Hi crush monsters, this is Straddler On The Street, a feature where I celebrate all of you incredible Autostraddle readers by hunting you down, demanding you chat with me, and then writing about you on the Internet so we can all crush on you. Get excited, because butterflies in your stomach 24/7 is a fantastic way to live.
Header by Rory Midhani
Straddler On The Street: Blake, 27
feature image by Katherine Hopkins Photography
Blake and I have been trying to schedule an interview since December, and we’ve had to reschedule approximately five times, all of which were completely my fault. But we finally got a chance to chat last week, and it was well worth the wait! Blake hails from Vancouver Island, off the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, and identifies as “a queer butch dyke gardener, foodie, poet, and aspiring astronomer.” Our conversation forced me to stop, take a deep breath, and contemplate the sky, which is no small accomplishment — I’m so used to running on “New York Time” that it was a relief to have someone remind me how good it can feel to slow down for five minutes.
I feel like I learned so much from Blake, and I know our conversation only scratched the surface. I encourage you all to check out her tumblr and her poetry on CBC Radio 3…but read this interview first, obviously. It’s worth it, I promise.
Can you tell me what living in Vancouver is like? In my dreams it’s perfect.
Vancouver Island is a large island about a one and a half hour ferry ride – think a boat the size of a small cruise ship — from the city of Vancouver. It’s beautiful here. The ocean is never more than a short trip away, and the West Coast definitely has a specific culture. From my point of view, there is a huge art and culinary scene on South Vancouver Island. The queer community is quite populous and reasonably spread out. Artisan brew pubs are abundant, and we have so many music festivals I usually can’t keep up. Tegan and Sara perform in Victoria regularly and a few people I know have run into them! Another thing is that people on South Vancouver Island and the other islands – there are several nearby – are pretty laid back and move at a slower pace. Social events tend to revolve around making things or seeing things or learning things.
Speaking of the culinary scene, you said you’ve been teaching yourself about food.
Oh, food! I love food. I’ve been, through the past many years, attempting to learn to cook as well as I can without going to culinary school. I read a lot of culinary textbooks. I am really interested in the science behind flavor and texture.
Since you are such a foodie, do you have restaurant recommendations in your area?
Yes I do! Ferris’ Grill, Jam, and Mo:Lé. All of them are flavour explosions with huge menus, and offer vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options, no questions asked.
You’ve done a lot of work as a facilitator. Can you tell me how you got involved in that and what was most meaningful about that job?
That was an amazing time period in my life. I started working for a large national corporation part-time in an administrative capacity, [and they] had a commitment to supporting diversity, which was why I had applied. However, I was surprised how little knowledge about LGBTQ persons was available and thus how problematic workplace interactions sometimes were.
I ended up speaking to a VP about it from the standpoint of supporting LGBTQ clients and colleagues and upholding their diversity mandate. The response I was given was basically, “I love your ideas, but we have no idea how to make this happen. Do you want to represent LGBTQ diversity initiatives for us?” What that turned into was me starting a company-mandated education campaign.
I wrote material and facilitated a lengthy series of workshops. Also, myself and some others worked on repairing an outdated company policy that was causing problems for trans* persons. The workshops were essentially, “Check Your Privilege 101,” “Respecting Trans* Persons 101,” “How To Be Inclusive,” and “What To Say And What Not To Say.” It was really humbling because I had to be very aware of my own privilege. It was a huge responsibility and I invited a lot of feedback and contributions, especially from other LGBTQ persons, specifically POC, because I’m white.
Wait, that’s AMAZING. You basically spearheaded a diversity initiative in the company?!
The best part of the job was that I could be 100% real, all the time. I was getting up in front of these people and talking about pronouns and the meanings and history of the word “queer.” Saying “dyke” in front of a room of 150 people in power suits is definitely an unforgettable experience.
Damn! Are you still with that company doing that work?
No, I’m not with them any more… I’m a full-time student now!
Well wow, I’m so impressed, for serious. And that is the perfect interlude, because I wanna talk about your studies! What are you studying?
I am having a hard time deciding what degree I want to end up with! I just love everything so much. I have too many interests. I’m pursuing an English degree, but I’m also avidly studying astronomy, too. Words and the sky are some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever known.
What draws you to the sky?
I think that the universe is just magical. The more I learn, the more fascinated I am with every little thing. “Did you know that Saturn is less dense than water, and so if we had a bathtub big enough to hold it, it would float? And just like this, I will always find a space big enough to hold me so I will not sink.”
Did you write that?
Yes, that’s a quote from a poem I wrote. I think the thing that I find most striking about the sky is how it is always there, above us, doing amazing things, but most people never really look up. Most people probably can’t name 10 stars, or tell you about how phenomenal Jupiter’s Moons are, or even note what a large impact our Moon, Luna, has on everybody’s lives. The sky is so beautiful, so faithful, all around us every day, but people don’t notice it. It’s poetic, isn’t it?
Okay one, I love that bit from your poem and two, you are making me feel like I need to pay more attention to the sky! Here in NYC it’s pretty tough to spot the stars.
I woke up at 3am last night briefly, and I didn’t look at a clock. I knew it was approximately 3am because of the phase of the moon and where it was in relation to my West-facing window. I would feel so sad in NYC without seeing the stars!
Ha, it is kind of sad. Let’s talk poetry – you write it. Why?
Oh I love that question, it’s so big. I write poetry because I think in poetry. I write all kinds of things. I prefer spoken word because it feels most right to me. I take a lot of notice of the details in my life. Sometimes things that happen or things I hear jump out at me and sound like a poem waiting to be written. Kade’s article, “25 Things I Do To Make My Body Dysphoria Smaller and Quieter” was so poetic to me, and I wrote a poem, “Envelopes,” which started out by specific parts of that article that spoke to me. Kade is such a compelling writer. I also wrote a poem based on Carmen’s article “You Don’t Have to Come Out on Thanksgiving.”
That’s so awesome! I am listening to “Envelopes” right now by the way. You have such a wonderful speaking voice.
Oh, thank you so much. I think that’s a beautiful compliment.
It is very true. Now my favorite silly question: Do you have any celeb crushes?
Haha, yes! Who doesn’t!
Sometimes people say no!
Well, my crushes are about respect. Andrea Gibson for being a brave and unapologetically authentic activist and poet. Also, Magpie Ulysses for making my chest burst open every time she speaks. And Tegan and Sara for bringing me the song that would end up inspiring me to live my life with truth.
Okay you can’t just say that and then not tell me which Tegan and Sara song you’re talking about.
During “Burn Your Life Down” quite a few years ago at the Orpheum concert hall in Vancouver, I sat in the ninth row crying and decided to live a beautiful life from that moment forward. Nothing but goodness and truth and beauty. I can’t believe how many phenomenal adventures I’ve had since then.
Wow. And on that note, do you have anything else you’d like to say to the Autostraddle community?
Yes! Remain positive. Assume the best of others. Always say ‘yes’ to gorgeous adventures. If someone told you that in ten years your life would be exactly the same as it is now, and you would feel sad about that — do the best you can to change it now. Be kind. And grow fresh herbs.
If you would like to be featured as a future Straddler on the Street, please email vanessa [at] autostraddle [dot] com. Include a few photos, 3-5 sentences about yourself and put “Straddler Submission” in your subject line. Approximately a million people have submitted so far, so please be patient as Vanessa goes through her inbox — you’re all sexy with really smart brains, and don’t you forget it!