Many thanks to the eds! A poem of mine is up at The Puritan!
2019 was a damned exciting year for queer womxn’s TV. Check out what Autostraddle has to say about the best shows.
“This year’s list of top TV shows with LGBTQ women characters have played with form and format, from Fleabag‘s fourth-wall smashing to the drop-dead-dynamic visual style of Euphoria and Dickinson to Russian Doll’s binge-catered loops. Room has been made for stories that aren’t focused on straight cis white people and rooms have been given to the writers best equipped to write them, like on A Black Lady Sketch Show, Vida, Pose and One Day at a Time. We have a record number of shows (17) on this list in which a protagonist or other lead character is queer or trans. Ten of these programs are centered squarely on one or two lesbian or bisexual female leads — a situation that was virtually unheard of five years ago. I’m not talking ensemble shows here where there’s a queer person in a lead ensemble. I’m talking the whole fucking world revolving around her. Her face on every poster. Her name at the top of the credits on imdb. Her Emmy nomination, if she’d ever get one. In some of these, queer love and sex are centered, too and in some of them queer love and sex are centered and the protagonists are actually masculine-of-center: Gentleman Jack and Work-in-Progress. We have two shows with all LGBTQ-ensembles; Pose and The L Word: Generation Q. We are getting somewhere.” -Riese, Autostraddle
I’ve been reading author Carmen Maria Machado’s new memoir ‘In the Dream House’ this week. Luminous, queer, wry, broken–it’s smart and vulherable about IPV in queer relationships. Fragment to fragment, it builds a sharp wounding story.
Some of her anecdotes, though, have been hard on me.
Some anecdotes Carmen described are similar to ones I experienced. In particular, I remember one night where my ex raged and stomped so hard and long that I, terrified, locked myself into my office. This infuriated her and for about 4 hours she pounded the door. That night, I thought she was going to kill me; I didn’t know whether to call 9-1-1 or resist (I’d been warned off it by my lawyer who said the cops wouldn’t support me; in the end, there were about 5 times I needed police or ER help but didn’t call because of that advice). In ‘In the Dream House’ Carmen says that if there had been a gun around, she’d have been killed by it. Me too. I’ve been relieved I lived in Canada, where household guns are rare. That night, I gauged the ridiculous awning windows we’d had put in that opened only about 8″–wondering how I could slither my fat, disabled body out onto the second floor roof. My ex carried on for so long and at such volume, pounding the door, yelling abuse, wheedling, that eventually I had to pee into my coffee cup, and when I did, a pure vein of hatred for her erupted. I had never hated her before. I didn’t again. That’s what Machado understands. She gets it when you are too beaten down for hate. Hate is beside the point. Horror, incredibly sadness, the fall-out of love’s betrayal, the realization you could die–those are what replaces hate. My ex finally stopped trying to pound the door in and things grew quiet, but that was the most ominous thing yet–had she quit? was she waiting until I turned the knob?–and I went back to shaking and waiting, waiting. Waiting for what I didn’t know. Waiting for something to happen.
A few Christmases ago, two fathers in BC killed their families over the holidays. We like to think of familicide as uncommon, but it isn’t. The next fall, I started a book that takes place 10 years after a family homicide. I’ve been considering this novel as my winter rewrite (I work on several). Like Carmen’s book, oddly, it is written in fragments. And it’s illustrated. (Or at least I have envisaged it as such.) I decided to just write a novel I wanted to write (and read). This is how my experimental ‘The Grey Closet’ came to be.
Now I’m going to crawl into bed with the last third of Carmen’s luminescent masterpiece.
…Carmen Maria Machado’s “In the Dream House.” It releases Nov 5. What’s one of our least-discussed social problems? Intimate partner violence in the queer community. We avoid talking about it. We even avoid acknowledging what a problem it is. Everyone understands how fragile queer acceptance is around the world–how can we start saying that our relationships are (in this way) just like straight relationships, subject to domestic violence and rape? So we pretend. When a queer woman assaults another queer woman we know where that’s going to go … right under our big rainbow queer carpet, where we’ll all keep tripping over it, getting up, dusting off our knees and going about our business. What lump under the carpet? What the heck are you talking about?
The offender will not be held to account. The victim will be spurned, just like straight violence survivors often are.
Here is the Publisher’s Weekly starred review of “In the Dream House” in its entirety:
“In this haunting memoir, National Book Award–finalist Machado (Her Body and Other Parties) discusses the mental and physical abuse she was subjected to by her girlfriend. The book is divided into short, piercing chapters, in which Machado refers to the victimized version of herself as “you.” (“I thought you died, but writing this, I’m not sure you did.”) Machado discusses meeting the girlfriend (her first) in Iowa City, where Machado was getting her MFA. She masterfully, slowly introduces unease and dread as the relationship unfolds. The girlfriend turns threatening if Machado doesn’t immediately return her calls, starts pointless fights, and inflicts physical discomfort on Machado (squeezing her arm for no reason, for instance). The hostile environment turns utterly oppressive, yet Machado stays, becoming further disoriented by someone who inflicts harm one minute and declares her love the next. Machado interestingly weaves in cultural references (to movies like 1944’s Gaslight and 1984’s Carmen) as she considers portrayals of abuse. She points out that queer women endure abuse in their relationships just as heterosexual women do, and queer abusers shouldn’t be protected: “We deserve to have our wrongdoing represented.” The author eventually leaves her toxic relationship behind, but scars remain. Machado has written an affecting, chilling memoir about domestic abuse. (Nov.)”
I have my own stake in the topic. I was battered in a long-term queer relationship. A few years later, I was raped in another. Once, I tried to get enough submissions to edit an anthology of essays about queer IPV, but there weren’t enough writers. Still, that was how I was introduced to Carmen Maria Machado’s fine writing. Now you can be, too, and you can stop to think about how her writing represents all the rest of us who’ve experienced domestic terrorism in our partnerships and marriages. Now we know. So let’s work on effectively dealing with it.
Have you, like me, been frustrated by short, short readings, authors who read 2-5 minutes from their work? They may answer some questions afterwards, or give over the mic to a new reader, but the new reader, too, will read for just a minute or two.
The DAISSI Queer Reading Series on Salt Spring Island takes aim at short readings, giving a single author an hour or longer to read what they really want to read. The time can be formatted however the author pleases. They can read one story, or read from multiple books, or have an interview format Q+A with me (or someone else), or an audience Q+A. Really, they can do whatever they want.
Lydia Kwa came from Vancouver to give us the most thoughtful, engaged reading in June, and Anne Fleming came from Victoria just last Saturday night, thrilling audience members and sending us all scurrying to the book table. Each author was able to use the hour to display the range of their work, and we, the lucky listeners, basked.
Readings used to be like this when I started out. It was not strange to have 1.5 hour single-author readings, with a 40-minute essay or story, a break, and then another 40-minute session. Though it can be agony if you’re not keen on someone’s work, it’s a dream come true when you are.
Upcoming authors scheduled so far:
November: Arleen Paré
January: Amber Dawn
March: Maureen Hynes
April: Danny Ramadan
Stay turned for more info! Thanks to co-producer Salt Spring Public Library!
If you were gay, you’d realize that 99.99% of life is compulsory heterosexuality. By this I mean the art is straight, the stores are straight, the conversation in the supermarket is straight, the books on the shelves are straight, and straight people are everywhere you look. Everywhere you look, involved with themselves and not even noticing all the people they leave out. I don’t think straight people have a clue how exhausting their heterosexuality pressing, pressing, pressing against us is.
Next week is Pride week in the pokey little town where I live, and for a few days this year, not everything will be straight. People on the island will see gay people and gay symbols first, almost everywhere they go. We will even, finally, have our first, albeit temporary, pride crosswalk! (HUGE VOTE FOR A PERMANENT ONE. KEEP OUR QUEER CHILDREN SAFE!) Some will be revolted. Some will want to gawk. Some will be loud and proud allies. Loads will ignore the festivities altogether. But there you are. It’s a week of largely volunteer-run activities put on by DAISSI (Diverse and Inclusive Salt Spring Island … more details on FB), and if you live near Salt Spring Island you can join in the fun. We have a queer art show, the launch of a new play, karaoke, a poetry open mic, some religious services, a parade, a party in the park, a dance starring Queer as Funk, a brunch, a hike, a reading by famous author Anne Fleming.
Sept 3-Sept 14, 2019. The parade and dance are Sept 7. Full information on DAISSI’s FB page.
Toni Morrison towered over literature. Though older than me by a generation, her early novels became my lodestones, magnets pointing me toward a new kind of literature. Her writing cracked open a world I hadn’t read on the page before, a vibrant world where Black women were accorded center stage, absent “the white gaze.” I knew how corrosive the white gaze could be from going to school in the Bahamas, and how complete, complex and nuanced were the worlds beyond its acid brow.
“Beloved” eventually became my most cherished title.
I started writing in about 1985 as an out lesbian, using mostly male protagonists. I snuck one story with lesbians into my first collection, a story about two women and their adopted autistic child. My second story collection had lots of queer protagonists, and my second poetry collection was all queer. By the time I wrote those books, I was done pretending just to get published. I understood that I’d been pandering (to use Claire Vaye Watkins’ word), though all the while I had been reaching for something else, the bravery to make up tales my way, from a queer gaze, a non-binary gaze, a disabled gaze, and to insist that mainstream Canada hear me. I honed my skills so that they would have to listen. When they wouldn’t, I submitted to literary awards, and I won contests.
That never translated, for me, into publishing contracts, and so, broken-hearted, I distanced myself. I’m sorry to have to say that we have a long way to go in Canada before parity for queers is reached.
I loved Toni Morrison, and I loved her writing, and the lessons of her writing resound with me even today. I’m grateful her literature is available to us all, and particularly grateful it and she stood as beacon and exemplar for generations of Black womxn. I’m going to be doing what many people around the world are doing now, reading her novels again, reading The Bluest Eye, Jazz, Song of Soloman, letting her literature soak back into me with all its strength and wisdom.
A white person, even one marginalized, cannot begin to understand the meaning of Toni Morrison to Black womxn. Here is a link to a touching and important eulogy by Dr Roxane Gay, NY Times. The Legacy of Toni Morrison.
At Medium, the Zora team has re-printed Toni Morrison: In Her Own Words; Cinderella’s Stepsisters, her commencement address to the Barnard graduating class of ’79.
I’m happy to say I have an essay coming out in this fall collection on disability. You can pre-order now. Here is the link to the book at Amazon.ca. Here is the link for Amazon.com. Here is the Publisher’s Weekly review:
“In this exquisite collection drawn from the Times essays series started in 2016, disability is, refreshingly, seen as a part of daily life, even as the contributors discuss facing a “world that does not expect us and is often not made for us.” Ona Gritz, who has right hemiplegia, a form of cerebral palsy, recalls asking a literary agent who suggested she write a memoir, “Would I have to be disabled on every page?” Coeditor Garland-Thomson, having learning her asymmetrical hands and forearms are caused by complex syndactyly, an exceptionally rare genetic condition, no longer feels like an “orphan” but part of a “world of disability pride and advocacy.” Similarly, the late Oliver Sacks finds value in his disability, an increasing loss of hearing, enjoying how “in the realm of mishearing… a biography of cancer can become a biography of Cantor (one of my favorite mathematicians)… and mere mention of Christmas Eve a command to ‘Kiss my feet!’ ” The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act comes up often throughout, making fully clear the turning point it represented. Demonstrating, above all, the value of persistence, Catapano and Garland-Thomson’s anthology merits a spot on everyone’s reading list for its brilliant assemblage of voices and stories. (Sept.)” Publisher’s Weekly
Kirkus Review calls it “A rich, moving collection.”
I’m moving some of my essays onto Medium for your reading pleasure! Here’s what’s there so far:
The Pleasure Scale, Gay Magazine, about how, as a near shut-in, I find pleasure
The Preludes to Assault, about a short encounter with Jian Ghomeshi, and sexual violence
The Nothing Between Your Legs, about my non-binary life as a girl in the 1950s; first published in Autostraddle
A Night of Art and Anti-Art, about a walk on beach one evening with Liz
“The Pleasure Scale,” my contemplation on disability, pleasure and pain, is up today at Gay Magazine. Be forewarned that it is sexually explicit.
I realize there’s so much more to be said about pleasure, mine, and, of course, that found by others.
“I want to feel my body opening in the way it can open, like it is split, and is yawning in two pieces like a knifed watermelon, when it can take not only a fist but a globe, it can take every war, every famine, every mining disaster, every broken child behind bars, every river of tainted water into itself and it can turn water clear and take the broken children onto its lap and cause weapons to be laid down and corpses to rise and people to laugh again.”
republication: first published here in 2014
I was at Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta with my friend M-E in October as it rounded towards November. Delicious place to spot wild birds, from Bohemian waxwings to Harlequin ducks. I had decanted seed into baggies, some kind of major success to even have remembered to bring it. The leaves were changing in spectacular, eastern ways because of our dry sunshiny October. We had yellows, we had oranges, we had reds. Since photosynthesis had shut down, the anthocyanins in each leaf stirred to protect the trees from sunshine.
M-E and I stood watching 3 Lesser Sandhill Cranes do very little, their orange eyes reptilian and attentive, on the lookout for bugs. One would move forward on Pick-Up Stick legs and knobby dinosaur-skinned knees to peck in the dirt. Its tutu tail feathers would shake. Its knees, I noticed, were knobby; the skin thick and scaly, dinosaur-ish.
How to tear myself away even when M-E was showing signs of boredom?
I thought of how long Sandhill Cranes had been on Earth—according to fossil evidence, at least 10 million years. They had red topknots and white cheeks, but who knows why. They only weighed about ten pounds, but were still among the biggest, and most beautiful, of uncommon birds.
Uncommon, I mean, relative to Chickadees and Bushtits, ducks and coots. Uncommon relative to starlings or crows.
I considered the woodpecker’s long tongue which curved around its entire head, wrapping even its brain; I thought of how birds had hollow bones, and many air pockets for flight. I had held two dead Yellow Finches in my hands just months earlier, victims of my cat, their bodies still warm, their heads lolling; I knew how deceptively light a bird was. (How big a cat bell really needed to be.) How my cat really needed to say indoors.
M-E and I moved along to watch catfish circle through slurry water, fins brown and slick. It was them or the ducks for the birdseed we threw.
We strolled along a pathway in dappled light, birdhouses and feeders nailed to the trees, Red-winged Blackbirds winging down and zipping gone. I admired the light, the leaves, the red fields, the sunshine and shadows on the lumps of the tilled farmers’ rows. Geese with black-tipped wings looked like hundreds of unmelting snowballs as they squabbled in the muck..
When I thought of birds dying, I always thought of the National Geographic article by Jonathan Franzen about the plight of songbirds in Europe and across northern Africa (Franzen article). I thought of the extraordinary video by photographer David Guttenfelder of Warblers caught on sticky lime sticks. Hunters trap Ortolan Buntings, a delicacy in France, and Quail and Turtledoves, and Cranes and Golden Orioles. In Cypress, a dish called Ambelopoulia calls for European Robins and Blackcaps; each songbird nets two bites.
All these birds have long migrations. Exhausted and depleted, perhaps after crossing the Mediterranean, they require rest and food, but hunters lie in wait with trap sticks, nets or guns. Capturing songbirds has a long history, Franzen tells us, and is even referenced in the bible, but today the practice (with the help of population surges and technology) has grown epic and is decimating populations.
Happily, here, in the reserve, we revered songbirds. Instead of eating them, we fed them.
When I thought of birds living, my heart filled. Now a couple passed us sunflower seeds.
M-E and I stood with our arms extended, our hands now buckets for black seeds. The birds, small and frenzied, flitted through the shrubbery, chattering to each other, considering the lures. They did well to be suspicious.
A little girl, perhaps four, perhaps five, watched us. I thought she was going to say something about birds, but instead she just elbowed her friend. “I’ve spent all day with you,” she told her, her face drawn and worn.
The friend had curly hair which frizzed around her head with the sun shining through it. She ran her hand up and down the front of her brown jacket. From her cuffs dangled blue mittens she didn’t need. “I don’t know,” she answered, perplexed.
In the bushes, three Chickadees hopped from branch to branch, assessing the sudden windfall.
M-E’s hand shook a little from the effort of keeping it still.
The original girl said, “You have to give me that … I’ve spent all day with you, since morning.”
The friend slowly nodded. “All right,” she said.
The first Chickadee landed on the side of my palm, grabbed a seed and winged away.
“That bird,” said the friend, pointing. “I like that bird.”
I said to her, in wonder, “It felt like a whisper.” I talked gently for a minute about how they wore black caps—did she think they only wore them in the winter, like people might?
The first girl looked up at me, her face knitted into a grown-up expression of irritation.
A Chickadee landed on M-E. Rotund, it hopped down her arm. She giggled like someone very young, and I photographed it.
The second girl extended her hand to me and into it, I tipped out some of my seed. She held out her arm; I saw that her eyes were wet, a tear trembling just in the center of her bottom left lid.
“Just wait,” a woman said. “Just stay very still, Margo.”
The first girl frowned. Her hair switched like a horse’s tail. Finally she hit the second girl’s arm, scattering the bird seed. She put her diminutive hands on her hips and said, “Margo, listen to me. I’m trying to say that it’s time I saw other friends.”
The tear fell to Margo’s cheek and slid down her young skin while her mouth shaped an “O.” For a second, that tear was everything, and I watched it while Chickadees landed in my hand, their claws like the tiniest tap shoes. Margo crouched down, wounded, something caught in a trap, and clamped her hands over her ears.
We all noticed the hush. The dees suddenly made themselves scarce; Margo looked up. Above the farmer’s field, a Cooper’s Hawk circled; from where we stood, it looked speckish and dull and no threat. But a din broke out as the field of migratory geese lifted. The sky turned white above us, as if we’d been caught in a snow globe. All the alarm honks, all the 54-inch black-tipped wingspans flapping at once, was overwhelming, and sounded first like an accident, a multi-vehicle pile-up, and then exactly like a train barreling towards us and about to run us down.
Run! came the primeval urge. But only small Margo actually did and what she was running from was anyone’s guess.
“It’s just birds!” I yelled, but she couldn’t have heard me.
Over in Europe, maybe right then, robins, orioles, warblers were stuck on sap traps, every movement towards freedom ensnaring them.
The sound of their wings as they struggled.
The snow geese above us.
Fat-bellied Chickadees. Long-necked Cranes. Slick-finned catfish. A little girl’s friendship ending.
A sunshine-doused day in the bird sanctuary.
Roxane Gay, author of “Bad Feminist” and all-around bad-ass role model and social activist, has started up Gay Magazine at Medium! The first issue, on the topic of pleasure, launches in June.
For those of you who haven’t heard the good news, my own essay, provisionally titled “The Pleasure Scale” is going to be included, although I haven’t heard in what issue yet.
Last year, she put together a month-long magazine at Medium, called Unruly Bodies, full of stunning essays I urge you to read.
What Fullness Is, Roxane Gay
Hysterical!, Samantha Irby
What Love Is, Randa Jarrar
Unruly, Adjective, Carmen Maria Machado
There are more, every one of them as good as the last, but these are some of my favourites. I re-read “What Fullness Is” a week ago or so, and loved it even more than I did last year.
The World Trade Center burns
We all want to know how to handle the horror that is, it seems, always around us now, haunting us all like a shadow we can’t shake. Poet (and director of the NYU Creative Writing Program) Deborah Landau has been thinking and writing about terror, and terrorism, and how to live in our unsafe world, for her new book.
“That Tuesday morning,” writes Fran Bigman, “September 11, Landau told me, she was pregnant with her second child and dropping her three-year-old son off at nursery school downtown; they were on a bus and people started screaming, and they saw a plane hit the tower. Scenes of disaster, both remembered and imagined, run through her head, but she isn’t a narrative poet who retells a story. “I am not a depicter, not any more. I’m never writing about something,” she tells me, “I’m always writing out of something—or into something.”
“Landau finished these poems, which make up Soft Targets [her upcoming collection], after the attack on Bastille Day 2016, in an intense 12-day burst—not her usual working method. These are poems for a world in which there is no safety. It opens with Landau’s fears for herself, familiar fears. But then the poem rushes outward—we, the innocent, are soft targets, but even bin Laden was a soft target to his attackers. The poems in Soft Targets keep sweeping outward, dizzyingly, from the intimacy of Landau and her “you” to the entire city to the entire world. Another of the book’s early poems follows this same trajectory:
I’m a soft target, you’re a soft target
and the city has a hundred hundred thousand softs;
the pervious skin, the softness of the face
the wrist inners, the hips, the lips, the tongue,
the global body,
its infinite permutable softnesses—”