Let me stamp your wrist

I’m a security guard at several music venues around Portland, Oregon. It’s probably one of the most interesting jobs I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a few. You come in to a music venue to see a band or a DJ perform. To dance all night, drink, flirt, and tell loud stories. To make bad decisions and have great stories to tell the next day.

I’m the guy at the door checking IDs. We are going to have a brief little moment together. Usually polite, usually friendly, almost always pretty surfacy. Our special interaction takes anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. In that time I’m trying to do several relatively simple things.

I’m trying to be friendly and welcome you to the venue. Then I’m engaging you in small talk, looking at your eyes and your gait to assess if you are already too drunk or high to allow into the club. I’m checking your ID to be sure that you are actually the person on the ID. I’m making sure that you were born before this date on 1995, and if your ID has expired. I’m examining the ID to see if it looks fake in general. I’m also trying to keep an eye on people in my peripheral vision that might be trying to sneak past while I’m engaged with you. Then, depending on the event or venue, I’m also scanning your concert ticket and giving you stamps on your wrists. Usually you get one stamp for having a valid ID and being of age, and then you get a different stamp for having a valid ticket to the concert.

I’m also the guy who escorts people out if they’re fighting, or simply are too intoxicated to be there. I answer a lot of questions. The most common things I end up saying besides the usual include, “Yes, there is re-entry. The bathroom is over there. No we don’t have a coat check. You can’t take your drinks outside. The ATM is just outside by the door. The box office is just over there. Yes the show is sold out. No there aren’t any more tickets available.”

Depending on the venue, and my specific duties that night, it is possible that I will have anywhere from 150 to 600 small interactions with patrons of the venue. We’re  going to handle all of these things as quickly as possible, and I’ll try to not ask the same questions several hundred times.

Since I’ve lived in Portland for 20 years, it is a rare night that I don’t see at least one person that I know from my various circles of friends and acquaintances while working the door.

When I ask to give you a stamp on your wrist, we have a strange little physical interaction where a complete stranger is touching your wrist and putting a little ink mark on you. It’s actually sort of intimate. I’m cradling your hand in mine with one hand, then stamping your wrist with my other hand. We’re close and looking in each other’s eyes. It’s almost the way you would cradle your lover’s hand if you were proposing. Sometimes you have to remove gloves, move bracelets, or switch your phone or beer to your other hand. Very often you have wrist tattoos that make it difficult to find a good visible place to put the stamp. And sometimes you have a scar on your wrist.

This happens far more than you would think. I look at the scar on your wrist and sometimes I know it’s from a suicide attempt. Or that you are or were a cutter. If you and I ever had a personal talk you’d probably tell me it was from a car crash. I’d probably smile and agree with you. But cuts from windshield safety glass can look like cuts from your broken wine glass in the bathtub. Or a straight-razor. If the scars go across the wrist like where your wristwatch band would be, maybe you weren’t that serious. If the scars go up the length of the forearm, you were more dedicated. If there were numerous scars of differing healing patterns, colors, and scar tissue, you might have tried a few times.

I think about all of this in the few seconds before I stamp your wrist. Occasionally I have a debate in my mind deciding if I should put the ink stamp off to the side of your scar, or directly on top of it. Some people must wonder, “Why did that door guy just stamp my scar?”  It’s a strange little moment we have where neither of us acknowledges it or says anything, but we both know what just happened. Two complete strangers now sort of share a secret. When I stamp you on your scar I think of it as a protective seal. It is a magical binding. Don’t open this again. It’s me placing my sigil of safety over your wound.

It is a sobering thought to imagine that every person who has a scar on their wrist may have been so depressed and dejected that they tried to end their life at one point. I hope I’m wrong about this. Because I see a bunch of them each night. But here you are, out and about trying to have fun. Not staying home in your apartment where the darkness can take too strong a hold of you. Don’t paint it black.

Maybe someday you’ll try to take your own life again and succeed. Maybe you’ll never try it again. Maybe that was a specific dark time in your life. Or maybe you have to fight off suicidal thoughts every day. You may be here because music is the only thing in your life that keeps you going. Or you’re here meeting the one person that you’ve met that understands you and gives you reason to keep going.

I’m just glad that you are here. And I want to see you here again. Music heals.
Maybe tomorrow morning you’ll wake up and wash the stamp off of your wrist and remember what a great night it was. And maybe you’ll think again about how that scar got there in the first place.

Maybe I’m overthinking all this and I’m just a guy putting a stamp on your wrist.

But I don’t think so.

I’ve been having this dream where dozens of people are stumbling into the venue holding their bleeding wrists out towards me. I’m supposed to suture everybody’s cuts shut but there’s too many of them and I can’t close the wounds fast enough. They all are asking me to help them and pulling up their sleeves to show me their wrists. The crowd starts pushing past me into the venue. Both wrists of every single person have been slashed open and they won’t stop bleeding.

Everybody streams past me into the venue and I hear the music start. Then a figure slowly strides through the doors and stands in front of me. This tall robed figure gently lifts up my wrist and pours candle wax on it. This doesn’t hurt. Then he stamps a sign into the wax, just like Kings in ancient times would do after sealing a private letter. I look up to see his face and I just see light. And then I wake up.

I am an ally

I am an ally. I have always been an ally to the queer community.

I am also a straight white man admittedly coming from a place of some privilege.

Since high school I’ve been a supporter of the LGBT community. Always seemed like a no-brainer. Love who you want. Reject any religious faith or family member who condemns your love.

As a young child I was part of a dance class, so I was around gay men all the time. Kudos to my parents for putting me in those dance classes and not demonizing the gay men, like other parents might. One of the first jobs I applied for in high school was as a DJ at the local gay club in Eugene. My parent’s rental house was rented to a gay man, and I used to go over there to help my Dad do yard work and minor home repairs. Their example of not behaving any differently around him taught me volumes. When that renter became a more vocal activist in Eugene politics fighting against some hateful propositions, they didn’t evict him. They didn’t raise the rent. When the house got vandalized by bigoted morons, they never expressed wishing they had a straight renter that didn’t have these problems. I believe that they rented to him for many years after, until he also moved to Portland.

I’ve attended the gay pride parade every year since I moved to Portland in 1996. So that’s twenty years of gay pride. Some years I just attended as a participant. Other years I staffed the outreach booth for the non-profit dog rescue I ran. Other years I walked in the parade for that non-profit with available dogs for adoption. One year I held the banner for a drumming group. And for the last three years I’ve performed on the main stage at Portland Pride with my rock band, The Shrike.

I worked for many years as a mentor for at-risk youth. I would always work with them to understand others and learn tolerance and acceptance. Some years I would even bring the teenagers to Pride with me. A few youth came out to me over the years, and one helped start his high school’s first GSA group. As we would study the civil rights movement, we would also study the gay rights movement. I loved telling them about the Stonewall riots that ignited the fires that still burn today.

In the 2000’s I took a part-time job delivering the area’s only gay newspaper. It was called Just Out. I would work a couple of days a month delivering bundles of papers to over a hundred stops on my route. I wanted to support the cause and learn about cool businesses and venues in Portland, so it was perfect. I’m certain that everybody assumed I was gay as I walked into the gay club during the summer mornings in my tank top shirt. Getting hit on by people at noon in a bar is surreal. I also met one of my best friends while working at Just Out, Marie. After a decade of friendship, Marie introduced me to my girlfriend, Marcela. She and her two kids have moved in with me, and we are very happy and in love. Thanks again, Marie.

When the Multnomah County commissioners legalized same-sex marriage in 2004 I got to be part of the celebration. Hundreds of couples were standing in line outside the Multnomah County building waiting to get their marriage license. I was on my route delivering the issue of Just Out that had the story of recent legalization of gay marriage on the cover. I thought it would be a good use of my time to stop and get out with a stack of papers, offering them to everybody in line. So many people were excited to get an issue of Just Out as a souvenir of this historic date, and to commemorate the acquisition of their marriage license. It was a sweet moment, many people had tears in their eyes from happiness. Obviously, later that decision was nullified when voters made gay marriage illegal again. Luckily, about ten years later, a Federal Judge made same sex marriage legal across the country.

I have dated several bisexual women in my life, attended numerous lesbian weddings, and have always been a supporter of Planned Parenthood and NARAL. I could go on and on.

But all that is not the point of this blog.

The point of this blog is to inform you that now my job is to keep people safe. And in particular to keep the queer community safe. I’ve recently switched careers and work in the security industry. I got DPSST certified in November. My first event was a lesbian dance party at Bossanova Ballroom. My second event was a gay dance party also at Bossanova. I love these events. I felt kind of like I was back in college again. I have regular shifts at Doug Fir Lounge. Other locations include Stag PDX, Analog Theater, The Raven, and Tryst. I’m the bouncer. I’m the nice friendly bouncer, but I’m still the bouncer. I’ll check your ID, scan your concert tickets, answer all questions, maintain crowd control, help the bands load in/out, and even help you get a cab.  But I’ll also kick your ass out if you’re too drunk, agitated, hateful or aggressive.

I feel really good about this new career switch. I’m around live music all the time, and happy crowds of people. My employers have stated that the security industry has changed for the better. Instead of wanting huge scary dudes to break heads, they want a kindler, gentler security presence. My rangering skills from Burning Man are coming in so handy.   I don’t even care so much about refusing fake IDs. I’ve already politely refused several IDs that were fishy or expired. One guy felt such empathy for me having to deny his entry that he gave me a hug before he left.

But fair warning to the uninformed:
If I see you harassing a woman or trying to take advantage of someone who is too drunk, you’re gone. If I hear any homophobic slurs or gay-bashing, you’re gone. If I hear any racist hate-speech, you’re gone. You will be dragged out of the establishment and the police will be called for trespassing, disturbing the peace, harassment, or hate-speech. Not on my watch. The line has been drawn. That bullshit stops here.

Any venue that I’m working at is going to stay safe for everybody. I’ve already called for ambulances and police in just a few weeks on the job. I can kick you out for any number of reasons. And I will. So to all my queer friends, come out and have fun. Celebrate. Be heard. Be strong. Don’t hide. Unity is all the more important now. Nothing makes me happier than seeing 600 people dancing, flirting, drinking, and kissing in a safe space where acceptance and happiness is paramount. In some cases these dance nights are likely the ONLY place where people can feel this safe and open to be themselves. In the upcoming political landscape where our president-elect is condoning and encouraging sexism, intolerance, racism, and homophobia, this is all the more important. It’s gonna get worse before it gets better. I’ve got at least four more years of fight in me.

I can sign up for particular events and venues that I am drawn to. So I’m purposely signing up for lots of events at queer clubs, or music venues that support and book queer events. Doug Fir has a drag queen brunch every week. Bossanova has huge dance parties several nights of the week. I’ve already worked a Blowpony event and a Bearaccuda event there. Apparently when Euphoria stopped booking queer events, Bossanova took over and is now welcoming the queer community. Tryst and Stag are strictly gay clubs. So I’ll be carding a lot of drag queens. I worked one event where I was the only white person there for hours. That is an experience that I highly recommend to any of my white friends. It’s humbling and eye-opening. I know that my working security at these events isn’t going to change the world, but it’s important to maintain a safe place for people in our community. The more islands of safety and sanity in Portland, the better.

And I’m not posting this for ‘likes’ or for kudos from anybody. If you like what I have said here, awesome. If you don’t, feel free to unfollow me and unfriend me. I don’t have time for bigotry.

I’ve always been drawn to helping people. And I’m still doing that, just more directly now. I’m here to help. And I’m watching out for all of you.

Hoping for peace, love and understanding.

Love always wins.