Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Punk Love Foucault by Gabe Riggs

I would like to believe that the world will one day see a transgender memoir that is wholly positive and happy, full of nothing but acceptance and self-acceptance. Until that day comes, we owe it to ourselves to immerse ourselves in the darkness and lessen the sorrow by sharing in it.

Punk Love Foucault is not just a story of seeking love from the world, but of seeking love from oneself. Gabe Riggs holds nothing back, sharing all the anger, the rage, and the sorrow that marked so much of his early life. It is only the knowledge that both he and his story will get brighter that makes it possible to suffer through it all.

This was a visceral and violent read, so much so that I put it down between sections to take a breather. It is a carefully structured story that acknowledges its difficulties, but softens the blow of many experiences by moving backward in time, always letting us know he survives (and ultimately thrives) those times. It is a very different journey of discovery, exploring not just who he is but where he fits in the world.

As political as it is personal, Riggs' story almost justifies the violence, arguing that when the world itself it broken, we cannot blame people for fighting against it. There are a series of small moments that stick out, such as calling Child Protective Services only for them to do nothing, and aging out of programs that might have been able to help. Family is a theme throughout, with rejection, breaking, and dissolution attached. No sooner do we start to feel genuine empathy for his plight, however, and he starts telling us of how he learned to control and abuse his partners, shoving their heads in toilets and beating them with broomsticks, in order to insulate and protect himself. It makes for a shocking transition, but the context and background are important, even as the story descends into anarchy.

One last thing that struck me about the read was just how much of Riggs' story hinges on being transgender, and yet how little of it is about being transgender. This is not a story about clothing and toys, binding and stuffing, disguising and altering. More than anything, it is a story about being and feeling different, and about how society does not allow that. The labels you put on it, the gender you assign to it, doesn't matter - it is the fact of being different that drives so much.

While there is no happily-ever-after, "I love and am loved, and I still hate the world so terribly much" is a great final line, and one that so perfectly encapsulates the journey behind him, and the reality of what lies ahead.
I am twenty-seven years old, and I lived most of my life in a car or on a couch. I left home when I was fourteen, looked back often, but was always reminded of why I left in the first place. I struggled with finding a place in the world where I fit, and being transgender certainly narrowed the field. After getting to a place in my life where I was mentally stable and financially independent, I wrote a book called Punk Love Foucault. It's a very raw account of how to go from being and having nothing, to being self-loving and having the tools to create everything you need from scratch. I currently write for The Betty Pages, an LGBTQ magazine based in Bellingham, WA, and I also work on academic theory papers which I occasionally send to prestigious journals like GLQ and Palaver. I volunteer as a beekeeper at my sister-in-law's bee farm, paint Celtic surrealism in acrylic, and dream of building a log cabin with my own two hands. I identify as non-binary.


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