Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore and Sassafras Lowrey Discuss the Queer Margins
BY Diane Anderson-Minshall
October 14 2012 10:54 AM ET
Lowrey: It's tricky — you're talking about this gayness or queerness that started one way as very flamboyant and then has become normalized with all these rigid roles and boundaries. One of the things I wanted to do with this book was to ask what it means that so often our communities privilege certain bodies and experiences, like deciding what it means to be “really” trans. I think for me, as somebody who was on [testosterone] for three years and went off T and went back on T and then did go off T eventually, I’m really interested in exploring what the pressure to pass looks like, and that makes people in queer and trans communities really uncomfortable. I lost my whole community when I quit [testosterone] and so I know how present that fear is. That fear within our queer communities of not conforming to these worlds that we’ve created is so palpable for many, many of us.
Sycamore: It’s so ironic — the pressure to conform to the nonconformist dictate.
Lowrey: The best advice I got during the writing process was to “write the most dangerous book that you can imagine,” and I did. And at the same time I didn't realize at the time quite how uncomfortable it was going to make people.
Sycamore: It’s always interesting what people find controversial. I did an event for Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots at the University of Southern California, and there was a big controversy before I arrived where one gay student in particular was very offended that I'd used “faggot” in the title and I doubt he'd read any of the book but according to him this could never be reclaimed speech because he had never met anyone who identified as a faggot. But I was never interested in a tamer title: the title actualizes what the book is invoking. It’s leveling the playing field. And I think of course “faggot” is still used as a slur and as a word to keep people in their place, not just among straight homophobes but among straight-acting proper gay men, but honey, please, look in the mirror! I think as soon as something is toned down or streamlined or packaged to fit into a familiar narrative, it loses its potential for instigation and insight.
Lowrey: That messiness was one of the things I was so intent on keeping in Roving Pack. I didn’t want someone to come away from the book feeling like it wrapped up in a nice little package and everyone lived happily ever after and it was clean and perfect. I wanted my readers to sit in that mess because that’s what’s real.