She is Sitting in the Night, Thea’s Tarot, and our queer/feminist lineage

A guest post shared by Hermia Swann. 

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She is Sitting in the Night, Thea’s Tarot, and our queer/feminist lineage

There are not very many things that convince me to venture all the way north into the stronghold of Montréal’s quipster (queer + hipster) scene, but this weekend’s launch party for She Is Sitting In the Night was irresistible.

they're here!

Photograph © Jackson Ezra

The Facebook event was mysterious—what exactly would “a contemporary queer re-visioning of a beautiful feminist tarot deck from the 80s” be? And why had I never heard of Metonymy Press, which publishes literary fiction and non-fiction by emerging authors and aims to “keep gay booklovers satisfied”?

It turns out Metonymy Press is brand-new in Montréal, and She Is Sitting in the Night is its first published work.

The book is a card-by-card tarot guide, written by Oliver Pickle at the request and with the encouragement of a friend, Rima Athar, who had been searching for a lesbian feminist tarot deck. She finally found Thea’s Tarot, published by Ruth West in 1984 and named after her cat. I was particularly intrigued by the positioning of She Is Sitting in the Night as an intergenerational collaboration—Ruth West’s art for each card, featured alongside Oliver’s description, expanded from the keywords in the original LWB that came with the deck.

oliver and rima1

Photograph © Jackson Ezra

Rima and Oliver came up with the idea for this book while sitting in bed together talking about love.

I like this story because it reflects the ways a lot of amazing Montréal-based projects, from youth mental-health skillsharing to an arts festival centering racialized queer people, have come about: high-quality friendships and genuine passion.

Oliver spoke a bit about the ways that many of us younger queers today reject second-wave feminism, the politics of Ruth’s generation—but also, many of us base our lives partly on those histories. They liked the idea of “integrating what was beautiful and useful about that stuff instead of starting over”. I like this too, especially as a young leather femme currently organizing with a number of older leatherdykes.

I was swift and fortunate enough to get my hands on one of only a few Thea’s Tarot decks at the launch, which is glorious both because Ruth’s papercut art is incredible and because I have a particular investment in queer/feminist lineages and archive preservation. I recently acquired the Motherpeace Tarot in that spirit, and have been disappointed by how straight it feels, and also by how superficial its careful multiculti appropriation feels. It’s also incredibly important to me as a queer femme to have access to a deck that recognizes a full spectrum of femininity and its power. Thea’s Tarot includes a huge variety of bodies, adornments on those bodies, connections between those bodies and the worlds around them, and it radiates strength and vulnerability. While I’m really excited about the forthcoming Slow Holler deck, and I love my Collective Tarot deck, I share Oliver’s appreciation of this deck as a unified whole from a single creator with a lucid vision.

oliver and rima with group

Photograph © Jackson Ezra

For me and a few others I spoke with, the perspective of this creator, Ruth, was something that was missing from the launch. I heard a few questions about the intergenerational collaboration between Ruth, Rima, and Oliver: how did those negotiations unfold, and what were the challenges? The responses really left me wanting, and I hope to have an opportunity to talk more with Oliver and Rima about this in the future – they do live in my city, after all! From my own experiences with older lesbians, and from the little information I gathered at the launch, it seemed like the question of how to gender the beautiful bodies pictured in the deck may have been one of those points of tension between the generations.

Whenever I hear about “queering” something, I have questions about what that means.

What does it mean to take a collection of art that’s been explicitly designated as depicting all women, and make room for more masculine gendering of those figures? What does it mean to describe the Two of Cups card in Thea’s Tarot as really gay based on the fact that the people in it are wearing plaid shirts? What does it mean to use “guy” as a gender-neutral term, as it’s used in She Is Sitting in the Night, when traditionally feminine terms are never used that way? How does it work for us to valorize emotion, tenderness, and community caretaking, to encourage those qualities across all genders, but to also acknowledge that these skills are hard-won, often coerced, and chronically devalued under patriarchy? What are the parallels between these patterns of queering and the evolution of dyke communities to include trans men, trans masculinity, and a certain type of genderqueerness, but not trans women and femmes? These are the questions that have been running through my head since the launch.

I know Metonymy Press is hoping to bring Ruth West out for another event in the coming months if possible, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll get to hear more about her collaboration with Oliver and Rima, and her perspective on She Is Sitting in the Night. I think we young queers are starved for intergenerational community, and I am so excited to see some of my peers digging into creative connections and difficult conversations.

I’m also excited to keep an eye on Metonymy Press, both as an emerging writer who’s super jealous of queer writing community in bigger cities that aren’t as divided by language, and as a voracious devourer of books. Please go learn about Metonymy Press and support them: we deserve a million queer presses, but we only have a few, so let’s treat them like the beautiful and precious things they are.

table smaller

Photograph © Jackson Ezra


Photo on 2015-04-27 at 14.21About Hermia

Hermia Swann is the nom de plume of a white, queer femme leatherdyke who writes about gender, mental health, kink, and queer family at Cuntext. As a community-centered healer, she identifies strongly with her birth card, The Empress, and writes a lot of fairytales.

She blogs daily cards, spreads, and other thoughts at tarotincuntext.tumblr.com.

Pictured with ‘The Creator’, from Thea’s Tarot by Ruth West.

 

2 comments

  1. Alexis J. Cunningfolk

    I am so excited to hear about this project! I am even more excited that Thea’s Tarot will once again be available to a wider audience. I got in touch with Ruth a few years ago and bought a few extra decks from her that she had stored away (in her barn, I think, if I remember correctly). It has been one of my favorite decks ever since. I even tracked down a copy of Billie Potts’ A New Women’s Tarot (written in 1978 and published by Elf + Dragons Publishers and was based off an older tarot pamphlet created by women in the Catskill Mountains) which Thea’s Tarot is said to be inspired by (the book is an incredible snapshot of feminist community in the 70s with planetary and herbal lore combined with tarot wisdom).

    Thea’s Tarot is a beautiful deck with a fierce spirit – it is unapologetic in its power and vision. So I’m curious to learn more about She Is Sitting in the Night. Thanks so much, Hermia, for the post!

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Wow! I hadn’t come across Thea’s Tarot until Hermia mentioned this project, but I’m really looking forward to using it. Thanks so much for providing the additional context Alexis.

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