Storytellers & artists from left to right: Kelsey Bujacich, Anthea Carns, Linnea Ingalls (sound for Anthea), Nora Menkin, Lauren Freman (music for Nora), Annie Jansen, and Melissa Schenter (visual art for Annie).
EPISODE ONE: FIRSTS
Featuring the stories of Kelsey Bujacich, Anthea Carns, Nora Menkin, and Annie Jansen. Theme song by Shelby Easley. Music composition in Nora's story by Lauren Freman. Sound design in Anthea's story by Linnea Ingalls. Visual art for Annie's story by Melissa Schenter. Hosted by Francesca Betancourt and Linnea Ingalls.
Shelby Easley (sung):
She is Fire
She is Flame
She has a Voice
She has a name
She is fearless
She has seen years
And if you don’t know
She is Fierce
CESSA: Welcome to the first ever episode of “she is FIERCE: stories from the female and genderqueer perspective” my name is Cessa Betancourt
LINNEA: And I’m Linnea Ingalls
C: Linnea what do you do at “she is FIERCE?”
L: I am the artistic producer
C: what are your pronouns?
L: What are you doing here, what are your pronouns?
C: What am I doing here? My pronouns are she and her and I'm the artistic director of she is fierce and we're also the founders and the only two employees-
L: Well, we don't get paid so...
C: We’re the only two volunteers at “she is FIERCE” (laughter) Yikes
L: Some people help us put up posters (laughter)
C: Yes (laughter) oh boy. So you might be asking yourself -
L: As a viewer-
C: As a viewer, as a listener, as a person taking in this information, you might be asking yourself:“she is fierce, what is that?” “she is fierce stories from the female and genderqueer perspective” is a recurring storytelling event in Seattle basically where people who are female or genderqueer non-binary tell stories from their lives that matter to them and that really ranges from funny stories to serious stories to poems to songs to physical stories and it happens every six months or so. Linnea - how many stories are we had so far?
L: How many shows have we had? So many stories, I think we've had seven shows so far which would make an average of 70 stories
L: Cessa, how did “she is fierce” get started?
C: Oh boy. “She is fierce” got started about three years ago- Linnea and I were on a bus in Rwanda on a very long bus ride and we were listening podcasts that was mostly just women being interviewed about certain topics and both of us got really excited by that idea and I realized just how seldom it is that I hear from women in general or people who are not men and how much I wanted to hear more but I feel like we really gobbled up the whole podcast. And yeah, we just got really excited about hearing from those people more and the idea of hearing stories about what had challenged those people in their lives what made them laugh what they thought about different things. And essentially, Linnea and I are both theatre artists, we both do theater and so performance and theatre is like our chosen way of expressing things--
L: And so also what makes us a little bit different is we provide the storytellers an option to work with local female or genderqueer artists
C: Oh yeah we do do that
L: To help bring those stories to life
L: we also have a lot of different mediums that come in too. We've had dance we've had scenes we've had paintings we’ve had photography, we’ve had henna on someone’s body. We’ve had a lot of different ways that stories are told cuz we don't really believe that stories are just told -
C: Yeah, aurally.
L: And we also feature a comedian and an illustrious MC. Oh yeah, where did the name “she is fierce” come from?
C: Oh yeah, well because we're theatre nerds, the name came from the phrase “though she be but little she is fierce”
L: What?! Who said THAT?
C: Shakespeare did! (laughter) in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Yeah I just really liked that--we really fretted over the name during that time
L: it was a fretful time
C: We really fretted over what to name it for a long time and I just love the idea that women can be underestimated and people who are not men tend to be marginalized tend to be sort of like “oh this person is little and so they can't be fierce” or “oh this person is feminine and so they can’t be fierce” “oh this person has these traits and so they can't be strong or powerful” and I really resent that and so I really love just the phrase “though she be but little she is fierce.” That a woman can look a lot of different ways, that someone who is non-binary can look a lot of different ways and identify a lot of different ways, and all of those people can be can be as strong as cis men can. And we actually went through a little bit of a transformative moment with the name that used to be “stories from the femme and female perspective “and then we realized that we were excluding a whole group of people that we wanted to make sure were invited to tell stories on our stage which are people who are genderqueer or gender-fluid or nonbinary. And so we changed the name I don't know maybe year-and-a-half ago? On our fourth ones yes about halfway through our journey so far. We were like “I don't like this name, let’s get rid of it!” Linnea-
L: Yes Cessa?
C: what do you like about “she is fierce”?
L: (laughter)I did not expect, I don't think either of us really expected this to take off in the way that it did. I think we had a pretty like fun little scrappy little grassroots beginning and that by the very nature of it kind of folds people into our family. Telling your story is a really healing process to put so much like empowerment and joy behind the healing process and coming to terms with yourself and the oppressions that you may have faced, which if your female or genderqueer is often many.But that community and joy can be just healing as fuck hashtag #healingasfuck
C: Hashtag #healingasfuck!
L: And like we're providing like a facilitation or a platform for this, but like it's really like the magic of the storytellers that is creating the magic of she is fierce and it's very cool to see that happen. What do you like about “she is fierce”?
C: Ah, so much. I like everything about it. I think there's just something extremely about watching someone own their own experience on stage. I think from a really early point we knew how affected we were by those stories, and then just like realize how much our community was really craving those stories. And I think this podcast is really an effort to broaden that community cuz I think people in general really crave, really crave non fiction stories really crave hearing people tell stories from their own vulnerable experience and heart and mind. So that always has just so affecting and just every however show has been drastically different and every story is drastically different. And how much it has evolved over the course of the last few years. We as producers have really evolved and we really are listening to what is working and what storytellers really respond to, what audiences really respond to. And we've also started making sure that all of our spaces that we work with are ASL interpreted and ADA accessible. We just, the way that it evolves each time and the way that it grows at how different every show is really is my favorite part about it is that it's always changing but it's always joyful and celebratory and always teaches me something. But it’s always different.
L: And what is your favorite first?
C: This is so ridiculous but what comes to my mind is the first time I went trick-or-treating. I was like three years old and my mom had like explained it to me. She was like “you're going to go up to the door you're say ‘trick or treat’ and then someone is going to put candy into your bag” and I was like “okay” but I think I wasn't really listening because I went to the door and they gave me candy and I sprinted up to my mom and I was like “THEY GAVE ME CANDY” and I just like freaked out. And she was like “yeah...that’s what it is!” and I went up to another door and they gave me candy and I was equally -- like my mind was blown every door I went to that were still giving me candy. That's what it is that comes to mind, is like something that you just like had no idea was possible and then by doing it for the first time this whole world is totally unlocked and you're just like
L: Level up baby!
C: Every October I just have to like go to someone’s house and they will hand me candy. And I just have to like wear a little witch’s hat and be a cute child and I'll just get free candy. Mind blown. That’s what I think of. Linnea, how do you relate to the theme first? What's your favorite first in your life?
L: The only first that I can think of are like really embarrassing ones like the first time I pooped my pants! (Laughter) I mean I guess in public..
C: (Laughter) Tell me more!
L: Oh ya know, I was in kindergarten I was hanging out having a good time. I had a way too - I was just in the middle of a really good session with my Barbie doll playhouse, I could not just leave it!
C: I love that you just called it a session like you were giving them therapy
L: I had to play the rest of the scene out, it wasn’t time for intermission yet you know what I mean?
L: Shit happens!
C: Literally hashtag #shithappens hashtag #healingasfuck
L: Great well I don’t want to talk about me anymore (Laughing)
C: This was your idea (laughing) This episode is very appropriately are very very first show was about two-and-a-half /3 years ago and we have a few storytellers from that show performing for you or recording for you stories of their firsts. That was our first show ever and we thought it was a very appropriate theme for a first production ever and I think it's equally as appropriate for our first podcast ever to be from our very first show. So you’ll hear from four different storytellers. First you’ll hear a person’s story and then you'll hear an interview with them where you'll hear a little bit about them and their relationship to their story and how they developed that story. So enjoy!
L: Our first storyteller is Kelsey Bujacich is an active member of the theater and film community in Seattle. She’s also a fire fighter! She dedicates this performance to Sifu Eddie Lane, Erik Jorgensen, and her family. Here is her story: “Once Upon A Punch.”
Kelsey: Once upon a time, there lived a girl who believed in Disney stories. This girl believed that if she was a kind, obedient, patient and hopeful; prince charming would enter her life and make all her dreams come true.
As you may have guessed I’m that girl.
Now, this story begins long ago when the girl sat down with her acting professors to find out what they thought of her talents and what she was to work on the upcoming college semester. The professors three started by telling the girl they were pleased with her work.
“However,” they said. “You need to stop playing weak characters. No more Juliet’s. No more Ophelia’s. No more princesses.”
What? No more princesses??? But how would the girl find prince charming and live happily ever after? How could she play any other roles than the one she was always striving to be?
The girl was upset. “Kelsey” They said “You are too strong to play these frail female characters. You’re destined to play queens and warriors. We know your destiny is to step on the stage as Cleopatra, Queen Macbeth, and Kate the shrew. Its time you accept that this is who you are.”
The girl thanked her professors and left the room in a daze. She was haunted by that ever familiar question we all end up facing at some point of our lives:
“Who am I?”
She went home and watched every Disney movie she owned. She looked through her novels and started to ask questions. What was the connection she felt to every single fantasy she ever knew and loved? If she wasn’t destined to be a princess, then what was her true course?
A thought came. A crazy, interesting, zany idea that wouldn’t leave her mind. She tried to push it off, but it stuck around for the next few days. Then a week. Eventually that thought stuck in her mind for over a month.
FINE. I’ll do it! She said to herself.
The next day, the girl walked into the local kung fu academy.
There were men warming up, doing UNBELIEVABLE things. They were flipping through the air, kicking over their own heads, performing routines that looked so damn cool it was like they had jumped out of a Jackie Chan movie. Instead of being frightened or wanting to run back out the door, the girl felt something else stir inside. Deep down there was just this sensation of YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS.
The instructor, Sifu walked up to the girl with a grin on his face and said "you ready?"
Hell fucking yea I was ready!!!!
I lept onto the floor with my new kung fu brothers. There was a small feeling of intimidation, especially after watching what they could do, but I knew they all started in the same spot I was. We gathered on the floor to learn stances. Sifu told us to drop down into horse stance which looks like this (Kelsey shows off horse stance) and stay there until he said it was over. After twenty seconds, my legs were on fire. The others looked statuesque, and there I was shaking like a leaf. Don’t stand up, don’t stand up, don’t stand up..... (Kelsey stands up) Damn! Next thing I know, Sifu yells "Excuse me! I haven't said to stand yet!" He walked over, looked me in the eyes, and said "Today is your first day, but know this; you must fight and never give up. I could promise today is the hardest it’ll ever be, but I wouldn’t be telling the truth. Kung fu will test your mind and
your spirit. If you stand, get back down. If you fall, get back up. And if you think I’ll be easy on you, you’re wrong. You’re the first woman to ever train at my school, but in here you and your brothers are all equal.”
Whew...chills went through my body. That was one of the most intense altercations of my life and I was certainly scared. The door was wide open for me to just walk right back out...but I didn’t. I stared him in the eyes, said “yes sir” and got back down into my painful stance.
(Through the next section, Kelsey removes layers to reveal a warrior costume underneath) Wobbly legs turned into tree trunks. Uncoordinated movements flowed into seamless transitions. Punches started to mean something and kicks stretched higher and higher. Eventually, they even let me play with some weapons.
I gained this new sense of myself because I took a risk. I listened to my heart and realized I never wanted to wait around for my life to start, because each and every day has the potential for greatness. I stand before you as a woman who isn't confined to the standards of society. I am no longer a woman who is waiting for a prince charming. If the right man wanders into my story to go on adventures by my side, then so be it.
This is who I am. A warrior. A woman. A martial artist. A sword wielding bitch (because yea, they finally let me play with the sharp things). I have new goals and aspirations and the only thing that can stop me is my own mind.
I may not be the Disney version of "perfect", but I think I'll settle for Warrior Princess.
C: What is your history with this particular story for you? Is it a story that you had written down before, that you've told before?
K: I definitely remember that moment in college of trying to always--trying to be these pretty roles, of “oh I really want to be this delicate like fragile type of person because that's what is supposed to like attract men. It sounds really weird but I legit thought like “oh I’m way too tall, I'm way too muscular I'm way too aggressive I need to like not be that.” But there's this other part of me that I really repressed that was like “f that I want to go do what I want to do”
C: What makes you feel fierce? What makes you feel empowered?
K: I don’t look at things that I do like they’re a big deal I do the things in my life because I think you're fun and I like to break stuff and I'm loud. But every now and then I kind of need that reality slap of kind of “oh what I’m doing is kind of a big deal.” And the other day I was driving the fire apparatus. I work for fire department now and I'm driving along and I've got my crew and this elderly woman just started losing her damn mind outside of my window and I was like “Why is she doing that? Is she having a stroke? Is she okay?” And she's doing this like weird little dance thing and skip hootin’ and “YEAH YEAH!” I'm like what is going on over there? And she just was like looks at me and goes “you drive those men around! I thought I would die before I saw female on a fire engine!” And it just was the coolest moment and realize like you know, what I'm doing is kind of a big deal to some people. Oh that’s right I am different
C: Thank you Kelsey so much for being with us and telling your story again 3 years later!
K: You guys are great I'll keep coming back if you give me tea.
C: Done, we have an endless amount of tea
K: Tea and cats!
C: We have both, we have an abundance of both of those!
Cessa: Anthea Carns is a writer, actor, dramaturg, and stage manager born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She probably wrote this under the influence of too much coffee. Here is her story entitled “Coal Mine.”
Anthea: Think about a coal mine for a second.
You walk in from the sun, you get in a little elevator, and you descend anywhere from thirty to a hundred and forty stories into the earth. In the tunnels you have anywhere from seven feet to forty inches of clearance. And you'd think it'd be quiet underground, but it turns out coal has a sound. It snaps and crackles and pops under the weight of the land above it.
I think of my first year out of college like that. As a coal mine. This sunless place I descended into for a long time, until I finally came out into the light again carrying a decade's worth of fuel and a case of black lung.
My first job out of college was working for a small theatre company in my home town. I was offered a job as the administrative associate by the artistic director, who I’m going to call Charlie, and you have to understand Charlie was devastatingly cool, and I was so excited to be working at a company that I loved, one of two people keeping it afloat. I started my new job in August.
I don’t know if you remember your first job, but I made a lot of mistakes: didn’t reply-all to this email. Did reply-all to this email. Bought supplies we didn’t need. Jerry-rigged a solution to something instead of buying supplies. Fucked up the copier. Came into work early. Left work late. Forgot to take a message. Forgot to take out the trash. Forgot to turn in a time sheet. Forgot to turn up the heat. Forgot to turn off the computer. Forgot to say sorry. Forgot to say please. Forgot. Forgot. Forgot. Forgot. Forgot.
Whenever I fucked up, Charlie’s voice would get sharp and exasperated. My incompetence made her impatient. Except for the times when I made a mistake and Charlie would shrug it off. It was completely unpredictable. I could never quite catch my balance. To people outside the office I presented the face of a cheerful, competent young artist. Within the office, I fluttered anxiously like a canary waiting for the air to go bad. I apologized. I chipped away at the rock face. I started to dread going to work.
In November I had a break down, sitting in my car with my best friend, sobbing about how I couldn’t do anything right.
In December I asked Charlie if we could have a progress meeting where we could talk about how I could improve – a last-ditch effort to shore up the crumbling parts of my mental health. When we sat down, Charlie told me two things:
First, that I had a tendency to try and solve problems on my own rather than ask how they should be solved. Trying to be independent is just making more problems. Second, when I told Charlie that I needed to know what I was doing right, that when I only ever heard about the things I did wrong I thought everything was wrong -- Charlie told me, “This is the real world. This isn’t school. You don’t get compliments for doing your job.”
It was like the tunnel collapsed behind me. Like my last escape route was gone.
On Monday we went back to work just like before.
I forgot to call someone back today. I thought that Charlie was going to call them back, but I should have known that it was my job to do that, that Charlie has too much else on her plate. I thought I was going to overstep if I called. Charlie makes it clear I should have called. I cannot wait to leave work. I don’t want to leave work because Charlie will see that I hate being here. If I work longer to prove that I want this job and want to be here, Charlie will tell me again that I shouldn’t work late because it costs the company money. Charlie has told me that I should take as long as I have to to finish a task and do it well. Charlie has not been here when I have sat in the office well after sunset, counting the cash from the box office for the fourth time because I might be off by a dollar even though I’ve gotten the same number three times in a row. I have been counting money for an hour so that Charlie doesn’t have to. If I do it again it will cost the company money. If I don’t do it again it’ll cost the company money. The radio has played “Payphone” twice since I started and I will never hear this song again without feeling a little frightened.
Tomorrow Charlie and I discuss holding a playwriting contest, and Charlie suggests that we can read submissions while eating pizza and drinking tequila, and the relief I feel at that idea is like sunlight and air. Tomorrow I check off everything on my to-do list and think Never again. I’ll never make a mistake again.
I'm ten pounds thinner than I've ever been. The last time I ate lunch was July.
Sometime that winter, the ceiling of my mine cracked open enough to let in some light, and I went down an “Is He Abusive?” checklist.
● Does your partner criticize and put you down?
● Does your partner ignore your opinions or your achievements?
● Are there “honeymoon” periods after each episode of abuse?
● Do you feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
● Do you believe you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
● Do you wonder if you’re the one who’s crazy?
Here's the thing. Even after acknowledging to myself that our dynamic had all the hallmarks of an abusive relationship, it took me a long time to say that what Charlie did to me was abusive. Abusers are actively malicious, right? Sometimes I believed that Charlie hated me, but I never thought and still don’t think Charlie meant to hurt me. No malice aforethought. Ergo, no abuse.
I think it’s easier for us to think of abusers as malicious because then we don’t have to deal with the fact that an abuser can do good things for us and still hurt us. Or that an abuser can be hurt themselves. That job hurt Charlie. I know that. We were in that mine together. I was chipping away at anthracite, and Charlie was on fire, one of those underground blazes that burns for years in defiance of sense, feeding on itself.
When I talk about that job, I tend to soften it. I do not say to people “I was a victim of emotional abuse” because victim sounds so dramatic. I don't say “I'm still terrified when I make a mistake at work.” I don't say “My triggers include deposit pouches, 'Call Me Maybe,' and the month of November.”
But I also don’t say “I roll the sleeves of my shirts up like her. I deal with men like I’m their equal like her. I do dirty jobs because I have to like her. I want to do stunt work like her. I want to save money like her.” Because if I say “abuse,” the whole relationship has to be written off. And if I say “admiration,” the abuse must not be real. And that contradiction is too much for me to explain.
Like, it’s not inspiring, it’s not like the pressure of that job turned me into a diamond. It was just dark, and dirty, and it hurt. I came out of those tunnels full of cracks and coal dust. And yet, coal is valuable, too. Coal mines can kill the people who go into them, but the rocks they bring up from the dark keep the country running. Coal is what makes it possible for us to turn on a light. How do we reconcile that?
C: What was your experience like performing with she is fierce?
A: It was great. I remember that I was like “I'm not nervous” and then I walked on stage and was like “I’M NEROUVS.” And I definitely I also remember very clearly making the mistake of making eye contact with someone in the front row and like going up on my line.
C: Oh it was great, you were great.
A: Thank you!
C: What makes you feel fierce?
A: I feel pretty fierce when I put on my Doc Martens.
C: Fuck yeah. Amazing.
A: That’s my answer!
C: Simple, sweet, badass-- I love it. Well thank you so much for joining us!
A: Thank you. Thank you Cessa, thank you Linnea, thank you she is fierce!
L: Our next storyteller is Nora Menkin. Nora was working as a stage manager in Seattle when The Co-op Funeral Home of People's Memorial was being formed in 2007. She became Managing Director in 2014 and has helped thousands of families with their funeral arrangements. Of course some families affect you more than others. Nora is joined on stage by musician, composer, and sound designer Lauren Freman.
Nora: She is lying, wrapped in a plastic sheet, on a cold metal table. Her head is tilted slightly away from me. As walk toward her I see a row of staples running from her forehead back where I can’t even see them end. There is another row above her ear and the area between the two tracks is shaved and sunken in.
It’s her, but it’s not her. My friend, Kathryn, is lying dead in front of me. And I had a job to do. A sudden medical crisis that was never fully diagnosed culminated in a stroke after many other unexpected complications. Interventions and multiple surgeries had been fruitless. Because she was so young the doctors just kept trying to fix her.
A week before, her wife Lisa made the decision to move her to hospice care so that her poor body could finally rest. Lisa had called me when asking for my help to help bring her home.
Kathryn and I had worked together before I became a funeral director. We worked in theater, an intimate environment where co-workers become family. I hadn’t seen her in few years. She had gone on tour, I started a different career. But she was my friend.
You set up barriers when you work with the dead, both physical and emotional. I have seen literally hundreds of dead bodies in the last few years. When I started in this business, I did removals; picking up bodies from their place of death, and transporting them to our care facility. Physically you are wearing gloves, even gowns when the situation calls for it. You are not actually coming into contact with the dead person.
You don’t know this person. It’s just another body, special to someone else so you treat it with respect, but you have no attachment to it. I would help families dress the body in the home before taking it away if they wanted. Once I helped wash and brush out a woman’s hair while she was still in her bed so that her daughter could make a braid to cut to keep.
Barriers have a way of crashing down when it is someone you know, especially an unexpected death of your peer. This was Kathryn. But it wasn’t her. I needed to sit with her to digest that. I was there to support Lisa. I was the professional. I was the one experienced in death. I touch Kathryn’s face and hands, rationalizing the cold I felt with the funny, vibrant woman I had known.
Lisa had told me that whenever they encountered a piano in a public place, Kathryn would challenge Lisa to play a song of her choosing. Kathryn’s favorites were Some Enchanted Evening and ABBA.
So there I was, standing next to Kathryn’s body, waiting for Lisa who wanted to prepare her wife for burial herself and needed my help.
When I went out to meet Lisa, she was dragging three suitcases. She’d had trouble deciding what to dress her in, so she brought everything. I had told her to bring Kathryn’s toiletries. We could use her own shampoo and conditioner (key for us curly haired girls). It would help her smell like her again, rather than smelling like hospital.
Outside the door to the prep room, Lisa started to cry. “I’m scared!” she said. I held her for a moment and told her what she’d see on the other side of the door.
“She’s lying on a metal table, I’ve taken off the plastic wrapping and covered her in a white sheet but you can see her face. Her head is really sunken in on the side where she had the craniectomy. Her skin is a bit mottled with patches of red. There are some grey sticky spots on her arms and legs, left over adhesive from the medical tape. There’s still a port in her neck and an IV in her arm. We can see red veins in her arms and legs where blood has settled. It’s called ‘marbling.’ Her eyes and mouth are closed.
It looks like her, but it’s not her.” I opened the door.
I gave Lisa the same kind of time I needed when I’d first come into the room. She cried, hugged her, talked to her for a bit.
She looked at me, “What do we do now?” “Do you want to bathe her?” “How do we do that?”
With a task at hand, we put on aprons. I removed the remaining tubes and IVs that were on her. I consciously choose to forgo the latex gloves for this washing. I wanted to be me, her friend doing this for her, not her funeral director. I turned the water on warm. Lisa laid out the things she had brought. I handed her a washcloth. She handed me the soap.
We started at her shoulders, one of us on each side of her. We passed the soap back and forth as we worked our way down her body. We inched the gown and sheet down as we went, before giving up and removing it all together. Flecks of blood and the medical adhesive washed away.
Lisa and I talked some as we worked, told some stories but we were both very much in our own heads working through this. Only after the fact did I think we should have had music playing in the background.
When Kathryn was clean, Lisa decided to do some landscaping, shave Kathryn’s legs, and give her a manicure and pedicure. I washed Kathryn’s hair. I used a comb to work out the knots that had formed for weeks of being in a hospital bed. Once those curls
were clean and flowing, she looked much more like herself.
Once Kathryn was clean and dried, Lisa went to choose the clothes. While Kathryn looked great in a dress, she really was a T-shirt and jeans kinda girl. Lisa picked out a well-worn pair of Levis, a fitted long-sleeve shirt, and a wool cap with Kathryn’s union’s logo on the front.
As we dressed her, we laughed a bit at how difficult it is to dress someone who is not cooperating. I compared it to dressing my tantrum-ing two-year-old, no wait this was easier. Lisa said it was like manipulating a life size Barbie doll.
When we were done we stepped back, tears caught in my throat.
The change was so remarkable. I had come into the room with a body that had been through so much. She looked beat up, cold, and lonely. Once she was dressed, in her own clothes, she looked so cozy, warm, relaxed, and comfortable. She looked like herself. But it wasn’t her.
Lisa laid her head on her wife’s chest and cried. She spoke to her, telling her how much she loved her and missed her. She kissed her.
It was almost as hard to leave the room as it had been to come into it. I helped Lisa pack everything up and walked her out to her car. We hugged for a long time. We’d see each other the next day at the service. I noticed we both took a long time to start our cars and drive away.
C: Nora thank you for hanging out with us today, thank you for your story. It's such a beautiful story. What's your relationship with this story? Have you told it before?
N: I originally wrote the story like the day after or maybe two days after the experience of doing it. I was so involved with everything that was going on I almost couldn't move on unless I put it in writing. Because it has been such a powerful thing to go through and I just needed to get it on paper.
C: What makes you feel empowered or fierce?
N: Standing with my hands on my hips and looking up, just remembering to--
C: Yeah power pose!
N: Remembering to roll those shoulders back. I'm 6-1 and every once in a while I remember that and that just makes me feel powerful
C: Thank you
N: Thank you.
L: Out last storyteller is Annie Jansen. Annie is a high school social studies teacher. She extends her infinite love and gratitude to her fellow teachers, who give so much back to students who yearn to tell their stories. Annie’s story will be performed alongside visual pieces created by Melissa Schenter. Melissa is a theater deviser, visual artist, anthropologist, podcasting enthusiast, and giant goofball who has trouble turning down any opportunity to collaboratively make art. This piece is titled “The Closet.”
Annie: Coming out is an endless beginning
Some steps out of the closet are so small Like one toe out the door to casually mention it to a trusted friend A hand pressed against the jamb to give the "gay head nod" to the cashier with the pixie cut and rainbow tattoo An eye peering out to check that the coast is clear to tell other queers that you're queer too
Some steps out of the closet are monumental.
Throwing all of your weight against the door until you're broken to tell your mom, who keeps loving you Jumping with every muscle in your body to land with a crash at the feet of your boss who can fire you in 28 states Tiptoeing out with your hands over your face because a long branch of your family tree casts terrifying shadows Coming out is an endless beginning The door to the closet squeaks, too It's hard to be covert when the door squeaks There's something about you that's not straight, and you can't truly hide in plain sight
The closet has glass walls when you're the most vulnerable
And sometimes you can't even see out, but you can still be seen Coming out is an endless beginning Because every time is like the first time A subject broached where assumptions are never truly safe The childhood friend who sees your "choice" as an abomination and the human truck hybrid chucking venom because hurting strangers is so satisfying and final As final as the click of the closet door as you pull it closed on yourself The click of the latch might be lipstick, or a more delicate walk, or eyelashes curved one octave up Armor that both protects and burdens but can't change what's underneath and it takes so long to understand that what's underneath doesn't need to be changed
Coming out is an endless beginning
But the hangers are not all holding hurt And the shelves are not all storing garbage That inner life has glitter and sequins, too That inner life is rich and tactile and golden and going back there is the only way we can remember the dark, to keep the path lit and make the way safer for the next set of feet
There's power when the threshold is a borderland and you can straddle both places.
And warmth when friends gather by your door and switch on the light Sometimes they come inside to commiserate and sometimes they come inside to draw you out into a world that's less risky with every attempt.
Artwork by Melissa Schenter
L: Hi Annie!
L: Hello, so good to see you, thank you for joining us.
A: Other people can’t see you but I can and it’s really nice.
L: It’s nice to see you as well! What is your relationship with this story itself? Is it something you told a lot before?
A: I’ve never told this story in this way before. I have come out to a lot of people in my life, I have come out to a lot of people at once in my life which is scary and exciting. I have a really good story about that actually- my wife had a baby October 2017. My- I was not out to my students at the time. And so when I was told I had to leave in the middle of the day because she was like “babe I need you to come like we got to go it's like baby time.” And I hadn't told my students, I told them, I was like “hey I'm going to be gone for a couple weeks” but I hadn't told them why because I wasn't out at work to my students. I was out to my coworkers because of my coworkers are amazing. Shout out to my co-workers. But I wasn't ready to be out to my students in mass. Like, maybe if there were a couple students who needed support I would be like, I would talk to them about my family. I also- this is before I was the GSA advisor at my school so, you know, even thinking about like being an advocate I wasn't fully the best advocate I could be in that scenario. And I still look back at that and “God, geeze, I could’ve done something so differently right as a new teacher. But I looked at my students and I was like, I got the phone call, I looked at my students and I was like “guys I got to go.” It was in the middle of 5th period, and they were like “where you going” I was like “I got to leave I got to go away I got to call Mr Irwin”, Mr. Irwin, Pat Irwin - shout out again, wonderful person. I just called him called our principal and I was like “I got to go” and explained what was going on and he was like “yep got you no problem” and he came to my class, covered my class for the last part of my class and he like “yeah you got to do what you got to do” but he was standing in my doorway when I was like grabbing my stuff out of my like media cabinet where I like lock my bag and “I'll see you guys I'm leaving for 2 weeks my wife's having a baby” and like the entire room was just like “your what? She’s having a baby?” and I was like “yeah.” And they had so many questions they're “how does that work? Where are you going? Like where she? Is she is having a baby right now?” Like they just needed to know all the information and I was like “listen um yes you can be pregnant if you have a wife I got to go” and then I like left and I didn't see them for two weeks. And then when I came back they were like “so you want to talk about it?” and I was so then I had to talk to them about it which is fine and not scary really it was fine. But basically I I think what my principal told him after I left was “well it's Miss Jansen’s story to tell you when she comes back” like he was very respectful. And I was like okay I really appreciate that. And they had questions, they were like “why didn't you tell us that a wife before?” I was like “well I didn't know how you guys are going to react?” to her like “this is 2017! What? You'll be fine!” I was like “okay alright okay fine you guys are fine like you're totally fine” and ever since then I haven't had any problem being out to my students. But it was hard, I mean like 2017, even in 2017 I was like “no I'm not ready I'm not ready no you can’t make me, I don't have to tell anybody if I don't want to.” But so, and I’ve actually become a better teacher since I am I to my students just because I am more open and I'm more like myself and they can tell. Anybody who has ever work the teenagers knows they can like smell bullshit, bull crap, Can I swear on this podcast? They can smell bullshit.
L: So tell us what makes you feel empowered or fierce?
A: Those days that are, where things kind of click together you're like “oh this is how it's supposed to feel. I am a competent professional adult” you know? Or “oh this is how it’s supposed to feel I’m an okay parent” you know? Because nobody's perfect at parenting. Nobody’s like - if anybody is like “oh I’m really good at parenting” that’s a lie, no one knows what the hell they’re doin. But it’s just those days when it sort of clicks together that's when I feel really like fierce I guess and empowered is one sort of in control of my own life and I feel like a boss.
L: I'm sure that you're a really great parent. I feel it in my bones.
A: If I ever am worried about my parenting I usually just like make a funny face and like make kitten noises at my kid and then he laughs and I’m like it’ll be okay” you know? Because if he’s laughing I can't mess him up too bad at least till, yeah, I don't know, he'll be okay. I hope so.
(sung: Shelby Easley)
She is Fire
She is Flame
She has a Voice
She has a name
She is fearless
She has seen years
And if you don’t know
She is Fierce
L: this podcast is produced by me, Linnea Ingalls--
C: And me, Cessa Betancourt
L: Our theme song is written and performed by Shelby Easley, karaoke goddess and musician extraordinaire.
C: Follow us on Instagram and Facebook at She is Fierce Stories
L: You can find out more information about us on our website sheisfiercestories.org such as:
C: How to submit a story or get involved
L: When and where our next show is
C: Photos and other content from our shows
L: And lots of other amazing things!
C: Thank you to our storytellers, artistic collaborators Andrea Eaton and you for listening to these stories and participating in our very first episode.
Both: (whispered in high voice, overlapping) thank you thank you thank you thank you! STAY FIERCE!
SHELBY (sung): And if you don’t know
She is Fierce
C: Are you gonna include me going penis penis pamplemousse poodles….don't do that (laughter) you're.. you go rogue!