H. Melt is my friend. It feels really good to say that! H. Melt is also an inspiration and role model to me as an activist and queer person and human being. Their new book The Plural, The Blurring – out November 20, via The Neutral Zone & Red Beard – exemplifies a lot of the things that make me love H. so much. There is the craft of their words, the memories, sometimes shared, that are weaved throughout the book, and the progressive, startlingly impactful documentation of their work writing to institutions for better treatment. Theirs is an intimate kind of activism, one they identify with the Chicago school of poetry writing, and one I have taken to heart as a queer revolutionary. Reading and being with H. Melt makes me feel excited, it makes me feel sad, it makes me feel the spectrum of emotions but knowing that H. Melt is out there, anywhere, just makes me feel safe.
The Plural, The Blurring largely focuses describing a very specific place and time. What’s the significance of having that setting at the center of the book?
The book is about Chicago’s queer arts scene between roughly 2012-2014 and how the art and activism going on in the city during that time coincided with my development as a trans writer. The book is largely about place and community, the ways in which they can influence an individual’s sense of self. For me, that period of time is when I am meeting and forming relationships with other queer and trans artists for the first time. I’m starting to take myself more seriously as a writer, as a trans person, and end up writing and publishing about the people, performances, and spaces that are most influencing and inspiring me. I’m also starting to grapple with queer loss and trans death, the ways in which loss can impact a community.
How have you been changed by the loss you’ve experienced and the gains you’ve seen achieved? Do you feel weaker and stronger at the same time?
I think that loss is inevitable. Sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes it’s painful and unexpected. The queer community is not stable, I don’t think that any community is. There will always be people leaving and spaces closing down. This can open up room for growth, for new spaces and new relationships to form but at what cost? What’s being lost? I think the people mirror the changes going on in the city and vice versa.
In your review of the trans & genderqueer poetry anthology Troubling the Line (included in The Plural, The Blurring), you write about your roots in the Chicago tradition of poetry and how that has affected your own work and what you tend to relate to as a reader. Have you found other queer poets who similarly embody that tradition?
I have never read a book of trans poetry by someone from Chicago. That’s part of the reason that I wrote the book. Many of the queer and trans writers that I’ve connected to most are not based in Chicago. While Chicago is a very literary and even poetry focused place, I don’t feel like there’s a queer poetry scene here. A queer arts scene definitely exists, and that’s very present in the book. But something about the literary scene hasn’t always facilitated a place for queer writers. My writing community and queer community are more separate than I would like.
Where does the inspiration for the essays and letters to institutions you include come from? Are you still writing those?
Yes, I’m still writing essays. A lot of them came out of feeling powerless, especially the ones directed at specific institutions. I actually sent or performed most of the pieces in the book about specific places directly to people who work or spend time there. That’s part of my practice. In some cases, those writings actually sparked real change, new relationships, and projects. For example, there is now going to be a trans poetry category at the Lambda Literary Awards and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has improved their trans healthcare and now has a student-led group called the League of Extraordinary Genders. In other words, the essays and poems are part of a larger movement to create more access to resources for trans people. To help keep us alive.
“Part of your practice,” can you talk more about that?
The letters and essays felt more urgent–they were tools as part of my larger vision and hope to make more space for queer and trans writers and artists–by critiquing institutions that could be more welcoming to us, and reviewing exhibits, books, and plays that had some relationship to myself and the larger community. That’s really what I see my real work as–supporting other queer and trans writers and artists.
The Plural, The Blurring is now available for pre-order.