In Person

BookPeople, Thursday, Nov. 11

In Person
Photo By Abe Louise Young


BookPeople, Thursday, Nov. 11

A cross between Tinkerbell and a honky Malcolm X with a queer agenda, Mattilda, aka Matt Bernstein Sycamore, was in town last week for a reading at BookPeople. Her new anthology, That's Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation (Soft Skull, $15.95), protests what she calls "the rallying cry of the mainstream gay movement, the holy trinity of marriage, military service and adoption." Mattilda brought 37 queer activist-authors together to share various visions of radicalism – three of whom were on hand Thursday night. BookPeople's conference room was full for this confab.

The readings were serendipitously linked by an unexpected theme. Southwestern professor Alison Kafer documented the activist history of PISSAR, or People in Search of Safe, Accessible Restrooms. Their goal is to ensure that transgendered and disabled people are "Free 2 Pee" in gender-neutral and wheelchair accessible bathrooms. Eli seMbessakwini read a chronicle of a large lesbian public sex gathering at a San Francisco park, which began with a woman, shall we say, humidifying a sandbox. Blake Nemec shared an emotional narrative of the travails undergone by a disabled scholar and her personal caregiver: including employing a Dixie Cup as a public urinal in a bar where bathrooms were too narrow for a wheelchair.

As one of the local hosts, I got to witness the editor's preparatory lead-up to the reading. Like myself, she works through the night until around 5am, sleeps until noon, and attempts yogic poses periodically throughout the waking hours. Much of the day was spent cooking vegan vats of mung beans, kale, brown rice, and seaweed-based broth, as well as arranging details for the 26-city book tour via cell phone earbud. We had time to squeeze in a Q&A, which I hoped could boil down some of the basics of Mattilda's "resisting assimilation" platform for myself and the reader.

Austin Chronicle: How does "Queer" differ from "GLBT"?

Mattilda: GLBT is this fake acronym that really means gay with lesbian in parenthesis, throw out the bisexuals, and put trangender in for a little window dressing. Queer is both more inclusive and more politicized, and more dangerous – embracing all sexual outsiders, and bent and beautiful outlaws. As queers we grow up in a world that denies our sexual social and gender identities and wants us to disappear or die. Growing up queer is about embracing an outsider status and attempting to dismantle this world.

AC: What's wrong with gay marriage?

M: The way that it prescribes a model of monogamous couplehood and the state sanctioning of carnal coupling, as the true path to the right kind of gay identity. I also want to point out millions of dollars have been shoveled to gay marriage proponents, instead of to desperately needed services such as health care, shelter, youth services. What we should be fighting for is marriage abolition: things like housing, health care, inheritance rights, and hospital visitation rights should be available to all, not conditional on this worn-out, outdated, out-moded institution.

AC: If you were forced to marry someone, who would it be?

M: Someone who was going to die soon and leave me all their money. Although I would be perfectly happy with a living patron, too.

AC: Why should straight people read this book?

M: Perhaps more than anyone else, straight people have benefited from gay and lesbian liberation. Our liberation made it possible for straight people to be more fluid with their sexual and social identities – ironically, gay people are now stuck in this yearning for white-picket-fence normality.

After the reading, the speakers and audience retired to Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse & Cafe for a repast. The narrow cafe seemed to expand to accept the crowd, portobello tacos were ordered en masse, and several anarchist punks disappeared with locals to generate heat – er, solidarity – on a chilly night.


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More by Abe Louise Young
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Mattilda, That's Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation, Matt Bernstein Sycamore, Soft Skull, BookPeople

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