Emily Stern | 21st Century Leader
Originally published Sunday, March 23, 2003
LINDA TARR FOR THE OLYMPIAN
Emily Stern, aka ‘Spider’
Job: Self-employed in various aspects, including performance, teaching voice lessons and facilitating workshops on AIDS, safe sex, sexual stigmas, self-defense, gender and consensus-based collaboration; former outreach and education coordinator for Stonewall Youth.
Activities: Singer, community organizer, AIDS activist, queer activist, production manager for “The Transfused” (original rock opera written by Nomy Lamm and the Need). Performance artist who has been featured in “The Sex Workers’ Art Show,” toured with the Dr. Frockrockets Vivifying Re-animitronic Menagerie and Medicine Show, and played Scutterfest in L.A. Spider’s new solo project, “Suicide Cola,” a collage of video, music and performance, recently toured the West Coast with Nomy Lamm as “The Fat Sluts Tour.”
Emily Stern believes more people should be conscious of their choices. That’s one reason she gives workshops on AIDS, safe sex and other topics. Her first workshop, “Heart Marks — A Daughter’s Perspective of Her Mother’s Death From AIDS,” has been presented throughout the country and was inspired by her mother’s death in 1993.
Two weeks after her mom died, a professor at Purdue University, where Stern was a student, asked her to talk to the class about her mother. She obliged. “In retrospect, it was a good place to take all my feelings and share them — to be able to take heartache and tragedy and share it and have everyone get something out of it,” said Stern, better known in Olympia as “Spider.” It also opened the door to one of her passions in life — teaching — and presented an avenue to raise awareness about AIDS and the consequences of poor choices, she said.
Chandra Lindeman, who directs the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention at The Evergreen State College, said Stern does an excellent job of drawing people out during her workshops. “She’s highly engaging, and she’s one of the most personal presenters that I’ve ever worked with,” Lindeman said. Stern also shares her personal experiences in an appropriate way, she said. “She’ll make it real, as opposed to people sitting back and getting talked at,” Lindeman said.
Stern said she tries not to preach during her workshops, but rather encourages people to be honest with themselves. For example, she doesn’t tell people to quit “getting trashed.” But she hopes people who attend her workshops will make more conscious choices — like knowing they’ll be trashed, but making sure they’re in a safe place when they do it. “We’re not taught to face things head on, and admit what we’re feeling and be conscious of ourselves,” she said. “We live in a culture that is determined to be unconscious.”
Kate Crowe, an Evergreen writing teacher, said Stern is one of the best teachers and writers she’s seen in her 25 years at the college. Crowe was Stern’s instructor when Stern did a stint as a writing and visual art teacher at Reeves Middle School. “She was completely a natural at teaching,” Crowe said. “She had these kids just right in this really honest place. It was wonderful.” Crowe also admires Stern for her desire to continue contributing through workshops and art — even if it’s a difficult route that sometimes means Stern must go without creature comforts at times. “Emily’s the type of person who is going to contribute constantly to society,” she said. “I mean, she’ll never stop. She’s just amazing.”
Stern said she can’t deal with life when she’s not doing something important to her, whether it’s a workshop or art. That offers, she said, more sustenance than knowing she has a home. That’s one reason fellow performer Nomy Lamm, 27, formerly of Olympia, looks up to Stern. Lamm was especially impressed when Stern decided to focus on her art a couple of years ago. “It was inspiring to me to see somebody make a conscious, specific decision on what they are going to do with her life and know that it’s going to be very hard,” Lamm said. Lamm said Stern is a talented performer with an incredible voice. Stern’s also willing to try new things, Lamm said. “She’s good at taking risks and letting what she’s doing evolve,” she said. In that way, Stern’s art reflects her life. “I’m a strong advocate,” she said, “of being in the moment with yourself.”