All posts by magpie

Why Did You Sink the Red October?

I think this story about Finland starts in Sweden.

It was 2005, and I was twenty-two.

At ten or eleven at night my bus crossed the bridge from Copenhagen to Malmo. The border police got on, singled me out, and pulled me off the bus. I was sort of used to that by then. You could play “one of these things is not like the other” in pretty much any non-squatted space in Europe and I would have been the odd one out. I had long hair and patched-up black clothes, sometimes both a beard and a skirt, and you can sort of imagine a haze of flies around me at any given point.

“Where are you headed?” a guard asked once I was in the freezing night air outside the bus.

“Helsinki,” I said.

“Where are you staying in Helsinki?”

I wanted to say “you’re Sweden, not Finland, so it’s none of your fucking business.” Or I could have been honest: “I’m staying with the girl I loved through all of high school, who I haven’t seen in five years.”
Continue reading Why Did You Sink the Red October?

In the Shadow of Bluebeard’s Castle

“Those who make revolution half way only dig their own graves.”
—Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, 1793

“No great idea in its beginning can ever be within the law. How can it be within the law? The law is stationary. The law is fixed. The law is a chariot wheel which binds us all regardless of conditions or place or time.”
—Emma Goldman, 1910

content note: non-graphic description of misogynist violence

There’s this fairy tale, maybe you’ve heard it before. Bluebeard’s Castle. It’s sort of a feminist parable, in the old school way where a lot of traditional folklore is basically “hey women, don’t trust men. They will murder you.”

There are ways in which accountability processes and other attempts at restorative justice in radical communities just empower abusers and assaulters. Whenever I think about that, I think about Bluebeard’s Castle.
Continue reading In the Shadow of Bluebeard’s Castle

The Only Time I’ve Seen the Dead

“You poor drowned rats,” our savior told us. “You have to let me take you home.”

It was raining and it was winter and we were huddled in the dark under the awning of some convenience store somewhere on the Oregon coast. No one would pick the three of us up. My friends were Swamp Rat and Tortoise, two women who’d sat in trees and blockaded roads and hopped freight and lived free lives and they weren’t even as old as my twenty years.

Our savior was sixty, with gray pigtails. She told us she was dying of Lyme’s.

We piled into the back of her SUV and she drove us deep and deeper into the woods. She lived far away from anything, like a witch in a fairy tale. Like a witch in a fairy tale, she could have murdered us.
Continue reading The Only Time I’ve Seen the Dead

I Won’t Lie to Anyone I Wouldn’t Punch

Violence is, at its core, about controlling other people. It’s perhaps the rawest expression of control. Pacifists have done an enormous amount of work detailing all the ways that violence wrecks havoc upon our society, and they only thing they’re wrong about is claiming that violence is, therefore, never justified.

Most of society accepts the need for self-defense — that is, using force to counter force. When someone is attempting to control you, it’s reasonable to attempt to curtail that behavior on their part. Violence isn’t the only — not even the most common — form of control, however, and people sometimes forget that violence is often an acceptable response to people utilizing other methods to control our bodies and our actions. Fighting back against systems of control is a reasonable and ethical thing to do.

Lying is also, at its core, about controlling other people.
Continue reading I Won’t Lie to Anyone I Wouldn’t Punch

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