QUEERMAMASAPIAN Speaks: An Interview With Pandora Scooter

by Erina Davidson

The last word I would use to describe spoken word artist Pandora Scooter is ‘shy’. From her colorful coif to her energetic arm gestures, it’s hard not to listen to what she has to say. There is very little that Pandora won’t talk about. A regular stage banter may revolve around anything from sex in an airplane lavatory to ‘labia-licking’ ladies. An advocate for every single color of the sexuality spectrum, Pandora strives to send the crucial message – especially to the youth – that there’s no such thing as ‘wrong’ when it comes to sexual identity.

I first saw Pandora perform at my high school in 2005. Our school’s GSA wasn’t the strongest, but we still had weekly meetings and a handful of fairly active members. Pandora’s performance was what this school needed – a bold voice willing to talk about pride and sexuality in an environment where both topics were rarely discussed. A place where, like most high schools, statements like “That’s so gay” and “You’re a faggot” were thrown around as casually as “‘Sup?”

She continues to spread her message of anti-hate up and down the east coast and across the country, performing at schools, theaters, and festivals. Pandora’s newest show, Outwordly Fabulous, targets bullying and homophobia – two topics that have dominated headlines in the U.S. for far too long. A regular on the Women Of Substance radio and winner of the SpokenKnowledge 2008 DNC Contest, Pandora Scooter makes spoken word accessible and enjoyable for people of all ages. You can find her as a featured performer at the annual Out, Loud & Proud at NJPAC. Find out more about Pandora and listen to recordings of her poetry and music on http://www.pandorascooter.com.

1.) In your poem “Chilled Hot Cocoa”, you talk about labels and the need to combine  characteristics to accurately describe the complex, layered nature of humans. While I would call you a ‘spoken word artist’, I also think ‘comedian’, ‘performance artist’, ‘public speaker’, and ‘activist’ fit you well. What do you define yourself as in that sense?
So often people slap labels on other people without considering how the person self-identifies.  That’s a huge issue in the gender-queer community. So, I’ve learned to always ask a person I meet how they self-identify, so that I can use pronouns and references that are comfortable for them, regardless of my own feelings. As far as my work goes, I’ve been categorized as everything from a performance poet, spoken word artist, poet, writer, artist, performance artist, stand up comedian, comedienne, activist artist, actor, teacher, preacher and radical revolutionary. Personally, I like performer.  ‘Cause when all is said and done that’s what I do: I perform.

2.) Why spoken word?
I love shaped language. Sculpted words. Metaphors. Verbal gymnastics and fireworks. I know that I could give a riveting speech on a lot of the topics I write about, but they wouldn’t be entertaining, they wouldn’t wow the audience, they wouldn’t get me the attention I want to get across the message I’m living to communicate.  Plus, some people are able to hear difficult concepts if they’re put into rhyme or into metaphors.

3.) Your current project, OUTwordly Fabulous, is a spoken word show about anti-bullying. Tyler Clementi’s death was especially frightening to me because his tormentor is from my old school district. You are passionate about working with the youth. What do you think needs to be done by school districts to prevent such tragedies from occurring?
Teach Compassion Literacy. What is Compassion Literacy?  It’s a phrase I came up with to refer to the ability to be fluent in the ways of being compassionate: a) putting oneself in another’s shoes, b) using one’s imagination to surmise what that other person is experiencing, c) knowing oneself enough to know how to relate to what that other person is going through, and d) having the self confidence to be able to take positive action in a moment of conflict.

Children need to learn how to be more compassionate. Unfortunately, the society and pop culture teaches the opposite: every person for her/himself and the philosophy or “Whatever!”  And that’s just the kids. The adults have to learn to be more compassion in every. aspect. of. our. lives.  Someone cuts you off on the Turnpike, what does it really cost you?  Someone bumps into you on the subway?  They’re the ones who are troubled — obviously. Hate doesn’t help.  Bitching doesn’t help.

To help the situation, schools can also offer counseling for the bullies, avoid talk that victimizes those being bullied and demonizes those who bully, do a class-long review of dealing with bullying once per month, have bi-weekly training sessions for parents.  

4.) In one of your YouTube videos, you declare that you spell ‘woman’ the traditional way, as opposed to ‘womyn’. Does ‘womyn’ bug you?
Oh…jeesh.  You caught me.  I did say that.  Um….yeah.  I totally understand taking back the word “woman” (from “wo” “man”) and making it its own word.  I think at the time I felt like we could do that just by being strong women.  But since then I’ve noticed the power of words and of self-referential terminology.  If I’m going to agree to use the term “Zhe” to refer to someone, I think I’m going to be okay with ‘wymmyn.’ 
5.) What does today’s feminism mean to you? Do you define yourself as a feminist?
If defining myself as a feminist means not putting energy into fighting for equal rights for men, too, then, no, I’m not a feminist. I’m a Humanist. I’m interested in evening the playing field for everyone.  Feminism means allowing our girls and women (and wymmyn) to be self-defining. I just have to look at the last Presidential election to see that sexism is alive and thriving here in America. But Feminism also means being aware of what’s going on on the global scene. Feminism today is about choosing one part of the sexism puzzle and taking it on as your mission.  That’s how we’re going to get it taken care of.

6.) In “The Alphabet”, you shout “Ellen Degeneres!” for ‘E’. Who else inspires you?
Ani DiFranco (biiiiig surprise, I know), Dr. Seuss, Tupac Shakur, Ice-T, Quincy Jones, Laurie Anderson, Margaret Cho, Queen Latifah, Tracy Chapman, Mozart, John Cage, Anne Sophie Mutter, Nikki Giovanni, Alice Miller, Oscar Wilde, Joe Orton, Jello Biafra, Sonia Sanchez, Suzen-Lori Parks, Caryl Churchill, Paula Vogel, Meryl Streep, Alanis Morrisette, Bjork and, of course, Madonna and Lady Gaga.
7.) Since you’re a poet, I have to ask…what are your three absolute favorite words?
Yes. Maybe. No.

If you would like Pandora Scooter to perform at your local theater, school, pride center, or community event, send in a request via the Booking page on her site. You can also contact her directly at pandora@pandorascooter.com.  

Here is a video of Pandora performing her piece, “The Alphabet” :

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rM2DzqI5QQ8&feature=related 425×344]

A performance of “Others”, the SpokenKnowledge-winning poem :

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOv_ZfhBRg4 425×344]

Thanks again to Pandora!

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