Swapping Spit: The Sister Spit Anthology & A Few Words with Michelle Tea

It takes a little convincing to get me to read an anthology. Often they remind me of over inflated rap albums from the ’90s. I stopped purchasing rap albums in the ’90s and it’s still difficult to commit to reading an anthology. I can’t be the only one. But anyway, I’ve got good news.

the anthology that whoops the ass of all other anthologies.

Sister Spit: Writing, Rants and Reminiscence from the Road reads more like the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, where every line has not only a spiritual purpose but a melody that weaves it into memory. This collection of pieces includes graphic novel shorts, excerpts from novels in progress, works performed on the tour and reflections of being on the Sister Spit tour from queermos like Eileen Myles, Cristy Road, Samuael Topiary, Beth Lisick – the author list is 21 queers deep. Michelle Tea curated the anthology under the City Lights / Sister Spit imprint (which means Sister Spit is publishing their own shit!). Each contribution stands strong, a constellation complete with its own backstory and queer mystery. The soul of the collection is found in those moments when we’re swept away into a glorious world of re-imagined Greek mythology via a piece like “Pandora” by Sara Seinberg and jammed into the backseat of a van carrying radical queer writers. The bits about being on the road serve as the thick, beautiful and bright alternative universe that holds everything together. But in perfect trashy, dirty queer fashion, the Sister Spit anthology ain’t all pretty and sometimes the shitty, ugly, weird moments are the ones that speak to this complex underdog lifestyle that connects us all to each other.

Sister Spit literally on the road. image courtesy of cultmontreal.com

“Unapologetic” is a word used often when reviewing things that are brash or purposefully offensive, like Lisa Lampanelli. The draw of that edginess is more in the response it garners from a sensitive audience than in the craft behind the work. That’s not the case in this anthology, which feels so good. Some of the writers and visual artists involved in the Sister Spit anthology reclaim uncomfortable words and trade them across state lines and in between rest stops. Words like “faggot,” “dyke” and “drag queen” blow across pages and I inhaled them while reading. These are loaded words that have been used to oppress and humiliate. Within the pages of the Sister Spit anthology, there’s a sense of pride in the queer and necessary toughness needed to use them and use them well. Still, it all serves to beg the question: who’s allowed to use these words? Can a lesbian use the word “faggot”? Can we all use the term “drag queen”‘? Can someone without a cunt use the word cunt? Michelle Tea’s piece “Black Wave” weaves these words into insanely accurate descriptions of real life:

The Leatherman was a lesbian phenomenon… Ziggy had that on one hip and a buck knife worn in a leather sheath on the other. A hankie forever tufted from her back pocket, corresponding to the infamous faggot hankie code…

And Ben McCoy’s delicious contribution French drag queens, “My New Best Friends,” drops drag realness onto an infamous high-profile jewelry heist while fleshing out the real-life inequalities faced by drag queens, transexuals and all those too fabulous to fit it into any box:

YOU spend five years working at a tranny bar lipsyncing for straight people and bridal parties, leaping over plastic blow-up penis hats in four-inch stiletto heels for thirty dollars of the door and wrinkled up dollar bills shoved in your Fredericks of Hollywood bra and you’ll soon be devising plans for a jewelry heist with your drag queen friends, too.

Some of the pieces contained moments that made me ask “can she/we say that word out loud/at all?” Other moments I felt like these words and phrases are sometimes the only honest way to portray this experience of queer life. Interviewing Tea gave me the space to ask those questions and gain insight into her use of taboo words and of their presence in the anthology as a whole:

Language like that was never an issue for me – I came of queer age in the ’90s, when reclaiming language that had been historically used against was a big project. Of course, it only works when you use such language from the inside… I am all for reclaiming language but it has had to be used against you in order for you to be reclaiming it.

Reading these moments in the anthology felt more like an affirmation of the queerness of being queer. These Sister Spit rants and writings caught the perfect mix of this uncomfortable and wholly empowering place we navigate.

The following line from Beth Lisick’s piece “Yokahoma Threeway”, read like the anthology’s thesis statement:

What is wrong with being a pervert? Nothing.

“Yokohama Threeway” doesn’t just wax poetic on the merits of being a lovely and filthy weirdo. It lingers steadfast in the inbetween space where the only lines that matter are ones of individual preference. Lisick provides the details but avoids imposing judgement on her characters. One minute, she’s describing what it’s like to use a towel covered in dog hair and in the next, there’s some weird threeway action happening. The questions brought forth in her work serve to provide a place to wrangle with issues and still not come to any solid conclusions. Her piece is a reminder that people are strange and scary and beautiful when you first fuck them and that maybe you wouldn’t ever do that again but doing it once was totally worth the weirdness. Tea added some elder queer clarity on the ideas of perversion, indulgence and personal lines:

I love that piece too and I love the way it continues and asks ‘Well why are you being such a dick then? Well you know is this kind of perversity better than this kind?’ and then she just kinda you know ends up just being like ‘I don’t know. Something just seem gross.’ And I just think it’s like she’s conscious of that experience of being in an incredibly permissive culture and being a sexually permissive person yourself and being an open person and then just having a feeling like ‘Ugh that just feels gross to me’ and then you get so analytical about it ’cause you don’t want to yuk anyone’s yum but… I think those moments are really interesting. You know when you’re being like a super sexy pervert but then you’re like ‘umm ohh, that really offends me.”

The spirit of not wanting to yuck anyone’s yum incorporates two strong ideas and merges them into one feeling. It refers to knowing oneself well enough to know what you enjoy. It then also acknowledges the limitless manifestation of pleasure and culture that appeal to all types of people. The Sister Spit anthology rumbles with that vibe: know yourself, know that people are beautiful and into some weird shit (yourself included) and don’t judge anybody. This book is a queer anthem. It flashes bright neon lights and blows out plumes of dirty glitter in the same way that the Queer Rebels presented at the MIXX film festival. This anthology champions that rebel queer spirit that is wholly inclusive and joyous.

Interviewing Michelle Tea created a similar space and so before we ended our Skype conversation, I had to confess something to her. I’ve never been to a Sister Spit show or even looked into one. I only read the articles about them to prep for this interview. I’d heard the name and brushed it off my shoulders, uninterested in diving deeper into what always seemed like fair skinned, blue-eyed, piece of girl-on-girl culture. I confessed to Michelle Tea that I didn’t give in to Sister Spit “because I thought it was just some white girl stuff,” and how much more of that could I take or feign interest in? Michelle laughed while I stumbled through a bit more explanation. She stopped and said:

MT: It is totally white girl stuff. Sister Spit is white girl stuff. It always has been. We work with that and fight against it, you know we bring rad people of color with us but our roots are in white queer punk culture of the ’90s, you know. We do a better job today of integrating because we just know more people now than we did back then… and we prioritize it, we make more of an effort because it’s super important… I understand why we have that reputation; it’s not incorrect.

Me: I don’t even know if it’s a reputation. I just know that in my head that’s how I classified Sister Spit. Navigating queer culture feeds “white girl stuff” into my brain on a loop and sometimes I make a cognizant shift or deflection and say no I won’t take that in I’ll go listen to Girl in a Coma or do something that feels more authentic to me, you know?

MT: Yes, all of that and there is truth in everything you’ve said and I respect that. The Sister Spit Tour that we do now is different. The bummer about anyone having these feelings now is just the fact that it makes invisible the awesome radical queers of color that we have with us now. Brontez Pernell does a wild performance called “fag school,” and we have graphic artists Alicia Lin, Lenelle Moises and Cristy Road, just to name a few. I want all the queers and queens to come check us out and add their voices.

dope ass tour flier via tuscon citizen dotcom

It felt good sharing a space with her where there weren’t any ‘wrong statements’. We were two queer women sharing ideas about issues such as race and feminism without trying to tiptoe around uncomfortable or improperly phrased questions. We gave each other the space to be honest and I felt like I was getting some older queer sister knowledge type of shit. While researching for our interview, I was also reading Communion by bell hooks. In it she says, “my search for love brought me to feminism” and in the intro to the Sister Spit anthology, Tea states “there is feminism in everything, a punkness too”. The two statements crossed paths when I asked Tea what brought her to feminism:

I think I was always a feminist on some level… when I was a kid I had a strong sense of justice and injustice… from the way the world hates women to the way that it just sort of dismisses and ignores us as women became really really clear to me. I was experiencing it and it blew my mind in this sort of like terrible way and I became very much attached to feminist theory and feminist thought because it gave me the framework to understand what I was experiencing. I was experiencing a lot of misogyny and sexism and like weird gender expectations, hypocrisies and all that kind of stuff and so feminism for me was a lifesaver.

Word. Michelle Tea and the Sister Spit Anthology reminded me of why it feels so good to be a queer and reaffirmed my faith in the legitimacy of a multicultural queer space cognizant of its differences and focused on remaining united. There isn’t one road to queerness, alternative lifestyles or simply making oneself happy. Sister Spit: Writings, Rants and Reminiscences from the Road shines a strobe light on the weird-ass unique ways that we experience life, just life, not gay life, not road life, not Puerto Rican sugar butch life: just the awesome lives of weirdos and the moments in which we collide and create culture. This anthology put me right back at the first two A-Camps right back into the middle of an inexplicable, wholly joyous connection to a multitude of good-hearted, like-minded crazy ass souls and into the thrill of sharing space with them for a good long moment. A place where the whole fucking world is a compilation of the best and most real moments you’ve ever had. Cooper Bombardier sums it up best in “My Life in Ink”:

It is about an immediacy, an intimacy, an indelible souvenir of a time and of a place that you will never return to as you sail forth in your life’s own ocean. It is about a connection, a reminder, a friendship, an adventure. You can look at your scraggly little star and remember: I was there.

If you haven’t already, please go out and read/buy/absorb this anthology. Check out Michelle Tea’s column on XO Jane (homegirl’s trying to have a baby!) and  catch Sister Spit on tour. And if you’d like two more reasons to check this out, here are some graphic novel excerpts — y’all don’t even know how much I love graphic novels.

 image from elisha lim dot com

from The Hong Moon Lesbians of the Sacred Heart by Elisha Lim

from Cassie J Snyder's Art Show

from Cassie J Snyder’s Art Show

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Gabrielle Rivera is an awesomely queer Bronx bred, writer, spoken word artist and director. Her short stories and poems have been published in various anthologies such as the Lambda Award winning Portland Queer: Tales from the Rose City and The Best of Panic! En Vivo from the East Village. Her short film "Spanish Girls are Beautiful" follows a group of young Latina and Caucasian girls who like girls as they hook up, smoke up and try to figure sh*t out. She also freelances for Autostraddle.com while working in the film and television industry. Gabrielle is currently working on her first novel while bouncing around NYC performing spoken word and trying to stick it to the man.

gabby has written 102 articles for us.


  1. Ooh they’re coming to my city! Totally going to be there. Also buying the anthology. Thanks for the heads up!

  2. Mmm, yeah, I’m gonna have to read this. I cannot be trusted in a bookstore with the credit card and, Gabby, you have just exacerbated that problem. You see, because it’s an anthology, I’m going to buy it. And then I’m going to fall in love with at least half of the contributors because their words are going to be as refreshing as rain. And then I’m going to have to go buy everything else each of said contributors has published. And then I will be poor(er).

    Worth it.

  3. i’m like halfway through this book and i love it! anyhow great article gabbyyy hi michelle tea

  4. gabby this is so great! i’m still so starstruck that you got to interview michelle and i think you asked really excellent questions, this is amazing. thank you!!

  5. I love everything about this. Gabby, i love your words and the thoughtful way you described your experience of this book.
    And i’m so excited that AS has interviewed Michelle Tea! Love her. I love her xojane series, i tend to save it up and read two months worth at once, it’s great.
    And your interview questions are so awesome, i would have loved to watch that conversation unfold.

    Ok i’ll stop gushing now.

  6. Shout out to Cooper Lee Bombardier, my high school statewide GSA adviser, who wrote one of the pieces/drew the cover. You win, Cooper!

  7. …I had to confess something to her. I’ve never been to a Sister Spit show or even looked into one…I confessed to Michelle Tea that I didn’t give in to Sister Spit “because I thought it was just some white girl stuff,” and how much more of that could I take or feign interest in?

    I’m so impressed you actually told Michelle Tea you’d never been to a Sister Spit show because you thought it was white girl stuff. I know your main point was specifically in the realm of white girl shit dominating the input, but I think there’s a general point here too. Like, how much stuff should we all be expected to take in or feign interest in. I think there’s this expectation in the feminist/queer/twenty-something that everyone be into everything.

    • Girl, I was sweating. I didn’t want her to feel weird but I didn’t want to not be myself. She was totally game for all the crazy shit I said to her.

      And the last part of what you said is super interesting. Sometimes I find myself exploring music/books/LenaDunham cuz I wanna be in the WG know. Obvs a thing isn’t inherently white but I classify ‘white girl stuff’ as things 90% of my Caucasian homegirls are talking about.

      Also <3

    • yes! that was super brave of you, but i’m so glad you confronted her with that. and i’m also glad she acknowledged it as bluntly as she did, while also acknowledging her interest in branching out a little more. also, word to your talk about feminism.

    • Or even that we have to be into the RIGHT sort of things otherwise we’re doing queer wrong or something. Apparently my distaste or lack of feelings either way for Tegan and Sara/New York/Whitney Houston/Ani diFranco/The L Word/ironic appreciation of Taylor Swift songs and my personal preference for Darren Hayes is unqueerlike of me. o_O

  8. Those graphic novels … I also went to a Catholic girls boarding school, and potentially from the same order. My school was also a sacred heart school. I didn’t feel we were THAT gay at the time, I was so far in the closet I was in complete denial, but obviously I was missing out on something big. Shame.

    • I think we went to the same high school. There’s only one sacred heart boarding school isn’t there? I was in the closet but not in denial.

      • Depends where you’re from I suppose. Message me if you want to chat. bookworm91[at]live.com.au

  9. ugh there are 19 days till SS is in my hood (just kidding I still have to drive 2 hours, but who the hell cares!) I just cannot want to see Christy Road again. I missed it the first time they came and that was another reason that 8th grade sucked. 19 days yall.
    Lovely piece.

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