Alpine Anarchist meets Margaret Killjoy
In your book Mythmakers & Lawbreakers: anarchist writers on fiction you have fourteen writers tell you about how their work ties in with their politics and their lives. How about yourself? How do your political beliefs and convictions relate to what you do every day?
You know, it’s funny, because I spent so long thinking about other peoples’ answers to these questions that I’m not sure I really fleshed out my own thoughts on the matter.
For most of my adult life, politics have kind of come first for me. Most of my friends are anarchists, for example. This is for a number of reasons. First of all, when I first took off traveling, anarchism provided a social net... I could (and can) show up in most any city, find the anarchists, and have some sort of basis of understanding. It’s easy to become spoiled this way, because everyone is concerned with how to treat one another as equals, to undermine and confront patriarchy and heteronormativity both outside and within our cultures.
It’s also kind of easy to accidently find yourself forgetting how to communicate with the rest of the world. Or worse, begrudging or judging people who aren’t in the same social circle (because, to be honest, anarchism often simply amounts to a different subculture).
So actually, it’s fiction, and genre fiction in particular, that’s encouraged me to look outside of this particular radical bubble. I used to primarily write fiction that I would consider “by and for” anarchists, but I’m starting to look outside of that. I hate the phrase “preaching to the choir”, by the way. Because honestly, the choir are the people who want to be preached to. Outside of radical bubbles, honestly what we need to do is learn how to stop being so damn preachy.
And fiction is good at this, because it begs us to question our most basic assumptions. The best part about Ursula K Le Guin’s The Dispossessed is that the anarchist society is kinda scary, harsh, and very much imperfect. The Dispossessed, despite illustrating an explicitly anarchist society, isn’t an attempt to preach about the beauties of this or that political system. It’s just a story, one that illustrates an idea that most people haven’t even heard about. It normalizes the concept of anarchism, and not coincidentally it normalizes ideas about queerness and polyamory.
My politics definitely influence my writing. My politics influence every action that I take in this world, because I believe that every person has an equal right to dictate their own path, and that just isn’t how the world works these days. My first widely published stories, the Yena of Angeline series that appears in SteamPunk Magazine, describes an anarchist society, the squatters, in conflict with a slightly-more-powerful statist culture, set in the backdrop of a long-post-apocalyptic world. I try to paint the squatters as just human, and show that the way that they organize is as natural as any other. But when it comes down to it, the two sides are really just gangs, duking it out for territory... they just paint it to themselves (perhaps rightly) as a grand gesture taken in the name of freedom.
I’d like to see more of this fiction that normalizes radical ways of living. I’d like to see books with trans characters that don’t get killed. Stories with women as protagonists that aren’t “women’s literature,” anarchist and other radical societies that aren’t utopian. I was giving a talk about Mythmakers the other day and we got into this conversation. I realized, then, that all of those sexist books out there—the ones where women are objects to be won or lost, where being straight is taken for granted, the majority of books—, they weren’t written with the intention of being sexist. That’s why I like the word “heteronormative.” I mean, sure, there’s some homophobic literature out there, but by and large it’s just heteronormative. It just takes heterosexuality as an assumption. Or whiteness. Or monogamy. Or government. Or any number of things.
So in the same way that most authors will just off-handedly make normative assumptions, the same way that they’re not writing with the intention of being sexist (well, most aren’t), I’d like to see more radical writers just, you know, writing. Just getting into the field. Let anarchists and radicals and queers and trans folk just be people. Not the stereotyped ideals that you’d end up with if you went out of your way to write propaganda intentionally...
Okay, so there’s this thing in radical cultures, where we talk about how objectivity is a myth, that all writing—be it fiction, theory, or journalism—is propaganda. And therefore, we should embrace this. I agree with the idea, but not the conclusion. As writers, we’re going to end up shaping the way that people think to greater or lesser degrees, as soon as we publish. But I’m not so sure it’s a good idea to set out with the idea of “I want to make the reader think that all government is bad.” Because anarchism shouldn’t be about preaching, about converting people to our way of thinking. It should be about getting people to think for themselves. So, yes, all writing is propaganda. But can’t we be more subtle about it? Can’t we just write what we’d like to read, what we think other people would enjoy reading, and let our radicalism just shine through?
It’s like veganism. I’m vegan, okay, have been for eight years now. I’m sick to death of people preaching about veganism. For one thing, it’s rude: we all make compromises in this society, and assuming people haven’t thought about the ones they’ve chosen to make is obnoxious. For another, it just doesn’t work: you can’t strongarm people into believing what you believe. (Except by causing them trauma, of course, like the state does to get us to believe it should exist). It’s better, ethically, socially, and even as a method of outreach, to be vegan, to not hide that you’re vegan, but to let people come to their own conclusions, let them come to you with questions if they’d like.
So, okay, that’s how my anarchist beliefs interact with my day-to-day life. I don’t want to hit anyone over the head with what I believe, but I don’t want to hide it either. And that, I believe, is an anarchist thing to do.