The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Gabe Riggs

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Gabe Riggs



Summary: Luke thought that Punk Love Foucault by Gabe Riggs was an intense, emotional and visceral read that illuminates and educates with a strong voice and clear, capable prose. There was a lot to talk about when Gabe popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Date: 16 October 2017
Interviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe

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Luke thought that Punk Love Foucault by Gabe Riggs was an intense, emotional and visceral read that illuminates and educates with a strong voice and clear, capable prose. There was a lot to talk about when Gabe popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Gabe Riggs: I see myself. I see every kid who grows up like I did. I see lost teenagers who have no language to critically understand the emotional destruction brought on by having to fit into a box.

  • BB: The book starts with your initial experiences at college, before revealing to readers the events of your teenage years. It's hugely effective, but what made you choose to do this?

GR: Most people know that a coming-of-age story will undoubtedly involve abuse and family dysfunction, especially coming from a queer author. But, like Michel Foucault, I am not a fan of the confession as a means to feel better about something difficult. For me, it is important to describe me living through and beyond the various challenges I have faced. The point is not to make my reader feel sympathy toward a character in a tumultuous predicament, but to feel like me, to be in my head and thus grow as I have grown. And the most fundamental part of me is not the scars, but the sadness that doesn't leave. The sadness that grew when it was quiet, when I was alone. I started with my first few years at college before delving into my childhood because I was terribly sad and alone when I entered my adult life. There was no secret to reveal, no shame to expose, when introducing my readers to a young adult trying to figure out how to live.

  • BB: Books that contain abuse and LGBT themes can often turn into books that are far too hard to read for many, but despite the darkness and anger in "Punk Love Foucault", there is also a wry, warm voice at the heart of it. Was keeping a balance in terms of lightness important for you?

GR: Of course, my life is not a tragedy. Abuse is hard to write and read about, and that's why I don't graphically detail most of my trauma. The details that matter are my feelings. In this way, I can express both the sadness and the perseverance in a way that transforms tragedy into a stepping-stone.

  • BB: Foucault plays a role in the book, and clearly in your life too. His books were a revelation to me also when I first read them - what is it that so attracts you to his work?

GR: Foucault makes real the emotional experience of oppressive power by displacing the language of institutional dynamics and re-working it into a language of power that moves through the body, rather than power that moves on the body. His histories are definitely histories of power moving on the body, but he is constantly breaking out of that paradigm by showing how powerful madness, homosexuality, and criminality have been as ideas that made wealthy elites fear class revolt. Identity, as a whole, plays a game with itself (called politics), creating the very ailments it is supposedly meant to cure.

Foucault taught me that when I fight for transgender rights, I am inadvertently inviting all non-trans people into a world-view where they have nothing in common with me. I exclude in order to be differentiated, and doing so is an act of power. I have the power to tell others they cannot relate to my experience. Foucault makes me question the purpose of my identity as a tactic of empowerment via exclusion. He makes me realize that I am not a special snowflake because I am queer/trans/etc., but because of what I am before my society labels me. He also helps me to understand how my humanity and my heritage is inextricably linked to all people, no matter how they are labeled. I get to be an individual without removing myself from the stream of human history, and I get to invite others to do the same.

  • BB: Everything that happens in "Punk Love Foucault" happened to you, and so it must have been emotionally intense to write. Writing a book requires more than just emotion though - and "Punk Love Foucault" has well-chosen prose and effective, evocative descriptions. How were you able to find the distance required in order to view your writings with a critical eye?

GR: I've been keeping a journal since I was fourteen, so putting my life onto paper and then critically reviewing it was not a new hat. But for the memoir, specifically, I did have to be at a certain point with myself, emotionally, that wasn't my every-day state of mind. I had to be alone, I had to be surrounded by my preferred comforts (tea and cookies), and I had to be ready to remember things about my past that could potentially paralyze me for a number of hours. But, more than anything, I had to feel like there was a point in what I was writing. I had to see the goal if I was going to jump through rings of fire. Knowing that I was a strong person at the end of the book, I could step back into my past and remember how it felt to be a vulnerable fourteen year-old.

  • BB: The anger in "Punk Love Foucault" is, I think, entirely justified - and that blended with a spontaneity that, at times, verges on recklessness, makes some parts of the book a little hard to read, but also rather exciting. Is that aspect of yourself something you're consciously aware of? And, if so, is it something you try and control, or do you see where it leads you?

GR: I am aware that my anger makes me unpredictable. I have contemplated killing someone before, in great detail. This tells me that rationality is a myth, and you only ever see through a cloud of emotions. When those emotions are anger, violence seems logical. So I try to live my life with that awareness and have a protocol when I get angry. Instead of making decisions when I am angry, I've already decided that, no matter what the situation is, if I get angry, my first move will be to find solitude. Anger has led me down some dark thoughts, but I sit with it for an entire day, and I usually find myself not really wanting the things I wanted when I was angry. I don't try to control my anger, but I do try to make sure I don't hurt anybody. Anger is healthy, it tells you something is wrong. But it's an emergency emotion meant to break you out of whatever trance you'd been in, so it has all the force of a bulldozer. It can be difficult to build with.

  • BB: Identity is clearly important here - your voice is individual and unique, and, from reading the book, seems to reflect you well. Finding that identity can be hard for many people - especially with the complexities of being trans, and the categories that society seem desperate to put people in. Overcoming that urge to hide and fit in that many have, and instead to live an authentic, real life can be difficult - and some people never seem to acknowledge their true selves. How long has it been since you realised that this was what you needed to do?

GR: I would say that living a true, authentic life is impossible because society doesn't let anyone self-define their body, reality, or identity. Many of the communities that we are a part, such as the trans and queer communities, are groups born out of someone else pushing us out of the socially livable mainstream. So in this paradigm, I can try to squeeze myself into the mainstream and pass for normal, or I can join hands with the other rejects and throw my fist up for human rights. But both options leave no room for self-definition (or a definition that does not conform to the criteria of identity-based communities). I realized this when I was about twenty years-old, and I stopped trying to live up to anyone's expectations, be it a larger society expecting me to pass as one gender or the other, or a smaller trans community expecting me to be fiercely intolerant of the trans-ignorant masses. But I don't ever get to really be myself except when I am alone or around people who aren't trying to categorize me. So I am always me, on the inside, but there is no such thing as showing the world my true self or living an authentic life when I have no power to define myself. We are always, in various degrees, hiding in a public language, and I hide probably more than others do. But I do not hide from myself. I have never done that. I understand that language has limitations. I have always stumbled over my words!

  • BB: Your tale is one that's personal and intimate - yet reflects a situation that many queer youths find themselves in the world over. In a climate that seems to be steadily veering towards the right-wing, how do you think society should be helping queer youths?

GR: Build more homeless shelters and put queer kids in contact with successful, queer adults that can act as role-models. I wish I had at least one adult that I could have envisioned as growing up to be like when I was a kid. The hardest part about my queerness when I was a child was that I couldn't see my future. None of the adults were queer like me. I felt like there wasn't a place in the world for my kind of queer. And that was affirmed by every television show available. Queer kids need to see queer people in the world as normal, mundane, slightly stressed out, working people.

  • BB: Do you have plans to write more? Your voice is a unique one that I fully feel should be shared - are there other avenues you'd like to explore? What's next for Gabe Riggs?

GR: I'm working on a fantasy series for fun and hope to start a creative non-fiction piece dealing with queer theory as soon as my brain tells me it's ready to drink lots of coffee and smoke cigarettes all day. I don't want to write fluff pieces that people use just to escape their lives, but that seems to be what a lot of people want to read, so I'm trying to find a mid-way point. Either way, I'm a writer and will always be writing. Hopefully, I can continue to publish it.

  • BB: We hope so too, Gabe - thanks for taking the time to chat to us.

You can read more about Gabe Riggs here.

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