Serena Freewomyn

Better Know a Contributor: Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Filed By Serena Freewomyn | July 13, 2008 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Marriage Equality
Tags: Mattilda Berbstein Sycamore, Nobody Passes

Editor's Note: You've seen Steven Colbert's "Better Know a Lobbyist," but our version is so much gayer! Each weekend, we spotlight a different TBP contributor. In case you've missed any of our previous interviews, I've got links at the end of the post.

This week the spotlight is on Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. She is the editor of Nobody Passes, and That's Revolting! Mattilda writes regularly for various publications, including the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Bitch, she pens a monthly column in Maximumrocknroll, and she is the reviews editor at the new feminist magazine make/shift, where she also writes a column. Mattilda's wit and her radical viewpoints make her one of our most entertaining, and controversial, contributors. Follow me after the jump to find out more.

1. How did you get involved with TBP?
Alex had been following my blog, and asked me to join Bilerico as it was going national (that was before it was called The Bilerico Project). He said he wanted the blog to show that queer "doesn't just mean martinis, marriage, and Madonna," so I couldn't really say no to that.

2. What was your coming out experience like?
Well, I'm one of those girls who says that it's an ongoing process, okay? But I guess the beginning was maybe when I was four or five and everyone on the playground was always calling me faggot or sissy and I just didn't understand. Then when I was maybe eight I finally figured out what faggot meant, and I thought: how did they know? I mean even before me!

But at that point I thought I could never come out, because faggot would erase everything that I struggled to create - at eight I was already an overachiever and I realized that if everyone knew I was a faggot then I could never be anything else -- this is the message I got from everyone around me: my parents, other kids, teachers, newspapers with early headlines about AIDS. Of course, everyone already knew, right -- so you see how homophobia works to scare us into submission anyway.

In high school I embraced the label of freak and I encouraged everyone around me to create their own identities not based on the horrifying "liberal" world around us, but it took till I got away from that scary place to embrace queer, and then faggot and queen and all those other gorgeous words. Then the formal coming out to my parents was after my one year of college and my parents came to visit me in San Francisco and I think my father asked me something about dating women, or something like that, a subject that had certainly not come up before, since I was always a flamer, and I said I don't date women, I'm a faggot!

So then they wanted me to see a therapist to change things. Which was ironic because my father was a psychiatrist and my mother was a clinical social worker, so they were both therapists -- I learned a lot from their hypocrisy!

3. Which book has had the most impact on your life?
Close to the Knives, by David Wojnarowicz was the first time I saw my sense of rage in print -- and also my sense of maybe a little bit of hope in a world of loss.

4. Speaking of books, tell us more about your new book That's Revolting. What inspired you to write the book?
That's Revolting is a radical queer intervention in the culture wars. As the gay establishment prioritizes the attainment of straight privilege over all else, it drains queer identity of any meaning, relevance, or cultural value. So I've gotten desperate, okay?

That's Revolting! skewers assimilationist trends with incisive essays like "Dr. Laura, Sit on My Face," "Is Gay Marriage Racist?," and "Queer Parents: An Oxymoron Or Just Plain Moronic?" This expanded edition contains the original work by dozens of fruits, freaks, perverts and the rest of us, including Patrick Califia, Dean Spade, and Carol Queen. There are five new selections that cover everything from rabble-rousing with the Gay Liberation Front in the 1960s to blowing up buildings with the George Jackson Brigade in the 1970s, current-day rural queer youth organizing in Massachusetts to the Drop the Debt / Stop AIDS action at the Republican National Convention in New York.

And that's not all -- City Lights is publishing my new novel in October -- it's called So Many Ways to Sleep Badly, and it's more than a little bit autobiographical.

5. If you could meet one person, living or past, who would it be and why?
Gerald Ford. Just kidding. It would be David Wojnarowicz, who is the closest to an icon for me. I found out about him in an obituary in 1993 after he died of AIDS. Just recently, I reread Close to the Knives and I was I'm struck by his sense of a shared destiny between all people with AIDS or all queers or all marginal artists -- this community of desperation, and I'm struck by how this feeling of commonality is now almost entirely lost. I can't help wondering if it was ever there. Or maybe things have just changed so dramatically in 15 years that there is no longer an "us." Still I keep searching for those moments when everything becomes lighter or brighter or easier to imagine -- that's what So Many Ways to Sleep Badly is about, actually, and it's been compared to David Wojnarowicz, so I guess things come 'round.

6. What's your favorite thing to do in the summertime?
Hide from the sun.

Don't forget to pick up a copy of That's Revolting! According to Left Turn:

"That's Revolting! is a pre-emptive line in the sand... It calls us all, regardless of our specific sexual and gender identities, to resist the pressures to assimilate into an increasingly belligerent and racist normality. Ranging from New York to San Francisco, from prison cells to the prison camp life of occupied Palestine, That's Revolting! does more than map out the nether regions of queer identity politics. The articles and interviews gathered together here are full of the collective wisdom of generations of activists determined to take the social space needed to live their lives."

Now check out previous interviews with TBP Contributors
Alex Blaze
Don Sherfick
Sara Whitman
Brent Hartinger
Jessica Hoffman
Cathy Renna
Waymon Hudson
Kate Clinton
Bruce Parker
Jerame Davis
Mercedes Allen
< A HREF="http://www.bilerico.com/2008/06/better_know_a_contributor_monica_roberts.php" target="_blank">Monica Roberts


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I really want to read the new That's Revolting now.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 14, 2008 2:14 AM

Mattilda, as always! As you know I have no way to get your books, but I shall continue to peruse your blog pages.

My best compliment is: I hate, envy, admire, am revolted and love you...all at the same time. :)

Mattilda's courage to challenge mainstream culture has finally given my life real meaning and direction.

Everyone should read her new book That's Revolting! It will knock you off your feet and bring you to the realization how little control most people have over their own lives...and now is the time to get that power back.

Agreed, Robert. That's a darn good way of saying it. (And I think Mattilda will love that description!)

OOh -- I do love that description, Robert. And there must be a way to get my books in Thailand, there simply must (probably something tricky, though)...

And Becca, wow this is incredible:

"Mattilda's courage to challenge mainstream culture has finally given my life real meaning and direction."

Thank you thank you thank you!!!!!

Alex and Bil, all of this is making me blush -- which is probably good for my complexion, among other things :)