Myriam Gurba, a spoken-word performer, visual artist and writer, had an isolating, at times traumatic adolescence. But as her new memoir, Mean, proves, she’s one of those people with an innate ability to take everything bad and turn it into something beautiful, even funny.
In poems, prose, news reports and lists, Gurba, a mixed-race Chicana from California, recounts being intensely aware of prejudice—both intentional and not—from a young age. Like, for example, when a white friend’s mom prepared a “Mexican” casserole, as if coding dinner with a nationality would be endearing. This sense of otherness was magnified when Gurba discovered, at age eight, that she was queer.
Throughout, she looks back on the tragedies of her life—from being sexually assaulted to watching her sister struggle with anorexia. But most things come with a side of dark humor. The assault is mitigated by the fact that she was wearing her “period underwear.” Later, as an adult visiting the Supreme Court, she jokes about wanting to split a can of Coke with Clarence Thomas.
Moreover, as she sees it, being “mean” is actually a way to speak to both humor and pain, a tiny act of rebellion against racism, misogyny and homophobia. “We act mean to defend our clubs and institutions. We act mean because we like to laugh. Being mean to boys is fun and a second-wave feminist duty. Being mean to men who deserve it is a holy mission. Sisterhood is powerful, but being mean is more exhilarating.”
To which we say: Bring on the mean girls.