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: Maria, 29
When Maria first emailed me she said, “Want to talk to a therapist? Sure you do! Talk to me!” Well yeah duh, of course I did, so off I went to write her back ASAP (which actually isn’t very fast, I’m sorry to all of you beautiful humans who have been submitting to this column and haven’t heard back from me yet… you will, I promise, please forgive me). Anyway! As suspected, Maria is awesome. Let us count the ways.
She was born and raised in Seattle and she’s a social worker who works with formerly homeless adults around mental health and other sorts of issues as well as the owner of a private practice called Feminist Therapy For All Genders that is “specially for queerdos.” She explained that she calls it “‘feminist therapy for all genders’ partially because ‘anti-oppression’ is not a language everybody necessarily understands,” though she did hesitate to call it “feminist” because some humans within trans* and POC communities do not see feminism as a cause that has given any fucks about their experiences. Ultimately though, she couldn’t decide on a better name, and it should go without saying that Maria’s feminism is intersectional and gives many fucks about everyone’s experiences. She offers affordable therapy with a sliding scale fee, so if you’re interested in her services and live in the area you should check out her website. (Note: Maria is a big believer in informed consent with regard to trans* health care, so that may be of particular interest if you are a trans* human currently looking for a therapist to help with that specific issue.)
Maria is really good at explaining things relating to mental health, wearing bright colors, and sharing my obsession with obtaining and then maintaining mermaid hair. We also both worship at the alter of Dear Sugar aka Cheryl Strayed so by the end of this interview I actually knew we were soulmates. Without further ado, meet Maria!
Let’s start with the basics! How old are you, where do you live, and what do you do with your days?
Okey dokey. I’m 29, I live in Seattle, and shit, I do a lot of things. I’m a social worker for my day job, I work with formerly homeless adults in a housing facility doing mental health case management, and I have a wee private practice called Feminist Therapy for All Genders, which is great fun. I read a whole bunch, I run around outside, I knit a lot of things, I’m into film… I live with my girlfriend and my sweet very anxious dog named Edie Monsoon, after the character from Ab Fab.
Did you always know you wanted to do social work?
Oh god no, not at all. When I was younger I think my plan was to write novels or be a performance artist or something. I did this whole self-designed major in college in queer media and identity studies and I was planning on being a public librarian and teaching cool media literacy classes. I still really love that stuff… but at some point I realized [that to be] a librarian you need to be interested in, like, organizing things, which is not at all interesting to me.
At some point I hit on the idea of being a counselor/therapist… I went to social work school instead of therapy school because I’ve always had really strong values around social justice stuff, and it’s pretty important to me to engage systemic structures of oppression in the way that I understand how people get to be in tough situations, you know, like learned coping mechanisms that stop serving people after they’ve left traumatic environments that are actually a function of internalized oppression and trauma. Therapy/counseling school is super interesting and great too but tends to focus more on the individual, and sometimes the family.
I landed the job I have now because it was the first solid job that wanted to hire me, [and] they do cool stuff around harm-reduction. And [I also have my] therapy private practice [where] I get to work with all my weirdos and queermos, which is what I super love to do.
Wow, you really do a lot! Can you talk about harm reduction and what you mean when you say your job now does cool stuff around that?
Sure! Basically a lot of old school methodology of talking to people about behaviors/patterns that aren’t helpful tend really heavily toward abstinence. Like, “Stop talking to your shitty ex.” “Stop drinking right now, what’s the matter with you?” There are two reasons why that’s problematic. One, specifically about addiction: addiction changes your neurobiology and makes it harder for people to Stop Doing The Thing. Two, giving people some choice and agency about how they choose to change their behavior actually makes them more willing to change.
Something I love to tell people about is what they call the “righting reflex,” which is when your mom/girlfriend/counselor is like, “STOP DOING THAT THING,” and you are like, “Fuck you, don’t tell me what to do.” If somebody is ambivalent about something, like breaking up with their lousy girlfriend, or drinking less, or other things that are not great for them, they feel two ways about it, and that is like a see-saw. At one end of the see-saw is change, and the other is no change. Most people who want to help like to get on the side called change and be like, “YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY CHANGE YUP DEFINITELY,” and the other person is like, “Uh no way, not gonna change, screw you,” because that’s the only other choice they have. But if you’re like, “Hey, I get it, change is hard, maybe now’s not the time,” then you are actually giving the person space to be like, “YOU KNOW WHAT MAYBE SOME CHANGE WOULD BE GOOD.”
Okay, that makes a lot of sense. Thank you for explaining all that. Can you talk a little bit about Seattle and what you like about the place?
Seattle is pretty good! It’s a lot more built up than it was when I was a kid. They’re trying to work out the whole density issue. I live in a relatively far-flung neighborhood, which is annoying for getting to work – the public transit sucks – but also there are owls that live across the street from us, and our neighbors are all adorable older hippies that invite us to barbecues and tell us about how they used to live in yoga communes in the seventies, and there is this pack of home-schooled hippie children that roam the street and sells organic dog treats on the weekends at their little stand. It is something else.
Um, that sounds kind of amazing?
I am really intent on discovering America right now because I feel like it’s strange that I’ve visited so few states and I don’t know what most of the country looks like.
Have you watched that Stephen Fry America series on Netflix? It’s kinda neat!
No! I should! Are there any farms near you? I’m really into the idea of going to live on a farm. (#citygirldreamz)
YES DUDE! Like thirty minutes outside the city [there’s] all this u-pick berries and whatnot. Every fall I go to this corn maze that is made up entirely of Washington State geography. I have a bunch of friends that are into farming. We are going to a farm wedding that includes a work party this summer and we helped [the couple] process their big hog so they could make sausage and prosciutto and whatnot else and eat that meat for like the next year.
Oh my god maybe I should go live on your friends’ farm.
Farming is sort of intense. But on the other hand, most days I send emails and have very brief interactions with people, and it is pretty cool to have my actual labor be something that produces food that my friend will eat for the next several months.
Speaking of food, tell me about the Seattle food scene! I hear it’s great.
Seattle has excellent restaurants and snacks. I love the Hopvine and Latona Pub – owned by the same folks, they make garlic soup. Tamarind Tree is gay-owned Vietnamese place that is REALLY GOOD. The Wild Rose [the lesbian bar] is… okay. There are a zillion breweries and microbreweries and nanobreweries and most of them are good/serviceable. There’s a place called Pam’s in the university district that serves Haitian food that’s super delicious. Come to Seattle! We will have dinner!
Don’t tempt me! What’s a good date night spot?
Um, lessee… we are lazy and basically married so we go to this place called Chuck’s Hop Shop that has a rotating food truck every night and like 40 beers on tap. But I can get you a better answer… you like a little fancy? A bar I like is called The White Horse down in Pike Place Market. There is hella burlesque in Seattle, but go see the queer shows. They have a bunch at the theatre off Jackson, also owned by lesbians! They used to show The L Word for free! And sexy puppet shows! They are wonderful.
Another question about food – I hear you bake a mean vegan dessert and great gluten-free treats! Tell me about your best dishes?
Tembleque! So delicious! Also chocolate coconut mousse! Also delicious!
Oh my god YUM.
There is a recipe for chocolate coconut mousse I had but cannot find… basically Trader Joe’s started getting this coconut cream stuff that is like the thick part of coconut milk, and you whip it into some melted vegan chocolate and chill. So tasty! Those are my two best party tricks. I also make chocolate lavender tart that is not vegan or dairy-free but is super yum. Otherwise I just buy gluten-free mixes and mess around with them.
That all sounds so good. I probably need to go eat some dessert after this.
Totally. I’ve been thinking really hard about my celebrity crushes since you always seem to ask that.
Oh yes, I love the celeb crush question! I am totally getting there. Let’s be there right now! Do you have any celeb crushes?
Seth Rogen when he’s chubby. Jennifer Beal’s voice? I watched an L Word reunion and was like HOW HAVE I NEVER NOTICED BEFORE HOW HOT IT IS WHEN YOU TALK? Kate Winslet sometimes too… Oh, oh, I know who I was going to say! She’s a fashion person, but Nadia Abhoulson.
I’ll have to Google her more extensively! What are your favorite books?
I just read Nevada, by Imogen Binnie, that shit is ridiculously good.
OH MY GOD I AM RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF IT! THAT IS ACTUALLY CRAZY, I CAN’T PUT IT DOWN. (As of publication I have finished the book and was actually sort of disappointed by the ending but that’s okay I’d still recommend it.)
Also I always just say Written on the Body, because really, me and Jeanette Winterson… so good. Stuff by Rebecca Brown and Isabel Allende. I also love the children’s author Mo Willems, and in terms of poetry I’m generally into Rilke and Hafiz and Mary Oliver. And Karen Finneyfrock! She is local to Seattle. Also Ariel Gore! She writes Hip Mama! I love her! There’s an anthology called And Baby Makes More that is written about queerdo families, I love that too. I do not have kiddos, but I intend to, and I read a lot about it in the meantime.
Ugh yes, I love reading about queer family stuff. How did you discover Autostraddle?
Oh, I can’t even remember! It was a long time ago! But I like to circle through there, along with The Hairpin, nearly daily. I love all the How To Make A Thing and stuff like that. I actually met the girl who walks my dog at the dog park because she was wearing an A-Camp shirt! I was like HELLO I KNOW ABOUT THAT THING TOO!
I am also pretty femme-presenting and most folks don’t necessarily read me as queer but I am also the type of homo to go up and talk to any other gays I can find so people are usually like, “Oh, she must be gay, otherwise she would not bother to be so friendly.”
YES! Same! RT! My big way to out myself is to say I write for Autostraddle. Now you all know my secret.
Ah! Tricksy! It’s annoying, I wish we could agree on a handshake or something.
Same, although I’ve recently discovered the secret is intense eye contact.
Yes but then people think you are flirting with them! And in Seattle people get awkward about that. That’s a downside of Seattle, everybody’s awkward. I kind of want to give myself a weird alternative lifestyle haircut but then I will never live my dream of mermaid hair.
Oh my gosh I have mermaid hair. It’s the shit.
I KNOW I WANT IT SO BAD!
DO IT! It is my FAVORITE.
I am! I am just waiting, waiting, waiting.
I believe in you and your hair! Finally: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the Autostraddle community?
Oh! Um, in the spirit of being a therapist, I will say, “Move toward the awkward.” Which is a funny thing to say, but really, nobody ever died of awkward. And Dear Sugar already said, “The future has an ancient heart.” So, that’s the best I’ve got today. Because on the other side of awkward is the thing you actually want! Go get it!
OH MY FUCKING GOD DEAR SUGAR. Cheryl Strayed, be still my heart.
I KNOW. I briefly entertained tattooing that on my body… and I have not given up yet.
I SUPPORT THAT SO HARD.
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!