What does redistributing power and wealth look like? Isabelle Nastasia sat down with Grace Dunham to discuss radicalization, fame, and family.
Grace Dunham pops up on my screen, slightly glitchy, but definitely grinning back at me over Google Hangout. “Hello!”, we echo back to one another like kids in an underpass. The sun is reflecting off of Grace’s glasses, and their hair is clearly growing out of what was a much shorter, bleached cut. Grace’s look is pretty nostalgic, and at certain angles they remind me of a young Judith Butler, piercing eyes and playful expressions. Wearing a simple red button up, Grace uses gentle and tutorial hand gestures to punctuate their points, emulating “super butch” Jay Toole. At times, they even remind me of the late River Phoenix, floppy haired, articulate, charming but coy.
“Are you in New York right now?” they ask me, with a kind of soft familiarity that actually makes it feel like we’re both sitting on my bed. “I am in Brooklyn, I am in my bedroom on this lovely Saturday morning, where are you?” I ask as I adjust my WiFi network. Grace is drinking something out of a coffee mug, hanging out on what looks like an outdoor patio, soaking in the rays. “Right now, I’m at my sister’s house in Los Angeles.”
Grace is a writer and activist, who just released a compilation of poetry entitled The Fool. The 30-page chapbook was published late last month on a neon green website, and despite having access to money and cultural capital, Grace chose not to work with a publisher or other institutional channels. With the help of some friends, they dropped the link in a tweet with the line: “read + share + steal cuz it’s free”, which might be the perfect window into Grace’s overall sentiment towards value, and what needs to happen in this fucked up world we live in. The child of artists Laurie Simmons and Carroll Dunham (both of whom have received fellowships from the Guggenheim), Grace grew up in Manhattan's TriBeCa, attended private school at Saint Ann's in Brooklyn Heights, and is more than familiar with rigid, dominant, and indeed, violent conceptions of success and ambition. And that was the case even before their sister became one of the most famous young people in the country.
If you don’t know, Grace’s sister is Lena Dunham, an actor and producer known for her satirical depictions of white twenty-somethings experiencing a kind of anxiety and existentialism with post-college life, never better embodied than by her hit HBO series, Girls. Lena’s first feature film Tiny Furniture co-starred a teenage Grace, and captured a kind of awkwardly honest, if not, intimate inner-life of someone coming of age in a well-to-do family in New York. But Tiny Furniture wasn’t Grace’s be all and end all career as an actor. Believe it or not, their name only first came into my orbit when they played the part of “Junior” in Happy Birthday, Marsha!, the short film directed by Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel about the lives of Marsha P Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and the hours leading up to the Stonewall riots. While these projects might seem worlds apart, I think that speaks to the spaces that Grace travels in, as well as the unique set of questions they face as somebody in proximity to both wealth and power, and radical ideas and action, including those that seek economic redistribution, and the end to prisons and police. Close friends, Reina and Grace have given talks and been interviewed together about state violence, the importance of aesthetics in organizing, and things like selfie-taking and stealing as queer and trans modes of survival. Grace cites Reina ceremonially, attributing much of their entry into trans community and social movements to the two of them becoming close following Grace’s graduation from Brown University.
Since graduating, Grace has worked as a nanny and a researcher, but as of late has been pursuing work as a writer. These days Grace is being published in places like The New Yorker, and The Village Voice. “Most of the things I do for money are not the most fulfilling things in my life,” they speak like a true millennial. Instead, Grace emphasizes the giddiness and warmth they feel when exchanging writing with friends and getting feedback in the form of Facebook comments on their posts. Before leaving New York, “for the time being,” Grace appeared as a reader at several events, from small gay bars to big white-walled Chelsea galleries, which they see as serving very different functions in terms of how they speak and advocate in those different worlds.
Lately, Grace has found themself in what they describe as a “constant turmoil,” trying to figure out where they fit into a lineage of resistance and gender deviance – as somebody with a fundamental commitment to fighting capitalism, somebody who grew up in a rich white culture, somebody with a profound love for art, sex, and friends, somebody who inhabits a queer life and is searching for fulfillment, joy, and pleasure. But despite their internal dilemmas, Grace speaks with a kind of self-awareness, empathy, and also healthy doses of cynicism that is humbling to interface with, even over webcam.
Grace spoke to us about how they decide what to wear in the morning, what it’s like for them to navigate family, fame, and radical politics, and what they’re hopeful about.
I was just thinking about how I read your write-up about books that have influenced you, and one of them was Isabelle Eberhardt’s The Passionate Nomad, which I thought was so cool because I was actually named after her.
Are you serious? That’s wild! What kind of parents do you have that would name you after Isabelle Eberhardt, I’ve never heard of such a thing.
My mom is really into literature, and she’s really obsessive so she got really obsessed with certain writers. Yeah, I don’t know, she just got really into Isabelle. I also thought it was interesting how yours was the first time that I had ever heard her described as trans.
How do you feel like she’s normally described? As a “cross-dresser”?
Yeah, for the most part.
For sure, I mean, it’s true that at the time her identity would not have described as “transgender” or even “transsexual”. Those words were not being used widely, within her historical context. I’m not certain how I feel about the ethics of retroactively identifying people as trans, but I know that in my understanding of trans it is a broad term for any kind of gender fluidity or nonbinary experience. People have always lived trans lives and had trans experiences. So, l often connect with trans narratives that came long before the use of the word “trans.”
Totally, it’s just funny because I hadn’t thought about her in a while and then when I read your thing, I was like, wow, in another life I was so obsessed with Isabelle Eberhardt and here’s this other queer person who was also influenced by her.
She’s a complicated figure, because she was a wealthy European aristocrat and she was an “explorer,” which is a hyper-colonial role. My interest is not about deifying her. But I had a relationship to her, at an earlier phase in my life, where I emotionally connected to her story as a person assigned female at birth who did not feel comfortable in that assignment, and attempted to step out of it. And that’s what my inner-life looked like. It was about imagination, imagining taking on another identity or even tricking people, because I couldn’t fathom having a community that would affirm my internal understanding of myself. I could only imagine another gender than female as a kind of disguise.
To be honest, I think my early expressions of gender deviance were very similar to yours. I also definitely had went through a strong phase where I rejected Isabelle, and a lot of other people I had been into in the years before, because of her colonial implications.
I really respond to people who, both in the past and the present, are distrustful of and dissatisfied with societal norms. But because of the way that history and context work, people challenge aspects of society while also participating in harmful or violent structures. So, I like to think I can admire Isabelle Eberhardt and also recognize that she was imbedded in, and a product of, colonialism. I can think about her relationship to radical ideas, in regards to gender, sexuality, objective rationality, and also acknowledge that she was born from a European culture that did enormous amounts of damage. They are both true. But, honestly, that’s not far from how things are now. Later generations will look back and understand what is being perpetuated in this time; they will grasp things we can’t yet see, that maybe only some of us already see.
Totally. Me and my friend have a saying “We’re toast”, basically referring to how we might just be the people that the next generation looks back at and shakes their head about, like, I can’t believe that you did that. And: Oh, thought that was subversive? Nah.
Right! It’s like realizing that you live in a three-dimensional space and that these future children who, at least politically and philosophically, will be living in a four-dimensional space. Which is I guess why I admire when people don’t necessarily having the most actualized or certain beliefs, but rather are unwilling to calcify in their beliefs. I admire practices of growth, and curiosity, self-reflection. Like, it shouldn’t have to stop.
Speaking of practices of growth, how do you decide what to wear in the morning? What makes you feel good, aesthetically?
I hope someday I only have suits, so I'll have the ease of a uniform that always makes me feel hot and relaxed. Sometimes I dress like a toddler. Sometimes I dress like a gay teen hustler from 1991. Sometimes I just, like, put on soiled pants. Sometimes I cry naked for three hours until I pick the right outfit. Clothing is hard and sometimes unforgiving, particularly when you're in a battle with your body, which so many of us are. That being said, a good outfit also feels fucking amazing and like the best armor.
What’s your day to day like?
Well, I’ve been writing for The New Yorker and the Village Voice, I’ve been writing some art-criticism, about people whose work I really love. That kind of writing is how I’m making money right now. Since I finished college I’ve been a researcher, I worked in a print studio, I was a nanny. As with so many of us, it’s about trying to balance the stuff I do for money, which is rarely the most fulfilling work in my life, with the things I’m definitely not gonna make money from. As a writer, it’s obviously like pulling teeth trying to get paid, and that’s coming from somebody like me who is white and has a degree from a fancy college. But people underpay writers. They just do. And so many people are doing political and emotional labor with their words write now, not just in publications but on social media. People are writing seminal political works on facebook and twitter and not getting paid. It sucks.
Anyway, on the day to day, I work on my own writing, I read, I’m really social; I hang out with friends a lot. I love going out, I like parties. I feel like I’m upside-down and I’m trying to figure out what it means to have a day-to-day life.
I feel like it’s important to say that I’ve been kind of depressed lately. Which I guess isn’t out-of-the-ordinary, for so many people, it’s kind of an ongoing orientation. At my lowest, I feel really scared and like within the current conditions of the world everything is a solution to a set of problems. Like, how will I make money? How will I create or find some semblance of home? Depression makes it hard to see anything other than the traps and binds that people are dealing with, you know?
When you say that you really like partying, is there a particular kind of nightlife space or party that you really appreciate and feel held by?
I loved The Spectrum in New York. I’m so sad it closed. I was like, “this is the hottest, coolest, most fun shit ever!” So many different kinds of genders and bodies were there, and obviously people would get in one another’s faces and sometimes say and do fucked up shit. But, overall, it felt like a different world that I liked, or it prefigured a world I want to spend more time in.
Last week I was talking to my friend Reina Gossett about how I’m longing for more contexts like that, maybe spiritual contexts … maybe just places where people are communing with one another, through talking, partying, worship...which are all forms of study, I guess. Anyway, Reina was like, “yeah, you’re longing for ceremonial spaces.” And I do think there’s something very ceremonial about people coming together in a dark, filthy room to dance for 10 hours and talk and just, like, put pills on each other’s tongues.
I couldn’t agree more, though, I don’t think there’s such a place as a “safe space” The Spectrum was certainly a magical one.
I really respect what Gage and everyone else who ran The Spectrum did with that place. They created a context that let people feel themselves and feel each other. I was like, this is actually art in practice, this is actually relational art. They provided a container or gave people a context in which to have liberatory exchange with one another. In my mind, that’s generous art.
What are your favorite areas to just hang and walk around?
I grew up in downtown Manhattan, and I'll always feel at home there and attached to it even after it has changed so much, and as development continues to destroy stuff. Like, Tompkins Square Park and Washington Square … all the places I grew up playing in as a kid, they still have freaks who hang out in them, like always. Plus, even as policing attempts to eliminate and punish people, they still find ways to hang out parks. One of the worst things about gentrification or mega-development, in addition to the displacement, is that is erases the characteristics that make neighborhoods distinct and particular. That makes me really sad. But also, people are still hanging on in New York. I hate when people say New York is dead or over. That erases all the people still finding ways to have a life there.
It seems like you’ve experienced a kind of personal paradigm shift in the past few years. What was your entry point into radical politics?
I always get sort of embarrassed when this question comes up. It’s funny because I would describe myself as a jealous person but not an envious one, however, one of the places where I do experience envy is towards people who had adolescent entry points into radicalism, or into alternative cultures and communities. I went to a predominately, and by predominately I mean almost entirely, wealthy white private school in New York City. I was well-behaved. I was a very high-achieving student, and I was fearful of seeking out the social worlds I wanted. I was really scared of my own desire and of owning up to who I was. I didn’t know how to.
But I grew up with my best friend, Emily Rappaport, and when I look back, our relationship was not explicitly political but we did such deep obsessive constant emotional processing, and that is a political act even if it’s not, like, directly about capitalism or whatever. It’s learning how to tell people who you are, how to listen, how to be dependent on one another.
I spent most of my adolescence until I was seventeen with this big secret, totally terrified people were gonna find my shit out. Emily was the first person I came out to. For a long time I was just this pretty girl who would wear skirts and be a good student. But, internally, I had this active fantasy life where I had a different gender, where I had sex in extreme ways. It made me feel like I wasn’t totally present in my life. I looked forward to going to sleep so I could fantasize. I would get into bed an hour early just so I could be alone in the dark with my fantasies.
Before I was in a real political community I felt keenly aware of how off my context was. But I didn’t yet have the language for it. I thought politics was Democrats and Republicans. I knew there was something really weird and off in this bubble of white wealth. But its whiteness and wealthness went unspoken. I was just, like, everybody is saying they are liberal but being homophobic, racist, and fatphobic. I didn’t yet understand that pretending privilege isn’t there is one of the central logics of privilege.
It’s hard to pick out single moments of radicalization. I do feel like my sister becoming so famous contributed to my radicalization, or politicization.
I grew up in a culture in downtown New York where there was a huge emphasis placed on recognition and achievement, artistic talent and genius. My sister sky-rocketed to the logical conclusion of the best a person could do coming out of that context, maybe any context. The response was such an unequivocal level of praise and adoration. But I kind of felt like my sister had been taken from me by the fame machine, by people making money off of her and supporting her insofar as she offered them professional and financial gains. And that felt separate than her getting to make her art, to do the work she wished to do. I was like, I love her more than anything, she’s so hilarious and weird and brilliant, her dreams are coming true but success and fame are also way more complicated than how people are acting right now. I think that suspicion and fear, alongside observing the praise and adoration, was another moment of feeling like my emotions and observations were not in tune with what the people around me were experiencing. I grew up thinking fame was a really cool thing, that ambition would lead me to be recognized, and that a successful life would mean people knowing my name. That was the culture I grew up in. People grow up in different cultures, and that was my fucking culture!
Having fame happen to the person I was closest to in the world pushed me to do a lot of thinking: Like, why is fame a good thing? Does it really mean that you are better than other people if you’re famous? That you’re worth more or that you are more special or worth loving?
At the same time, in college, I had some foundational, transformative relationships. My girlfriend in college, Shay, was a brilliant person with this understanding around class and access, and so much compassion that came out of her own self-love. Falling in love is a wild way to learn, right? I think relationships, not school, kept pushing me, kept expanding my mind and making me hungry for my expansion. I met my longtime girlfriend Willa when I was a junior in college. She had a deeply intuitive and expansive understanding of sexuality and gender, which helped open up new spaces for me to step into.
Then my first really deep relationship I entered into when I left school was with Reina Gossett, who changed my life. Certainly that friendship was a space in which I had to face parts of myself I hadn’t before; be they gender confusion, rage, sadness, or time-travel. So, I’d say my radicalization process, which is ongoing and I certainly hope never stops, has been so totally about relationships. For me, reading, writing, and research follow and subsidize relationships, not the other way around. I should probably get the names of everyone who has changed me tattooed on my body.
Over the past few years, I’ve been having ongoing conversations with friends about what it means to be in proximity to or close with people who are considered problematic, or people who have caused harm to others, or what it means to be the person who is problematic and harmful at times. I imagine you’ve had some experiences with this kind of “dilemma”. I’m curious how you think about relationship to your sister as somebody who is successful, who has been subject to both critique and praise?
I just did this reading the other night with my friend Alex Chaves. It’s a poetic correspondence that we’ve been writing to one another for around five months. He’s a painter and I grew up with artist parents, so a lot of what we do is aggressively push one another: me pushing him on why he wants to be an artist and him pushing me on, maybe, what fears and needs are at the the root of my politics. The correspondence is a friendship thing, a document of friendship. It was fun, it’s messy and contradictory, and so I think it’s an honest account of friendship as an inter-personally transformative thing.
At the reading, I read a letter I had written to him about how having a famous sister is a little like wearing a Dunce cap. A lot of political people who are white and grew up around wealth, because of guilt, try to hide who they are, the fact that they have a safety net. They try to feign a level of precarity that is just not realistic. Of course, at times, I do feel ashamed, duh, but I’m not out in the world hiding some truth about my family. It’s not hideable. Sometimes, my relationship to my sister overemphasizes a connection to or responsibility for born-into family. Like, I don’t actually think people should be held accountable for their born families, nor be expected to answer for them or see things as they do.
So being asked to respond to, or answer for, my sister’s role in public discourse brings up a lot of questions about what our relationship to family is in the first place. Nobody asked to be born! Nobody! People can be responsible for the material and immaterial privileges they were born into, but that doesn’t mean they asked for that life on the way in.
Everybody in our culture is dealing with shame. Sometimes it’s about having and sometimes it’s about not having. I do believe that in getting to the core of what shame feels like there is a way of empathizing with one another. I do believe that there are universalizing properties to shame, if we can push hard and let ourselves get there.
All this being said, I am really connected to my mom, my dad, my sister; as people, we have strong friendships that are always changing, and that we work on. I have 23 year-long private relationship with my sibling. That cord running between us has not been broken and I don’t think it ever will be. We are in dialogue all the time, and extremely connected to and supportive of one another.
But public life distorts stuff and creates false narrative. What scares me is when the false narratives start to fuck with the cord between, the one that comes from sharing a bed every night when we were little and seeing, feeling, and doing things that only we did. I have not consented to my relationship to my sibling being up for interpretation. Then again, people have consented to very little in our culture.
Word, and I think in some ways we radicals use certain rhetorical devices that aren’t always conducive to how we are actually living our lives.
Completely. I mean, seriously, I’ve never done this before! I’ve never been 23 and trying to figure out how to have a happy life and live my politics and, hopefully, make little ruptures in the fucked-up stratosphere. Sometimes we treat one another like we’ve done this all before … And I’m like, no we haven’t! Or, at least, I don’t remember my other lives right now! I guess the wisdom is stored somewhere in this body but it definitely takes work to find it.
In regards to your recent work, you just released a chapbook entitled The Fool for free online. How did this chapbook come into being?
I started writing these lullabies a year ago, just as something I was sharing with a few friends. It felt helpful to distill beliefs or ideas I was working through into these rhyming fragments. It can be so hard to know what to say. Something about the limits of a rhyme structure felt freeing to me. Also, because rhyming is sort of naive and infantile, it made me stop thinking about whether or not what I was writing was good. I’m trying to move away from calibrating myself in that way. For many people, praise and institutional validation are important markers, but I’m trying to move away from that in my own life, because it’s where I’m coming from. So, I wrote more and more of these rhyming poems, and then I looked back and realized I had accidentally written a short body of work.
Simultaneously, I had spent the last year writing very long, emotional Facebook posts. That felt good because I didn’t yet want my writing under the tutelage of a publication. I wanted to communicate to the people in my life, and have that be the impetus for writing, rather than the anxieties of trying to build a name for myself. At a certain point, some of my friends were like, you should put these poems out into the world. I was like, what do I do? I don’t want to deal with publishers, I don’t think that’s going to be emotionally beneficial to me right now.
Then, I realized I was in a position to put it out with friends. I didn’t want to work with a traditional publisher. My friend Tiffany Malakooti agreed to design it, and then we decided we’d publish it under Curse of Cherifa Press, and extension of this visual archive she runs, called Cherifa. We liked the idea that cherifa, this mystery feminine entity, was the so-called ’publisher.’ I don’t care if people copy and paste the poems and send them around, I don’t even care if six emails down the line somebody doesn’t know I wrote one of them. That was kind of what I wanted. It felt exciting and like an authentic representation of my inner turmoil or confusion. Of course, I still get the thoughts of: is it good? Will people even like it? Is it infantile to write rhyming poems? I don’t want to act like I don’t self-doubt, because I do. But I wanted to take that on myself, with friends, not under the guise of validation and professionalization. Again, that’s not a universal belief I have about how people should do things: that’s about where I’m coming from.
A lot of the work I see you putting out, and the things that you discuss in your work are referencing queer space of the past: public sex, clubs, cruising. Can you speak to this?
I feel confused about the purpose or role of queer nostalgia. I do feel it intensely. Some of that has to do with feeling sad about things I didn’t have. You know, I didn’t have sex until I was eighteen. I had this active imagination and was totally full of lust. But I would just go home and read The Iliad and be a nerd, you now? I got drunk and kissed boys, people who identified as boys at the time, but then I stopped doing that when I was sixteen because it made me feel bad. So, I had all this lust and desire building up within me and nowhere to put it. I know we have many lives, but at this moment I only have consciousness of this one, and I get sad because I think, “that was my only adolescence, and I didn’t even get to have any secret affairs or sex with older women in the back of cars.” I felt very lonely. I had a lot of desire to give and a lot of sex to give and there was certainly not a place for it in my world.
Of course, I don’t want to get so caught up with archive fever and queer nostalgia that I lose sight of my ability to foster resistant spaces right here in the present.
How would you like your work to be received given your thoughts on how systems of evaluation shape our ideas of “success”?
We’re in a moment of pop culture, fashion, media – these markets, I guess – recognizing the commercial value of trans identity, “political consciousness,” and, to a lesser degree, the way that youth cultures engage with revolutionary ideas for racial and economic justice. They don’t see the commercial potential of what it actually means to have revolutionary ideas, but they can fathom commodifying the surface and the look. What I’m saying is, right now, there’s a commercial space I could easily step into. Celeb has cute trans sibling, with beliefs. I know that’s there for me. But it’s not proportionate to work I’ve done, nor do I think is it how I want to be valued. It’s a character. So, what? Here I am, I’m 24 years old, I wrote a 30 page chapbook of rhyming poems, and I’m looking for a nannying job ... I don’t need to be on the cover of Interview Magazine. I don’t need a profile in W. It’s really easy to get swept away into these spaces that open up in pop culture. Even though spaces is all that they are. They don’t fully hold people. And, honestly, the spaces will disappear and the people who were swept into them won’t be any happier for it.
Do you think there is room in the mainstream for radical ideas and action ... does it need to be fought for?
It’s something that I feel incredibly confused about. I have a lot of people in my life that think different things. Sometimes I’m like, I guess there’s something good about people using their platforms to make oppression and violence visible, and highlight what needs to change. But what is that towards? What is that for? Is that for inclusion? Is that for inclusion into these existing worlds that have proven to be places which can’t hold our multiplicity? That have not used their resources and their power to fight for economic redistribution and the end of racialized capitalism?!
There have been moments in time before where there was some kind of rupture and radical politics entered into the mainstream gaze. And what’s happening now? We’ve seen more trans people in mainstream media in the past year than ever before and like fucking dominoes these anti-trans bills are being passed that are allowing for mass violence against and the surveillance of trans people, especially black trans people and trans people living without money. So many thinkers who I admire have said again and again that this mainstream gaze is not unrelated to this renewed, or intensified violence.
But pop culture and people with power are very tricky! They trick you into joining them. Institutions with power, whether it’s a fancy magazine, Hollywood, rich people, a well-paying NGO, have an ability to subsume radical people into their framework by being like “we’re going to keep going without you, and you’ll get left in the dust”. Opportunity is always laced with fear of scarcity. It can be really hard for people to say no to opportunity because there’s a feeling that if you say ‘no’ to it then it will never come back to get you. I deal with that all the time, every time I say ‘no’ to something I’m like, was that a mistake? Why did I say no? Will I be forgotten? I try not to blame myself because I think it’s a fear that makes sense in this climate. But, if I’m being totally real, sometimes I think the thing that compels radical people to participate in the mainstream is not a political practice so much as a fear of success passing them by. Understandably. It’s scary.
I think that’s true, but I also think that sometimes people just really need the money at the time.
And the truth at the heart of it this is that visibility is not the same thing as money. That’s something people in the mainstream, particularly white cis gatekeepers, really don’t understand. They don’t understand that visibility has no relationship to money and that there’s a lot of people getting visibility right who aren’t getting paid for anything. That’s where I get this fear and panic. Like, no, no! The money is not coming! People are making money off of you but the money is not trickling down. In my most cynical I’m just like, this is a big fucking trick! This is a lie! I see queer and trans elders who did amazing work in the sixties, in the seventies, and they are navigating poverty because the money never came. In that regard, little has changed.
What do you see as your role as somebody who is both in very close proximity to wealth, fame, power and holds marginalized identities and experiences?
I think it depends on the context I’m in. I’m friends with people with a lot of different political orientations and a lot of different experiences. The way that I talk about my politics is not static, and it does change depending on who I talk to. I did a reading last week in a fancy white-walled gallery in Chelsea with a predominately white audience, many of whom are in the art world, and I said specific things about the art market, and I spoke about abolishing prisons with the assumption, perhaps unfairly, that most people in the audience were not so materially impacted by incarceration. And that their connection to incarceration was something that had to be elucidated to them rather than something that they experience again and again in their day to day lives. That was me taking on a public political voice and arguing for something and trying to do like, the work of changing people’s beliefs. But there are many spaces where I would not do that because I would be the person who was least materially impacted by policing and incarceration on a day-to-day level. I would be a person in the room who had not experienced poorness and housing precarity. I would have a different orientation to speaking, to how I spoke, to my role in that context.
I do think I’m good at talking to people who grew up like me about politics. I’m trying to talk to people who have money and security about how their suffering is connected to everybody else’s suffering, and about how their suffering is connected to capitalism and oppression. And I try, in a more private ways, to push people in my life who have money to think about redistribution and think about how money doesn’t just have to be given to foundations or a large organization. Giving money to people’s GoFundMe’s and giving money to grassroots campaigns is really essential, and one of the most radical things you can do if you’re in the position to do it.
Everyday I experience turmoil about how to make the best use of my particular positionality, while also being happy and reminding myself that life is not utilitarian, you know? I don’t want to live a strategic, political utilitarian life. I want pleasure and magic, and I want everyone to have those things.
What projects are you excited about right now?
I just relocated to Los Angeles, for the time being, and it looks like I'm about to take over a commercial space with two friends where we can live, work, organize performances and fundraisers, party, etc. That’s really exciting, and an endeavor I’ve been working up to. A lot of what I want to do – whether that's organize or socialize – is going to benefit from having a large space. I want my to friends to be able to use that space, and to feel safe, welcome, and protected there.
In conceiving of that project, I’m inspired by friends who, similarly to the Spectrum, have created generous containers for art, social life, and interdependence. My friend Carolyn Lazard, along with a group of other artists, started a project called We Are Canaries, which functions as a meeting space for women and femmes navigating chronic illness. It's clear that this project has provided a radical space for thought, care, and art-making to so many people. My friends Mitchyll Mora and Reina Hernandez, in New York, have done amazing work – simply organizing among their communities – raising bail and bond funds very quickly to get trans femme friends of theirs out of mens' jails. This work isn’t under the oversight of an organization; it's coming from them thinking really hard and creatively about how to use the resources that they do have access to, about sharing resources, whether that's money, food, or housing. I’ve also been inspired by the people who run Trans Justice Funding Project, who have helped me think about how, when rich people give away their money, they feel like they’re entitled to get something in return, as if they are purchasing something, even if that’s just a feeling.
I recently read this interview with the editor of Captive Genders, Eric A. Stanley, whom I love, in which they said something like “art, at it's best, can feel like a pinprick in the pervasive systems of oppression.” I'm butchering the quote ... But it's all these pinpricks I admire, whether it’s art or an approach to political work. It’s these pinpricks that I want to make with friends. Maybe prick, and prick, and prick until we make a tunnel to another world...
It can be hard to look at the state of politics in America and have anything like hope or positivity. Since you’ve gotten into radical politics somewhat publicly on the internet while certain critiques have become more popular and their applications more widespread, is there anything that you’re hopeful about?
I'm always hopeful about the ways that people find to be happy despite everything that's stacked up against happiness. I'm like, damn, people are wizards. Wizards are not mythical because people use magic every day to summon love, beliefs, commitment, and optimism in contexts that are so hostile. That's resistance. That's being a fugitive. Those practices inspire me, and I think they're the ones I want to write about and be a part of. That's the kind of love I want to chase after. Or, you know, maybe it's not about chasing it – that's an ambition narrative – it's about finding it among what’s already here. What I mean, really, is that other people make me hopeful all the time.