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Speaking Out

The Onion’s satirical video where a fictional Trump voter questions his support for the president after attending a “gender-fluid non-binary poetry slam” at Swarthmore caught the attention of Marie Rousseau ’12.

“As a Swattie, I had to suppress a grin,” says Rousseau. The idea for Self-ish, an open mic for women, trans and or non-binary poets and musicians, came to her a year ago. Her own experience with sexism in her local open mic scene in Paris led her to carve out an inviting space for all voices. “I’d been performing for about a year and I wanted a place that was truly welcoming of people who experience discrimination based on their assigned sex at birth and or gender identity.” 

The interest in Self-ish was overwhelming. 

“Within three months we had over a hundred people attending, and then the next month went over 200,” says Rousseau. “People had been waiting for this kind of initiative all along. The queer and feminist scenes often revolve around either activism or nightlife and it’s nice to have something in between.” 

Rousseau’s own writing is largely autobiographical. 

“How humans interact fascinates me,” she says. “I think growing up bilingual, as well as taking sociology classes at Swarthmore, has contributed to that: being able to observe myself and others in different languages and to analyze behaviour using a sociological lens.”

That Self-ish is finding its place as a fixture in the queer and feminist Parisian scene makes Rousseau proud. With at least one open mic a month, the Self-ish team also exhibits visual artists, and collaborates with other organizations and collectives such as the Queer Week, a week-long series of event around queer culture.

“Swarthmore made me who I am today,” says Rousseau. “Before coming to Swarthmore I was a slightly homophobic teenager who subscribed to two different women’s magazines and was completely clueless about feminism. My sophomore year, at the suggestion of a friend, I took Comparative Perspectives on the Body with Professor Farha Ghannam and hence my journey of coming into my own as a queer feminist began.” 

She also took multiple classes with Gender and Sexuality Studies Program Professor Anna Ward (now at Smith College), which helped shape her understanding of LGBTQI+, gender, and disability-related issues.

“I’m so happy to be able to contribute to the queer feminist scene in my hometown of Paris,” says Rousseau. “People who had never performed before feel comfortable doing so here for the first time, which is a sign we are succeeding at getting more women, trans and non-binary artists to speak up and put their work out there.”