Xandra Ibarra/La Chica Boom On Lesbionic Men, Boob Juice & Cockroaches

When you watch Xandra Ibarra/La Chica Boom perform you know that you are witnessing a spectacle (or as she would call it, a “spictacle”) unprecedented in terms of its grandiosity, brilliance, and perversity. Chica Boom will be reading at the Banned Book Book Club: Sex Edition at the Center for Sex & Culture on December 12 at 8pm. We asked Chica Boom some questions about her influences, fantasy date and advice for artists. Here’s what she said:

Who influences your work? 

I am influenced by everything. Maybe I am gullible; maybe I let in too much. Don’t care. I am influenced by my mom’s humor, the mushroom jazz in my panties, the interactions between animals, ‘Nordic track’ behavior, the catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and the rigor of cockroaches. Ugly things, color, sound, movement and lots and lots of feelings influence me. My zodiac sign is cancer; yup I feel, I feel you, but mostly I feel me. I am also influenced by my own obsessions whether they make sense or not. I perform them, photograph them, act them out or seek to experience them in some way or another. Fortunately or unfortunately my obsessions are always about sex and race and the multitude of ways that these two things work. I imagine the ways they work together in an alternate universe. I make boob juice or agua calientes, have you heard?

You get to have an epic dream date with anyone dead or alive: who are they and where do you go on your date?  

I would meet a 35-year-old Lacan in Mexico City at a dirty strip club called “Wawis” in the 1920s in the early afternoon. We would tip the dancers too much and get drunk. Then we would go drunk shopping for plants and street food to put in our new apartment. You see, he would become a lesbionic man and want to u-haul into my life. I would like it. He would love it.

One piece of advice you want to share with artists – about life, bills, process, editing, brainstorming, anything.

Being broke sucks. Learn to do lots of things porque nunca sabes cuando lo vas a necesitar.

Xandra Ibarra/La Chica Boom is an Oakland-based performance and video artist from the El Paso/Juarez border who performs and works under the alias of La Chica Boom. La Chica Boom is a performance art project that uses hyper-raciality/sexuality/gender as an expericne based mode of inquiry into her relationship with coloniality, compulsory whiteness and Mexicanidad. Ibarra uses video, objects, photography and sex acts to evoke comedy and melancholic racial and sexual expectation. Her aim is to amplify gendered and racialized iconography and make such problematic constructions via spectacle more transparent to the spectator‚—what she calls spictacles—spectacles of degeneracy and power that are both against and engaged in the colonial gaze.

James Tracy on Octavia Butler, SF Displacement & Being an Urbanist Not a Luddite

We chatted with James Tracy, author of  “Dispatches Against Displacement: Field Notes From San Francisco’s Housing Wars,” a bunch of personal questions and here’s what he said. He will be reading at the San Francisco Public Library (100 Larkin Street) on Tuesday, November 4 for the Radar Reading Series. Click here for the Facebook event page.  

Who influences you & your work? 
 Even though I don’t write Science Fiction, writers like Ray Bradbury and Octavia Butler really helped shape my moral compass and concern for what is going to happen in the future. I also love the 1970s school of blue-collar tough-as nails newspaper columnists such as Jimmy Breslin and Mike Royko. For Dispatches Against Displacement, I turned to the school of radical and progressive urbanism, Mike Davis, Saskia Sassen and Andy Merrifeld to name a few. Rebecca Solnit’s masterpiece A Paradise Built in Hell was really inspirational in the way that it showed how everyday people faced down disaster. The everyday disaster of displacement can bring out some similar strengths.
Many of the authors who most influenced me were the ones running around San Francisco in the 1990s, who were part of the open-mic scenes at the Paradise Lounge and Chameleon. To name just a few: Michelle Tea, Ananda Esteva, Bucky Sinister, Bruce Jackson, Daphne Gottlieb, and Leroy Moore. Most of these people wouldn’t be able to get a start in San Francisco today thanks to the high rents.
Is the internet ruining the world? Why or why not. 
The way we use the internet is ruining the world. Today, you can use it to learn a new language for free, communicate with people across the globe, and publicize your revolution. But we chose to use it to stay in tightly knit thought bubbles. Comments without analysis and actions without strategy. We let ourselves think that online petitions are a substitute for face to face mobilization with our neighbors.
Yes, the tech industry with its massive income inequality,selfish ideology, and ties to the surveillance state are a massive part of the problem with the world. But like any industry, the trick is to try to seize the means of production, democratize it and place it in the service of everyday people.
I’m an urbanist, not a luddite.
What’s one piece of advice you want to share with artists – about life, bills, process, editing, brainstorming, anything?
You’re never too good a writer that you don’t need an editor.

Jandy Nelson & Ebin Lee On Pizza at Eddies, Writing Like Yourself &Taking the Peanut Butter Out of the Fridge

We chatted with Jandy Nelson, author of I’ll Give You the Sun, and Ebin Lee, illustrator/poster artist, a bunch of personal questions and here’s what they said. They will be reading at the San Francisco Public Library (100 Larkin Street) on Tuesday, November 4 for the Radar Reading Series. Click here for the Facebook event page.  

 

 

 

 

JANDY NELSON

Tell us something that challenged you in your last project.

The structure of I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN really challenged me, sending me off a cliff many times. It’s the story of these twins who’ve always been inseparable until tragedy strikes and rips them apart. And it’s also a tapestry of all these interweaving love stories: romantic ones: both gay and straight, complicated familial ones between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, the dead and the living, artists and their art. The story is full of secrets and lies and betrayals and it’s also kind of a mystery. All the different webbing narrative elements and intricacies of the story really overwhelmed me at first–I felt like it was way way bigger than my ability. I knew I wanted it to be braid, knew I wanted to tell the story in the dueling points of view of the twins, from Noah’s perspective when the twins are 13, and Jude’s when they’re sixteen after the events that divide them. I finally realized the only way for me to write the novel was to write three novels so I wrote Noah’s story start to finish, then Jude’s story start to finish (which took over 2 1/2 years!) then spent a year weaving their stories together which was like writing a whole new novel. It was intense–the whole process took almost 4 years.

Describe your perfect meal.

My perfect meal is a picnic by a river in the hot sun with all my closest friends/family, both living and dead: crusty bread, this life-changing cheese I just discovered called Bonne Bouche, tons of finger foods prepared by Thomas Keller and then dark chocolate  truffles, all of it served with tons of Chateauneuf du pape and champagne.

Do you have a piece of killer advice for artists?

Don’t put peanut butter in the refrigerator. I just learned this and it’s been such a revelation!. Also, in terms of writing the best advice I ever got by far was this totally simple and obvious idea: Be yourself in your writing–get your personality on the page. Own your myths, monsters, and miracles. It doesn’t mean you need to write about yourself, just write like yourself. Like Oscar Wilde says, “Be yourself: everyone else is already taken.” This advice absolutely changed writing-life.

 






 


EBIN LEE

Besides “artist,” talk about another identity that matters to you. 

My identity as Black kind of encompasses everything about me.

You get to have an epic dream date with anyone dead or alive: who are they and where do you go on your date? 

My dream date would be with Neicy Nash. If i didn’t pass out from sheer excitement/nerves at the news that Queen Neicy accepted my date request, I’d take her for pizza at Eddies on Killingsworth (In Portland) and then after we would sip wine sprtizers and watch re-runs of Clean House.

What advice do you have for other artists?

Make tons of embarrassing drawings.

 

Mimi Nguyen On Epic Dream Dates with Keanu Reeves, Tenure & Obscurantist Labor

Mimi will be reading at the November 4 Radar Reading Series at the San Francisco Public Library. We asked her some questions about dating, writing and advice for artists. 

 

Tell us about something that challenged you during your last (or a current) project. 

The worst thing about writing the first book (The Gift of Freedom) was that I had to finish it according to an external deadline – tenure. At some point I found I wasn’t writing to answer a question about liberal empire, or to close the circle of the argument, but to meet an institutional metric for a “productive” scholar. And even though I was writing with friends confronting the same metric –we would literally sit in a room together and write for hours, next to one another, chatting about a sentence one minute and leading each other through some stretches another—it was still an incredibly isolating experience.

The moment I remembered that I had an intensely satisfying creative and intellectual life long before I came to the academy was transformative. A feminist literary scholar named Janice Radway came to my campus and in a lecture discussed my work as a zinester (with particular reference to the Race Riot compilations, and feminist critical theory in my zines) and its relationship to my scholarship now. I had been feeling so under seige on the tenure track that I cried for a few days afterward, because I understood so acutely what I had been missing for the last few years – which was writing to the question, for the argument, and of course, for myself.

 

You get to have an epic dream date with anyone dead or alive: who are they and where do you go on your date? 

My friends reading this would know it’s a lie if I chose anyone but Keanu Reeves. That said, I have no idea what an “epic dream date” would be, and having only been on a few “proper” dates, and it seems like it would be awkward to go on a grown-up, straight-person date with Keanu Reeves.

But pretending as if this isn’t the most awkward question, we could just go to a punk show on his motorcycle (or if he still has access to that time-traveling telephone booth, we could take the booth to the Hong Kong Café to see The Bags or The Go-Go’s in 1979), and then spend a few hours going through the boxes of zines and records in my living room I haven’t made time to read or listen to yet. After that, we could choreograph a mash-up of a movie-fu fight with Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” dance and put it on YouTube as a performance piece. I hope he kept his sleeveless denim jacket from River’s Edge, because I would wear the crap out of it in the video. (Also I would be wearing Madonna’s boots from Desperately Seeking Susan, since those are the most epic shoes.) And then we could make a 24-hour zine about making art and getting older, and I could impress him with my carefully hoarded Letraset collection.

I should note that I am answering these questions with a cold fogging my brain. The other night, while otherwise wiped out on Advil, I randomly started a site to archive all the responses to Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety, or The Marvelous Sugar Baby.” I am totally a good time, Keanu.

 

Give us one piece of advice you want to share with artists – about life, bills, process, editing, brainstorming, anything.

I don’t have advice as much as I have “random questions about the nature of work.” How do we reproduce troubling measures of civic and capitalist productivity through binaries of activity/passivity in our cultural work? How do we evaluate an artistic process or object or experience? Through what measures of value, accountability – and to whom? As a scholar, I hear from both administrators and activists that the intellectual labor I do “should” yield concrete outcomes – whether in publications or grants, or in something measurable as “social change.” I worry about what these utilitarian (and sometimes authoritarian) demands mean for us, especially because I want to hold out a place for creative and intellectual labors that are slow to unfurl, or otherwise appear to the efficacious eye as useless, obscurantist, impractical, marginal, or wholly unproductive.

 

‘So, What’s Your Book About?’: ANN FRIEDMAN + THOMAS MCBEE in Conversation

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Ann Friedman:  One thing I think about a lot is, how do you take a complex project that you’ve poured so much of yourself into and distill it down when people ask you, ‘So, what’s your book about?’ I was going to ask for your elevator speech, or your pitch.

Thomas Page McBee: Oh no! I’m really bad at saying what my book is about actually. What I usually say is something like, ‘It’s a memoir about two traumas that happened at different points in my life and how the second trauma led me to figure out a lot about who I was.’ That’s like my most blanket sort of statement. And depending on the company, because it’s so heavy to describe it, depending on how much people want to know, I’ll usually start talking about how it’s about masculinity and how I transitioned and what I learned about being a man from living in a world where being a man can mean a lot of different things and a lot those things aren’t so good. How I sort of came into my own understanding of what masculinity was. The transition isn’t so much about a transition and gender as much as understanding how to be my own person in the world, which is a pretty universal transition I think most of us make in our late twenties. So, that is my broad attempt. But I’m still am so not good at it.

AF: Are you bracing yourself for people being like ‘It’s a trans memoir!’ Or something totally reductive like that?

TPM: You know what’s interesting is I think that anyone who’s read it so far that I’ve talked to have not said that at all, which has been really cool. The whole point of the book was to make something that was about an experience I had about gender, but again, I’m a universalist. The material of my life is kind of material that people have made sort of ‘othering’ and I hate that because I try really hard not to ‘other’ anyone else so, I was really trying to make a book that was about how my experience wasn’t radically different than anyone else. And I’m kind of very bored by.. I think identity politics are great of course to talk about power and how we all fit within the structure and oppression and all these things, but I’m just much more interested in like you know . . . how to translate experiences that might feel to somebody else like something they don’t know a lot about, and how similar our lives really are to each other. I mean that’s what I like at a party and that’s what the book was supposed to be, too. And so far I think people who have read the book have that reaction to it, which is really great. I’m so excited about how it’s landing, and I haven’t had a lot of experience yet with people who haven’t read it telling me what it’s about. But I imagine that’s sort of like when you write for new media and you go online and people just read the headline and then comment – you just sort of disregard. That’s not a useful place from which to engage from.

AF: It’s funny too, because I wonder if you feel this way as well. But sometimes I think about like, the idea of wanting to respect a different experience – of gender identity, for example – as also being an alienating thing. Like, I think about what it means to be a woman in my body, like, everyday. And I obviously understand that there are different, – you’re right – like, structures to that. Did you see the memoir as a salvo in that conversation? Sort of being like ‘Well, I’m just going to tell the story as it happened,’ and not write like ‘ . . .and here’s how it fits into power structures’?

TPM: Yeah. I mean, I guess it’s more like what you just said about your gender – I think we all have a gender and I think there’s a nuance to all of this. I think we all have a gender and I hope that when I write things about gender people realize just that. That alone is such an issue for so many people who aren’t trans or who aren’t women, that that can make a huge difference in how we treat each other and I like making it visible that gender affects how we are in the world and how we treat each other. So, I think that that sort of thing is really important and I hope that when I write anything that that comes through. But I also -  it’s not typical that I go ‘well screw all of this I’m just writing my own story that has no relationship to any reality except for the people closest to me’ or something. I get that if it fits a larger dialogue and I like that. When I was first transitioning I started writing so much about it because I really didn’t see myself in the typical sort of transition narrative, which is pretty medicalized. It’s like, “I was born in the wrong body. I just want someone else to fix my body so that I can be normal.”  I just didn’t feel that way.

AF: Right. There’s very much like a wrong and right narrative.

TPM: Yeah, exactly.

AF: It’s it’s about people like getting “right” whatever that means.

TPM: Right, well a lot of it is about getting medicine. When you don’t know how to explain what’s going on with you and you need it to be a simple process so that the people who have the hormones can say ‘Here,’ -  you know, ‘You’re officially mentally ill and these will help make you right again.’ I think we all have different opinions and I don’t know anyone else’s sense of identity. I think everyone’s valid, but for me I just felt like that just didn’t feel like the right way to be embarking on this huge change. I just didn’t think there was something wrong with me. I was just different. So I was really interested in like, is there someway to communicate the sort of complexity and nuances of being this particular person in this particular body and will that hopefully maybe help people see that there are a lot of different ways to be any gender. Including whatever gender they are. So that’s sort of what I was attempting to do. I hope it kind of got there.

AF: I found myself wondering, at what point did you know or think that you were going to write a memoir?

TPM: What’s funny is that I was trying to write a book for a really long time and it was sort of evolving as my life was evolving. So for years and years I was trying to write a collection of essays that were just sort of about gender. They were about gender but they were about a lot of different things that just sort of became the theme of the book, but it wasn’t really working. I was trying to write about violence, I was trying to write about masculinity and like family and they were all these little vignettes and they weren’t really working. Then I was mugged in this sort of horrific way and it just, I don’t know what happened. My life really came together in a new way and I think that the book just sort of came from that life moment coalescing into something that made everything make sense up until that point. So it’s kind of a spiritual thing for me. I was living my life, I was trying to write about my life and I wasn’t able to do it in a way that had any coherence, and this terrible thing happened but it was very clarifying and that’s the only way I usually describe the book is that trauma and the way we react to trauma doesn’t have to be – it can be surprising, you know? It doesn’t have to be wholly negative.

AF: Right, and so it was after getting mugged that you were like ‘Oh, I have some perspective that I’ve been looking for about how to talk about all these things that I was maybe treating as disparate or separate sort points of inquiry or stories to tell.’ Were you  like ‘Oh, I see how it fits now’ or was it a slow revelation?

TPM: It was sort of like, my writing life and my life life are really not separated at all. I think what it was is that what I was trying to do up until that point was to sort of skew a narrative that wasn’t necessarily my own onto my life. It was a lot of other people’s narratives, it was the narrative I grew up with in my family, it was the narrative of my culture. Everyone around me it was sort of ‘here’s how life works, here’s who I am in the world’ but it was always a translation of someone else. And I think this thing happened, and what was so powerful to me about it was that my body knew how to take care of itself in that sort of scenario. Like, I knew how to run away. I had a very physical reaction that was, I later learned, symptomatic of trauma, and that when you run the reason why you don’t get PTSD is you release all these chemicals and they get back into the mold of, you know, “the herd” or whatever, and there are another set of chemicals that are basically self-soothing. So, I guess there were moments right after that happened when I got really interested in like, ‘Why was I able to feel okay after everything that happened?’ And, ‘What made it so different than the original scary things that happened to me?’ and my own reaction. The answer I kept landing on was ‘Well I’m an adult, I can take care of myself.’ And I actually am telling myself my own story about what is happening. No one else is translating it for me and it’s only me who can actually tell the story of my life and myself, and you can be the person believing this narrative. So it’s kind of like this huge epiphany. I’d been writing a book, so I was like, ‘I think I’ll just take this idea and my own sense of narrative and like write a book from that place,’ and that was the first time in my life I’d done that and that lead to a lot of things including my transition.

AF: It’s interesting, too – I know you’ve written a lot about risk as it relates to lots of different things, but it seems really interesting to me to sort of say ‘This is about me claiming or telling my own story,’ but at the same time you’re making it public which is essentially sort of being like, ‘It’s not my story any more.’ It’s everybody’s story in a way. Do you feel like there is risk involved in publishing this as well?

TPM: Well, I guess my philosophy around that kind of thing is that I think it’s like a gift. I grew up reading all the time and reading other people’s stories. I realized that there are so many different way to be in the world. I realized that I wasn’t that different, or that my uniqueness was a good thing from reading constantly, so I always felt like to be in a relationship or to be in conversation with people – even as a kid at four or five years old – I felt like books were a way for me to feel connected to other people. And that for me is so much more important I think than then the way that could go wrong. So I think that for me I don’t think I could even write about my life and not feel, like, self-obsessed unless it was ultimately for other people who might need something from it. Because it really was so important for me to have that experience. I guess I do know, when you write for the internet you kind of have to have a thick skin. It’s almost like you have to go into this sort of space in your mind where it’s for everyone but it’s for no one in that way. Like there’s no one person for whom it matters the most, or you can’t really react to the sort of collective cacophony. So what I do with most of my writing – and we’ll see if the book is really different – but I just send it out there, I try and say like ‘Okay this is mine, I’m giving it to people to experience’ and people who contact me and take the time to say ‘this affected me’ in whatever way, that’s really beautiful and I appreciate it. And whatever sort of comment trolling stuff that happens I just disregard. Once that part is gone then I can move onto the next part of my life.

AF: Did you picture more specific readers, or did you picture that kid whose experience is maybe similar to yours but has never read it articulated in such a way? Or, did you picture more, like, where these people live as they read this, or what their politics are, or did you just sort of say ‘This is the way it has to be and I’m going to send it out into a void.’


TPM: I think more the latter. I think that the book was more – like, with the Self-Made Man column I do I actually do have kind of a sense, because so many people have written to me that I know who reads it. So sometimes with that I have sort of an idea, I imagine a person who might be reading and I imagine what sounds interesting to them. But with the book I just, I knew that the stuff that I was going to go into was going to be much more vulnerable than my other stuff. I just knew ultimately that it was going to a reader, but I didn’t want to think about that person because I was afraid of holding back in someway. I didn’t want to go there. So I knew I was writing it for the collective everyone, but I also think I was just writing it for myself. And that was the only way to make sure I actually wrote it and didn’t hide anything.

AF: But you had to think about your family and loved ones and the people who actually make appearances in the book, or who experience some of these things alongside you. And that had to be really hard, right?

TPM: I think that actually it’s not so hard for me to be vulnerable or for me to be open. I kind of understand that I’m not normal in that way. Like to me it doesn’t feel scary to be this person who’s exposed in this way in the world. I don’t feel frightened of people’s reaction to that. And I don’t know why, that’s just how I am. But I realize that a lot of people in my life are very private, and so negotiating other people’s comfort levels was really challenging: trying to be cognizant of what’s actually a really important story and what’s just ‘color’ or ‘flavor’ that really doesn’t need to be in here because it makes someone else uncomfortable. I did so many revisions and that was a big part of what I was thinking about every time. And I’m so lucky that the people in my life ultimately really just let me be and put a lot of trust in me. So I try to be really sensitive to that.

AF: Did you ever worry – one thing I was struck by was that you must be an avid journal keeper. I know you’re also writing regularly publicly, but a lot of this stuff you describe with such an incredible level of detail, and I found myself wondering if you were documenting in real time or if you just have this incredible recall ability or what?

TPM: Well I think that the stuff that was happening sort of from South Carolina on – the second two-thirds of the book – I really was writing while it was happening. So, a lot of why that came out that way was that it was very much happening in the moment. But the first third or the stuff that refers to my childhood – somebody else asked me why I withheld a lot of detail about being abused as a kid, like why there aren’t a lot of scenes around that. To me, I had been thinking about alienating and not-alienating emotional texture is way more important than the visceral traumatic details of people’s childhood abuse. Which I actually think is really numbing for most people to read. I don’t that that’s useful in terms of helping people access empathy around experience. So I do have a very powerful emotional memory recall but not necessarily a visible memory recall and I think that that’s what I tapped into a lot with this book. I was trying to be like, what did it feel like, to be in whatever situation I was writing about. And I wanted to hopefully get people to experience that same feeling.

AF: It’s kind of like, sometimes I think about the scene at the end of Grizzly Man where Werner Herzog listens to the guy getting mauled to death but doesn’t ever choose to play it. And it’s sort of like that, where you can fill in the details with your own trauma, or your own emotional connection, when it’s not so literally described sometimes.

TPM: Yeah, and I think that’s such a great comparison. Because I love that about that movie. When you don’t have access to the visceral thing that’s so overwhelming you are forced to actually find your way into the setting, and I want people to do that not just with my story but with life in general.

AF: One of the things I wanted to ask about was the role that geography plays in this story. You mentioned going to visit family in South Carolina and there seems to be so much about you getting mugged ‘in Oakland.’ The sense of place seems to be really strong. I just wonder your thoughts about that. The ‘where’ and the setting for a lot of this stuff.

TPM: I think that that aspect of the book – there are definitely some politics that could be vetted, you know aspects of culture and how where we are affects the way our bodies are perceived. And other bodies in relation to our bodies, how those things are interacting with each other. Like the opening scene. I like San Francisco a lot, I think that the Bay Area has a very troubled relationship with race and it’s very complicated there’s not a lot of dialogue and discussion going on around that, at least in my experience there wasn’t when I was living there. So I think that the way that the criminal justice system works there is really disturbing. You know, I was thinking about that even though I was sort of the ‘victim of’  in this situation, I felt a lot of mixed feelings about the way the crime was handled and the way this case was handled and it just seemed like there was a lot more going on. It wasn’t just me and this one guy on this dirty street. There was a lot that took us both to that moment in our lives and I wanted that to be clear. And the South Carolina stuff sort of similarly, there’s another perpetrator who’s my father and I’m going back to where he’s from and his family and there’s just a lot going on with religion and expectations. There’s a lot below the surface around gender and I wanted it to be clear that we’re all products of more than just these moments in time where we do terrible things or terrible things are done to us. And also I think in all these situations my masculinity was being read really differently than my body, and so that had do that had a lot of do with where I was at any given time and I wanted to illustrate that too, this interesting thing.

AF: I was also struck by the fact that there’s this road trip. This idea of intentionally moving location that was really interesting to me in the context of that as well. Sort of being like ‘I want to go to this place where my body may be perceived this way.’ For other reasons too, but sort of choosing a place to be seemed really interesting.

TPM: Absolutely. And then getting to do that. Which is like, I don’t remember how much of this is in the book, but it was such an interesting place to be around gender there, too, and so much of being moved to write was coming from me me after this. Around who I was relating to and why. I don’t know any queer people for a long time when I was living in New England, so I just would hang around with, like, pregnant women who would understand what it’s like to be on hormone,s and  those people understood me better than anybody else did.

AF: I was wondering whether it was tempting at all to sort of – I know I made a kind of passing reference to the writing that you do that is more explicit about examining what it means to be a man in the world today. Like, if there were versions of the book where you address some of that a little but more explicitly, where you sort of stepped back and were less personal about it, or whether you knew from the start you wanted to write straight memoir and not really delve into your column territory.

Photo: Kareem Worrell

TPM: I think for this book I was actually really more into doing the question of ‘Is there any way to be a good man’ because that was what I was so anxious about. The reason the book really started after I was mugged was because I was having to answer that question really directly. Like, how can you be a good man when all of your models around you are so negative and we live in a culture where masculinity is pretty toxic? Is there any way to be a good man specifically, not just a good person but a good man in this world? And so I wanted to answer that question in the book and that’s what I was writing about. But my next project is about masculinity and about American masculinity very broadly. A survey of American modern masculinity, and it asks a lot of broader questions that hopefully explores a lot more of those essay items. With this book I really was focused on how I fit into a broader culture, of course, but I knew it wasn’t going to have any macro lens at all.

AF: And it’s interesting as well – like, I found myself thinking about the word ‘choice’ here. This sense of , what kind of man do I want to be? Do I want to claim that term? Wherein so often the conversation around gender identity is framed around ‘it’s not a choice’, which is why we need to accept people. And I know that is a very clunky distillation of what remains a very contentious question and seemed like you kind of answer that. But I’m wondering if you feel like you do in the book or not.

TPM: I think what I learned is that it is such a paradoxical situation. Because in some ways, I think especially if you’re a feminist or if you grew up in the third wave there’s sort of this idea that gender is this performance and you can kind of ‘choose’ what your gender is. I think to some degree that’s really true and I learned a lot from that perspective and I think in the sense that we are encultured in a way that our bodies are assigned like ‘this is how you should behave and not behave’ and there’s all kind of power structures around that. There are a lot of problematic things about that. So I think to some degree of course you can either opt out and a lot of people that sort of don’t want to think about that, I think they just kind of roll over to expectations that are really problematic, especially men. In that way I think that I brought that perspective to my transition. I also think I have a very spiritual orientation to life in general and to identity in general and I just really feel like there’s also a truth to gender is pretty innate, and that’s pretty hard to understand when you have that other perspective. I don’t think I could have not transitioned, obviously. So I was in a paradox the whole time I was writing where I was like ,’I feel really compelled to do this thing. It’s not actually a choice, but how I behave once I’ve done it is.’ And I think that that’s how I am I intentional with my masculinity, how am I intentional as a man in the world, to what degree can I be in this male body and behave in a way that I have integrity and that brings my whole life that I had before along with me. I think that would be the answer to how to be a good man.

AF: Please write that explicitly somewhere – maybe that’s going to be in the new book? I actually feel like that’s a great way around what I often feel like is a counterproductive argument about gender identity. I mean, maybe you have written that and I’ve missed it.

TPM: I don’t know, I don’t think I have. I think you just drew that out of me. That was pretty good.

AF: Well anyway, let me know when you do write it, or maybe hold your fire for the next book.



Catch Thomas Page McBee at City Lights tonight for the Man Alive San Francisco Book Party: https://www.facebook.com/events/835187169854815/

. . . and in Los Angeles with Ali Liebegott at Slylight Books: https://www.facebook.com/events/1494424510805867/

Catch Thomas Page McBee AND Ann Friedman – and MariNaomi and Melinda Chateauvert – at RADAR October 14th: https://www.facebook.com/events/640403836076483/

Catch Thomas Page McBee at the Sister Spit Books LitQuake LitCrawl at the Lexington Club – with Virgie Tovar, Antonia Crane and Maryam Rostami: https://www.facebook.com/events/358982777559991/

Much thanks to RADAR’s Intern, Eileen Sochia, for transcribing.

 

 

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