Mattilda a.k.a. Matt Bernstein Sycamore is an insomniac with dreams. She is the editor, most recently of Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity and an expanded second edition of Thatâ€™s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation. She’s also the author of a novel, Pulling Taffy. Mattilda lives for feedback, so contact her or check up on her various projects via her website or her blog.
1) I love the way you use the word “assimilation” – it always reminds me of the Borg episodes of Star Trek – but I wonder how that term plays in different audiences – say a gay male audience as compared to a trans one. How do people respond to your use of that term, and its sinister connotations?
Generally I’m talking about the way an assimilated gay elite has hijacked queer struggle, and positioned their desires as everyone’s needs. In this way, we see the dominant signs of straight conformity reimagined as the ultimate goals of gay (or that fake acronym “LGBT”) success, i.e. marriage, monogamy, adoption, gentrification, military service, etc. We can see this fundamental absurdity where housing and healthcare and fighting police brutality and challenging US imperialism are no longer seen as “LGBT” issues, but access to Tiffany wedding bands and participatory patriarchy is seen as the bedrock.
So when I articulate these politics, it’s generally the people I’m holding accountable — gay men and lesbians with power and privilege — who are the most scared. Most gay men wouldn’t know Feminism 101 if it hit them over the head, so it’s not surprising that they see getting rid of homeless people and people of color and sex workers from the neighborhoods theyâ€™ve gentrified as a wonderful service to the “community.”
Generally it’s more marginalized queers, and especially trans, genderqueer and gender defiant freaks and outlaws and misfits — as well as feminists of various formations — who are ready to challenge the cultural erasure that assimilation represents.
2) Queer people occasionally love that Betty and I are legally married, and identify as queer, but I get the feeling your thoughts on that might be different. Tell me about marriage and gay marriage.
Oh, no — marriage! Well, as we know from decades of feminist activism and scholarship, and from growing up in scary families of origin, marriage is still that central institution through which violence against women, queers, transpeople and children takes place. I don’t think we can reform marriage any more than we can reform other scary institutions of power (like the military, for example) — we’ve got to get rid of it!
Whatâ€™s so frightening to me is the way in which gay people are so anxious to become part of the status quo that they are willing to throw away decades of queer struggles to create new ways of loving and living with and lusting for one another — defiant means of survival outside of the violence of marriage and heteronormativity. This cultural erasure is so horrifying.
3) Your writings are intensely personal – as are mine – and I’m often asked why I do it, or how I do it. My answer recently has been “Audre Lorde.” What’s yours?
I do it because it keeps me alive. Writing has always been the one thing I always have access to in order to process, engage with and challenge the world around me. I don’t know if I could survive otherwise.
As far as a parallel to your â€œAudre Lorde,â€ Iâ€™d have to say David Wojnarowicz. His writing was the first time I saw my rage and desire and sense of outsider longing and loveliness reflected in someone else’s work — Plus a sense of maybe a little bit of hope in a world of loss.
4) Tell me about the word “queer” and why you prefer it over “LGBT.”
“LGBT” generally just means gay, with lesbian in parentheses, throw out the bisexuals and put trans on for a little bit of window-dressing. Queer is both more inclusive and more challenging. It encompasses so many identities that are outside of the limited framework of four choices. Queer is a beautiful threat, a defiant attitude, and a willingness to politicize all of the intersections of identity to challenge a world that wants us dead. It’s quite possible to have an â€œLGBTâ€ identity and to be politicized about nothing outside of a narrow identity politics nightmare, but queer has the potential to encompass so much more. Obviously it’s been appropriated too, so in some ways it’s a paradox that the potential still exists even in these days of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and things like that.
5) Tell us about the links between assimilation and passing.
With Nobody Passes, one of the things I want to do is to examine passing as a means through which the violence of assimilation takes place. Not just passing into dominant cultures, but hierarchies of passing within subcultures as well — what I want to ask is: if we weren’t always required to pass as the right gender, race, class, a sexuality, age, ability, body type or a member of the most desirable religion or the trendiest spiritual gimmick or the Speaker of the House, what devious and devastating opportunities for transformation might we create?