I’ve always understood the allure of the road. A chance to play at something else, something bigger, get swallowed up, get away.
My childhood was filled with curly lipped churchgoers who spoke in tongues, an aunt with curious hands, a stultifying fatphobia that ripped my tongue out of my mouth, and an unstable mother who liked meth houses.
I survived this through the pathological pursuit of achievement, a rabid dick-hunger that activated an ancient understanding of pussy as barter, and the most meticulously crafted isolation—a rococo house with no doorknobs. I built a road out of my past one trophy, one fuck, one stifled meltdown at a time. Roads—metaphorical and literal—are precious to me, representing motion, change, and the promise of a novelty that touches me and awakens my heart.
I’m about to hit the (literal) road with seven other writers and artists for the Sister Spit 20th Anniversary Tour. Started in 1997 by Michelle Tea and Sini Anderson, Sister Spit was a brazen response to the dude-saturated open mic scene of 1990s San Francisco. The tour is legendary for having started as an all-girl lineup traveling the country by road and bringing provocative observations about the strange world that had built itself around them—stories of sex and love and survival and the million ways a country can disappoint you.
I remember the first time I got into the tour van—we just call it “The Van”—in 2014, seven years after the tour’s “Next Generation” revival in 2007. I was an angry, fat, suspicious, horny, narcissistic, confused burgeoning thinker, newly published, who wore very tight gold clothes that I had cut up and down to optimize cleavage and thigh cellulite exposure. Most of my stories were about my ravenous lust for donuts and dick, and a boredom so epic that language could hardly bare it.
A year later I sat down with Michelle at her little round kitchen table to talk about the Sister Spit Tour. I had inherited the position of tour manager, and I was scared of fucking up and of disappointing her. She told me stories about the road and what it meant for a bunch of feral girl poets to navigate an America that was hostile to their existence.
She told me what it was like to own the stage, the highways; to tell a different story than the one we grow up with—where women act only as cautionary tales, where road travel always ends in murder or sexual assault. Where only men can travel freely, without a care, sleeves rolled up, doors unlocked, sun in their face, resting in the joyous aloofness of a barely articulated impenetrability unfairly won.
Sister Spit was different. Tough girls—almost all dykes—took care of each other, talked back, cursed and swore, showed their asses, pedaled chapbooks, shared cigarettes and stories, and the worst parts of their lives that had made them the best writers, the best friends.
“The Van” is something real but also something mythical, like a metaphor brought to life by strange poets, artsy queers, and memoirists who elevate oversharing to an art form with their skill and finesse.
Reminiscences about snorting Nyquil in the mornings pair with tales about that time someone blew glitter out of their asshole into a kitty pool filled with lube.
We drive all day, passing the terrain of the United States of America—at turns stunning, and then all too quickly barren and inhospitable. A zoetrope of cascading waterfalls, shitty gas stations, 20- year-old redwoods, tumble-weed ridden farms, snow-topped mountains, and truck stops that house vending machines filled with ben wa ball studded condoms.
We stay at haunted hotels adjacent to murder forests and sometimes penthouse suites in Las Vegas where we get our own personal butler named Steve. We knew the country and yes, even the West Coast, was filled with piece-of-shit bigots before Trump was elected because we had stopped in red counties where old white men on motorcycles had told one of our tourmates to go back where she came from while she was playing in puddles outside a coffee shop run by gay witches.
Life on tour mirrors the life of an artist and the versatility that gives us access to many worlds, no matter how debased, no matter how opulent. The shocking turn of events making each experience new, like jumping into a cold pool after you’ve been in a hot one. Blood moving inside like it remembered that it was keeping something alive.
On the eve of Sister Spit’s 20th anniversary, I am amazed and moved and humbled to tears by the will and love and urgency that has kept this tour alive. Each new tourmate becomes part of a family, and not just in the cute ways. In the hard ways, too. The tour offers an intimate education in the road, the country, each other.
The Van offers the kind of intimacy that renders a person defenseless, the kind that offers me the prospect of softening or continuing to retreat. As terrifying as that offer is, that’s what I love about the road. You can’t predict how it will open you up and change you. Each new journey is an invitation to come as you are, fear and all, and to be moved by something bigger than you.
Sister Spit 20th Anniversary Tour hits the road March 1st – March 15th. The lineup includes Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, Cathy de la Cruz, Celeste Chan, Virgie Tovar, Maya Songbird, Denise Benavides and Juliana Delgado Lopera. See the full Sister Spit tour schedule here. Follow RADAR Productions here.
Virgie Tovar is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, a 4-week online course designed to help those who are ready to break up with diet culture, and started the hashtag campaign #LoseHateNotWeight. Tovar edited the ground-breaking anthology Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012). She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race and gender. She is a former plus size style writer for BuzzFeed. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Tech Insider, Al Jazeera, NPR, Yahoo Health, and the San Francisco. She is the tour manager for Sister Spit and the Managing Director of Radar Productions.