Saturday, April 19, 2014

Badass people I know [and what they're up to]: Abigail DeRoberts

Not too shabby
Dear Readers, welcome to a NEW FEATURE showcasing Badass People I Know [And What They're Up To]!

Now, I haven't been great at following through on most of my NEW FEATURES, but this one is gonna be just grand.

I was telling Abigail DeRoberts, the first interviewee on this segment, that I was inspired to do a project like this because I often find myself trying to break down other people's negative self-talk, and encourage them to elevate themselves instead.

This happens a lot with women, because we are pressured to behave with humility, modesty, and subservience. For example:

Me: "Hey, Female Friend, you're great at guitar!"
Female Friend: "Nah, I'm alright."
Me: "NO YOU ARE FUCKING GREAT AT GUITAR AND YOU DON'T NEED TO STEP DOWN FROM THAT! NOW LET ME HEAR YOU SAY, 'I AM GREAT AT GUITAR!'"
Female Friend: [nervously] "I am great at guitar...?"

So I thought I'd interview some interesting people I know, in an effort to give them praise for who they are, and also show other people that it's cool to be proud of whatcha do!

Without further ado, here's some wisdom from my friend Abigail.

Abigail and I met in college during a study-abroad semester in Cuba. I asked Abigail to tell me about a memory she has of our friendship, and I shared one with her too:

Shtetl Chic: This one time when I was visiting you in DC, there was a bunch of us and we were trying to get up on your roof to see the National Cathedral. We went up there and we were getting our little party on. I think there were four or five of us, and it was really beautiful because it was night and the Cathedral was all lit up. And the way you got up there was you had to climb this wrought iron security door and get up on the roof, and the door is kind of swinging. And I'm a little scared of heights  - and by a little, I mean I'm scared of heights -

Abigail: Oh my G-d, you starting freaking! Wait! Wait!

Shtetl Chic: So we're up there, and then we have to get down. And I was like, "Oh my G-d, I can't get down!" Like, I can't do it. I'm gonna be stuck up here forever; they're gonna have to call the fire department. And everyone who's climbed down is like, "Come on, Ari! Let's go!" And I'm in between you and Phil - remember Phil? - And I'm on the door, holding onto the gutter, like I can't get down.

I'm distraught. I'm hyperventilating. I'm losing my grip. Phil is grabbing my leg, you're on the top like, "Ari, you can do it! Just let go with your left hand! Don't worry - you can do it! We do it all the time!" and I finally did.

And I really appreciate that you did not make fun of me! You were just like, "Let's just get you down from here." And thank you for that, because I was really embarrassed after that, but in the moment I was really scared.

Abigail: Well, I knew that you could do it, and you did a great job.

Shtetl Chic: You totally helped me.

Abigail: Well, you did a great job and it was such a fun time. Ummm, I was trying to think of a memory from Cuba. I remember I was really glad when you got there because there were definitely no radical people with intersectional anti-capitalist analysis of the wackness of the world, which really surprised me because I was thinking, "Who's the kind of people who want to go to Cuba?" and there was no one there. So I was really relieved when you came. I was like, "I don't care that she's a socialist. At least she's a feminist and she gets it." And I was so glad that you were there.

Shtetl Chic: And I remember meeting you. You were telling us about some patriarchal bullshit that had interrupted the flow of your day, and everyone was like, "Come on, Abby, you know that stuff happens here," and I was like, "No, that is not acceptable!" And that's when we became friends.

Abigail: Word. 

On queer farming, "queer issues," and the power of collective organizing:

Shtetl Chic: Have you listened to any music today? I listened to a song to get in the mood to interview you.

Abigail: I haven't listened to any music today.

Shtetl Chic: Okay, well I'll tell you about my song, because it's really good. It's called "Limp Wrist and a Steady Hand" by My Gay Banjo.

Abigail: What do they talk about?
Abby & me

Shtetl Chic: They talk about how cool it is to be gay, pretty much.

Abigail: It is cool to be gay. It's like a club that we are lucky to be part of.

Shtetl Chic: I agree. So I actually went to their concert. They came to New Orleans like two months ago. And they had screened this movie about queer farmers before they played, which I thought was really interesting. I was just watching it, thinking, What's so queer about farming? And I thought, Oh, it's queer because not a lot of people farm, and our food sources - we're not connected to them - so it is a queer idea to get back to that. Like unusual, and out of the ordinary, so of course queer people would do that.

Abigail: And queer people are oftentimes forced to fend for themselves and take care of themselves and ensure their own sustainability and livelihood, and I feel like growing your own food is one way of doing that.

Shtetl Chic: When I think about how queer people are asked to justify their presence in spaces or in movements - to have to point that out, and insert queer people in that dialogue, to show that we also are thoughtful residents of the communities that we live in - that I see as the main struggle, you know, being at once apart and part of.

Abigail: That reminds me of a story I read about how in California they're thinking of building a prison just for trans people. Some people are like, "Oh yeah, that's great because they won't face harassment and violence in prison."

But of course the problem is that trans people - especially trans people of color - are criminalized just for being who they are. People and police see them as criminals, drug dealers, as sex workers. For poor people of color, the thinking is, "You really have to keep an eye on them; they're bound to do something wrong." That's what fills prisons up with queer people and trans people in the first place.

Building a prison just for trans people is not something we want to do, because we don't want people to be in prison in the first place. It's complicated to explain to people who don't already understand, because those people aren't going to be targeted from Day Zero as people who are going to have to end up in jail, like a lot of trans and queer people are.

And as for asking queer people to explain all that, and have to answer to "the queer experience," or "the trans experience," it's forcing people to justify their existence, which is totally wack. But we live in a world created for straight white dudes, and anyone who's not that, basically has to justify it, which is wack. Wack!

Shtetl Chic: So you're fighting the wackitude.

Abigail: Trying!

Shtetl Chic: Yeah, it's not a one-person struggle, so it's good you have people around you who are moving with you on that.

Abigail:  Yeah, totally! When I think about that, I think about all the projects I wouldn't have energy to do if I didn't do them with others. I have a wonderful partner, and friends, and a cool communal house. I feel really fortunate to have the people around me that I do.

In DC, I really have created a specific community of people who are really awesome and really wonderful. I can work on these cool projects with all kinds of different people, and we can bring our unique qualities to the work that we do. I am fortunate.

Abigail has been a member of Washington, DC's Latino Media Collective for the past seven years. She produces an audio-blog called La Palabra, in which she interviews people about issues that affect their communities.

Abigail: Radio and audio stories are really powerful for people. They can say whatever they believe. When you do video, people are totally worried about how they look, and that can affect the ways their interviews come out.

The purpose of La Palabra is to highlight and give a voice to stories of what's going on for DC residents. The news out of DC is a lot of political bullshit, but that is so far removed from the everyday lives of DC residents. A lot of the government doesn't listen to these people's stories anyway. It's really hard for a regular DC resident.

I try to highlight queer and transgender issues for the show. Queer and trans people are an important part of the fabric of DC. There are a lot of awesome queer people just doing what they do and being who they are. We try to highlight issues that are going on, and also important organizing that's going on in the trans community, like with Casa Ruby.

Abigail edits a fashion and style blog called Diva City, which showcases people in DC discussing their outfits and personal politics:

Abigail: I love Diva City, and I think it's important, but sometimes it really bums me out that any Diva City post I do will get a million more views than any hard-hitting journalism or crucial coverage of local issues that nobody else is covering. It shows that people are less interested in the sad stuff, which is a bummer, but a total reality.

Me & Abby in New Orleans (2011)
I do think that a fashion and style blog - having people talk about their own personal style experience with a queer perspective, highlighting people of color, highlighting people who are from DC and have DC style - is an important project because people love fashion. It's a great way to connect with people, and show your self-expression. Your own cultural background comes into your style.

A style blog can seem superficial, but you can get deep with people who have a really good analysis of their own personal style, of the fashion industry, of body-positivity, and dressing in ways that make you feel good.

Shtetl Chic: You're using that platform of your website to elevate people who are just people, and look like what they look like, and who are really snazzy dressers, and want to talk about how they picked out their outfit, and what's going on for them that day. I feel like that's actually really hard-hitting journalism in and of itself.

Abigail: It is cool because people do seem to find it pretty empowering. People love being a diva and working it for the camera. They really do open up. Especially people who put care into the way they look, and enjoy that, and view it as a form of self-expression. I think everyone has it in them to work it for the camera.

If you're in DC, check out Abigail's musical projects: the queer/trans punkrock band Gay Lover; the collaboratively DJ'd queer Latin dance party "Frikitona"; and the (currently on sabbatical) hip-hop duo Queer Pressure.

Thank you, Abigail, for who you are and all of what you do!

Interview has been condensed and edited.

1 comment:

  1. great feature, arielle, what an inspiring chat

    ReplyDelete