Michelle Tea – NOT STRAIGHT


I read the book Angry Women in 1991 or something and was filled with panic – What am I doing trying to go to college, I’ve got to get out of here and start my life! And I did. Poetry open mics and zines, both at the same time, suddenly the culture was all about accessibility, fuck you, anyone can do anything. Since I just dropped out of college this was really good news. The Sex Work anthology was important, it primed me for so much of my life in the 90s. Am I a performer? Sometimes I feel like I failed at something only being a writer. In the 90s everyone was doing one woman shows – Harry Dodge’s Muddy Little River remains one of the best things I’ve ever seen. A total trans male performance-play, before trans male culture was cohesive and strong like it is today. Then Harry and Silas Howard made the movie By Hook or By Crook, which is in the same magical box as Times Square and All Over me for important queer films of the 80s + 90s. Best films ever. Red Dora’s Bearded Lady Cafe, a performance cafe in the 90s where I stayed all day smoking in the back, reading tarot cards, writing, and then there were shows inside at night with the cooking lamps used as spotlights. I would have no life today if not for Red Dora’s. Kris Kovick RIP, prankster, writer, cartoonist, performance curator was a huge help, and so was Luna Sea Performance project who put me in shows so I kept writing. Eileen Myles is the very most important. When I read Chelsea Girls everything fell into place and I finally understood what I was doing and had hope, actual hope, that I could have a life, a queer writers’ life. Cookie Mueller, that your life is, to some important extent, your art. Your life is THE art and the writing is just documentation, like videoing a dance piece. High Risk, Semiotext(e), Black Sparrow. And all the writers writing all around me, we all birthed ourselves from one anothers thighs, full-grown, our lineage right before our eyes – Ali Liebegott, Beth Lisick, Justin Chin, Bucky Sinister, Bambi Lake. Sundays at the Paradise Lounge, Mondays at the Chameleon. The Club Cafe on Valencia, some place up on Haight and then another on Polk Street. Cafe Barbar but that was dead by the time I got here. Junk at the Stud. Nightclubs are my lineage. Baby Judy’s, MuffDive, Club Fuck, Club Jesus, even Bondage a Go Go sure why not, it’s 1993. What is significant about now is that I get to keep piling my lineage, finding new people who I am connected to, past and present, the chain extends forever backwards through time and into the future. You don’t even know who you are a part of – Violette le Duc, Jean Genet, Jan Kerouac, all the fucked up ladies and lady-men and what not. Rhiannon Argo and Myriam Gurba and Ben McCoy are my lineage. It’s significant that I’m 40 and get to have this amazing writers’ life, and I don’t know what will happen next, I have gotten to keep throwing literary parties for almost 20 years, just asking people to come and read something, come and get in the van, come along, and I get to keep doing it and now it’s my job, and everyone gets paid, after years of me living below the poverty level and no one ever getting paid, that is major. I keep thinking oh what do I want to do next and then I try to do it.


I use queer as a way I guess to say NOT STRAIGHT, even though sometimes I feel really straight actually, like when I’m dating a straight guy I feel super straight. I don’t mind it. After being so queer IN YOUR FACE for so long it feels sort of queer to feel sort of straight since the basic vibe is hey man don’t tell me what to do I’ll do whatever I want you think you own me you don’t own me. It’s like Courtney Love with the feminists of Olympia sometimes in my mind. I really get it now. When I listened to that song when I was twentywhatever and pretty much wanted QUEERDYKEFEMINIST tattooed across my face I was like, What’s Courtney’s problem, why won’t she be a feminist with all of us?!?! But I get it now. I don’t want an identity. I’m bored. I know that queer is this country that I come from, or more like a city, like my hometown, Chelsea. Like, I’m always gonna be from Chelsea. I’m always gonna be from queer. But I’m sort of all over the place now. That’s queer though, right? Maybe I’m just sick of the word. I mean I’ve heard it more than any other word, more than my own name, for the past decade. I want a new word, I’m just sick of the tone of it in my ear is all.

So I think I don’t care about queer and I push the limits of say Sister Spit, a queer performance tour, and then I bring someone who is not queer and I’m like, whoaaaaaaaa, okay, Sister Spit really is queer, we got to keep it queer, queer is real, I have a queer sensibility. I like to mess with it, mess with my own head, but at the end of the day, voila. I think about it in dating, queer is what fucks me up. I can’t ever probably have a relationship with a straight guy because I’m so queer, right? I’ve got certain expectations. Sexual expectations. Intellectual too, and cultural. But why do all queers seem like 22 years old? I’m 40, that’s not going to work for me. I know there are older queers too but mostly they live far away from me or else never leave their homes or else have stopped paying attention to fashion, i.e. life. Queer is a way to organize my sexual desires. Which are confounding. That’s how it manifests immediately, or when I am out on the road with Sister Spit it’s important again because it’s charged, shit is hard places, people need queers and queer artists. But then I think, can’t we all just be part of the world together? Can’t we all just get along? Queer is ambivalent. Don’t make me choose anything ever. I’ll go along with it being important but I’m doing itfor the kids, because I remember what it was like, how it was important which means it is important, just not to me. But I’ll fake it. I’ll fake it for the greater good.

I’m paying attention to Trinie Dalton, Miguel Gutierrez, Zackary Drucker, Ben McCoy, Mica Sigourney, Taylor Mac, Amos Mac, Rocco Kayiatos, Chris Vargas and Greg Youman, Erin Markey, Beth Ditto, Nathan Howdeshell, Tara Jepsen and Beth Lisisk, Nicole J Georges, Ali Liebegott, Kirk Read, Philip Huang, Zara Thustra, Justin Vivian Bond, Rhiannon Argo, Kat Marie Yoas, Kim Kelly and Dylan Mira, Dori Midnight, Laura Arrington and Jesse Hewett.

Best 10 moments of queer performance in the last year are…   (and why)

Erin Markey in Tenessee Williams’ Green Eyes in a hotel room in New York City. Because the play was staged in a hotel room, and the audience only had like 8 people in it and it was intense and violent and charged. And Erin Markey is just wild to watch, she is possessed. Possessed!

Ali Liebegott at RADAR’s Old School at the San Francisco Public Library. A poem that evolves into a manifesto, a manifesto against obscurity, the obscurity of a poet in particular, of a lesbian poet in most particular-particular, a piece where you feel the rage like a gush of fire from the wound of the poet’s big, soft heart, you feel the yearning, the nobility of the pissed-offedness, the importance of the love for the girlfriend, the love of the dog that dies and if that is not enough, when we know so much bullshit about so many assholes in this and every culture – Ali grabs it for us, us underdogs and queers. I was queer in that moment of hearing Ali.

Miguel Gutierrez, Heavens What Have I Done,  I saw this in NYC but he’s bringing it to SF in July, don’t miss it! Miguel is my #1 favorite performer. I know he’s a dancer but he’s also, what, a writer a comedian a confessional poet a seer a witch a singer a buddha. He just has that warm open heart that is all full of whateverand humor, I could listen to him putter around a stage putting together equipment and just you know shooting the shit. Also, Miguel Gutierrez and friend doing this piece at the Pussyfaggot show at The Delancy – is that what it’s called? They were conjoined twins in glitter and shit in the same tshirt screaming about what dancing is or is not, it was breathtaking.

You Will Never Be A Woman…, a video by Zackary Drucker that I saw on her web site. It is so smart and wrenching and tender and violent and scary and brave. I really love her. Also, watching Amos Mac present his portraits of Zackary from their upcoming collaboration, Translady Fanzine, every single night for 34 days on the 2011 Sister Spit tour. Never got old. She is magnetic, you just want to keep watching her, and Amos’s photos are gorgeous.

Taylor Mac‘s The Walk Across America for Mother Earth. I saw this at La Mama in NYC. It was so great and inspiring and I related to the sort of ennui burnout that comes from thinking you’re going to change the world and then you realize A you’re not and B you are also engaged in all this activism for selfish reasons. All that and NO CYNICISM because it is impossible for Taylor Mac to be cynical. I also could listen to his little voice for-ev-ah.

Kirk Read interpreting a piece from Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit at the RADAR Reading Series. Yeah, the one where he shit in a tupperware container and then used it to write the word ONE on an easel with his hand, while named and listening to Yoko, of course. Wowweeee. That was amazing. I get jaded fast if I think someone is trying to be shocking, don’t try to shock me, it’s insulting to my intelligence and yours and it’s boring also. It’s so presumptuous, trying to shock an audience. This was not that. This was Kirk being totally Aquarian as is Yoko, in that spirit of humanity, finding the common denominator and finding it beautiful our shit, we are one. It was really very moving. I felt so proud that piece happened at something I organized. It was magical.

Hamilton Morris riffing on aphrodisiacs in the Big Idea room at YBCA’s Valen-Tiny party. I helped curate that and was dying to have Hamilton in something ever since seeing his online tv show, Hamilton’s Pharmacopea, on VBS. He’s sort of uber-qiet and asbergersy until you get him talking about chemicals (he’s a chemist, altered states of consciousness are his specialty) and then he’s like David Bowie or something. It was really great.

Dori Midnight at Sister Spit’s show at UMass/Amhert in Amherst, Massachusetts. Dori is a queer witch and she worked queer magic on us, she reconnected us all to our queerness and the bigger, mysterious meanings of being so, she led us on a visionquest to find our lineage, our queer lineage, and we went into the dreamspace and met our queer mentor, our queer guardian angel. Mine looked an awful lot like Dave End, especially in her Lily’ Revenge getup.

Phoebe Gloeckner at Sister Spit’s show at the Aut Bar in Ann Arbor, Michigan. No one came to our show but three girls and Phoebe Gloeckner, who hadn’t realized she was performing with us til that day and came late after picking up and dropping off her kids and she showed us this work in progress she’s doing, she’s been going to Mexico and staying with the family of a woman who had been murdered in Juarez, an she is making these creepy dolls and photographing them and doing shit with photoshop and it is the creepiest stuff I’ve ever seen, just breathtaking, beautiful and baffling cause you don’t exactly know what you’re looking at. And through it all in this rambling, self-deprecating way she is talking about her work and her life and how much she hates teaching (yes!) and being an artist. And being at the end of our tour, wiped out at a show no one really came to, she was like an angel, like she floated down from weirdo art heaven to be like, yes, this is weird, here we all are together, doing our shit. If you don’t know Phoebe read her book Diary of a Teenage Girl. You’re welcome.

Marta, who lives in Warsaw, Poland, but goes to school somewhere in London. I was in Warsaw teaching writing workshops to queers and feminists (it is important to be queer in Poland) and because the bar we were supposed to have our final meeting in were a bunch of assholes we just moved it into an apartment, and Marta, who is so cheery for a Polish person and really seems British because she speaks in a British accent and wears trench coats, she was wearing a sheer slip dress and put glitter all over herself and did this stream of consciousness monologue in the Polish kitchen with a busted record player playing a warped Elvis record. It was really, really special.

Justin Viviane Bond at Joe’s Pub in NYC. I have this beautiful memory of being new to San Francisco and walking down 16th Street past Paula’s Clubhouse which is where Kilowatt is now but then it was queer, and it was warm and the doors were flung open and there was Justin as Kiki singing and gesturing and it was such a special strange queer urban moment and I was like, my life is the coolest. I was so broke I didn’t have money to go in but I peeked in. And then when V moved to NYC I would see V popping up in like Interview Magazine, and heard that V played Madonna’s birthday party, and so V became this sort of symbol of trusting life and trusting your art to bring you into a larger world. I really love Justin and seeing V at Joe’s Pub was amazing – V is such a great performer, so real, so political and also personal and hilarious and when V sang In the End from Shortbus I got chills and almost started crying because that song makes me really amotional but I am on anti-emotional medication so I kept it together but really was all welled up with love.


Michelle Tea is a writer and literary performance curator.

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