January 19, 2015

Tangentially yours - Jacob Wren & Todd Lester in conversation, #2


Read the first letter: Tangentially yours —Jacob Wren & Todd Lester in conversation, #1

Dear Todd,

Wow, you’ve managed to raise a series of questions and complexes that I literally know almost nothing about. There are many, many things I know almost nothing about, so this is not particularly surprising. What is surprising (to me at least) is that I’m now considering writing something on these topics and posting it on the internet.

I spent almost two weeks reading article after article on the Charlie Hebdo situation and could not quite get my thinking around it completely clear. (I did post a very quick thought about it.) But after reading all those articles I started asking myself a different set of questions. Why was I reading all these articles? What did it matter if I had a complex enough understanding of the situation and what did it matter whether my opinions around the questions raised were correct? Did I simply want to add my perspective to the endless opinion machine that is the internet and if so towards what end?

I then had a different kind of thought: what if tomorrow there was a moratorium on white people writing about Charlie Hebdo? What if suddenly every last sentence one could read about it was written by a person of colour or by someone from a different cultural community? How would the discourse change? I don’t mean this would be a solution to anything. Absolutely anyone is equally capable of being wrong about anything. But I am certain that the conversations would have a substantially different texture and feel. It would simply be a different conversation.

The dominant voices establish so much not only in what is said but in how it is said. They are like the polluted air we read about in pollution warnings but on a daily basis often forget we are breathing.

One of the reasons I read so many articles about Charlie Hebdo is I am completely, completely addicted to Facebook. I am very worried about this addiction because in so many ways it has taken over my life, altered how I see the world. I have less and less real life interactions with people, and since I have always found interacting with people difficult I am frightened to the degree in which this reduction feels like a relief. I mostly have Facebook ‘friends’ I have never met in real life. One of these individuals recently wrote to me that it was great to been in touch with another queer writer. I wrote back saying that unfortunately I had to admit I was a straight white male. (Perhaps many people think I’m queer these days because there’s queer content in my most recent book Polyamorous Love Song.) I don’t think I’ve ever publicly written that I’m a straight white male anywhere before and I honestly don’t like doing so now. Since queer is such an open category, I could simply claim it for myself but I feel, in doing do, I would be claiming a kind of artistic cultural capital that I’m pretty sure I haven’t earned.

A few minutes ago I posted this quote from an interview with Jackie Wang:
Perversion is probably more important to me than “orientation.” I’m certainly not a purist when it comes to identity but I do want “queer” to retain its freakish and non-normative edge, and for people to back their aesthetic commitments by embodying that commitment in how they lives their lives. Normal people who write weird shit disappoint me hahahaha.
I posted it because I suddenly felt it was about me. I am a ‘normal’ person who writes weird shit. But I’m not sure anyone who knows me would really say I’m normal. I’ve spent most of my life trying to be anything but normal. I certainly feel extremely queer positive and feel a deep love for queer art and politics. Maybe already I’ve gotten a bit lost.

I’m trying to come back around to that Charlie Hebdo image of a male staffer with a pencil behind his ear and a Muslim man  kissing. The first moment I saw it my very first thought was ‘this is a homophobic cartoon.’ Then I immediately asked myself: How do I know that? Would it make any difference if it was drawn by a gay man or if it was in a queer publication? Can I trust my gut instincts or do I need to know more?

I was sure there was a way for to me to come back around to rape as a war crime and homophobia in other countries, how these things might relate to any given foreign policy. But maybe there’s not. I can’t get past the feeling that my (not well enough informed) thoughts on these matters won’t change anything. But then what will?

I think the main way my thinking has changed in the past few years is I’ve become more and more aware of the degree to which racism is the gasoline of imperialist capitalism. Norway also has oil but if the U.S. were to start bombing Norway I believe the outcry would be much greater. I know I’m not saying anything new but I feel I need to work so much harder to honesty feel this reality. And also to imagine other possibilities.

In the end I fear I’ve avoided writing too much about the things I know nothing about. I’m not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing. Writing is strange.



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