Megan Falley: Poet, Activist, Needle-Mover — Needle Movers
In her poem, “Coming Out (and Being Pushed Back In),” Megan Falley writes,
Don’t tell me I don’t look queer because I don’t
look like I know how to throw a softball.
I don’t know how to throw a softball. I am queer,
so I am what queer looks like.
This poem is one of many masterpieces in her most recent book, “Drive Here and Devastate Me,” released in 2018. On October 21st, 2019, I heard her speak these words out loud in a tiny dive bar in Orlando, Florida. It was the first time I’d ever heard someone say — so loudly and eloquently — the words that lived in my heart for as long as I can remember.
It was not the first time Megan Falley spoke (or wrote) words that validated the multi-dimensional and varied experiences of womxn, nor, I suspect, will it be the last.
When I pass for straight, I feel like fail
something else, myself mostly. But what keeps me invisible
often keeps me safe. Though there are streets
where I’m not sure if I’m safer
with hair long enough to pull ,
or if a shaved head would make them want
to prove my womxn to me. If I’m more in danger
or having them bound. Does the beast
prefer girl flesh or queer?
Either way, I know I’m not safe
with a secret it would kill me to keep.
If I were a poetry teacher, I could spend an entire semester unpacking everything that lives in these lines, which would be a total disservice to her other important works, such as “ Fat Girl,” “ Ode to Red LIpstick,” and “The Man Interrupts what I’m Saying about Sexism to Explain it to Me.”
How many times have we, as womxn, felt like we had to make a choice between being true to ourselves and being safe? How many times have we made the choice to be safe and felt a part of ourselves dying with the choice?
How disturbing is it that we live in a world where a queer femme womxn is simultaneously afraid of being assaulted because she is queer and because she is a womxn? As soon as you read those lines and realize that what she says is true, you know that it should not be true. That’s activism.
Spoken word has always been used as a form of activism. What is so groundbreaking about the way Megan Falley does it is that it is her acknowledgement of both the realities and complexities of being female as activism. Her poems aren’t manifestos to take down the man or #votehimout. She simply tells the stories of being a queer, femme womxn today, and when you have a pit in your stomach reading one of her poems, you are called to create a world where that story ceases to exist.
At least I am.
Her work calls out the ways patriarchy exists in our everyday culture and shines a light on how ridiculous it can be. In “Ode to Red Lipstick,” she reminds us that many things deemed frivolous are anything but. From Cleopatra wearing red lipstick because she knew that Speaking twelve languages would be even more impressive when the words jumped through a ring of fire to
In medieval times, religious groups
condemned makeup for challenging god
and his workmanship,
but I and any good femme know-
God invented lipstick.
She throws in the not well-known fact that butches in post-war New York clubs carried red lipstick in their pockets to swipe on if the cops showed up and then goes on to detail how red lipstick was included in the supplies from the Red Cross when the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated.
Those four stanzas say more about the ridiculous effect patriarchy has had on our society than anything I read for my degree in Womxn’s Studies. And they do it without objectifying the people being liberated or putting their story on display for our education.
One lieutenant said he believed nothing
did more for the survivors than that lipstick.
Women, thin as smoke, naked e v e r y w h e r e
except for their mouths:
Red, like they might one day
flirt again, arm
on a jukebox,
If you read interviews with Megan or follow her on social media, you’ll learn pretty quickly that she loves performing her work because it creates a conversational element to it. If you watch the multiple videos of her reciting her poetry, you’ll learn pretty quickly that the crowd often goes wild after every line, especially when she is discussing sexism, body image, and queerness.
Much of her poetry feels like a call for womxn to finally be seen for all that we are.
Much like the poem above that takes us on a winding road through being a queer femme and presenting as straight, her early success, “Fat Girl,” coupled with “On Being the Skinny Girl at Fat Camp,” get to the heart of how exhausting it is to live under other people’s views of who we are.
Fat Girl is 47 lines of everything she, as a fat girl, was and did. The short lines all starting with Fat Girl remind us that when you believe you are fat, that is the first thing that comes to mind whatever you are doing, saying, or being.
Fat girl, pretty face.
Fat girl, Dean’s list.
Fat girl want fries with that.
Fat girl don’t touch her stomach.
Fat girl, turn the lights off.
Fat girl, keep her t-shirt on.
Fat girl, not pregnant.
Fat girl food baby.
In response to the success of the poem, came the critique that she wasn’t fat enough to have written that poem — and even that she was just looking for attention. She wrote, “On Being one of the Skinny Girls at Fat Camp” as a response. She brings us back, once again, to the dichotomies of womxnhood discussing things such as crying when there was a calorie count on the menu and when there wasn’t, the existence of the before and after girls in one body, andhow we exist with both privilege and pain — caused by the ways the world treats us and the ways we treat ourselves and each other.
When we, as a culture, can start to see and accept womxn for all that we are — the complex and multi-dimensional ways e show up and speak up — equality will finally be more a reality and less of a battle cry. I have no doubt that Megan Falley’s poetry will be read at the celebration that follows.