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... these are my hands writing it, or my hands typing it, or my words saying it, but there is something much bigger at work here. And that’s how I’ve often felt. I think that’s why the works have always been really fast. The turnover has been fast with the first, with the two books, and given, the second one is an anthology, but my part, my contribution of the book, came out as if it was ust the most natural thing, like that was e!actly what needed to be said. I tweaked the words here and there, but the message was there. And it came through me, and it’s funny because I grew up in a "hristian household, where that kind of idea that there would be spirits taking over you and shit, that never happened with #esus, but it happens to me with my politics and my art. $%usical Interlude& 'ia (ing: This is 'ia (ing. )elcome to *)e )ant the Airwaves,+ a weekly podcast e!ploring the lives of ,ueer and transgender people of color. %y first interview guest is Virgie Tovar. I was privileged to be able to share a stage with her a few weeks ago at -a .e/a "ultural "enter for an event called 0A1A0 .roductions presents 2ast 3aydar. 0A1A0 .roductions is a literary cabaret that hosts events, predominantly in the city of 4an 5rancisco, but recently they’ve started also doing events in the 2ast 3ay. This was their first 2ast 3ay event, and it was an ama6ing line7up. I was humbled and honored to be included. Virgie was sort of the headliner, if you will. 4he performed last, and I was so blown away by her that I had to talk to her afterwards. )e had coffee, we hit it off, and she invited me to interview her in her home. I was ust kind of overwhelmed and ama6ed by her openness and her generosity8 she even gave me cupcakes9 4he is one of those people whose e!citement about life is ust really contagious. I really respect and admire her ability to ust bring her whole self to everything that she does. And additionally, she’s an ama6ing, fierce fat activist and advocate, so without further ado, here’s Virgie. $%usical Interlude& Virgie: 4o my name is Virgie Tovar, and I identify as, right now, probably a fat -atina femme, who is a writer. I identify as radical, political, and lately I’ve been working on this phrase. I decided on bohedonist, which is a combination of the word bohemian and hedonist, and I kind of believe that’s my aesthetic in a lot of ways: how to create a lifestyle that is modest and sustainable but also has these fabulosity elements. I think I’ve mastered that aesthetic to a certain e!tent, but yeah, so, bohedonist. $laughter& 'ia: And what do you do for a living: Virgie: I do a few things. I’m making most of my income right now from gigs that are related to my book which ust came out, Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion. ;igs that are coming out of that are usually lectures, speaking engagements. I’ve been traveling around a bunch and doing conferences and readings and things like
that. 4o that’s where a lot of the income is coming from. The other part of my income comes from phone se!. I’ve been a phone se! operator on and off for about ten years, but in a lot of ways, in terms of what I see myself as, I see myself as a public intellectual, which is comple! because in the <4 there’s really not the conte!t for public intellectuals. I very much see other nations having people who I would consider a public intellectual, but in the <4, the traditional model here has been that intellectuals are private. They are in the academy and only accessible to those who pay admission, versus a public intellectual who’s really generating knowledge for the public good. And that’s what I see myself as. 4o I see myself as somebody who kind of bridges academia. I’m somebody who loves to invoke theory and theorists. I’m in conversation with, I’m reading their work, and I’m engaging with it, but I’m also engaging with popular culture, online culture and *low theory.+ And my own life, I don’t see my life and the lives of the people around me as off7limits or as somehow belittling the value of my theory or my criti,ues. 4o that’s how I see myself, as somebody who is academically trained but who is beholden to the culture at large, and particularly the people who are marginali6ed within it, versus beholden to a university. 'ia: 1o you see yourself as an artist: Virgie: I do see myself as an artist, but that’s been a very recent ac,uisition in terms of an identity. It took me a long time to get comfortable talking about myself or thinking of myself as an artist, because there was a sense that I wasn’t allowed to identify that way, or I didn’t feel like I could take up that space. I didn’t feel comfortable. And to be honest, unfortunately, I feel like I didn’t start feeling like I could identify as an artist until I started getting paid to do my art, and I think that is something that’s really common for women, people of color, ,ueers. I feel like I’ve heard that a lot from the people in my community who are these people. 'ia: )hat kind of art do you do: Virgie: I do a lot of different kinds of art. 0ight now I feel like the predominant form is writing. =onestly, I’ve done a lot of different media. I’ve done radio. I>ve done video. I>ve done stage productions, all of it. I think I see myself in terms of my art, my craft, I really see myself as a storyteller who is drawn to different vehicles to tell different stories, but I feel very drawn to narratives around what it means to be a person of color, what it means to be fat, what it means to be a woman, what it means to be working class. Those are the things that I feel really drawn to in terms of my narrative, but a lot of times the way that the story is told kind of changes over time. 'ia: 1o you consider your work political, your artwork: Virgie: ?eah, I consider my work, my art, very political. There>s e!plicit political things about it, in the sense that I>m e!plicitly writing about politics. I>m e!plicitly invoking words like oppression. I>m e!plicitly invoking lots of different words and concepts that are
clearly politici6ed. %y work is also political because I>m doing it in this body. 3ecause I have a public side to my work, I do a lot of things like speaking engagements and things that are public, or video blogging, which is public, and in that way I invite people to see, scrutini6e, engage with my body, as a political entity. I think that in that way my work feels political, in all of its facets. 'ia: And what political issues specifically does your work deal with: Virgie: 0ight now I feel like most of my work is dealing with fatphobia, and si6e7related politics, and specifically through the lens of gender, the way that fatphobia and those politics affect women specifically, and women of color, poor people, working class people, also. 3asically I see fatphobia as a system that has a lot of different elements within it. This last weekend when I did a conference at 4an 5rancisco 4tate, I used the metaphor of @shit cookies@. )hen you see a cookie, you see an end product. ?ou don>t see all the shit that went into it, but there>s lots of ingredients. It might look different from a cake or whatever, but a lot of times these things look different, but they>re made from the same thing. 4o I sort of see fatphobia as something that is hugely nuanced and comple!, and it is part of the same matri! of patriarchy, heteropatriarchy, racism, classism, se!ism. They>re all a deeply intricate part of fat phobia. 4o when I talk to people about fatphobia and why they should care about it, I put it in the conte!t of even the seeming beneficiaries of fatphobia are actually victims of it as well. And this is true of any system of oppression. 2ven the seeming beneficiaries of that system are suffering under the weight of it, and so I think that that>s very much how I sort of conte!tuali6e that issue. 4o in a lot of ways, I>ve been doing political work for a long time. In a lot of ways my point of entry for politics and being a political activist was anti7racism, and that hasn>t gone away ust because I>m doing fatphobia and the word racism isn>t in the word fatphobia. It doesn>t mean that it>s not there. It doesn>t mean that it>s not part of the criti,ue, and I intricately and in a very e!plicit way engage with things like racism and se!ism. %y second kind of interest was se!7positive politics, and then from there that became the entry point. )hen I got into the %asters .rogram for =uman 4e!uality, that became the entry point for researching fat girls, and then things kind of took off from there. I feel like all the politics that I gained in the process of that have become integrated into my understanding and deconstruction of fatphobia. A lot of the e!perience I had with anything related to performance actually came from being in high school and being a competitive speech and debate person. 4o it>s funny because I was a fat, acne7ridden nerd. I became friends with other nerds, and we all did the same things, because we were friends. And that>s e!actly what friends do, they do the same things, especially in something like high school. A lot of my friends were actually second generation "hinese immigrants, and some of them were 5ilipino, so there was definitely this implicit understanding of the importance of education and rigor and those kinds of things. %y family was instilling me with those things, too. I consider
that a huge part of a lot of cultures, but one of them being this immigrant kind of culture, of people who were poor and these other cultures coming into the <4 and seeing education as a key element to ascendency. A lot of my friends, we have the same kind of philosophy, so we all ended up doing these college preparatory events, all of these things were in preparation for in our lives when life would actually begin, $laughter&, in college. I think that a lot of that came from, a lot of the knowledge and the skills around speaking, performing came from doing that, you know, coming out of being a nerd. Then a lot of the other things were ust like, I had an idea, I put it out there, and then my friends would say, AI can help you do this, I can help you do that.’ There were these different people with different skill sets, and then whatever they couldn>t do or I couldn>t find anybody else to do, I would ust learn how to do it, and it became one of those things where a lot of times, when you are hustling as an artist, you need a lot of the same skills, regardless of whatever medium you are using. 4o you>re always going to have to hit up somebody to get you the space or get you some kind of money for something. ?ou develop the lists. ?ou develop a relationship with people who can help you do that. I remember when I did a stage production called Irreverence is our Right: Monologues by Women of olor. It was hosted at <" 3erkeley because that was the network that I had, and at the time it was called the ;ender 2,uity "enter. They hosted it and sponsored it, and they helped get mics, they helped get the space. )e ended up offering it for free, and we didn>t have to pay for anything. It became one of those things where we collaborated as a group by literally putting an ad on "raigslist and putting it out to my networks. I got like eight women to do it. )e did three rehearsals, and I had somebody who was a stage specialist, somebody who had been doing stage work who was a friend, and she helped make the production really come together. Then we did it, and that was kind of it. And I think that one of the things I>ve learned is that you rarely need as many resources as you might think you need, and you also can always do with less. Those are important things. In terms of writing, to be honest, I am not trained as a writer. I>ve always been really really drawn to the word. I remember as a child I was always that one who loved spelling bees. I remembered how to spell things. I remembered words that I had only heard one time. I loved ac,uiring vocabulary, so in a lot of ways I feel like the word is something I>ve been drawn to for a really long time. I think that I really, really identify as a storyteller. 4o I>ve always been really good at telling stories, and I love to do that. And I think, maybe, some of it has come from what it means to be growing up in the culture that I did, growing up in an immigrant culture. %y grandfather who raised me, who had a hand in raising me, was very gregarious. =e had a lot of the immigrant skill set, which is like to diffuse situations by being funny, and to try really hard, try twice as hard. I remember my mom>s really funny. Also I was encouraged a lot as a child, because I grew up in a household raised by my grandparents and my mother. I was the baby for a long time, and they centered me a lot. They encouraged me to take up as much space as I wanted to, which I think that a lot of women, and women of color, maybe can>t relate to. I think that liberty gave me a lot of license to develop a personality that was a little bit eccentric and a little bit over the top and a little bit bitchy and a little bit femme and all these kinds
of things. 4o anyway, the storytelling ended up leading to the writing, and I feel like what>s interesting for me, even when I meet other writers or hear other writers, I>m e!traordinarily drawn to people who are mostly storytellers and are not necessarily writers per se. They are writing their stories, but their art is that they>re telling the story. I think that for me there>s a lot of people in the 3ay Area who are formally trained, and I feel like a lot of times their focus is very much on the writing, the literary nature, the art of it, in sort of the classical sense. I do not have that background, and so I have this unorthodo! style. %y prose is e!tremely clean. I don>t write in a very literary way. I write in a way that feels right and real to me. Another big part of the storytelling story is that after college, I got a ob working in radio. I ended up getting mentored by someone who was like this genius. =e was like BC, and he was really young. =e was my boss, and he was the top guy at one of "34>s radio offices. 4o he was this savant or whatever, and he trained me. I actually went out of my way and I was like, AI want you to teach me everything you know.’ =e would ust set up meetings with me, and we would talk for an hour. =e>d assign me a book, and I>d read it in a week. =e>d be like, AI can>t believe you read that book in a week,’ and I>d be like, Ayeah, I love it.’ 4o he trained me in the art of storytelling, which radio really is, and he always encouraged me. I remember, and this was when I was like BD, BE, when I was working in radio, and I remember I was always shying away from making the thing about me. I was always like, Alet>s have a guest, let>s interview somebody, let>s talk about something else.’ And he>d be like, Ano, let>s talk about you.’ And again that>s something that women are not trained not to do. That>s something that especially ,ueer women of color, women of color, it>s ust like something that we>re not told. -ike how many people come up to us and say, Ano, we want to hear about you. This is about you. -et>s bring it back to you now.’ $laughter& ?ou know what I mean: And I think that I>ve had these opportunities where I>ve come into contact with people who have encouraged me to see myself as somebody whose narrative is really important and interesting, and I think that I see my ob in a lot of ways as doing the same for other people who are like me. 'ia: "an you talk a little bit about your e!perience in higher education and how that might have contributed to the career you have now: Virgie: ?eah, well I think first of all, originally when I got out of high school, I was at <" 1avis. That was the school that I really wanted to go to. I had imagined in my head that it was going to be this perfect, wonderful place. I had become obsessed with that place. I don>t really know why. )hen I got there, it was not a fit. I mean first of all, it was like that e!perience of my first time being in an environment or a subculture that was predominately white, upper middle class people, and that felt very foreign. I was immediately drawn to ethnic studies, to various kinds of anti7racism work. In a lot of ways, the university and my e!perience within academia has provided these venues to gain the knowledge, the tools and the language to deconstruct all the things, which is what I>m doing now. I remember even though I was doing anti7racism work in my undergraduate career, it wasn>t until graduate school when I met a ,ueer woman of color
scholar who really, in my e!perience, mentored me and really taught me how to think. I remember I was in her class and she taught a history of se!uality with this really ama6ing emphasis on critical race theory. "ritical race theory is academically fascinating. It>s a lot of things but a lot of times is marginali6ed and not considered a ma or important criti,ue when we think about all kinds of things like history, sociology, anthropology. It was the first time that a woman who was out about being a ,ueer woman of color, out about being raciali6ed, radicali6ed and ,ueer, and was really holding space for us, for the people of color in the class and ust modeling what it meant to be a critical thinker, what it meant to be a theorist. 4o I feel like I locate a lot of the ac,uisition tools, or ac,uiring the tools happening in the academy. I>m also very drawn to academic writing and the theori6ing that>s happening in academia. Fn the one hand, it feels very foreign and alien and purposely alienating, but it>s also something that I know that I>m drawn to that struggle. I known that I>m drawn to those kinds of venues where I>m going to have to deal with academics and the kind of ivory tower attitude that maybe some have, not all. Anyway, so higher education was always valued. I grew up, and my parents were always telling me to get an education, so it was something that I feel like was instilled in me at a very young age. I think that in terms of how it has contributed to the work that I do, I really believe that if I hadn>t gone to graduate school and been given the task of doing this enormous research pro ect to get a masters degree, to do the thesis, I would not necessarily be doing what I>m doing now. I probably would not. I think there>s a part of me that was drawn to that struggle before I was in graduate school, but it gave me an opportunity to really focus on it for a year, the second year of my degree. I think the other thing that>s interesting about graduate school and higher education is that it gave me tools like language, the knowledge, the skill of deconstruction, but it also gave me all of these other tools that you learn when you>re in academia as a person of color, as a woman, as a fat person, in my case. I had a lot of opposition in graduate school. %ost of the faculty were not particularly supportive of my work. There was nobody doing work that was similar to mine. The person who ended up signing off on my thesis tried to dump me three weeks before the signing was supposed to happen. There was a particular person in my program who took my thesis idea. I mean I shared it with her, and she took it within a week, and nobody noticed. 2verybody pretended it hadn>t happened. )hen I brought it up, it was sort of ignored. I didn>t understand what I felt like was something I had clearly stated as a research interest all of a sudden became hers and nobody said anything. That kind of set up this whole weird dynamic where I felt really angry, I felt really silenced, I felt really aggravated. Again, I was told in graduate school that I was among colleagues, that I was in a place to share knowledge, and I took that at face value. And that>s something that I think a lot of people that don>t know the hustle that is racism, a lot of us take that shit to heart, but that>s not real, that>s not right, and that>s not true. 4o, the truth of the matter is that when you>re in graduate school, it is not about being collegial, and it is not about a marketplace of ideas. It>s about you have a good idea, you need to be e!tremely political
and strategic, and you better be prepared for somebody to take that shit, and you better figure out how you>re going to deal with that when it happens. 3ecause it>s very possible that your idea is either going to get taken or it>s going to get shat upon. ?ou>re going to have to pick yourself up and do that work of being your number one advocate, and I think that>s something that I feel when I think about racism. ?es, there are a lot of forms of racism, but one of the biggest ones that I>ve encountered and that I think that a lot of people I know have encountered is that people of color and women, and I think I>ll say women of color, we have not been taught to have the confidence that you need to really succeed in a world like academia. )hat happened is we’re afraid of failure, we>re afraid of what it means to get feedback, even, because our understanding of our capacity is so limited, and that holds us back from taking challenges. )hereas you look at somebody like white males in academia who still do e!traordinarily well, high, above and beyond anybody else in academia and anywhere else for that matter. I think that there>s obviously misogyny and racism there, and I>m not trying to deny that, but a big part of that misogyny and racism can be that those men have a wellspring of confidence that we don>t have. )hen they fail, that doesn>t hit them to the core. That doesn>t debilitate them. It might debilitate them, I don>t know, but it doesn>t debilitate them for the ne!t GC years. They think, AI>m still awesome after this. This might have happened, but that person>s stupid. That person doesn>t know what they>re talking about. That person doesn>t know shit.’ And that>s the attitude that I think we need to have and that I>m building up now in my career. I think that I faced a lot of those e!periences that a lot of people of color and women of color especially e!perience in graduate school. I was literally told by one professor that I didn>t really have the intellectual rigor to complete her course, and to ust say that to somebody... I mean it was so heartbreaking at the time. Again, I think that what ended up happening was that I ended up going into anger management, so I ended up going into health services which were provided for free at 45 4tate. I ended up talking to a therapist and I was having all these problems. I had never felt more like I was losing my mind. I remember she was like an older woman of color, and we were talking my e!perience at graduate school, and she said to me, Ayou don>t know the game that you>re playing,’ and it was like, it was so intense in that moment to have like this incredible intimacy with somebody who was an elder, who was a mentor in that moment, and who broke it down for me, and kept it real. )hen she could have decided to be professional and be distant and be indifferent, she told me that in academia for people of color, academia is a game of whiteness, and if you are not white, you don>t know the stakes and you don>t know the game and you don>t know the moves, and you>ve got to figure out how to survive, knowing that you cannot be authentic in those spaces. I think that has carried with me, so I feel like in academia I>ve learned these concrete tools, like how to write well, how to write an essay in a way that it>ll get accepted to something, how to fill out applications, how to talk to people, how to have a meeting, these kinds of concrete things, how to network to a certain e!tent, but I was also taught all of these other skills which were how to navigate se!ism, how to navigate racism, how to learn how to support somebody who>s going through the same thing that you are, and those are indispensable tools for me, too, as an activist and an artist.
'ia: 4o you mentioned that you wrote your first book when you were BD. =ow did you get your first book deal: Virgie: ?ou know it>s funny8 it was the funniest story. This is totally heteronormative hour. 4o when I was working in radio, one of my assignments was to go to events and cover them. 4o one event that came up, they were like, Ago cover this.’ It was a flirt workshop in 4an 5rancisco at the ;ood Vibrations 4tore on .olk. I was like, Awell, I>m pretty good at flirting, but I>m happy to go and see what>s up.’ It was this woman, I don>t remember her name at all, but she does these empowerment, flirting, flirt for love, flirt for success kind of workshops. 4he>s kind of like a guru. 4he was offering this one day intensive, so I go in there... .4, let me back up really ,uickly and say that I had it in my mind, I had put it out to the universe as a known fact, I was like Auniverse, I>m gonna write this book before I turn BE.’ In my head that was the truth, it hadn>t happened yet, but it was truth as far as I was concerned. I don>t know how this is going to happen, but this is gonna happen. I feel like that>s kind of the person I have been, somebody who>s like this is my passion, this is what I want, and it is done, because I say it is done. I think this is like the power femme, top thing, but anyways, so I go to this flirting workshop, and I walk in there, and there>s a few cute boys. There>s like three boys, and I>m like, hmm, three. )hen I go into a room, I call it scoping the fuckability. I scoped the fuckability8 there were three prospects. And I kind of had an order in my head, you know, I>d you like you first, second, third whatever. 4o during the first break, choice number two, my second choice, came up to me, and he started talking, and he was kind of lathering it up and stuff, but he didn>t close the deal. =e was like, AI>d really like you to come teach a class at such and such, you>re really interesting, blah blah blah.’ ?ou know, great, he teed it up, but he did not close the deal. 4o I was like, AF(, that>s cool.’ Then the ne!t break comes, and what I love is that choice number one was standing right behind him, kind of hovering to see if he>d move out or what he>d do, so anyway, halfway through the class, right before the lunch break, we have an eye contact e!ercise. 4o the woman>s like, AF(, I want there to be two lines, and I want you to sustain eye contact for like a minute,’ or thirty seconds or something like that, and I was partnered with choice number one. 4o we did eye contact like really intensely. Then right after that, we>re still looking at each other, and she says, AF(, it>s time for lunch, you have GC minutes,’ and he walks right to me, takes my hand and says, AI have to take you to lunch,’ $laughter&, and so, we go to lunch, and he>s like, Awhat do you do besides looking like a goddess all the time:’ 4o we’re bantering or whatever, really flirtatious, and I>m like, Ayou know, right now I>m doing radio, but I>m also going to be writing a book,’ $laughter&, and I was like, AI>m also writing a book, and it>s going to be published before I turn BE,’ and he>s like, AThat is so funny. I>m actually a publisher.’ I was like, AF(, yeah, that makes sense’ $laughter&. And so we>re flirting, and there>s a lot of chemistry. After the class, we take a cab to my apartment, we start making out, and right before he pulls my shirt up, I say, $laughter&, Aif my choice is between dating you and you being my publisher, I choose my publisher’
$laughter&, And this is totally me being a total career person8 career is number one in a lot of ways for better or worse. 4o, he was like, AI think that we can do both.’ I was like, AF(,’ so this is the verbal contract that we>re forming in my head $laughter&. 4o within a week, we have drawn up an agreement8 he has offered to basically fund the pro ect. =e>s like, AI>m not going to be able to pay you, but I>ll pay for everything, and whatever money you make from the book, from the sales of the book in person, you can keep that money.’ 4o it was one of those situations when it was I didn>t get an advance, but it was a no lose situation. 4o within three months I had finished it, like it was already in my head, you know. 4o it was done, and it became !estination !!: "dventures of a #reast Fetishist With $%!!s& 'ia: And how did you come up with the idea for the book: Virgie: It ust felt very intuitive, and it wasn>t one of those things where I sat down with this spreadsheet, and I was like, AF(, this is the most cost7effective idea to pursue.’ It was like I want to write a book about what it was like to be a female fetishist and to talk about boobs, and that was kind of my big thing. Again, I think it came from a very intuitive place, and this is what I encourage when I think of other artists or even other small business owners. #ust the other day, I was at a networking event, and there was a woman lecturing. 4he was talking about how the number one thing that>s important for a business, and if you>re an artist, you>re a business, the number one thing for a business owner that you need to have is passion. And the way that I heard that was that you need to have that passion to take you through those moments when you don>t think you>re going to be able to make it. ?ou also need to have that passion because you need to know that you>re right even if this is the thing that doesn’t make any sense. It has to ride you through those days when people are like, Athat>s a weird’ or Astupid’ or Abad idea.’ I think also for me the passion is from learning to trust what your intuition is telling you about where you should be headed. 5or me, whenever I>ve had those moments where I sit down with a spreadsheet and I>m like, Athis is the most cost7effectiveHpragmatic plan,’ it never turns out. I remember I had a moment8 I think that people have crossroads moments. .eople have many over the course of a lifetime. I remember after I went to college I got a ob working at a continuation school, and it was killing me. 2veryday I would wake up and wish that I got hit by a car. And I feel like a lot of people in education unfortunately feel that way, so $laughter&, so anyway, it ended up being this beautiful e!perience working with these kids who have been through so much shit and were living these lives under the most intense parts of institutional racism, poverty and se!ism, and they survived, and a lot of us became close at the end. The point is that it was so hard. %y boss hated me8 the kids had a lot of problems that I didn>t know how to deal with. I remember it came to that point where my contract was up to get renewed. %y boss was like, A)e>ll hire you again,’ because she was looking forward to torturing me for another year $laughter&. 4he>s like, Awe>ll hire you again,’ and in that moment, my parents were like, AThis is a good ob. ?ou make all this money,’ or you make a certain amount of money. I was making like GC, GB.
AAnd you get all these benefits, and you should stay here, and it>s right in the neighborhood, you can live with us, you can stay here,’ it>s like this perfect fit. 2verything in my body was saying Ano, no, no, no, no, no,’ but my head was like, AThey>re right. There>s all these things.’ 4o I remember I got into a program in 'ew ?ork to get a %asters degree in 2ducation. .art of the condition of the degree was that it was free, but you had to work at an at7risk school as the condition. I got recruited to work at this school in the 3ron! by this particular principal. =e seemed like a really ama6ing person, but the point is that I did the interview with him8 he wanted to hire me. I did the interview with the place8 I had wanted to move to 'ew ?ork. It all seemed right, you know, like it was smart, this is a good thing, I>ll have a %asters degree, everything is telling me yes. 3ut when it came time to book the ticket, I would ust fall apart. I would start crying uncontrollably and every time, every time, I ust couldn>t do it. Again that>s the moment when your body knows8 everything that your brain is not ready to process, your body knows. I ust did the stupidest thing that you could do. I said no to the ob at the school that I had been working at8 I said no to the ob in 'ew ?ork. I actually lost a bunch of money because I had paid for all these standardi6ed tests you have to take. I didn>t care. I was like it>s worth it, you know. I ended up moving to 4an 5rancisco unemployed, and then I got a ob working at "34 radio making IJCC an hour. And I>m not saying that>s everybody>s story, but I>m ust saying the body knows $laughter&, and that>s something that>s really important. A lot of artists I>ve spoken to or heard speak, a lot of times you become the vessel. ?ou become the thing through which the art is being created, and those are these ma or ama6ing moments, and if you>re a working artist, those moments might not be all the time. ?ou have a deadline, you have to work it out, right: 3ut there are these moments where it feels totally overwhelming, totally spiritual, totally these are, these are my hands writing it, or my hands typing it, or my words saying it, but there is something much bigger at work here. And that’s how I’ve often felt. I mean I think that’s why the works have always been really fast. The turnover has been fast with the first, with the two books, and given the second one is an anthology, but my part, my contribution of the book, came out as if it was ust the most natural thing, like that was e!actly what needed to be said. I, you know, tweaked the words here and there, but the message was there. And it came, it came through me, and it’s funny because I grew up in a "hristian household, where that kind of idea that there would be spirits taking over you and shit, that never happened with #esus, but it happens to me with my politics and my art. 'ia: And where did you move to the 3ay from: ?ou said you moved to 4an 5rancisco...: Virgie: I>m from, my parents live in 4an .ablo, so it>s like twenty miles from here. 'ot very far, a suburb, yeah. 'ia: )hat was your e!perience like... I>m interested in sort of your e!perience writing a
book versus editing a book. Virgie: ?eah, well editing a book $sigh&, I would say the e!citing thing about editing a book is, one of my favorite things, since I>m not the only person who wrote it, I can talk about how great it is and not even feel weird or egotistical about it, because fewer than half the words are mine, so I can say how fantastic it is. I can brag about how ama6ing these people>s writing is, and it>s so e!citing to be able to do that. 4o as the editor, I feel like you get that in a way that as a writer, you don>t. Another thing that was interesting for me as an editor was how transformational that process is, and I think that that>s what e!citing. In a lot of ways, it reminded me a lot of being a researcher and doing the research in graduate school because you go in kind of thinking, maybe this is what I will find. ?ou have a ,uestion, and you think F(, this is the ,uestion I have and maybe I>ll find this. And then you reali6e that both the ,uestion and what you e!pected were not really right, and that>s an e!citing process of transformation. I think that>s what e!citing both about academia and writing: the ,uestion itself can be transformational for people, both you as a person who>s asking and a person who>s getting the ,uestion. Anyway, what I found was when I set out to edit Hot and Heavy, my thought was, I know all of these ferocious fat bitches who are so ama6ing and so fierce and I>m going to ask them how they became so fierce. I thought the stories were going to be funny and totally8 almost like this romantic comedy was in my head. )hat I found was that the stories were really, really, really complicated, and a lot of them were not sunshine and puppies and romantic comedy shit. It was serious, intense shit. 5or me, what I reali6ed was that my understanding of fierce had been totally one7dimensional. I only saw the shiny parts. I didn>t see what went into what it meant to be fierce. Again, I think since the book has come out and I>ve talked to people about it, it blows my mind to hear their impressions of what this word means. I remember once I was at a lecture, and the professor had assigned the introduction of the book to the students to read. 4he>d asked everybody to go around the circle and say what they felt like the word fierce meant to them. 2verybody had all these different answers that were really good, and then there was this one ,ueer person of color, and they said Afierceness is armor.’ And it was like, oh shit. It still gives me chills to remember those words. In that moment, somebody who>s JK, JL, younger than me, had this insight into something that was so intensely passionate and so strong. I think that when you think about the word fierce and how that word has been absorbed into our culture, it comes very much from ,ueer people of color community, ,ueer people of color history. )hen you think about ,ueer people of color, especially femmes of color, the amount of resilience that is needed to survive in a world that is constantly bombarding their identity and their body is incredible, and then to turn it into this thing where it like looks effortless and looks fashionable and looks stylish and looks se!y and looks effortless, and that shit is not effortless. That shit is so intense and real. I think that was for me the moment as an editor where that was transformation, where my idea of what this book was going to be, which was going to be this light reading, like
@here>s how fierce bitches do their fierce thing. @I thought it was going to be like a fun, kind of playful thing. It became this thing where I was like, F(, as the editor, I have the obligation to tell their truth. I think there was a moment where I was worried that when I turned in the book that my editor was going to be like, Athis is really depressing’ $laughter& or like, Athis isn>t what we talked about,’ and I remember having a moment where I was like, F(, I can either edit out the comple!ity of this story, or I can tell the story and honor the person who>s hearing the story enough and honor the person who>s telling the story enough that they will be able to work it out. And I decided to go with that. I decided to go with the telling the story and being honest with the story. I actually talk about this in the introduction, and having that moment where I had to understand what this thing that looked this certain way actually was. And growing up in that moment, having to grow the fuck up as a writer and an editor because you>re now responsible for a bunch of people>s stories, and as I read these stories, there was so much going on. It was so clear to me that for some of them, it was the first time they>d told their story. 5or some of them it was very, very vulnerable stuff that they were sharing with me, and I think also there were a number of new writers who had never been published, and I decided to work with them through their piece. 4ome of them ust had this seed of a piece, like a seed of a chapter, and it was clear that it needed a lot of work, but I was happy to work with them on it, because I feel like the work itself is about telling a story that hasn>t been told, and it should be, in my opinion, it should be written by people who had been published before and who>d written on other sub ects. 3ut it was the nature of the ustice of the work to include people who had never maybe been published before8 that was a big part of it. I think that in a lot of ways, as an editor, the e!perience was much more interactive, transformational, than it was to be ust a single author. )hen I wrote the first book, I mean given it was erotica, which is a very different kind of game all together, but at the time it felt like a very solo e!perience. I had the feedback from like four or five people, but I couldn>t be asking people every single day to dialogue with me and give me incredible edits and things like that. 4o I think they were vastly different e!periences, and, you know, I can>t say that I prefer one over the other. They were ust so different. I think probably my ne!t work will be a single author piece. I don>t know what it>s going to be yet. 'ia: =ow did you get your second book deal: Virgie: The second contract came... it>s another sort of longish story. I apologi6e $laughter&. 4o I knew about 4eal .ress because when I was working in radio we used to book guests through them. 4o they were in my head. The seed had been planted that I wanted to work with these people. Again, I had ust kind of gotten it in my head that these were the people I wanted to work with. )hen I was in a long distance relationship with someone, 4am, who>s a 'ew Mealander, and we>re still best friends. And I was living in 'ew Mealand. I had been working as a se! educator and then had ,uit my ob and moved to 'ew Mealand for five months. 1uring that time, it was ust one of those things where you>re in another country and you>ve ust left this ob, your heart is open, your spirit is open, your brain is open, to all these different things. I remember I went on
vacation to the "ook Islands, which is in the middle of the .acific. ?ou know what, I left out a part. 3ack up a year before that, I had a contract working in tourism, and one of the benefits of the contract was that she would fly us to all these different places or she would fly us to get meetings and if you had kind of a good relationship, she would fly you to local areas before your contract started. 4o that particular year, I was in 3oston, right before I was going to be doing a contract in 'ew ?ork, 'ew #ersey. I was in 3oston, and I was in this totally spiritually elevated place. I ust felt so good and so full and whole and complete, and I remember asking the universe in that moment, I was like, Awhere am I headed: )here is this going:’ And it was this thought ust introduced into my head, it was, Ayou are going to be part of the fat movement.’ I had not done any organi6ing around fatness. I had read a few articles. I didn>t even remember having read them. I reali6e now in retrospect looking at the readers I read in college that I had read fat activism articles from several years ago, but I was not part of the movement. I didn>t even know there was a movement at all. There was this intuitive understanding or something. I don>t even know what happened. Anyway, so this thought was introduced in my head, and they were like, Ayou>re going to have to do this fat movement thing,’ and I was like, AF(, well, what do I have... how do I do that:’ And the answer was, A ust breathe.’ That was the answer: ust get up and breathe. And that>s always the answer, no matter what, ust get up and breathe. Time will tell. )hatever. 4o after that happened, I was like alright I>m ust gonna chill then because this is ust gonna happen with or without my knowledge or consent $laughter&. 4o then I don>t know, a while passes, a year maybe. I>m in 'ew Mealand, and I go to the "ook Islands. I>m writing wishes in the sand. I>m by myself, and I write into the sand, A5atties of the world unite,’ which had been the name of a blog that a friend had asked me to write right before I went to 'ew Mealand, or I think maybe when I was there. 4he said, AI>m doing a pro ect on body image, and I>d really like you to write for it. )ill you write a post for this website we’re making:’ And I was like, Asure,’ so I wrote Fatties of the 'orld unite. It was basically a rant about fat life and how fat life can be fucked up because people are fucked up about fat. It was about se! and men and all kinds of stuff. And a lot of people really liked it. A lot of people really resonated with it. 4o I was writing wishes in the sand, Afatties in the world unite,’ and when I came back, there had ust been a fire lit under my ass. I literally wrote a proposal in three days and sent it in from 'ew Mealand to 3erkeley, "alifornia, to 4eal .ress. It was for Fatties of the World (nite. I wrote the first two chapters. I wrote the introduction and maybe like the ne!t chapter. I had a table of contents, I had the concept, everything, so all the things that were re,uired. 3y the way, ust a little tidbit for people who are interested in submitting proposals, a lot of people or publishers who publish nonfiction will have the submission guidelines on their website, so you can ust follow those and submit cold call, submit a cold submission. ?ou don>t have to have an agent. Another little tidbit is that if you write nonfiction, you don>t need an agent. If you write fiction, you need an agent. 4o, F(, I get an email back, like two months later, from the 4enior 2ditor, who>s still a woman I hugely, hugely, hugely respect, 3rooke )arner, who was the editor at 4eal then. And she was like, AI really like your voice. This is a manifesto. This is really unusual
nowadays. There>s not many of those.’ 4he was like, AI don>t know if this is going to make it past this point, but I ust want to let you know that you have a voice and this is good.’ It was in that moment again, thinking about myself as a young woman of color who maybe didn>t have a ton of confidence about her work, those words were huge to me. It turned out that the proposal got re ected. The proposal didn>t make it past the marketing team. They were like, this is not going to reach the audience. At the time, the book was only about fat se! and fat se!uality. They basically said it won>t be able to reach your market, which translation, can mean a lot of things, but at the time was like, Awe don>t know that it>s going to be able to sell,’ and the reason why was because the issue hadn>t really hit the public yet. It wasn>t really a huge thing in academia yet, and the big plus si6e fashion e!plosion hadn>t happened yet, so this is all predating that. I go into graduate school. I end up studying fat girls, doing my whole degree on fat women of color, ,ueering the feminine, and as I>m finishing up my degree, I send an email to 3rooke. I say, A3rooke, I don>t know if you remember me, but I>m the one who wrote Fatties, I>m the one did that thing about fat. I don>t know that I want to go through the whole submission process again like that, but if there>s any interest in the work, let me know, and I>m willing to do whatever work you want me to do behind that.’ I was like, AI think now is the time,’ and that was what I said. 3ecause after I>d done the research, in the two years that had passed since the re ection, I felt like there had been this huge cultural shift. It was like there is a 6eitgeist that has happened, and it>s totally, totally the time now, and I was convinced. I remember 3rooke wrote back, and she was like, AI agree. I think it>s the time, too,’ and she was like, Aif you>re willing to e!pand the idea beyond se!, I think that we can move forward on this. I want it to be more than that, I want it to be about all the aspects, all the realms about life as a fattie, as a fat girl,’ and I was like, that actually sounds like a fantastic idea. I think she actually had a better, more comple! idea than I had even, or a bigger vision than I had, and that was how the book became what it was. There was a little bit of back and forth. There was a re ection that was part of the story. I was not demorali6ed, and I really took her at her word. I think what she said in the email where she>s like, Awe can>t move forward,’ she said, Aright now isn>t the time.’ I mean I really took her at her word, this idea that a pro ect can evolve, a pro ect can be wrong at one time and right at another time. I think again going back to what it means to be passionate, it>s to have the confidence in this thing, to ride it through and to be like this is going to come into the world one way or another, because my thought was that this pro ect was going to come into the world one way or another. And I>m really e!cited that it came through 4eal .ress, and I>m really e!cited that it came into fruition the way that it is. I was very very adamant in my mind that it was going to turn into something, that I was going to do something with it. 'ia: And where do you want to go from here: Virgie: I think that the answer goes back to Awake up and breathe.’ I mean I think that for me I don>t know where it>s going from here, and I think that there>s this element of surrender that I ust have to reali6e is part of my life. I feel like every time I haven>t ust surrendered and ust given into to what my body>s telling me, things have gotten off
balance. I don>t know where things are going from here. I would love to continue to write. I would love to continue to create books, works, big works like that, to continue to become an increasingly visible public intellectual figure, and in a lot of ways I think that I seek to innovate that space between the public and the academy and really in some ways carve out a true space for public intellectuals. I think that another big ambition I have is to work in collaboration with people who are going to create infrastructure around opportunities for people of color, fat people, ,ueer people, women, people I see in my community who I talk to them all the time and they>re like broke as a oke, you know. And I think that on the one hand, I believe in a fairly modest lifestyle. I believe you don>t need more than what you need $laughter&. 3ut at the same time, I feel as a bohedonist, $laughter&, I believe that we have these moments of delicious food or delicious art or delicious travel or whatever, and I believe there can be beauty in those things and people deserve those things as well. %y point is there>s a space between modesty and AI have what I need’ and broke as a oke, and I feel like I would like to bridge that $laughter&. I>d like to see more people in my life who don>t have to live paycheck to paycheck or even worse than that. I see very much my life going in that direction, and maybe hopefully getting to the point where I can leverage my pro ects or my name or whatever to get those things for people, to pay people and to increasingly see artists getting paid. I also see myself being part of a movement of demanding payment. I remember I have been, for probably about a year, toying with the idea of creating a website that would become a pledge site where people pledge, both as artists and people who are paying artists, to not work for freeHnot e!pect work for free. That>s obviously symbolic, there>s not going to be anybody knocking down your door if you don>t do it, but it becomes this thing, and you can see all of these other people who have agreed to do this and how important this work is. I think that what happens is when we don>t pay artists, we sentence ourselves to a life where there won>t be art by people of color, by ,ueers, by women, and we know that it>s struggle and criti,ue and understanding and resilience that creates fantastic art, and when the people who aren>t e!periencing those things aren>t creating the work, we lose things as a culture, and we lose things as a species. I very much am committed to, and I think that>s, again, part of that bohemian, bohedonist aesthetic. I want to see art that fucking rocks my world. I want to see art that makes me cry. I want to see art that makes me think. And I know who>s making that art, and they>re not getting paid. And that means they>re not going to continue to make that shit, and that>s not a life that I want to be a part of $laughter&. I think that all of it ends up being this reinvestment in a future that I want to see. I think that in a big way, I don>t know what the vehicles for those things will be, but that>s where my life is headed. 'ia: Awesome. =ow do you measure your success as an artist or a writer: Virgie: That>s a really complicated ,uestion. I think on the one hand, I have to admit that there is a big part of it that>s measured from feedback from people who I consider
e!perts in that field or who are renowned in that field. 4ome of it has to do with money. I think there>s you know, can I moneti6e on this work: A big part of my feelings of success come from those kinds of affirmations that are very traditional. I think other things are when I have... like this weekend at the conference that I went to, there was a women>s conference at 4an 5rancisco 4tate <niversity that I presented at. )hen I>m in a room full of ,ueer people, people of color, trans people, women, do they resonate with this message: Are they coming up to me and saying, AI felt safe in this moment,’ or, AI felt vindicated,’ or, AI felt like I wasn>t cra6y,’ $laughter& or whatever, are those folks coming to me, are those folks engaging with my work: I think it>s sometimes complicated when you gauge a lot of success... I mean as an artist, you>re kind of forced into this situation where a lot of affirmation has to come from outside of you. In a lot of ways that>s counter to maybe where our sense of wellness or sense of success should come from, but the truth is, I think for a lot of people, community whatever that might mean, is a big source of gauging success and gauging a lot of other things. 4o, I think there>s that. I think there>s also that internal barometer, that emotional knowledge inside my body, like does this feel gross: 1oes this feel good: 1oes this feel right: )hat kind of concessions am I making: Are they worth it: )hen you>re doing anything, and this is where I feel like a lot of times artists maybe get demorali6ed or confused, once a pro ect becomes funded, or once a pro ect becomes collaborative, you>re not the only person who>s responsible for the product, and that can be daunting. I think a lot of people, what happens is that, they>re afraid of what that would look like to their community. )hat would it look like to make a concession around this issue: I think that ultimately the answer to that ,uestion is yours. The answer to the ,uestion is, you know the answer to the ,uestion. Fnly you can answer that ,uestion, and what>s at stake is different for different people. I think that my body tells me what concessions I>m willing to deal with and which ones I>m not. Another one is, am I honoring the people who are in my stories: 5or e!ample, I write a lot about my family life. I write a lot about growing up. I write a lot about my mom and my grandma who are a big part of my life, and my grandfather, too, and there are things that I know that they would not want out in the public. I>m happy to honor those things because my thought is, yes, it>s my story. ?es, it>s my life with them in it. It>s my story, but I also love and respect them, and I want them to live in a world where they are given dignity by me. 4o there are certain things that I won>t write about, and that>s ust a privacy thing and that>s ust for me, like honoring the legacy of people I think have gone through a lot of struggle and haven>t been afforded dignity all the time. To get that from your family, to have that e!perience within the family, I think would be maybe really hard for them. 2ven if they never read it, the knowledge that I had broken their confidence would not be F( with me. That>s a limit for me. That>s my limit. I think those things, and then there>s little things. I feel like the friendships I have in my life... I measure success by who>s drawn to me. )hat kind of people want to be friends with me, want to collaborate with me, and it>s e!citing for me right now because I feel like
those people are all fucking high ,uality, ama6ing, kick7ass, brilliant, inspiring people. =ere>s something I feel like artists or people in general might find useful or might find helpful: something that I>ve decided about my life is that my time is my... like if you think about your time as something you can moneti6e. 5or e!ample, if there>s an organi6ation that asks you to donate your time and your performance. ?ou put a dollar amount on that time or that performance, and you say, if I had that dollar amount, would I give it to them: If the answer is yes, then you can donate that time, you can donate that performance. If the answer>s no, then you won>t. I feel like the same is true with friendships. )ould I invest in this person, whether monetarily or emotionally, would I invest in this person if I had the dollars or if I had whatever, the time, I don>t know, you can kind of put a value on it, whatever. If you would invest in that person, that>s the person you need to be hanging out with. I think, if they were a company, would I apply to work there: That>s the kind of shit that for me, that>s how I think all the time. I ust really don>t have time at this point for people are not those people. 'ia: 1o you think that se! work has helped you sort of figure out how to put a dollar value on your time: Fr were you always sort of business7minded in that way: Virgie: I wasn>t always business minded in that way. I had to learn how to think about putting a dollar to my time. I think a lot of it came through meeting, actually, I feel like one of the first lessons I learned was from a number of ,ueer artists I know who are making art and making money. I remember once I had a conversation with a burles,ue performer, "herry .oppins, who>s in 4an 5rancisco, and we were talking about getting paid for your work. 4he ust said, what you have to do is shift the onus of payment onto the person who>s asking. 1on>t feel shame that you need payment. .ut that shit onto the person who>s asking, and you can be really simple and polite. Things like, they ask you to do something, and you>re like, AI would love to, and here>s how much I charge.’ Then all of a sudden, they have to decide that it’s worth it for them, but what>s great in that moment is that word gets out, at least it gets out in their head, that you>re not going to do this for free. 4o, I think there>s been these e!periences within my community, people I organi6e with, who have taught me these things. I think a lot of them have been white people, so I think that>s an important thing to mention. I think the other thing is that I ended up taking these business classes. They>re really cheap. They>re based in various parts of the 3ay Area, and it>s called )omen>s Initiative for 4elf72mployment. ?ou get like three months of business training for IJCC, and they have a website. They teach the class twice a year. It>s very, very, very accessible, and it>s mostly women of color doing it, mostly women who have working class backgrounds. I gained a lot of business skills through that, and I think that was a huge part of the business savvy I have now. The mentorships I>ve had, the friendships I>ve had and this particular class have been really, really really influential in understanding what it means to have a business. I think that se! work, to a certain e!tent, maybe even more so than I can call into
recollection... I think that on the one hand, kind of yes. I mean, to be honest, I feel like what se! work has taught me is how insidious heterose!uality can be $laughter&, and I think what it has taught me is the art of leveraging and manipulation and what it means to have an identity that isn>t all yours, that>s partly you but not all the way you, which isn>t necessarily so much about dollars, but it>s very indispensable in business, in a lot of realms. I mean learning that you don>t give everything away. I think that has been really, really, really important in learning the politics of all of these different things, like academia and business and all these kinds of things. $"losing music&
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