“Just so you know, I welcome whatever sort of controversy, questions, discussions … glamour … that may come up.” So author Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore begins her talk with a group of communication studies students and professors last Thursday. As part of the School of Communication and Fine Arts’ Visiting Artists & Lecture Series, Sycamore came to speak about her book, titled “The End of San Francisco,” and the questions it raises about the realities of searching for and uniting a queer culture community.
Though Sycamore grew up in Washington, D.C., she explained that her most formative years were during the time she spent in San Francisco in the 1990s, which became the inspiration for her book. An activist, writer and speaker, Sycamore has been a prolific voice and contributor to not only questioning queer roles and role-making in society, but other areas of intolerance as well. Her dedication to diminishing the hierarchies that lead to violence over social issues was something communication studies professor and organizer of the event, Dr. Kyra Pearson, hoped would stimulate some conversation within the department.
“Her work provides a voice for marginalized queers whose voices get drowned out by mainstream discourse,” Pearson said. “This not only contributes to the public discourse about sexuality, but hopefully allows LMU students to re-imagine what social justice encompasses.”
Sycamore imparted this message to the audience by reading three different excerpts from her book, which focused on her time as a queer youth in D.C., a young adult moving to the West Coast and as the leader of an activist group challenging assimilation in San Francisco. Speaking before the lecture, Sycamore explained that she chose to read about these three different areas of her life to give the audience a taste of her formation in queer culture and illuminate the ways this social justice issue can connect communities to so many more.
“Kyra mentioned that LMU was Jesuit, and its focus on social justice, which is really intrinsic to my work,” Sycamore said. “[My work] challenges the violence inherent to assimilation and how gay assimilation camouflages more violence. All forms of violence have to be liberated.”
A large group of communication studies professors attended the lecture and participated in the question and answer session following, expressing their enthusiasm for having such an accomplished speaker in her field come to campus. Communication studies professor Dr. Philip Wander was doubly impressed with the delivery of Sycamore’s reading as well as the message of her work.
“She lapses into terribly profound moments, just deep and funny all at the same time,” Wander said. “I love hearing the performance of the writing, and since personally spending time in San Francisco in the 1960s, I can say what she’s talking about is so accurate in its intensity.”
Students, too, expressed their interest in the discourse. Senior communication studies major Hayley Thayer had been excited to hear Sycamore speak since the announcement of the series, and planned to read Sycamore’s book after attending the lecture.
“I think it’s really interesting to see a queer alternative approach to issues that are prevalent in the LGBT community, apart from the mainstream LGBT activism and values,” Thayer said. “I thought this was extremely powerful.”