Hi, I’m the Antifa Protester You’re Afraid Of

me! by Julien-Pierre Campbell

I was on the proverbial front lines. Black bandanna pulled over my nose and mouth, sunglasses and beanie hiding my identity, I ran. The knife fixed to my belt (clear plastic with a heart-shaped buckle) bounced against my leg as I dashed across the parking lot. 

“J, you with us?” my friend Danni (an alias, of course) huffed. They looked back at me, eyes flashing behind their dark glasses. 

“Yeah,” I panted. “I’m here. I’m with ya.” 

The rest of our party was spread out — Danni’s boyfriend Ty, with his backpack full of medical supplies; our friend Asher, lithe and smiling, even with black paint around his eyes; and our other friend Joey, so tall he could hold his own. I was the youngest by far, and definitely not built for this. Nineteen, small, and physically disabled, I wasn’t exactly imposing. I was, after all, wearing a shirt with a cartoon cat on it. 

But I was an antifa protester. I was fighting for what I believed in, so it didn’t matter. 

We made it through the parking lot, skirting around the wall of riot police keeping us away from the Proud Boys. We had been separated from the larger half of our protest. We were fenced in by heavily armed men on one side, traffic to our backs. 

I was exhilarated. Running from cops will do that to you.

In the back of my mind, however, was some kind of heartbreak. People on the sidewalk were looking at us like we were the monsters, not those that I believe to be literal fascists. The police were menacing us with guns so large I didn’t know the names. They were arresting people and throwing them to the ground. I saw a woman zip-tied and held down for dancing. 

I suppose I wrote this to achieve relief. Hi, Portland: I’m the antifa protester you’re afraid of. I’m the villain “just as bad” as those who I call neo-Nazi Proud Boys. But I’m also a full-time college student, a lively barkeep, and a cabaret performer. I fight for the rights of the oppressed because it’s all I can do. Times are dark for those persecuted by both the Trump administration and our society at large. 

I educate where I can. Antifa is short for anti-fascist; nothing more, nothing less. I take to the streets as a form of catharsis, I suppose, and as a statement: this city will not tolerate fascism in its streets. Oppressed minorities shouldn’t live in fear. I use what privileges I do have to stand up for the voiceless. And if the bandanna over my mouth makes me a villain to polite society, then call me a villain. 

I’ll be antifa for life, and I’m proud to say so. 

Getting Mobile

By Julien-Pierre Campbell

 

 

Months back, I wrote an article talking about dysphoria and my experience as a feminine trans man. I began the piece describing a scene looking in the mirror. On the first day of the new fall term, I found myself echoing that experience. I stood in front of my mirror — still dusty — and inspected what I saw. I’d chosen my outfit carefully, put thought into the denim jacket and leather collar, the ankle-high boots and skinny jeans. There was something new, however, an element I was unused to. 

Gripped tightly in my right hand was a cane. 

I’ve struggled with chronic pain since I was thirteen years old. There is a constant, invisible war being waged in my body every day. I wake up in pain and I go to sleep in pain. I’ve been to countless doctors, tried everything from CBD to acupuncture to pain medication. They all work in their own small ways, but the pain does not go away. It only ebbs. 

Most days, I put on a smile and go about my business. I’m a very happy person by nature; compartmentalizing pain is a necessity to keep sane. When at work, I slip between tables with ease, bringing food to customers and checking on my regulars. I pour beers and sling them down the bar. I’m on my feet all day. At school, I’m an engaged student. I sit up straight and make it to all of my classes early. On weekends, when I take to the stage to perform in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I do push-ups, I run from a lovesick pursuer, I carry people. I literally play a muscleman created to look pretty and strong. 

All of this is done through the pain. 

What isn’t seen is the fact that after work, I’m generally so pained I limp. After school, my sciatic nerve is on fire, sending urgent signals up and down my legs. After the cabaret, I’m nearly bed-bound for a day. 

After a flare-up that forced me to take time off work and limited my mobility, I finally snapped. Being in pain 24/7 is abnormal. My teenage years have been heavily impacted by my constant pain, and I feel like I’ve missed a normal youth. I want to be more proactive about my health. I want to take steps to help myself. 

I’m now seeing a physical therapist once a week and an acupuncturist semi-frequently. I’ve taken the leap and use my cane at school. 

So now when I look in the mirror, I admire the cane in my right hand. It helps me. It allows me a little extra support, which I sorely need. I won’t be ashamed of it. In fact, I’ll celebrate it. 

My pain is a part of me, but it’s a part I’m challenging. This invisible illness does not define me. Using a mobility aid is nothing to be ashamed of, and I so I refuse to be shamed by it. Look out world, here I come — with my cane. 

Vulnerability – Let’s Give it a Go

me!  by Julien-Pierre Campbell

 

 

As I often do when I begin these articles, I sit at my laptop and just sort of stare. What to write about this month? I look back over my entries, smiling at some and grimacing at the clumsy writing in others. I’ll be the first to admit: I’m a little pretentious. My ramblings about mental health, my wordy diatribes on what to do post-college, my praise-singing of the cabaret I perform in — they all smack of the tortured academic who loves flowery language. 

I’d posit something a little different, however. Reading through my entries over the past 6 months, I see a radical vulnerability that I can’t help but appreciate. It’s hard to say good things about oneself, but I’m going to try. 

Student life is challenging and scary. Being vulnerable and open, especially on a platform that people read and can use to pass judgment, is also challenging and scary. 

I reckon I’ll keep at it. If I’m not honest about the angst of student life, then I’m not being honest with myself. It’s not all rosy meals in the dining hall with your friends and studying with aesthetically-pleasing color-coded binders. 

There’s a lot of crying at 3 a.m. over the latest confusion the honors college has thrown me. There’s a lot of spiraling about what I want to do post-college. There are money struggles and relationship struggles and mental health struggles. As much as I love life — and have chosen a patch of radical happiness — it’s pretty messy. 

I think the media often portrays college a tad differently than reality. I know I had unrealistic expectations coming into school. This isn’t to say I haven’t had fun or made dear friends. College has been a whirl-wind of papers and parties, friends and finances — but it’s also a mixed bag. If we can’t be realistic about the good and the bad of student life, where does that leave us? 

I don’t think vulnerability is a bad thing. I think it’s a scary thing, because it leaves you open to heartbreak and judgment, but it also opens avenues to much more love than I ever would have thought possible. It’s helped me learn to ask for help when I need it and to set clear boundaries that I didn’t previously have. It’s helped me reassess my priorities in school and my social life. 

Vulnerability, especially at college age, is transformative, and I’m all for it. 

Junior Year

me!   By Julien-Pierre Campbell

 

As junior year creeps up on me, I can’t help but feel nervous. There’s a question I can’t seem to dodge: “Julien, what do you want to do when you graduate?”

 

The answer is…everything.

 

I used to think I knew exactly what my life would look like. I’d graduate with my degree in political science at 20, shoot into law school and begin practicing law by 24. At the latest! It took a depression spiral that lasted three straight months to realize I hated my degree. The goal shifted: I’d be an English undergrad –for my sanity– and then go to law school! So maybe I would graduate at 21, but that didn’t negate my success.

 

Other careers tempted me. Wouldn’t it be nice to work in publishing, to join my father in the business that had brought him so much joy? Or perhaps I’d be a non-descript academic, reading scholarly articles and sipping brandy in front of a fire. Maybe I would run away to the countryside and work for a historical society. I could throw away the life I’d made for myself in Oregon and go be a Revolutionary War reenactor on the East Coast. Or I could give into my passion for taxidermy and find an apprenticeship. Or work in an old folks’ home. Or a mortuary.

 

The problem is, I can’t decide.

 

Nineteen feels deceptively young to call myself an adult. Though I live on my own, pay rent, take care of an animal that depends on me and have all the experiences of any young 20-something, I can’t shake the notion that I’m still very much a child. I feel intelligent, but not mature. This leaves me in a sort of a limbo.

 

I want to shout, “Why in the world am I deciding my future when I can’t even go to a bar?”

 

At the same time, I want to ask why I can’t do everything I want. Why not work in publishing, while writing in my free time, volunteering for a historical society, and retiring to the East Coast? Why not be a wandering poet who just so happens to have an eerie knowledge of law?

 

When I think about life after these next two years, my chest clenches — with fear, but also anticipation. I’m so excited to begin the rest of the life, even if I’m not exactly sure how.

Matching Tattoos

me!   By Julien-Pierre Campbell

A brisk Saturday, sunny but cool, and we stumble into the tattoo parlor. My usual artist, the stern Igor, sees me and grins. I’m with my newly-minted best friend Ali, and it’s time for a milestone in our friendship: matching tattoos. It was a rushed, giggling decision. I have no regrets.

 

XXX

“I’m getting a tattoo on Saturday,” I had told her.

 

“What? Me too!” Ali said. We grinned at one another across the table in the Queer Resource Center. “At least I’d like to. I don’t wanna be that person who gets Hozier lyrics tattooed on them, but…”

 

“What?!” I yelled. “I’m getting Hozier lyrics tattooed!” What were the odds?

 

“From what song?”

 

“‘Nina Cried Power.’ You know those lyrics, ‘The heaven of the human spirit ringing?’ Those are the ones I want.” I felt that certainty down to my bones. The first time I ever head it, I was moved to tears. I knew I needed it on my body, which is a map of my favorite quotes.

 

Ali’s eyes were saucers. “I want lyrics from that song too! ‘It’s not the waking, it’s the rising.’ What the hell?!”

 

Our individual lyrics mean so much to us for so many different reasons. Mine remind me that I am stronger than my depression. My human spirit rings out with all the force of heaven. It does not end.

 

“I know a tattoo guy,” I said, and with that, our plan was set.

XXX

Saturday arrives. Igor draws up our designs using my favorite font, and Ali and I discuss what led us to this moment. We talk about our childhoods, and the trauma we’ve endured. We talk of our paramours and friends. I chug a bottle of water followed by a liter of Coke. We’re buzzing with excitement.

 

Finally, Igor calls us back.

 

We go together, grinning, and I sit down across from my artist. Igor is a funny guy, accented and unsmiling, but he’s always got a chuckle for my terrible jokes.

 

“Are you ready?” he asks.

 

I nod. As the tattoo gun pierces my wrist, I smile through the pain.

 

The heaven of the human spirit is ringing.

Life’s a Cabaret

me!    By Julien-Pierre Campbell

The first time I saw “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” I was scandalized. I was 11 years old and convinced I’d been scarred for life. Fishnets and sex! Murder and cannibalism! Aliens with ray guns and pelvic thrusts! Not for me, the budding actor. I would stick with nice, clean shows like “Hairspray”, “Phantom of the Opera”, and “Les Mis”, thank you very much!

 

The next time I saw “Rocky,” I was entranced. I was 16 years old, dressed in little enough clothing to stun my mother, and so excited I could have burst. At the Clinton Street Theatre, I watched actors perform in front of a screen, a “shadow cast,” they called themselves. They were dressed in perfectly screen accurate costumes, performing the movie as it played along behind them. Every word the characters said, the actors would mouth. Every dance move was done in sync with the screen. Every minute finger twitch or foot shuffle was perfectly synced up. It was incredible.

 

The audience was lively and intense. They shouted vulgar callbacks at the screen. They screamed and hooted and hollered. It was irreverent and ridiculous, over the top and perfect.

 

I went to see the show again and again. I dragged all of my friends to see it with me. They enjoyed it, but didn’t have the same obsession I did.  One day, the director cornered me after a show. “I’ve seen you here a lot. How old are you?” he asked me.

 

“Eighteen,” I answered. By about two months. I was still skeptical of my alleged adulthood.

 

“You wanna audition? We’ve got open rolls.”

 

It was like the world had been handed to me on a silver platter.

 

The first time I performed in “Rocky,” it was one of the best nights of my life. I had no idea what I was doing. I’d never been so scantily dressed in front of so many people. I didn’t know half of my cues. I’d only just memorized my lines. I was so nervous, I almost threw up. It was beautiful. The audience cheered for me like they’d never seen a bigger star. My castmates welcomed me to the family. I crept along the stage, cringing as my hunchback handyman character. I smirked at Brad and Janet, I danced the Time Warp. I came sprinting onstage to kill half the characters at the end of the show!

 

I’ve been performing with my cast — my family — for a year now. My college friends associate me with “Rocky” now. They know where to find me on Saturday nights. I’ve never been happier, or fit in anywhere better. It’s a strange group of ragtag queer kids, theatre kid burn-outs, and those who have just wandered in. This is what makes life worth living. This is sheer joy. In the mire of work and college, this show has given me life.

 

I sometimes think back on the horrified 11-year-old who first watched the movie. If only he could see himself now…

The Mirror

me! By Julien-Pierre Campbell

My mirror is dusty. It sits in my carpeted bedroom, all but unused, and I cannot bring myself to clean it.

“Every teenager is self-conscious!” my mother has always chided. “This is normal. It’ll pass.”

The thing is, I don’t hate how I look. I’ve got a killer jawline, curves for days, and an adorable haircut. I don’t hate the way I dress. My fashion sense lies somewhere between a wannabe punk and a 2005 emo. I love my black skinny jeans and grungy beanies. But the crippling dysphoria, oh, how it kills me.

When people look at me, they see a tomboy. An androgynous one, perhaps, but clearly a girl. In the words of a less than kind friend, “You look like a punk butch! It’s, like, your whole thing.”

But I am not a tomboy. Not a girl. Not a “punk butch.”

I’m a boy.

I see the way my beloved black jeans hug my hips and I cringe. My cut-up band T-shirts reveal my chest, small, but forever a tell. My face, even with the square jaw and high cheekbones that make me feel like a Greek god on my best days, looks feminine.   

I try to romanticize myself. A feminine young man, a dandy. A 19th century fop. A young, androgynous devotee of Apollo back in ancient times. But then I look in the mirror and my illusion shatters.

“I identify as a guy who likes guys,” I correct the friend, the less-than-kind one. “I mean, I’m pansexual for sure. But when you call me a lesbian, it invalidates me. It’s crushing. I’m trying to look like a guy. Not like…whatever your image of a lesbian is.”

It’s an endless cycle of frustration. Of invalidation. People should be able to look however they want, no?

I wish I had a clean solution for all of this dysphoria, but I don’t. I have hope and excitement about my future, but please, everybody — be sensitive to your trans friends. Our everyday life is a battle.