Ruthie Slevin: From West to East

Ruthie Slevin.

I just finished watching a segment on one of my favorite shows, “CBS Sunday Morning,” about modern libraries and how they are a place where all are welcome. One of the people interviewed stated in part, “If you’re homeless or living in poverty, there are not many places you can go. Everywhere else in society, you have to buy access. If I want to use your bathroom, I have to buy a soda pop. But libraries are places where everyone is welcome.”

The same could be said of the William Way Community Center. Like the library, they have much more to offer than most people realize. And like the library, there are books at WWCC, including a whole lending library as well as a large collection of LGBTQ+ archives. There are computers available to use and several organizations who utilize the facilities for meetings and events. You can rent rooms for small meetings or for larger events, use the Mark Segal ballroom (named after our fearless leader here at PGN), or stop by to check out the rotating art gallery. There’s much more I could mention, but I need to save room to learn about this week’s Portrait, Ruthie Slevin, the evening facilities co-ordinator at WWCC.

Where are you from?

I’m originally from Central Oregon, I grew up on a horse farm about three hours South of Portland and then lived on my own in Portland for too long. In 2017 I felt it was time to move on so I moved here. 

Isn’t the motto there, “Keep Portland Weird”? 

Yeah, “Keep Portland Weird” is the tagline, but unfortunately Portland stole it from Austin, Texas! So yeah, no points for originality, and not that weird either. 

So I’m guessing you rode on the farm?

No! I never did. My grandpa used to ride bulls and bucking broncos and stuff, so rodeo was a big part of our lives for a while. I went to a lot of them as a kid and it’s kind of problematic, but I still love watching bull riding [laughing] even though it represents everything I hate! Like nowadays when you see bull riding it seems like there’s US Border Patrol insignia everywhere, they advertise all over the rodeo! It’s really dark, very dystopian; it’s as pervasive as Ford pickup trucks. 

Considering most of the original cowboys were Black and/or Mexican…

And gay! Super gay! It’s really ironic. 

I admit to watching the rodeo as well, though as a Taurus, a fellow bull, it is a little disturbing. Especially ironic since my favorite book as a kid was Ferdinand, about a peaceful bull

That’s funny. 

So tell me about the family. Your grandfather was in rodeo; what did the folks do?

My parents? Well, they don’t really have careers… so I grew up in a double wide trailer and my poppa, well my grandpa, worked for the roads department and my grandma worked in newspapers. Nobody went to college or anything, so my mom did hair. Then in 2018 the whole immediate family moved to Ireland. 

Wait, what? That’s a big move!

My dad is a duel citizen because his dad was Irish so a few years ago they decided, fuck America, and moved to Ireland. So I was just like, “Okay, see ya.” So my siblings, all of whom are gay and two of which are trans, all live in Ireland now, and my grandparents still live in that doublewide in Central Oregon. 

How old are your siblings?

Um, well one is still in Portland, I forgot about that, she’s like, 21 and then there’s the youngest, Logan, he’s 14 and he just came out to me as trans. We’re like kindred spirits and very similar. The next is Elliot, she’s 16, and I think that her rebellion is that she’s just a normal cis teenage girl! My family is fucked up and weird, so her rebellion is to like normal mainstream things. And then there’s Sydney who lives in Portland, she’s really sweet. 

It sounds like Elliot is like Marilynn Munster, from the TV show, as the blond haired, blue eyed all American girl in a family of monsters and vampires, she felt like the odd ball. 

Exactly! It is a lot like that. 

What kind of stuff were you into as a kid?

I was obsessed with trying to be cool. I felt I needed to like all the coolest stuff! So I was into skateboarding, I was into art, all sorts of music, and my parents really encouraged us, almost to a fault, to be honest. 

I come from an artist parent too so I understand. They can be a little absent minded and flighty. I can’t tell you how many times she forgot to pick me up or put us in crazy situations. 

Right? It’s complicated, I’ll often be describing a memory that I thought was so funny and quirky and my friends will be listening with their jaws on the floor. They’re like, “Um, that’s child abuse!” [Laughing] But as a kid you don’t realize that you were in pretty dangerous or strange situations until you’re old enough to comprehend it. 

What’s one that comes to mind?

Oh my God, so many. Okay, there was one time when we went to the hot springs at Terwilliger in the middle of the winter and my parents didn’t think to bring a flashlight. We got stuck out there a mile from the trailhead, in the dark, and we had to feel our way back to the car. So irresponsible! But looking back, my parents were like my age at the time. It’s like, what the fuck do you expect, they were children leading children.

Ha! My mother once accidentally poisoned everyone at dinner! 

[Laughing] Yeah, that was sort of the flavor of my childhood as well. 

Back to you, who was a favorite teacher in school?

I had one teacher, I think my mom is still friends with her, Mrs. Nydan. She was sort of a Pagan woman. She caught me once drawing a picture of a witch riding on a broom on my folder at school and was really cool about it. In fact I think that’s how she became friends with my mom.  [Laughing] I’ve always been, I don’t know, just weird, and really, really bad at school, academics were not for me. She was really sweet, and to have a teacher who was totally accepting of me despite me being a horrible student, meant a lot.

Did you go straight into work, go to college, or do something else?

I never saw college as an option; I didn’t even know how to apply for colleges. It wasn’t until last year that I was diagnosed with ADHD, before that I just thought I was really stupid. Now I’m realizing that I’m not a stupid person, I was just made to feel like that. Also, the time around when I was graduating from high school was a very traumatic time in my life, so my priorities were not college oriented. At some time I [thought I] would like to go to art school, I had a lot of friends and partners around that did go to art schools and I had a lot of exposure to it through them. My partner at the time went to Central Saint Martins which was a prestigious fashion school in London, and I learned some of the artistic process vicariously. It was fun to see what a crazy fashion school was like. 

So what did you get into?

Cooking, I got into the restaurant business. I started out washing dishes and then moved up by working hard and eventually I became a really solid line cook and that’s something I’m pretty proud of. 

Working in kitchens is always crazy, anything come to mind? 

Ha! I worked at this place in Oregon which was a bit of a cult restaurant. I wasn’t there for some of the craziest stuff, but I definitely witnessed some heinous stuff like horrible injuries, screaming chefs, the original owner allegedly sold drugs and  was beaten to death by bouncers. The owner when I was there bought the restaurant for a pound of weed.

OMG!

Yeah, and just the amount of sex and drugs that were had at that place was of epic proportions. It was a very formative place to work and fun! 

I’m sure. So what brought you to Philadelphia?

I u-hauled it in classic dyke fashion. That relationship is no more, but I’m really glad I did it. I think it was a good thing for me to get out of Portland. It’s like the whitest place on earth, which I think is unhealthy. 

What’s the first place you went or one of the places you enjoy in Philly?

The first place I ever went was to a cafe in West Philly. I was super jet-lagged and I ate a wrap which was absolutely disgusting! I live in West Philly and I love it. I also really like Bartram’s Garden. 

Tell me about what you’re doing these days.

I’m the evening facilities co-ordinator at William Way and I absolutely love my job. It’s the first job I ever felt fulfilled by. We have amazing recovery programs and we offer peer counseling which is really rad. Especially if you’re new to therapy and need some kind of segue into long term care, it’s a way to check it out. We’re really starting to get back into things and it’s great to see people in the building again. I also have a little art studio in West Philly, I share studio space at the Cedar Works with my partner and it’s just amazing. I don’t know, I like to fix up vintage mopeds too. 

Do you lean towards a particular discipline, oil painting, sculpture, etc.?

I guess most recently I’ve mainly done rugs, but I’ve made toys, I’ve painted, done drawings, a little bit of everything. 

You mentioned instruments, do you play something?

I can fudge just about anything, I’m that kind of musician. Not particularly good at any one instrument but I get by. 

What’s your coming out journey?

It’s going to sound really privileged but I didn’t really have to come out in my family, they just kind of rolled with my journey, which I’m really thankful for. As a kid I was always experimenting with my appearance and my expression. Even before I identified as trans I liked to dress very creatively, so with my immediate family, they just caught on and let it be. As far as my grandparents go, who are still in that doublewide, I’m still not out to them. That’s really rough, because I still like doing all that country shit! Going fishing, and crabbing, and watching fucking bull riding! I did have an emotional conversation with my grandma a couple of years ago where she was like, “Sooo, what’s the deal? Are you a little bit of both?” And I don’t really feel like a little bit of both, but I thought that would help her understand it so I said yes. 

I see you have some cool tattoos, what was the first one and which has the most meaning for you?

The first one I did with a quilting needle and some India ink. I was fourteen at the time and I did this drawing of a mountain range. The one above it, on my knee was done by a coke-addled friend who was trying to reconnect with me. My favorite one was done by friend Raphael and it’s got pretty flowers and says woman along with a trans symbol. 

I think that’s my favorite one too. 

Yeah, I actually often forget that I have them and to be honest, I don’t necessarily like them! But I figure I might as well keep getting them so that I fill up the space instead of just random tats here and there. I’d rather be fully tattooed than just sparsely done. Though if there was a button that I could push and magically get rid of them all, I might do it. Oh, and I also have a big tattoo on my tummy (lifts shirt), it’s a bird’s nest with one lone egg. I got it when I started hormones and knew that it would keep me from having biological babies. It represents the loneliness of that, [laughing], it’s a little melodramatic! 

It’s pretty too. What would your next tattoo be?

I’m obsessed with prehistoric creatures. Not so much dinosaurs, they already get the limelight, but ancient Paleolithic creatures like trilobites or a cute isopod would be nice. 

What book would you like to live in?

Oooh, good one. A controversial pick, I would want to step into Joanna Russ’  book “The Female Man.” Even though the last 1/8 of the book is horribly transphobic, [chuckles] I’d maybe not step into that part, but in the rest of the book she creates the non male utopia of Whileaway, a place where there are no predators, people can walk around naked with no fear of assault. You can be hairy, or have body fat, or facial hair and it’s all accepted. It makes me sad because the women of Whileaway are afforded so many things that the women of Earth don’t have. 

A favorite toy as a kid?

I had this Teddy bear with a blanket for a body, it’s name was Other, or I should say is Other, because it’s still around. My younger brother has it now and it’s disgusting. [Laughing] It’s so gross! It had its ear chewed off by a dog and replaced with some houndstooth cloth and it’s old and stinky now. It’s seen some things, but I love it. 

Let’s give a shout out to your partner. 

I love my partner! He’s amazing, he’s cool, he works at The Wardrobe, and he was in the PGN for it. His name is Bellamy and I was so proud when his little pixelated face was online. I zoomed in on it and took a picture even though you couldn’t even discern if it was a human being at that resolution! It was the background picture on my phone for a while. 

How did you meet?

He posted on his Tinder bio, “Let’s go to a wrestling show”. And I’d thought,

“I REALLY want to go see wrestling. This is my chance.” We went and saw an amazing wrestling match in South Philly. I never expected it to turn into anything, and now we’re inseparable. We even had a really cute Zoom wedding in the summer of 2020. It was not serious or official, but we consider ourselves married. 

Let’s wrap up with a favorite line. 

I’m a religious “Jeopardy” watcher; I tape it every day. Anyway, there was a clue about a Daffy Duck cartoon, “Duck Amuck.” The cartoon just happens to be the inspiration for one of my tattoos. In the cartoon Bugs just really fucks with Daffy, and there’s a line where Daffy is fed up and he sarcastically says, “Thanks for the persimmons cousin!” I was excited when the quote came up on Jeopardy but apparently my partner of 3 years has seen my tattoo numerous times but somehow didn’t know what it was and hadn’t thought to ask me. He thought it was a quote from a book. Nothing that cerebral, it was just a great Looney Tunes moment. 

Well, thanks for taking this moment with me!