Marías at Sampaguitas
Interview with Kristin Garth, Pt. 1.5
Updated: May 1, 2019
These questions are in direct response to Garth's recent publication, Puritan U. This is a continuation of her previous interview in an ongoing project spanning her work. Please read the aforementioned interview to find more in-depth, personal inquiries.
This must have been a difficult decision sharing with the world your trauma. What is your message to survivors who may not use writing as a means of recovery? What do you want them to take from Puritan U?
I absolutely respect people’s agency to handle their trauma and recovery in the way they deem healthy and necessary for them — even if that means not dealing with it or not reading people like me who are dealing with it in writing and public forums. There is a quote in Puritan U in the footnote for the sonnet “A Girl Who Didn’t Tell” that says “never judge a person for how they chose to handle a trauma they never asked for.” This poem and this annotation explain how I feel about people who choose not to speak (or write) about their trauma. It’s their choice, their trauma they did not choose and are just trying to survive, and I would never judge their choices.
The converse of that is I ask they not judge my to speak and write, with content warnings, about my experiences as I believe doing so does service my soul. For a very long time, I was the girl who didn’t tell. Telling is a new thing for me, and though it is difficult; each time I successfully put a piece of writing into the world I feel a little freer. To me, writing requires a little distance from events, and so the fact that I can do it about this topic feels like a celebration. But it took me 20 years to get to that place of distance. I only ask to be granted the respect I give to other victims to handle their trauma their way. You don’t have to read my work obviously, and you certainly don’t have to like it, but respect my right to do it because it helps me.
I had a poem published about this in my Passed Notes & Poems about this — that writing really always needs to serve ourselves. The poem was called “I Do Not Write These Words For You.” It’s sort of a manifesto/reminder to myself that “it’s my brain these verses service, my soul they protect.”
You can read the whole sonnet here: https://www.rhythmnbone.com/single-
I love when my writing speaks to and helps others but it always helps me. We all do what we have to do to survive, and today for me that is getting this toxin out of my body a page, a poem at a time.
With ‘Freckle-faced Ghost’, in the foot note, you mention attempting to reinvent yourself to
‘rid [yourself] of the parts tainted.’ Do you think you were successful? If not, do you think it’s for the better?
Wow, that is such a deep and intense question and complicated. It’s not one easy answer. I
certainly rejected the religious programming and was determined to not become an abuser in any way. You read in the news, so many times, the chain of abuse, cycles that continue --
abusers who become abusers.
I was very, very determined all my life to be honest about my past with myself and to work on
my temper. I think anyone who has been abused has a lot of internalized rage. Certainly
for me, I could never show it growing up, but it was always there. You have to do something
with that. I dealt with that rage as an adult in some interesting ways – including intense
exercising, running long distances and even sexual masochism, to be a little candid (which is also something I’ve written about in some poems.)
I don’t know that the latter was healthy or sustainable, and it’s not something I practice really
now. So to answer your question, I have tried some coping mechanisms that didn’t last as part of my long term day to day life, and maybe that’s good. Did they serve a purpose in a moment to teach me how to physically show anger in a controlled environment? Perhaps. Exercise I’ve stuck with, and it’s a sustainable way to release these kinds of stresses and rage. I definitely think I’m in the healthiest place of my life right at this moment, and that’s a wonderful thing to say.
Do you think you still would have stripped if you had a ‘normal upbringing/college experience’? Why or why not?
I definitely would have had the curiosity. I definitely would have, as I did in my young girl life, danced naked in my bedroom and fantasized about it, as I think is not really an uncommon fantasy. Often having a conversation with a woman at a party or a woman online about my past, there is a statement on their behalf of interest in hearing details with some qualifier “I’ve always been curious what that would have been like.” Suburban women take pole dancing classes and buy stripper heels on Amazon and role-play this fantasy in the safety of their homes.
I was born with a great love for the sensual and the body. My upbringing mostly imbued me
with guilt and shame for these impulses and desires. Guilt and shame are powerful impulses
though, I made a lot of money off of those qualities in men at the strip club. They inhibit you, but they also create a desperation inside that is very sexual – that is the ultimate striptease to remove and be yourself. These men who I sat with were exposing themselves, too, removing this guilt and shame and coming for what they wanted and showing a side maybe they showed to a few people.
If I’d had a normal upbringing, I definitely would have had the fantasy, maybe would have been one of those suburban women with the heels and the pole in my house. I don’t know that I would have that the requisite guilt, shame and desperation it took to force me into the real world of the strip club. It was a very intimidating experience to walk into the club, put on some five inch heels and hope you don’t fall on your face, walk out onto a stage of seasoned strip club patrons for the first time. I’m not sure without the absolute need I had to be free that I’d have been desperate in my heart enough to walk out on that main stage. I had to do it, and so I did. Besides writing, it was the favorite job I ever had – even factoring the terrible parts, which certainly existed.
In the footnote of ‘So Much Darker,’ you mentioned ‘darkness is beautiful and I have a great
attraction to it now.’ Is this attraction a healthier version of what it was, or has it been the same since? Why or why not?
As I’ve matured my interest in darkness has become more measured and bookish as opposed to experiential. I went through a period of my life in my 20’s – having been so sheltered from experience (though not pain or damage), that I sought out any kind of experience, certainly making some negative decisions in regards to things like drug use, the company I kept, romantic interests. I paid a lot of prices for those decisions, and I live in a very insular, reclusive life now – though a very active online life.
So I might lie around reading true crime or horror/fantasy books (or writing them), but I do it in my comfortable, protected little nook in the woods. I don’t expose myself to dangerous elements, and that’s something that I definitely did in the past. I think that’s a common experience of anyone growing up. I’m a womanchild but there is a woman in there who protects myself a lot better than I once did, and that is most definitely is evolution.
In 'Revirginized,’ you describe yourself as an “atheist adventuress.” Do you completely reject
religion? If not, what is your relationship with religion now if not in the traditional sense?
I am most definitely an atheist and reject any religion in my life now, but I don’t reject it for
other people. I think religion is very beneficial to some people, and if you choose it freely I
respect that. But I have spent so many years as a hostage in a religion I didn’t believe in and
then wounded by it, I probably have a PTSD reaction to organized religion as much as any logical aversion to it.
I very much oppose religion being used as a tool of oppression. No one should
have to practice it who doesn’t believe it. I’m just a very open-minded, respectful person, and all I ask from religious institutions and religious people now is to afford me a mutual respect that I afford them: we are autonomous beings who get to choose what our beliefs about the divine are and what we choose to do about them. I don’t try to convert people to atheism, and I don’t enjoy people who attempt to convert others to their religion.
I don’t believe in God, but I believe in people, their potential for both magnificence, generosity and evil. I don’t get really philosophical about atheism because it’s not that big of a deal to me to not believe in some god or devil I can’t see. I have encountered saints and demons I have seen firsthand, and they are just people. I myself have had periods of my life where I was troubled and lost and times that I have been there for others who were. To me being an atheist doesn’t exempt me from any responsibilities for my behavior. I think it actually inspires me to work hard on myself to be a caring and good person not because God wants me to – but because I want to be that, for myself and for others with which I engage.
If you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe in Satan or this idea of something outside of
yourself being culpable. You have to own that when you mess up -- the devil didn’t make or
tempt you do it; you did. So I try to be very honest with myself when my motivations for
something aren’t good, or I’m not being as kind or compassionate as I could be. I accept
responsibility for my choices, and I seek out reading from the arena of self-help when I feel it is necessary. I work on myself a lot, and whether god or the lack thereof empowers you to do that, I’m for the result.
Each poem is labelled as an exhibit, and each changes from the last. What overall image do you want the reader to have of you at the end of Puritan U?
The labels of exhibits come from a job I had for a time after stripping which was a court
reporter. I was very familiar with court exhibits, and I also felt organizing this book like
a court document commented itself on the fact that for many women who do not tell –
do not use the court system for many reasons to deal with their assaults, the personal case
as Puritan U became for me, is their one justice. This book was me laying out the case of
things done to me in my childhood and extending into my college life.
Puritan U shows the evolution of me, my character. I go through stages of shock, rebellion,
depression and finally strength. That’s what I want people to see about me at the end of that
story is that I was becoming a person determined to escape my sorry situation genetics had bequeathed me. I was taking the steps to become free. For me, freedom took an unusual path in pigtails following a bridge to the bigger city to bouncers, bartenders, DJ’s and topless club patrons, oh my.
I become a strong person and a free person because I took risks and took back my body and my life. That’s what I hope that people see at the very end of Puritan U, the seeds of that.
They can catch the rest of that story in Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir available signed or annotated at my website here: https://kristingarth.com/candy-cigarette-womanchild-noir-2/ or at Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Candy-Cigarettes-Womanchild-Kristin-Garth/dp/1916480632/ref=sr_1_6?crid=OZCTHWTZ6YIV&keywords=kristin+garth&qid=1554651937&s=gateway&sprefix=kristin+garth%2Caps%2C192&sr=8-6