All posts by magpie

Some Viking Warriors Were Probably Men

The TV show Vikings, one of my all time favorite shows, is plagued by historical inaccuracy. The armor worn by everyone is more or less absurd. The steering board on all the longships is on the wrong side. The representations of viking government are pretty flawed. But there’s one thing that I assumed was inaccurate the first time I watched the show that might not necessarily be such fantasy after all: it turns out that some viking warriors may have in fact been men.

I know that sounds absurd, like PC culture gone amuck. Men are, on average — and I don’t mean to disparage the capability of individual men here — less competent on the battlefield. Their higher center of gravity makes them less stable. Their voices are too guttural and low to carry well across the din of battle. Testosterone makes them prone to irrational behavior and leaves them poor candidates not just for leadership roles but even subordinate roles. Their larger body mass makes them easier targets for missile weapons and less capable of the sorts of guerrilla tactics that vikings favored on their raids. To say nothing of how men are socialized to constantly bicker with other men.

Men, with their upper body strength, are remarkably well suited to the simple labor of farm work.

In an agricultural society like viking-era Scandinavia, men are simply too valuable to be risked in warfare. While raiding was a prominent part of the culture, it was farming that served as the lifeblood of the community. Men, with their upper body strength, are remarkably well suited to the simple labor of farm work.

Despite all of that, male anthropologists have been insisting for decades now that some men participated in the warrior culture of the vikings. I’m starting to be convinced.
Continue reading Some Viking Warriors Were Probably Men

I Met Death on the Road

I am beginning to experiment with writing memoir, but I’ve decided to write memoir in which I suspend my disbelief in the supernatural. This story is the first in that series.

Of all the hundreds of people who’ve picked me up hitchhiking, of all the hundreds of people I’ve picked up myself, only once did I meet eyes with death.

I’ve met murderers before. I once yelled at a murderer, who I knew had a gun and a bad temper, in the middle of the desert about how stupid he was for having once had a swastika tattoo — not my brightest moment.

Not every murderer is death. Only once have I met death.

It was the summer of 2013, I think, and I was driving north through the woods of western North Carolina. I was driving my van Leviathan, the home I’d had the longest and my constant companion still. The sun was up and bright, and I was lost. I mean, I knew the highway I was on, and where I was going, but that wasn’t a good summer for me. I was lost. Atlanta was behind me, Asheville was ahead of me, and death was hitchhiking down the road.
Continue reading I Met Death on the Road

Only Some Power Comes from the Barrel of a Gun

Content note: article contains some descriptions of violence. It also doesn’t come down on one side or the other of gun control arguments.

In June 2016, someone who doesn’t deserve to be remembered by name shot up a gay club in Orlando. A lot of people shouted for gun control, but myself, I suddenly wanted a gun. In February 2017, two months after I came out as trans, I watched a video of Dandara dos Santos, a trans woman from Brazil, begging for her life before she was beaten to death with a 2×4.

All I could think was: if I carried a gun, no one could beat me to death with a 2×4.

Now, in February 2018, after another mass shooting at another high school, gun control is on everyone’s minds. Students around the country are organizing, because they don’t want to live in a country where every Tom, Dick, and Nikolas has an AR-15.

As an anarchist, I don’t tend to believe in legislative solutions to problems. As a trans woman, I desire to own the means by which to defend myself with lethal force. As a human, though, I don’t like when people shoot people and that people are going to bat so hard to defend people’s right to own the things that shoot people.

In the wake of the most recent shooting, I think it’s important to remember that mass shootings are not just created by access to guns. Mass shootings are the result of the toxic aspects in contemporary masculinity. Mass shootings are the result of homophobia, misogyny, and white supremacy. Mass shootings are the result of a cultural meme — that is, a self-replicating idea that has taken on a life of its own — currently embedded into America.

Yet… mass shootings might also be the result of access to guns. Guns are power. Power — unevenly distributed — is always the problem.
Continue reading Only Some Power Comes from the Barrel of a Gun

Strategic Optimism

I want to die in bed, a hundred years old, having lived most of my life in a stateless, anticapitalist society. This is possible. Authoritarianism is not unconquerable. I don’t believe in utopia, per se, and I don’t think an anarchist society would be perfect, but I believe we could live a lot healthier, happier, and more freely than we do now. So I want to win. I believe it’s possible for us to win.

On the other hand, I don’t expect to.

I came to terms a long time ago with my investment in this hopeless cause. Even when I was an eager and innocent baby anarchist, I never believed that a beautiful, black-and-red dawn was about to break across the horizon. I cut my teeth getting my ass kicked by cops trying to stop a war and trying to stop corporate globalization, then moved on to the insurmountable task of trying to slowly shift culture towards anti-authoritarian values. I never expected to win. I try to fight like I’m going to, though.

Acting as though winning is a serious possibility is the only way for it to become even the barest possibility.

Fighting to win, and fighting for what I actually believe in instead of some watered down compromise, has proven to just outright be a better way to live. Furthermore, acting as though winning is a serious possibility is the only way for it to become even the barest possibility.

My optimism is a cynical optimism, a strategic optimism, but it’s optimism nonetheless.
Continue reading Strategic Optimism

Everything I Know About Writing Fiction, Kinda

Want to work all the time for almost no financial reward? Want to have some people refuse to take what you do seriously while other people seem compelled to tear you down every chance they get? Try being a speculative fiction author! (Everyone likes to complain about their jobs, including authors.)

I’ve only been a professional author for a couple years, though I wrote fiction seriously for a decade before that. I’ve also been an editor and a publisher and all that other nonsense. Wiser and more experienced minds than mine have put writing advice to paper before me, but I get asked about this shit often enough that I’ll go ahead and take a shot at it.

I’ve broken this down into three sections: how to write words, how to write stories, and how to be an author.

Very little of this is original, but of all the writing advice I’ve gathered over the years, this is stuff that works well for me. It’s geared towards genre fiction because that’s what I write. It’s geared towards trying to be commercially viable, because I like getting paid for my work.

Continue reading Everything I Know About Writing Fiction, Kinda

Let Me Tell You What A Good Job My Friends Are Doing of Destroying Gender

There are a handful of fights going on in contemporary feminism right now, and one of the most heated is about the issue of trans-acceptance. Like any good fight, we can rudely simplify it down to two sides. On one side, you have trans-inclusive feminism. On the other, you have what are generally known as TERFs: trans-exclusive radical feminists. For context, I am a transwoman.

TERFs claim they want to destroy gender. The thing is, though, that us trans-accepting feminists are doing a better job of it.

The fight between these two sides is, fundamentally, incapable of resolution — we both use the same words but we mean different things, so each of our viewpoints is all but absurd to the other party.
Continue reading Let Me Tell You What A Good Job My Friends Are Doing of Destroying Gender

If I Die in Raleigh

Punks tend to wear all black anyway, so it’s almost easy for us to dress for funerals. Except most of us don’t own nice clothes and some of us don’t know what gendered costume we’re supposed to wear.

We did what we could.

At the gravesite, while Will laid waiting to be put in the ground, our friend Jesse from Severed Fingers played Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on guitar. All of us sang along, crying. The pastor — who didn’t know us, didn’t know the family, didn’t know Will — must have been confused. Not an hour earlier, he’d been trying his hardest to maintain the proper balance between speaking to us respectfully and patronizingly about God, and we weren’t having any of it. Yet there we were, earnestly singing Hallelujah.

Cohen’s version strikes at what’s true about God and Death and all those other words that may or may not deserve capital letters. That day, it was our atheist prayer. I don’t really care too much what the pastor thought of us.

One friend, face wet with tears and guitar in hand, got off the stool and joined the rest of us while another friend was lowered into the ground forever.
Continue reading If I Die in Raleigh

I’m Not Even Going to Try to Pass

I walked into the activist meeting feeling good. I had on my short shorts over tights and my makeup was good. I took my seat next to a stranger, a transwoman.

“Are you in transition?” she asked me. Like, within thirty seconds. I genuinely think this was the first thing she said to me after maybe telling me her name.

“Well, I, uh…” I stammered.

“Have you started hormones yet?”

I stammered some more.

I get it. She was new to the group and excited to see another transfeminine face in the crowd. But goddam is that some personal shit to ask a girl within a minute of meeting her.

I didn’t really answer her in the moment, but let me answer her first question more concretely now: I am “in transition” in the same way that I used to be a baby and one day I’ll be dead.
Continue reading I’m Not Even Going to Try to Pass

Cede No Ground To Fascists

When the nazis came to town, a friend of mine got in her pickup truck and drove around the entire night. Not just to keep track of the fascists, but to give rides and offer safety to anyone and everyone who felt threatened by them. I know without a doubt she would have climbed out of her truck and intervened more bodily if it had been required of her.

She’s also white and has a rather large and prominent tattoo of Mjolnir, “Thor’s hammer.” She listens to black metal, writes in runes, tends towards misanthropy, and draws strength from the old gods. These are all things a lot of nazis do too. Which is to say, my friend spends a lot of her time in contested cultural terrain. I love her for it.
Continue reading Cede No Ground To Fascists

Home Sweet Not-A-Van

Ah, van life. The rain beating down on tinted glass, the sunrise lighting the world in every direction. The freedom to wander as you will. Car insurance is cheaper than rent; car repair is cheaper than utilities.

When I first moved into a van, every day was an adventure. I’d shove five or six people into my old minivan—later my full-size van—and off we’d go across the country. Some of my favorite people in this world I met because someone I was traveling with dragged them along.

No wonder people romanticize van life.

After seven years of it, I am so glad I don’t live in a van anymore. Simple living is great, I guess, but having stuff is great too.
Continue reading Home Sweet Not-A-Van