Lesbian comic/writer extraordinaire Kelli Dunham agreed to do an interview with The Flannel Files. Find out the three things that she would take to a ladies-only island and her sage advice on writing. Kelli has just penned Freak of Nurture, a hilarious and heartbreaking work about some of her life experiences.
FF: Here at The Flannel Files, we spend a lot of time talking about stereotypes and the whole butch-femme continuum. What’s the butchest thing you do?
Kelli: Probably the fact that I’ve been wearing men’s underwear since 1989 when I was in Bible College. For reasons not quite clear to me, me and two other girls from the college volleyball team were housesitting for our coach and his wife and we stole our coach’s underwear, wore them to practice, and mooned him with it when he made us run wind sprints. After practice, they took theirs off but I kept wearing mine, bought myself a five pack of men’s briefs at my next Kmart trip, and haven’t gone back since. Well except for when I was a nun, but I guess that’s a different story.
FF: The least butch thing that I do is probably shriek like a 12-year-old girl whenever our cat corners a mouse and I have to rescue it and put it outside. What’s the least butch thing that you do?
Kelli: Hmmm, well, I don’t know how to talk about professional sports. I don’t even know whether the Knicks are a baseball team or a basketball team or a football team. Or maybe they’re hockey? Seriously, can’t discuss that kind of stuff. It bums out straight guys’ attempts at bonding. Also I am not that good at fixing things, and I’m not actually very strong. Every femme I’ve ever dated is much stronger than me, but maybe that’s because strength is actually a very feminine characteristic. Again, perhaps that’s a different question.
FF: Ummm, Knicks. Basketball. And I think you’re right about strength being a feminine trait. Ok, hypothetical situation: You’re out running errands and someone asks, “Can I help you, sir?” How do you respond?
Kelli: Depends on whether I need help or not! Also, I’m always so thrilled when someone figures out I’m grown. I don’t mind getting misgendered. Also, I’m not sure that calling me “sir” is misgendering me exactly.
FF: Do you have a lucky flannel shirt? If so, does it give you special powers?
Kelli: Me and my friend Lisa Haas bought matching flannel shirts for when we go to Times Square with a sign that says “have your photo taken with a real live New York City lesbian.” I think they must give us superpowers, because tourists from Iowa love to chat with us.
FF: Ha! Love that. Currently, my partner and I are obsessing over Tina Fey these days and watching the entire seven-year run of 30 Rock. Are you obsessed with anything — a book, TV show, movie, music?
Kelli: I love me some Long Island Medium. It’s like grief counseling for the superstitious masses. It’s hilarious and weird and powerful and messed up and exploitative all at the same time.
FF: Who’s your celebrity crush?
Kelli: Theresa Caputo. See above. She needs to leave her husband on Long Island and come live with me in my second story Flatbush walk up. I will make her such a happy happy woman!
FF: You and Theresa Caputo. I never saw that one coming. Sticking with the subject of women, you’re traveling to the Isle of Lesbos, which is populated solely by beautiful Amazon women. What three things are in your suitcase?
Kelli: A straight razor to keep my hair trimmed all tidy looking, a case of Diet Mountain Dew and my Kindle with 50 years of reading on it. I’m assuming that they’ve already fashioned strap-ons there from locally available resources.
FF: Right. Probably from banana skins and tree bark. On a more serious note, a lot of writers tune into The Flannel Files. Can you tell them a little bit about the book? How did you come up with the idea? What was the writing process like? Any advice for aspiring writers?
Kelli: Well, hmmm, the short version is that Freak of Nurture is a book made of funny essays and stories. It’s super approachable, lots of laughs and when people ask simply “what’s it about?” I say “gender, death, sadness, earthquakes, road trips, cancer, family, fighting for and with community, sex, skateboarding, feeding reptiles, mistaken identity, suicide via chocolate pudding, getting kicked out of the convent, sorrow, beauty in hard places and fun in the women’s bathroom.” Is that confusing enough? My friend Sarah Schulman posted that “it’s a book that will make you laugh at things you hadn’t even thought about” and I really hope that’s true.
The original prod for the book came from Tom Leger of Topside Press, who is getting a reputation as a “success bully” if you know what I mean. He kept telling me I should collect some of my humorous writing and performance material into a book. It’s been fun putting it together and adding material that is too nuanced or obscure or intense for the kind of performance I do. If there is a through line in the book, it’s what doesn’t kill you makes you funnier.
Advice for writers? Write like it’s your job, even if it isn’t. Don’t wait to be inspired or get inspired. Inspiration comes with work. Freak of Nurture is my fifth book (the other four are humorous nonfiction books about health), and I didn’t want to write any of them while I was writing. I wanted to throw my computer out the window. Hating the process is irrelevant; if you’ve got something to say, it’s your responsibility to get it out there.
FF: What other projects are you working on? How can my flannel-clad followers find out more and, of course, order your book? I know they’re all going to want one.
Kelli: I’m going to be touring Freak of Nurture The Show and Freak of Nurture The Workshop — that’s really my focus for a bit. Readers can learn more about the book at freakofnurture.org (links to Topside Press to buy it as well) and learn more about me at kellidunham.com. If you take a visit over to my website, you can even download my last CD Why Is The Fat One Always Angry for pay whatever you want, including nothing!
This is the link for direct sales, although the book and ebook will be up on amazon.com in the next day or so. Topside Bookstore | Freak of Nurture, Essays and Stories by Kelli Dunham
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Anyone else want to join in with a celebrity crush, current obsession or things to bring to the Isle of Lesbos?