Travels With Queerness and the Politics of Space: An Interview with Kim Sharp

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Image shows a postcard with vertical, rainbow stripes in a vintage fashion.  The text reads: Travels With Queerness: In Search of America

Kim Sharp is one of my favorite queer, feminist writer friends.  She recently took a big, brave risk in doing a micro-retirement so she could work on her writing.  One of the fruits of that labor is her new project, Travels With Queerness, which explores what it means to take up space as a gender-nonconforming, feminist person on the road with their best friend, who happens to be a pit bull.  I interviewed her today to find out more about the project and what it means for space to be political.

CONTENT: This interview contains descriptions of homophobia, harassment, and hate speech.

Tasha Walston:  Hi, Kim!  Thanks for doing this interview.  What is Travels With Queerness?

Kim Sharp: Travels With Queerness is a book project that’s based off a road trip I’m going to take with my dog, Petey, this September. Think Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, but through a queer, feminist lens. I came up with the idea earlier this year when I was re-reading Travels with Charley. I wanted to take Petey on a similar trip, but I knew it would present challenges because of our identities: I’m a lesbian, and Petey is a pit bull.

I’ve mapped out a route that will take us more than 5,500 miles, through 11 states in the western US over the course of 25 days. During the trip, I’m going to post short essays detailing our experiences on my website, TravelswithQueerness.com, and via Facebook and Twitter. The book will draw everything together into a cohesive narrative.

I started thinking about all the things I’d have to do before traveling–mostly how I would present, and what I would do to stay safe. I thought about getting mace, maybe growing my hair a little or dressing a little more femme. I even thought about things as simple as taking the HRC equality sticker off my car.

And that’s when the idea of a trip transformed into a project. Changing my appearance and removing that bumper sticker would mean altering my identity. Losing that authenticity would kill so much of the project’s meaning.

routemap

Image shows a map of the Northwestern United states with a travel route drawn on in blue.  Individual stops on the route are marked numerically.

TW: So it was Steinbeck’s book that made you want to go on the journey?

KS: That and a few other things. I’m doing a sort of mid-life, micro-retirement this year, and I want to make the most of it. I want to spend more time with Petey and take him on some big adventures. He’s 11–but let’s not go there.

The other really big influence: a book my grandma gave me when I was eight. It’s this beautiful coffee table book called Natural Wonders of the World. She got it free with a subscription to Reader’s Digest. I fixated on Craters of the Moon in Idaho and Crater Lake in Oregon. I’ve never seen either.

So it all started coming together: a road trip with my dog, in search of natural wonders and the open road.

Steinbeck’s book made want to go on this trip and it made me want to politicize it.

peteandkimcar

Image shows a white pit bull on the left with a brown spot over one eye and tongue lolling. On the right is a smiling person with short, brown hair wearing sunglasses, a hoodie, and a seatbelt.


TW: Why does it matter that you’re traveling as a queer, feminist woman?  Are you doing the trip because of or in spite of your identity?

Both. Absolutely both. My plans started coming together right after the Oregon stand-offs came to an end. I couldn’t help but think of the culture in some of the places I wanted to go. Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon, and Idaho aren’t the most welcoming areas in the Northwest.

So it’s scary, right? As it would be for many women. We’re told not to travel alone and to avoid the places where we don’t feel safe–and for good reason.

If I followed that advice, though, I wouldn’t see all the places I want to see. I probably wouldn’t even leave my house. I can’t separate my fuck-it attitude from my queer, feminist identity. I shouldn’t have to. None of us should.

But here’s another thing: I’m not strongly connected to either of these communities. I’m too shy and introverted to do any sort of activism. Crowds aren’t my thing, so I don’t go to Pride or LGBT events. I’m more or less on the periphery of the LGBT community–yet I call it mine. I grapple with that a lot.

So I come back to what I am capable of and how I can contribute. I’m a writer. I believe in the power of story and I want to capture the stories that aren’t being told. Putting myself out there with this project, sharing my experiences as I seek answers to big questions, then drawing it all together in a book–that’s my contribution.

I question–constantly–who I am on this journey. Who or what am I traveling with? And it all comes back to that one day when I was at my most vulnerable, when I was threatened because I am comfortable in my skin.

TW: It would be scary for any woman to travel alone.  How do you think your queerness complicates that?

KS: One of my first girlfriends told me that lesbians in Seattle are more or less invisible. For a long time I believed that. I felt safe. That changed after I chopped off my long hair and started dressing more masculine. I’ve been harassed, and I’ve been discriminated against because of the way I present. I’m a short, fat woman with a butch-like aesthetic, and I think it’s pretty obvious I’m gay. I think about that all the time. I also think about how my experiences are nothing compared to what others in my community have experienced.

Yet, there’s something about being called “faggot” that goes far beyond the gut punch. It made me feel more connected to the LGBT community in this really weird way. It was a reminder that we’re not invisible at all. Any of us could, at some point, be a target. We are all vulnerable.

TW: Someone called you “f*ggot?”  Can you tell me about that?

KS: Sure. It started as road rage on the commute home. I honked at a guy and he started tailing me. He followed me for a couple miles and I knew it was a bad situation. He wasn’t going to back off. So I went to the safest place I could think of–somewhere where men would be outside. The guy followed me there, got out of his car, and came at me with fists raised. He was ready to lay into me.

Then he saw my tits.  It shocked him. He said he thought I was a dude. Then his fists dropped. He started shouting “faggot, fucking faggot.” Over and over and over. He was inches from me. I was rendered mute. I couldn’t talk, couldn’t move.

All it took was for him to shout that word at me once and I felt worthless and dirty. But he kept throwing it at me and the more he did, the more I believed it.

TW: That must have been terrifying.

KS: Terrifying isn’t the right word. It’s been over a year and I can’t find the right word. Of course I was terrified, but while I was being threatened I was also being told that I’m worthless, because of who I am. Because I’m gay.

TW: If you’ve experienced that kind of harassment in a “liberal” city in the Northwest, do you have any particular fears or hopes about what will happen on the road?

KS: Definitely. Here’s the thing: the harassment took place in Shoreline, literally across the street from where the Seattle PD jurisdiction stops. If I’d gone one more block, this would have been reported as a hate crime. I talked with Jim Ritter, SPD’s LGBT liaison. He couldn’t take a report, but after hearing all the details he assured me it was a hate crime. I filed a report with the Shoreline PD, and guess what–they said it’s not a crime at all. So hey, if you want to engage in a car chase, physically threaten someone, verbally assault them, go to Shoreline.

It’s not just about what happens in different areas of the country, it’s about how these things are handled.

I got a lot of great support from Jim, and plan to talk with him about the trip and safety precautions and so forth. That alone fills me fear and anger–that I even have to do this, that I have to seek this kind of support.

So, yes, I have fears. That incident taught me something I didn’t think of much before: I’m a target. That changes everything.

TW: What are some places you are particularly looking forward to visiting?

KS: I’m looking forward to seeing those places I told you about–Craters of the Moon, Crater Lake, a lot of national parks. I’m also really looking forward to going to Salinas. I want to see the Steinbeck Center. I want to see Rocinante–Steinbeck’s white privilege mobile.

Mostly, I’m looking forward to seeing the places I don’t know about. I’m fascinated by small towns. I want to talk to people there–if they’ll let me. I want to know what it’s like in other places. How does geography affect how we move through our worlds?

 

TW: What makes Travels With Queerness a necessarily feminist project?

KS: That’s a really good question. While the travel narrative genre is slowly becoming more diverse, travelogues are still written primarily by white men. This project is an attempt to fill that gap, to explore and show our country through a different lens. It’s about intent, and it’s a feminist project because I am putting emphasis on identity–particularly my identity as a gay woman–and framing the narrative of my travels through my worldview and issues of privilege.

TW: Why should folks support your project and how can they best do that?

KS: Being out there, literally exploring spaces where we can be safe, is not going to be easy, but it’s incredibly important work. After the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, a lot of people are questioning the notion of the safe space, if it even exists. I don’t think it does.

I’m not scouting out safe spaces; that work has been done by a lot of organizations. What I’m doing is mapping out a vast landscape and documenting what it’s like to travel in spite of a lack of guaranteed safety.

It’s a huge undertaking, and a costly one. I’m hoping people will contribute to my Kickstarter campaign to help fund what portion of the trip I’m not able to and print and production of my book.

If you’re not able to financially support the project, please share the word with others. This is just as much a marketing campaign as a fundraiser.

Like I said, this is my contribution to an important movement. Everyone who supports Travels with Queerness in whatever way they’re able is chipping in on that contribution and making this a communal journey. And how cool is that?

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Image shows a white and brown dog on the left, tongue lolling, and a smiling person with short, brown hair wearing a hoodie, sunglasses, and a seatbelt.  Text reads, “Support us on Kickstarter.”

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Long-Distance Doulas and Radical Self-Care: An Interview with The Doula Project’s Mick Moran

 

I’ve known Mick Moran for about a decade, starting back in the early 2000s when they volunteered with  me over at VaginaPagina.  Since then, Mick started working with The Doula Project in NYC. Most recently, they’ve been putting together a sort of “doula skillshare,” spreading community and radical self-care through their zine project, DIY DOULA: Self-Care for Before, During & After Your Abortion. I interviewed Mick today to find out more about the zine and The Doula Project.

Tasha Walston:  Hey, Mick.  Thanks for doing this interview.  Can you tell Hellish Rebuke readers a little bit about The Doula Project?

Mick Moran:  Sure.  The Doula Project is a volunteer-run, New York City-based 501(c)3 charitable organization that provides free compassionate care and emotional, physical, and informational support to people across the spectrum of pregnancy. Since its founding in 2007, The Doula Project doulas have supported hundreds of birth clients and over ten thousand people through abortion and fetal loss.

TW:  How long have you been involved?

MM:  I trained with the Project in January of 2014. I’d learned about the Project when I was attending the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, and I went to a workshop called something like, “Increasing Healthcare Access for Trans and Gender Non-Conforming People Using Midwives and Doulas.” I wanted to write it up for VaginaPagina, who I was volunteering for at the time.

A few months later, I heard through a queer networking group that The Doula Project was recruiting new volunteers, so I started thinking about applying. When I started to talk to my friends about it, they were like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I never thought of this for you before, you would be so good at that.”

BEFOREthingstoprepproof

An excerpt from DIY Doula: Self-Care for Before, During, and After your Abortion.  Art by Mick Moran.

 

TW:  What about the project really spoke to you? Was there a moment or a thing that really made you go, “Oh, I have to do this!”

MM:  It wasn’t a role I ever imagined myself doing, and I don’t think I would have ever gotten involved if it wasn’t with an organization like The Doula Project that does full-spectrum work — it’s very important to me that we support people having abortions, and that we support people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to doula care.

I’m trained as a birth doula as well, but most of my work is supporting people in clinics having first-trimester abortions. I’m also trained to support people through second-tri procedures and fetal loss, which are both things that I’d like to be more involved in.
TW:  So it was the full-spectrum, inclusive aspect of the work that really drew you?

MM:  Definitely. That and the fact that we offer support to low-income people. Most people who have access to doula support are are wealthy people who have a lot of privilege in other ways, like they’re white or they have a masters degree or whatever.

Those folks also often have better support for an event like a birth — not because low-income folks don’t have good support network, but because they may not have the money to fly family members out, or their partner may not have the kind of job that you can take off from very suddenly (or they might not be able to afford the lost wages), or they might not have childcare for their other kids. Sometimes the doula support is the only support they have available.

TW:  Does that have to do with why you decided to make a zine? Whose idea was it to create a zine, and what made you choose that format and not a website or something else

MM:  We collectively (our Leadership Circle and Board of Directors) applied for a grant with the Abortion Conversation Project for a grant with the intention of making a booklet about self-care for before, during, and after your abortion. ACP’s focus is to break down stigma surrounding abortion, so that was one of our goals.

We also wanted to talk about full-spectrum doula care, and we wanted to give our doulas an opportunity to work collectively on a project like this. The idea was to distribute printed material that folks could take home with them from the clinic, either after they’ve had doula support or if they didn’t have access to a doula, and the idea completely blew up from there.

As we explained in our IndieGoGo, it was an intentional decision: “Keeping in tradition with The Doula Project’s own radical grassroots approach, we intentionally created this guide as a zine. Zines have been a popular way to cheaply and effectively reproduce knowledge among marginalized populations and help educate and inspire without the influence of those in power. Zines are a way to create your own media when your needs are not served by mass media.”

The other reason it went in this direction, and how I came to head up the project, is because I had recently had a comic about being an abortion doula selected for publication in the 1 in 3 Campaign’s upcoming graphic novel about first-hand abortion experiences, “Our Stories Will Not Be Erased” — so that got everyone excited about how things could potentially look.

 

 

 

DURINGbest advocate

An excerpt from DIY Doula: Self-Care for Before, During, and After Your Abortion.  By Alex Pitre.

TW:  Zines have a long history in punk and political movements as a way to build community. Is that something you’re interested in doing, too–I mean, aside from getting info to individuals, which is also important?

MM:  Yes, absolutely — and I think that’s part of the way that this zine can really help break down stigma. People might be more willing to talk about their experiences with each other, or ask for support from people (we try to model how to do this in the zine), or maybe even get together to do some of these self-care practices together.

And it has definitely been community-building for our doulas, who are all volunteers who lead super busy lives — we don’t get to see each other all together as often as we’d like, so it’s been really lovely to get together to work on this project and talk about our values and what messaging we want to give to people.

It’s also been almost like a doula skillshare because we all have such different styles that we all have probably picked up different things to try as we’ve had these conversations and built this toolkit.

TW:  What is your personal history with zines? What did you bring to the project?

MM:  I have some history with zines — I’ve attended NYC’s zine fest in the past and I grew up in the Jersey punk scene — but my inspiration was more related to grassroots media. When I was in high school, I was part of a non-hierarchical youth grassroots activist organization, and there was a lot of the same handmade, DIY, cut-and-paste technique used to make flyers for protests or other events. I actually wrote my thesis on that kind of DIY media activism — using what is accessible to you, whether that’s drawing comics or collaging pictures and making four-to-a-page photocopies because that’s cheap.

The Doula Project’s media coordinator and several people on the zine committee also brought some zine background. We took a field trip to the zine fest at Barnard College for inspiration.

TW:  Did you take away any ideas from Zine Fest?

MM:  I think the biggest takeaway was that people were excited for our zine. We had some conversations about it and people were already asking if we had a flyer or something about it. It’ll be great to go back next year and be able to distribute them there.

TW:  Awesome! Who do you most hope you’ll reach with the zine? What do you hope to achieve with the project?

MM:  We really hope to reach people who don’t have access to a doula in their communities. When we first stated working on the project, we were thinking a lot about practical stuff, like the DIY heat pack. But as we talked more, we realized we wanted to try to give people doula care even if we couldn’t be there. And that meant that we needed to give them the messaging that we give people. We trust you. You know your body best. You know how to make good decisions for yourself. You are strong and you can handle this. All of that stuff.

We know that some people aren’t getting that from their partners or families or providers for whatever reason. Being a doula isn’t about *giving* someone strength, it’s about helping them find their own strength — that’s easier to do in person, but we hope that we can do that at least a little, long-distance.

TW:  I was going to ask you what is the most important thing you wanted folks to take away from the project, but it sounds like you’re already hitting on it when you talk about helping folks find their own strength. Is there anything else?

MM:  Not just strength, but comfort, and that they can trust themselves. We want people to know that there are so many different ways that people feel before, during, and after an abortion, and that it’s normal.

It’s normal to feel relief, it’s normal to feel sad, it’s normal to feel numb. It’s ok to be scared, it’s ok to make jokes. It’s ok to have so much hard stuff happening in your life that you think that being told to drink a cup of tea and take a deep breath is bullshit. We meet people where they’re at, and we’ve tried to do that on paper, too.

AFTERyogaprooffinal

An excerpt from DIY Doula: Self-Care for Before, During, and After Your Abortion.  By Annelise Stabeneau.


TW:
 How can people get involved and/or help support The Doula Project and the zine?

MM:  We’re selling pre-orders of the zine on Generosity (part of IndieGoGo).

People have the option to buy one for themselves and donate one for us to give away. They can also use #DIYDoulaZine and share the campaign so we can make sure folks know about it, and if they have a relationship with any pro-choice groups, make sure they know this new resource is out there.

You can also support our work by donating directly to The Doula Project or by setting up your Amazon Smile account to donate to us.

We have a newsletter and a Facebook page if you want to keep up with our work.

TW:  Is there anything else you want folks to know?

MM:  The more pre-orders we get, the more free zines we’ll be able to give away! We’re really excited to see where we can take this.

This project received a Seed Support grant from the Abortion Conversation Project to reduce abortion stigma.  If you want to know more about the zine project, you can contact Mick at zine@doulaproject.org.  
MICK MORAN trained with The Doula Project in January of 2014 and joined the Leadership Circle as a Site Coordinator later that year. Mick has spoken at institutions such as Hunter College and NYU about topics such as media activism and reproductive justice for transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex people. 
THE DOULA PROJECT‘s founders, Mary Mahoney and Lauren Mitchell, have a book coming out later this year detailing their commitment to supporting a pregnancy no matter the outcome—whether it results in birth, abortion, miscarriage, or adoption.  Check it out/preorder on Amazon:  The Doulas: Radical Care for Pregnant People.