Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (Photo: Jefferey Walls)
One of the great advantages with the Internet, is the possibility of following activists and artists in other side of the world. Unfortunately, it is an overt globalized Eurocentrism in such a statement and, of course, not all have the possibility of hooking up with others online, or silently following people as they write on their activities, their travels, their thoughts and actions.
For quite a while now, I have followed the activist writer Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s blog NOBODY PASSES, darling. Currently the blog has documented her experiences and meetings with people on her latest tour, presenting her new novel So Many Ways to Sleep Badly (City Lights, 2008).
It is inspiring to be a blog-companion, following Mattilda around the US, and picking her thoughts. For those who are not familiar with Sycamore’s work, she has been a seriously active activist based in San Francisco, taking part in groups such as ACT UP, Fed Up Queers, Gay Shame, and several other initiatives. In 2003, Mattilda published her first novel Pulling Taffy, and besides her own literary production, she has edited several books (and journals), such as Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity, Dangerous Families: Queer Writing on Surviving and Tricks and Treats: Sex Workers Write About Their Clients. In other words, Mattilda is an active “critic and troublemaker”.
In 2004 Mattilda edited the important anthology That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation, published by Skull Press. In 2008, a new revised and expanded version of the book came out, and this is mandatory for everyone interested in queer activism, politics, and history. Here you can read on Gay Shame, Restroom Revolutionaries, Fed Up Queers, ACT UP, Gay Liberation Front, rural queer youth, sex workers, drugs and resistance, sex workers, critiques of straight (and gay) privilege, racism, assimilation, etc.
I have been thinking about this book lately, as the media in Scandinavia has written about the fight for gay marriage in California, following the Proposition 8, restricting the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples only. In the coverings on the gay Prop.8-activism, there are never any mentionings of the far more radical activism criticising gay assimilation and marriage as an institution in the US. But activist initiatives resisting the normalization of queer existence deserves more attention, also across the Atlantic. And here Mattilda comes into the picture, as her writings and discussions on her blog and in her books are important, as they reach out wide with a strong and precise critical voice. In the introduction to That’s Revolting! Mattilda writes on gay marriage :
“If gay marriage is about protecting citizenship, whose citizenship is being protected? Most people in this country - especially those not born rich, white, straight, and male - are not full citizens. Gay assimilationists want to make sure they’re on the winning side in the citizenship wars, and this they see no need to prevent most people living in this country (and anywhere else) from exercising their supposed ‘rights’.”
Mattilda is not affraid to step on somebody’s toes, and she does an important job criticizing priveleges of all sorts. On her blog yesterday, she quoted herself from an interview she did with The Rumpus, and I think it is worth quoting this in length:
“Complacency isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. I’m interested in accountability and I’m interested in building a culture of defiance. I think it’s perfectly fine if people choose conventional life choices but it’s important to figure out a way to do the least damage rather than the most. We all make horrible compromises in order to survive in this monstrous world but the point is to make the fewest compromises possible, not to push everyone aside in order to grab any privilege we can get our hands on and then police the borders to keep out those who have less access. If the status quo is a rabid, militaristic, imperialist project camouflaged by the illusion of everyday normalcy, then yes, it’s definitely a problem if you’re a willful part of it.”
That’s something to think about folks! So now you are warned: Mattilda’s writing is out there, and it better be read and discussed more in Scandinavia too.