My essay “Notes Towards an Essay on Bad Laughter” is now published on The Spectacle. In it I explore laughter that is in the wrong place at the wrong time; laughter that means to be something else, laughter that performs the wrong feeling. Thanks to the editors, especially Meghan Lamb, for the invitation!
My short story “AB 469: A Po(r)ny-ography in Three Parts” is now out in SPECS 7: The Unicorn Issue. The story is a response to a remark made by a legislator during a public hearing on trans-discriminatory changing room legislation proposed for Wisconsin public schools last October: “Would you feel uncomfortable changing next to someone with totally different body parts?” Taking a flight of fancy, it imagines shifting from “discomfort” to desire through select Katy Perry lyrics and My Little Pony fan fiction.
While I stand by what is essentially a satirical pornographic lesbian locker room fantasy written as a response to this specific situation, which was, at the time I wrote it, safely distant, I don’t pretend it is a comprehensive or adequate response to the oppressive reality of bills like HB2 or the broader climate of transphobia being expressed in various ways in U.S. culture right now; I stand in solidarity with trans and gender nonconforming people, and particularly trans women, who are affected by this legislation and this climate.
This Unicorn issue is truly magical. My por(n)y-ography shares space with Tim Jones-Yelvington’s brilliant One Direction avant-fanfic; JD Scott’s poetic sequence written to/with the Scribe Angel Siriel (Siri’s older sister); Sharif Shakhshir’s terrific “Unicorn Hunting,” a coming of age unicorn diaspora story in the form of an Assassins game; Shamala Gallagher’s prose poem “Untitled (Unicorn & Cheetos Poem)”; Minal Hajratwala’s poem “Operation Unicorn: Notice from the Department of Taboos” (I’m letting these titles speak for themselves); among others; and Brett Boyko’s cover art, titled “Genderfluid Unicorn Blues.”
Thanks to SPECS editors Kristen Arnett and Cathleen Bota, and everyone else on the team, for putting this creepy campy delight together and including my work in it.
As bonus material, here’s an essay I started on Robot Unicorn Attack several years ago and never finished, but will call finished now. Return with me now, to 2011!
Robot Unicorn Attack is a free online Flash game released in 2010. It features anachronistically crude graphics and two movement options: jump or dash. When you dash, you make rainbows. The soundtrack is Erasure’s “Always.” The game is gay.
A gay game, it offers the promise of winning under threat of death.
The song “Who Am I to Feel So Free” by MEN, released in 2011 with lyrics by artist Emily Roysdon, charts a brief and selective history of queer/trans feminist politics.
changed our names
used our hands
discovered options better than a man
and prosthetic sex
we built this world and we are asking your best
The song’s chorus is strikingly ambivalent: “Who am I to feel so free” can be read as a fist-pumping protest chant, expressing entitlement to be/feel/act free. At the same time the wording conveys an acute awareness that this entitlement is shaky, dubious. In this sense, the question is posed as genuine doubt: Who am I to feel free when my freedom and the freedom of others is perpetually under attack?
The song’s ambivalent relationship to freedom is enhanced by Shearon Van Riggins’ use of gameplay footage from Robot Unicorn Attack in their unofficial video for the song. The version of the song used here features vocals by Anohni, whose performance emphasizes the chorus’s ironies.
In the video, the song narrates our unicorn’s three attempts, and failures, to win. S/he is so free, it’s exhilarating to watch. S/he makes rainbows; s/he blows up but survives to run free again: I feel so free / I could never die / never die.…then the final death coincides with the last repetition of the chorus. Who! / am I! / to feel so free!: kaboom. Robot Unicorn has died.
Juxtaposed with the ambivalent lyrics of the song, the game’s win-or-die / win-then-die / always-die narrative archly comments on the teleological properties of gay and feminist liberation discourse, the rhetoric of which proposes a kind of utopic freedom enabled by winning again and again. The video is a giddy performance of both this utopic possibility—run free, robot unicorn, run free—winning!—while also relishing in crashing and burning, the queer art of failure. The video expresses camp resignation for the failures of gay and feminist liberation politics, amplifying the song’s ambivalence in fascinating and generative ways—ways that call out our failures to achieve collective freedom and coalition through intersectional justice.
Who is this robot unicorn, that s/he should feel so free? Whosoever rainbow-dashes alone, meets failure.
I want to be with you / make believe with you / live in harmony / harmony / always.
My third chapbook, The Feels, is out now in the latest issue of Black Warrior Review. The Feels is a collection of crossgenre writing that grew out of my Fan Fiction and Affect workshop for the AW Mellon Art & Scholarship series last year at UW-Madison. It features Melissa Etheridge lyrics upsetting / or feeling with / William James’s classic theory of emotion; feel extractions from One Direction fan fic; some dirty drabbles; and the Feel Machines (e.g. writing exercises) used to make these treasures. Many thanks to BWR for giving a home to this teary-eyed monster!
And look how gorgeous the issue is, with cover art by Amandine Urruty:
Other treats include fiction by Kate McQuade, Jill Rosenberg, Sequoia Nagamatsu, and LaTanya McQueen; poetry by Rhiannon Thorne, Jennifer S. Cheng, Mary-Alice Daniel, Patricia Colleen Murphy, Mark Baumer, and Anne Marie Rooney, nonfiction by Maria Perez, Will McGrath, Shelley Puhak, and Rochelle Hurt, and…
a special feature on Clairvoyance with work by Claire Hero, Caren Beilin, Karyna McGlynn, Allegra Hyde, Arisa White, Susan Briante, Kendra Fortmeye, and Rachel Levy. Fantastic issue, all around! Purchase here.
A journal I’ve been super psyched about since I first learned of it last year (though it’s been around since 2012) is Nat. Brut. I intentionally left it off my dazzling and comprehensive 2015 Year-End Review List because I wanted to sing its praises separately.
Then! I received an email from editor in chief Kayla E. inviting me to join Nat. Brut’s board of directors. I learned more. I agreed. Now I’m not just on board, I’m on THE board (!) (or will be when my term starts, I think in March) of one of the most thoughtfully and beautifully made journals around.
Have you seen it? It’s stunning…
…and activating, energizing, invigorating. Nat. Brut is pro-art, pro-social justice; it publishes art across media and genre, centers marginalized voices, and promotes environmental sustainability.
Issue Six (Fall 2015) was my intro. I bought a copy mainly because Meghan Lamb, whose work I follow, contributed to the supplement, a comics zine. More on that below.
Issue Six assembles a generous, diverse collection of fiction, poetry, features, and visual art, plus a foldout comics poster called “Early Edition.” Among my favorite pieces are:
- Afabwaje Kurian’s “Butter,” which deftly explores tensions between black African immigrant and African American communities through the story of a Nigerian girl’s fraught relationship with a classmate, and her first, confusing encounter with the n-word.
- Elise Liu’s “John and Mary and Jenny and Mike,” an equation-based reworking of Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings” that pluralizes not only the available storylines, but the original couple, recasting them as a range of characters with different social and national identities.
- Morgan Jerkins’ “Asha,” a succinct and compelling fabulist parable about Black women’s domestic labor and the exploitation of generosity.
- David Rice’s “On the Murder of Nicola Teensmah,” a story in the form of an essay on a fictional film—convincing, unsettling, surprising, oddly funny.
- I’m spotlighting the fiction because I was so impressed with/excited about the range; other highlights include poetry by Justin Wymer, Margarita Delcheva, Talia Lavin, and Adam Fitzgerald; Kayla E.’s interview with Jayson Musson, the artist behind the ART THOUGHTZ YouTube series; and Chitra Ganesh’s She the Question, a comic that reconstructs from a feminist perspective images from the Amar Chitra Kathas comic book series for children (published in India and distributed around the world).
- And so much more.
As a supplement to the issue, Kayla E. created and illustrated All of Them Witches, a zine of four comics that rewrite sexist horror comics from the 1950s, written by Meghan Lamb, Stine An, Carrie Guss, and Ashley Keyser, and edited by RL Goldberg. Sharp, funny, pulling no punches, these four “re-mixes” do exciting work to resuscitate the pulpy, perverse sensationalism of their originals, while correcting—with triumph—their insulting misogyny.
Much of the journal content is available on the website, where Nat. Brut also publishes original content, including this terrific roundtable of women and nonbinary comics artists responding to the erasure of women in this year’s list of nominees for the Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême.
From 2005-2008 I co-published a zine called Mildred Pierce and Nat. Brut is sort of what I envisioned that project growing into: a beautifully printed yet somehow sustainable journal/magazine that publishes smart, fresh literature, art, essays, and comics; art and ideas that are in many ways resistant and thoroughly politically and socially engaged. Nat. Brut is doing all that — & more! I’m eager for Issue Seven. ❤