7 Minutes in Book Heaven with Joseph Plaster and Kids on the Street

Hello!

Meet Joseph Plaster and his new book Kids on the Street: Queer Kinship and Religion in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. It’s 7 Minutes in Book Heaven! Where we meet queer authors and talk with them about the new books they have coming out for us to love and cuddle up with.

What’s Kids on the Street about? Joseph explores the informal support networks that enabled abandoned and runaway queer youth to survive in tenderloin districts across the United States. Tracing the history of the downtown lodging house districts where marginally housed youth regularly lived beginning in the late 1800s, Plaster focuses on San Francisco’s Tenderloin from the 1950s to the present. He shows how they collectively and creatively managed the social trauma they experienced, in part by building relationships with johns, bartenders, hotel managers, bouncers, and other vice district denizens. By highlighting a politics where the marginal position of street kids is the basis for a moral economy of reciprocity, Plaster excavates a history of queer life that has been overshadowed by major narratives of gay progress and pride.

Buy Kids on the Street

Visit Duke University Press: https://www.dukeupress.edu/kids-on-the-street

Connect with Joseph Plaster

Twitter: @Jplaster3
Facebook: Joey Plaster
Website: https://www.josephplaster.com

Check out the film Song of Love (Un Chant d’Amour) that we chatted about

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043084/

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Credits

Host/Founder: J.P. Der Boghossian
Executive Producer: Jim Pounds
Associate Producers: Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shay, and Sean Smith
Patreon Subscribers: Awen Briem, Stephen D., Thomas Michna, and Gary Nygaard.

Transcript

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J.P. Der Boghossian:
Why hello everyone!

My name is J.P. Der Boghossian. I’m an essayist, Lambda Literary Fellow, and founder of the Queer Armenian Library. And this is a podcast for folx who are asking themselves: what’s the next queer book I’m going to read? Welcome to 7 Minutes in Book Heaven where

I interview queer authors about the new books they have coming out for us to love and cuddle up with. We’re a partner podcast to This Queer Book Saved My Life! which has a new episode dropping next week.

And today, I’m joined by Joseph Plaster to discuss his new book Kids on the Street: Queer Kinship and Religion in San Francisco’s Tenderloin.

Hello Joseph!

Joseph Plaster:
Hi there, how are you?

J.P. Der Boghossian:
I’m so happy to have you here. Welcome!

Joseph Plaster:
Thank you. Yeah, I’m really happy to be here as well. Right now I’m actually in San Francisco. It’s a really cold and drizzly day out. So I’m feeling very cuddly right now and ready to cuddle up with a book.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
I love it, I love it. That’s fantastic. That’s why we have the podcast!
So, how does our podcast work? I have seven questions for Joseph and we’re going to spend about 7 minutes talking about Kids on the Street: Queer Kinship and Religion in San Francisco’s Tenderloin as well as the amazing writer and academic who is Dr. Joseph Plaster.
So, Joseph, are you ready?

Joseph Plaster:
I am ready, let’s do it.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Right, I will set the timer and here we are. Question number one, would you please describe kids on the street, queer kinship, and religion in San Francisco’s Tenderloin as if you’re sharing it with your celebrity crush and telling us who that crush is?

Joseph Plaster:
Sure, yes. So I was recently at this queer gathering out in the middle of the Redwoods in Northern California. And someone asked me, who is your gay diva? And I had to think about it just a little bit. But my answer was ultimately Bjork. Bjork is my gay diva. And I’m going to say that Bjork is my celebrity crush. trying to explain this book to Bjork, I’d probably remind her of her song, It’s Not Up to You, which I think came out many decades ago, probably early 2000s, and tell her that the book is kind of like the lyrics in that song. So there is this set of lyrics, if you wake up and the day feels nicely. Notice how it sparkles down there. I really love those lyrics and they’ve stayed with me ever since I first heard them decades ago. This book is really about the social worlds that were created by self-described boys, girls, kids on the street, many of whom were tarnished as criminal and blights, many of them runaways who were forced into these spaces of abandonment and downtown vice districts. The question I and many other people posed is what happens when the whole world turns their back on you, when you’ve been discarded, when everything feels broken? For a lot of the kids, the answer is to lean into those cracks and tremble ever so nicely take all that toxicity and make it sparkle in some way. So I write about all the ways that abandoned youth reinterpreted the impact of abandonment from the 20s to the present by creating these new queer worlds, like by developing street families and kinship networks, these kind of religious formations I call street churches, by telling all of these wildly creative And through fashion, like drag queens and hair fairies who leaned into the cracks that Björk sings about and kind of like made things sparkle with the transformative power of rhinestones and performance and so on. I can say more about that if there’s time.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Oh, that’s great. That’s a good teaser. That’s a really good teaser. And I have to say, I started, I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I’ve gotten started and it is all of those things. So I really recommend for folks, obviously, to check it out. If it’s all right, we’ll go on to question number two, which

Joseph Plaster:
Sure.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
is, what’s a sentence from a novel essay, poem or other book that every time you read it, it gives you all the feels?

Joseph Plaster:
Okay, so the sentence I have in mind requires a little bit of a preamble. It was written by the cultural theorist Eve Sedgwick, and she wrote this essay called Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or You’re So Paranoid You Probably Think This Essay Is About You, which is a title that I mean, nobody can write a title that good. So she talks about the difference perceiving the world. And it’s a complicated argument, but basically, a paranoid reading is that things are getting bad. They’re only going to get worse. You can never be paranoid about enough. And she gives the example of a litigious colleague who not only imagines her to be as familiar with the laws of libel as she is, but eventually makes me so. And then she contrasts this with what reading, which is about hope, which is about the importance of pleasure and aesthetics. So she writes about all of these kind of practices of reparative reading, and this leads me to the sentence that I really love, which is actually the last sentence in the essay. It’s, quote, what we can best learn from such practices are perhaps and extracting sustenance from the objects of a culture, even of a culture whose avowed desire has often not been to sustain them.” So I just think there’s so much in that sentence. And her way of perceiving the world really contributed to the way I put together this book. It’s

J.P. Der Boghossian:
I was gonna say.

Joseph Plaster:
how to or the church finds sustenance from those cultural institutions who have thrown them out.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
I can absolutely see the link there. And Sedgewick, ah! Okay. Question number three, if we can keep moving along here,

Joseph Plaster:
Mm-hmm.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
what do you feel is the best sentence you’ve ever written?

Joseph Plaster:
Okay, so this is, I think, the best sentence, not because it’s the most writerly, necessarily, but because it really took me a long time to figure out what the book I was writing was about, you know? And often we figure out what things are about by writing. So this sentence, I think, encapsulates the kind of main argument I’m making in the book. And I’ll throw it clear. And here it is. I represent a politics where the marginal position of street youth, the self-defined kids on the street, hair fairies, hustlers, queens, and undesirables is the basis for a moral economy of reciprocity and mutual aid. So it’s just to say that street kids develop this politics based on reciprocity, which basically means if you watch my back, I’ll watch yours. And they did this not were heroic or altruistic, though sometimes they were, but because it was a necessity for mutual survival. And that’s what the book is about, really. They developed this politics before the homophile movement of the 1950s, before the gay liberation movement of the 1970s, before the modern and the present.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Okay, question number four, what’s the best romantic scene you’ve ever read?

Joseph Plaster:
Okay, so I love [Jean] Genet, who wrote primarily from the 40s to the 60s. He wrote Our Lady of the Flowers reportedly when he was in prison and wrote it on the kind of brown paper that was issued to inmates in order to make bags. And in terms of the kind of romantic scene, I’m going to cheat a little making. He created the silent short film called A Song of Love in 1950. There’s this wonderful story that takes place at an unnamed stone prison where a guard sees two male arms swinging floral branches out of the barred windows. The guard enters the prison and looks into each cell prisoners are in separate cells and they’re sharing a cigarette through a hole in the wall between their cells by blowing smoke back and forth between a straw. So there’s something really beautiful and poetic about the scene and I think romantic too even though they never touch. in the United States, but you know all these people whose love, intimacy was criminalized, still found ways to share intimacies.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Absolutely. Okay, next question. Actually, I wanna say that is very tender. I can feel the yearning in that. And the visual of that is really getting to me right now.

Joseph Plaster:
Right? You need to watch that film.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Absolutely. We’ll put links to it in the show notes and on our website. Okay. What is next question? What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever got?

Joseph Plaster:
Worst writing advice I ever got. Okay, so I think that I received the worst writing advice in grad school. So I spent many years working as an independent public historian in San Francisco, and then I enrolled in a PhD program in American Studies. And I remember someone in grad school telling me that what I really needed to do was find an advisor I needed to replicate their methods and their writing style, basically become a miniature version of them.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Ew.

Joseph Plaster:
Then what they were going to do was promote me and find me a faculty job and then I would go on to create other versions of myself. I think that was terrible advice. I ended up finding mentors who were not at all like me and who enabled me to create a piece of writing that was not at all like their writing style. So I worked with someone who was an expert in performance studies, an ethnographer, a cultural historian, and I think I was inspired by aspects of their writing and inspired by them as people. and create something entirely new, I think.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
I’m so glad that you were able to get around that terrible advice.

Joseph Plaster:
Hahaha

J.P. Der Boghossian:
OK, final question. How do we follow you on social? How do we order your book?

Joseph Plaster:
Oh my gosh, okay, so you can order the book on the Duke University Press website. I believe they have a sale going on right now, a 50% off sale. You can follow me on Facebook or Twitter. I think Twitter is Jplaster3. Facebook, you can find me under Joey Plaster. And just, you know, do a search for Joseph Plaster online. You’ll find all kinds of resources.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Thank you so much for joining us here today, Joseph Plaster. I really enjoyed getting to know a little bit about your work, and I hope that folks do follow you on social and check out the amazing work that you’re doing. And obviously, y’all need to read this book. It is fascinating and a political resource. So thank you, Joseph Plaster, for being here today.

Joseph Plaster:
Thank you so much for having me.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Well, we’ve come to the end of this episode which has been executive produced by Jim Pounds. Our associate producers are Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Paul Kafer, Nicole Olila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shay, and Seann Smith. We keep our podcasts accessible. Find transcripts at thisqueerbook.com

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My name is J.P. Der Boghossian, and stay tuned to this space every Tuesday for new episodes of Seven Minutes in Book Heaven, and This Queer Book Saved My Life.

Until then, see you Queers and allies in the bookstores!

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