Rachel Colias: Feminist Killjoy

I’ve been sleeping on the Q & As for a minute, as the last one was way back in October 2014 with Yu.

This time around we’re sitting down with a friend of mine who definitely isn’t shy about sharing her opinions with anyone.

I met Rachel at an office job I had for a QUICK minute last year. I sat across from her, so we were forced to interact. Even after I got the swift boot to the curb, we remained in contact and have been friends since.

Rachel sat down with me to discuss Chicago Outfit Roller Derby, tattoos, bodily agency, feminism, stupid men, sexual harassment and Satanism.

She doesn’t have a Twitter, so you can’t follow her there.

You can follow her on IG though: @Sneer_and_Loathing

My questions and responses will be in bold, and her answers will be in plain text.

You can listen to the audio for this Q & A here (I highly recommend it):

You’re a very outspoken individual, which was evident upon the first two weeks of knowing you. When did you first become comfortable expressing yourself?

Rachel Colias portrait by 9 Muse Photos

Rachel Colias portrait by 9 Muse Photos

Probably when I was 13 or so. I became a vegetarian when I was a young teen or in middle school because I had nothing else to be rebellious about. I signed up for the PETA mailing list because that was before I knew they were basically propaganda. They were, you know, psychos. I guess that was before the internet existed in a way that would tell me that. I read all of their shit, and I wanted to do something that my parents didn’t have any control over. When I started learning shit about vegetarianism it gave me something to talk about. That was probably the first thing I did that I made a choice for my own body and something I felt passionate about. Then it just snowballed.

Which person or persons in your life contributed the most to developing your strong voice and the ability to express yourself?

That would probably be a family friend. Her name was Leslie, and she had a daughter who was the exact same age as me. My family basically hired Leslie to clean house when I was a kid because she was a family friend. She was a single mom, and I think she barely finished high school and didn’t have a college education. But she had just divorced an abusive husband, and she had this kid she had to take care of. We were kind of paying her to watch us because me and my siblings were all very young at the same time that my parents were a teacher and a nurse and were gone seven to eight hours a day.

She was just someone I went to for advice my whole life because I knew her since I was four years old. It was interesting to hear from her because she was someone who had a lot of disadvantages and didn’t have a supportive family background. She was the same age as my mom, but she didn’t have a college education. When I was probably 10 she went back to community college and paid for it herself. She paid for everything her daughter wanted to do by cleaning more houses. She just worked her ass off her whole life. She was always around my house, so I always talked to her. She was just a really big influence on me.

She had been through a couple of relatively abusive relationships and knew the situations she had been in were bad, but she never wanted them for me. I was the oldest daughter in my family, so she passed a lot of that information on to me. She would tell me this isn’t healthy if I had a stupid, teenaged boyfriend. She’d tell me not to let him tell me to do this or that, and he should never control where you go. You know, these are red flags to look for. When I was becoming sexual around 14 or 15, she gave me a lot of the advice that I knew my conservative mother wouldn’t give me. It was more about being safe. She taught me a lot about bodily agency and being someone who does something sexually because I want to and not because someone was telling me to. So yeah, she was definitely my biggest influence growing up.

Would you say being extremely vocal is a mechanism you use to combat men talking over you?

Yeah! My family is half Greek, and my great Yia Yia died when I was still in high school. My Great Yia Yia was the glue that held my whole Greek family together. She lived in a house in Gary (Indiana) in the middle of nowhere, but we’d always celebrate holidays with her. If you know any Greek family at all, they’re just the fucking loudest group of people you’ve ever been in. I feel like when I was a kid I was loud because I grew up in a household of five people, and they were Greek so everyone was just yelling as a joke. So I probably started loud as a kid, not based on trying to talk over people. It was just the environment I grew up in.

I remember I had a friend, Melissa, and her family would always joke with me. Like oh, you only have one volume, and it’s not an indoor volume. At first I was embarrassed because I didn’t know I was talking louder than what was polite. Once I got over being embarrassed that I am a loud, outspoken person, it helped me growing up. There’s been situations where I’ve been spoken down to by anyone but, yes, also by men who speak over me. And I think it’s been helpful that no one in my family has ever told me to be quiet or calm down or not express myself how I want. So, yes!

Staying with the topic of men, how often would you say you have to deal with or deflect abrasive men on a daily basis?

Rachel's Wonder Woman tattoo, which was featured on Buzzfeed. Photo by Allen the bae.

Rachel’s Wonder Woman tattoo, which was featured on Buzzfeed.

I’d say the daily basis of dealing with men is brief, public interactions. If I were to pick one thing that I really do have to deal with on a daily basis, it’ sexual harassment. Any woman who doesn’t have a car, has to take public transportation or has to walk more than two blocks to her job, there’s going to be sexual harassment. For a while when I first started going to college in Chicago I became more aware of it. I don’t want anyone to think living in a small town there wasn’t any of that. I remember being, I don’t know, 15, and one of my female friends hit puberty a lot sooner than I did and was a bustier person. When I would hang out with her and hadn’t hit puberty yet, we would still get yelled at. Men would still bother us. I remember some guy trying to get me into his car when I was a younger kid. That’s something I think about.

I don’t change how I look or change how I act, but I have to think about it when I get dressed. I really want to wear this tank top, but I’m also going to have to wear my headphones because someone is going to have an opinion. When I first came to Chicago and started dealing with sexual harassment on a much larger scale—and I would argue maybe on a more dangerous scale because living in small town we would all watch out for each other—I would at first yell and get into arguments with men on the street and yell at them. It really isn’t effective unless maybe I’ve made a couple of people think about it as maybe I (they) shouldn’t be doing that. But usually men brush off women yelling at them as a joke, which is of course another thing you have to deal with growing up as a woman. It’s if you’re angry, it’s funny. It’s not something people take as an authoritative thing.

If someone really pisses me off and I’m in a bad mood, I’m still going to yell. But it gets so exhausting. When I first started in Chicago I was yelling and fighting with people a lot because I was new there and didn’t know this was going to happen on that scale for the rest of my life. I remember having a conversation…I hung out at a lot of punk houses when I was 18 or 19…and I was talking to this guy who wasn’t a shitty person, but he had a skinhead look where he had a bald head, was kind of bigger and would wear leather jackets and big leather boots. We were talking about what is was like, and I looked equally ridiculous. I had one of my vests with studs all over it and a big mohawk. We were talking about what it was like interacting with people while looking dumb as hell. You know, back then we thought it was cool. He said he loved it because people don’t approach him on the street because he looked really fucking tough. He was just going on and on about how much he loved it. I realized at that moment how truly different my experience was as a woman in any subculture, but this was just one particular example of how different my experience on the street was than a man’s. I was just about to tell you the exact opposite of the story you told me.

Because I look ridiculous men touch me more often because they think I look insane. Someone would touch my hair and very often people would touch me. They’d try to take pictures without my consent. They crossed a lot of boundaries and those boundaries still get crossed, but I stuck out like a sore thumb. That was insane to me that this was such an empowering thing for him, but for me it’s something that makes me feel like I’m more at risk. I remember going to a punk show, and this guy followed me for six blocks. He tried talking to me, and I tried to politely say I don’t want to talk to you. I didn’t know what to do because I was 19 and he was bigger. Finally I get to the basement, and he follows me in. He’s trying to act like he’s there with me and won’t leave me alone. At this point I didn’t know how to be authoritative and aggressive at the same level I think I’m at now. I remember that I went into the bathroom to hide from him, and a bunch of guys had noticed he was acting inappropriate with me. They took him out of the bar physically, and from what I heard they beat his ass. But guys like to talk. That’s just one example of wow, this guy thought I looked weird and was trying to talk to me and fucking followed me. That was kind of scary, but I would definitely say sexual harassment is something I deal with every day for the rest of my life.

Rocking the Mohawk during a demonstration against sexual assault.

Rocking the mohawk during a demonstration against sexual assault.

If every man on this earth were guaranteed to read this Q&A, what’s one thing you’d say to each and every one of them?

It sounds obvious I’m sure to some and maybe not for others, but just treat women like autonomous beings. I wasn’t raised a man but from experiences talking to men that I love and talking to people about their childhoods—growing up a boy, and what they’re taught—I think there’s a sense of entitlement. It’s not with all boys. I’m sure that’s coming from a lot of white boys who are raised with much more entitlement than any non-white person, so that’s a totally different experience. I would just say to treat women like autonomous beings. Never assume that they exist for something for you. Don’t get mad if they don’t want to do something for you or with you.

I think that covers most issues that feminism tries to approach. It addresses rape culture, treating women like autonomous beings; they don’t exist for your sexual pleasure; they don’t exist for you to look at; they don’t exist to smile at you. Also as an authoritative figure as well. There are these little things that women are raised to do that men aren’t. We apologize more. You know, we’re taught to apologize for existing more often than men are. I would just say treat them as individuals with the same level of authority, which I guess cuts to the core of it.

I’d consider you a badass feminist in both practice and in action. Could you explain your definition of Femme As Fuck?

I get upset maybe when a person I consider feminist, and I shouldn’t impose my own ideas on other people, denies being a feminist. They don’t side with feminists because it’s still a word that people are afraid of in some sense. I would just define feminism not just as the basic definitions such as seeing everyone as equals, but on top of that understanding there’s a lot of intersectionality involved. You’ve got to understand that people come from different situations. Understanding other people’s situations and understanding that maybe other people have more to overcome than you do. I guess being respectful and believing that all people deserve the same chance that you had if you had a more privileged chance.

I don’t think of feminism as just equality for women. I think of it as a lot of issues that have to do with class and race as well because they all intersect, and it all effects different women differently. It’s hard to make one encompassing definition of feminism. To just say all women are equal…there’s millions of different issues, and you can’t just have one version of feminism that fits everyone because there are so many different types of women and so many things standing in the way for women. So Femme As Fuck is a sweet tattoo Doc and I are going to get, and that’s what I think it’s going to mean.

To me your participation as a skater for the Chicago Outfit Roller Derby league is an extension of you being extremely vocal and Femme As Fuck. Is this something that drew you to women’s roller derby and this group in particular?

Chicago Outfit Roller Derby post bout antics.

Chicago Outfit Roller Derby post bout antics.

It’s funny because I was never athletic at all growing up, and I consider myself an athlete. I go to practice four times a week. We have games, a season and training and all of that. Anyone moving from a small town to a big city, it’s hard to find a place to fit in and find friends if you’re not already part of a group. In college you make friends like that. I joined roller derby while I was still in college. I think I was still trying to find my place. I just wanted to find a group of people that I related to and had a lot of common interests with.

All of the stereotype of roller derby, I think, are hilarious. You know, tattooed chicks throwing elbows at each other. I was kind of attracted to that because I’m like, oh, it’s a punk rock sport. I didn’t even think I wanted to join a sport. I was like these chicks seem really cool. I would definitely say it helped me funnel a lot of my aggression that I was feeling at 18 or 19. At the time I didn’t know what to do with all the aggression and anger I had. I guess I don’t have a good reason for why I was so angry. I would definitely say it’s an extension of my feminism because it’s given me a large core group of women that I feel safe with and relate to, but they all come from different places and are all different types of people.

It’s just more and more exposure, which I think it’s good to always expose yourself to different types of people. I think in high school I internalized a lot of misogyny that taught me I should be like one of the guys if I want to be a cool girl, which is something I think a lot of high school girls struggle with. We’re taught to be catty and fight with each other, and you always want to be one of the guys. But you’re never going to be one of the guys is something you find out when it’s too late. I think having 40 women that I would all consider friends has been immense for me in how I feel about myself as a woman and how I feel about other women whom I’ve always respected. Now I can say I have a girl gang as a joke, but I do have 40 women who would have my back at any time, which I think is a big deal. It’s like oh great, I found 40 other women who are as loud as I am and as outspoken with similar ideals. I would definitely say it’s an extension of my feminism and that kind of loud, aggressive behavior that allows me to be more authoritative than I might’ve been if I was never raised like that.

Is there anything you were nervous or unsure about prior to roller derby that you’re now much more confident about, or did it reaffirm anything you had as a belief but weren’t completely committed to yet?

I guess this isn’t a very serious belief with a capital B, but I ran with a lot of guys and thought that’s what made me cool, being friends with guys. It kind of solidified the fact that I could be friends with so many women, and any woman can be friends with so many women. And it’s fucking awesome and the best time. I jokingly say that I hate men’s roller derby…it’s a fucking joke. I’m making light of the fact that I actually do appreciate that there’s something in my life that’s only for women. It’s not that roller derby is only for women, it’s my league is a women’s league. That’s what I appreciate about it. It’s solidified in me this strong feeling of female empowerment.

We have a junior’s league, which I think is really cool. We consider them our little sisters. I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like being 15 and being able to do what I’m doing now at age 24. We don’t talk a whole lot about politics in roller derby. We all know who has similar opinions and who doesn’t, and I don’t think it gets in the way of our being teammates. I think the strongest thing is this bond that I’ve formed. That’s the strongest thing roller derby has solidified for me…a female bond with other women and younger girls as my little sisters.

How does Sneer and Loathing, your derby persona, differ from Rachel, if at all?

Sneer and Loathing throwing some blocks during a bout

Sneer and Loathing throwing some blocks during a bout

It’s really funny, because a lot of people joke about how in roller derby if you have different name then you’re a different person on the track. I don’t really know who that applies to. I think maybe a lot of the teachers feel that way. Any woman on the league who has a traditional, low-key career tries to pretend it’s an alter-ego. I feel like I’m still the same person. It’s funny to have a nickname because you feel like you’re in a different world when you’re with a whole group of people, and all of them refer to you as a different name than what you have. I guess Sneer and Loathing is the persona that’s allowed to actually hit people, and then Rachel Colias is not allowed to because I work in a stupid office. Otherwise, I feel like I’ve blended both of those lives perfectly, and it makes me really happy to feel like the strong, outspoken person both at practice and at home.

Damn, I almost forgot to ask about this. You’re a Satanist, which, admittedly, had me cock my head in doubt for a minute. Mainly because I found out in the course of the work day during lunch. How does this help shape who you are?

I know you believe in God, Doc.

I believe in something.

You believe in something. I think whatever that is put you at the cubicle next to mine to introduce you to Satanism and feminism.

I was not introduced to feminism by Rachel Colias.

He was a sexist asshole when I met him.

I was not.

He wasn’t. There’s different denominations even though it’s kind of foolish, because they’re not Christianity. The denomination of Satanism that I appreciate the most is the Satanic Temple. I was joking with one of my co-workers who is Christian, Jordan, and he was like ‘oh my god, this mission statement is the exact same as my church’.

They’re using Satan to represent someone who, I guess this sounds stupid, challenges authority. It’s not just ‘oh I hate my parents’ challenge of authority. It’s more of I’d like to challenge the fact that we need more separation of church and state than already exists. Also that a lot of Christian beliefs affect people in a way that’s harmful like any sort of law—which I know these are popular in the South—that makes women wait three days to get an abortion after you’ve already been there.

With a lot of underprivileged women it’s a class issue. What if I can’t afford to because I live 200 miles away from this clinic because there aren’t enough clinics? That’s one example, because I know the Satanic Temple was suing one of the practices in one state that requires a waiting period. It’s basically on the premise of this goes against my religious belief for you to prevent me to have this legal procedure by three days, and it’s because there’s this Christian indoctrination in this medical facility. So I appreciate this sect of Satanism just because they want to question a lot of the authority that’s harmful to underprivileged people like women or poor women or non-white women that prevents them from getting a legal procedure. It’s funny to me that people think there are people that literally worship the Christian being Satan. It’s more of a front for fucking with everyone.

You’re pretty heavily tattooed. Do any of your pieces represent feminism or Satanism? Or would you say owning the appearance of your body as you see fit is what makes any of your ink Femme As fuck?

Krampus aka stomach demon. Photo by Allen the bae.

Krampus aka stomach demon.

I would say all of the above. I’ve got this one tattoo that’s a cute, little, girly heart, and it says ‘feminist killjoy’ on it. I was not very femme, not as in feminist but as in feminine looking until maybe the last four years. I did the butch, shave all your hair and wear t-shirts thing for a while. That’s just how I liked looking, but I think that stemmed from trying to be one of the guys. People associate being feminine with being weak or feminine not being the ideal appearance unless you want to be associated with women, which according to sexism you don’t want to be. I started wearing girlier things and looking cute and using makeup because I decided I wanted to, because people change.

So I got this tattoo that says ‘feminist killjoy’ that’s in a really cute feminine heart with little lacy doilies. I think it’s this extremist statement, a killjoy as someone who doesn’t give a shit about whether you’re having a good time, because you have to hear what they have to say. I kind of got it because it was me embracing looking more feminine and associating my feminism with that femininity as well. It’s not like I second guessed any of my tattoos, I do love them all, but there’s a moment where it’s ‘is this what I’m going to get, is this what I want’. While I was thinking about it on the train, this guy kept blatantly looking at me I felt like. He was trying to get my attention. I didn’t want to talk to him, so I was just politely ignoring him. He tried to get my attention one last time, and I wouldn’t look at him. When the train stopped, he was getting off the stop, and I was sitting by the window by the platform. He got off the train and pounded his fist on the window where I was sitting and yelled something at me because I wouldn’t pay attention to him. I was like, that’s a fucking sign from Satan; I’m getting this tattoo.

I do have what’s considered a Satanist tattoo. It’s the Christmas figure Krampus on my stomach, and it looks like a demon head. It’s the extremist version of getting coal for Christmas where this Satan looking thing comes and whips the shit out of your children if they’ve been bad or kidnaps them. That’s how he would scare kids into being good for the year. I guess those are technically my feminist and Satanist tattoos.

Like I was saying earlier, when I became a vegetarian at 13 I did it more so because at 13 I wanted more control of my body. I wanted a say in what was happening to it, what I put in it and what I did to it. When you’re 13 that’s probably the most you can do because your parents control everything else, which is fine since they should. But when I was 18…I was very frustrated because I felt like while my parents were dealing with my brother and sister I was being overlooked. I felt like I was doing a lot on my own, and I wanted to act out a little bit using agency over my body. I told my dad I was going to get a tattoo. I was 18, a senior in high school and, whatever, mom can’t do anything about it, because she would be the one who was not into it. He kind of just told me that ‘Rachel, I trust you and trust the decisions that you make, so I support you in whatever you want to do’. That just felt so good, and that made me feel like I still wanted the tattoo after he said that. It made me feel like I’m not getting a tattoo just to be a dick; I’m doing it because I really want it and on top of that I now have my dad’s trust and support. I do like getting tattoos, and I feel like I’m changing something about my appearance because I want to.

I’ve had people say what if you don’t like that in 20 years or what if you think that looks stupid. No matter whether I like these tattoos or not, they’re always going to remind me of certain times in my life. They do remind me of where I am and who I am at certain points. So I like having it. I like being tatted up.

Did being into punk rock get you into tattoos or was it something you were always interested in?

I think I was always interested. Punk rock was just the common thread. You’re attracted to sub-cultures because it involves other shit that you like. Punk rock is aggressive and rebellious, and all these people look cool because I’m still a kid and what I want to look like when I grow up. I would say punk rock, especially Riot Grrrl, is very different. Anyone who’s interested in punk rock music knows that Riot Grrrl is different. It’s not just all female punk bands. There’s also a lot of feminine ideals that go along with being a Riot Grrrl. Also, it’s another version of roller derby. It’s a strong core of women and if you associate yourself with that, there’s a reason. I think it was all one big interest that intersected at Punk Rock as being aggressive and looking whatever, looking stupid.

What would you say is your best piece?

The first philosopher, Eve. Photo by Allen the bae.

The first philosopher, Eve.

It’s funny because we just said I was a Satanist. The best tattoo I have is the one on my thigh, my entire thigh. I got it in college, and it was like $600. It was an absurd amount of money for someone who’s 20 years old to be spending, but I used money that low-key my school gave me to do research. I still did the project.

It’s funny because it’s technically a Christian tattoo. It’s a big tattoo of Eve in the Garden of Eden. I feel like, growing up, she’s the figurehead for what the fallen woman is. It was not worth the painful childbirth, but it’s fine, Eve. I feel like she becomes the person people use to represent the fallen woman, the original one at least. I took a philosophy class that was required in college, and after I took this class is when I got this tattoo. Part of it was examining origin stories from different religions, which I thought was really interesting. Of course Genesis was one of the things we looked at. My professor kind of went off. I went to a really great liberal school, and he was talking about how he can’t understand why some more conservative Christians look at Eve as this bad person and the reason we’re all fucked. He said if you look at the word philosopher it means someone who seeks knowledge, and Eve ate the apple because she wanted to be as smart as God. She wanted to get on God’s level, which is pretty fucking cool. He was just saying that technically—and this is something maybe Christians don’t acknowledge all the time—Eve would’ve been the original philosopher if you believe Adam and Even were the first people.

This is a female who wanted to be God and wanted to be as smart as God, and that was cool to him. He talked about how it’s a very interesting character that people simplify and reduce as this two-dimensional person who’s the reason childbirth sucks and brothers kill each other. So I got it, and it says ‘seeker of knowledge’ under it. Maybe now it looks a little corny, but I still appreciate why I got it. I think it’s cool, and it’s because I think she was the first philosopher. Also my break with going to church was going to college, because I used to go to church just to make my mom happy when I lived at home. It was kind of me picking a female, Christian figure to align myself with, and it would’ve been Eve.

What would you say is your worst piece if you think you have one?

I have two shitty tattoos technically. One of them I don’t think is as funny as the other one. The tattoo I think is the shittiest, just in quality because my day was great, is this little, tiny book with a pentagram on it. It’s supposed to be a Necronomicon, and I got it the day after Halloween. I went to The Alley in Boystown, which is a goth store. Back then me and my friend, Taylor, said we were going to go get Halloween special tattoos, which is always dangerous when you want to get a special tattoo. They were doing something like $50 for whatever on a flash sheet. That place was a shit show when we went. They weren’t organized, and there were no lines. It was so packed that one of the tattoo artists noticed the person in charge was overlooking us a lot, but he had to follow what the person in charge said. So we exchanged phone numbers, and he said he was going to call us when the store closes. He said we’d come in, and they’d unlock the place so he could do our tattoos.

Nothing bad happened, and I thought it was funny; but red flags should be one, this guy wants me to come back to his shop in the middle of the night after everyone’s gone. Two, they let me and my friend in and offered us beer. That should have been red flag number two, drinking and getting tattoos. They did this tattoo, and we had a really good time. They were really funny and very nice to us, but this tattoo sucks. The lines aren’t straight; the color comes off of it in places, and it’s not good. I guess if it’s a non-English book it’s fine, but it doesn’t open the right way. If that’s the cover, it’s a mirrored image. They put it on the wrong way. That day was really funny, and it turned out better than it could’ve.

Rachel and her mamma bird, Nikita.

Rachel and her mamma bird, Nikita.

What’s your next piece going to be?

Actually, I’m getting a tattoo from the same person as Demarcus, six days after him. No, that’s not going to be my next tattoo. I lied to you. I’m going to Asheville in August, and I’m getting another tattoo. It’s hard to explain because I don’t even know what it’s going to look like. I just told her to make something with a lipstick and also a switchblade, and it’s going to say ‘Girl Gang’ on it. I’m getting it with my roller derby team, and they’re all getting different tattoos. It’s just going to be this cool road trip we’re all taking together, and we’re getting it in August. Fucking SQUAD tattoos.

Alright, so as a black person (me, not Rachel) I get tasked with speaking for the entirety of black people regardless of me stating this is not how it works. I’m putting that pressure onto you for Yacubs. When will your people chill the fuck out?

If I could have stopped the yesterday, I would have! I guess part of being outspoken is if you see something, fucking say something. I guess a white person would listen to another white person. The sooner we can get all decent white people to call other asshole white people out on their shitty, racist behavior, I guess the sooner it’s going to get better. I wish I could stop them all with one sweeping motion but, unfortunately, as you understand, white men don’t listen to me so I can’t stop them in particular. White women, I’m on it.

Sneer and Loathing in for the rare jam.

Sneer and Loathing in for the rare jam.

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