Sister Spit: The Next Generation


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It was 1997, and post-feminist lesbian punk was at it's peak. It was a DIY decade and Michelle Tea was loading up what was to be called "The Van" with eleven other lesbian feminists for an ambitious 33-day tour across America to deliver spoken word to the nation at large. There was a lot of questions; would they get people to come to the shows, do people want to hear poetry, would they get eggs thrown at them and be run out of the town on rails?

In those early days of Sister Spit, the tour had to overcome many obstacles. Largely, no one knew who they were. They played to straight crowds, mixed dyke and straight audiences and in many towns had to rely on—what Tea would call in the online logbook of the adventure—“The Lesbian and Fag Nation” for a place to sleep, something to eat and learning as they went, both the practicalities of  the road and the not so obvious practicalities, as in the case of staying the night with Annie Sprinkle, “Annie taught Ali (Liebegott) a new boob trick, how to light a match off of her nipples.”

The tour was a resounding success, people not only showed up to see them, in some cases they showed up in droves. Droves of dykes that were hungry, not only for poetry, but to see their faces reflected back from people that looked, and sounded, like themselves. So successful, in fact, that Tea has recreated the tour in several reincarnations over the years since, with a ever changing line-up.

Now, it's 2010 and Sister Spit: The Next Generation is embarking upon another spoken word fest. A lot has changed since 1997 in our community. The lesbian punk era, has given way to national talk about legalizing gay marriage, ENDA, and transgender issues. We as a community are a larger visible presence on the national scene, and it's easy to dismiss something like Sister Spit as nostalgia, or as something we have grown out of as a movement. That would be a mistake. In fact, I would venture, it's necessary as we embark upon national acceptance to chronicle the uniqueness of our queer lives. The Sister Spit tour does a admirable job of doing just that.

In the case of new Sister Spit performer Elisha Lim (who prefers male pronouns, but doesn't identify as trans, he calls himself a 'dandy butch') it's his first time touring the U.S. ”One thing I didn't expect is how incredibly different queer looks and one thing I've been moved by is the same welcome and same reception in every city.  No matter where we've been people have been remarkably kind.” Lim is performing from his book, due out in 2011, 100 Butches a collection of drawings and stories, “that is not entirely about butches,” but the top one hundred of  what he calls “his type.”

For Silas Howard, a transgendered activist, a former member of seminal lesbian punk band Tribe 8, and an award-winning director, actor and writer this is his second time with the Sister Spit tour, the first being in 1998. At the Portland,Oregon show Michelle Tea called Howard's film, the 2002 film By Hook or By Crook, “One of the most important queer movies ever made.” The first time he toured with Sister Spit in was 1998, and he feels like there are differences in the 2010 tour. “There's a huge difference in organization and it's a more grown-up tour this time around”. He felt compelled to tour again with Sister Spit because “I feel like, it's not full circle, but it is in a way. I moved to L.A. and entered a whole new phase in my life where I was learning about filmmaking and moved away from owning my Cafe and living in San Fransisco. I realized that both parts can come together and exist simultaneously. The tour is bringing those two parts together for me”

Attending the packed Portland, Ore. show at Mississippi Studios, I was overwhelmed by the positive intensity of both the audience and the performers. To say moments of the show were transcendent seems a bit hyperbolic, but it's also apt. For example, Lenelle Moïse, the Poet Laureate of Northampton, MA, joining 'The Van' for the first time, is a Haitian-American poet, playwright, and actor who's remarkable performance ability whipped up the crowd to almost a religious fervor. Moise had the audience in the palm of her hand, expertly rendering her poem, using both her resonant voice and expressive body, while the audience chanted the line: "A girl like a white light, converted me faithful to the good church of queers."

Yes, consider me one of the converted.

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