Emotional pre-nups, marriage alternatives & poly success: An interview with Diana Adams

The face of the American family is changing and Diana Adams is at the forefront. An attorney based out of Brooklyn, Adams focuses on both traditional and non-traditional family law with a particular specialty in working with queer and polyamorous couples. While she does her time in court, she is also a mediator, working with people on child custody and visitation cases, prenuptial agreements, alternatives to marriages and estate planning. Just to name a few of her offerings.
Diana Adams
As an out queer and polyamorous person herself, Adams’ activist roots is at the foundation of her work. A graduate of Yale and Cornell Law School, Adams has found a way to blend the personal and political into the professional. A rabble-rouser at heart, she’s not your typical navy-suit wearing lawyer. I caught up with Adams before the holidays to talk about her law practice, what makes a strong polyamorous relationship and how practicing martial arts has transformed her life. How did you decide to get into family law? I got into family law because I was doing legal services. I went to law school to be a social justice activist. I always wanted to be doing public interest law, work that I thought of as saving the world. When I explored those careers I was dismayed that I wasn’t as satisfied with the work I was doing on a daily basis as I had hoped. I did legal services for people in poverty and a lot of work with women and families. I did domestic victim advocacy and that related to a lot of family law issues- helping somebody move on with their life by getting a settlement in a divorce case, for instance, so they are financially disentangled from their spouse. Or getting child custody over their child so that their former partner can’t use the court system to harass or manipulate by trying to take someone’s kid away that they’ve never been interested before but just as a way of control. Through work doing advocacy for domestic violence victims and other women in poverty I ended up doing family law and did that as a tiny legal services office handling a tremendous caseload, supervising 200 cases. It was very intense. It’s an experience I’m glad that I had and at the same time it was frustrating because the positions were always going to be so underfunded. It was hard for me to build my own career in a satisfying way. The workload was so intense and the people had so many different types of problems beyond just the legal issue. If somebody came to me- and they might be a woman -who has been in a series of five different abusive relationships and doesn’t speak English well or has an addiction issue or has a low IQ I can handle the one case she’s in, but her life has many other challenges. Then there’d be a line of people out the door of people literally calling my name when I got into work in the morning and the building would be closing and the custodian would be kicking me out and I wouldn’t have seen all the people waiting in the hallway. How do you manage that? When you have that many cases? It was very, very challenging and we had a lot of great pro bono help and worked with a lot of great people but I ended up feeling like it was too much strain on me. It felt like there was an ocean of misery coming at me and I had a spoon. I was not setting myself up for success. I ended up starting my solo practice about six years ago and I never would have thought I would be running my own business. But it’s been something that has been a real opportunity for me to do cases I’m passionate about and also earn a living and find my own great work life balance. I really have gotten very passionate about lesbian and gay family law and serving people in the queer community that I’m a part of. It’s been great to be able to take on pro bono cases or sliding scale cases or take on other cases such as high profile gay divorces that pay my bills so I can then assist a lesbian couple doing the adoption of their child at a lower fee if I choose to. I really enjoy it and people in the lesbian and gay community. It’s not only a complicated legal puzzle for me to figure out, which is a challenge I enjoy, but I’m working with clients who’s rights I can protect and it feels like getting them into a great situation is achievable. It’s a very different path that I would have imagined for myself – running a business, but I love it, I really love it. So how do clients find you? How have you built your practice? Well, I have a real niche doing nontraditional family law and there aren’t many other people who do the work that I do. I do a lot of interviews. I write articles in the field and do a lot of public speaking so people can find me pretty quickly if they are looking for assistance in any type of nontraditional family structure. I do work with families who are polyamorous – if there are three adults who want to create a family together I can help them create financial documents, I can help them mediate their desires and intentions if they want to co-parent a child. There isn’t really anybody else doing this kind of work – it’s a niche that I’m passionate about and it's been a great business niche for me. What is an “emotional pre-nup?” It could be anything from, ‘if one of us requests it, and feels we need it, we both agree to go to couples therapy; if one of us wants to leave the relationship we agree we will go through therapy for six months before,’ to making agreements around childcare. It could be, ‘We are going to move to a city for three years to suit you and then we will move to a city that will be better for my job,’ or it could be agreements around how people want to structure their open relationship, or safer sex contracts. These are personal commitments more akin to vows and many would likely not be legally enforceable in court like a financial prenuptial agreement, but there is a tremendous power in negotiating intentions and putting them on paper. What’s really essential is that we get out of an idea of getting married and having that just be a standard boiler plate agreement that is the same for everyone. Marriage and commitment are not one size fits all and marriage actually comes along with a 1,000 different rights and responsibilities people don’t even know about necessarily. It's the most important contract you are going to ever sign and you don’t read it as closely as you would a cell phone contract. That is something we really need to look at in our culture. People don’t realize that their finances may be pooled by the government, once they get married; you are a social welfare state of two, so if you are going to get divorced, you may be obligated to support the other person. If one spouse wasn’t getting money out of the other person’s paycheck and didn’t have enough money to live on, they could go to court and petition for financial support. You are legally obligated to support each other financially. You are making yourself one legal financial entity. And that’s not necessarily great to combine with passionate romantic love. I also think people might want to become a financial entity with someone other than their lover. We might be able to create more stable families, if that’s really the goal, by allowing people more family options in terms of how they configure. I’d like to see the government get out of the business of issuing marriage licenses based on whose romantic relationships are good enough. I absolutely support same sex marriage and I think that’s been an incredibly important civil rights movement. And, at the same time ultimately, I’m not interested in squeezing in polyamorous people and other types of relationships into the institution of marriage. I would like to see just generally a legal domestic partnership. I think in our lifetime we may see it. We are seeing a lot of shifts and changes right now. Over the past 10 years, we’ve had domestic partnership policies at a city and local level around the country, many in Colorado, many in California, that allow people to create domestic partnership with somebody they are not in a romantic relationship with – so that would mean two elderly sisters if they wanted to share finances and have a household. Single mothers are the largest group of people in poverty in this country – historically in our welfare state the answer is, 'well just get them married' rather than disentangling financial support from a sexual relationship. We have this historical baggage about women being in a sexual relationship in exchange for financial support during their mothering years and I think that’s dangerous. I’m interested in supporting people while the law is catching up. Law is always about 20 years behind culture in terms of family shifts. We are seeing same-sex marriage, but we are not seeing as much recognition for more than half of American adults that are not married. Does that mean they don’t have families of some sort? Not necessarily. But those families are not being valued and recognized by our government, they are not getting the tax benefits, they aren’t necessarily getting the health insurance benefits that people who are married get. I’m interested in seeing how we can support those kinds of families moving forward. What drives your social justice activism? I’ve always had a deep passion for serving and protecting people that I see as vulnerable. Growing up in a working class community there were many women in my own family who were in marriages they didn’t want to be in but felt financially bound to stay because they did not have financial independence and didn’t have enough bargaining power to be able to leave. I also saw teenage girls getting pregnant and the church that I was a part of basically saying they were going to hell if they were going to get an abortion. There hadn’t been any other sex education other than me being the smart girl in the class going to the library and answering their questions and telling them ‘no you’re not going to keep from being pregnant if you’re in a hot tub.’ I felt incredibly transformed when I realized that a lot of the authority figures in my life seemed to be completely backwards in terms of their thinking. From a very early age I wanted to teach kids about sex education. I insisted on taking in a gay runaway when I was a teenager. My parents were very religious, and I said ‘We’re Christians, how can we not take in a teenage boy who is in crisis?’ But I’ve always had that kind of a personality. I’ve been a rabble-rouser. Do you have an office or do you work out of your home? I usually work out of my home and I have a virtual office on Wall Street. I get mail there and I can reserve conference rooms there whenever I want to meet clients but I work here most of the time and I really enjoy that as well because it makes me feel like I am getting away with something being able to work in a dedicated part of my house, in my slippers, drinking my tea. It helps my quality of life to not need to be in rush hour traffic carrying huge legal files around. I probably get dressed up in my lawyer drag once a week and meet clients or go to court. The other days I am usually home in jeans. How has your practice changed over the last six years? It’s evolved. At first I was doing family law more generally, a lot of domestic violence/survivor work. I still work with domestic violence but because I was in the queer community and the polyamorous community when people would have concerns, for example, of losing their kids because they are polyamorous they would come to me because I was a family law attorney and would be supportive. I’ve done cases regarding people being polyamorous, people being sexually active and being parents, or lesbian and gay families who want to protect parenting rights to their children. For instance, I do many lesbian second-parent adoptions so that the non-biological mother adopts the child without terminating the rights of the birth mother, as well as sperm donor negotiations. So, if there is a sperm donor or a lesbian couple or a single woman, I do mediation with everybody involved about what their intentions really are with that and write them a contract. That is how my practice involved into more of a niche with more nontraditional family issues. Now I work with people such as a straight couple who are choosing not to get married and make their own cohabitation agreement around how they share finances as people who live together in a mutually supportive way. You can make your own legal contract without having to accept the terms of marriage. There are more and more people every year who are choosing not to get married or they may choose to have an open relationship, or they might want to get married and have a pre-nup about how they want to share their finances. I am really spending my time talking to people about issues of their sexuality, how they want to share money with each other and what their values are in parenting. I’m trained as a family mediator as well as an attorney so I really help get people on the same page, whether they are starting a relationship and want to make sure they have the same intentions and get clear about that, or creating vows for a ceremony or legal agreements about parenting or their financing. I also help people if things are dissolving, if they are going to continue be parents together but have to figure out how to disentangle their lives in other ways and talk through any breaking of trust that may have happened so they can trust each other enough to co-parent. I also help with issues of gay divorce – when your marriage is not recognized federally because of DOMA so you have to keep in mind all of these complicated tax issues and issues related to transferring money if you are getting divorced. If your marriage is not recognized federally you pay huge tax consequences. Those are issues that are very personal to people and I can bring in a legal expertise around issues of marriage versus staying unmarried and gay parent issues. I love being able to have these deeply personal conversations with my clients. I’ve developed an appreciation for working with individual people as well as working toward systemic change, working toward policies related to being a domestic partner as an option along with marriage – so people have more than one option when they are thinking about formulating family. I am interested in those larger policy issues and work toward those changes legislatively and in terms of social consciousness, often with the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance where I’m on the Board of Directors, but I also really love being able to help people on an individual level to create stable families. How do the courts respond to these kinds of cases and are they common? First, in terms of how often these kinds of situations come up, people in the world of polyamory and kink very frequently have fears and concerns about those issues coming up in a child custody case if they have kids. It doesn’t come up nearly as often as people are afraid of. And the people who are bringing those cases are either the other parent of the child if there was a break up or a grandparent. For example, if your own parents are disapproving of your lifestyle that can be an issue. That doesn’t happen so often and I encourage people to have clarifying conversations with people in their lives to prevent that kind of fear. With opposition that maybe coming on very strong, I try to treat that situation with a fierce compassion and ask what is this person afraid of, what are they concerned about? I help as a family mediator to talk through those issues to prevent something from getting so out of control that it goes to a court case. Those issues don’t come up so often, but when they do come up, I could tell you the prognosis of a case based on the zip code. Cases in child custody are decided by the best interest of the child. That’s incredibly subjective and it’s one judge making that decision. I do cases throughout New York state and consult on cases nation wide where people are accused of personal lifestyle coming into the case – I win cases in the NYC area and I have a lot more trouble the further north I get. I talk to people about what the pros and cons are about being out and I talk with them about it. I’ve had tremendous good fortune to be out as a polyamorous person and a queer person and part of that is I run my own business so I can be outspoken. How is that for you in more professional circles – as the law profession tends to be more conservative? It’s definitely a very buttoned-up profession and I think that’s one thing that has led me to rebel. I don’t want to be that kind of lawyer. Having interests in law and justice issues doesn’t mean I want to live a very staid life or be constantly concerned about what other people think of me. The world of lawyers and law school is really the kind of world where people are afraid to get their picture taken in a Halloween costume with a drink in their hands. They have to be taken seriously all the time. I can’t stand it. I was really nervous when I did ‘MTV True Life I’m Polyamorous’ and various media about my polyamorous relationship. The wonderful thing was that there was no big professional drama. I’ve had conversations with colleagues about it and explained when they had questions but for the most part it has not been a problem. I have gotten a lot of support- in fact- support from local bar associations who have said, ‘I know that you did this, and please know we absolutely respect and appreciate you. You are a young woman running your own law practice who is doing a fantastic job, we really respect your career doing a lot of pro bono in the community, and we’re glad to have you. So if you decide to get married to two people at the same time, just let the bar association know where to send the present.’ It was really amazing. And there are probably people who are talking about me behind my back and I don’t really care. It’s been more challenging with my parents and that’s been an ongoing conversation. What do you think makes a successful polyamorous relationship? Are there certain elements that you should have in place that make it solid? Yes. I think having people in a relationship who are really both excited about the project of having a polyamorous relationship is key. I was in a number of relationships in which I wanted to be in an open or polyamorous relationship and the other person just wanted to be with me and they were willing to go along with it like as if I’d say, ‘To be my boyfriend you have to wear a chicken suit and they were like well, alright I guess I’ll wear a chicken suit.’ They were definitely not excited. Those relationships were challenging. It’s important for the two or three or however many people are involved to all be excited about being open and have it be something they want to do. There are relationships that work out where one person is polyamorous and the other person is monogamous. They may consider these statuses to be orientations. That can work well, but only when both people are really excited about that arrangement. It doesn’t work under duress. If one person wants to open up the relationship and the other person really doesn’t want to those are situations that just may not work out. The other key component is really highly developed honesty and communication. And that’s something that isn’t just a status you achieve and then you’re done. My partner, Ed, and I have been doing this for a long time and I think we’re really good at it but we’re still learning and we’ll keep learning. We will keep growing together and that’s one thing that I really love about our relationship. It’s like a spiritual practice and a personal growth process to be in this polyamorous relationship because it involves a lot of reflection and communication about hard stuff that we would not be forced to talk about if we were monogamous. Examples of that: one of us will calmly ask the other one, ‘Is it ok with you if this other person that I’m dating comes to the party with us?’ So then, I have to take that in and actually have enough self-awareness to think -would that bother me? How would I feel? And reflect on that a little bit and get to know myself, get to know my own insecurities, get to know my own triggers, and then be able to communicate about that with my partner. To be able to say, actually I’d rather that person not come, and trust that I can say that and not try to say that things are OK with me that aren’t OK with me. It’s a constant process and we have those kinds of conversations all the time. It can become easy; it requires a lot of self-awareness and communication and being able to separate out what’s your own personal emotional trigger. Jealousy isn’t necessarily rational or about anybody else doing anything wrong, or could be based in something that you are just really not OK with – and we learn how to separate those complex feelings out. Often in our culture we’re allowed to describe our feelings in a very blunt way. Like, I feel jealous, stop everything. Well jealousy has many, many different facets, what is it that you are really feeling? It could be, ‘I’m just feeling insecure because I think that woman is more attractive than me,’ or it could be ‘I’m not comfortable because I feel like there is a scarcity of your time’ or it could be ‘I feel like I am not getting my needs met’ – what does it mean that you’re jealous. Instead of ‘I feel jealous stop everything,’ it’s ‘I’m feeling jealous, let’s talk about that, let’s understand more about what I’m feeling.’ I really love being able to be in that level of dialogue with my partners. You are a martial artist in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – how has your martial arts impacted your work and how does it affect how you walk through the world? got into doing Jiu Jitsu through self-defense. I experienced sexual assault while I was in college. I went through a rape crisis program and took some classes. A lot of on the ground self-defense for women is based on Jiu Jitsu. It is a sport that is very empowering for women because you can be on your back with somebody bigger on top of you and in many sports and life that is considered ‘game over you’ve lost,’ but in Jiu Jitsu that may be your starting offensive position. A lot of it is based on using your hips and legs, which are a power center for women. My assault experience helped me realize I was very disconnected from my own body and I was very much in my head. That’s where I had my confidence. Jiu Jitsu has enabled me to embody empowerment and not just have that be an intellectual process for me. I feel like I am able to take care of myself in the world not just through my smarts but through a deep connection with my body. And that’s been really fantastic. I teach self-defense in colleges part time and that enables me to be an advocate for women and queer people and for anybody that might be vulnerable. I’m a legal advocate, an advocate for social change and I also like to empower people with physical skills. It’s nice to feel like I can do that for myself as well. I walk through the world very differently as a petite woman – I have tremendously more physical confidence, and I notice just the way people respond to me on the street. I used to get constant catcalls and street harassment and now that has really dropped off. Now when I do get catcalls, I get ‘I like your guns’ and I get ‘you can be my daddy.’ Which I thought was kind of hilarious. I love Brooklyn. Is there any particular law you are watching very closely? Right now we are seeing a lot of shifts towards three parent families being legally recognized. There was a bill in California that passed both legislative bodies and went before the Governor that would have recognized three legal parent; while that did not pass this year, it will likely be reintroduced and we are not far from that. That would be something very powerful for supporting the families that exist and supporting kids in being able to maintain connections with people who have important roles in their lives. Historically the law recognized whoever was biologically connected to you as your parents. Now we are seeing more of a shift toward recognizing parental relationships with a child, separate from just biology, and courts are more often recognizing that it may be in the best interest of the child to continue those parental relationships and give a non-biological parent visitation access, for instance. The reality is that American families today are complex and diverse, and the law will need to catch up to protect and support those Americans. Diana Adams can be reached at dianaadamslaw.net.
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Restaurant people need lots of love (a story of entitlement)

For those who don't know, I work a part-time job on the weekends in a restaurant. I find the extra money useful. To living. I've been working there since March. I hosted Saturday nights and Sunday brunch for a long time. Recently I was asked to start serving Sunday brunch. Hosting Sunday brunch is actually harder. You have to deal with reservations and tables and bussing and the servers and are running around supporting others, while also greeting everyone at the door with a smile. I like serving a lot better, even though I was reluctant to take it on. The cash money is better, and for some reason the time goes by way faster. You're sort of frantic and then bored as a host. As a server, you're just steady busy. Unless you're dead. Um, I mean, unless the restaurant is dead. The thing about working at a restaurant, is that you have to deal with entitled customers. It's unbelievable the attitude of some people. Most people are very nice and kind and are no problem. Then you get a few that just make you wonder what the hell is up with human kind. Today, I waited on a family of three. Good looking middle-aged couple, upper middle class, daughter in her 20s. I laid on the Liz Gold charm. The father was calling me "dear." I was answering all their questions and tried to explain to the mother that the hot water for her tea was indeed very hot. (She didn't believe the steam coming from the metal tea pot). They got seated right away and got their drinks right away. Twenty minutes into waiting for their food the mother says to me, "we're catching a flight." I'm thinking to myself 'AND' ... but I'm like OK, let me check on where your order is. I go back and say, Oh, it shouldn't be that much longer. The chefs say five minutes. I go about my business, coffeeing and watering tables. La de da. I hear some protesting and conversation going on at the table, daughter is talking, saying to just wait a minute. The father ignores her, stops me enroute and says [I'm paraphrasing], "We've been waiting 40 minutes. That is a very long time to wait. We need the food now." The chefs are watching this go down and are bustling ass. There are two of them for the whole restaurant. I said, OK it's coming. They are working on it now. The father says, "We need it right now or we will have to leave." At this point, the food is up. I bring it out to them. The mother says, "Oh we probably should have told you we have a flight to catch." I was like, Yeah, it would have been good for me to know. We are a small kitchen and tend to get very busy for brunch. [I should have added 40 minutes is a NORMAL time to wait for food for brunch]. Thanks Dear, said the father. Did I mention they ordered a hamburger MEDIUM? How long did they think that was going to take? (Says my manager friend). "Enjoy your food," I say. ENTITLEMENT is gross, people. Don't do it. Is it my fault they didn't give themselves enough time to eat properly at a restaurant? NO, of course not. Do I just brush it off and bitch to my coworkers? Yes. This is what we do. Restaurant workers get shit on so much. I see it every shift I work. It takes SKILL, I tell you, SKILL to work in a restaurant and not get in a wrangle with entitled people. It takes SKILL, I tell you, SKILL, to know how to serve people properly. More people should appreciate it. THE END.
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Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle and other messages I get from karate

At the beginning of every karate class after warm ups, the teacher that day will often have us get in a circle (or in two lines, in order of more advanced student to beginner) and have us introduce ourselves. During that introduction we say any number of things, but we're usually asked a question. This can range from "what's your favorite thing about winter" to "what was the best thing you did over the holidays" to something with more depth, related to our training or where we are in life in general. Today my teacher asked, and I'm paraphrasing here, "what is one way you get unstuck?" I liked the question because it points to acknowledge how we all get stuck at times - especially when we are in the process of trying something new, whether that be art, a new fitness activity, spiritual practice, whatever. There were a lot of good answers that went around, but my favorite was given by another teacher, who that day was a student. She quoted Plato, who has said: "Be Kind; For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
Inside the dojo. When I'm really stressed I will lie on the floor before class.
It sort of made me tear up (as a lot of moments do in karate, admittedly) and the idea that no matter how much we think we screw up or could be doing better, or are stuck, or are watching ourselves do stupid shit, it's OK. We are all facing a hard battle. Be kind to yourself and be kind to others because though the battles may be different, they are really just the same. Saturday classes are two hours long, and the last half hour is a more advanced class which I was just invited to attend. I learn a lot and will probably write more about this training in the future, but among the many things karate brings me is self-awareness and focus and a better understanding of the space I take up (and don't take up). It teaches me to play well with others and communicate and that it's totally OK to go at my own pace. I have the utmost respect for my teachers and those who train with me. It's an inspiring community and I feel grateful to be a part of it. And there are days where I am completely off and can't coordinate or forget something I've been working on for what seems like forever and then there are days when I come in and finally get a technique that I haven't been able to do at all. Those are the days when I realize that movement and change sometimes are granted in small adjustments over time.
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Behind the scenes with Maggie Cee

In the Femme world, pretty much everyone knows Maggie Cee. I have known about The Femme Show for a while now (but sadly have never seen it!) but met Maggie Cee (well, virtually) when I decided to advertise in the show’s program this year. Not only was she super excited to get support from a Femme-owned business, but she also sent me a really amazing handmade card in the mail to thank me. When it comes to classy, it doesn’t get much better than that. The Femme Show was created in 2007 when Maggie Cee was searching for a place to incorporate her queerness with dancing. She tried her hand at being a drag king, but found it didn’t quite fit – and since at that time she was grappling with her own Femme identity, The Femme Show was born. “I knew there was a community around it in Boston because we have an awesome social group that has been in existence since about 2004,” Maggie Cee said. “I knew there was an audience where I could get some people to perform with me and that is sort of where it started.” In their own words, The Femme Show is “a Boston-based group of queer performers who bring deep, personal explorations of queer and subversive femininity and fem/femme identity to the stage in a fun, eclectic variety show. This is a queer art for queer people: challenging, introspective, brazen, funny, sexy and gritty but always powerful.”
Maggie Cee on stage.
Maggie Cee took some time out of her schedule to talk about The Femme Show, how she defines “Femme” and why it’s important for her to continue to be provocative in her performance and art. Can you talk with me about the planning that goes on? There’s a bit of a cycle. It has changed through the years based on various life events and what’s going on and what we want to do. The basic cycle is we have a show in the fall in Boston, which is usually the time we bring in new artists and show new work. I start planning for that in June. And then because of my work obligations, we usually do a show and wrap it up and start booking shows for the spring. We try not to perform in November and December after the fall show. That’s when I’m booking shows, getting ready for the spring and by January, if we’re going to go on tour in the summer, I am working on booking that. It’s pretty much year round. How do you choose performers and is there a core group that you work with every year? It varies. The group that we started with, we had about four or five people who were the same for three years with other folks coming and going. At this point there are three of us who were at the very first show who are still performing. It’s actually become a smaller group and we have gone through ups and downs with how we operate. This year was a year where there was just me and two other folks who were returning members, so we had a lot of new members. It was actually one of the highest quality and best shows that we had, so I’m really excited about the direction we’re going to go in with these folks. If somebody were interested in performing with you, how would they go about doing that? I am happy to talk with folks any time of the year although if people want to be in the show in Boston they should probably be getting in touch with me during the summer. I really look for people who have something to say about Femme identity and Queer Femme identity. They don’t have to be Femme-identified; we take all types of identities. Generally, I just want to know what kind of work you are doing, what it’s about and where you have performed. I pretty much always want to see somebody perform or at least see their work on video or read their work if they are a writer. I find people wind up joining the core group who start out as guest artists in one of the cities that we travel to, or I find people who might contact me and they turn out to be a good fit. We don’t have a formal application period, it’s sort of like e-mail me, and depending on what’s going on and if you have something that might be a good fit, we’ll go from there. Have you ever had to turn away somebody because they did not fit with what you’re doing? Oh yeah. I definitely have seen pieces, including performances I like very much in general. Pieces that wouldn’t have stood out as misogynistic in a different context but when you put it in a show called The Femme Show I felt like they weren’t a good fit. There is also the sort of things, like, if you are just going to be Femme on stage, and be like ‘here I am in a frilly costume, I’m dancing to a Dolly Parton song’ that may not be a good fit. I want to know what is the sub context? What are you saying with it? What makes this a different take? There are a lot of Femmes all over the place doing shows like Femmes doing burlesque, Femmes doing circus art, Femmes doing whatever. We are more about the idea of Femmes than Femmes doing things, if that makes sense. You also created In the Streets Productions and I’m wondering what kind of response you have gotten from creating your production company and The Femme Show? The production company mainly ends up looking like two things – it winds up being sort of me helping other folks produce, and collaborating with other folks who want to produce. I haven’t put on a ton of shows that aren’t The Femme Show because it’s a year round process and as long as there is demand for The Femme Show and I’m happy doing it I don’t really want to take away from that. I don’t necessarily want to take energy and put it on something else when there’s still a lot of desire for this out there. What would you say is the most grueling thing about putting on The Femme Show? I think for me some of the hardest parts are also the best parts. I’m somebody who has a lot of anxiety around basic interpersonal communication. There was a period of my life where I was pretty constrained by my social anxiety and the lingering effects of that can make it hard for me to be in public. Networking is not easy for me, doing social media can make me anxious and if something goes wrong I get really upset about it, maybe disproportionately. On the flip side when all that stuff is going well, when I am making connections, creating community and getting to know people really well in a short period of time because we are traveling together and making art together, that’s sort of the best of it. I get a lot of help on admin and logistical stuff, which definitely helps. How do you define Femme? I try to avoid that question but I say that my definition of Femme is about the power of choosing to celebrate the expression of femininity in a patriarchal culture. To me it's absolutely 100 percent open to people who want to claim it and that’s really important to me. Do you think Femme can also be not Queer? Or does it have to be Queer? That’s one piece I have to say I’m conflicted about. I have yet to meet a straight-identified person who is saying I want to identify this way and I want to be in this community. I think I would want to welcome somebody like that. I’ve also noticed that the word Femme is showing up a lot more than it used to in mainstream fashion magazine headlines. Are people appropriating this or is it just showing up? Part of my Femme identity, for me, comes from being feminine in Queer and dyke communities that are masculine-oriented and while I do get rewarded in certain ways from society for looking the way I look, in the community that is most important to me, the opposite is often happening. So, I wonder what the experiences of straight ciswomen are if you are celebrating your femininity in patriarchy for yourself. I totally understand that regardless of sexual orientation that should be honored and respected and I’m not going to say what words they can and can’t use, but I feel like that’s different. Because if you are a straight-identified person in straight society you are going to get so much reinforcement and privilege. As a performer what emotions do you prefer to provoke out of your audience? It depends on the piece. I do a gamut of things. I really love making people laugh and that’s awesome. A huge part of my work is the humor. For me the most important thing is saying stuff that people aren’t saying. If I have something to say that I feel like I’m not seeing other artists, performers, people in my community talking about – that’s the piece I am going to choose to make over any piece I could be making. I have found that every time I do that people who have been having the same thoughts and feelings respond to it and say 'this is something that matters to me, too.'
Talking Femme with Maggie Cee
Is it scary for you to put stuff out there that you haven’t heard Queer people talking about? Yeah. It’s terrifying. This fall I did a piece that was about Femmes fucking Butches, which is totally something that gets talked about, but I was interested in exploring how hard it was for me and how long it took me as somebody who is a bottom a lot of the time but who also totally enjoys fucking people. This is not something that everybody is experiencing and I understand that, but I think there’s something really different about the dynamics of how you are allowed to enjoy fucking somebody when maybe they weren’t supposed to want it. Or maybe I don’t really like doing this or maybe I’m not good at it, and it took me years to realize I totally liked doing it. The reason that I sometimes didn’t was when I had partners who said ‘yes I want you to fuck me, I want this, I want that’ but because they were having their own issues with sexuality and body, would be completely unresponsive. So I would kind of check out because it’s not really fun to fuck somebody who is not really responding to you. I was trying to make this piece to talk about some of this and I found it to be really hard for me to express. What I say in the piece is that you have to be careful not to enjoy it too much because if you enjoy it too much and [your partner] didn’t want it later or the next person you fuck didn’t want it, and you wanted it too much it would be like you were pressuring them, that you weren’t being good as a partner or something. It’s a little nebulous; it’s a lot easier to say to Queers you are misogynist because you are ignoring all the Femmes in the bar. To keep up with all things The Femme Show, visit their site www.thefemmeshow.com. They are also on Twitter at @thefemmeshow and are on Facebook, of course.
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To the beat – an interview with Tif Wolf

BY LIZ GOLD Self defense moves. Pumping music. A slamming cardio workout. I mean, really, what else do you need in a fitness class? Tif Wolf, a karate instructor at the Center for Anti-Violence Education in Park Slope, is all about a mix of those three ingredients along with the essential - the beats must match the moves. Wolf, who was also drummer of the now defunct Brooklyn-based punk rock emo band Triple Crème, has been teaching a new class at CAE called Fight Back Fitness, which rolls endurance (aka reps galore), some serious cardio and music you’ll probably want to dance to. All for an hour. All for $10 (at least for now).
Tif Wolf (top) and fellow Triple Creme band members
If this sounds like an ad, sorry. It’s that good. I’ve been a few times and I am seriously sore for like three days. Which, you know, is the point. The idea for the class came twofold – Wolf had started doing more cross-training in her own workouts taking bootcamp and spin. While she was hating on the lunges, squats and ab work because they hurt so good, she loved the music – even though her bootcamp instructor could not match a beat to the techniques to save her life.
“It would drive me crazy when she would say, OK run in place or do this but don’t do it to the count of the music because it’s too slow,” Wolf said. “There’s no point to having music unless it’s being integrated into what you’re doing. And that’s also the drummer in me. If it’s not on the beat, I can’t do it.” The idea, however, came to fruition last fall when there were numerous assaults on women coming out of train stations in Park Slope, not far from CAE’s space. Wolf thought it would be great to create a space for everyone – of all genders – to come and learn a few techniques without having to attend a full-on self defense class. “Self defense classes are awesome but they can be a little intimidating for people to go to as well,” she said. “I like the idea of just having a lot of repetitions in class so it’s in your body and you don’t really need to think about it.”
A recent Fight Back Fitness class held at CAE in Park Slope
The idea was to merge the bootcamp style so you are getting your hour workout in, while also incorporating self defense techniques such as a block or a knee to the head, while say, doing a lunge. “It is all really easy to incorporate once you think about it,” Wolf said. “The music is just to keep it light and keep you moving through the class.” So then the question becomes, what comes first – the music or the moves? “When I first started this class I was thinking about moves that would make sense. It’s a work in progress," Wolf explained. "For me it was first coming up with some combos that make sense while at the same time coming up with a playlist. I had sort of fallen off the musical world for a long time. After Triple Creme broke up I couldn’t listen to rock music for a little while because I was sad. So this kind of made me start listening to new music.”
Triple Creme in their epic video, "Team Queen"
But the music can be tricky. What Wolf thought would work wouldn’t and vice versa – and it had to be in the flow of a class. A typical class starts with loosening the joints, moving into some cardio, lunges, groundwork (have you ever kicked from the ground listening to Karen O. from the Yeah Yeahs Yeahs? It’s pretty bad ass), kicking and squats. “Combos change,” Wolf said, “but that first chunk of time is pretty set and I have an idea of what the pace of the song needs to be to get you the proper kind of workout.” Fight Back Fitness is every Monday from 7 to 8PM at the Center for Anti-Violence Education, 327 7th Street at 5th Avenue in Park Slope. To RSPVP your spot, contact Tif at Tiffany_Wolf@hotmail.com.
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To the Tee – It’s all in the details for Nacona Fierro

BY LIZ GOLD Every piece of art that comes into BKNY Printing goes through the hands of Nacona Fierro. And when you’re in the craft of creating t-shirts, that’s a big deal. As Art Department Color Separator (official title) at the Jamaica Avenue screen-printing shop, Fierro has her hands full – and she pretty much loves it.
t-shirts, t-shirts, everywhere
“Every piece of art that comes in has to be checked because none of the artwork is ever camera ready to go straight to print,” Fierro said. “I basically output hundreds of pieces of film a week.” When she’s not at BKNY Printing (who has printed t-shirts for the likes of JAY-Z, Eminem, 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes just to name a few), Fierro is lassoing creative projects through her own company, Pixel Pop Creative, where she has designed posters for CREEP, Lauren Flax’s band and MEN. She’s also gearing up for a debut deejaying gig at Pearl’s Social and Billy Club in Bushwick this winter. Here Fierro takes us through the t-shirt printing process (which she describes as a craft) and shares the new trend she’s seeing among designers. In this process, what do you mean by film? The film is the output process that we go to make the screens. The art comes in digitally and I have to take it apart and bring it down into colors and each color is processed into each piece of film. So if it’s a six-color job we need six pieces of film. I would imagine you would have to be really specific on colors. How do you make sure their red is your red? Everyone uses a universal color scheme – Pantone. So Chevy will have a red, that is the Chevy red, that is Chevy Red 285 or whatever. The guys mix the color based on the Pantone color system that tells them what the exact values are of 285 so it will look the same across the board. Clients will come in and be like, Oh we want green. And we’ll sort of have to push them to pick a green because it’s like what green?
I actually forget what this is called but it's big.
Can you take me through the process of when you get a new customer? What are the steps and how long does it take usually? Someone will come in and say I want to put my logo on a t-shirt, what do I need to do? I advise them to make sure that all their stuff is high res and at size. You want to start off on the right foot - not using web graphics or anything that is 72 DPI because it will come out too pixilated. Getting the art in the right way is half the battle. People who are starting out with their brands or who have done this before will give us a tech pack. On the tech pack it will say, my logo is a black truck and whatever else and they’ll have three colors and they’ll give us exact size and placement and the technique. There are different techniques that you can print with, like different types of inks. For example, say they want the wheels to be black suede or there to be a blue foil on the bumper. The tech pack will lift out every exact detail to the T. Is that something you give them? Well it’s funny. If a client knows what they are doing they will give us a tech pack and we are sort of speaking the same language already. We just confirm what that is, because a lot of things can go wrong and humans make mistakes. We regurgitate their information on our own spec sheet and we send that back to the customer to confirm Yes, I want this on blue shirts. I want this colorway to be white black and red on this shirt and make sure it’s the upper left chest, the back is printed and the sleeve prints and make sure you remove the label and insert the tag. They go, Great yes OK and then we get the order. Then I get the art in.
What percentage of your customers give you tech packets? We were just talking about this. Right now we feel the shift. We have a ton of street label brands that are start-ups, that are coming in and they are starting their own t-shirt line. Where before we’d have maybe 50/50, like the mechanic or plumber or the restaurant across the street or a magazine. Right now we are dealing with so many street wear brands it’s almost like we’re in production mode transcribing information constantly, which is great for us. It’s way more efficient and people are almost getting it in a certain way. A street wear brand will start a line and will have 10 designs minimum, five or six colors a pop and that’s a big order for so and so's label. Right now it’s probably about 75 percent street wear. And they will give us the tech pack. When the art hits your desk, then what happens? There’s two basic ways in Photoshop and Illustrator – one is a pixel base photo the other one is vector. Logos, for example, are vector. I just basically have to take the art apart. What is predetermined is, okay, We are going to do these six colors, figure it out. So it’s like a puzzle -especially when something has a photographic realistic image in it, I have to make it work because that isn’t separated, so I have to combine colors to make other colors. If it’s a spot color then its pretty much straight forward. But I dissect it, deconstruct it and then output it to film and then it goes back to the screen room. My job ends there. I have to make sure everything is correct so it’s a lot of really meticulous, weird detail work. Like, I’ll spot a two-pixel line out of placement if a color is overlapping. For example, there were some triangles overlapping and some of the colors weren’t matching up so it just looked weird, and it was because their graphic designer had all this space in between triangles – some were touching some of them weren’t. I just cleaned everything up and it completely streamlined it. It's like weird stuff like that I have to catch. I have a newspaper background and I was making ads [for the Portland Phoenix in Maine] before and from that it just sort of becomes innate. The guys take it back into the screen room and they lay up the film on the screens. And they get burned with a light table, so the screen is coated with emulsion. What they are burning is the light through the screen so the positive image is getting burned into the screen. After it gets through with the light table they rinse away the positive image in water so that the ink will flow through. Then it goes to the printer, he registers it and starts making samples. Then the printing takes place.
Once printed does the customer check it? Do they want a spec or are you just done and print it? Both ways. We definitely have some meticulous customers that know what they are doing and say I need to see a sample, don’t print anything before I see a sample. But what we’ve been actually doing a lot lately is sending pictures of samples. We’ll print one sample, take a picture of it, a couple of close ups with the detail, send it to the client and they will be held on press until they say, Yes print it. So it's like a double confirmation and then it will actually go to print. From the very beginning when you get the image to the very end, how long does it take usually? Technically if you were to do the process all at once – depending on how many colors it could definitely take up to a couple of hours. I can spend an hour to two hours on simple art. Sometimes I’ll spend three hours on a color separation that has about five or six colors, up to eight colors. There is some complicated stuff that I’ll take about a half a day to do and then I’ll go back and refine it and take another look at it. Complicated separation could take me three to four hours. To make the screens from film to rinsing out process to when the screen is dry, takes about an hour per screen. There has to be no water in the screen. It’s spot checked for pinholes and for it to register it takes another half an hour – and sometimes certain things are hard to register. In terms of printing, a good order is like three to six dozen shirts, we have a lot of six dozen orders because that’s where our price breaks are at …72 pieces … so that will take a couple of hours to get printed. We do a lot of really fast work because we have the automated machine. But sometimes we hit hiccups and speed bumps and we have to troubleshoot. Every job is completely different – no job is ever the same. What’s your favorite thing about what you do? I think mostly it’s that I am never doing the same thing. Checking out the art and figuring out how to go about working the design back into itself, in a sense. People send in art and they want it to look exactly the way they sent it in – it’s not always going to be that way but we try to get it as close as possible. There’s different things you can do with half tones, bitmapping the size of the dots, there’s certain things you can do that will bring out parts of the design that will look like it on paper versus it on cotton with ink, with these huge holes. So it’s a little bit of an illusion too, from a distance if you hold something back will it look like a photo but if you look at it up close it’s a bunch of tiny little dots. My favorite part is that it’s like a puzzle, I go to the job and I just have to figure shit out all day. It's always fresh and we’re always troubleshooting. It’s not monotonous in any way, which is rare in an office job. Well, It’s a craft and you all have your own role in that. In general what would you say for you makes a hot t-shirt? The difference between a designer who can design a flyer or letterhead or a sign definitely stands out when you are wearing the design. Over the time that I’ve been doing this, you see hundreds of jobs, thousands of jobs, that come in and the ones that stand out is when you know the designer is designing for a t-shirt not just designing for himself or the logo or the company. It’s applicable as a piece of fashion. When I want to wear something – I don’t know if it’s composition or how the design sits on the shirt - it’s not just a flat square on top of your chest or something. It incorporates a little more of the garment. Those are the ones that are fun - that you know are going to sell and we’re going to get reorders. You know immediately. There are designs we’ve been printing here the entire time that we just keep reprinting because the client will just keep reordering it. They are their signature design. Brian Wood has a few of those that people can’t just get enough of. Our clients are definitely more fun since I first started working here in 2008. So the clients have shifted? They are more creative and more clients I would want to work with - versus just being a screen printing shop that will do the local tire shop, the soccer team, whatever. I think that’s another fun part is being a part of the process and really aiding their designers. I’ve taught designers how to use a halftone dot, which you would think that a guy designing a t-shirt would know, but almost 90 percent of designers don’t know what a halftone dot is or how to use a halftone dot - which is a technique used specifically for silk screen. It’s been fun to see people take it to the next level and incorporate halftones into their design. Halftone is based on the line frequency that make up a picture. There are different angles you can set it at and different frequencies that the lines will repeat themselves so the dots will become bigger or larger. If you teach someone how to use that or what that means, they can design for it and it will completely change the aesthetic of the design. It’s funny. I’m seeing way more designers incorporate those in their designs as a trend, which is fun. It’s sort of like influencing the curve a little. It’s really exciting to see the t-shirt become the new canvas in a way for artists. It can be really expensive to produce large-scale art and get it in a gallery and go through that process. T-shirts are a really affordable way to experiment and to get your art out there.
Film from the MEN t-shirts
What other projects are you working on? I’m working on Pixel Pop – which is just me. It’s a design, creative project business, which has been mostly a promotional tool for bands. What I’m doing right now is working on branding. During Christmas we are going to release a limited edition run of about five or six designs online and I am incorporating wheatpasting posters around town that have a QR code at the bottom of them to add a live element to the story. That code will take you straight to the online store and you can buy the poster on a t-shirt. What kinds of services do you offer? I’ve been doing wheatpasting for bands, CREEP, Men, Boy George, I’m working on something with one Slutever from Vice, we are going to do a poster series together. Right now MEN is going on tour and I just sent posters to Seattle, Portland, San Fran and LA and I am doing the ones in NY. We’re also coordinating a wheatpaste project to get the hype up for the album that is coming out (I think) in the beginning of the year. Why wheatpasting? It’s definitely highly visible, being in a place like NY or SF- people are always on foot. There’s a lot street cred and coolness that comes with wheatpasting. It’s a great vehicle to put a message out there and let it do its own thing. The wheatpaste I did with CREEP, bands were taking their pictures around it and Mila Kunis was in Nylon posing right next to it. THE NAC RUNDOWN: Who's your dream collaborator? Weird question for me cause I am all about the present. Would be fun to collaborate something large scale with Marina Abramovic. Third Man Records because they think outside the normal avenues of record distribution. Mostly because being that it's a challenge for most musicians to get their music out and record companies are changing the landscape of how we get our music now. I’m interested in alternative distribution and creating catalysts that bridge the gaps. What are you reading? I just read about artist Clément Briend. He takes the textures of trees and light projects images of gargoyles to give the effect that the trees are indeed alive. What are you listening to right now? CREEP, The new Cat Power album is fresh, anything by Disclosure, The Black Ghosts, Holy Other and Matthew Dear. What's your most secret guilty pleasure blog? Slutever.com Follow Nacona Fierro @nacona on Twitter & Instagram - www.facebook.com/pixelpopcreative http://pxlpop.bigcartel.com or check out some of her design stuff here. And to hear Nacona's latest mix go here
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