way to the Imperial Ballroom. We flash our Boss Badges and head past the bar. Members of Gamers Experimentations (my first gaymer board) are gathered by the bar. Another former member, MattyMatt, takes photographs of everything. It's the family reunion I didn't actually expect coming into this. I introduce Anthony and Ricardo to as many friends as I can find. Snap some more shots of Anthony with some of his friends. Chiptune music pours out onto the floor and coaxes the geeks to convulse in interpretive seizures. Pandora Boxx comes out on stage and does a couple of songs in Alice the Madness drag. One girl song, "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane. One boy song, "Sweet Dreams" by Marilyn Manson. Gaymers with dollars fall before the stage. At the very least, they know to tip. With little experience in the clubs, however, I gather that they don't grasp the how, when or why.
After the numbers, the chiptunes return. I take Anthony by the arm, and ask the one burning question I've had for a month now. On Facebook, Anthony will usually post about going out and dancing with friends. Anthony loves referencing Western / American culture anyway possible. So informed by Jersey Shore, Anthony's signature dance move is the Jersey Turnpike. I place my hand on Anthony's shoulder and ask, "Anthony Sebastian Abrahamsen, will you demonstrate for us-" I search around and grab another friend Craig "(I call him) Baby Phat (for reasons)" Ervin. "Will you demonstrate Jersey Turnpiking?" The group erupts in hoots and hollers. Anthony agrees and bends over in the perfect right angle at the waist. His hip and butt gyrates and grinds into Craig. Craig is surprised. He smiles, and shrugs. When in Rome, I suppose. Everybody has a great time. A few more pictures and we're all ready for a late dinner at Ssisso across the street from Hotel Kabuki.
Ricardo quietly watches the display all night long. He's still a little new to the situation, but he doesn't turn down the opportunity to make friends. It's hard to gauge whether Ricardo is actually an introvert or if he's still adapting to culture shock. I'm giving to each, Ricardo and Anthony each in opposite directions. For Ricardo, I'm opening up and letting him network with even my furthest of acquaintances. For Anthony, I feed him energy and support to keep him going. True, I have people to reconnect with myself. But, I believe in the stories my boys have to tell. I know that they need to get to know people. Gaymers can be just a collection of gay people who happen to play games or they can be part of a lifestyle and culture. For me, I see these two and consider their incredible challenges. I think, this is good and people need to know this. So, I follow along and pull them along when necessary.
Ricardo isn't the only one I pull along, either. Earlier in the night, Anthony and I spot Matthew Michael Brown aka Gaymer from The Tester. Anthony's a bit starstruck, but I know they follow each other on Twitter and Facebook. No big deal. Let's go say, hi. I take Anthony's wrist and drag him to Matthew. They meet. Say, hello. Grasp hands for a bit. Then, we part. Anthony swoons and I carry him away. One shy moment. One starstruck moment. Even for a guy who himself is a star.
Showdown in the Podcast X Zone Night falls. Morning follows. It's almost showtime. Opening ceremonies are by the pagoda. If there's anyone in the world who would ever think to start some shit at GaymerX outside of the Westboro Baptist Church, that would most likely be me. Now I don't wake up in the morning thirsty for vengeance or anything. It just so happens that there may be one or two hot button issues that I stew over. Specifically, the gaymer trademark and the fallout over Chris Vizzini which lead to gaymer.org going offline. Those are some wounds still healing from the weeks and months leading up to GaymerX.
Anthony and I make our way to the pagoda. Ricardo is at his place getting ready to attend panels later on in the day. I greet the assembled crowd in my usual Liza Minnelli spider monkey style. From the back rows, I spot a press area with a very special friend, Christian Walters of GayGamer.net. I make my way to the press area and throw hissing whispers to get Christian's attention. He turns, sees me, and we hug. We smile and chat for a few. Recount almost nine years of being friends. The music sounds and I break away from Christian and return to Anthony.
Showtime. Matt Conn, Toni Rocca, and Kayce Brown head out onto the stage. Everything is the usual, "have a great con. Thank these people for making it possible." And I clap, until the EFF is introduced. Thank them for challenging and doing away with the Gaymer trademark, Matt asks the audience. There's applause, but not from me. I'm still sore from the fights on reddit. The fights on Twitter. Banging on my keyboard late at night, because it hurts. It hurts to see my friend, Chris Vizzini, demonized for a trademark the whole community of gaymer.org helped gain. He fights the challenge until he can't fight anymore. He comes out as a patent troll and some kind of cash grabbing traitor to the community. No, I don't applaud. In that moment, I could hear the Ironside theme song. Then, I remember. I'm not really here for myself or Chris. I'm here to help Anthony and Ricardo, my boys, get their stories out anyway we can. I feel sad for a second and shake it off. Then, I applaud and join in through the rest of the ceremonies.
The ceremonies round off with the introduction of Ellen McLain, the voice of GLaDOS in Portal. She's joined by her husband, John Patrick Lowrie. He's the voice of the Sniper in Team Fortress. They're a beautiful couple that evoke the kind of parents or grandparents I would see at PFLAG meetings in New Orleans. Ellen's voice is calming and assuring, "If you ever need us, we're not that hard to find. We're the oldest ones here." She chuckles and it melts my heart. The couple brings a spirit of having a mom and dad at the event. Loving. Compassionate. Ever watchful. Someone to tell you to be on your best behavior. It's in these two that I feel the core of GaymerX. It is this safe place for everyone who games. Perhaps, I do take things too seriously on the Internet. It takes someone like an Ellen McLain to speak and say, "everything is ok."
Anthony and I make our way down to the Imperial Ballroom for the first panel of the con. Ricardo, by this time, is supposed to have joined us. But, he's so far out. He's still taking a bus to reach us. We sit down and listen to a panel by EA featuring David Gaider, head writer for Dragon Age, and Jessica Merizan, community manager for Bioware. The talk centers around representation of the LGBT community in EA games. Some revelations are that same sex relationships were considered for inclusion in the Sims since the first game. We trace the history of representation in Bioware games from one character in Knights of the Old Republic to the storylines of Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Ultimately, the policy stated or not at EA is that if anyone chooses not to buy a game because of inclusive content, "fuck them." Whether that was a paraphrase by the panelists or not, it's stated that EA is progressive in its stance on inclusive content.
Ricardo joins Anthony and I in the next panel titled Radical Play by Lux Porpentine of Rock Paper Shotgun. We take in the complaints and examples of how games can better serve oppressed communities. The discussion interests Ricardo as a game writer and designer for stillalive studios. He is open with his team, and has a couple of ideas on how to be more inclusive. His story in Son of Nor is neutral in regards to the gender of the character. The same story you play as a male character is the same story you play as a female character. One point of discussion is how in a game like Metroid, panelists view the reveal of Samus as a woman to be trickery. While Ricardo does not agree completely that the Samus example is trickery, he discusses a couple ideas he has for Son of Nor. Ricardo plays with the assumptions of gender and sexuality. He drops hints for the player to connect the dots in the narrative using NPCs and story events. For Ricardo, he understands complaints people have about representation. He wants to learn more about how he as a game designer can fix these problems.
Anthony, Ricardo and I make our way to the Exhibit Hall. There are a few booths for this first year of the con. And they provide more one on one time with people like David and Jessica of EA. Ricardo spends some time talking and networking with David. I approach Jessica. As a community manager, her story is fairly unique. Jessica has a background in Anthropology. I tell her that as a Native American "we kinda love you guys." My question to Jessica is that: as a Native American, I do remember talking with my grandparents and great grandparents; I remember stories of a time when we were an invisible community and the outside either questioned or denied our existence; some gaymers feel like we are just gay people who play games, while others take the identity more seriously; from the perspective of an anthropologist how do we promote that identity and further the community? She responds, she agrees with the analogy and her work as a community manager is tied to that sort of promotion. Jessica's approach is unique as an anthropologist, because community managers will often come in with a marketing background. While being a community manager is a function of marketing, she is more hands on and responsive to the needs of the community. We have some awesome chats and Anthony grabs some pics.
Saturday is packed on the schedule. Anthony, Ricardo and I do another panel specifically for Bioware. And I encourage them to get in front of the cameras for Gaymers, a documentary. We continue on through the day until the final panel, Podcast X Zone.
If I ever had it out with anyone on Twitter, it's Jason Toups of Gayme Bar. I have no other reason than to think that he may or may not have stepped over some hot button issues for me. From calling Assassin's Creed III Liberation "Sassy Creed Labiation" to his take on Chris Vizzini's behavior during the trademark challenge, I had maybe one or two pissing matches with "Toupsi." That said, we live our lives over the last seven years as two ships passing in the night. We both attended University of New Orleans, but at different times. Before Katrina, I graduated from Full Sail. After Katrina, Toupsi moved up to Atlanta where the seeds were planted for GayGamer.net. We both wound up in San Francisco without meeting. I left for the East Coast in 2007. We only connected after "Toupsi" made a comment on a mutual friend's Facebook post. So, here I am face to face after a few scraps with words. The panel is an assembly of LGBT and independent podcasters. I also recognize Captain Spike of GameBuoy.org as my longtime friend, James. James is dressed very dapper in a suit among the t-shirts and jeans. Toupsi wears an Elvira tee. When moderator Fox Van Allen starts a question with "you guys aren't professionals," I jump to James' defense with "the man is wearing a suit!" It's a fun panel, but the subject of sexuality and Nintendo characters is brought up. We go on until the Q&A. Instead of anything about podcasts or "gaymer" or anything relevant to the overall discussion, I slur out a question in the thickest drawl-patois blend I can muster. "I got to hold y'alls feet to the fire over this Nintendo characters don't have a sexuality. Don't you think it's more Nintendo of America's filter that whitewashes that stuff out? I mean, that's why we don't have Captain Rainbow here in America..." and so on, the ramble goes on until I forget my actual question and excuse myself for lack of food or drink. James loves this moment, because it is something he takes seriously. We finish up the panel and everyone's hugging and networking, and there's Toupsi. Across a couple of rows of people, he recognizes me, smiles and puts his arms out for a hug. We embrace, and I let go but clasp each of his hands with mine. Forgiveness. Toupsi says, "Well, you're just cajun through and through. Look at you!" I make a smartass crack about how he's from Jefferson Parish, but I'm from New Orleans. Really, I wish we aren't these kind of ships passing in the night. I wish I knew of him before I left for the East Coast. Maybe I wouldn't have left at all. We have this love and kinship back home for what we all went through. Between us, me, Toupsi, or anybody from our world our time; we can have some vicious blood feuds, but it wouldn't do more damage than a plate of red beans or a pot of coffee couldn't heal at the end of the day. Now, I'm clinging to Toupsi, but he's got to go home to Oakland and feed his dogs. Ah, well.
Of Hookahs and Dragon Age Hoes Delirium sets in at 10:30pm on Saturday night. Anthony whisks me out of the Imperial Ballroom, and excuses himself for a second. I lean up against an artist's table, pale and tired. The sound of Princess Leia's theme on the piano is soothing and gives me a point of focus. I can slow down for a minute. Away from the noise of the chiptunes and the convulsions, I breathe. Anthony returns and we head up to New Korea House for cocktails and a quick snack. I know Anthony would rather be surrounded by the noise and the crowd. He takes time out and it's pretty cool of him.
We return and Ricardo is seated in the lobby of the Hotel Kabuki. I try to explain how the situation was an emergency and Anthony knew I needed something quick. Ricardo is hungry himself. So, I come up with a quick resolution. We head over to Pride of the Mediterranean which is down the street from Kabuki. There, Ricardo can get some dinner while Anthony and I smoke hookah. I believe it's been a little while for each of us, but Anthony and I end up puffing away like a couple of caterpillars. Ricardo orders a kebab and follows up with some baklava. A woman at the next table notices the graphic tee I'm wearing. It's a pink shirt with a design I hand drew. Back in 2007, I designed a shirt for Gamers Experimentations. It pictures a parody of the Coppertone ad with Yoshi pulling down the loin cloth of Kratos. I wore it once to a gaymer gathering in Los Angeles. I wear it again and catch the woman's eye. She asks about the shirt and then the con. Anthony, Ricardo and I each answer her questions about the con in turn. Once Ricardo finishes up his baklava, I notice that I'm blinking. Is it the lack of oxygen from the hookah? Is it the glass of Merlot? Is it the one crazy, packed day? Don't know. But, I'm falling asleep. I wish I can be better at this. That I wouldn't have to ditch the concert. That I could just keep the party going for Anthony and Ricardo. I'm sleepy, though. We make our way back to Hotel Tomo, and I crash.
Night falls. Morning follows. Anthony sets his phone alarm for 8:00am, each day. This is great. He drives me nuts with his insomniac Facebook posting from Oslo. We prepare and head down to Hotel Kabuki for a special breakfast. We sit at the cool kids' table. There with us are Craig Ervin, Matthew Michael Brown and Matt Conn. Matt, creative director for GaymerX, sports a low level bat hoodie with wings and ears. The conversation at the table splits off between the upcoming cosplay pageant and Ricardo's game, Son of Nor. Jeff Meador from So Much Drama Studios joins our table mid-conversation. Matt Conn spots a couple buttons I got from the Qoopa Klub podcast. The designs feature couples based on Mario character sprite art. There's a couple on the gay button pictured as Luigi and Wario. A lesbian button features two different versions of Princess Peach. No love for Daisy, I joke. Matt Conn doesn't really get Daisy. He says Peach is better. He asks, at least Princess Peach has the Mushroom Kingdom, what does Daisy have? Oh, those hot button topics. Personally, I always get into relationships with Peach fanboys. I end up having to defend Daisy. Oh, Daisy's a man, a lesbian, she's not as pretty as Peach. My immediate reaction to Matt Conn, "Sarasaland!" I slap my hand at the table like I just answered a question on Family Feud. Chill out. It's way too early for a diva turn. I don't know if I chased the bat from the breakfast table, but he soon flutters away. I apologize to Anthony and Ricardo for my little snit. And soon, I'm sandwiched in between two guys giving me reasons why Daisy is so weird. "She's like the Princess Peach of the third world." Ricardo and Anthony fire Daisy insults back and forth. I stop them and warn them that if this continues, I will unleash the Phoenix force. "I can't control it." I do my best Jean Grey.
We head up to the pagoda for the cosplay pageant. Kitty Stryker presents a morning of fabulousness in character, the cosplay pageant. All the geeky goodness of video games and Saturday morning cartoons is on display. Akashia-Eric hosts. The categories are Best in D.I.Y., Best Queer Character, Crowd Favorite, Best in Glam and Best in Show. While it got off to a slow start, the pageant moves along quickly thanks to the elemental powers of Ms. Munroe (Akashia in Storm drag). Ms. Munroe quips and kikis as the contestants model and attempt to butter up the judges. These judges include: David Gaider, Gordon Bellamy, and Jeff Meador. Taking home Best in D.I.Y. are a couple who wield prop keyblades as Aqua and King Mickey from Kingdom Hearts. Best Queer Character goes to a colorful and scantily clad boy Amaterasu. Crowd Favorite goes to Wario who drops his undies to moon the crowd while modeling. Best in Glam goes to a Catwoman with a boy face who somersaults and goes for Ms. Munroe, "Get off my stage, you pretty!" Best in Show is captured by a trio of Dragon Age cosplayers. Of note is a married couple that individually turns out an impressive Jade of Beyond Good & Evil and Riddick of Chronicles of Riddick. Anthony snaps some souvenir photos. I jump into a pic with my two faves asking, "OK, I have one Catwoman and one Storm. Tell me, who's the better Halle Berry?"
After the pageant, Toupsi and I talk. He's giving fan waving butch queen first time in drag with a mix of Madea. "Darling," I ask "did we forget to tuck?" I point to Toupsi's "moose knuckle." We smile and he kisses me on the cheek. He leaves a lipstick smudge. Before he can wipe it off, I ask him to leave it. He points to Sal Mattos and Jesse Cortez of Gaygamer.net to say hello. Toupsi is a founding member of the site. They chat between each other and reference the fallout from gaymer.org. Sal says, "and there was that one guy that went crazy." Completely disarmed I do a walk of shame in the middle of the guys. It's a boppy second line with my eyes shielded. Yeah, that one guy. "Public spaces, honey." Toupsi chuckles and bats his fan at me.
Twerkin' at the Golden Gate I spend most of the afternoon alone with Ricardo. Anthony splits off from us to attend a luncheon for con super backers at Soeul Garden. Ricardo and I tour around the area looking for comics and toys. Ricardo is in a factual union in Ecuador which is similar to the North American civil union. Ricardo's partner is a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. They wear rings that symbolize Troi and Riker. Inside the band is the word "Imzadi." Ricardo searches around to find any kind of toy or memorabilia to take back home. We snap a couple of shots of him gazing over the bay. Then, head to lunch at Starbucks. I help him pick out a drink that would best suit his taste, a skinny mocha. It's not sweet enough for Ricardo, but a couple packets of Splenda seal the deal. We chat some more and then hop a bus back to Japantown.
We meet up with Anthony and switch off. Now Ricardo goes his way. Anthony and I take a quick walk through Japantown to find an ATM. When we return to Kabuki, I see Jonah and Artur from GAYMERS filming interviews of con attendees. I jump in and talk about my own involvement with the community and my expectations of the con. They ask me about my friends and their stories. We managed to get Anthony and Ricardo in front of the cameras the day before. When I get up, Artur mentions how passionate I sounded during the interview. I smile. Answer back. Anthony and I then head for the closing ceremonies.
Back in the Imperial Ballroom, there's one last gathering. I see my Gamers Experimentations friends seated in the back rows of chairs. Christian Walters tells everyone goodbye. I step away from Anthony for a second and run to Christian. I whisper to myself, "Oh scarecrow, I'm going to miss you most of all." It's a corny end line. I gently tug on the strap of Christian's shoulder bag. He turns around. We hug. I kiss him on the cheek, and he returns in kind. I pull away for a second. Then, I remember my answer to Artur when he remarked on how passionate I am. "When you've been around for nine years like me, you kinda get to love these guys." Matt Conn and company round off GaymerX with a couple surprises. They present a cake decorated as a loving troll for Westboro Baptist Church. Then, Ellen McLain and John Patrick Lowrie lead the con in a singalong version of "Still Alive" from Portal 2. Anthony and I leave the con, each step we take is punctuated by a hug or a "when are you coming back?" We head back to Hotel Tomo and prepare for one last sightseeing trip, The Golden Gate.
Dinner for the night is a shared plate of lemon chicken from a Chinese take-out. We chat some more about Anthony's It Gets Better video, and his history of being bullied. Over the course of food and tea (hot and iced), Anthony opens up about things that bother him or hold him back. He absolutely feels at home in San Francisco. He knows it's not a reality to just pack up and leave Norway. So he can go back to his base of operations, for now. We head for the first bus on the first leg of our trip to the bridge. I double check Google Maps when a bus pulls up. Don't want to get on the wrong line. As my attention is on my phone, I hear, "Get on the bus, Anthony." It's Ellen McLain with John Patrick Lowrie. They recognize Anthony from the luncheon earlier. We all board the bus. Ellen explains how they are on their way to dinner. I thank her, for everything. "We had a great time. Thank you!" Ellen smiles. Anthony melts in his seat and we part ways. We hike to the second bus. Make a quick pit stop in Ottinista. Just the nearest place with drinks and a bathroom. I buy Anthony a round and we head back out. I'm watching my phone. Watching the clock. The second bus is prompt and we make it to the bridge as I scheduled.
We arrive at the bridge and take a walk in the park at the south end. It's too late to walk the span. That's something I didn't plan. Anthony's able to see the bridge and we shoot a few pictures and videos from where we are. He has some fun and dances around. By this point, Ricardo is back at Hotel Tomo. I message him and tell him that I'm not sure when we'll make it back. He should just get some food and rest until we get back. I check my phone. i check my clock. Anthony's a little concerned. He starts to wonder when the bus will come for us to go back.
A bus passes the stop where we arrived, and I assure Anthony that they are fairly regular. I offer to take some more pictures under better lighting. I glance at my phone a few more times, and now I'm looking for a car. Another bus drives up, and finally I have to let the cat out of the bag. That is the bus back to the hotel, but we're not taking it. I arranged for a friend to pick us up and we're going to visit the Playstation offices. Anthony's face lights up. He's surprised which is what I was going for. "What about Ricardo?" Anthony asks. "Why just me? Why am I so special?" I'm silent, but here's the answer: Anthony Sebastian Abrahamsen, 25 year old gay Iranian activist from Norway living under Jante Law. He broadens the horizons of a people who refuse him the right to enlighten. He's so special in a world that refuses him the right to feel special. I hope he continues to do his good work. If ever he feels down or has problems with self esteem, I hope he can look back on this trip and this one moment and know how special he really is.
A Proper Goodbye Monday morning, and I take my boys out for one last meal. It's a New Orleans style breakfast at Brenda's French Soulfood. An order of beignets sparks up one last conversation about culture. Ricardo says they remind him of churros back in Ecuador. To Anthony, the beignets remind him of a "Berlin bun" with the exception of the latter being filled. I tell them about frybread that is popular among Native Americans. I suppose every culture has it's own version of fried dough. We talk about grits and cafe au lait. We keep our mind on the time. Check out from Tomo is at noon, and we have one last trip down Castro St. to do.
We hop a train on Market St. Anthony's pink mohawk catches another compliment by a stranger on the street. He's collected at least five by now, not including anyone attending GaymerX. We jump off the train and dash down to whatever shop is open. Ricardo needs a few more gifts for his partner, and we end up in a Tibetan shop. We peruse the incense burners and crystals. We head back out into the street. We do a little window shopping. Then, board a bus back to the hotel.
We have a few hours between check-out and our flights. I convince Anthony that with the time we have left, it's better to take care of his hair at Ricardo's place. Yeah. On Monday, we have to say a lot of goodbyes including one to Anthony's candy colored crown. The bus ride to Ricardo's place is long and the bus starts off fairly crowded. The room Ricardo is renting is six miles out and due east of my old home in Daly City. We take the long ride and Anthony power naps himself along the way. The people of the bay area board and get off the bus, go about their business. It's an endless ride. At one point, an older couple attempt to stuff a shopping cart full of ramen noodle and live goldfish onto the bus. The display forces another man to climb up and stand on the priority seats.
We finally arrive at our stop and Ricardo walks us down six more blocks to get to the house. "Ricardo!" I say. ""Next year, you're staying with us." We reach the house and set our bags down. Ricardo arranges transportation for Anthony and I to get to the airport. We all watch Food Network and heckle the cooks while waiting for Anthony's hair color to set. Anne Burrell, Rachael Ray and Giada de Laurentiis prove to be quite hilarious while we're "drunk from being tired" as Ricardo says. Our ride is here and it's time for one last hug with Ricardo. He came to GaymerX from a position of isolation. He tried so many times to get things going as far as gaming culture in Ecuador. I feel he was unsure when we met on Thursday. Now, Ricardo has plenty of friends and plenty of opportunities to network and get the word out about Son of Nor.
I think after the trauma of Thursday, Anthony and I have our airport game down. We make a quick stop for him to scope out the international terminal. Then, we head for the air trains. I offer him one last conversation before we part. Not goodbye, just to get anything off his mind. Then, we arrive at the train stop. We chat some more. I let a few trains pass. Anthony produces a box wrapped in a bag. It's from the Tibetan shop. He opens it up and reveals a bracelet with various stone beads. He explains it's to help balance the chakras. It's also to remember him and our trip. I thank him with a hug. Then, board the train to my terminal.
It's a little odd leaving them after basically living together during the con. I hope I did everything I could to help them. Help them get their stories out. Help them around the city. I send one last message to our Facebook group message thread, "you're both very special to me, and I hope you get home safe."
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About Neshoba78one of us since 2:00 PM on 09.16.2010
For the past ten years, I worked as a graphic artist for several wholesale to the trade companies. Recently, I worked in the Advertising Department of Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville, LA. During that time, I was a graphic artist and then the administrative assistant to the advertising director. In addition to my work in graphic art and advertising, I developed myself through two degrees. First, I earned a B.A. in Humanities with a major in Mass Communication from Dillard University in New Orleans, LA. Then, I earned an A.S. in Video Game Design from Full Sail in Orlando, FL. I moved in Massachusetts this year and entered the University of Massachusetts School of Law in Dartmouth, MA.