I just finished reading Spit and Passion, a graphic memoir by Cristy C. Road. I can’t stop crying and I feel slightly sick, and when I get that way after reading a book, (it doesn’t happen very often) it means that I equally love and feel triggered by the content of its pages.
My reaction to Road’s new work is a complex feeling that “what an amazing book!” won’t do justice, because through it all I was reminded that the combined forces of sexuality, religion, class and family dynamics that made navigating adolescence so treacherous and isolating are still things I constantly negotiate, and that has left me feeling both devastated and inspired. So, now what?
What do you do when the most thrilling parts of your imagination are fueled by heartbreak? What does it mean when having the courage to be your true self often involves losing connections with people who are deeply embedded in the fabric of your world?
I’ll call Spit and Passion amazing the same way that I define childhood resilience and secret dreams as amazing – as conduits to freedom. Sometimes words just don’t do incredible manifestations of life’s experiences justice. But yes, Spit and Passion is amazing, and you should find a way to read it as soon as possible.
I began reading Spit and Passion on a Saturday morning. Before noon I had finished it because I couldn’t put it down, because the sunlight streaming through my window made me feel safe, spilling over the pages that I frantically flipped through, identifying examples of life’s moments that confused the hell out of me growing up. “No more boxes” I mumbled, and my inner twelve year old breathed a long sigh of relief.
You don’t have to identify as LGBTQ, or be Latina, to appreciate Spit and Passion. Everyone has their version of a “tumultuous childhood” story, and all of humanity knows what it’s like to seek community and validation even as you are still figuring out who you are. Even so, the world still isn’t very kind to gay and gender non-conforming kids, and hetero folks still need more education about how to ffind common ground in the interest of equality. For these reasons and more, I think that Spit and Passion should be required reading for all sixth graders.
I wish that 11 year old me could have kept this book under her pillow at night, but the 31 year old version of myself is grateful that it’s in the world now. As someone who has taken many years to feel comfortable with both the labels Chicana and Queer, just holding this book in my hand, and its passages connecting the dots between music, identity, politics and self-affirmation – all through the lens of a young Cuban girl discovering her gayness – makes me feel just a little more visible in this world.
No story is too small to be told, and I’m grateful to Cristy for having the courage to share her experience, because in reading her hindsight about life’s twists and turns, I was able to break down some of the complex thoughts about my own early attempts to make sense of things that I had shelved away. There’s a tangentially shared Queer vocabulary among all LGBTQ Latinos, I like to imagine. Because that thought makes me feel less alone in the world, and more connected to others whose commitment to family and culture first made acceptance within certain queer communities a struggle or outright impossible.
Road’s book reminds me of the times in childhood when I would forget about a playground injury and then, later in my room, rediscover a partially-connected and filthy band-aid somewhere on my body. In my bed, surrounded by the warm protection of blankets and my favorite stuffed animals, I would slowly peel off the sticky remnants and in the darkness graze my fingertips over the newly-formed scar.
The forgotten wound; it was all mine, and I delicately nursed it with gentle caresses, the memory of what caused the tear in my flesh in the first place long forgotten as I appreciated the tiny indentations and ridges growing out of my newly forming skin.
Spit and Passion made my cry, but I welcomed my page-staining catharsis because within the safety of Cristy’s graphically-enhanced chapters, I felt validated recalling how scary and confusing being an adolescent can be, especially for young gay Latinas who have no language or support system to rely on as all of life’s systems of conformity shove dogma down our throats. When being yourself – in defiance of religious and family values and in contradiction of what gets celebrated in popular culture – doesn’t feel like an option you would ever want to choose … not if you want to stay loved and feel safe.
And that moment when you decide that you must risk being alienated by your family at some point in the future in order to be the person you want to be – Road captures it all in one messy and beautiful outpouring, broken down into digestible chronology fragments that made it easy to stay with her, in her story, while mining the recesses of my own similar memories.
Some of us stay in closets forever; closets that hide our sexuality, gender identity, political beliefs, dreams we’re afraid to see into fruition – but it doesn’t mean that beauty or joy can’t be found in there among our hidden truths, as we fumble our way to self-actualization. This graphic memoir about a Green Day-loving Cuban pre-teen girl from Miami finding inspiration and navigating identity while in the closet, illustrated with CCR’s beautiful and gut-wrenchingly accurate imagery, made me feel better about my own timeline.
Everyone has something to learn and to lose. We’re all out here making these choices, and sometimes the simplest ones – like learning to love a band with unabashed optimism and hope – are the most transformative.
Green Day made a young Road feel alive. Reading about the intense love and path to liberation she found through their music reminded me of my own personal power – the power I’ve always had – to transform my life in any way that I choose.
Spit and Passion is available now through Feminist Press.
Cristy C. Road is a Brooklyn-based Cuban-American illustrator and writer who’s been contributing to queer arts, punk, writing, & activism since 1996. Road published a zine,Greenzine for ten years, and has released three books – Indestructible, Distance Makes the Heart Grow Sick, and Bad Habits. Her most recent work is the graphic memoir entitled Spit and Passion. She’s currently working on a Tarot Card deck with Author, Michelle Tea; and her punk rock band The Homewreckers.
Cristy joined Daniela Capistrano and other fierce feminists of color on the POC Zine Project Race Riot! Tour from Sept 24 – Oct 7, 2012. Daniela is still processing how amazing it was to share the road and the stage with such an incredible Latina artist, musician and activist.