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: Lex, 26
Lex and I connected after the Queerituality panel at the most recent A-Camp in October, and from the second we started speaking I could tell she was a person I wanted to know. She had a calming spirit and a peaceful demeanor, and then I learned that she’s also an artist, an ambitious freelancer, and a traveler and student of the world. Suffice it to say, I was hooked – I needed to interview Lex for this column.
Lucky for me, Lex and I connected when we got home from camp, and we had a lengthy discussion, part of which I will share with you now. Lex makes her home in Philadelphia, just celebrated her 26th birthday, and is a completely lovely human being. Check out Lex’s website to see her incredible work at lexgstein.com.
What do you get up to these days?
I’m on a major self-love extravaganza journey, which is the front and center of my life right now. I started my level one Reiki training recently, I just moved into a new home with perfect housemates, I cook and cook, write and draw, love my friends and family, flirt, play top 40 songs on my ukulele, and for money and love I create websites and documentaries for people and projects that I’m completely proud of. A lot of things!
I’d love to talk about Reiki training, mostly because I know nothing about it. How did you come to it?
Reiki is amazing. In 2008, I was diagnosed with melanoma and had successful but scary surgery on my left thigh. A year after the surgery it felt like there was an electrical socket where my scar was – there was just so much energy, maybe it was the nerves reconnecting, but it was all I could think about. I was managing an internship program for The Attic Youth Center (LGBTQ youth center) and one of the job placements was at this dreamy place called The Reiki School + Clinic. I went there to set up the internship and the moment I arrived I knew that I needed a treatment. So all summer I got treatments and had “releases” and could feel all of this healing in different parts of my body, including my electrical socket scar. [Then] I experience[d] a serious depression this past year. I really lost sight of my true passions and personal journey. This past spring and summer I went through a really extended break-up experience with my partner of almost three years. It was agonizing. When I thought about what I could sign up for to get some structure and meaning in my life it was so clear: Reiki. I went to the school’s website and a level 1 class was starting 2 weeks later. I signed up. I am completely changed.
Wow. This might sound silly, but what exactly is Reiki?
Reiki is a Japanese healing practice. You can practice Reiki on yourself or on someone else. It’s a series of 24 – give or take – hand positions from the head down to the feet. Usually a session lasts for about an hour, though you can do spot treatments on different parts of your body whenever. I’m always giving myself treatments these days when I’m driving or people are talking to me or I’m watching internet TV. It feels so good. The idea is that there is Universal Energy and we are all one way vessels for that energy. When I place my hands on my body or on someone else’s body, the energy is coming through me into my hands and offers / holds space for the body to heal. Our bodies are so very smart, sometimes they just need space, time, intention to do their healing, sorting, releasing work. For some people Reiki is a spiritual practice, for some people it is exclusively a wellness healing practice.
That’s fascinating; I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it. So you are on your level one training. What comes next?
Well in my school – my lineage of practitioners – there are four levels. If I go through all four levels I get to be called a Reiki Master, which sounds great, doesn’t it? Besides sounding great, which is really not the important part, I am quite excited to learn more and more about this practice that has been so healing for me.
I’m so happy for you that you found such a meaningful practice.
Gosh, me too. You and I first connected at the Queerituality panel at Camp 4.0. My spirituality, which has taken cues from Judaism, Buddhism, and nature-based intuition, has been so positively impacted by my experience with Reiki.
I’m going to take this cue to ask about your spirituality. Is that okay?
Sure! My family is, was culturally Jewish. It’s our heritage, not so much our spirituality.
There is this murky time over the past ten years where I haven’t been super engaged in religious or spiritual practice tied to Judaism. I got really into a yoga practice in college and my best friend sister person, Kate Poole, was a religion major at her school and was learning more and more about Buddhism. Whatever Kate is learning about in life, I learn about in life… Kate got really into astrology this year so as a result I’ve been paying more attention to the lunar cycles lately, and that has been a touchstone for Judaism, because the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar.
Right before the high holidays this year Kate suggested that we make our own service book. We looked to what we learned in Hebrew School as kids and gave ourselves permission to let go of anything that that did not resonate with our current life views, politics, and interests. We researched the mystical woo-woo parts of Judaism that have existed for thousands of years, but that don’t often surface these days when folks learn about religion. We gathered readings from radical queer writers online, secular writers who we just like a lot, Buddhist teachers, on and on. We had it printed out and spiral bound.
That must have made the holidays so meaningful this year.
This was the first year of my life that I “got” the high holidays, the days of awe, the moment when the seasons change, when we reflect on the past year and set intentions for the coming year, when we shed what no longer serves us in order to invest deeply in what does serve us. That is what the 10-day holiday became for me this year.
I want to make personalized radical queer spiritual service books for all occasions now! Which is a half-joke, but not really. And what is so cool is that EVERYONE can do this! It’s zine-making. It’s completely personal.
How did you and Kate meet and become friends?
Well, best story! Our grandmothers met when they were pregnant with our mothers and then – amazingly, grossly – I was conceived on the day that Kate was born. I’m an only child and have very much grown up with Kate as my sister-human. And she is also queer so JACKPOT.
We actually made the story into a comic that was just published in the book “Not Your Mother’s Meatloaf” that Ali recently reviewed on Autostraddle dot com.
That is beyond amazing. Did Kate also come to A-Camp?
No, she has not come to A-Camp… yet.
Can you tell me about your A-Camp experiences?
Vanessa, I just love A-Camp. I came to 3.0 and 4.0. I grew up going to summer camp; it was everything to me growing up. My first kiss, first girlfriend, first breakup, first gay best-friend breakup, all happened at camp. I couldn’t go back after all that hurt and that was an enormous loss in my life. Also that camp was a super straight space – even though lots of counselors and campers were queer, as in regular life, it just was a pretty closet-y space.
When A-Camp was announced I KNEW that I needed to go but I was afraid. Afraid to put myself out there. Afraid to spend my money on my happiness. Afraid that there would be TOO MANY feelings from the past. But by the time registration for 3.0 went up I just kicked my butt and made the leap and went for it. SO GRATEFUL… it felt like everyone who was there was being rewarded by the universe. I had just been struggling so much in my personal life at home and camp felt like a magical respite. I would look around and be overwhelmed by the people around me. Everyone is ridiculously good-looking, extremely kind, and QUEER or GAY or LESBIAN identified. HEAVEN… I just felt like I must be doing something right in my life to be surrounded by such beauty, intellect, care, happiness, realness, and support. I just love camp.
I am so glad you love camp; I do too. I’m glad I met you at camp! You have a very calming presence and I could tell you are on an intentional journey.
It’s so wonderful to be open to meeting the people who the universe wants me to meet on my journey right now. I feel open to teachers and companions and a sweet life and significant learning right now. I’m really glad to be connecting with you and excited about the other new people that are coming into my life. One of my favorite teachers, Danielle LaPorte, likes to say, “Make room for your future.” I love the idea of cultivating an openness for the good and significant people and experiences that I’m coming to along my path. Gotta let go to make that space.
I really love that idea. Let’s talk a little bit about your work. You taught yourself to code, yes?
Yes! Because everything is practice and you do you.
That is the most badass thing I have ever heard. I always say I will teach myself to code but then I don’t, so I think it is crazy cool that you actually did.
I was working for Bpeace, a great organization that works with entrepreneurs in Afganistan, Rwanda, and El Salvador. I was doing PR for a documentary called THREAD about five of the Afghan businesswomen that Bpeace worked with in the early days of the organization. I really wanted to impress the mentors I was working for and I lied and said that I could totally make a website for the movie. It wasn’t really a lie, I sort of understood Tumblr. I messed around with the “custom” code options of Tumblr by Googling my questions like, “What is the hex code for the color white?” and, “What the eff is a hex code anyhow?” I was doing work for some other documentary filmmakers in different roles and they started asking me if I could create websites for the films. I switched over to WordPress and three and a half years later continue my self education via Googling everything.
THAT IS SO COOL.
At A-Camp 3.0, I had a mentoring session with Cee, Autostraddle’s tech re-creator, which was AMAZING in so many ways. Specifically Cee totally validated my experience of learning about code the way that I did. If I’m not mistaken, she started out the same way. So I must have a bright future ahead of me if this is how Cee started out.
I am seriously fangirl-ing so hard right now.
You are the most flattering person! I want everyone and their mom to know that being a freelance entrepreneur is a Real Thing that you can do. You can be your own boss and have an ethical business doing something that you love and you can pay your bills and have a semblance of freedom outside the mainstream work-money system.
And you do all that! In Philly! Do you like your neighborhood?
I do like my neighborhood, though my heart and soul and cells are all aching to live by the ocean, a move I hope to make in the not super distant future. West Philly is beautiful and sad and vibrant and dying and shifting and gentrifying and getting mugged and community gardens and a hive of queers and farmer’s markets and bikes and dogs and babies and very few stars in the sky but bright moons and sometimes a bright sun.
What sort of things do you do for fun around you?
I really love a good dinner party. And I really like parallel play. Like sitting in the same room with one of my best friends listening to tunes and drawing comics about our micro and macro feelings. I love love love to dance and dress up in costumes and sing very loudly.
What are some good books you’ve read recently?
MMMmmm BOOKS! I love when humans want to talk about books. Everything by Alison Bechdel but especially the Dykes To Watch Out For anthology. Everything by Ariel Schrag. I love the books I’ve read by Audre Lorde, Marge Piercy and Ursula K. Le Guin. Highlights are Zami, Woman on the Edge of Time and The Birthday of the World, respectively. I just read Animal Dreams, my first book by Barbara Kingsolver, which was exactly the right thing to read post-break up because it was about death and dreaming and waking up and allowing things to be good. My big takeaway germ of a thought from that book was that in order to have sweet dreams you have to have a sweet life. That’s become part of my prayers.
I love Dykes To Watch Out For. This is a silly question but I love asking it: do you have any celeb crushes?
Yes. Duh. Lindsay Lohan, circa another time period. But maybe in a dyke-alike way. I don’t think about the world of celebrity a lot, so that is the first thing I came up with.
I love Lindsay for real so I support that. How did you discover Autostraddle?
I was reading the entirety of Krista Burke’s amazing website Effing Dykes and saw on her sidebar that she was featured in an article on this thing called “Autostraddle.” I clicked on that link and through that article learned about Sinclair Sexsmith and Sugarbutch, which was a very important connection for me to make as well. I just started jumping around on Autostraddle links and quickly visiting the website became part of my daily internet experience, which it remains. And now Autostraddle is part of my 3D real life experience and I couldn’t be more grateful about that… so much opportunity for conversation and fun and learning.
What a great origin story!
It’s a love story. Like a really private, personal love story, you know because it was alone on the internet, but now it’s in real life connecting with the real people who make up the staff and community and how special is that?
The best kind of love story. Do you have anything else you would like to share with the Autostraddle community?
Yes I do! A website I work with called OC87 Recovery Diaries is all about sharing personal stories about mental heath journeys through creative story telling and I want to start getting submissions from the Autostraddle community! You can submit writing, video, comics, or photography to submissions [at] oc87recoverydiaries [dot]com. Check out the website at oc87recoverydiaries.com. I want more queer, POC, female, trans, and intersecting perspectives on that website.
And, YOU DO YOU FOR REAL. We can make ourselves miserable or we can make ourselves happy, the amount of work is the same. You have to take care of yourself to take care of anyone else. Do it.
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!