Traveling the Country with My Queer, Feminist Roadshow Family
"As soon as I stepped onstage at my first Sister Spit show, I felt my spirit open up to receive the sea of queer faces smiling, nodding, snapping their fingers."
All photos courtesy of the author.
There’s sweat, gold glitter, and sequins on every inch of my body. Right before I go onstage the other performers and I take a shot of tequila in the bathroom; our good luck ritual. Peaches’ “Fuck the Pain Away” reverberates through the auditorium. The queer kids are here, packing the space with Doc Martens, patchouli, zines. There are a ton of them; mostly dykes, mostly femmes. Some smile shyly at us from their seats; some approach us with shaved heads, pierced noses, asking, “Where did you get that glitter man?! It looks siiiick.” Like at every show, I’m both excited and nervous as hell. Like at every show, the rush of adrenaline at seeing so many queer faces packed in one single space leaves me speechless.
I grew up in Bogotá, in a Catholic niñas-only school wearing a hideous orange uniform below the knee, no makeup, hair tightened in a bun, et cetera. I prayed to Jesús every day, followed the nuns to the chapel on Fridays. There were no queer people in my world. No real sisterhood. Nadita, nada. There was a compulsory push for respectability, homogeneity, fear of everything, female coyness—you know—all the components for drowning in a sea of boredom, self-hate, and death of soul. I wanted above everything to be an artist, to be free, to wear glitter and rage into a microphone. Thirteen years later, I finally did.
That was in 2016, after I left Colombia, when I went on my first Sister Spit tour. Sister Spit began in San Francisco in the early 1990s, when writers Michelle Tea and Sini Anderson said, fuck this shit, and created a weekly girls-only open mic at a time when misogyny-fueled dude poetry permeated the literary scene of the city, and of the nation. This open mic eventually evolved into the first-ever all-girl poetry roadshow. Read: a bunch of broke dyke poets sent press releases, bought a van, and showed up in your town.
As soon as I stepped onstage at my first Sister Spit show, I felt my spirit open up to receive the sea of queer faces smiling, nodding, snapping their fingers. A moment of intense recognition as I told a story in Spanglish about coming out in a Christian family. Sister Spit is here for storytelling in the form of yelling at your face; in the form of whispering in your ear; in the form of drag and queer sex and feminism and femme magic and fuck-your-white-supremacy. Celebrating its 21st anniversary this year, Sister Spit 2018: QTPOC Cruising the West, kicked off on March 2 with seven queer artists packed in a black van. We’ll travel more than 3,000 miles to deliver the stories that are so often made invisible by white cis hetero structures of power. For two weeks, we exist as one dysfunctional queer family traversing the American countryside with our subversive glam, our books, our queer narratives and hearts.
Sister Spit has featured more than 50 writers such as Eileen Myles, Beth Lisick, and Nomy Lamm, and traveled to places like Mississippi, New Orleans, Athens, and Tucson. The group performed at festivals, dive bars, bookstores, warehouses, your grandmother’s basement; punk queer kids bringing poetry and performance art to remote places. They went to desert towns where people who didn’t have access to any queer culture traveled for miles to see their lives reflected on stage, to witness their own fears, anger, and rage mirrored back at them. This was in the late 90s—there were no iPhones, no GPS, no Instagram; just a bunch of queers in a broken van with handwritten directions in search for other homos. The Boston Phoenix once described Sister Spit as “the coolest (and cutest) line-up of talented, tattooed, pierced, and purple-pigtailed performance artists the Bay Area has to offer.”
Eventually it disbanded, but in 2007 was revived as Sister Spit: The Next Generation, and has toured the United States annually since, with authors and performers such as Chinaka Hodge, Dorothy Allison, Lenelle Moise, and Justin Vivian Bond. I came on as Creative Director of Radar Productions, the arts organization that hosts Sister Spit, in 2015, and have been lucky enough to be a permanent fixture organizing the tour each year. In this next incarnation, out of respect to the changing gender landscape of our queer and literary communities, Sister Spit welcomes artists of all genders, so long as they mesh with the groups historic vibe of feminism, queerness, humor, and provocation.
By traveling with seven queer and trans artists of color, Sister Spit not only interrupts the way we think about travel stories and public space, but also reframes family, sisterhood, and queerness.
We are still the queer dysfunctional family you dream about. We disrupt on-the-road narratives, historically written by cis white men for cis white men (think Jack Kerouac), by reclaiming the countryside, highways, and gas stations. The road has been normalized as a safe haven for white cis men to explore; women, trans, and nonbinary people rarely get to move freely. Our road stories usually end tragically (She’s dead! She’s kidnapped!) or are accompanied by a straight white man at the wheel (My man will keep the danger away!). The countryside is said to be no space for us. By traveling with seven queer and trans artists of color, Sister Spit not only interrupts the way we think about travel stories and public space, but also reframes family, sisterhood, and queerness. The van is our home.
We witness the beauty of the country through a queer lens; the mountains, rivers, the moon, and the stars all become part of our moving world. We photobomb the countryside with our slang, our glittery heels. The tenderness of our hearts, the rage we carry inside is woven into the highways. We queer the road by reclaiming it, by stopping at a gas station in the middle of Oregon, and when all the white men turn to look we just flap those eyelashes. We share beds and food. We tell each other fucked up stories from our childhood. We build a genuine intimacy based on shared respect and love for one another. And as each one of us walks up to the stage, as we anxiously begin to speak into the microphone, we know there’s a family in the audience waiting to scream, “You go girl,” cheering us on.