Things I, as a white sex educator, do to foster inclusivity in this community

On Facebook recently, Mollena asked: “White ‪#‎SexualityEducators‬: what are you doing to actively foster inclusivity? Diversify your audience? Support your Peers of Color?” [link.] I’ve been writing and writing and thinking about all of the things I’ve been reading and digesting around #blacklivesmatter and race and inclusion, and this question got me thinking hard, and answering with some clarity, and identifying some places I need to keep working.

1. Read, read, read.

And listen. And pay attention. And shut up. And witness. And try to learn, and unlearn.

2. Pay attention to whose voices I amplify.

I have a small reach, a small field of folks who read what I share, and I pay attention to what I put into that sphere and recommend. When I don’t pay attention, I tend to stay within my white privilege bubble and retweet, link to, and recommend other white folks. This is not because people of color are not saying things that are relevant to me (and to you all) or that they are not brilliant—because duh, they are. Rather, I think I do this because of my personal (and often invisible to me) bias of whiteness. It takes conscious work for me to not default to whiteness, but I want to change that. So I pay attention to who I share and follow and who I surround myself with.

3. Decline to participate in (unconsciously) all-white spaces and events and publications and projects.

To be fair, I’ve only declined a few times, and this is something I’m working on improving. I don’t always think to ask who else is in the book or on the panel before I say yes, especially if it’s something I know of and admire. But recently, a sex education book came out with twenty photos of the white faces of contributors on the back, and Aida Mandulay called it out and WOC Sexual Health Network followed up, it is incredible to me that nobody noticed that before publication, or that if they did, nobody worked to change it. However, I am sure I have been in anthologies that were all-white, but since most of my publications are erotica, photos of the authors are included very rarely. And the sexuality education field is incredibly dominated by white folks (because most fields are, because racism). Personally, I have noticed often recently that many of my small group collaborations are all-white, and I need to think about that more (and to keep noticing that most of my communities are white, and work on the underlying issues of why that is).

4. I pay attention to the language I use.

As a genderqueer non-binary person and a feminist queer, I know how much language matters. I pay deep attention when someone talks about racist language—mine or others—and I do my best to pay attention to the words I use, their origins, and their uses.

a) I love reclaimed language, but when there are words that have been used against a minoritized group, I recognize that I don’t have a claim to use them. I can reclaim words that have been used against me. As such, there are certain words I just don’t use, whose histories are too controversial, and whose communities I respect.

b) There are a lot of words that have snuck into our language which have oppressive and racially-based origins, and often I’ve just never thought about it or made the connection. Recently, with the protests in Oakland and Berkeley, my neighbors and I have watched a lot of the live feeds, and have seen the police show up with “paddy wagons,” and then we all had a brief chat about how that is a derogatory slur referring to Irish folks, and tried to figure out what else to call them instead. And when I hear folks use the word “gypped” to refer to being ripped off (which happens more often than I’d expect) I remind them that comes from the oppression of Roma people. Often, people reply with things like, “Oh yeah, right, I never really thought of that …”

c) Know the words I use and where they come from. The queer reading series I co-hosted and -produced with the late Cheryl B from 2010-2011 was called “Sideshow,” and once, a colleague pointed out that the “sideshow” has a pretty terrible history of showing off the “freaks,” and that they wouldn’t be participating. I liked the feel of it at the time, but I wouldn’t use that word again on a project. Especially because I recognize that as an able-bodied and generally mentally well person, it is not my word to reclaim (see 4A), it is my word to respect and stop using (see 4B). See also: Strange Fruit PR Firm [Changes Their Name] After Getting a History Lesson From Twitter.

d) Very deeply engrained in the english language is the dark/light dualistic binary and the use of the concepts of “shadow” and “dark” for bad, unknown, dangerous, and uncharted territory, and of “light” as all things good and holy. I would guess these concepts have more to do with the human psyche than race—however, when used in a racist culture, they reinforce racism subtly and intrinsically. I want to know more about this and do a bit more research on language and archetypes. Meanwhile, though, I am doing my best to avoid the dark/light dualism to stand in for bad/good, particularly when there are thousands of other more thoughtful and interesting metaphors to use.

Language is always changing, and I try to stay flexible in my relationships with words, even if I happen to love them (or have used or over-used them in the past, see 4D). Recently I’ve been discussing the usage of “minoritized” instead of “minority,” for example (still working on that distinction and curious about the reasonings). I’m curious how language changes and moves, how it both reflects and changes culture. This is some of my favorite language-nerdy stuff.

5. I call myself on my privileges.

When I talk about identities as concepts, and my own concepts, I don’t just give my marginalized positions (like queer, kinky, genderqueer, working class, survivor) but I also share the areas where I have privilege and am working to have more awareness (like white, able bodied, american, college educated).

6. When I’m up in front of a group or workshop, I listen when someone challenges my positions, and I call participants out.

I particularly listen when someone challenges me in areas where I am less expertise or have privilege and am less aware of how those oppressive dynamics work. I don’t always know I try to notice it when someone says something that expresses a bias or privilege, and to say something, to call them on it. That’s pretty hard for me and I’m not perfect at it, and I often freeze up or get caught in holding the space of the workshop, and I can’t think of what to say. So I’ve taken to at least saying exactly that: “I heard you just say ___ and I can’t really think of what to say, but I think you have some bias there.” Then I try to move on.

7. I call out (or call in) when I see something.

I do call out when someone I know and feel some closeness with has done something I think has some overlooked bias in it, but I mostly do that privately and offline. I don’t spend much time calling out in the general conversations online, or chiming in when someone else has been called out. I sometimes fear that I should and have some guilt that I should participate in that more, but I also know how I am deeply introverted and more witness is better than more conversations for my energetic ability. I witness other’s calling out constantly and I read read read and listen and try to learn what went wrong, what was going on, and to apply that to my own work. With some folks I’m close to, we have spent a lot of time digesting and thinking about the project and how to do better in the future. See also: Calling In: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable.

8. When I fuck up, I apologize, listen, fix it (if I can), and do better next time.

There’s a fine balance: I am trying to recognize that we’re all human (including me) and I fuck up sometimes, but not to dwell in the fucking up so much that it makes me paralyzed to keep trying, and to still do the best I can to make up for, apologize for, and understand for my mistakes. I am a creator and I want to make art and writing that reflects culture and my inner world, and a huge piece of that is my desire to make it better through social activism. And because I am making things, not just witnessing and critiquing, I have messed up before and I will mess up again. I am doing my best to be okay with that inevitability, and to know that messing up is a necessary part of the process of trying and improving. I have strategies to both protect myself (and my highly sensitive person / high reactive / intuitive empathetic poet self) but also to listen, learn, back up, integrate changes, apologize, and move forward.

I’m sure there’s more I could do.

I am always pondering the ‘more’ of activism and the new, previously unknown parts of my own privilege to which I am still blind. But for now, this is what I’m doing, and I see a lot of room for growth in just what I’ve laid out here and what I’m already doing.

It’s been very interesting to reflect on what I am doing, actually. Reading the original thread on Mollena’s Facebook page gave me lots of ideas and more insight into how I engage the way I do, and what is good for my particular personality and skills. I’d love to hear what you all are doing, too, if you feel like sharing.

Announcing “My Awesome Place: The Autobiography of Cheryl B.”

Topside Press announces the release of “My Awesome Place: The Autobiography of Cheryl B” … I don’t know what else to say.

Contact: Katie Liederman
Media Representative, Topside Press
+1 212 457-5660
katie@topsidepress.com

“MY AWESOME PLACE: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CHERYL B” TO BE PUBLISHED BY TOPSIDE SIGNATURE

Official Publication Date October 23, 2012

New York, NY (June 26, 2012) – Topside Press imprint Topside Signature has today announced that October 23, 2012 will be the official release date of My Awesome Place: The Autobiography Of Cheryl B, the highly anticipated book by poet and curator Cheryl Burke based on the manuscript that remained incomplete at the time of the author’s death in 2011. The autobiography offers a rare authentic glimpse into the electrifying arts scene of New York City’s East Village during the vibrant 1990s, through the eyes of the young writer during her rise to prominence as the spoken word artist known as Cheryl B.

In the months following her death, members of Burke’s close-knit writing group, who had met continuously for nine years, worked to compile her drafts, essays and emails into a completed manuscript which was eventually synthesized into its final form by Burke’s close friend, novelist Sarah Schulman. The book’s narrative, from a liminal space between fiction and memoir, tracks her struggle to translate her working class New Jersey roots and define herself as an artist against the backdrop of an unforgiving city, a series of disastrous girlfriends and boyfriends and an intense, intimate relationship with drugs and alcohol. By the time Burke emerged, sober, in 2001, she had witnessed–and made major contributions to– one of the most remarkable artistic transformations that New York City has ever experienced.

“Historians are only just now beginning to deal with the transformations in art and culture that the East Village experienced in the 1990s,” said publisher Tom Léger. “My Awesome Place will quickly earn a place as a seminal text from this turbulent period in American art.”

Cheryl Burke (1972-2011) was a journalist, poet, performer and playwright who came of age in the vibrant 1990s East Village art scene. Her performances at the Nuyorican Poets Café, Bowery Poetry Club, the National Arts Club, P.S. 122, St. Marks Poetry Project established Burke as a young luminary and during her career she performed at venues throughout the US and abroad. Her work was published in Ping Pong, BUST, KGB Bar Lit, Go Magazine, Velvet Park, a dozens of other journals and magazines, and anthologized in Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution (Seal Press, 2007), Reactions 5 (Pen & Inc, 2005), The Milk of Almonds: Italian-American Women Writers on Food & Culture (Feminist Press, 2002), The World in Us (St. Martins Press, 2000), Pills, Thrills, Chills and Heartache (Alyson Books, 2004), His Hands, His Tools, His Sex, His Dress (Haworth Press, 2001), among others. Burke was a graduate of both New York University and The New School. She passed away at the age of 38 from complications related to treatment of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. My Awesome Place is her first book.

# # #

Topside Signature is an imprint of Topside Press, and is based in New York City, New York. Topside Signature will publish a select number of superb literary works of exceptional cultural significance to queer and feminist communities. The first title issued will be My Awesome Place and publishers expect to release 2-3 titles per year beginning in 2013.

My Awesome Place: The Autobiography of Cheryl B
By Cheryl Burke
$25.95 (hardcover) / $15.95 (paperback)

Published By:
Topside Signature,
228 Park Avenue South,
New York, NY 10003

Format: Hardcover, paperback
Size: 5.5″x8.5″, 208 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9832422-4-6 (hc) / 978-0-9832422-5-3 (pb)

Date of Publication: October 23, 2012
Distribution arrangements: Ingram

Book Release Party for “My Awesome Place” in NYC

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 7pm
Bluestockings Bookstore
172 Allen Street, New York, New York 10002
Facebook event

The official release event for “My Awesome Place: The Autobiography Of Cheryl B”, the highly anticipated book by poet and curator Cheryl Burke based on the manuscript that remained incomplete at the time of the author’s death in 2011. The autobiography offers a rare authentic glimpse into the electrifying arts scene of New York City’s East Village during the vibrant 1990s, through the eyes of the young writer during her rise to prominence as the spoken word artist known as Cheryl B.

Please join us to celebrate the publication of Cheryl’s first book.

About MY AWESOME PLACE

In the months following her death, members of Burke’s close-knit writing group, who had met continuously for nine years, worked to compile her drafts, essays and emails into a completed manuscript which was eventually synthesized into its final form by Burke’s close friend, novelist Sarah Schulman.

The book’s narrative, from a liminal space between fiction and memoir, tracks her struggle to translate her working class New Jersey roots and define herself as an artist against the backdrop of an unforgiving city, a series of disastrous girlfriends and boyfriends and an intense, intimate relationship with drugs and alcohol. By the time Burke emerged, sober, in 2001, she had witnessed–and made major contributions to– one of the most remarkable artistic transformations that New York City has ever experienced.

Help Syd London Get A New Camera

If you’ve been lurking around Sugarbutch for a while, you know who Syd London is.

Syd has taken many of the most significant photos of me and my events in the last few years. She is an incredible photographer, hard-working and frequently nearly invisible at events, sneaking in to get just the right shots without interrupting the performers or the vibe of what’s going on (which is not true of all event photographers, just sayin’).

The first shoot that Syd and I did was a solo shoot of me, in slightly industrial Brooklyn, so early in the morning that I look kind of tired in some of the shots. But you probably recognize at least this one:

… because that’s the shot I used as a headshot for a few years. More from that photo shoot are on Syd’s flickr streamI especially like this one.

Then Syd shot me and Cheryl the night that we started Sideshow.

You’ve seen many of these shots, too, because I used them as promo images for the series while it ran for a year and a half. There are many, many more shots of us from that night, together and separately, and the colors are amazing, and Cheryl looks so serious and dark and her usual self, and then sometimes one of us made her laugh and we got this rare shot of her smile. I’m so glad we have some photos of us together. Syd took hundreds of shots that night, and made us both look incredible.

She also snapped a few quick shots of me and Kristen, including this one, which is one of my favorite photographs of us together that we yet have:

And just, wow. I love that photograph.

Syd went on to photograph Sideshow for Time Out New York a couple different times throughout the series. How else would I have these amazing shots, capturing what it was like to be there for the first time? I was so nervous. Cheryl was buzzing around but kept a completely cool head, as she did. Kristen was beautiful and welcoming and warm, as she is.

And Syd captured it all.

Syd went on to photograph the Butch Voices NYC Regional Conference, for which I was on the steering committee, and snapped more shots of me, the conference in general, and Kristen and Cheryl as part of the volunteer committee that baked for the butches.

Syd also got shots of the Sideshow/Queer Memoir Butch Voices Mashup and the Speed Friending/Speed Dating opening night social. I’m on the Butch Voices national board now, have I mentioned that yet? I should make a formal announcement about that, I (we, the board) haven’t yet.

… And then Cheryl was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Syd took the photos of Cheryl’s old fashioned lesbian head shaving ritual, and one of the photos made it into the New York Times “Lives They Lived” series and was featured in the NYT Magazine.

Syd’s shot became Cheryl’s icon on WTF Cancer Diaries.

Kelli & Cheryl had their own shoot before we did the head shaving, so these are some of the last shots of Cheryl with all of her hair.

I love the love in these photographs. They were so good together, and loved each other so well.

Syd went on to photograph Nerd Love, the Valentine’s show that Kelli and Cheryl did together with some friends, as well as Fuck Your Health and Butch Burlesque and Butch It Up and dozens more community events.

And then Cheryl died. And Syd photographed the last Sideshow, just like she’d photographed the first one, except without Cheryl. And Kristen and I tried not to cry all night, and I put Sideshow on hold.

And a month or so later, Syd photographed Cheryl’s memorial.

… and I don’t even know what to say about that. It was a beautiful, important night, and one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

So basically, Syd London’s photography tells many the stories of my life for the past two years, from formal headshot photoshoots to community events to private rituals to memories that I am so blessed to cherish in images. I didn’t really realize that I’d be doing an overview of my successes and lows and family, but well, that’s what I’m doing.

The point is, Syd London needs a camera.

She’s been doing all this work borrowing camera equipment, and needs her own in order to continue capturing the community events that she’s been doing for many years, not just the last few that I’ve been working with her. She’s touched many, many lives of artists and activists in this community.

Here’s the video version of this request:

And here’s what Syd has to say about this campaign:

My name is Syd London; I’m a Brooklyn based, self taught, professional photographer and photojournalist. Until photography I struggled since the age of 9 with my soul question; how can I use my life as a tool? Baring witness, documenting and story telling through my photography while working to get those stories out there have become my answer. However, the professional grade tools which enable me to do this work are extremely expensive. I haven’t had my own digital camera since August 2010, when my camera was broken beyond repair. Since then I’ve been working on borrowed and rented equipment. Skyrocketing rental costs make it extremely difficult to continue and impossible to save for the needed equipment. I don’t want to wear my welcome out from relying on the incredible generosity of friends for camera loans. I never know what I’m going to work with or how/if I’m going to get a camera for the next gig. I’m especially concerned about the continuity of my work dedicated to social justice; licenses to these photos are frequently donated to organizations doing social justice work at a grass roots level such as Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, the Audre Lorde Project and Queers for Economic Justice. A professional grade camera rig of my own would enable me to continue my ongoing documentary about the LGBT community in NYC “Taking Back the Streets” (started in 2007), to continue to donate to magnificent organizations and artists as well as enable me push my work to the next level, something I’m starved for.

If you’ve got any extra money and you’re capable of giving a donation to her campaign, I urge you to do so. For selfish reasons, I want to keep working with Syd, and I want her photographs to keep being amazing. And for more community reasons, I know Syd’s work makes a huge difference, and I know how important it is to have not only a record of our communities, but a way to show us off in the mainstream that is accessible, beautiful, and moving.

Thank you, Syd, for all the incredible work you’ve done. I hope it’ll continue for a long time.

Photos from the Last Sideshow

After Cheryl died, the reading series she and I co-created took a hiatus. July 2011 was the last performance, and Syd London took amazing photographs.

Readers were Ellis Avery, Samantha Barrow, E Charles Crandall, Kestryl Cael Lowrey, Morgan W., Renair Amin, & Ashley Young.

I think it really captures the vibe of the series … diverse and wide-ranging, joyous and emotional, community building and hook-up space (did you see all those super hot people?!).

I miss doing that every month. I’m hoping to revive it in 2012, but I don’t have all the details worked out yet. Will of course let you all know and shout it from the rooftops when I do.

The Cheryl B. Writer’s Fund

I’m still on the west coast, in San Francisco today at a pretty amazing gay boy hotel with one of my best buddies, exploring the city and getting ready for the workshop this weekend. But this just came into my inbox and I realized I hadn’t mentioned it on the November calendar. If you’re in New York City, I hope you might be able to attend. Wish I could be there.

The Astraea Foundation is putting together a Cheryl B. writers fund and at their 20 year celebration party there will be a small special tribute to her and her work.

Details:

Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.

– Audre Lorde, 1991 Lesbian Writers Fund Judge in Poetry

Celebrate the Astraea Lesbian Writers Fund’s 20 year legacy.
Hear the new voices of literary history.

Writeous! Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Astraea Lesbian Writers Fund

Featuring performances by:
R. Erica Doyle
Karma Mayet Johnson
Ana-Maurine Lara
Chinelo Okparanta
Kirya Traber
Lenelle Moïse
& a special presentation honoring the life & work of poet/writer/activist, Cheryl B
Musical Performance by Cocomama
Twirl by DJ RiMarkable

November 11th • 7PM Doors, 8PM Show
Brecht Forum • 451 West Street, New York, NY

BUY TICKETS: $15 Suggested Donation | $25 Guaranteed Seat
Scorpios enter FREE (with appropriate ID). No one turned away for lack of funds. Food and drink available for purchase.

Visit our facebook event to get the latest news about Writeous!

The Brecht Forum is fully accessible through a wheelchair ramp in the rear courtyard. Artist accommodations generously provided by the Brooklyn Apartment

What I Read (For Cheryl)

Cheryl’s memorial was yesterday. More than two hundred people attended, brought food, and comforted each other, and fifteen people read some of their own thoughts and some of Cheryl’s work.

I hosted the event. It was the hardest reading I’ve ever done. I felt like I called on more of my tantra and energy/space holding abilities more than I used my reading host skills, though both of course were present. In putting together the line-up, I thought a lot about how much Cheryl has taught me about hosting readings, stage presence, how to order it, how to keep it moving, what to say and how to banter between readers. I learned so much in such a short time, she really knew what she was doing.

I had a pretty strict script so as not to babble, which, if you’ve ever seen me host a reading, you know I can tend to do. So here’s the part that I read.

Hello everyone. Thank you for being here at Dixon Place to celebrate Cheryl B.

We’re all here because we knew Cheryl, because she touched us in some way. Some of Cheryl’s accomplishments are listed in the chapbook/program, but we all know that she was widely anthologized, created three reading series in New York City in the last ten years, and performed all over the US, UK and Canada.

I’ve known Cheryl since I moved to New York in 2005. She was one of the first people I met in the literary performance circles. We kept being booked for the same readings, and eventually became friendly, then friends. She read at my chapbook release party in 2007, we started working together in 2009, and then started a reading series, Sideshow: the Queer Literary Carnival, together in 2010. I was there throughout her diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma last November, through the chemo treatment, which I even accompanied her to (once), and through her hospitalization.

What has struck me consistently in thinking about which story to tell about Cheryl here has been the transformation which happened after she was diagnosed. Cheryl had a dark, cynical sense of humor, and was private, often feeling alienated. But when she truly needed help from her friends and her larger community, you all—we—surprised her by offering up our support, our pies, our cars for rides, our wallets for Fresh Direct gift cards, our time, and our prayers.

I saw how much it meant to her that everyone rallied, throwing spelling bee fundraisers, offering research, and sending emails of support. Cheryl opened up and took in that love in a way that I’d never seen her do before.

Kelli told me that at the end, when she and Cheryl were doing some woo-woo aspirations that clearly were Kelli’s idea, Cheryl chose to say “I am thankful for my community,” and she didn’t even roll her eyes.

More than anything else, I’m so glad this event is an opportunity to get all of us together, all of us who loved and cared for Cheryl, and who love and care for Kelli, to look around the room and acknowledge what a community ourpouring of love looks like.

Tonight, you’ll hear some of her work read by some artists, writers, and friends, from Cheryl’s brother, and a few videos of Cheryl herself.

— Readers —

Thank you to all the readers for coming and being here today.

I’d like to conclude by reading one of my favorite poems, which has been a comfort to me lately. You’ll notice it’s not in Cheryl’s style, but I’d like to offer it up as a prayer, in whatever way that means to you.

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Thank you all for being here. Thank you Dixon Place, thank you to the volunteers who helped us set up and will help us clean up, thank you United Stages and Kathleen Warnock for the beautiful program/chapbooks. Thanks to Genne and Bevin for helping to coordinate this event, thank you Kelli for your beautiful heart and friendship, to all of us.

There is a new writer’s fund set up in Cheryl’s name through the Astraea Foundation; you can donate on your way out. When there are more events to raise funds for the Cheryl B. Fund, you can find out about them on wtfcancerdiaries.com.

You are also welcome to take a book from Cheryl’s collection, we have a donation hat next to it if you’d like to contribute.

And please remember to support each other, tonight and ongoing.

Thank you for being here.

For Cheryl

There are a few things coming up for Cheryl.

The Last Sideshow, Tuesday, July 12th, at the usual time and place (8pm, The Phoenix, East Village, NYC). Lineup TBA.

A Memorial for Cheryl B (Is For Beautiful): A Celebration of Her Life, Because This Death Stuff Sucks. Saturday, July 23rd, 3pm at Dixon Place, NYC

I still don’t know what to say.

Here are a couple videos of Cheryl reading her work. I have some clips of her from an event of mine a few years back that I want to convert and put on YouTube too, haven’t done that yet. Maybe this weekend.

Hope you can make it to Sideshow or the memorial.

Cheryl B.

photo by Syd London

Cheryl B. died yesterday, Saturday morning. I’m not sure what I can say yet. A couple other people are able to be more articulate than me: Sassafras Lowrey at Lambda Literary.org, Kathleen Warnock at Too Many Hats. Edit: Here’s a few more, Anne Elliott on Ass Backwords, Rachel Kramer Bussel on Lusty Lady.

We made a little video for Cheryl at April’s Sideshow.

Sideshow Loves Cheryl from Sinclair Sexsmith on Vimeo.

I’d like to post some videos of her poetry soon. I miss her.

Cheryl’s New Project: WTF Cancer Diaries

If you attended the last Sideshow: Queer Literary Carnival, you were there when my co-host, co-producer, and very good friend Cheryl B. announced that she was recently diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma just recently, in the last month.

So of course, she started a blog: WTF Cancer Diaries.

From her description: “This blog will chronicle my journey of being overeducated, underemployed, with a tumor the size of a cantaloupe in my chest. WTF.”

Kristen and I were over at Cheryl’s place this past Sunday to take part in an “old fashioned lesbian head-shaving ritual,” where Diana Cage wielded the clippers and Syd London took photos, except it wasn’t so much for the “down with the patriarchy!” reasons as it was the whole cancer thing. Though that doesn’t stop Cheryl and and her partner Kelli from spontaneously breaking into faux-slam-poetry: “The man / the man / the man / gave me can / cer / and I say I can / sir …”

That’s just how they roll.

It’s been a scary month, from the diagnosis to the beginnings of chemotherapy. I’ve been scared and concerned for my friend. I don’t know much about cancer, but from what I’ve gathered this type of lymphoma is actually very treatable and most of the time responds quite well to a standardized treatment regimen. I guess of all kinds of cancer to get, this would be one of them. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

It’s one of the reasons Cheryl and I are seeking interns for Sideshow. We’re booking 2011 now (interested? Contact us) and are very excited to keep bringing you some fabulous queer stories, poems, and performances. I have LOVED working with Cheryl this past year on this reading series, it’s brought us closer together, she’s been easy and wonderful to work with and I look forward to continuing the series for a while. It might be a tough six months or so as she goes through treatment, but

The December 14th show is Family Traditions featuring Alysia Angel, Silas Howard, Whitney Porter, Elizabeth Whitney, Heather Gold, & Lea Robinson, and I’m really looking forward to it. That’s a lotta talent in one place. So come—stop by, support Cheryl, see her new shaved head and wig, and read her new site, subscribe, keep up with what’s going on in her cancer saga. And send her prayers, well-wishes, and healing vibes. It can’t hurt.

Sideshow’s Erotica Show is August 10th

And it’s going to be delicious. I can tell already. Mark your calendars! And see the whole schedule over on queerliterarycarnival.com.

Sideshow: The Queer Literary Carnival
Hosted by Cheryl B. & Sinclair Sexsmith
August 10 @ The Phoenix, 447 East 13th Street @ Avenue A
East Village, New York City
Doors, 7:30pm. Reading, 8pm.
Free!
@sideshowseries

August’s theme is HEAT WAVE EROTICA, starring:
Tamiko Beyer (Drunken Boat)
Rachel Kramer Bussel (In The Flesh)
Mildred Dred Gerestant (OUTMusic Spirit Award)
Kit Yan (Mr. Transman 2010)

RSVP on Facebook!

About the performers …

Sober Stories at Queer Memoir 7/24

My Sideshow co-host and co-producer Cheryl B. is guest curating for another New York City queer literary reading series, Queer Memoir. Queer Memoir is a bit different than Sideshow (or In the Flesh or Red Umbrella Diaries or Drunken! Careening! Writers! or the Bluestockings Poetry Jam & Open Mic) as it features people who are not necessarily performers or professional storytellers sharing their lives and stories.

Cheryl’s guest theme is Sober, and it happens this Saturday, the 24th of July at the Queers for Economic Justice performance space in Manhattan. Come! I’m going to do my best to make it, and then likely go to Butch Burlesque at Dixon Place later that same night.

Guest curator and host Cheryl B. presents the sober-themed edition of NYC’s premier queer storysharing show, Queer Memoir, starring: Joshua Bastian Cole, Cora Leighton, Katie Liederman, Melissa Febos, Sophia Pazos, Terence, & Tina Goerlach

Queer Memoir: Sober
July 24, 8pm
QEJ Perormance Space
147 West 24th Street, 4th floor
$5 suggested donation (no one turned away)
http://queermemoir.com
Facebook Invite

About the storytellers … 

Snapshot: Sideshow’s Freak Flag

This week’s Sideshow: Queer Literary Carnival was the theme of Freak Flag, and the show was fantastic.

I’m not much of an event photographer (certainly not compared to last month’s beautiful shots by Syd London), but I got a few of the readers this time, and Kristen took some video that I’ll work on uploading also.

The rest of the shots are up over on the Sideshow blog, at the new domain queerliterarycarnival.com.

“There’s a Man in the Woman’s Room NOT” by Kelli Dunham

I can’t resist posting this. Kelli Dunham, comic, former nun, friend of mine, and nerd extraordinaire, posed a question on her Facebook page about what genderqueer folks do when needing to pee at Penn Station: go into the woman’s room, and get yelled at? Or brave the men’s room’s grime and row of urinals?

In response, a friend of hers suggested she write a catchy song, and voila, she did. Here’s the whole explanation, and the song, in the video:

Check out more Kelli Dunham online at kellidunham.com and on Twitter at @kellidunham.

If you’d like to see her live, she’s got a show coming up with Cheryl B. (who you may know as my co-host from Sideshow), Katie McCabe, Elizabeth Whitney, and Lea Robinson, aka the Famous Lesbian Comedy Roadshow* (*famous lesbians not included) at Stonewall Inn this Tuesday, July 6th. It’s the DIRTY FILTHY RED HOT SUMMER SHOW, clearly not to be missed.

Sideshow Promo Images by Syd London

The inimitable Syd London took some photographs of Cheryl B. and me to use for Sideshow promotion. We shot in the East Village, right around the Phoenix bar where Sideshow is held, on 13th & Avenue A. Some of the shots near the end are actually right in front of the Phoenix, that dark red brick wall with the wrought iron bars on the windows, kind of gothic-looking. And Kristen makes an appearance at the end, as she is the semi-official Sideshow Hostess.

These shots were taken the same night as the last Sideshow, the butch/femme themed Pride show on June 9th, which Syd also photographed for Time Out New York, and which are now up on the TONY blog. They’re gorgeous, check ’em out!

Syd put a whole bunch of the best shots up on Flickr, shown here in a slideshow.

We haven’t finished choosing the images for our official promotional images yet. I’d love some help in picking out the best ones—Which are your favorites?

Come to Sideshow! The Queer Literary Carnival June 8th

It’s that time again … Sideshow! The Queer Literary Carnival, the reading series hosted by myself and the lovely Cheryl B., is upcoming next week on Tuesday, June 8th. Since June is Gay Pride Month, we wanted to do a queer theme, and decided on interesting perspectives on butch and femme. It’s going to be a great mix of readers!

If you’re in New York, or nearby, please come join us.

Sideshow: The Queer Literary Carnival
Hosted by Cheryl B. & Sinclair Sexsmith
June 8 @ Phoenix, 47 East 13th Street @ Avenue A
in the East Village of New York City
Doors, 7:30pm. Reading, 8pm.
Free! (We’ll pass the hat for the readers)

RSVP on Facebook!
Follow us on Twitter: @sideshowseries

This month’s theme is BUTCH/FEMME, in honor of gay pride month, starring:
Syd Blakovich! Diana Cage! Miriam Z. Pérez! Jack Stratton! Teresa Theophano!

How fucking hot are they?? This is going to be good.

The Readers:

Working in the adult industry since 2005, Syd Blakovich dedicates most of her time training to fight and working for Pink and White Productions (pinkwhite.biz), internationally acclaimed pioneers of independent, adult, queer cinema and four time winners of Feminist Porn Awards. She is also one of the most notorious figures in the adult submission wrestling world. With a record of 10-2, Syd is currently the number 1 ranked wrestler of UltimateSurrender.com. Follow Syd on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sydblakovich.

Diana Cage is the author of several best selling, hilarious and informative books on sex and relationships, including Girl Meets Girl:A Dating Survival Guide and Box Lunch: The Laypersons Guide to Cunnilingus. She’s been called everything from an “unapologetic pioneer,” to “flirty, raunchy and in your face.” Diana’s obsessions include high heels, fashion week, gin martinis, Luce Irigaray and extreme lesbian processing. She’ll pretty much talk about sex with anyone who asks. Look for her most recent book, A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Ecstasy, coming out later this year.

Miriam Z. Pérez is a writer, blogger and reproductive justice activist. She is the founder of Radical Doula, a blog that lives at the intersections of birth activism and social justice. Pérez is an Editor at Feministing.com and works with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. Her writing has appeared in various publications and two recent anthologies: Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists and Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape. Pérez lives in Washington DC.

Jack Stratton is an open minded, sex positive, mostly-straight, mostly-top, non-monogamous, writer, skeptic, foodie, graphic designer and aspiring dandy. He is a native New Yorker who is obsessed with kink, fan fiction, postmodernism, women and ties. He’s hardly been published anywhere, which is a damn shame. He thoughts and work can be found at writingdirty.com.

Teresa Theophano is a writer, social worker, and community organizer. She is the editor of Queer Quotes, published by Beacon Press in 2004, and of the forthcoming anthology Headcase: LGBTQ Writers and Artists on Mental Illness. She has also contributed to numerous anthologies and Web sites, including glbtq.com and Planned Parenthood. A former assistant editor at St. Martin’s Press, Teresa now does social work in Harlem with mentally ill homeless adults, and assists with projects at the National LGBT Cancer Network.

And as usual, Sideshow! The Queer Literary Carnival is hosted by me, Sinclair Sexsmith, and Cheryl B.

See you there!

Bulldyke Chronicles guest hosted by Famous Lesbian Comedy Roadshow* Saturday in NYC

The Famous Lesbian Comedy Roadshow* is doing a fundraiser at Bulldyke Chronicles this Saturday, guest hosting the show, and I’m one of the special guest performers!

What’s that? You haven’t heard of the Famous Lesbian Comedy Roadshow*? Well you should have! It includes my Sideshow co-host and co-curator, Cheryl B., along with Kelli Dunham, Kate McCabe, Lea Robinson, & Elizabeth Whitney. They’re going on tour this summer and this is their special fundraising show here in New York. Come on out!

Saturday, May 15, 8:30 pm
Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie St.
Lower East Side, New York City
RSVP on Facebook

With special guests:
Doris Anderson, Director of the Lesbian Community Center
Claudia Cogan, comedian
Heather Milk Gold, performer
Yetta Kurland, politician
Athena Reich, singer/songwriter
Sinclair Sexsmith, kinky queer butch top
KS Stevens a.k.a. Miss Lez 2009
Emma Willman, comedian

And of course, the multi-talented members of the Famous Lesbian Comedy Roadshow*: Cheryl B., Kelli Dunham, Kate McCabe (in spirit), Lea Robinson & Elizabeth Whitney

Silent auction, raffle, & you can have your picture taken with Officer Ruffins from Room For Cream!

* famous lesbians not included

Sideshow! The Queer Literary Carnival May 11th

Well folks, it’s that time again …

Did you know May is National Masturbation Month? The Sex Blogger Calendar tells me it was because of US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders being fired in 1995 for saying masturbation was “something that should be taught.” According to the Good Vibes magazine, “In 1995, just months after US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders had been fired for mildly pro-masturbation remarks, Good Vibrations launched National Masturbation Month. Dedicated to increasing discussion and ending the stigma surrounding self-pleasure, GV added new elements to the monthly celebration each year, finally introducing the Masturbate-a-Thon, a fundraiser featuring pledge-getting, (private) masturbation and charity donations.”

The Masturbate-a-Thon website hasn’t been launched yet, but save the date—it happens this year on May 30th.

And in honor of National Masturbation Month, Sideshow’s May gathering of poets, writers, and rebel-rousers will be under the topic of navel-gazing (for which the fancy word is omphaloskepsis).

Please join us! It will be a fantastic gathering.

Sideshow: The Queer Literary Carnival
“serious literature for ridiculous times”
Hosted by Cheryl B. & Sinclair Sexsmith

May 11 @ Phoenix
447 East 13th Street @ Avenue A
Doors, 7:30pm. Reading promptly at 8.
Free
Sideshow website
RSVP on Facebook
@sideshowseries

This month’s theme is NAVEL-GAZING, starring:
Michael Broder
Audacia Ray
Ignacio Rivera
Jason Schneiderman

The Readers

Michael Broder’s poems, reviews, and essays have appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, BLOOM, Columbia Poetry Review, Court Green, and other journals, as well as in the anthologies This New Breed: Gents, Bad Boys and Barbarians 2 and My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them. He is currently completing a doctoral dissertation on queer kinship and camp aesthetics in Roman satire at the City University of New York. Having grown up in Coney Island in the days when there was still an “under the boardwalk,” he claims to be the original SIDESHOW!

Audacia Ray is a media maker and activist who is passionate about sexual rights. Presently, Audacia is the Program Officer for Online Communications and Campaigns at the International Women’s Health Coalition, an adjunct professor of Human Sexuality at Rutgers University, the co-host of the monthly reading series Sex Worker Literati, and the author of Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads, and Cashing In on Internet Sexploration. Audacia is a former sex worker who was an executive editor at $pread magazine for three years and is a co-founder of advocacy organization Sex Work Awareness, where she provides media training workshops for sex workers. Dacia is also the award-winning director and producer of the porn feature The Bi Apple as well as the producer and star of the comedic film short Dacia’s Love Machine. She has blogged at WakingVixen.com since 2004.

Ignacio Rivera aka Papi Coxxx who prefers the gender-neutral pronoun “they” has spoken at home and abroad on various topics including but not limited to sexuality, racism, sexism, transgender issues, anti-oppression, anti-violence, sexual liberation and multi-issue organizing. Ignacio’s work has manifested itself through skits, one-person shows, poetry, lectures, workshops and experimental film. More at http://www.ignaciorivera.com.

Jason Schneiderman is the author of Sublimation Point, a Stahlecker Selection from Four Way Books, and Striking Surface, winner of the 2009 Richard Snyder Prize from Ashland Poetry Press. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry, Poetry London, Grand Street, The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, Story Quarterly, and Tin House. He has received fellowships from Yaddo, The Fine Arts Work Center, and The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He was the recipient of the Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America in 2004. A graduate of the MFA program at NYU, he is currently completing his doctorate at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

The Curators

Cheryl B. (cherylb.com) is an award-winning writer, poet and performer. Her work appears in dozens of print and online publications, including; Ping Pong, Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution (Seal Press, 2007) and BLOOM, among many others. She has appeared at most major New York City literary evenings and toured throughout the U.S, Canada and the U.K. Cheryl lives in Brooklyn and teaches memoir writing at Gotham Writers’ Workshop.

Sinclair Sexsmith runs the award-winning personal online writing project Sugarbutch Chronicles: The Sex, Gender, and Relationship Adventures of a Kinky Queer Butch Top at sugarbutch.net. With work published in various anthologies, including the Best Lesbian Erotica series, Sometimes She Lets Me: Butch/Femme Erotica, and Visible: A Femmethology volume 2, Mr. Sexsmith enjoys whiskey, topping, the serial comma, political activism, and has been known to get on her knees in order to fix the strappy sandals of a queer femme. Sugarbutch Star chapbooks are available, if you ask nicely (and have ten bucks).

Come One, Come All, to SIDESHOW!

(More details & information at SideshowReadingSeries.wordpress.com.)

New York City: home to some of the best performance art, spoken word, poetry, and literary culture in the world. Also home of the freaks, the queers, the outlaws, the weirdos, who have all sought refuge from their narrow-minded little towns across America—across North America!—by congealing at the big cities on the fringes of the country.

It makes sense that thus, this little town of mine houses some amazing queer literary reading series, though few of them are explicitly queer—rather they are run by queers and promote queer voices and perspectives. Vittoria Repetto runs the Women/Trans Poetry Jam & Open Mic at Bluestockings, Rachel Kramer Bussel runs In The Flesh erotica reading series at Happy Ending, Audacia Ray co-hosts Sex Worker Literati at Happy Ending with David Henry Sterry, Kathleen Warnock runs Drunken! Careening! Writers! at KGB Bar, Charlie Vasquez runs Panic! at Nowhere bar, Shelly Mars runs the Bulldyke Chronicles at Dixon Place, Kelli Dunham and Gene Murphy run Queer Memoir at Collect Pond in Brooklyn. And that’s just off the top of my head.

Why does New York City need yet another literary and queer reading series? Despite the many other series, very few of them are explicitly places for queer’s marginalized voices to express ourselves. Perhaps these are actually a newer wave of reading series, born out of earlier waves of explicitly queer series, and these focus on a particular theme or style of work as opposed to the gender or sexuality of those reading it. But still, we have not conquered homophobia, heterosexism, or transphobia, and though many in the queer literary scene might think we can have queers and straight folks reading right next to each other in a line-up, we still face sometimes insurmountable issues because of our sexualities or gender identities.

I’m grateful New York City is different, encouraging art and expression of all flavors. Still, in comparison to some of the medium- and small-sized cities, New York City’s collectivity can be fragmented. The queer literary scene in Seattle, for example, is teeny tiny, and everybody knows everybody, and thus we have to rally around each other and go to each other’s shows and be kind and embracing, because there are only so many of us. Seattle has an extra fabulous queer monthly reading series and open mic, the Seattle Spit at the Wildrose, Seattle’s only dyke bar, and I cut my performing teeth there, attending every month and wishing I was brave enough to read my own things until finally I did.

When I moved to New York City I wondered why there wasn’t an equivalent. Perhaps the communities and scenes here are just too large to sustain any single reading series, we need multiple perspectives, we need lots of different styles, lots of different reading series coordinators who all have different circles within the queer and literary worlds.

Kathleen is a playwright, for example, and there’s such a large play and drama world here in New York City that is very queer and literary, but since I don’t tend to run in those circles myself, I often don’t know of the writers who are on the Drunken! Careening! Writers! roster. But they are always a best of the best, skimmed off the top, extremely talented bunch, and I certainly trust Kathleen’s own literary discernment.

Shelly Mars’s new series the Bulldyke Chronicles is quite the phenomenon, if you haven’t attended yet—comedians, performance artists, and storytellers are primarily in her circles, and she has pulled some amazing folks out of the woodwork to come share where they’ve been and how they see the world. Her performers by and large are not folks that I know, but they are amazing and I’m so glad they’ve been brought together in a forum where I get to see them perform.

It’s amazing how many subtly different queer literary scenes there can be in one place. It still amazes me that a city can hold so many different worlds, so many different circles which do overlap, though sometimes only touch. After four and a half years in New York City, I think I’ve finally made enough contacts in many of the different circles that I could help to pull together some amazing artists, to encourage the lifting of their voices high.

And so, the lovely and talented Cheryl B. and I have teamed up to start SIDESHOW!: The Queer Literary Carnival, which will be spoken word, poetry, storytelling, comedy, and performances of all kinds. It is “serious literature for ridiculous times by freaks, jokesters, and outlaws,” as our tagline boasts. We are booking seasoned performers whose work explores what it’s like to embody and move through the world with marginalized identities, be it sexual or gender or something else entirely. This one particular series is explicitly queer, specifically to encourage the expression of that weird, freaky, perverted, marginalized, queer point of view.

Cheryl has run series in the past, most recently she was the producer at the Poetry Vs Comedy Variety Hour, which started at Galapagos and moved to the Bowery Poetry Club. It was a blast—and I don’t just say that because I was the first poet ever to win the two rounds, or because I won twice. It was so much fun to attend, the judges were always just as fun as the poets and the comics, and of course all the participants went home with a prize, because winning was not the point, and we’re all losers anyway.

When we ran into each other at a holiday party last year, I mentioned that I’d been kicking around the idea of coordinating a reading series, and she said she would love to co-produce and co-host. Since Cheryl has much more expeirence than I do at hosting a reading series, and since she’s a damn fine poet, I immediately thought this was a wonderful idea, and we got into the nitty-gritty planning details in the new year. We secured a home at The Phoenix (thanks to Charlie Vasquez, who I previously mentioned as running the Panic series at one of my favorite queer watering holes, Nowhere Bar), and we booked an amazing first show.

To add some cohesion to the show, we’re going to have monthly themes, and the very first SIDESHOW kicks off in April on Tuesday the 13th. April’s theme is SECRETS, starring Kate Bornstein, Sam J. Miller, Seth Clark Silberman aka PhDJ, and Kathleen Warnock.

Did you see that part where I slipped in that Kate fraking Bornstein is going to be reading at the kickoff of the series? Like it is all casual and not a big deal? Except that I’ve been reading her books for the last ten years, and she’s such a major pioneer not only in gender work but in queer memoir, and the re-valuing of queer lives and experiences in general.

Kathleen Warnock, too, I’m thrilled to have in the line-up; I mentioned earlier that she runs the reading series at KGB Bar, but she is also the new series editor for Best Lesbian Erotica, put out annually by Cleis Press. I’ve admired her work since I first heard it when I moved to New York City and began attending her series, particularly for the extra-special holiday celebration in December that always includes Best Lesbian Erotica writers reading their own work.

Sam and I met because he’s in the brother series, Best Gay Erotica, and we read together at a joint reading a few years ago, and my best memory of PhDJ is his story about getting an apartment through the power of The Secret. Hey, when the shoe fits, you may as well wear it!

Since April is my birthday month, I’m telling friends there’s no need for gifts or a party, just come to Sideshow on April 13th at The Phoenix. I’ll be there from 7pm on, taking photos, kissing Kristen, and trying not to drink too many Jamesons on ice. Can’t wait to hear what everyone has to read, and how this gathering of queers might bring us together in an open, supportive environment.

See you there, New York.

Introducing Sideshow: The Queer Literary Carnival

You may have heard me mention the queer reading series that Cheryl B. and I are starting in New York City. Well, it’s official—it’s starting April 13th at 7pm at Sapphire Lounge in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Sideshow: The Queer Literary Carnival
Hosted by Cheryl B. & Sinclair Sexsmith

Premiere Event April 13 @ The Phoenix
447 East 13th Street at Avenue A, NYC
Doors, 7pm. Reading, 8pm.
Free! $4 beer/well drinks special
RSVP on Facebook!
Follow us on Twitter! @sideshowseries

This month’s theme is SECRETS, starring:
Kate Bornstein
Sam J. Miller
Seth Clark Silberman aka PhDJ
Kathleen Warnock