'"Betterness", A Project: Sexual Pain and Recovery Narratives' by Madison Griffiths

I tell my dog’s recovery tale often.

It is one of victory and dejection, of horror and abandonment. People blanket their mouths with their palms when they hear about Fil’s past. Once I am done, they look toward him, at him: a joyous rescue hound who canters freely and decorously through local parklands. A four-legged vision of redemption.

I tell mine, too. Of a dewy-eyed teenager who writhed in pain for years during sex before undergoing treatment. Who engaged in invasive physiotherapy with the help of a babushka-like family of dilators and a generous therapist. Who underwent outlandish sexual healing with an eccentric counselor. I am better now. Better, as in unencumbered by pain. As in cured.

If ‘betterness’ was a place—a home with walls—its doors would be cluttered with locks on the inside. This is because there is no going back from better, no escaping. Once you are healthier, less ill, victorious, the story ends. Jessie Phillips states my writing always wanted to account for the cause and to bundle the recovery process up neatly … the only way I wanted to be seen … was as victor, triumphant. Resolved. Okay. Better.

I have been better. Better as in unfurled, as in fuckable, as in sprinting and salivating and free. The first time I felt better was some years ago, when an oily-haired literature major queried my insides with his fingers before wiping dried bud from the surface of his pillow. I didn’t flail about in pain. For three weeks after that, we exchanged songs from our favourite film scores, pretended to study, and pilfered tobacco from each other’s pouches until we didn’t anymore. I’d go to class that semester dizzy, wooed, hopeful. For whatever reason, sex with him didn’t feel like fishhooks, and with every ungainly touch, I felt closer to better. Able to tinker and meddle with betterness in ways I hadn’t known before.

It feels tedious—boring, almost—to bring up ‘betterness’ in the context of gender, of womanhood, but I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that women know betterness better than others. Betterness, as in the idea that the self is an improvable thing, a wheezing product with legs and lips.

I was on the pursuit of betterness long before I discovered I had a chronic sexual pain disorder. My body ached when I starved it, swelled when I waxed it, reddened when I plucked it, glowed cherry under a hot sun when I baked it, bled when I sliced it. At fourteen, I lined my basin with a family of cheap face creams in plastic tubs, the same ones I had eagerly purchased with my $8.00-an-hour wage. There was a cream for wrinkles, for discolouration, for evenness, for softness, a wipe to start over, to replenish, and a friend to my left, who excitedly smeared lotion all over her budding cheeks before rubbing cocoa butter onto her arms. Razored, raw. We daubed our small bodies with betterness, stood still as if dressed in a new kind of amniotic fluid, and waited.

So often our bodies betray us, just look at our feet, how they point to what we desire, Paige Lewis writes, and I am reminded of the time I was first doubted by a medical professional: a young orthopaedic doctor, handsome and tired, who asked me to walk straight down a line he had made out of tape, which travelled from one side of his carpeted clinic to the other. I did. I walked forward, my tiny feet splayed outwards. They unapologetically pointed to either side of his office and it was then that he asked me if I were putting it on, if I had come to perform a kind of duck-inspired sashay to impress him and my mother. The discomfort I had felt lodged in my knees was fake, he insisted.

I mention this only because I feel I should, because no woman’s tale of recovery is ever simple. There are no catalogues of neglected, brandished women on dedicated rescue sites, pinned with warnings like, 'not-great-around-children' or 'shies-from-men'. Medical professionals roar and holler from the sidelines, insisting that what she has come to know as pain, ache and distress, what she has come to hate and how she has come to hurt is not that. Is not pain, is not here, is not real. Joe Fassler writes intensely about witnessing this: the obvious disregard reserved for women when they writhe about in pain, the elephant in the room, a large, foul-smelling disbelief. As her ovary died in a crowded Brooklyn emergency department, calling out in the starkest language the body has, Rachel—Joe’s wife—was hushed and ignored.

Gliding over sand-filled holes, cigarette butts and the occasional Jack Russell, Fil leaps about ecstatically at the park, boasting—by way of long limbs and pinned ears—his speed, his aptitude. It’s especially fun to watch for those who know his history. How he pissed himself anxiously (and almost endlessly) the first day we met, how he was unable to tip-toe through narrow halls and how, the first time he collided with a playful German Shepherd in a quiet field, he sat timorously on the grass and cried and shivered and cried some more until I came running, assuring him that everything is fine. That he is alive and well, that he is better now. When he gallops freely, his tongue a stride and a half behind, he performs his betterness the only way he knows how.

For those of us who live with a chronic ailment or illness, ‘betterness’ isn’t a straightforward recital. When it arrives, it always intends to leave. This I know now.

Once, in the peak of my betterness, I made eyes with a man who sipped ale quickly and keenly on a rooftop bar. He was neither here nor there, with a kind of sweet face I’d forget in an instant if surrounded by a rabble of other sweet faces, but he was the perfect canvas: somebody to decorate with my recovery, somebody to perform sensual tales of healing and revival on. In much the same way that Fil tears grass out from underneath him as he runs freely, I was intent on doing so myself, on lapping his body with a sort of rallying pleasure. Good, not just because. But good because I was owed that goodness now. And yet later, in the warmth of his bedroom, my betterness upped and left and I lay there, wanting to wail loudly, angrily. Not only because sex was a spasming badness once again. But because no tale of recovery ever accounted for this, for how non-linear betterness is, for how it taunts us.

When I first wrote publicly about ‘overcoming’ vaginismus, women from around the world reached out earnestly, projecting ideas of betterness onto me. I was a two-legged, convalescent woman who had done the hard yards and was now reaping the rewards. At first, I found it liberating. Every ‘thank you’ I received I kept stored in some kind of betterness archive, only to taunt myself with it later. I’d wrap each angry tampon that refused to enter my body in said ‘thank you’s’, hoping that—in some kind of cocooning fashion—they’d come out eventually, ready to glide in, ready to settle into my tolerant body. It didn’t add up, though. I had assumed that—a little like a tertiary degree—despite how many times tests are flunked, if ‘betterness’ is acquired, it is the only thing that remains. It is the thickset piece of costly paper you are gifted at the end. There is no leaving, no room for concession, no scape for contradictions, compromises, slippages and disgust, as Phillips writes. We graduate from hurt with an inflexible mark. There is no room in the vocabulary of betterness to feel positive, or at least content, about what it means to take two steps backwards. We are bound by a kind of progress that does not forgive us when we stagger. I no longer attempt to use tampons. Blood is more forgiving than betterness, it seems.

Sometimes in the night as Fil sleeps, he whimpers. His legs jerk about and it appears he is running, but from what I am not sure. I wonder what it is I find myself running from in the dead of night. If there are moments of renewal, of recovery, I just don’t see.

Madison Griffiths is a writer, artist and poet whose work has been published in The Guardian, VICE, Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, Overland and more. She is also an online editor at literary youth journal, Voiceworks and producer of the Tender podcast, an audio-documentary that explores what happens when women leave abusive relationships. Her work revolves predominantly around issues concerning women, digital medias and resistance.

Two Brow Books titles SHORTlisted FOR the 2019 Stella Prize

We are so delighted to share the news that two Brow Books authors, Jamie Marina Lau (Pink Mountain on Locust Island) and Maria Tumarkin (Axiomatic), have been shortlisted for the 2019 Stella Prize for their books.

As a small press that only published its first book in 2016, this double-shortlisting is incredibly exciting for us. We’re now holding our breaths until April 9th (a very long time to hold breath!) when the winner is announced. Until then, huge congratulations to our two authors, and deep thanks to The Stella Prize, and to this year’s judges.


“Lau’s dizzying prose is like a series of crazy neon-lit performance art as she dissects, with extraordinary effervescence, Monk’s teenage angst, her struggles to fit in with her school friends, their parents, her father and her unhappily married sister. Reading this book is the literary equivalent of riding a rollercoaster while listening to a virtuoso violin performance by a child prodigy. Simply stunning."

–from the Stella Prize judges’ report for Pink Mountain on Locust Island

Pink Mountain on Locust Island
: winner of the 2018 Melbourne Prize for Literature’s Readings Residency Award, shortlisted in the 2019 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards, shortlisted for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, shortlisted for the 2019 Stella Prize.

"I was really interested in writing about the transactions between people and of people as a 'product'. What was also very important to me was exploring the difference between choice and necessity of certain professions and lifestyles – especially unpacking the social, cultural and psychological obligations of professions which rely on giving their customers 'hope' – for instance, professions in entertainment, drug culture and religious/spiritual organisations. All this – and then how it ties in with diasporic communities too."

–from Jamie Marina Lau, in The Guardian

Jamie Marina Lau (劉劍冰) is a 22-year-old writer and musician from Melbourne. Her work can be found in Cordite, ROOKIE magazine, Voiceworks, the Art Hoe Collective and in Monash University’s 2016 anthology Futures. She is currently studying film and literature, producing music, and working on more fiction.


“Take anything you’ve ever known about how nonfiction is supposed to work and throw it out the window: Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic is an unwieldy, expansive beast that combines lyrical essay with psychological reportage. Axiomatic pushes the boundaries of nonfiction so far out that they will never recover, and in so doing develops an essay style that perfectly reflects the complexities of our era.”

–from the Stella Prize judges’ report for Axiomatic

: winner of the 2018 Melbourne Prize for Literature’s Best Writing Award, shortlisted for the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, shortlisted for the 2019 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards, longlisted for the Australian 2019 Indie Book Awards, shortlisted for the 2019 Stella Prize.

Maria Tumarkin is a writer and cultural historian. She is the author of Axiomatic and also three other acclaimed books of ideas: Traumascapes, Courage, and Otherland. All three were shortlisted for literary prizes; Otherland was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Award, NSW Premier’s Award and The Age Book of the Year. Tumarkin’s essays have appeared in The Best Australian Essays (2011, 2012 & 2015), Griffith Review, Meanjin, The Monthly, Sydney Review of Books, The Age, The Australian, and Inside Story. Tumarkin is involved in wide-ranging artistic collaborations with visual artists, theatre makers and audio designers. She was a 2013–14 Sidney Myer Creative Fellow in humanities and is a member of the Melbourne Writers Festival’s programming committee. Maria teaches creative writing at the University of Melbourne.

Charlie Fox's THIS YOUNG MONSTER out today

We’re thrilled that today is finally the day we get to say: This Young Monster is officially out, hooray! And huzzah.

Charlie Fox’s extraordinary debut book is about monsters and queerness and bodies and disability and cinema and photography and music and transformation and shapeshifting and wonder and fashion and outsiderdom and freakishly beautiful lives.⁣


This Young Monster
is a hallucinatory celebration of artists who raise hell, transform their bodies, anger their elders and show their audience dark, disturbing things. What does it mean to be a freak? Why might we be wise to think of the present as a time of monstrosity? And how does the concept of the monster irradiate our thinking about queerness, disability, children and adolescents?

From Twin Peaks to Leigh Bowery, Harmony Korine to Alice in Wonderland, This Young Monster gets high on a whole range of riotous art as its voice and form shape-shift, all in the name of dealing with the strange wonders of what Nabokov once called ‘monsterhood’. Ready or not, here they come...

Our edition also features a brand new introduction – a wonderful essay by one our favourite writers, Adam Curley.

Charlie Fox (2).jpg

Charlie Fox

is a writer who lives in London. His work has appeared in Artforum, The New York Times, frieze and many other publications. He was born in 1991.



“Good God, where did this wise-beyond-his-years 25-year-old critic’s voice come from? His breath of proudly putrefied air is something to behold. Finally, a new Parker Tyler is on the scene. Yep. Mr. Fox is the real thing.”
John Waters, New York Times

“Charlie Fox writes about scary and fabulous monsters, but he really writes about culture, which is the monster’s best and only escape. He is a dazzling writer, unbelievably erudite, and this book is a pleasure to read. Fox’s essays spin out across galaxies of knowledge. Domesticating the difficult, he invites us as his readers to become monsters as well.”
Chris Kraus 

“Charlie Fox is a ferociously gifted critic, whose prose, like a punk Walter Pater’s, attains pure flame. Fox’s sentences, never 'matchy-matchy', clash with orthodoxy; I love how extravagantly he leaps between different cultural climes, and how intemperately — and with what impressive erudition! — he pledges allegiance to perversity. Take This Young Monster with you to a desert island; his bons mots will supply you with all the protein you need.”
Wayne Koestenbaum 

This Young Monster is a hybrid animal in its own right, suturing biographical essays with stranger things: a “dumb fan letter” to the Beast, a meandering confession from Alice, bombed out after her many years in Wonderland. ... There’s not enough of this sort of playfulness and frank enthusiasm in art criticism.”
Olivia Laing, New Statesman 

“Charlie Fox has a cardsharp’s diamond-eye for cataloguing the shapeshifting face of the sublime. His essays slither through skins over the warm flesh where so many mythic worlds and realities connect, from that of Twin Peaks to Diane Arbus, Fassbinder to Columbine, which somehow in their amassment ventriloquise a tender, enchanted end­notes for our black present. Put on this mask and breathe.”
Blake Butler


'blossom' by Leah Jing

over coffee, H says, i hate poems about bodies. they are sitting across from me, one leg neatly draped over the other.

the next time i see H, they say, i am writing a poem about bodies. the first line is, ‘my body is disgusting’. the rest of the poem, apparently, is about the footy.

i picture tall, blonde bodies sluicing through air. slick with sweat and mud. wet blades of grass stuck to powerful haunches, muscles a kind of thick knotty rope. my body is disgusting.


i have spent many hours turning jenny zhang’s question around in my head: ‘where are my carefree writers of colour at?’. type < carefree > into my search bar and the essay pre-fills. but after four years of thinking on the answer i fuck it up and fuck it up so badly. say: i’m going to write a thing about a kind of love and maybe this time there will be no ‘race stuff’. tired of writing ‘race stuff’. a misled desire. but

do you remember that time we lay under those cherry trees in the late afternoon, let blossoms fall onto our faces, you caught one mid-air or did you, am i just misremembering. i was tired, am tired, settled my head on your chest as we talked about things now so distant i can’t even misremember them, our conversation winding in a way you once said felt like we had never finished a single one. i wondered then if you liked talking to me or if you were just staying until you found an ending.

and -- under branches blossom-heavy, your hand resting on that slice of skin just under the lip of my shirt, this is what i want to write about --

want to write about bodies in that way.

but then,,, when i try -- a few days later fraser anning asks for a whiter australia, (bleach pure, snow white, drenched,)

and a few weeks later ross cameron describes me as yellow-skinned, slanty-eyed, waiting for disneyland.

when i hear cameron’s soundbite a laugh that isn’t my own ripples out from my body. i mean to say, it’s not like i’m waiting. australia already a Haunted Mansion. but -- can you choose not to see the ghosts?

je pense, donc je suis or um I think therefore I am (maybe) or, let’s try the latin: cogito, ergo sum. rené descartes, yes fine ok ok ok -- fine

but if i can flip the words fast enough will you believe me: cogito ergo sum ergo cogito ergo sum, cogito, cogito cogito.

sum, ergo cogito: expectation assigned to my body before it begins.

how i cannot decide for myself who i am or might be, cannot think it into being. doesn’t matter how many times i trace these lines, still a sum unknown, unknowable: a sum, incognito

-- think about wearing a t-shirt to a panel (DESTROY WHITE SUPREMACY, size XL mens, enough room to fit another person inside, another country) -- but my body already demarcates a kind of destruction, on this panel next to three white people, under the ceiling of the melbourne town hall. my body an accidental and unwilling performance, each limb weighted with something not my own: a heaviness.

my body an aberration, in this room lined with portraits of white men larger than life. if one were to fall from the wall it would crack your skull. how many of these men would want my skull cracked, would see my body and in one moment dismiss my mind. enter this room and think, these walls not made for me, this stained glass ceiling not made for me, this thick carpet under my feet this mahogany bannister this golden gleam this hallowed, heavy, haunted hall -- not made for me --

sum ergo crack,

during the panel i say the phrase < > and the moderator’s eyebrows shoot up so high they disappear into his perfectly coiffed hair.


when you kiss me it is unexpected. late afternoon and we try to go to ikea but it’s too hot to consider even driving to the deep blue labyrinth of plastic and plywood. instead, we lay around drinking glasses of water, ice melting. losing chess to each other in light that could only be a late summer gold. you play piano as i lie on the floor, watching light move across the ceiling. at some point our conversation looping around became limbs looping around, talking and tangled, your face close to mine or mine to yours and one of us said can i kiss you and the other replied really? and then.

i read an article recently about a man who had misdirected all of the arrows in ikea, pushing bodies into a mobius strip of swedish meatballs and storage solutions. no exit in sight.

a neat but perfect metaphor,

if it hadn’t been an internet hoax: a misdirection upon a misdirection.

i worry about admitting moments of bodily discomfort. to admit them is to admit a kind of defeat. to admit them is to admit a kind of difference, diffidence, deference: to admit them. you know.

like if i say -- once i came into work and my boss was sitting for some reason at my desk and she looked up at me and pulled each eyelid to the side and said ‘i’m you!’ and in response i laughed politely and five minutes later excused myself went into the bathroom and sobbed my fucking heart out. after, i examined my puffy eyes for a slant. has there been one there the whole time have i just not noticed it.

how did i miss this about myself is the thing.

of course carver’s best line is about the body: I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark. oh oh oh what a rush to be human noise, what a privilege to be still.


-- run into H at a party. i am stressed about you, or maybe the next person i will fall in love with, have fallen in love with. sit down next to H, slump against a cold brick wall. H turns, maybe senses the stress pulsating off my body, reaches out to hold my hand, doesn’t skip a beat, keeps talking. parties for these collisions: this weaving in-between bodies. that flush as M touches my hip in passing (weeks later, still so blurred by this gesture,)

moving through the house and into another room, become entangled, legs over legs, my face in or against L’s neck, mumble hello. the heat of this body,

blood running hot

sometimes easy to forget my body is not a body.

and then,    i guess --

of course the question of carefree writing is rhetorical. But can you imagine: a world where we could sit in the room as it darkens, silent and unsilent, pure human noise.

your body just a body.

blood running hot

-- yeah


remember how you handed me a cherry blossom, one which had fallen on your chest, or maybe one you had caught mid-flight. how you stood up, gently brushed a leaf from my hair, held the tiny flower out to me, as we made our way back to the car.

the blossom sat on my windowsill for months,,, until a few weeks ago, when it ticked over into six months of us not talking,

not a single word

Leah Jing is a writer, photographer and the editor of Liminal. Find her @_leahleahleah.

Thank you Zoe Dzunko!

Today is a sad day and also a day for celebration, for it’s the moment to announce that after many glorious years in (volunteer) roles with us, it has come time for Zoe Dzunko — one of the current editors of our quarterly print magazine — to step aside. Zoe has some truly exciting new opportunities to focus on and also she is very keen to make space for newer/emerging editorial voices to come through – renewal and energy and momentum are important to our whole organisation here at TLB; we never want anyone to get too comfortable in a position when these positions are so consequential.

Nothing we can say/show you here can in any way go close to describing how much Zoe has given TLB over the years, but it’s vital that we formally and publicly acknowledge her remarkable contribution.

Zoe Dzunko.jpg

Zoe was Poetry Editor of The Lifted Brow from issues 24-31, and then (Co-)Editor of the magazine from issues 32-41 (except for Blak Brow), first with Annabel Brady-Brown, then with Annabel and also Justin Wolfers, and now most lately with Justin and Jini Maxwell.

It’s obviously been just an incredible run – and you need only look at the issues Zoe worked on — the writers she published, the writing she championed — to snatch a glimpse of what all Zoe is about.

Annabel, Justin and Jini have penned the below, on behalf of all us at TLB:

We've always been floored by the generosity and depth of Zoe's thinking and being. Her ferocious intellect and kindness has touched and shaped every corner of the Brow, from the poetry section which she edited from Issue 24 to 30, to our website that she dreamed up and built, to her role as co-editor of the magazine from Issue 31 onwards. Zoe has dedicated her time and labour for so many years now, nurturing writers and writing that is both deeply true to the Brow and to her own personal passions. These include her long-standing editorial relationships with columnists, particularly on environmental themes, and Issue 32 (‘The Capital issue’), which sought to “advocate for kindness, for language, for art that rages”. How very Zoe. The conviction that she has for ideas is truly awe-inspiring, and the careful loving attention she gives to every task she takes on is reflective of the greater way that she moves through the world. So, an astonishing peer, yes, but also a great companion – warm, committed, tender, and such a joy to be around. It’s been humbling to work alongside her, and a privilege to collaborate with her and be privy to her talents as a poet/writer/editor/thinker/designer/human/friend.

And Zoe wanted to say this to everyone out there:

It’s with a very heavy heart that I step down from my role as Co-Editor of the Brow. There are few things on earth I care more about than this publication and the organisation around it and I leave knowing that the time I’ve spent here will stand as one of my most inspiring and affirming experiences. For the past five years, TLB has felt like family — one that’s made up of people unnerving in their brilliance and indefatigable in their commitment to championing works that say something true about our world by asking us to view it through the lens of the kind of people we want to be, which is to say critical, open and ethical. All it has achieved, and everything it will go on to do, is a testament to the kind of people who pour so much of themselves into producing something with tremendous heart, and who care vividly about creating opportunities and inclusion for other writers and artists.

TLB means a lot to many people, for many different reasons, and it’s an organisation that cares more about its community and its writers than it does anything else. For me, it’s been a great source of hope; it’s hard to be cynical in the company of people giving their all to make something worthwhile. I’m lucky to have experienced this first-hand, and to find myself stepping out with tenfold the optimism I possessed stepping in. I can’t wait to read and rediscover the Brow as a reader again and I’m excited to witness the magic created at the hands of my inimitable co-editors Justin and Jini. Thanks for having me for all this time, it’s been so nice.

Zoe isn’t disappearing, and will still be involved in TLB things here and there, but for the time being we wish her the all the best and the support and all the love in her next pursuits.

Thank you Zoe. We can’t wait to see you carve your way into the future.

Zoe Dzunko 2.jpg

‘The Artisanal Sadness of Millennial Mental Illness in Netflix’s Maniac’ by Katie Dobbs

While it lacks the gothic tones of these 2018 films, the recent Netflix series Maniac, the work of director Cary Joji Fukunaga and writer Patrick Somerville, also has a disputed diagnosis at its heart. A young man, Owen Milgrim, is taking medication to treat paranoid schizophrenia. But is he really ill, or just alienated? Katie Dobbs investigates the artisanal sadness of millennial mental illness in Netflix’s Maniac (2018).

Read More

‘Fabulousness—an emancipatory endeavour that reminds us to keep pushing the horizons of our dreaming’ : Interview with madison moore, by Angelita Sofia Biscotti

madison moore is the author of Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric (Yale, 2018). He obtained his PhD in American Studies from Yale University, and did postdoctoral research at King’s College London before becoming an Assistant Professor of Queer Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is also a DJ who has played sets in London, Amsterdam, Berlin and New York. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, Crack Magazine, Interview, Thought Catalog, Art in America, Theater, The Journal of Popular Music Studies, among many. He was a recent guest of The School Of Life in Melbourne and the Perth Writers Week.

We met at 2pm on the Monday he was scheduled to speak at The School Of Life. He wore a black sequined bolero, gold bangles and a studded ring that span two and a half fingers. I wore my pastel pink wig and Wild Barra leggings. After the interview, we discussed the prospect of him DJ-ing in Melbourne. In less than 24 hours, we found ourselves promoting a free-entry book reading and techno dance party event at Evie’s Disco Diner in Fitzroy, which took place on Wednesday. He flew to Perth on Thursday and will be back teaching in Virginia by the time you read this interview.

Angelita Sofia Biscotti: So you were a classically trained violinist. And then you became a DJ, a pop culture critic, and a queer studies academic. How did that happen?

I often get asked about my different practices. To me, they’re not different practices. It’s the same thing. When I’m writing a piece or DJ-ing or writing a book, it’s still about sharing knowledge. I have a point of view and maybe I’ll use a DJ set or maybe a book or the classroom to get across a point of view. That’s really what it is. I always have tried to just be myself. I know this sounds New Age and mystical, but just be yourself. But to be honest, I don’t have a secret. I don’t have a special trick that I use or a special potion or something. Literally I just did what occurs naturally. I don’t know how else to be. So I don’t know how not to see this (fingers sequined bolero) and not wear it, or like not be interested in something and not pursue it. I don’t have things all figured out. I just do what interests me.

ASB: The title of the book is Fabulous. I guess the opposite of fab is drab. Or boring. Is there something dangerous about being boring?

MM: (evil laugh) Diabolical laughter. I think boring, or boredom rather, is fundamentally about norms. The status quo. Stasis. I remember hitting the men’s section in the department stores: I didn’t understand why all the fun stuff was in the women’s section. Why was it over there? But of course. Culture and norms and family values tell you to have to be in the men’s section and I didn’t want to be in the men’s section.

We suppress ourselves to make other people comfortable. And fabulousness, as much as it is fun and exciting and voluminous and full, that it is also about choosing when you can do it. Sometimes you just can’t do it. Sometimes you just don’t want to do it. Sometimes you don’t have the energy. It’s an ebb and a flow.

If you are 100% comfortable how you are in your body, how you are in the world, and you don’t want to make any changes, good on you. For many people who are marginalised that is not necessarily the case. We live under whiteness, under white supremacy, and are told that our bodies are not desirable because we are not thin enough, not white enough, our hair is not blonde enough, because we don’t have enough hair, we don’t speak a certain way, we don’t have the right accent.

ASB: In the book, there’s a section—and I don’t know if it was you or someone you were interviewing—and they said, ‘you or they felt more themselves wearing makeup and wigs and a full look’. And I remember a therapist judging me for wearing wigs everyday, as though I was being ashamed of my ‘natural self’. And that’s not the reason why I wear wigs. I wear wigs because my skin is extremely sensitive to colouring material and it’s also very expensive to lighten my hair enough to naturally colour it the way I would like. Would you say there is something problematic about the idea of ‘the natural?’

MM: Of course, there is. Biology and what’s considered natural are always socially, historically and medically constructed. And largely by colonialism. In that interview, the person who said that at the time was an untenured university professor. She told me her real self is when she’s in makeup and heels. That is her real self. But it’s norms and systems and departments and individuals that make us feel like we have to turn off those aspects of ourselves because they don’t like it or because it makes them uncomfortable. And that’s what I was saying about the danger of boredom. It forces us to think we have to blend in. If you want to blend in and that’s your tea, run and go with it and live your best life. Do what you gotta do. But if that’s not for you, you should not be penalised because you want to wear wigs everyday, or wear makeup, or get dressed up a certain way.

ASB: Onto things that are most definitely not boring: say, clubbing. You’ve written about how clubs in Europe get community grants. And you’ve also written about the legendary club Berghain in Berlin and how it feels like a church. So, I want to ask what makes the club such a special place? And what makes a club good?

MM: The US doesn’t have a club culture in the same way that you’d find in Europe. I’m not sure that there would be a night club that would be taxed at the same rate as the New York Philharmonic. That blows my mind. It’s the idea that it happens less the sort of result or the why.

Club culture in Amsterdam, or in Berlin or, to some extent, London—it’s seen as a cultural engine, it drives culture. It’s a force, an idea. I’m thinking about how a couple of weeks ago, there was a review in the New York Times about a venue in London called The Yard. In a New York Times-way, the club has been there for five years but they’re only writing about it now. They’re so late. Which probably means the club is reaching its peak.

But the point is the article was saying ‘wow, this is a night club, this is a theatre space, all in one’. And I’m like, “Where have you been?” but also that’s the model. I would love to see more of that kind of space; a club that has club nights, but is also a theatre space, but also has concerts and maybe is also a gym. Maybe also a coffee shop. So, you go there during the day to hang out, do some work. Maybe you also go there at night to club. But the point is that the club or the venue is a space that has multiple purposes so different people can find their way in.

What makes a club memorable, what makes a club worth talking about, is the owners have invested in creating a particular experience, a world, that people are desperate to be a part of. Because night life is often about escape, finding community, through music and through people.

ASB: You DJ for a queer techno collective called Opulence. Tell me about that.

MM: I run Opulence with good friends I met in London. We wanted to create a space that was femme-centred, a space that did not revolve around cis white men. A space that’s femme-positive, but also has techno music and experimental music. And it’s really fun to work with everyone on the team because we’re all so different but all so passionate. It’s our child, our queer techno child.

One of my good friends, my sister, Shaun J. Wright, is an amazing DJ. A black queer person from Chicago. He played a show in Pittsburgh and oh my God, he slayed my tits off. These are the kinds of artists we engage with, not the cis white men who’s getting probably paid several thousands of dollars to play at a festival. It’s someone like Shaun J. Wright who’s the heart and soul of the culture. Cis white DJs will always get gigs anyway. So, they don’t particularly need every space. They will get booked regardless. That’s what we care about at opulence. Highlighting everybody else.

ASB: Going back to the idea of fabulousness: the progressive scene can feel so basic, or so grim sometimes. Is fabulousness a fantasy, a distraction, from political goals? Or is it an emancipatory endeavor that reminds us to keep pushing the horizons of our dreaming?

MM: I think it’s both. Fabulousness is absolutely a narcissistic, fun, pleasure-ful space. And by the way, what’s wrong with narcissism if you are in a body that is constantly told that you shouldn’t exist? That you don’t get to exist? That you don’t ever see yourself in movies, or on the cover of magazines? That you are constantly told you are not beautiful, you don’t have the right body shape or complexion? So what’s wrong with a little bit of self-love?

In saying that, fabulousness is revolution. It is about arming yourself through style as a way to make it through the world. What I love about style is it’s taking up space, but it’s also creating possibility for someone else. There may be someone on the tram or in the bus or walking on the street who sees you and go ‘wow, how can I push myself’? The kind of conversation that allows us to speak to each other without words.

So, yes, it is about narcissism and self-love, and it is also about revolution. Staging a revolution through style, through wigs, through sequins.

ASB: I was just thinking about your chapter on vogueing and ideas surrounding cultural appropriation and gentrification. Do you think these can be defeated or slowed down? I am thinking about style and performance as for the lack of better words, cultural and intellectual property. Or heritage. Can style ever be owned? Or can it ever only be sold, as in someone looking at you and saying “I’m buying this” or “I’m not buying this”?

MM: Style always starts on the bottom then goes to the tip-top of consumerism, then makes its way back down to the fast fashion space. Ten years later, it’s at Louis Vuitton then it hits H&M. And when we talk about cultural appropriation, we talk about the question of money: who’s getting paid. You have working-class folks from the hood, who have certain style practices, who have ways of being in their bodies or ways of dancing that are utterly demeaned or seen as inappropriate or not respectable. And then when somebody white does it, it becomes cool.

ASB: Like Iggy Azalea.

MM: I wasn’t gonna say it. You said it.

ASB: She’s Australian, I’m Australian, so I guess I can.

MM: It isn’t only about the practice of taking something that came from working-class communities and doing it. It’s about the fact that they’re getting paid. Millions. In the same way that people who started it—and do it better by the way—are overlooked and told that they are a problem.

One of the things I’m particularly wary of is cornrows or braided hair. One thing I noticed when I was in Berlin was all these white women in cornrows and braided hair and I just don’t understand. I remember how my mother braided my sister’s hair because she was a single mom. She didn’t have time to braid my sister’s hair every day for school so she would braid her hair for a month to save time. This is what I think about when I think about black hair. So when I see white women with braids, it’s not to say that they can’t have braids or whatever, but I’m wondering why: What is it doing? What is the point? What is this for, for you? And I think you have to have a meaningful answer, to be honest.

ASB: They can’t just feel entitled to it and not be able to account for why they do it, because it is an act of family and love and community and sharing and generosity. And to them, it is just an aesthetic.

MM: And they do it because they’ve seen it in Vogue, they’ve seen it in a music video, they’ve seen one of their favourite models do it.

ASB: Tell me: what are you loving right now? Like books, TV, night life, music.

MM: We already keekee-ed about Sex Education which I love. One of my other favourite podcasts is ‘The Read’. It’s two queer black people talking about pop culture and it’s sassy and it gives me everything I need.

What else? There’s a singer I’m obsessed called Moses Sumney. He’s a black singer, and baby he will take you to church (collective squeal) His voice, I’ve never heard anything like it. It’s bluesy, he’s got this impeccable falsetto and you are like what is going on. There’s a track called “Make Out In My Car.”

ASB: If I’m bawling tonight it’s gonna be because I listened that.

MM: And that’s the whole point. I got friends who call me and say, “Baby you made me listen to Moses Sumney, and I am crying. Please send reinforcements!”

Angelita Sofia Biscotti is a model, photo-artist and writer who used to publish work under the name 'Angela Serrano' and tweet as @angelita_serra. She was a 2017 Hot Desk Fellow at the Wheeler Centre. She has been published in Archer, The Lifted Brow, Overland, Peril, Cordite Poetry Review and elsewhere. Her erotic poetry chapbook Else But A Madness Most Discreet is available through Vagabond Press. Her modelling work has appeared in Pencilled In, Hot Chicks with Big Brains, We Are Something Else, and Demasque. Her photography has been exhibited at Midsumma Festival's Queer Economies St Heliers St Gallery and the BlackCat Gallery's Square-Circle show. She is an alumna of the Footscray Community Arts Centre's West Writers Group.

Twitter: @angelitabiscuit / Instagram: @angelita.biscotti