Olympia, Washington, was good to Nomy Lamm. It’s the kind of place, says Lamm, “where I can say ‘what big huge crazy project do I want to work on right now?'” and due to the tight DIY community it can actually happen.
Lamm, a self-described “fatass-jew-queer-amputee-performance artist-writer-activist,” first gained national attention in 1993 when, at age 17, she published I’m So Fucking Beautiful, a powerful, astonishingly honest zine about fat acceptance, from her Pacific northwest hometown. Hollering the message “Fat is punk!”, ISFB put Lamm on the map as a writer and activist, and over the next decade her work appeared in innumerable zines and anthologies. She’s spoken at dozens of colleges about body image, gender, and disability issues (her left foot was amputated when she was three), was named one of Ms. magazine’s 1997 Women of the Year, and in 2000 she was one of Out magazine’s “Out 100.”
Perhaps less well-known, outside Olympia, is Lamm’s performance work. She’s been in at least five bands, released a CD of spoken word and music, performed in and cowrote (with the Need) the rock musical The Transfused, given a lauded performance in an improvised eight-character film called The Group, and toured with both the all-women’s spoken-word show Sister Spit and the cabaret revue Dr. Frockrocket’s Vivifying (Re-Animatronic) Menagerie and Medicine Show. Most recently she directed, cast, played the accordion in, and starred in a full theatrical production of her most recent album, Effigy, which finished its national tour in August with a performance in her new hometown, Chicago.
She moved for a bunch of reasons: Her family comes from the area, and over the years she’s often visited “big clumps of punk rockers” here. Ana Jae, a friend from Olympia, was here. And Lamm, who had put out the word that she was interested in studying with a radical, queer rabbi, learned this summer that openly gay Chicago rabbi Benay Lappe was starting a yeshiva, which she is now attending. “A lot of my goals about coming here were spiritual in a way,” she says–“paring down the amount of responsibility I had taken on.”
But she hasn’t exactly been quiet since she got here in September 2002. She spent many months on the road with Effigy, but she’s also performed and emceed at places like HotHouse and Metro, and she’s currently looking for dancers to perform parts of Effigy with the drag troupe the Chicago Kings.
In addition, Lamm and Jae, a writer, artist, and sex worker who has also performed with Sister Spit, have teamed up to host a queer open-mike night called the Finger. Back in Olympia the pair threw a series of themed drag shows, and they wanted to re-create the celebratory spirit of those evenings here. The series has run on the third Sunday of every month since January at Edgewater’s Early to Bed; last month’s installment featured readings by drag king Cooper Lee Bombardier, juggling, singers, spoken word, a lecture-demonstration about how to get the best grub at a buffet, and two women who peeled and ate two lemons, whole. Jae and Lamm emceed and told stories, and Lamm played the accordion. “We try to make [the Finger] feel like somebody spontaneously threw it in their living room,” says Jae, “which puts people more at ease–we give them snacks!”
Lamm’s still carving out her niche in Chicago. It’s hard, she says, because she’s used to a “radical, political, and exuberant queer community that’s really visible….[Here] you can’t make the same assumptions about where people are coming from.” So why leave the safety net of Olympia? Because, she says, despite years of travel and political work, “I was looking for something bigger, an understanding of the world that was larger than I could get in Olympia….It’s really easy to feel like you’re in a bubble there, and you can draw the connections to your life, but you’re not experiencing it in the same way as when you live in the city.”
The next Finger starts at 7 PM on Sunday, October 19, at Early to Bed, 5232 N. Sheridan; it’ll feature spoken-word artist Heather Acs from New York and anyone else who signs up. There’s a suggested donation of $3, and you must be 18 or older to attend. Call 773-271-1219 for more information.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jim Newberry.