Local Legend of the Week: Author Michelle Tea
We here at BrokeAssStuart.com like to show love to the people who make cities like San Francisco and New York special. That’s why we’re doing a series called Local Legend of the Week. This is our chance to hip you to some of the strange, brilliant, and unique folks who populate these towns and give them the character that people from around the world have come to love. The door opens and Michelle is a warm combination of edgy and maternal. Full of life, stories, and tattoos. The lady who wrote the award winning Valencia along with several other popular memoirs and novels is a staple in SF literary community. We sat down to talk about her days running in the streets of the Mission, her all-female touring crew Sister Spit, and what it’s like to make a baby with 3 people.
Michelle made her San Francisco start in the early 90’s as a tarot card reader in the Haight Ashbury. And as Michelle and I spoke about Tarot reading, I learned a few things. Tarot card readers are born observers, and they just happen to sense things most of us ignore. Michelle schooled me a bit on the art, it’s history, and her process, and then asked me “What’s your sign?”
“Aries” I said. “But, what does that sign mean?”
“Many things,” she said thoughtfully. “Impulsive, fun, lots of energy, the thing to watch out for with Aires is that they are very good at charming others into taking care of them. You have to watch out for acting on feelings of entitlement, you know, just expecting things to be given to you.” I looked at her blankly, and said “ok…very interesting…so could I get a free Tarot card reading now?” The irony was not lost on Michelle and with a laugh we started down the ancient road of cards to learn about my future. But I won’t bore you with those details, let’s get back to the Local Legend, the 8 months pregnant, the eloquent & queer, Michelle Tea.
Year arrived in SF: 1993
First apartment in SF: Albion and 16 st. in the Mission, by where Delirium is now.
Favorite free thing to do: Radar Productions! (RADAR Productions is a San Francisco-based non-profit that produces literary happenings around the Bay Area and beyond) We have a free reading series full of fun creative people…and I bake cookies…and if you ask a question you get a free homemade cookie.
Favorite Bar: Lexington Club, every Litquake in October we do the lit crawl and perform on top of their pool table. This year its the day before my due date. Are you going to have the baby on the pool table? (laughs) That would be a really punk informed baby!
Want to hear Michelle’s story about how she got an egg from her wife, sperm from a generous transvestite, all mixed together correctly inside of her? Listen here:
Favorite Politician: Tom Temprano is someone I long to vote into office someday, he has energy and talent, he’s the president of Harvey Milk club, he always fights for fair housing practices, and he has progressive and real San Francisco values.
Favorite district: Sunset is my favorite right now, it feels completely San Francisco and yet a respite from everything that is going on in the city.
Favorite Place to get a tattoo: Spider Murphies. Want to know how Michelle Tea gets her tattoos done? Listen here:
Michelle on the travelling poetry group ‘Sister Spit’: Started in the 90’s it was a party on wheels, rolling into town, young poets drinking in a van, sleeping on floors, we wanted to drink whiskey and hook up with people. Everyone was in their 20’s. Now the tours are really different, we stay in hotels, we perform at universities, we get paid etc. Back then people were more punk informed, and were more willing to do these crazy things, we had fewer expectations.
Do you feel responsible for gentrifying Valencia st. because of your book “Valencia?” I grew up in a place that looked like the mission, in Chelsea Massachusetts it was largely Latino immigrants and Irish people. When I heard accusations like ‘your gentrifying the mission’ well…where am I supposed to live? The Marina because I’m white? The Castro because I’m gay?…I don’t know…I take responsibility for ‘queering up’ the mission, (smiles) I definitely know queer people who moved to the mission after reading “Valencia”
How has SF changed? The world has gotten cleaned up since the 90’s the city’s gotten cleaned up, IVE gotten cleaned up. You could be a fuckin’ mess in the 90’s and survive just fine here. My rent back then was 250, you could get by with a part time job no problem. If I had had a full time job to pay my expensive rent I would have never had the time to start Sister Spit, I would never have created a non-profit that helped a lot of people or the publishing imprint that’s produced a lot of literature….Where are all the interesting young people who have the time to take chances?
Michelle on how Oakland may be the new Mission:
What’s the difference between ‘queer’ and LGBT? And as a straight person, should I use the word ‘queer’? Well firstly queer has a punk/rebellious/anti-assimilation history. I think of Queer Nation, the in-your-face direct action group of the 90s that created iconic stickers on neon sticker paper saying shit like QUEERS BASH BACK and whatnot. LGBT is sort of softer and kinder and sort of suggestive of non-profits and social services. Queer means a lot of different things to different people, especially globally, but as someone who is sort of lesbian but has also dated men while single, many of them trans men, I feel like ‘queer’ is a great umbrella word that sums up that my sexuality isn’t straight, but it’s also not easily stuffed into other categories. And to speak of ‘queer’ as a community, it sort of suggests that that community has a political consciousness and is comfortable existing outside any sort of mainstream and is not looking for that type of mainstream acceptance…I think I’ve probably only scratched the surface. But I believe it is fine for straight people to refer to a person as ‘queer’! If they used ‘LGBT’ I would think that maybe they didn’t actually have any queer friends OR they were very scared of offending me, which is not necessary.