Queer people need warning stories too with Nancy Agabian and Carmen Maria Machado

Our premiere episode! We talk with writer and literary organizer Nancy Agabian (she/her) about the book In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. It is a memoir about an abusive queer relationship Carmen had with an ex-girlfriend. Nancy shares how In The Dream House saved her and then we meet Carmen (she/her) to discuss the writing of her memoir and how it was like passing a kidney stone – something she needed to do to move on to get to the writing she wanted to do. The episode transcript is below.

We’re discussing abuse in queer relationships today. If you are in need of support, don’t go through this alone. There are people ready to help. There is the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color network to find a provider near you. There is Forge, who focuses on supporting trans and non-binary survivors. CenterLink can connect you to your local LGBT center. And there are a number of lifelines that you can call for immediate support: the GLBT National Help Center 1-888—246–7743, the Trans Lifeline 1-877—565-8860, the Black Line, created with an LGBTQ+ Black Femme lens 1-800-604-5841, and the DeQH hotline for South Asian/DESI LGBTQ individuals, family, and friends 908-367-3374.

A big thank you to Archie A. and Bill S. for being This Queer Book Saved My Life’s first Patreon supporters. Their sponsorship level directly supports transcription services that ensure the podcast is accessible to our deaf and hard of hearing audiences. Patreon supporters help keep us on the air and promote accessibility. They receive a variety of benefits, including shout outs in our episodes, social media mentions, access to live-streaming events, virtual lunch with me, or even better, bring me to work day where I can do a talk and Q&A around queer diversity, equity, and inclusion. You can subscribe at patreon.com/thisqueerbook.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

J.P. Der Boghossian: Hey everyone. This is J.P. and before we get started I want to thank our promotional sponsor Quatrefoil Library for their work in spreading the word about this podcast.

Quatrefoil Library is a community center that cultivates the free exchange of ideas and makes accessible LGBTQ+ materials for education and inspiration. Located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, visit them at qlibrary.org

That’s q library.org

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Also, we’re discussing abuse in queer relationships today. If you are in need of support, don’t go through this alone. There are people ready to help. On our website we are linking to several organizations as well as hotlines you can call for immediate support. Our website is thisqueerbook.com and click on this episode’s page.

[intro music]

J.P. Der Boghossian: On today’s episode:

Nancy Agabian: To represent villains within an identity group is something every identity group should be able to do because it makes us human.

J.P. Der Boghossian:  I’m talking with Nancy Agabian about In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. It’s a memoir exploring an abusive relationship Machado had with a former girlfriend. For Nancy it breaks the silence about abuse in queer relationships.

Nancy Agabian: Just that feeling of, “damn why couldn’t I have read this when I had been living this?”

J.P. Der Boghossian: Then, In The Dream House was a wet baby giraffe? We’ll talk with Carmen Maria Machado about:

Carmen Maria Machado: I sort of describe it as like the book fell out of me like a wet baby giraffe, meaning like it has all, it had, I mean it was still very like wet and nascent and like a mess, and all legs. But it had what it needed to become the book that it actually became.

J.P. Der Boghossian: My name is J.P. Der Boghossian and you’re listening to This Queer Book Saved My Life!

[plucky pizzicato music]

J.P. Der Boghossian: Let me introduce you to Nancy Agabian. Her pronouns are she/her. She is a creative nonfiction writer and teacher. Her memoir Me as Her again: True Stories of an Armenian Daughter was the first memoir written by a writer identifying as both Armenian and Bisexual. And, it was a Lambda Literary Award finalist.

Growing up, her favorite books were A Wrinkle in Time and Are You There God It’s Me Margaret? You’ll hear in upcoming episodes a number of guests who said their favorite book growing up was A wrinkle in time. Must be super gay. Here is something I didn’t know was a thing, but wish I had known, because it is something I totally would have done when I was a kid. At Nancy’s local library, you could go and sign-up to be a book worm. Which she did.

Nancy describes herself as a Literary organizer and I love that. She has facilitated multicultural writing workshops in LA, with women writers in Yerevan Armenia, as well as with immigrant and first-generation writers in Queens New York. She currently teaches at NYU and Grub Street. And this is rad: She formed the folk punk duo band Guitar Boy and released the album Freaks Like Me in 1999. A year later she published Princess Freak. A collection of performance texts, poetry, and short prose. If you buy it, which I hope you do, my favorite piece is on page 78: the crochet penis. I would love to see her perform anything from Princess Freak.

Today, Nancy is in search for a book to fall in love with. She surrounds herself with books, shuffling through a lot of half read ones until she finds the one that captures her. Here’s my conversation with Nancy.

Hi Nancy! So tell us what is the book that saved your life?

Nancy: My book is In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, which is a memoir.

J.P.: And how would you describe Machado’s memoir to listeners who haven’t read it before?

Nancy: Um, it’s a story of how she survived a ah queer abusive relationship with another queer woman and in the process of telling that story she needs to create an archive and her archive becomes a collection of tropes about storytelling which allows her to both belong to the tropes, but also to subvert them. So, it’s a very captivating story in that you have a narrative about the relationship, but you also have an intellectual exercise. It also becomes a form of advocacy. So, I found it a very powerful experience to read this book.

J.P.: Because of its unique style, to help folks out, I think we should say that the girlfriend in the story is only referred to as “the woman in the dreamhouse.” And what we mean by archive and tropes is that each chapter has a different trope for a title: Dream House as Time Travel; Dream House as Stranger Comes to Town and Dream House as Lesbian cult classic. 

Every guest has a different story for how a book saved them, so for you, Nancy, how do you feel In The Dream House saved you?

Nancy: For me I think the main saving feature was seeing a silent part of myself represented. So, you know, feeling trapped, not knowing that I was in an abusive relationship, seeing the portrayal of that helped me feel less alone, less ashamed. And, also, reading the narrator advocate for herself in defining abuse also helped me break my own silence to tell people in my life that I had been abused. So that was the main aspect that breaking of a silence and I would say it carried over to my work as a writer because it helped me accept and mourn that my book about my own experiences hadn’t been sold and when I was reading In The Dream House, at the end I thought: wow, my book really could have been in conversation with this and why didn’t an editor see that? And, of course, once you ask the question you realize there’s like a million reasons why and many that are not in your control and some that are and I think that process helped me stay on my path and encouraged me to stay on my path of my healing journey. But also getting the book in the world. And so I think In The Dream House helped give me tools to unpack shame which is a very lifesaving thing to have those tools.

J.P.: As you started reading the book, what was it that you liked about the writing style?

Nancy: Well, it’s really short chapters and like I said they’re each kind of their own style and subject. And there’s this kind of fascinating thing that happens where you are you know, understanding that the writer is saying, early on, she says something like to represent villains within an identity group is something every identity group should be able to do because it makes us human. And so you come to understand that she’s saying how there was you know nothing written about queer women in an abusive relationship. And she’s writing about this relationship, so you learn about the relationship and I think it’s those two things that kind of making space and for me like reliving or seeing someone else going through something similar to what I went through was that kind of “I’m not alone moment.” But the fact that there’s also this like highly emotional thing happening, then there’s this also intellectual thing happening where you’re seeing the writer saying: look queer people are part of these tropes too! These kinds of…I’m trying to think of like an example of a chapter. I can just like randomly turn to one…a warning a warning story right.

Queer people need warning stories. Here’s an example of a warning story. Or American gothic. So you see these different forms represented through this queer relationship and you see being included, but also challenging the trope. So making space, questioning, challenging, mourning, you know, I think though those two elements: the emotional and the intellectual was what kept me really deeply involved.

J.P. I’m curious about the conversation between your upcoming book and In the Dream House. Tell us more about your novel.

Nancy: Okay, sure. So, my main character is Natalie who’s also known as Na (in her own mind) is a very idealistic, feminist, bisexual, Armenian American woman. She’s fed up with the conservative climate in America after George w Bush is elected a second time. She decides to go to her homeland of Armenia to explore her cultural heritage, but also to research and write about artists and activists who are working for social change. So, she has these lofty goals. But once she gets there, she has a meltdown in confronting her inability to speak the language after all her years of trying and failing. And, also, encountering a really sexist and homophobic landscape.

Enter Seran, who’s a young rebellious punk rocker and poet, also bisexual, who seems to really see her and value her and they fall in love. He is about to be conscripted into the army, which is known to haze soldiers brutally, especially if they’re somehow different and so they marry and move to New York, which seems to solve the problem of the military, but the relationship spirals into abuse. So, the book is Na’s attempt to break out of this relationship that she feels trapped in and she doesn’t know why she’s trapped. So she pieces together her blog posts she wrote in Armenia. Journals. She’s writing in New York. She even writes about herself in third person to try to gain some objective distance into the meaning of these experiences.

The story becomes a kind of metaphor for the relationship between homeland and diaspora, especially the kind of knots that kept Na tied in a place of like figuring out her privilege: their intersecting privileges disadvantages. The hierarchies of genocide and violence.

So I say the overlap with In The Dream House or how it might speak to it is the fact that there’s a definite form, you know, I think Machado had to invent this form of the archive to tell her story because there hadn’t been enough written about and acknowledged about abuse among queer women. I think, you know, I have these different sections and parts that are kind of show this sort of fragmented reality that happens when you come from a culture that’s invisible and yet you have this American citizenship and you have these varying understandings of the world in the way that shame can kind of be isolating. But these sections in my book speak to each other even though there’s this isolation. So I’d say the form, but also this idea of: I didn’t know. Na’s character didn’t know and what Carmen didn’t know. That very varying levels of knowing and not knowing about the situation you’re in. Llike knowing it’s wrong and being smart, being able to convey where you think the problems are and but not being able to get out of it.

J.P.: After this sponsorship break, I’ll talk more with Nancy about the need to speak out and the tension that can come with that when we live in marginalized communities. But first, thank you to our Twin Cities based sponsors Best Advantage Mortgage and Park Tavern.

[music]

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J.P.: In my other career, as a chief diversity officer, when I work with allies or those wanting to create queer inclusive spaces, I stress how important being seen and being heard are, how critical that is for uplifting Queer individuals and communities. You can’t underestimate the need for it. Here’s more with my conversation with Nancy.

J.P.: What was it like for you, the felt experience of it, in having the silence around all of this suddenly filled with words?

Nancy: Ok, yeah, I mean so affirming like, just that feeling of: Damn! Why couldn’t I have read this when I had been living this kind of thing? You know that feeling of: when you read a book and you feel like I wish this had been a conversation I could’ve had with someone. So, there’s an intimacy because you feel like here’s a woman who’s telling you what had happened to her and that’s very empowering you know – to feel that and experience that.

J.P.: I want to be mindful of how I ask this next question, because I believe 100% in the power of narrative and the necessity of naming truths and how can we get to those places where we can do that. Yet, like you, I identify as queer and as Armenian and there is a pressure there, not to say anything that can reflect badly on the community. What comes up for you about this?

Nancy: I think that’s definitely a big thread of her of what she’s examining. Also the idea that Queer relationships are a utopia. There’s like stigma, like “oh see! These queer relationships can’t work!” But then there’s, among our community, there’s like, “This was liberating for me to come out and to be in love with a woman! So how could it be this horrible thing? How could there be abuse?” You know when I look at the notes I wrote in In The Dream House I would think oh, like I would make parallels to the Armenian Community. I think that kind of, “don’t stigmatize us,” pressure is pretty common in the Armenian community.

J.P.: Either while you were reading In the Dream House, or thereafter, was there anything you felt you could say or write for the first time because you read it?

Nancy: Yeah. I think that idea of…I think probably it was easier for me to be kinder to myself in what I had experienced and I think that concept of: what I didn’t know at the time. And I think she shows that and describes that really well, the way she writes about where she was as a queer person in her life and what she didn’t know and what she didn’t realize. Because at one point her girlfriend had said to her, “this is how relationships between women are. They’re volatile. And that kind of, giving, understanding, and attention for oneself was one thing that was really helpful.

J.P.: Nancy thank you for sharing this with us today. So, tell us! When your novel comes out?

Nancy: Ah, fall of this year. So I’m hoping October. We’ll see how it goes.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Can we pre-order now? Should we be following your website?

Nancy: Yes. The press is Nauset Press. N-a-u-s-e-t. It’ll be available there with links to preorder. And yeah, watch my website nancyagabian.com. And it’ll be available on the main outlets like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell’s Bookshop, etc.

[music]

J.P. Der Boghossian: After this short break, Carmen Maria Machado joins Nancy and I and I’ve been thinking about our conversation for weeks. We’ll get into whether writing this book was healing for Carmen and also a really interesting discussion about what point of view should we tell our stories from? What perspective best tell our truths?

[music]

J.P. Der Boghossian: A big thank you to Archie A. and Bill S. for being This Queer Book Saved My Life’s first Patreon supporters. Their sponsorship level directly supports transcription services that ensure the podcast is accessible to our deaf and hard of hearing audiences. Patreon supporters help keep us on the air and promote accessibility. They receive a variety of benefits, including shout outs in our episodes, social media mentions, access to live-streaming events, virtual lunch with me, or even better, bring me to work day where I can do a talk and Q&A around queer diversity, equity, and inclusion. You can subscribe at patreon.com/thisqueerbook

[music]

J.P. Der Boghossian: It is my pleasure to introduce to you Carmen Maria Machado. Carmen uses she/her pronouns. And she is a National Book Award Finalist and she has won many awards, including the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction. Machado is a prolific writer, she has three books, and writes about writing craft, travel, literary criticism, food, humor, and fashion. She got her MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and has received fellowships and residences from numerous organizations, including the Guggenheim Foundation.

Guess what her favorite book was growing up? A Wrinkle In Time. Which she calls a really perfect novel. But she also told me that Behind the Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy was hugely special to her as well and that when she meets other folx who have read it they have a deep bonding moment over it. Her family was very insistent that Carmen read and was read to as a child, so her grandmother, her great-grandmother, and her parents all read to her all the time. Getting through the pandemic, Carmen read a lot of horror and erotic fiction. She said that after writing In the Dream House, folx have sent her so many books about trama and sad things that she got to point where she couldn’t read that anymore and so she wanted Super scary books or super sexy ones.

And she really recommends Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin which Carmen says is terrifying, brutal, and super sexy. So, you heard it hear, go get your summer read on with Manhunt. But right now, here’s my conversation with Carmen and Nancy.         

J.P. Der Boghossian: So, I’ve read you describe In The Dream House as a wet baby giraffe. Tell us more.

Carmen Maria Machado: Yes, yeah, so this term came out at some point when I was touring the book and I used this phrase once, kind of impromptu, and I was like oh that actually feels super appropriate for everything, the whole process which is that, like, you know, I really struggled to write this book. And I guess you could call it a it was hard to write it in a straightforward manner and so every time I would sort of sit down to write and sort of just put these scenes together and it would feel really dead and really um, just didn’t have any life and energy in it and I was like very bored by it I’d read it and be like this is dreadful I would never read I would never try to solve this I would never try to read that you know I’d never want to read this? Um, and then once the sort of the I guess you can call it like the formal sort of elements of the book occurred to me. So once I began thinking about you know like. Form and genre and these sort of like tiny chapters that sort of did this had this sort of movement to them once I figured this out, I sort of describe it as like the book fell out of me like a wet baby giraffe meaning like it has all it had I mean it was still very like wet and nascent and like a mess and all legs. But. It had what it needed to become the book that it eventually it became so it was this sort of thing that like contained all the things it needed to become the book.

So like it’s funny because the the version I sold to my publisher like if you looked at it now you would recognize it in the sense that you’d be like oh I recognize parts of this from the final memoir. But also it in no way resembles it because the book had to like grow and grow and grow and, in fact, like the first the second draft I get I handed into my editor had added like 150 pages so like tremendous amount of material so like it really was just like. That was just just an early part. It was just such an early version of itself which I’m not used to because my first book I sold basically finished I mean we had some edits like we did some editorial work but like the book was basically done and so it was a really different process like kind of writing this book alongside my editor and like you know, sort of working through it. In that way.

J.P. So you have the form, but there is a lot of emotional labor that goes into writing a memoir, what kept you going after you got started?

Carmen Maria Machado: Um, I didn’t want to give the money back. [laughs] And I had to keep going because I had to get to the end because I’m stubborn like that.

I mean I’m glad that I finished it, but there will, I mean I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t a moment, and you know, before I finished it, that I actually thought about quitting and thought about stopping because it was so difficult and sort of emotionally taxing and exhausting. Um, I thought about it many times and ultimately I was like it would be a real pain in the ass to have to give this money back and I am just I’m stubborn and see like I do think the book should be in the world. I think I can get to the other side of this. I have to just really push myself. I mean whether or not that was correct is anyone’s guess but you know it was just the way I had to do it.

Nancy: I’m so glad you kept pushing because it’s obviously speaks to so many people.

Carmen Maria Machado: Yeah, yeah I mean that’s actually sort of, you know the book, I mean the whole process of like touring the book, which I was touring it before Covid started, and like talking about the book and doing press for the book. You know it’s actually been quite difficult and writing the book was really, it was like a really traumatic experience to work on this project, and I guess, I just, you know, I have a lot of, sometimes, I have these thoughts where I’m like I wish I hadn’t, I hadn’t written it or I wish I hadn’t sold it. You know I wish I had to sort of let it be and and I have those thoughts. And I still have those thoughts but I also, you know, people then talk to me about the book and it does mean a lot. I get mail and email and messages and people come up to me and talk to me. And it’s just this very like sort of intense emotional thing for people and I understand that and I do feel grateful that I got to be a part of that — even if the process was so hard for me.

Nancy: Yeah I hear how it’s both those things and they both exist alongside each other. I had a question about the writing

When did like how did writing in the second person come into being? When did that happen in the process? Because I think it’s such a strong part of the book.

Carmen Maria Machado: Yeah, those, actually like so many things I do that people love was totally an accident. The first draft I actually handed in was entirely in second person and my editor Ethan who is brilliant, said to me, you know I want to talk about among other things I want to talk about the use of the second person. And I was like oh what do you think? and he was like he’s like you know I think it’s a really interesting thing.

And then he was like you totally can do it; I’m not going to say no; or stop you, but I do want to just sort of check in and make sure that you’re writing in second person for purposeful reasons and not because you’re so traumatized that you’re like holding the entire book at arm’s length which is a, you know, very astute observation. I mean he’s really brilliant. And I was like good question, good thought, let me check. So I sort of like went back to the book and tried to figure out like, you know, what was next. And I tried to fuss with it and I was like, “ah I’ll just put the whole thing in first person. Who cares?” And I began to like kind of change everything and when I read things out loud (when I write I was reading it out loud) and everything that I converted to first just didn’t sound correct. It wasn’t, it was hitting my ear weird and I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on. And then eventually I was like okay so something not working. But also I can’t write the whole book in second person because like there’s like all this research sections. It would be just be confusing. And then I was thinking a lot about this really beautiful queer novel that I am really obsessed with called We The Animals by Justin Torres, which is a really tremendous beautiful novel, that is told in the case of that book a plural first.

So a “we” voice and towards the end of the novel there’s this act of violence and trauma that happens and it literally ruptures the POV and so it goes from being “we” voice and like one of the brothers like peals away and it becomes like I think it goes from a third person dissociative state and then a “you” and then at some point it goes to “I.” And it’s like he becomes singular and separate from his brothers and it’s super devastating, and really beautiful, and I was thinking a lot about that gesture and I was like what if I tried something similar where I just tried to create a sense of rupture. It made sense that I had a “you.” Sort of like the past version of me that’s stuck and then there’s the I which is like the present day version and then there was this you know, um also just like these like other you know, sort of a more like academic section. So it just allowed me a kind of like to create that separation and like distinguish between those 2 set selves. Um, and became like actually quite a useful tool for the book. So I’m glad I did it even if it was totally an accident in the beginning. But.

Nancy: I think that if that was your intuition to write like that, then it’s not, I don’t think it’s an accident.

Carmen Maria Machado: Ah, yeah I mean I guess this is the question is like intuition because I I feel like so often I get asked about like choices I’ve made and I have like no idea that I’ve made them and I’ll be like oh look I remember my my first book my my collection an interviewer was like. Ah, this whole book is in first person. Let’s talk about that I was like it is no idea like I was like I like I feel like I mean yes I do make a lot of purposeful choices in my work. But also I feel like so many writers like so much is happening in the subconscious and below the surface and like I’m not even making those connections necessarily it just.

It just sort of happens and so I don’t know Yeah I feel like I feel like it is my subconscious and my create you know there’s like pieces of me that like know it needs to be done but also a lot of that is happening like at a subliminal level and is not happening like it’s like all kind of down here. So I don’t know. Yeah.

Nancy Agabian: Can I share an experience that’s similar to that?

Carmen Maria Machado: Please, of course please.

Nancy Agabian: So my book is set between Armenia and New York and it’s based on experiences my own experiences and when I was living there. Ah there would be times when I would like feel outside of my body and I’d like think about myself in the third person and think about the person I was involved with in third person like it was a story and you know many years later when I’m trying to make sense of what happened I’m writing it in first person and it’s really really hard, and one day I started writing about that phenomenon of oh. So I was thinking about myself in the third person and then I started writing about myself in the third person and then the third person became this thing that made the book like I couldn’t keep writing it until I’d figured out that piece.

So I do think there’s like these subliminal subconscious things that happen to us that totally makes sense for what the story is.

Carmen Maria Machado: And I mean I think POV can be such a key to a project and I’ve known many people for whom like the selection of a correct pov is actually like excuse me like unlocked something really critical about a book. Um, or a project or whatever a story and I think that that actually makes a lot of sense because it is It is not trivial. You know the decision to like where to put of place the camera or where to place the the kind of the consciousness of the of the book is like actually like a really really important part of the process.

J.P. Der Boghossian: What’s coming up for me as I’m listening to this, is the idea of the continuous present from research into trauma. This experience that the traumatic event or events is still happening and that for healing the treatment is to move it into the past tense. This happened to me. That’s a goal of the processing, and maybe this question doesn’t follow from that, but if you had the chance to write it again, would you use the second person?

Carmen Maria Machado: I mean if I had chance to do it again, I wouldn’t do it. But if I was if I had a chance to do it again and I did decide to do it I don’t know I don’t know I truly have no idea I mean I feel like the brain of the person who wrote this book. This boy has been show shaped by like Covid and quarantine and and all these other things that I have truly no idea how I would write it Now. Um I I don’t know.

J.P. Der Boghossian: We hear a lot about writing as healing, but I think I’m hearing some regrets maybe on your part, do you feel there was any kind of healing process to it?

Carmen Maria Machado: No. I mean this is the thing that people talk about a lot and I think I mean for some people I think writing can be very healing both like the act of writing and also the writing of a book that becomes published which isn’t also not the same thing right? like those things are very separate from each other like writing isn’t a therapeutic tools. Obviously I think pretty useful for a lot of folks. Writing a book that then gets published sort of another animal. But I think some people do still find that part also cathartic I did not find it cathartic at all I found it quite traumatizing. Um pretty and a pretty consistent and and terrible Way.

And yeah, if I could go back in time I don’t think I would do it again just for my own sort of health. And like well-being um I mean it’s done. It’s happened I feel was feel weird saying that because again like lots of people have spoken to me about how sort of helpful they found that book and I Obviously you know I’m grateful for that and like if if I mean to to know that like something good came out of it is is really wonderful to me but it was no. It was. It was excruciatingly hard to write and it was not cathartic in any way I mean I felt like I feel like the language like I kept using before was like it was like I had to pass a Kidney stone like I mean it guess to I think I It wasn’t even cathartic but it was like I had to do it to like move on to like work on other stuff which I really wanted to do.

So yeah, so it was like that I’m grateful that I got to the other side of it. But I also wish I wouldn’t have had to have written it in the first place. So.

J.P. Der Boghossian: We’re talking about how there aren’t a lot books about violence in queer relationships, and I’m curious if during the writing or editing process if you thought I have to this part in because no one else is writing about this even though I’m not quite sure if it belongs in the book?

Carmen Maria Machado: I mean certainly one of the trickier pieces of the book and I mean this is all sort of underlined by the fact I keep quoting. Um that movie contact with Jody Foster which I love where she’s you know she’s in space and she says they should have sent a poet It’s so beautiful and I’m like they should have sent an academic like I am not an academic or historian like that is not my background in any way shape or form and so you know writing the book. It did feel like I was you know teaching myself how to do certain things that I did not know how to do in the process of doing this book which also felt like in many ways it was it I feel like people talk about this book I get sort of broke a silence and like in some ways it did and in some ways it didn’t I mean people have been talking about this you know I’ve had queer my queer ancestors have been talking about this for. You know decades and decades and decades I mean this point the conversation about this is about fifty years old you know the crush this this sort of direct way of talking about it. Um, and you know it was really heartbreaking to like go back to these you know documents from the 70 s and 80 s and 90 s and 2000 and be like oh people have been trying to like figure this out for a really long time and and and I was just like.

And it was like American American you know american queer groups in english you know and it was like ah mostly lesbians were like the groups the material that I was finding so like even even my narrow sort of way of looking at it like I still was like yeah people been talking about this for a long time. And it’s sort of sad how they keep trying we keep sort trying to like figure it out and in fact, when I was on tour like when I was actually like before covid I did an event I can’t remember where it was I think it might him Portland somewhere on the west coast and this woman stood up. During the q and a and she said you know I feel like we’ve been. We try to break the silence on this subject every 10 years and it’s really hard to always feel like you’re trying to do that and I you know I and I was like very devastated by that and I thanked her. You know I was like thank you and thank you for your service I thank you for like.

You know, but also because you know she’s older an elder in my community and I was just like damn like maybe this is just si sisyphus si Aphussisian sis Siuffician Yeah, like it’s you know, maybe it’s just like what is is it impossible to like make this happen.

But you know for me, it was like I wanted something really specific like I was like oh man I was really hoping you find like a memoir or like ah essays in this vein and I was not finding a ton of stuff. Um, and that was sort of I Guess the thing that I wanted to do was sort of synthesize a lot of the work that I was seeing so I was reading a lot of like academic stuff but I was like I feel like. Rest a way to sort of marry like this personal material and sort of a more academic kind of historical approach and even so like I was very much limited by my own capacity right? like I’m not ah because I’m not a Historian I’m like I’m sure they’re like Historians probably read the book and were like oh my God She didn’t. Write about like this person. You know it’s like yeah like I really want other people to like contribute to this conversation and to like kind of add to that text and you know for me, it’s like I did the thing I had to do sorry if I forgotten your question already I’m just like talking did I answer it did it even get close. Ah, great.

Nancy: It was really interesting. It made me think about um you know in the Armenian community when we it’s a sisyphusian task to talk about the Armenian genocide it’s been happening 100 years and so you can’t help you know, asking yourself these kinds of questions and and feeling frustrated and sad and like. Impossible like oh this is an impossible story. But I think um, these the like story where like we only have so much control over where our stories go and I think that. I Probably shouldn’t talk about the end of your book. But there’s an there’s like an idiom you use at the end about the wind and I just think that that comes into play is that it all matters in in some shape or form. Um, you know it all creates some kind of resistance and yeah I don’t want Oh. It’s the one about the wind at the it’s at the end here.

Carmen Maria Machado: It’s not an idiom. It’s like the ending of a certain kind of fairy tale in like South America that’s like ah my story ends and the wind carries it to you. That’s not exactly what the language is yeah what is the exact way of saying it.

I don’t know I feel like we love to speak in these absolutes where it’s like a thing that broke a silence but it’s like we’re always breaking silences over and over. It’s like the whole human project is like just carving your own little hole in the ground and like trying to make it matter and like you know one day you will die and like you know it will matter have not mattered and you’ll never know really and like you know we all are just doing our fair best which I think you know makes makes it it can make it really hard and I think you know I don’t know like I feel so much more cynical than I used to in my life I mean I’m in my thirty s like I’ve you know, sort of watched like I mean I feel like just even like I mean I was cynical before covid you know I remember like I remember like when Trump was elected going to this like doing this event that they wanted a bunch of like writers to talk about sort of what it meant for Trump to have been elected and I did this event with a couple other people at like the strand or something and you know I was like you know I was talking about I wasn’t surprised that Trump was elected and I was I mean of course it was devastating but I was like you know I feel like this in. This totally makes sense to me in like every way like there’s nothing that’s happening is feels out of sync with like the country that I live in the society that I live in or the world or moment that I live in and this one thing came up to be afterwards that she watch show if I was in therapy and I was like I’m in therapy I was like she meant it. Mean it in like a cons way she mentioned it look a genuinely like to make sure that I was like taking care of myself and I was like oh no I am I was like I just um I just genuinely feel like really cynical and she was like ah probably a generation above me maybe 2 and like. You know I was like I don’t know how to say to you that like I’ve never have I have no reason to be optimistic about the world that we live in like absolutely not I’ve never seen one and so you know like I just yeah like I don’t know so I feel like for me, it’s like it’s just about like you. Do you do? What you can.

You like bring what you can to the table and you do you your best and you like you know, try to get to the other side and that’s really what it’s about and that feels so sad to say out loud and I feel like it’s a I mean I feel like a lot of people that I meet who are more optimistic about things and I don’t fully understand it.

J.P. Der Boghossian: I think it’s honest though. There’s a truth in that and it certainly is resonating with me. But, before we have come to the end of our time today I do want ask about your new book!

Carmen Maria Machado: Oh God I’m working on so many things right now. But um, the new one that I just sold is called A Brief and Fearful Star and it’s fiction I’m writing fiction, fiction forever, no more nonfiction for me. I’m over nonfiction as a genre. But it’s a linked short story collection, back on my bullshit, and it is about a comet that appears in space. It appears simultaneously throughout all of human history and like ruptures spacetime and kind of creates all this kind of havoc throughout time. And so there’s like the stories set in various time periods including with the present and the near future and then like some of the past as well and it’s kind of generating all this like weird energy and so the other stories are all like in this Universe. So I’ve never done a linked collection like this before. So it should be interesting.

J.P. Der Boghossian: I want to thank again Carmen Maria Machado and Nancy Agabian for being on the show. You can get updates and read more of Carmen’s writing through her website carmenmariamachado.com and the same for Nancy at Nancyagabian.com

A number of years ago, I think it was 2015, I was in Washington D.C.. I was there for a conference and a friend of mine lived there. I was looking forward to seeing him again. He suggested we meet at Kramers Bookstore and Café in Dupont Circle. And Krarmers is an LGBTQ bookstore I think it’s just Kramers now. And knowing I was going to a bookstore I got there early, and I’m usually always late, but I went early, because books. As I was browsing the pink cover of the book The Velvet Rage popped out at me. It turned out to be a nonfiction book about shame by Alan Downs. And just skimming the first twenty pages, I could feel my heart pumping because these words and sentences and thoughts about shame that I had never said out loud were suddenly on a page, reflecting myself back at me. It was a really influential book because it acted like a life-preserver. It kept me afloat. Afloat until I could connect with therapists who helped me process.

If you are experiencing abusive behavior, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual, there are people and organizations ready to support you. There is the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color network to find a provider near you. There is Forge, who focuses on supporting trans and non-binary survivors. CenterLink can connect you to your local LGBT center. And there are a number of lifelines that you can call for immediate support: the GLBT National Help Center 1-888—246–7743, the Trans Lifeline 1-877—565-8860, the Black Line, created with an LGBTQ+ Black Femme lens 1-800-604-5841, and the DeQH hotline for South Asian/DESI LGBTQ individuals, family, and friends 908-367-3374.

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Thanks everyone for listening to This Queer Book Saved My Life! Our new episodes drop every Tuesday. For all the updates follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Transcripts of this episode are available on our website. Please don’t forget to support our sponsors. And most importantly, keep writing, and keep reading.

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