What Are You Going To Do With That Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies Degree?

I wrote & performed a poem called “What I’m Going To Do With My Women* Studies Degree” at the Gender, Women, Sexuality Studies graduation in 2004.

Ever since I saw it, I’ve been thinking of this tweet. Things are changing so, so much. I’m so grateful.

One of my favorite parts of the poem? “People ask me — ‘what are you going to do with that degree? Go work at the women studies factory?'”

(That poem is called Every Single Day on my 2004 spoken word poetry album, For the Record.)

When I took my first feminist theory class, at Seattle Central Community College in 2000 (wish I remembered the professor’s name to give credit), I had such a lightbulb moment that I felt bowled over. Oh. I’m a women studies major. Right. I forgot. Well, it’s not that I forgot, it’s that I had never thought that thought before, but now that I had, I knew completely that it was correct.

I needed that degree because I needed to understand the suffering I had related to my nonbinary (though we weren’t using that word then) gender and my queerness, and I came out of it with a bigger understanding of other intersectional identities like my artist/semi-working class background and my whiteness. That degree was survival, was key for me to be able to be an adult in the world and not be completely shut down by my experiences as a person with marginalized identities.

I was also a Creative Writing/English major, and my tentative plan was to work in book publishing. I figured I’d be writing eloquent emails and identifying the sexism in the workplace, and that’s what I’d be doing with it.

I used to feel some envy — or even jealousy — when other people would write eloquently about intersectional oppression, because I wanted so badly to do that. but jealousy is often the best teacher, because I doubled down and studied and wrote and wove my experience in with all the things I was learning. Sometimes I say Sugarbutch is my graduate degree, only partly in jest.

I never expected to have the tiny platform (very well known in very few places) that I have, talking about sexuality, gender, kink, and relationships. so much of what I know comes from that degree, and from the queer education my first queer roommate led me through when I was 20, 21, 22.

So I saw this tweet the other day and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It stopped me and I had to pause my scrolling and let it settle in.

Things are changing so, so much. I’m so grateful.

Seeing so many people picking up this conversation and doing so much work, in such huge ways … instead of feeling jealousy, I just feel relief.

Relief that the racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, heterosexism, cissexism, is being called out from within tiny communities to a national level. Not everywhere, I know, and I’m in a self-selected bubble on the internet just like I’m in a self-selected bubble in the liberal cities I’ve lived in all my adult life. But because of the internet, and advancing technology, and because of the marginalization and terror we are feeling so hard due to this presidency, it is happening in such larger ways.

And I’m feeling this slow ungripping, this letting go, this holding on to it softer. I’m still so invested, and I still get in there and get my hands and face and feet and whole self dirty sometimes, but I don’t feel obligated the way I did before.

Still, often, I feel like there is so much to do and so little has changed. But when I pull back a little, there are such significant differences even in my lifetime.

I’m so grateful for the strides.

And thank you, Earth, first for teaching me so much, and now for continuing to catch up.

*The degree at University of Washington Seattle at the time was called Women Studies, definitively with no apostrophe-s, because it was studies about women, not studies that women do. It’s now changed to Gender, Women, Sexuality Studies, which they abbreviate to GWSS and pronounce g-whiz. (Love it!) As a student, my class petitioned the department to change the name and expand to gender and sexuality, even to use the word ‘queer.’ This is one of the oldest Women Studies programs in the country, however; started in the early 80s (I think), and the first batch of professors were just then starting to retire. They said, you have no idea how hard we fought to use the word women, to convince the university that women studies is legit. I learned a lot from those conversations, and while I’m glad they changed the name, I respect the roots and think it’s important to name the lineage it comes from. Much love to the professors there who changed my life.

She Is There In the Bed

The world is tumbling down around you. The bedroom is full of boxes: papers from college and writing classes, the books you are still going to keep after selling ten boxes to the local used bookstore, the winter clothes you won’t need maybe ever since you are moving to California, the sex toys you aren’t using, the love letters you almost didn’t pack but decided you couldn’t throw such artifacts away yet, they would have to be properly disposed of, like burned in a ritual and ashes tossed into a clear lake. The boxes surround two sides of the bed, tucked between the bed and the wall, and there is only one side left open. The boxes are the shared apartment, shared life, shared love being packed away.

Separated.

Giving themselves back to themselves.

Every morning, she is there in the bed. You wake up and greet the return of the sun with relief, and then remember the destruction of your life, not yet able to lean on the building of the new life. But she is there in the bed. She is curled next to your belly or behind your knees, a little black and white cat not so little anymore, sometimes sleeping tucked under the covers when it’s cold, sometimes her head on the pillow. She makes eye contact, purring. She knows something already, knows the hurting that pours off of you, and she catches it. She puts her paws on you. She closes her eyes slowly and it’s a nod, it’s a greeting, it’s acknowledgement. You hold her. She fits in your curled up body. You pet her. She soothes your nervous system, already activated, already high alert with the tenth breath of the morning.

When this ends, she will still be there, with the white patches of fur on her neck and chest that are softer than the black, with her four pink toes and one black toe, with her relentless swarming when you are trying to cry and concentrate and clean and create and crash because she’s hungry.

You have forgotten to eat, so she reminds you.

She curls in your lap just as you were about to get up, but knows you don’t need to fuss now, you don’t need to fidget more, you just need to calm. She allows your full body caresses in order to give you her vibration. They say that the 20 to 140 hertz vibrations of a cat’s purring can heal stress, infection, swelling, high blood pressure, broken bones. And because it is the law that you cannot disturb a sleeping cat, you must just sit still, next to all the books you’ve packed but reading none of them, as your shoulders drop just half an inch.

instructions on not giving up

the water from this storm pools in the streets
all those places the concrete
the asphalt
sinks and sags, so many cars
so many feet

the drops are so fat your shoulders
are up by your ears
protecting your neck
(you forgot your favorite
red and grey scarf
that usually keeps the shaved back of your head
protected)

you forgot other things too

like the lust in your eyes
like snapping your gaze to attention
when you see their ass
in those jeans
like the way fussili
with fresh garlic and white sauce
should not be expected
even once more
like the way peach juice drips
down their chin
like the bloom and blush
of their lust

the water runs in the sluice between street
and sidewalk
the wet sycamore, maple, ginkgo, gum tree leaves
mash together into that color of brown
that paint turns
when all the colors combine
and they block the storm drain

no movement
no release
just pooling

but you have boots

they’re even waterproof

you can drag your toe
through the muck
until the barrack of leaves bursts
the water flows brown,
flows clear

Liquid Smoke

Liquid Smoke
or, Dad’s favorite foods to make and eat

slicing apples with a knife on the couch
spiraling the peel

tuna rice
turkey burgers on the grill
pickled garlic cloves right from the jar

halibut and chips out the road
at that tiny diner behind the auto shop
that nobody knows is there

jojo potatoes and chimichangas at foodland’s deli
popcorn and the veggie lover’s supreme pizza at bullwinkle’s

all you can eat chinese buffets,
especially the spring rolls and general tso’s chicken

grandma joan’s zucchini bread
his signature lemon bars
coffee with irish cream
mike’s hard lemonade

chocolate cake
the gluten-free dairy-free kind
and the glutenous dairy-full kind

baked brie with crackers
baked halibut with yogurt dill sauce
cheese and refried bean dip
clam chowder, especially ivar’s in seattle

lead balloon soup
a carrot/potato/onion kitchen soup kind of thing
that he says ‘goes over like a lead balloon’

nathan’s hot dogs in new york city
on his ‘must do’ list the one time he visited me

his signature chili
with liquid smoke as the secret ingredient
on family dinner sunday

Treehouse Poem

soundtrack for this poem

Once upon a time there was a boy who lived in sunny states like California and Texas and his beating heart of leather and gold, so big he had to be a lover with dimples and a dog. He liked berries heavy and ripe on the vine in the spring, bursting juice in his mouth. He liked to remember the shape of faces, hands, with his pen. He liked to feel the edges of his body thrown up against something solid.

Meanwhile, there was a poet who lived in northern states of Alaska and New York and their pine treehouse of aching fists. They were bursting open with gift and overspilling with a fountain of voice. They liked bergamot and the boy’s skin and tall mountains and sandwiches and smooth flat beach stones and getting fucked by the planet.

Their gravity together is undeniable. They make fingerpaintings of their inner visions on each other’s insoles, on each other’s tongues. They try on their places, their callings, in the haven of hotel room walls. Their pulses become synched.

On days in the north like this where the birds are flocking and the sky is clear, on days where the boy’s car is clean and ready for the yellow dotted line and return, there is little more than a single pane of glass between them. An arbitrary distance of separation, because the moonbeam pulled like taffy stretched between their chests keeps them imperceptibly drawn to the other’s orbital motion. The string between them keeps them ready to snap like rubber bands, ready to pounce like predators, ready to take their leather and gold hearts and suspend them on a chain to hang from the ceiling of their treehouse. They pull the ladder up and take it apart to use the rope, but put it back together anytime they needed kale or whiskey or tacos. Their bed is scraps of paper and scattered recordings of bliss and scars.

Happily ever after is many, many moments, strung together in lines of text and pressed leaves and sketches, and worn like a crown.

The New Album By Lindsay Fuller, “You, Anniversary”

I caught Lindsay Fuller playing with Amy Ray a few weeks ago at Housing Works in New York City, and they are both on tour now supporting Amy’s newest solo album Lung of Love and Lindsay’s album You, Anniversary which comes out today.

Ever since seeing her in concert I have been eagerly awaiting this album, especially so I could hear the title track again, which is based on a WS Merwin poem “For the Anniversary of My Death. The idea is that every year, we pass the date of our death, but we won’t know what day that is. Her chorus repeats, “Ohh, when’s it gonna be.”

Speaking of her voice, I really love it. She sings on four tracks on Amy’s new album, but I’ll admit I’ve been listening more to Lindsay’s back catalogue than to Amy’s newest. She’s got this great low southern croon, and she was so sweet and fantastic on stage. She had a few other songs that she gave us the backstory to, based on I already pre-ordered You, Anniversary on Amazon and it’s only $5.99 for the mp3 download, and out today. I also found it streaming on soundcloud if the title track above didn’t already convince you.