Artist, poet, New Yorker, and all around outrageous. This Brooklynite and Goddard College grad student sat down with us to talk freaks and feminism. We covered some poetical projects of hers, too, naturally.
Who are some of your style inspirations? What drew you to these people?
Tilda Swinton is my spirit animal/life inspiration/divine goddess of all things. No one knows how to quietly fly their freak flag like Tilda. I have a whole album on my phone of pictures of her for when I feel uncomfortable in my skin, because I feel like she represents that “just do you” kind of pseudo-inspirational ‘self love’ bullshit—but in a totally rad way. I’ve always been drawn to the oversized & weird/ugly in clothes & sometimes I think: jeeze, can I just for once wear a maxi-dress & call it a day like a normal girl, & Tilda makes me remember that really I’m not a maxi-dress/normal girl kind of person & I like that about myself. Plus, what is ‘normal’ anyway? She also has incredible hair.
Grace Jones is a recent love of mine. I’ve gotten more & more into androgyny in the last year or so. I used to wear mens clothes a lot in my first few years of high school & I’m getting back into it. I watched a video of her wearing a leotard & hula-hooping non-stop for 15 minutes & I was mesmerized. I think Grace is really sexy & outrageous & that’s basically what I want to be when I grow up. I love how she moves between the traditionally feminine & traditionally masculine. Plus I think she’s a little terrifying like a tiger or a lion or something…& I like women who scare me.
I don’t know that I really dress like either Tilda or Grace though… I have a passion for neon & glitter that they don’t seem to share. On any given day my “look” equation probably goes something like this: Tilda Swinton + a femme drag queen + Grace Jones + a hobo.
What about writers? Who has inspired you as a poet?
I always have a hard time with this question. I’m changing my mind all the time about the writers I love/who inspire me. The only exception is Emily Dickinson. Emily Dickinson is the absolute love of my life & we will love each other forever. She was fantastically weird, & did her own damn thing no matter what. The whole end of her life she only wore white just [‘cause] she felt like it. Her poems are really modern too… she was using experimental punctuation & rhyme before anybody could even recognise that shit… to the point where the weirdness was actually edited out in first editions because it didn’t make sense to the squares. I’m getting an Emily Dickinson tattoo & I will be 97 years old with an Emily Dickinson tattoo & I will be fucking fabulous. If there’s a heaven I will hang out with Emily Dickinson & we will plant flowers & go bird watching & drink spirits & be BFFs for eternity. The end.
How has feminism influenced your work as an artist?
I’ve never thought about it directly… like; “I am a feminist writing a poem right now” but obviously the place where your brain is will influence the fruits of your brain. I don’t really write stories about men. It’s not that I don’t think men can have interesting stories, I just think there are a whole hell of a lot of ‘em & I’d rather write about women. I’d rather read about women. I don’t really write poems from male perspectives because I don’t have that perspective. I’ve always identified as a woman so I have no other frame of reference. In my MFA thesis project I’ve been trying to approach some sections (it’s an experimental memoir in poetry) from a male character’s point of view & it’s a real struggle. I don’t really know what I’m doing there. It’ll be interesting to see how it turns out. But the story is very much about a woman. I think the act of a woman writing her own story as she sees fit is subversive. It is the very opposite of what has previously been allowed by the patriarchy.
As a feminist of the 21st century, which is no easy feat, what are some current hot topics that you’re currently involved in or following?
I am always, & will always be, about bodily autonomy. That is my huge hot button thing. If you don’t believe in my rights to my physical (& spiritual) body then we are not going to get along. The literally insane & stupid shit coming out of people’s mouths about the functions of women’s bodies right now is making me C-R-A-Z-Y. I honestly don’t know what to do except stare blankly at these people & say; “you’re joking RIGHT?!”
Increasingly I’ve been following the structural inequalities based on race & class (& their intersection) in America. It’s a really depressing thing to follow. As a graduate from a university with a pretty large trust-fund-kid population, seeing people have an exponentially easier time finding meaningful/life sustaining work because they don’t have to worry about paying their rent is seriously frustrating. I try to stay positive about it though… like at least I have some gritty shit to write poems about!
What do you have to say about the current backlash against feminism à la Katy Perry and today’s youth in general?
Basically all I have to say is that it’s stupid. People are afraid of this word, “feminism”, & it’s just silly. Especially because they are essentially feminist. Or at least they have feminist leanings. I mean, ask anyone if they think women should be paid the same as their male counterparts, I’d bet most would say yes & yet they balk at being identified as “feminist”? There’s been a really successful smear campaign against the f-word but by & large I think most people believe that equality is best. If they don’t then they’ve got much bigger problems than what label they decide to use for themselves. (Mainly that they seem to be living in 1873 & should start working on their time machine).
You have a rather edgy but yet feminine style. You’re not afraid of pink or cosmetics or other “girlish” things. That said, what do you have to say about feminine feminism? Is it something you pay much attention to?
I used to hide from glitter, but the world is better when you give in & accept glitter into your life.
I don’t know if I consider myself a femme (probably not), I just try to wear the shit that I like. As soon as I stopped trying to fit into a specific box & just accepted that I’m a lot of different things at the same time & that’s ok (actually, that’s badass) I was exponentially better off. I appreciate people who identify as femme because I think they’re reclaiming something which has been traditionally used against women… the beauty standards etc, & they look fucking fabulous doing it, but I’m more concerned with just being whatever weirdo version of myself I’ve cooked up that day.
What are some words of wisdom you would speak to today’s feminism-confused kids?
Just that feminism is about being who you are, & not who society/culture says you should be. About being able to decide what your life will be & working to foster that same privilege of choice for everyone. Don’t be afraid of the word, owning language is powerful. It’s why education is the first thing to go in oppressive regimes. Fly your feminist freak flag high, we’re all weirdos here.
Check out Natalie’s latest projects at www.natalieraymond.com
Image: Michael Chung
Renée Aubern is a California born, New York bred poet, writer of songs, and kook. Constantly on the move, she documents the world around her in photographs and notebook scribbles. @reneeaubern