there's a fi(r)st for every flugelhorn

Two pieces from a weird and as-yet unpublished choose your own adventure online story "about" Ada Lovelace--the inventor of computer programming, daughter of Lord Byron, and all around bad-ass lady--are online in the second issue of We Are Champion, a fiery new online magazine from the mind and body of Mister Gene Kwak. Thanks Gene for publishing my stuff. WAC 2 also features work from Jimmy Chen, Chris Oklum, Ben Mirov, Joseph Goosey, Tyler Flynn Dorholt, Miguel Morales, Mark Leidner, and Reynard Seifert, along with an interview with Ben Marcus.

Not only are all those dudes duly/dudely representing, but there's also internet controversy. For those following along at home, we can take this time to pre-dispense the "Is WAC wack?" jokes that your brain is probably too mature to even think about making. You're welcome. Here we go: after Blake Butler announced the publication of WAC 2 on HTMLGIANT,, Amy King left a comment on Blake's post, which I'll quote in lieu of paraphrasing because the beginning is about how she likes me, and who wants to colonize via paraphrasing something about how somebody likes you?

I love Gary Lutz and Mike Young, but I ain’t buying this mag. Three women writers in the entire contents of two issues? And it’s a new mag?

I’m sure the editor, or someone, will come along and insult me, call me bitchy names, mock my face, etc in “defense” of the contents and for pointing out such obviousness, but it’s plain and simple: here we go again, repeating the old exclusive boy’s club traditions of what we thought was fading. Shall we all retreat to Black Mountain and sit at Olson’s feet whilst we write poems for Pound? Oh, I’ll shut up; that’s my job.

I’ll post my response in advance so that I don’t have to return for the certain vitriol:

I’m not saying the work in this mag is bad! I’m sure there’s good stuff within. But it’s exclusive. SUPPORT MAGS THAT PROMOTE A VARIETY OF WRITERS, AND SINCE WE’RE AT LEAST HALF THE WRITING POPULATION, THAT SHOULD INCLUDE A FEW WOMEN. MORE THAN THREE OUT OF EIGHTEEN. I just subscribed to Parrot yesterday. Do that. It’s not hard to find excellent, complex, thrilling writing by women published with excellent work by men. It just isn’t. And if you say it is, well, you’re not trying hard enough.

Unrelated to that comment, but along the same thinking, Elisa Gabbert made a post on her blog about things she was into and things she wasn't into. One of the things she wasn't into was this:

Issues of journals with all-male contributor lists. It's not designated as a special all-dude issue. I just don't get how editors don't notice a discrepancy like that and feel weird and wonder how it came about. People always say that this happens because all the submissions are from men. But if you're a new magazine (this is Issue 2 of We Are Champion), how about doing some solicitation? I'd venture to guess the editors are already doing that. If you want more submissions from women, publishing all-male issues, without disclaimer, doesn't send the best message.

What happened next? I'm glad you asked! Here's what happened next: the aforementioned Mister Butler posted a snippet on HTMLGIANT entitled "Language Over Body" that asked these questions: "When you are reading or editing an issue of a magazine, do you perform a contributor penis and vagina count, to verify a decent mix? Do you perform a race count? Do you verify the range of the letters in the last names?"

If you've been gawking the GIANT for any casual amount of time, you know that such questions (especially in a snippet!) will yield a race-is-on-to-5454359-comments effect at about the same likelihood as Massachusetts will snow annoyingly or I will need to poop in the library after I've drank a lot of coffee. This particular comment thread discussion featured intelligence, idiocy, startling clarity, good jokes, bad jokes, good jokes in annoying context, lowercase letters, well-groomed sentences, name-calling, tangents about Paradise Lost, earnest philosophical wankery, entertaining philosophical wankery, sometimes both earnest and entertaining philosophical wankery that we probably shouldn't call wankery anymore because we actually kind of liked reading it and are just saying "wankery" to let people know that I'm aware philosophy is uncool and please invite me to your next Daytona 500 party. What else? People commenting on HTMLGIANT who never comment on HTMLGIANT because they feel uncomfortable then being "yelled at" by people who comment on HTMLGIANT all the time, people commenting on HTMLGIANT who never comment on HTMLGIANT because they feel uncomfortable then being engaged with surprising and refreshing civility by people who comment on HTMLGIANT all the time, ridiculous hyperinflation of the discussion at hand (think: dudes doing epic guitar solos with their shirts off at a pizza chain because somebody asked them why they were being dicks to the waitress), so on and so forth. Par for the course.

Somewhere among the many blogs, Gene and Elisa had an interesting and rocky exchange that seemed, from my vantage, fairly productive. I hate words like productive, but here's what I mean in this case: distinct living bodies and minds got a little closer to imagining what it feels like to be Other distinct living bodies and minds while trying to avoid resentment and defensiveness. Or maybe they still hate each other! And I'm projecting. I hope not.

I hate arguing on the internet because it is unhealthy for me. I will think very hard and post something and then sit around in my kitchen with my shirt off clicking refresh, waiting to see who has engaged my post, funneling all energy into arguing on the internet and ignoring all other physical and emotional responsibilities and joys. So I avoid it. But it's true that Elisa, Amy, and Anne Boyer (in Elisa's comment section) all mentioned me, and Anne Boyer even said that she thought I'd be unhappy signing on for an all-dude e-journal (that's not an exact quote, but it's pretty close, I hope), so I sort of feel like it would be a dick move to sit entirely carefully in the corner and sort of hum and make innocent faces. But everything I have to say is pretty old hat. So I'm going to pretend that you, dear reader, are, like, my confused but sincere and intelligent uncle or something.

I like Gene Kwak! I think he's doing a great job publishing what he likes. Being passionate and hardworking and generous with his time. This might also be projection, but it seems like we both come from very unliterary environments, we both have intense experiences with literature we love, intense in that certain language chunks rattle us so significantly that we feel we have to treat language and literature--in a manner completely unsupported and even scorned by the kinds of communities we grew up in--as something to be respected. Fostered. Cultivated. Shared. And so on. But we're always uncomfortable because it seems like literature is a house mostly decorated by doilies we'd sure as shit never buy. We just want to get to the kitchen where all the good smells are. I mean, I've only met Gene in person once, but I've emailed with him, and I've read his words (here is an awesome excerpt from WAC's About Page: "Bleed words, stanch, and then slow death it to us e-mail style. We won't say bring the noise or bring the ruckus because this isn't Jock Jams, but bring the noisy ruckus"), and I've seen his Facebook. I feel kinship with Mr. Kwak. Broship, even.

Which is totally relevant to the matter at hand! That feeling of outsiderness [that I could be totally projecting in order for this whole post to work]. Here's why: language isn't over body. They be the same. You don't need to read Judith Butler to take high school Spanish, which I did. In Spanish, you can have a room full of cops, and if all the cops are women, the pronoun you want is "ellas." Ellos for dudes, ellas for chicks. Easy, right? Well, check it out: if there's just one lousy dude in the whole goddamn room, suddenly the pronoun you're using is "ellos." A million women. One dude. Ellos. That's how the language works. This is both certifiably fucked up and dunderishly artificial, i.e. not something "natural" about language, not something "organic" but obviously a social construct, which is a fancy way of saying "a thing installed into the way people treat each other by people who have been and continue to be unconsciously identified as the people in charge of how people should treat each other."

Why did the room of us fifteen year-olds notice a thing like that in Spanish yet still flop about glibly ignoring the artificial gendering of our native language? Well, Spanish was unfamiliar! English, of course, was something that had always existed and was set in stone and was handed down by Moses and was really useful when we wanted to say why Ffeiubge Feuibfe was hot or how dope certain things were and how stupid other things were. One of the last slopes in maturity, maybe, is recognizing the inherent constructedness and non-inevitability (the artificiality, right?) in everything that's Ours. Not just Others. Ours. Everything We are and everything We do; everything I am and everything I do. Not just those kooky Others. Everything is received, everything's due for scrutiny. Even the shit we like and the shit we hate, our sureness, our most emphatically swirly feelings--all of that was at least a little and probably a lot received, built by shit we once-upon swallowed without examination or scrutiny. Once we get to the point where we can start examining and scrutinizing, sure we discard and keep. But we tend to trust ourselves too much. We trust too much what comes easiest.

If you've had the luck of living among, let's say, anyone, you've probably heard someone say "lady cop." Or "woman cop." Which is cringe-y and kind of fucked up. But which is also, on some level, practical.


Well, if I say "cop," what do you think of?

If you're a pretty normally conditioned member of society (reading a blog, no less!), Google says you think of this dude:

Not too far off, right? Maybe you thought of someone fatter. That's what I did. So, if I want you to think of someone different, I need to say "woman cop" (or "black cop" or "cop in a wheelchair" or "cop with glasses") to reroute your brain. Which is kind of fucked up, because practical isn't a good thing. Practical = practice = social practice = burning witches, etc. There's nothing inherently cop-like about that dude. A cop is someone who maintains civil order, right?1. Why do you need to have that stupid haircut to maintain civil order? You don't. You don't need balls, either. But we're conditioned to believe that "cops" is a word that stands for, among many other things, dudes who like their heads razored. Or think about "actor" and "actress." Why does the lady need a different noun? When we're talking about acting in the abstract, we don't use two nouns. We don't say a girl having a temper tantrum is "actressing up." If the abstract doesn't need a supplemental conditional, why should the concrete? Because of society! Because default language has the back of those in power. Without needing to think about it, people with privilege of one kind or another can comfortably use language in a way that doesn't call attention to their privilege. If I'm playing model trains with my buds, I don't need to say "I was playing trains with my dude buds." More importantly, Somebody watching me will say "He's playing trains with his friends." But if I'm playing trains with a bunch of girls, Somebody watching me is pretty apt to say: "Weird, he's playing trains with a bunch of girls."


Wrong, poor victimized strawman named Somebody! Both situations are weird. Nothing is not weird! It's only that society tells you one thing is weird and one thing isn't to set up a value in the word weird and, in so doing, to maintain power for one weird situation over another. This is why language doesn't exist without body. Sorry. It's weird for me to be playing trains with only dudes, and it's weird for me to be playing trains with a bunch of girls. We are playing fucking trains. That is weird. And it is only through insistent and rigorous realization of the inherent strangeness in all the accommodation we call life--not just select and cute defamiliarization here and there--that life keeps rebecoming rich and sweet. For the most part, I don't think there's a lot of use in becoming a "better" person. But a kinder, more empathetic, curious person--sure. Life isn't life until it's always examined.

I didn't notice WAC 2 was a bunch of dudes until Amy and Elisa pointed it out. After they did, I thought "Strange! I wonder why I didn't notice." And it was interesting for me to think about that. And I felt a little defensive about being "one of the bros," but I realized that defensiveness wasn't leading me to interesting thoughts or feelings, so I worked through and dismissed that defensiveness. In working through my feelings and reading the internet shitstorm at the same time, one interesting thing I noticed was what I thought about comments like this (from Mister Richard): "just publish what blows my socks off," he says, in a reference to what should serve as standards of publication. In other words, who cares if it's a dude or a lady, this or that, publish what blows your socks off. That makes sense, I thought. But then I thought: why should something have to blow my socks off to be good? If someone really blew my socks off, I might feel vulnerable and sockless, which--well, isn't that an interesting feeling? Are we not allowed to talk about that? Is this guy saying he wants to see writing by sock-blowers more than the socks-blown? Stick a mirror in me and yeah, I'd rather do violence to somebody else's socks than have violence done to mine. But why is that okay? Why not publish something that puts socks on in a tender and loving manner?

What does that have to do with dolls and guys?

Wells, would I have even thought about that if I hadn't made a conscious, good faith effort to think and feel about the issues Elisa and Amy raised? Probably not. Probably I would still be faithfully and ignorantly among you right now as an unrepentant sock-stripper. And you know what? I'd rather be and become and live as someone that I think and feel about being rather than as whatever I'm automatically entered into being by how society lives through me. So if this is what it takes for me to re-examine socks, I'm glad for that.

Oh what a sissy thing to think and feel! And then talk about it, no less. But I'm glad for it, and I'm glad for those who want to do a little listening and talking of their own.

1 -- I mean, cop might be an overly loaded example; cops tend to defy their definitions of themselves with alarming swagger; if you hate cops, substitute "football announcer" or something.


Anonymous said...

What's the ethnic range like? The last issue of La Petite Zine I edited was pretty equally split between men and women (no one transgendered or non-identified, though, as far as I know). I recently realized it's all whities. Lame.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Moves in Contemporary Poetry is my favorite HTML Vagiant post of all time.

Mike Young said...

p.s. thanks! =) who are you?!

Mike Young said...

not sure! it's hard to know, i think. some of the guesses i could make would make feel lame or presumptuous. i guess my thinking about it, like how i talk about it in the post, isn't so much about counting as it is about always re-realizing that language and body are the same.

for my feelings, counting might be artificial too. if i think about what i privilege without realizing it and then try to reconfigure myself, like new things, imagine new Others, etc, i don't think what i end up with is counting. or what i hope i'll end up with is something more naturally inclusive that doesn't need counting. that might be naive, tho. i'm suspicious of conflating "natural" with "good."

but, one thing i do, for instance, is NOÖ Weekly, which has a different guest editor every week, which i think might be an interesting way to work with whatever biases i have in editing the numbered NOÖs, especially in trying to realize the biases i can't even realize.

Mike Young said...

*biases WE have, since ryan call edits too, duh, and he is good; without him, i would only publish things that mention Kool-Aid

Bryan Coffelt said...

this post is really great.

Christopher said...

I think I like and relate to the thoughts you've put down here more than anything that's been put down over at Giant re: this internet incident.

I appreciate the measured thoughts, dude. Gives me something a bit more meaty to chew on, rather than sort through the gristle and spit at the Giant/Amy King threads.

Mike Young said...

thanks, chris!

the secret is silly analogies, i think

more civility always arises when arguing people agree to argue using goofy analogies

Christopher said...

Agreed. And, though name-calling is highly discouraged, should it break out, only silly names should be allowed, like "showerbag," and "pooptooth."

Elisa Gabbert said...

Hey Mike, Thanks for adding to the discussion (and thanks to the anon who likes our Moves!).

Small correction: Amy's post actually was related to mine. We had talked about the controversy backchannel. (In a secret meeting of angry feminists. Right before we sacrificed a goat.)

Ken Baumann said...

This is gorgeous. Thanks, Mike.

Ryan said...

Some sources now use "Ell@s." No joke.

Melissa said...

re: who are you.

I'm Melissa

Jimmy Chen said...

women cops

slatted light said...

Thank you, Mike. As usual - a kind, aware, searching, sensitive and unsparing response that covers all the bases. You rule.

alan said...

“A cop is someone who maintains civil order, right?”


Otherwise I liked the thinking and even more the writing here.

Mike Young said...


ha! yeah, i was stretching for the sake of a point there.. the funny thing is i bet that guy in the picture is a model dressed as a cop..

david, thanks man. i am reading brian boyd's book on narrative. didn't knw he was a new zealand dude! wait, are you allowed to like ppl from new zealand?

jimmy, i like the diane williams part the best

melissa, hi!

ryan, that seems ridiculous in both a pleasing and unpleasing way

ken, thank you, sir. you are a brain!

elisa, what did the goat ever do to you? GEEZ.

chris, showerbag

bryan, sailing joke

slatted light said...

Mike, we are but only in the same patronising way you guys are able to like Canadians. =p

Elisa Gabbert said...

Mike: The goat was a guy.

gkwak said...

mike, great way to break it down. the only frustrating thing w/ the whole situation is that the conversation happened across so many blogs that things got re-iterated again and again and again. i think the conversation at htmlg got too unwieldy for a lot of people. and also that, in such a large convo, people started grouping and making assumptions and attributing things to people that never even said them but got the attribution by unofficial proxy. amy king for instance swears that i changed the names to women's names and i had no idea what she was talking about until i saw jimmy chen's silly gif or jpg (is that what they're called? ah internet). if she would've just looked at the url or even tried clicking a link she would've realized it was a fake, but people are so quick to post that little half truths and misattributions get out into the bigger world. eh, conversation happened. will continue to happen. last thing i'm going to say at all about this thing. the larger conversation will continue but this particular one is deaded for me. i've said my piece.

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melissa said...

Elisa, totally didn't know you were part of the Moves. Those Moves are a gift that keeps on giving.

Elisa Gabbert said...

Typical, only the male author is remembered. ;)

Christopher said...

Ha. I almost spit apple juice on my keyboard, Elisa.

Aaron Lee said...

It's funny, I started the first large fraction of this post thinking "I don't get this philosodoogy whatzit" quite in the same way a C++ programmer looks at his first project by a different coder and starts typing random letters by slamming his face into a keyboard.

Then I got to the bit about fluidy, swirly culture and the prevalence of "kooky others" style cultural relativism. Then a light came on and I realized I'd known that bit for quite a while. Then the bit about Lady Cops hit and I fell over in confusion again. You've got to stop blowing my mind like this! It could be addictive :P!

But, for anyone who really took their college anthro to heart, they might come to notice that any culture is a modal cosntruct, what those in vogue do and distribute among the other non-vogues in order the vogueless masses may emulate it while trying to become vogue.

It's something that exists because of conformity, and by its nature it is the man behind the curtain that wants very much to be ignored. But it is so very hard to look in at them and say "You are a construct among peers rather than us v. other!" Or something more, you know, sayable.

Also, I hope you don't drop a zeus lightning bolt of wrath for me if I'm very inspired by your "practical isn't a good thing. Practical = practice = social practice = burning witches, etc." and somehow happen to write a passage with it roughly approximated in some fiction, because that perfectly jives with something my snarker-viewpoint-alternativist-nerd that I've been writing for would say, aloud, emphatically, in fear. Kind of a wierd coinkydink.

(Also you can just say feck off on that and I will.)

Reb said...

Mike, I think this is a cool post.

I find it . . . ? interesting (no that's not quite the right word) how much support and praise its receiving from the "language over body" camp. You're writing about gender and language and nobody has called you angry or shrill, nobody has mocked or insulted you, nobody has said they don't CARE what you think, nobody has fired off a list of inane questions sidetracking the topic.

I wonder why that is.

Also, I too thought the "Moves in Contemporary Poetry" essay that BOTH Elisa and you put together was awesome and I used it (i.e. read directly from it) during my talk at the DC Dzanc Creative Writing Day. It was a big hit.

Ignacio said...

People in the business talk about how eight out of ten readers, or whatever the number actually is, are women. I think it's very difficult for young male writers to get published, especially today. I wonder what you think about that and how you've dealt with that in your career.

I certainly think it's very difficult for male writers who are not writing thrillers. They have a much tougher road. We've read a number of pretty good novels by male writers that we know just won't go. Male coming-of-age novels are impossible to sell. And I don't think that's going to change for a while.

But isn't that troubling?

Sure it's troubling. I think it's troubling for all literary fiction writers today. But particularly for the male writers, who are only gradually becoming aware of how limiting that audience is.

Ignacio said...

the previous is an excerpt from an interview with agent Nat Sobel from Poets & Writers in 2009.

Ignacio said...

In other words women writers are probably in a better position in the literary marketplace than males right now. This is part of a natural pendulum swing against the days when Norman Mailer for instance would say (in 1958) that there were no (zero) women writers of any significance at that time.

If young male writers have a tough time making money outside the genres today that's their tough luck. It'll even out in time (though life-spans are short).

This doesn't make a bean-counter sorting every name into M or F any less contemptible.

Mike Young said...

gene, it is a weird communication medium. there are all these people sitting by themselves but supposedly talking to each other... engaging in a discussion that feels like realtime but that they have to wait for, like chess-by-mail or something. it's not a normal place. not there is such thing as a normal place, of course!

aaron, hi! use anything you want. go for it. i never took college anthropology, but i'm not sure about any "those" being in vogue among vogueless masses--i don't know much about sailing, but it seems like we're all behind our own curtains...

reb, thanks! i'm happy you liked the post and the list. i dunno how many people posting comments here would classify themselves as being in one camp or another. but yeah. it is more socially palatable for a dude guy to choose a rhetoric that plays against type by trying to be nonaggressive and unmacho than it is for a lady dude to choose a rhetoric that plays against type by being assertive and tough.. this is, obviously, fucked up..

ignacio, i am not that worried about all that, but thanks for the data..

jesusangelgarcia said...

This is gold, Mike. I read (most) of the HTMLG dialogue and it seemed frustrating/frustrated on all sides. In the end, I'm with you: "I don't think there's a lot of use in becoming a 'better' person. But a kinder, more empathetic, curious person..." Also, sockless v. socked is beautiful. Something to think about.

Thanks for putting such thoughtfulness into this post. And thanks to Tim at Big Other for sending me your way.

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