Yesterday I got the chance to be a guest blogger over at The Bilerico Project talking about why I think ‘family reunification’ as a model for working with LGBTQ homeless youth is dangerous and damaging. Check out the full post here
This is one of my favorite photos of all time. It was taken by Joseph Ambrosini of the New York Daily Newsappearing in the paper, as the first photograph published of the beginning of the Stonewall Riots. Specifically, it documents homeless LGBTQ youth fighting back against the police, and is one of few photographs of that first night of the riots.
I always keep a printed copy of this photo at my desk where I work and write. It gives me hope and strength, and reminds me where the revolution came from, and just how profoundly powerful we can be.
When you go to pride this year, please take a moment to think about the bravery and strength of the homeless LGBTQ youth that birthed our “modern LGBTQ rights movement.” In their honor and legacy, we must not abandon the youth of today. It is our responsibility to listen to them, fund programs that provide direct services, and partner with youth as together we work towards equality for all LGBTQ people.
Also connected to pride my friend and colleague Syd London and I have come together with a new project: Hard Won Home. The first installment is PRIDE includes new writing from me and previously unreleased photos from her exploring what this time of year means to us. With much love and fight in our hearts is our gift to the community
Happy Pride Y’all!
I first posted this blog last year on Femmes Guide, but wanted to post it here again this year as we’re heading into pride weekend here in NYC. xoxo Sassafras
So it might not come to much of a surprise to folks but I’m out, like really out. Out as queer, out as femme, out as leather, and transgender, and all manner of other lovely identities along the spectrum of queerness. I’m also really privileged in that even as a femme it’s not all that often I have to explicitly Come Out— maybe it’s all the tattoos (a few of which are visibly queer themed), or the way I carry myself in the world, or perhaps it’s just that even “safe” questions like “where do you work” or “what do you do” tend to elicit a significantly queerer answer than most folks would anticipate.
I’m an author and artist and tour to colleges, conferences, and community groups to read and teach all about you guessted it queer stuff, to queer people. Even the job that pays my mortgage outs me pretty immediately I’m “gay for pay” by which I don’t mean a straight porn actor who will shoot gay scenes for money, I mean I work in the movement of LGBT nonprofits. Confession time: I’ve never even had a straight job! My entire resume is made up of art, and community organizing for local or national queer nonprofits.
Anyway, pride is a season that gets me a little more sentimental that I might normally be about gay stuff. For me it’s not that I feel especially hailed by rainbow balloons, or floats at this time in my life but it’s that when I’m honest with myself and sitting quietly, I think about how much these things meant to the seventeen year old me who was just coming out, just wandering haphazardly and nervously into this great big world of queerness. So, two weekends ago I wandered through Brooklyn pride. Money burned a hole in my purse and there I was buying a tacky (but admittedly pretty) woven rainbow anklet. I put it on and there it’s stayed on my right ankle for the past couple of weeks.
Choosing to wear it didn’t really feel so much like a need to advertise or come out, so much as a lovely little moment of nostalgia where I remember being covered in rainbows the few months after coming out, my backpack that looked like a pride parade threw up on it. All the buttons and patches proclaiming my queerness was the armor that I carried around my very conservative high school I commuted two hours by city/county bus to get to after I was kicked out of home in order to graduate.
When I’m honest, even now seeing a rainbow makes me feel safer. So In the honor of the seventeen year old scared gay teenager I was several years ago I’ve been wearing this anklet, and I’ve noticed the ways in which it’s impacted my visibility which on some level makes me uncomfortable- I don’t want to have to wear a rainbow for folks to get that I’m queer. But I’ve been paying attention to the people who are seeing me that weren’t before I’ve noticed something interesting.
It’s youth- teens who will now look and recognize and smile, and also folks who seem somehow newer and less sure of their safety that this is a beacon to. Last night coming home from work I was ready to get off the train and a gay man – who my highly tuned gaydar had noticed the moment he walked onto the train carrying a shopping bag and plopping down across from me also stood to get off. Quietly so the rest of our train couldn’t hear he said, “I like your bracelet.” I smiled and said thank you. He then asked if I was going to the parade on Sunday, I shook my head and said not this year, and asked if he was. He got a big grin on his face saying that yes, he’d moved here from Texas and that his was his first pride. I smiled and congratulated him as the doors opened and we went our separate ways, both feeling perhaps a little more seen, a little less alone.
I’m not sure where this post is going anymore, it’s about being explicitly out, and also about thinking about ways our community is built and seen and recognized and even though sometimes I can find myself becoming a little jaded about all things gay- criticizing the corporate takeover of pride festivities, wishing people would remember it’s roots- how it was homeless queer kids that started the revolution at Stonewall. For me part of keeping that memory alive is not allowing myself forget how meaningful pride can be, and the way in which that rainbow can be thread that stitches our community together.
p.s. i’m wearing a rainbow bracelet again this year
p.s.s have you checked out Hard Won Home yet? It’s Syd London and my gift to the community for Pride this year
I’m so excited to announce a new collaboration between myself and my good buddy and incredible photographer Syd London — Hard Won Home! The ongoing project is about paring of new writing by me, with mostly unreleased photographs of Syd’s. Our first installment ‘Pride‘ features her photos from 2008-2011 from NYC street actions, marches, vigils etc. and my words exploring the meaning of Pride for us. Our hope is to help draw a line between our past, present, and futures.
With much love & fight in our hearts I’m thrilled to present
It may be summer, but I’m certainly not on vacation. This is a busy summer for me, and I’m thrilled to officially announce the new show that I’m working on, RADCLYFFE: The Completely Honest and Mostly True Story of Victorian England’s Second Most Notorious Invert.
Radclyffe Hall was a butch who swaggered her way through the early 20th century and wrote the censored lesbian classic, ‘The Well of Loneliness.’ In this pseudo-historical solo performance, she confronts the important questions of queer life today: “what happened to ‘romantic friendships’? What the hell is a ‘genderqueer’?! And where can a butch get a good haircut in this town?!?”
The opening party for the HOT Festival at Dixon Place is this Friday, June 24th, and I’ll be performing a short excerpt from RADCLYFFE. This will be the FIRST public performance of any material for this show, so you don’t want to miss this! Doors open at 6pm, and the performances start at 9:00pm. I’ll be there with 20(!!!) other HOT! artists to give you a taste of the festival.
Your next chance to see RADCLYFFE will be on July 27th, as part of the HOT Festival at Dixon Place. I’m performing on a shared bill with Corinne Donly. It should be a great night. Tickets are $15 in advance, and you can buy them here!
Don’t despair if you’re not in NYC, because later this summer, RADCLYFFE will be heading west. I’ll be performing as part of the Butch Voices conference in Oakland, August 18th-21st. Stay tuned for more details about exactly when and where Radclyffe will saunter across the stage.
Back in NYC at the end of August, RADCLYFFE will appear at the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History at the Leslie/Lohman Gallery in SoHo. I’ll be posting more details about the date and time soon!
I hope to see you at one of my summer performances– I can’t wait to introduce RADCLYFFE to you!
Seven years ago I said I was done with love. I was done with butches who saw it fit to wipe their muddy boots on my heart and give it a swift kick, before swaggering out the door. It was Portland Pride and though I spent the weekend at the festival I’d sworn off love, sworn off fucking even, but then I went to the drag show. It was late on Sunday night, the last pride gathering at a crusty punk venue for all of us who just weren’t ready to let the energy of the weekend go for another year. I stood in line next to a hot activist drag king that I’d seen around in the community but never really spoken to. Back then I was a crusty punk zinester. I’d just quit T, was finding my groove back in dyke, back in an in-between place and the pack of trans fags I ran with had grown distant.
We started talking.
We talked gender, and activism. We talked about the zines we were working on for the Portland Zine Symposium the next weekend. We sat together on the sticky, dusty, glitter covered cracked concrete floor and ever so slowly our hands touched. I turned down a ride home from a friend to stay later and watch hir dance. I remember I was wearing a green muscle shirt, carhartts and boots. Ze wore cutoff cords, vegan combat boots, an anti-scout shirt, and spirit gum sideburns. We left late and walked to the bus stop together, made plans to see each other the next day. The militant vegan used the corniest
pickup line about having recently gone fishing and spreading hir arms to demonstrate the size of the fish caught, left arm landing around my shoulders. I didn’t see it coming, fell for hir hook, line, and sinker. Ze didn’t kiss me that first night.
Every seven years a body replaces all it’s cells. Today marks seven years since that drag show, and we are quite literally not the same people we were that night. Seven years and eight genders, a cross-country move, books, performances, and more picnics than I can count. I can’t even express how blessed I feel to have been able to spend the last seven years in this relationship that is far more than anything I could have ever imagined I would find.
Honestly, I didn’t know that a life like this was possible. It was more than I’d ever seen anywhere. I thought it was more than was possible, more than I deserved. I had no idea when I walked into that drag show I would be meeting someone that would show me what it meant to truly be in love, to be cared for and nurtured in ways I couldn’t even bring myself to fantasize about. I had no clue that my life was about to be filled with magic.
Happy Anniversary Kestryl
Kestryl: How about that question about fights?
Sassafras: Do we have to talk about not-cute things?
Kestryl: Well… no healthy relationship is cute all the time.
Sassafras: Can we at least be cute while we’re doing it?
So, a few readers have written to say that they love all the cute relationship tips that have shown up in this blog, but they are curious about how to deal with conflict in relationship… which, admittedly, is not very cute. Trying to make conflict cute, say by pulling out a finger puppet in the middle of a fight, rarely leads to a speedy resolution.
Dealing with conflict is all about how you communicate as a couple, and a big part of weathering the storms and squabbles of any relationship is figuring out what you and your partner(s) want and need. It’s also about figuring out exactly what it is that you are fighting about. This sounds self-evident, but you’d be amazed to find how many times you think you’re fighting about who didn’t put the laundry away, when you are actually fighting about someone’s rough day at work, or resentment over a missed phone call. Figuring out what you are fighting about isn’t necessarily something you can do while tempers are flaring. This is why one of the most important parts of dealing with conflict in a relationship is to not just communicate about your fights, but also about how you fight… and to have those conversations when you’re not already fighting.
Kestryl: We process so much.
Sassafras: That’s because I’m a lesbian.
Kestryl: How did I skip the lesbian phase?
Sassafras: I’m helping you to discover it now. There is nothing better than a good process session.
Kestryl: It could be an Olympic sport! But to be clear… one doesn’t need to identify as a lesbian to win a gold medal in processing!
Of course, you have to be aware of when you’re trying to process your fights and communicate. For instance, it’s probably not a good idea to try to figure out what this afternoon’s fight was about when it’s 2am and you’re both trying to fall asleep. It’s also seldom a good plan to begin an in-depth process session right before heading to work, or leaving on tour. Being aware of the scope and magnitude of what needs to be addressed is a component in figuring out how much time and energy it will take to unpack. For example, your sweetie forgetting to pick up the organic kale on their way home from work may not require a marathon processing session (though it totally could, if it’s indicative of more systemic problems). For bigger conflicts and busy schedules, we’ve found it actually helps to schedule time to process after a fight. This helps us to be sure that we actually address what happened, instead of just sweeping it aside and letting the anger, annoyance, and hurt feelings ferment into a deeper resentment.
Sassafras: Did I mention we are big lesbians? Seriously, we just confessed to scheduling processing time.
Kestryl: Hey, whatever it takes! Oh, and a caveat: I’m not sure I actually identify with the word ‘lesbian’… even though I sometimes act like one.
Sassafras: True that.
Ok, so you have your processing date scheduled, the soy lattes are on the table, and you and your partner(s) are cooled down and ready to confront whatever conflict is making life more interesting. What now? For us, it helps to start by talking about the objective details of what happened, and how it made each of us feel. The classic “I statements” go a long way. Conversely, actively listening is just as important as speaking from your experience and not making accusations. Try to figure out what the conflict was, what is important to you in your relationship, and what specifically needs to be resolved. Keeping this kind of focus on the present issue and not dragging up how your sweetie didn’t clean the litter box one time three months ago is key to actually resolving the fight and moving forward in a mutually satisfying relationship. In other words, know when to let it go.
Sassafras: There was that one time you didn’t clean the litter box.
Kestryl: Last time I checked, the litter box was your job.
Sassafras: No, I mean when we first moved in together, and the cats hadn’t accepted me as their step-parent yet.
Kestryl: Are there any other lesbian sterotypes we can fit into this blog?
When you’re processing a fight, make time to explore the ways in which you actually interact during conflict. Talk about what works, what doesn’t work, and why. Many fights escalate because you have different ways of dealing with conflict, and haven’t found a mutually satisfactory compromise. Figure out ways of fighting that feel okay for both (or all) of you. For example, in conflict, Kestryl’s natural reaction is to go for a solo walk to create space, in order to allow everyone the opportunity to cool down, gather thoughts, and sort through emotions so someone doesn’t say something they don’t mean while tempers are flaring. Conversely, Sassafras–who has been walked out on several past lovers–finds being alone in the house after that door closes immensely difficult…even while knowing that Kestryl will come back. The compromise we came to many years ago is that to create a space for both of us to cool down, Kestryl will go to another room (usually hir office) instead of leaving the house, but that Sassafras has to respect the space and distance that Kestryl has created and not follow and continue the disagreement. This gives us both the opportunity to let go of the immediate fight and take care of what we need, while respecting the other’s needs as well.
Conflict is not fun, but knowing how to deal with it is crucial to any healthy relationship. Staying tuned in to what’s important and what’s worth fighting for in your relationship will go a long way.
In many ways, Kicked Out is a YA book, though on the whole it resists being boxed in and tied to any one genre. ‘Kicked Out’ is the book I desperately wanted when I was a homeless teenager, and so while of course I wanted the book to appeal to all readers, I wanted to specifically make sure I didn’t in anyway alienate teens who might come across the book, beyond that, I wanted it to specifically speak to them. There is a special introduction/dedication ‘to the youth reading this book’ where I said:
“There are lots of people whom I hope will read this book: parents, educators, counselors and more. But the most important readers this book will ever have are you. This book is more for you than anyone else.”
When I say I wanted the book to specifically speak to LGBTQ teens I don’t mean that I wanted to in anyway limit the content to conform to some arbitrary definition of what equals “age appropriate.” Quite the contrary, I wanted it to be real. I know that as a youth my friends and I was an expert at seeing through the bullshit that adults pushed in our face. The last thing I want to do is be the kind of adult that as a teen I saw as phony, condescending, and completely out of touch.
I was particularly troubled by an article I read last week where it was being argued that YA as a genre has become too “dark” full of violence, and abuse and that many of the books within the genre are not appropriate for teen readers. Essentially the author was arguing for censorship under the umbrella of what she calls “parenting.” I was left with deeper concerns. As a youth, the only LGBTQ teen representation that I found was positive, it was parents inviting their daughter’s girlfriend over for dinner, and baking cookies for their son’s GSA at school. It was about as far from my life as I could imagine. I will always remember how acutely painful it was to not be able to find my life reflected in any books. It’s part of why I was so honored that the American Library Association recognized Kicked Out as a top book for LGBTQ youth this year, and why I’m so excited about being part of the NYPL event next weekabout LGBTQ YA books
I was thrilled this weekend to come across Sherman Alexie’s beautiful essay titled ‘Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood’ about the power of bringing reality into the YA genre and responding to the concerns raised in the above mentioned article. In this essay he talks about how books have the power to speak to youth, how he wishes desperately that the books he’d written, and all the others critiqued had been available to him when he needed them. In general, identified incredibly strongly with all that Alexie wrote, but particularly this last paragraph:
“And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.” – Sherman Alexie
Teens don’t live easy lives. The “dark” themes that some think are “inappropriately” featured in some YA books are the reality of what teens have lived lived through, and the world they awake to every day. I remember how desperate I was to see any book that looked anything like my life and how devastated I was to never find it. Youth consistently write me letters come up to me at events to thank me, and talk about how what speaks to them most about ‘Kicked Out’ is the honesty. Again and again people talk about seeing their lives and their community reflected back to them for the first time in these pages. How dare adults try to take that truth away from teen readers.
Who are we without histories? We don’t raise our young, don’t usher them to adulthood. Queerness is a legacy that must be found, uncovered, claimed. I’m always hunting for herstories. Desperate to know where we came from, to see myself, my life, my hand-built family, reflected in the lives of others that came before. I’m always searching for proof that someone has done this, that we are not alone.
This weekend I went to one of my favorite queer places in all of NYC, The Lesbian Herstory Archives. It’s somewhere that I don’t spend nearly enough time (something I hope to oneday change), but one of the places that I’m always so grateful to know exists in the world, and more specifically in my city. I remember visiting the first time years ago when Kestryl and I were just in the beginning stages of planning our move to New York. It was the first time I’d been to Brooklyn, the first time I’d been anywhere dedicated to the preservation of dyke history. I was enthralled. This weekend was the archives annual book sale, an event I somehow manage to miss every year but was determined to catch at least part of this weekend. I’m very interested in queer herstories, the act of remembering, and the importance of preserving whatever glimpses of that past we’re able to come in contact with, and for me books play an important role in that. In these older books I mourn the lesbian feminist presses that are gone, and take great pleasure in the early words of so many authors who have shaped my conception of self, and paved the way for me to tell my stories.
There is something magical for me about walking into the Archives. I’m acutely terrified of death, I’m also profoundly afraid of being forgotten. While the archives do little to curb my death fears, their existence is a profoundly poignant reminder that there are others committed to ensuring we are never forgotten.
I walked away yesterday with five new books: three from the 80’s and two from 1965. These little treasures are currently sitting on my coffee table as I make my way through their stories, both the ones literally printed on the now brittle yellowed pages, but also the ones deeper than the typeset. These are the stories about the time and place where these books were written, and what they have to say about a dyke cultural legacy.
Libraries are super important to me, and I’m so excited that Kicked Out and I will be part of a really fantastic queer teen event organized by the New York Public Library on June 20th!
Boy meets Boy while wandering in the Vast Fields of Ordinary? Kicked Out Tales from the Closet? From Glee to DADT to It Gets Better, what’s hapening in the world of LGBTQ youth? Hear from authors and illustrators as they talk diversity, identity and visibility in the YA book world. For ages 12 and up.
Mulberry Street Library 10 Jersey Street, NYC