Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2015-04-24

You Should Read Michelle Tea’s Book How To Grow Up

I love Michelle Tea. I can’t say much more than at 22 years old I read Valencia and finally found a literary voice that sounded like my own. Kind of breathless excitement about life, stories and a fascination with other people and my feelings and how they affected one another. Reading Michelle Tea told me I could be a published writer, too. It also told me I could maybe one day be an artist and have an amazing group of inspirational kind of reckless friends and all of those things came to pass.

How to Grow Up is her latest memoir. I have read much of her work over the years and I think it is my favorite. Her writing has evolved a bit, it’s still chatty like a friend telling you a story over coffee rather than writing a story and letting you read it. But the sentences are tighter, shorter and the sentiments are clearer. Also, she has a lot of really deep self-reflection and self-compassion that sharpens what she says through lessons learned. It is familiar to her early work but it is a different and more developed literary voice.

It’s written in essays, which makes it easy to read in chunks, but it is also very difficult to put down!

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I thought at first that the book was basically going to be an almagamation of her great column in xoJane Getting Pregnant with Michelle Tea. (I remember a road trip a couple of years ago where I would take breaks from driving at gas stations and read a couple of articles on my phone.) I was totally wrong about that, the pregnant stuff is only a couple of chapters and it is in a more nuanced, self-reflective tone than the columns.

Her book covers so many topics like doing the work on yourself so you stop dating people who stomp all over your heart, going to Paris fashion week, deciding whether or not to drop being a full-time artist in exchange for steady employment, getting over a huge break-up, having a wedding without spending a fortune, and so much more. I related to so much of it on such a deep level.

1937764487_495d6304f0_zIn November 2007, I had just been dumped by my fiance. I was devastated. My friend Mamone was in DC (I was in NYC) at the Sister Spit show and, knowing what a huge Michelle Tea fan I was, asked the group to pose with this sign to make me feel better! It was such a wonderful gift to receive this photo!

If you out there are reading this blog post, I think you should buy Michelle’s book How to Grow Up. However, these people in particular are going to love it:

Working class folks.

I love how much Michelle Tea talks about money, her feelings about it, growing up working class and oh my goddess how being an artist with an uncertain income is affected by that working class upbringing. I have never read anyone talk about the intersections of those two realities about money–working class/poor childhood and taking the leap to freelancing. It is scary as shit and I need a lot of tools in order to navigate this. I’ve already begun using one of her tools, which is to invite her higher power into

Spiritually curious people.

Michelle opens up about her spirituality, including a Stevie Nicks higher power that helps her through things. Tarot readings, how she meditates, explores Buddhism and explains some Buddhist principles in terms of hilarious real life examples of her love life. She also talks about how meditation has really helped her navigate life with more stillness. And the weird fears we get when we venture into a new kind of deeply religious or woo place with ritual and worrying about getting it “right.” I related so intensely to that I put that sentence in “we” and I’m not going to edit it.

I’m a super spiritually curious person, I’m always interested in hearing folks spiritual practice and woo modalities, so I loved that thread throughout the book.

XO-lv4KJThis amazing photo was taken by my friend Sophie Spinelle of Shameless Photography fame.

12 Step People.

I’m paraphrasing Michelle in a blog post I can’t find that I read a few years ago that she breaks the 11th tradition of AA about being anonymous at the level of press, radio, TV and films–being transparent about where her tools for sobriety came from–because she couldn’t have gotten sober without it. Not telling people about her work in AA would be like lying and acting like she could have done it all on her own.

Anyway, she has so many great recovery gems going on in the book in some ways I felt like I was reading really engaging sobriety stories. I found a lot of good tools for my work in my own 12 step program (for family and friends of alcoholics) and I will recommend this book to my pals in recovery.

I have been thinking a lot about whether or not people who don’t like 12 step language or tools would be put off by the book and I don’t really think so. (I know a lot of folks who had parents or former partners in recovery who have been really damaged by recovery language and don’t like it.) It doesn’t overwhelm the content, and if you take what you like and leave the rest you’ll still enjoy it.

Political people like queers or femmes who critique the fashion industrial complex but also love it.

There’s a whole chapter about Michelle buying her first designer piece, a leather hoodie, and all of the feelings that come up about it from her working class background and history being a vegan punk. How her deeply committed political beliefs are complex and how she had to learn to lighten up a little in order to actually enjoy life and eat enough food to live off of. Um, also there’s a whole chapter about Michelle deciding whether or not to get BOTOX.

20150212_015937Macy’s ankle broke while I was reading the book.

On a personal note, this was the first time I read a Michelle Tea book and actually knew some of the people she talked about because our queer worlds are very small. I had always wondered if I would read a Michelle Tea book one day and know people in real life, and then it happened. Knowing who they were did not change how I perceived them independently of the book and also it did nothing for deepening the story since Michelle writes very well from her own perspective and experience. I kind of thought if I knew someone and read about them it would be a thing but it wasn’t.

(I am always curious about how people talk about people they know and use pseudonyms and all of that because of my blog and the memoir I’m working on. My privacy ethics are very nuanced after years of blogging, but I still sometimes feel nervous about people’s reactions to being in print.)

I highly encourage everyone to buy Michelle Tea’s How to Grow Up and savor it. You will love it.

And then consider picking up Valencia because it rules.

2013-11-28

Free Download of Kate Bornstein’s Hello Cruel World Lite

It’s Thanksgiving here in the US and folks are either gathering with family of origin or choice and maybe having feelings about that, or NOT gathering with those folks and maybe having feelings. Sometimes there’s no winning! The feelings just come no matter what you do!

As part of the THX4SUPPORT hash tag project happening today on Twitter, I wanted to point readers to a resource I think is totally invaluable! Kate Bornstein, gender warrior and auntie to so many of us, provides this free pdf of the “Lite” version of her book Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws.

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Me and Kate and Carmelita Tropicana at a reading for the Feminist Press in 2010.

Head to this link for the free pdf download.

I just want to say about suicide that I’ve been there. I’ve thought that life wasn’t worth living anymore and gone to great lengths before to end it all. And I’m so grateful that each time I even started down that road that there was something by the grace of the goddess that got me to reconsider, or at least procrastinate about it long enough to decide not to. I’m so grateful.

If there’s anything that you can do (and hopefully Kate’s book can help you come up with things to help procrastinate) to stop yourself, even just for a few minutes, do it. Reach out for help if there’s someone out there you might be able to talk to. Reaching out for help doesn’t work for me in the moment, though. I haven’t ever been good about asking for help when I’m that dire because the shame of that shit getting so dire, the gremlin thought of, “I should know better how to manage my depression that I shouldn’t want to kill myself,” is a pretty deep and hard gremlin.

BUT, there are a lot of things you can do and Kate’s book does a great job of outlining a lot of them (101, in fact). Go for a walk, write down 10 of the most awesome things you can think of, write a mini vision statement “If I were supreme ruler of the universe…” Look your dog square in the eye and promise her you’re going to fulfill your life commitment to her.

And on a personal note, I want to say that you are valuable, wonderful and your body is exactly right the way it is because all bodies are good bodies and the culture that tells us otherwise is just trying to make money off of us. We need you here, because the more freaks, outlaws and body warriors we have the better and more fabulous this world is for all of us.

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I’m pretty stoked to have stayed alive to see this little munchkin grow-up! Joey’s almost two now and I’m spending Thanksgiving with her.

Follow hash tag #stayalive on Twitter any old time for lots of good reasons to stay alive. Thank you, Auntie Kate, for everything that you do.

2012-10-25

Book Review: Cheryl B.’s My Awesome Place

I am totally delinquent posting this book review since I read a preview copy from the publisher a couple of months ago during my Summer of Memoir. I’ll be honest, I’ve had a really hard time writing this review because Cheryl B., the author of My Awesome Place, was my friend and she is dead. This is not a spoiler alert, it’s in the first line of the foreward by Sarah Schulman. “Cheryl Burke died of medical malpractice in June 2011 at the age of 38.”

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Cheryl B., Diana Cage, Molly Equality Dykeman, Me and Kelli Dunham at Nerd Love in February 2011, Kelli and Cheryl’s Valentine’s Day show.

But the book is out and Cheryl’s friends and her literary executor put together her memoir work so that it could be published and we can know more about her life. Like what it was like to grow up in Staten Island and New Jersey in an alcoholic home with a controlling mom and a dad who broke a plate of spaghetti over her head when she told him she got into NYU. How she drowned her feelings in alcohol and drugs but also learned how to trust her creative spirit. How she became this amazing poet and performer and made a name for herself in the 90s on the slam poetry scene, touring the country and writing plays.

How she dealt with continuing a relationship with her family even though it wasn’t at all easy. Working through her father’s death. Watching her good friend go through cancer and acting as his caretaker. How she bounced back from a guidance counselor who told her to be a toll taker on the NJ Turnpike and clearly she is a genius artist (that part of the book actually made me angry).

It sounds like everything in the book is heavy stuff. And even though a lot of it is, Cheryl moves through the words with such energy it becomes easy to understand, move through it and laugh a lot. Cheryl’s really well known for her sarcasm and wit and that blankets the book.

I felt like it was such a gift, to get to know her better through this book. I had no idea what she lived through and how she managed to become the caring and wry person I knew. I knew she had been ten years sober but I didn’t know the extent of her survival.

I also enjoyed her journey to her sexuality. It’s trite to say it’s a coming out story, but it is a really compelling path to dating women and starting to have serious girlfriends and then having a boyfriend and navigating people’s reactions and judgments around queerness and bisexuality. I think folks who have experience dating across the gender spectrum will find this aspect very relatable.

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Similarly, she was fat as a teenager she talks about navigating in a world when she went to college and lost all of her weight and got skinny. I wish the book had gone into that more, but it is relevant to her story and dealt with sensitively and not like some kind of narrative where the main character gets skinny and suddenly everything is okay. Everything is certainly not okay with Cheryl when she loses weight.

Her cat is also a central character and I deeply appreciate that aspect. It seems sometimes that Sabrina the cat is the only thing keeping her alive.

Kelli Dunham, my friend and Cheryl’s widow, wrote the afterward about her cancer and finding the support network of her friends.

Cheryl B and Bevin at Speling B for Cheryl B.
Me and Cheryl at the Spelling Bee for Cheryl B. I organized with my fellow Re/Dress Shop Girls. She was heartily nerd identified and this was a great way for folks to show their support for Cheryl both monetarily and spiritually.

Writing this review I had a memory of Cheryl before the spelling bee coming to Re/Dress and changing behind the counter into these black patent leather stiletto boots and I remember thinking “Man, Cheryl is such a bad ass.” And there is a scene in the book where she walks up and down Manhattan in black stiletto boots looking for a job as a cocktail waitress and I thought “Man, Cheryl is such a bad ass.” And maybe that’s the message of this book. Cheryl was a bad ass and you can be, too.

It’s hard to promote a book when the author isn’t around to do a book tour or go on the Today Show or whatever. It’s also really awesome to support small publishers and Topside Press is really awesome and providing a venue for a bunch of queer and trans authors to get their voices heard. Buy Cheryl’s book! (If you order it before the end of Friday you can get a free ebook in addition to the paperback.)

2012-05-30

SUMMER BEACH READS: Kate Bornstein’s A Queer and Pleasant Danger

Hey friends! I’m starting a new blog series about Summer beach reads–I’ve got a nice stack of books to recommend for you.

To kick this Summer series off, I have the honor of hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Kate Bornstein’s new incredible memoir

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Kate Bornstein is probably one of the sweetest and kindest humans I have ever met. She is iconic, inspirational, and gorgeous. In her memoir she describes herself as a puppy dog and I think that is absolutely correct; she brings that level of joy and excitement to interpersonal interactions and onstage.

The book is what I would describe as a “Chatty Memoir,” the kind that is written as though she’s sitting across from you lounging in your living room telling you her life story. It’s so engaging. She often addresses the reader as a pal, telling us to go ahead and google things while she waits. I’ve read a lot of Kate’s theory and seen her perform and keynote events but never got the full scoop of what she’s gone through. I mean, the process of getting to be a charming babe like Kate Bornstein is no less than spectacular. She went to an all-boys prep school and is one of the only two women degree holders from Brown University prior to 1970. She totally could have been a Normal and she isn’t. She chose to follow her truth and live an extraordinary life, often with great opposition, but by following her heart she came out on top.

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And beyond just telling us the who, where, what and how of her life, she’s extremely revealing about her process. Not just some of the deepest parts of her personality (as Kate says in the book, “Life’s better without secrets,”), like her diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, but also the internal process of what it was like to be here. She cracks open her heart and shows us the internal realities of growing-up and adulthood prior to transitioning, many ongoing touchstones of what it was like knowing she was “girl,” how she related to it and how she either leaned into it or away from it with facial hair, sex, weight and clothing. Her lifelong battle with anorexia, how she learned to starve herself and then how she learned to think she could be pretty while being voluptuous. What it is like as a cutter, the pain and relief and how she used it to get through. Vivid plans for suicide attempts.

I’ll be honest, parts of it were a little hard to read, but for me not the ones you might think. She describes the above processes in detail and I found those confessions comforting–we’re raised in this culture not to talk about that and not a lot of artists are brave enough to talk about all of this at once.

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Me, Kate and her girlfriend Barbara Carrellas at Rebel Cupcake.

What I found hard to read was the huge section on Scientology! You guys, don’t ever take that free personality test! Did you read that 26 page article in the New Yorker about Scientology? I did and it freaked me out. I learned even more about what goes on in Scientology from this book and I had a crazy nightmare a few nights ago while in this section that Tom Cruise was trying to kill me. Kate’s memoir will convince you to never take that personality test for real.

Another thing that stuns me about how awesome Kate is as a human and a writer–the perspective of compassion she writes the book from. Having compassion for ourselves and others is probably one of the best places to live a life of peace. (I learned that from my friend V’s last blog post and it has changed my life.) There is a sweetness to Kate’s memoir that is as kind and charming as Kate herself. No matter all of the awful things she’s gone through, she’s come out of it stronger and more interesting, and to maintain that perspective of compassion is truly inspirational.

I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Queer and Pleasant Danger ASAP and schlep it with you to the beach. It’s so worth the weight of a brand new release. (And it’s also available for Kindle or whatever other e-reader you use!)

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Kate reading the section from the memoir about being a 24/7 slave to a Butch/Femme couple in Seattle on an iPad. Maybe an iPad’s not great for the beach, but whatver, read it en route.

I leave you with this quote I found incredibly touching from Kate’s mom. “No matter how your world falls apart–and honey, that’s what happens: we all build ourselves a world and then it falls apart–but no matter how that happens you still have the kind heart you’ve had since you were a child, and that’s what really counts.”

SPECIAL BONUS FEATURE: Here I am introducing Kate and she reads a little piece from the memoir. This video shot by Rebel Cupcake videographer Laura Delarato!

But you don’t have to take my word for it! Here are the other stops on the blog tour:

Monday, May 28th: en│Gender

Tuesday, May 29th : io9

Wednesday, May 30th: Queer Fat Femme (That’s Me!)

Thursday, May 31st: Large Hearted Boy

Friday, June 1st: Random House Blog

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2012-05-07

Thursday Night! Brooklyn Queer Party Featuring Kate Bornstein and Barbara Carrellas!

OMG, Kate Bornstein is on the cover of the Village Voice this week!

She is also reading from her new memoir at Rebel Cupcake on Thursday, May 10th!

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I’m super excited. I love Kate, I can’t wait to read the new memoir, A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today.

And also Barbara!! You recall her from the book review I did of Ecstacy is Necessary. She’s doing a demo on stage! And hopefully Bluestockings will be able to come to sell books so you can get them signed by Kate and Barbara!!

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Kate at Rebel Cupcake in September, 2010.

It is also our second anniversary! Two years ago on International No Diet Day I started a queer party to celebrate all sizes and flamboyance and it is still going strong! We’ve had tons of performers from all walks of the LGBTQ and ally lifestyles, traveled to Oakland, CA, and won awards! Come celebrate!!

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All that, plus the same dancing/antics/joy/flamboyant good times you can always expect from Rebel Cupcake!! See you there!

Thursday, May 10th, 2012 * Brooklyn, NY
Bevin Branlandingham Presents
Rebel Cupcake 25: Night of 1,000 Cupcakes (Second Anniversary)
10PM-2AM Dancing; show 11ish * $7
($2 off admission if you are on our texty texty list)
Late night dancing til 4a
Sugarland: 221 N 9th St @ Roebling, Brooklyn, NY
(3 blocks from the Bedford L subway stop)

Rebel Cupcake: a flamboyant dance party for all shapes & flavors!

Performers:
*Kate Bornstein
Gender theorist, Performer, Playwright and Author of the new memoir A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today.
[http://katebornstein.typepad.com/]

*Barbara Carrellas
Sex Educator, Sex/Life Coach and Author of the new book Ecstasy is Necessary.

[http://www.urbantantra.com]

*& More!

*Sugarland DJ Bryan Black spins slow jams & riot grrrl favs to get you going, dance beats all night to keep you moving at a house party level–perfect for dancing and mingling!

*Nogga Schwartz ready to decorate your facebook page with antics from our wild photo booth!

*Hella foxy Hana Malia, our stylish and charming door captain.

Suggested dress: Wear that outfit you don’t have the occasion to wear otherwise. Old bridesmaid dress? Someone else’s old bridesmaid dress? A prom dress? A tux? Some combination of both? The very sluttiest thing you can imagine? Leather and Lace?

We’ll have chairs out during the performances and there is a lot of seating available in grottos and at the bar. This is a great party to be loungey and social or dancey. There is also a smoking deck! The show will be over by midnight so earlybirds can make it home–the show is about 30 minutes long.

As always, free gourmet cupcakes while they last! Morgan Hart is our Cupcake Princess.

Accessibility notes: The stage area and bar are wheelchair accessible. Coming into the venue is a little narrow but there are no stairs to enter or to get to the main seating area for the show. Lots of street parking available. (Please let me know if you need any accommodations!)

2011-09-28

Book Recommendation: Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels

“I think the reason I trusted her was simply because I thought she was beautiful. I was too young and stupid to realize that being pretty did not make you anything more than pretty.”–Justin Vivian Bond, Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels

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I have an addition to the Femme Book Club List! The ultra Femme-friendly title
Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels
by Femme icon Justin Vivian Bond.

I love a book that easily fits into my purse. I often find Femme-friendly titles in form and content from the Feminist Press. V’s autobiography is short–136 pages. I read it in little spurts during 10 minute subway rides hither an yon and found it delightful, but fast readers could easily devour it in one sitting.*

V wrote the book with the intention of keeping it short. “I made the book brief and the language simple so that harried mothers and nervous children could read it in a hurry and pass it on.”

The story is great, highlights of a transgender childhood full of gender policing and sex shaming by adults really concerned about their children fitting in, homophobic lovers, finding outlets in music and close friendships with girls.

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Photo by Amos Mac. I found myself hearing V’s glamorous throaty voice cooing the words while I read them. I actually sometimes unconsciously use that voice when I’m trying to make a very dramatic and important point.

V also addresses mental illness in friends, which is something I think most teenagers experience but rarely talk about. It is really weird and scary when your friends disappear from school or are institutionalized for their mental illnesses, and there is such stigma and so many false stereotypes attached to it. As their friend all you want to do is love them and help them feel okay, and at that point adults seem fairly useless.

We see some awesome Femme moments and quotes. “[T]here is a big difference between acting like a woman and feeling like one.” [p. 125] (My shaky hand put a big star next to this on the subway when I read it.)

I think most folks who grew up as misfits will relate to Vivian’s developing a quick wit and ability to make people laugh in order for them not to target V.

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Snapshot of mine from the Feminist Press party in May. Nath-Ann, Justin Vivian Bond and I forget the name of the other cute companion in the DJ booth.

Vivian doesn’t scrimp on sexuality, we are privy to a lot of physical exploration, which I think is really important reading for folks planning to or hoping to parent teenagers. I think anyone who had the experience of growing up an outsider will enjoy this book and any and all parents should have this as required reading whether they are ready to admit their kid is a weirdo or not.**

So, buy this book from the Feminist Press website for only $10.17! Or from your local bookseller! Make them order lots of copies!

Also, while you’re reading the book listen to Justin Vivian Bond’s new release “Dendrophile.” It’s only $9.99 for an MP3 download. Two great tastes that taste great together!

*Slow readers represent!
**Sometimes I wonder if/when I become a parent what will happen if my kid is a normal.

2009-08-24

Femme Book Club!!

As I announced in Episode 9 of FemmeCast, I’m starting an online Femme Book Club (FBC). I started FBC because I am a distracted reader with a to-read list a mile long–especially books by and/or about Femmes. One of the best things about having Femme community is conversations with those Femmes. We are a smart bunch. So what better motivator–finish a book and get to discuss it with other Femmes?

It’s no secret that my friends call me the Queer Oprah (and my career goal is to have a talk show). In that vein I thought about the ways I could have a Femme Book Club and use my media outlets to bring it worldwide and get other Femmes & allies reading and talking!

Here’s how it will work–FBC has its nexus in Femme Family NYC. We’re an open and inclusive Femme organization based in New York. We’re reading one book a month, selected by a member who wants to lead a discussion. If you’re in NYC you should join us. If you’re far away or can’t, I’ll post the discussion questions here at QueerFatFemme.com. If you have a blog, write them up on your blog and I’ll post a link on the entry. If you don’t, just respond in the comments section.*

I will try to give as much lead time as possible for people to procure and read the books. Again, slow/distracted readers represent!

AUGUST FEMME BOOK CLUB SELECTION:
Dorothy Allison’s Two or Three Things I Know for Sure (get your blog posts ready around Sept 1, and ongoing). Discussion leader: Sophie, Madam of Strategy.

SEPTEMBER FEMME BOOK CLUB SELECTION:
Amber Hollibaugh’s My Dangerous Desires: A Queer Girl Dreaming Her Way Home (blog posts ready around Sept 29, and ongoing). Discussion leader: Damien D’Luxe, Co-Head Madam.

Our first meeting is Tuesday, September 1 at 7:15 PM at Madam X, 94 West Houston Street. Probably in the backyard if we can swing it.

The second meeting is Tuesday, September 29 at 7:15 PM. Location TBA.

One of the things I hate most about finishing a book is that it has to end! When I’ve been carrying a book around for weeks (it takes me a long time to finish a book, again, distracted reader) I get attached–but when you have a book club or people to discuss it with, you really get to relive the book. I love the ways in which discussion can also help you see other aspects about a book you didn’t see on your own.

I will get the discussion questions likely from our group leader at the FBC in-person meeting and I will add some of my own. And what I will do with FemmeCast is still being worked out. I might include some snippits from the in-person meeting (if participants are cool with it) or perhaps have some correspondents talk about their reactions to the books. I like to keep things interesting.

I sincerely hope you’ll get the books from your local feminist or LGBT or indie bookstore. If you don’t have one of those or want to/need to buy online, if you use my links in this post I get a few pennies towards production costs.

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Atlanta’s own Ms. Stewart, performing at the East Coast launch party for the book Femmes of Power. She’s also featured in the book!

*Participation in Femme Book Club is open to everyone, Femme identified and not. However, our discussion is specifically geared towards being inclusive of all races, ethnicities, class backgrounds, ages, abilities, sizes, etc… Entries should adhere to this spirit of inclusion and respect. If you have questions about this let’s talk!

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