The members of Voices Rising share inspirational stories
click here to go to the main SGN website | click here to go to Mobile main page
The members of Voices Rising share inspirational stories
by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

Voices Rising is a literary performance and spoken word event series designed to showcase LGBTQ artists of color from the Pacific Northwest, according to the program from the December 5, 2008 performance at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center. Friday's show exclusively featured artists under 25 years old.

I often find myself wondering if the young Queer people are really connected to the history of our civil rights movement. I came out in the '80s when being young and Queer meant you were automatically a member of a larger community, a politically and culturally homogenous community that developed in response to the pandemic that was so pervasive and devastating. We marched, we boycotted, we disrupted, and we sewed quilts, and we did it together. Yes, the sense of community was overshadowed with a dark cloud, but the sense of community was tangible.

Today, in spite of recent setbacks precipitated by a tyrannical majority of breeders in California and elsewhere, it's easy to think of young Queer people as having little invested in a community that is more fractured and less essential. It's easy to believe they are less connected to today's elderly Queer community, the same people who literally put their lives on the line daily simply by coming out as little as 40 years ago.

After Friday's performance of Voices Rising, I won't be wondering about these things any more. The artists performing Friday night were smart, talented, and well-read. They obviously have engaged both the community of color and the Queer community artistically and intellectually. Keep an eye out because these kids are going places.

The powerful yet fun show was emceed by the charming Justin Huertas, a singer/actor/musician with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theater from Pacific Lutheran University. Performers included Landon Longhill, a biracial Trangendered Washington State poet with a rich and honest voice, a wonderful young poet who asked their name not be used for this article, Jus Moni, a beautiful young singer with a golden voice, Crystal Ybarra, a 25-year-old mother of one whose father is serving life in prison and whose mother died of AIDS when she was 14, and THEESatisfaction, a groovy twosome with a penchant for fusing nebula jazz, intergalactic soul, and astronomical a capella (their description, not mine).

Voices Rising was created by Storme Webber, a self-described Black Native Lesbian involved for over 30 years in LGBTQ of color arts communities in the Bay Area, NYC, London, Berlin, Hamburg, Amsterdam and Brazil. Webber is the artistic director of the series that debuted at the Richard Hugo House in July 2007. It was intended as a single performance, but the response was so powerful and positive that Webber partnered with other community members and turned it into a series aiming for four performances each year. Look for a performance in April 2009 and another performance to coincide with Pride festivities in June.

Friday's show was a mix of music and spoken word performances that blew me away. Below are interviews with three of the performers and the creator of Voices Rising.



STORME WEBBER, FOUNDER AND ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF VOICES RISING

Scott Rice: Tell me a bit about your history, academic background, identity, and interests.

Storme Webber: My mother was a Seattle-born, mixed race Aleut Lesbian who came out at age 16, in 1957. My father was a Bisexual black/Choctaw man from Texas. I grew up in the Gay community of the 1960s and this shaped me profoundly. I've been an artist all my life. I came out at age 16, in 1975. The support systems that exist today for Queer youth did not exist in my or my mother's time. I feel so very fortunate to have the opportunity to honor the wisdom, strength and beauty of our youth. My credits include film [Venus Boyz], publications [Beyond Borders: Black Women Writing New Worlds; Serious Pleasure; Voices Rising: 20 Years of Black LGBT Writing], radio [BBC, Radio Deutschland], TV [ITV], and extensive international performance credits in spoken word/theater/and music.

Rice: What is your role with Voices Rising?

Webber: I am the founder and artistic director of Voices Rising. It is a descendant of the long line of artistic organizing that threads through my life. I am always looking for emerging and established artists to present in our shows. We also present visual art and continue to expand our vision in order to encompass the richness of our communities.

Rice: When did the series start?

Webber: Naomi Ishisaka, then editor of ColorsNW magazine, came forward and offered to partner with us. She created our graphics, and with support from the Mayor's Office of Arts & Culture; Poets & Writers: AFCS and many others, we've just produced our fourth show. We also now partner with Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, and they are our permanent home.

Rice: You website says you have four performances a year. Do you have a schedule for the next year?

Webber: We are working on plans for an April show and a Pride season show. We are basically a volunteer organization, so there's a lot of fundraising needed for each show.

Rice: Are you looking for artists now?

Webber: Always. (voicesrising@gmail.com, and Voices Rising, PO Box 12924, Seattle, WA 98111)

Rice: What do you look for in artists and performers?

Webber: I look for artists that move me. I've been doing this for a long time, and I am also a performer myself. I value honesty, creativity, soulfulness, bravery and artistic excellence. I am so proud to say that all the performers Friday night gave that in abundance. I am also very inspired by work that is healing, in that it grapples with very hard topics and somehow shapes them into something beautiful - painful at times, yet beautiful. This is work that is transformative and healing to both performer and audience. Of course, activist work will always speak to me. I suppose coming from people who were silenced, I prioritize the right of my people to have a voice.

Rice: Why did you decide to create this forum for Queer artists of color?

Webber: As James Baldwin so eloquently put it, I look for the ones who "go the way your blood beats." Another important aspect of our mission is community building. I believe that this sort of art joins us together. There is a profound sharing of our common humanity. Our audiences are very diverse, and we love that. There are not so many spaces like that in this culture. We are doing our work to create them.

Rice: Why is it valuable to create a space specifically for artists of color and what does that label mean to you?

Webber: Marginalization is a painful experience and one that I know too well. Oftentimes artists of color in the LGBTQ community and beyond are marginalized, exoticized, ignored or belittled. We create a space that is ours, we are the norm, not the aberration. This gives us a freedom, and a creative home from which we can create honestly. This is an open space and all are welcome to enjoy the work. But in this place, we sing our many songs. They are different than the songs of the dominant culture. In that, we have a precious gift to share; for at this very moment we are all in flux. The old ways are slipping away and we have transformation in sight. Now is the time to come together and vision and communicate with each other, so that we can consciously create our new paradigms. Voices Rising aims to make transformational art for transformational times.

Rice: What should I know about Voices Rising that I haven't asked?

Webber: We are an all-volunteer group with a fiscal sponsor. Donations to this project are tax deductible; checks can be made out to Allied Arts/Voices Rising. KBCS and Entre Hermanos have come forward as sponsors of the next event.

CAT AND STAS, THEESATISFACTION


Rice: How did you get involved with Voices Rising? Cat: Well we, Stas and I, met Storme at a meeting at Lambert House early one Saturday morning at a pancake breakfast Joyful Freeman had put together. At that point I was still a student at Cornish College of the Arts and I was promoting my senior recital. After a few words, Voices Rising came up and she asked us if we'd be interested in doing the show. And we both agreed to do it.

Rice: When did you begin writing and performing? Cat: I have been writing since I could hold a crayon and performing since I had an audience. I've always been in shows. My whole family calls me a diva. But "a diva is the female version of a hustler," right? [Laughs.] Stas: I began writing my freshman year of high school to vent/cope with homophobia. I really had nowhere to turn to except the pen. I started to perform my writing when I came out in college. Performing was a release from all of the built-up frustration of my closeted adolescent years.

Rice: When did you and THEE begin to perform together? Cat: We started performing together in the summer of 2007, when we were in a band called "Question" with a few of our friends. In that group I was one of the lead singers and Stas sang backup. A few months later, Question broke up and Stas took a study abroad trip to South Africa. When she came back in March we decided to do our own thing and started "THEESatisfaction."

Rice: Are you girlfriends? Cat: Yes! We are girlfriends, silly lovely little Lesbians. [Laughs.] Been together two years now; it's great.

Rice: What is your favorite element of your performance? Cat: I love being on the spot. You have to do it there, how you want to it to be, or it's no good. Freestyling is improv. It's hot, sexy. Stas: I like to dance. I like to dance around like a buffoon. I like to hear the crowd's reaction to my dancing skills - or lack thereof.

Rice: What do you hope to accomplish in the near future? Stas: Perform at all the major venues in Seattle. Then we would really like to get out to different cities.

Rice: What are your long-term goals? Cat: To travel the galaxy with our music. Not just internationally, but intergalactically. We want to have a concert on the moon one day. Stas: We really want to come running out of the closet. There are many Black musicians/artists right now who don't feel comfortable about being out and proud. We want to make it easier. There have been other artists who've paved the way for us: Ma Rainey, Gladys Bentley, Bessie Smith, Langston Hughes. We sing for them.

Rice: What would you like me to know that I haven't asked? Stas: Our name, THEESatisfaction, spawned from a random Google search. I was always rearranging my Myspace page and I wanted to find a logo that said "Satisfaction Guaranteed" because I've always felt that my page was really eye-catching. This led to me changing my Myspace name to The Satisfaction. Cat really liked the name and wanted in on it. Our full name became THEE Stasia Catherine Satisfaction. This name includes THEE, the people; Stasia, me; and Catherine's satisfaction.

CRYSTAL YBARRA, WRITER/POET

Rice: How did you get involved with Voices Rising?

Crystal Ybarra: I got involved with voices rising through Joyful Freeman who runs the GLBTQ program at American Friends Service Committee. I read her a piece of my work and she immediately wanted me to do the show. I agreed.

Rice: When did you begin writing?

Ybarra: I began writing in the time before my mother died when she was ill. It was something that she actually got me into. My mother was a writer as well in the time before she died, and I envied everything about her, so naturally I followed in those footsteps. When I write, I write because something has just come to me. It's almost a third-party experience, like something is writing through me. I take that feeling and run with it.

Rice: What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

Ybarra: I hope to one day publish my writings. I want to write a biography of my life and perhaps have a companion poetry book to come out with it - or if the poetry book comes first, that would work as well. I'm just not connected with any publishers yet.

Rice: You are the oldest of seven siblings, without parents at the age of 14. Were you able to stay with your siblings?

Ybarra: My siblings were all spread apart into four different homes when my mom died. I try to keep in contact with them as much as possible, but they are all growing up now and having lives of their own, families of their own, and we all kind of get caught up in our own lives and don't really have a lot of time to connect with each other. Nonetheless, we try to keep in contact as much as possible. I have one brother who just finished the Air Force, one in college, one in the Navy, my sister lives with my son in California with a great Lesbian couple who takes care of them, and the two youngest of my brothers live with their dad and are still in high school.

Rice: What responsibilities did this add to your life at such a young and formative age?

Ybarra: While my mother was dying, I fed and bathed her as well as changed her diapers. She got very ill toward the end and couldn't do anything for herself so I had to learn early on how to be an in-home nurse of sorts. We were also homeless together for a while when I was 13, living with a crack dealer in a rundown motel. So times were tough, but we got through them and then she passed away and I was left on my own to figure out where my life was to head from there.

Rice: Tell me about the role AIDS/HIV has played in your life.

Ybarra: HIV/AIDS has played a major role in my life. Ever since my mother found out she was ill we started doing outreach in local schools on AIDS education from a personal perspective. She told her story and I told mine; how it was to live with a sick mother and how it was to have to take care of her and the kids. I have done HIV/AIDS education ever since with the Bakersfield AIDS Project in Bakersfield, California. When in California, I still go out into schools and tell my life story to the kids, hoping that they will not want to lead the life my mother led. My main message is that the choices you make today will affect everyone around you for the rest of your life, and when your life is over, it continues to affect the lives of those you left behind. My mother will never make it to the weddings of any of her children, she wasn't there when I graduated high school, she will never get to hold any of her grandchildren and I will never get to hug her ever again.

Rice: Compare your relationship to your son with the relationship you had with your mother.

Ybarra: The relationship that I have with my son is greatly contrasting to that of the relationship I had with my mother. I am bipolar and I believe that my mother was as well. I know that there are times when I cannot be around my son because I don't ever want him to feel some of the ways that my mother made me feel when she was alive. That is why I chose to leave him in California with this great Lesbian couple that act as his proxy grandmothers for my time here in Seattle. I want to be the best mother that I can be to him and I know that the things that I am doing right now to better my life will eventually benefit him as well.

Rice: Compare your relationship to your son with the relationship you had with your father.

Ybarra: Before my father started molesting me, he was a very affectionate, loving man. I miss the man my father used to be and am very sorry that he is now dying of hepatitis C in prison. I try to incorporate the love that I felt for my father with my son and hope that he feels it the way that I felt it in the time that it was appropriate.

Rice: Who are your favorite poets?

Ybarra: I am into real, live poets that I've seen perform, such as Rachel McKibbens (RAC) and Buddy Wakefield.

Rice: Who are your favorite writers?

Ybarra: Marrion Zimmer Bradley, Delfina Cuero, Maya Angelou, and Steven Chbosky.

Rice: What would you like me to know that I haven't asked?

Ybarra: I write a lot about my experiences in life. Dealing with a drug-addicted, bipolar mother infected with AIDS, a father dying of hepatitis C in prison serving 25 to life because I chose to turn him in after he'd been molesting me for three months, my own struggle with drugs, sex, and sexuality, heartbreak and forgiveness. I want people to know that even though my parents might not have been the greatest parents in the world (like I say in my poem "Pretty," "Not all the crayons in this box are pretty."), I forgive them, I love them and I thank them because I would never be the person that I am, the writer that I am, the hope that I am for so many people without having gone through all the things that I have gone through.