Back when I was keeping bees, I read T.D Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy, a fascinating look at animal behavior in honeybees. I learned that when a colony of bees outgrows their hive, the colony dramatically splits and one half begins looking for a new home in a great, mobile swarm. When this happens, something physiologically changes in the worker bee. Where their eyes are typically attuned to look for bright spots of UV light — a pattern that usually indicates the open, beckoning face of a blossom, the promise of nectar, and sustenance for life — they shift, and instead look for the opposite: absences of any UV light, empty spots that hint at the presence of a dark, protected chamber, a place to carve out a new hive and home for their now, much smaller family. Once the colony has moved in, the worker bees’ bodies change back, and they resume life as they knew it, seeking out the bright spots and sweetness wherever they can find it.
A little over a year ago, in a manner of speaking, my hive split. My mother, after an eight year battle with ovarian cancer, succumbed to complications of the disease and passed away. Shortly thereafter, at the end of a much longer protracted and difficult time, my husband and I decided, amicably, to go our separate ways. And shortly after that, the company I work for decided that the quasi-colocated arrangement with which we had been struggling with for the past year was no longer working, and offered me an opportunity to move west, consolidating our team to our office in San Francisco.
Logistically, relocating to San Francisco was not easy. It’s an expensive and difficult city to move into, especially from Utah where the cost of living is in the basement, where space is abundant, and the established order is to put down roots and live with a trajectory towards permanence. Besides the sticker shock — I’d be more than doubling my mortgage — I’d also need to radically divest myself of my stuff: I’d be looking at spaces less than a quarter of the square footage I had in Provo. I’d need to get rid of my car. I’d need to sell my house. I’d need to cut my wardrobe by two thirds. I’d have to figure out what apartments were available, and somehow be able to snag one without actually living in the city at “time of snagging.”
I started using AirBnBs instead of hotels on my monthly work trips; a two day office work session doubling as a scouting expedition, surveying neighborhoods and figuring out what to expect by way of buildings, arrangements and culture. My eyes began to be fine-tuned to picking out property management plaques and studio for-rent signs wherever I was. I habitually and neurotically trawled craigslist ads in SF and Eastbay, my fingers automatically entering “ess-eff-bay dot craigs—“ when I meant to type something else entirely in the address bar.
I had multiple places slip through my fingers after days of “looks-good-lets-go” negotiations: tech-employees who opted to rent to a coworker instead; locals who chose to rent to locals instead of an outsider; landlords who decided at the last minute that, on second thought, maybe they weren’t so pet friendly — all of it as completely understandable as it was insanely frustrating.
At the same time, I was hemorrhaging possessions at home and shrinking my living space within my already tiny four-square cottage to a roughly 400q ft nucleus, simulating the spaces I was looking at in the bay. I was cutting expenses, anticipating the inflation of bare bones cost of living I’d be contending with in the near future.
So yeah, from a pure numbers game, relocating was a sheer cliff to scale. Emotionally, things have been a bit more complicated.
On the one hand, I could not have been more thrilled at the prospect. Like millions before me, San Francisco had thoroughly cast a spell on me on over the course of my frequent trips. Growing up gay and closeted in a conservative Mormon home and community; I often wondered if things would be better for me if I could just “Go west!” A year or so ago, after my trips to the bay became more frequent and I was becoming thoroughly charmed by The City, a friend recommended Maupin’s *Tales*, and I remember something deep inside of me thrilling at Mary Ann Singleton’s declaration that she wasn’t going home in the series’ opening. As I began connecting with people I knew from Tumblr and Instagram, the city’s edges began to coalesce into a topography that I began to both understand and feel at home in. The white-washed, often milque-toast gay scene that I knew all to well at home became all the more pale as I became familiar with the bold, queer community that gave birth to parties like Swagger Like Us, Hard French and Ur Gaze. The kind of conversations I wanted to have with other queers were had there, the kind of music that I wanted to dance to was heard there, and the kind of faces I wanted to see were seen there. It began to feel like home, and I wanted to be there more and more.
In the meantime, as my relationship with my husband unraveled, I began relying on internet friends for advice, comfort and friendship. One of those friends, John, who lived out in SF, and who I frequently stayed with when I was out for work, became more and more prominent in my life. I was witness to his last break-up, and here he was witnessing the catastrophe of mine. I’m thrilled and more than a little baffled that today I call him my boyfriend. And while the primary impetus for my relocation was for work, I won’t deny that it was the opportunity to explore the possibility of relationship with him that made the opportunity one worth pursuing.
On the other hand, almost everyone else I know and love lives in Utah, where I have lived for the better part of two decades, a full two-thirds of my life and all of my adulthood. Saying goodbye is rough, although social media has more or less made it impossible not make good on promises to stay in touch. Still, I’m moving at a time that I worry will accelerate an estrangement from my family that I have feared since coming out. My dad remarrying, siblings growing up and calving off into lives of their own with their own families, and all members of a faith that has no place for me — how do I stave off what would be the easiest entropy out of the family picture? There’s the feeling that proximity, and proximity alone is what is holding us together after last year’s tragedy; and moving away feels like a tipping of balances that can’t easily be righted.
On top of that whole mess, I recognize that I fit the bill (at the least on paper and probably more that I want to acknowledge in the flesh) of the exact type of person that San Franciscans explicitly do not want more of in their city. I’m white, male, middle-class employee of a tech company. The “struggle” I had to find a home here exists solely in air-quotes and eye-rolls, while the STRUGGLE less-afluent, working class People of Color have is writ large across their backs and brows. I don’t want to be That Guy in a city of Those Guys. The only way I know how to combat that is to be engaged in my community, to support what is here, to be an active participant and not just take — to listen and to learn and to amplify voices that are not my own wherever possible. I’m still trying to figure out what that really means and how to actually put that into practice. Impotent white guilt, hurray.
In any case, here I am.
Last week I moved into a studio in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood that scares a lot of people, but that plenty call home. I'm happy to be there. My dad and I drove out with a small van of “essentials” and things I didn’t trust to the movers (plants, rugs, devices) and my small dog Hexl. It was a great opportunity to talk, one on one, as he prepared to remarry the following week and more or less start a new family, and I set out on my own. I’m more optimistic about the prospect of remaining close with him and my sisters, and I was so grateful to have his help.
I still don’t have any of my stuff (the movers screwed up my initial delivery and had to reschedule) but hopefully that should be fixed soon.
Hex and I are getting into a routine, and soon I should be back to making here a home. My worker bee eyes are slowly going back to normal. I still get snagged on property management plaques, and still accidentally find myself on the housing page on Craigslist, momentarily confused how I got there. But things are starting to look bright again, things are starting to look sweet.