An Interview Between Max Wolf Valeria and j/j hastain

MWV:  What is the relationship of the body to identity, and how does language intercede–or not? 

For me, body (corpuscle and feelings therein) and page (what for me is one of contemporary languages’ core impetuses) correlate in stippling-like processes, always approximating authenticity. Identity is the active and ongoing stimulation of a profoundly necessary simulation; a way to relate to (myself as) form. There is a continual need to keep in motion in order for the stippling from stifling.

MWV:   A figure appears in your forthcoming book Luci: a Forbidden Soteriology.  You write:  “The red of the queer mystic’s human flesh in response to the frigid temperature of the river was something that, from that event on, never left them.”  Tell me about the “queer mystic”?  

I love Luci. Luci loves you. The queer mystic of Luci (my book) is different than how I work with queer mysticism in praxis but I can certainly speak to both here.

The queer mystic of Luci is personage, a splattering of qualities across a span. Luci is an emergent pride system based in growing multiplicity and variance (by way of staying with difficult and painful content until one is able to morph it into emancipations by way of self-invented, intensive, creative attentions). Luci works with peripheral nerves (sites of intuition and insinuation) in order to slowly gain a (human?) center. Because I love Luci, I could go on. Instead I will ask you to keep an eye out for the book! It not only shatters many socially (Biblically) entrenched myths (Lucifer vs. Jesus, dad vs. son, inherited lineage vs. chosen family, etc.) but the methods by which the shattering takes place are rich with sound and image. Bottom line, Luci: a Forbidden Soteriology is a nice place to spend a little time. While you are in, Monet’s Camille Monet sur son lit de mort will come off of the wall of the museum, and disassemble its elegant picture of death in your lap as a way of enticing you to dance with it: movement here is included, is integral to the work.

Queer mysticism (in the context of my practices) involves attending to many realms ritually. We are queer because we are obscure, different from the average Joe. We are queer because our genders do not match forceful, binary-prescribed social relegations. We are queer because of whom we fuck. We are queer because of how we fuck whom we fuck. There are so many realms to attend to ritually: from how to most ethically greet the juncture between sleep dreaming and the dreams experienced and lived while awake, to absolute nurture of any and all aspects or elements with entheogenic and enlightening properties.

I work by deifying (and reifying). I approach the work in many ways (including asceticisms and excessiveness). An important part of attending exists in the clandestine and rogue rites that must take place (e.g.: eating capers excruciatingly slowly, one at a time all day long and with so much attention that you are convinced that your mouth will forevermore feel like this: a desert full of mustard, anal sex. In that overwhelm you are suddenly, henceforth enabled to count salty moments like mala beads).

I love the early Christian term “mystikos” (which refers to veiled or not yet known allegorical elucidations and analysis of Scriptures), so the notion of underground or underbelly or still-in-queue (or even kink) interpretations and applications (in non-dualism) resonates for me. It is also due to the above stated that writing is engagement of the dewy links, that composition is a way to acquire liberating relationships to my own DNA, that the flesh of the body is morphable, evermore able to be relieved by intentional enlivenment. In these feelings, page and body are felt as sites of infinity, as compulsory sides of an infinity.

If you are a queer mystic and want to talk with me about queer mysticism (or to practice it alongside a long time (and still learning) practitioner) feel free to contact me. I am passionately interested not only in commencements from within, but continual and artful creation of within. How else is there ever hope of us addressing so much without in wise ways?

MWV:  You’ve told me you have synesthesia, does this ability impact your poems and if it does, how?   

Oh my! My first bodily response to this is fear (clench) at this information about my body getting into public space. When I was younger the fact that I had perfect pitch meant that I always had to be the one to hum the pitch before any of the choirs (I sang in over the years) sang. “No more need for a pitch pipe” folks would delight: cracking jokes about me while I was right there. The fact is I don’t want to always have to be responsible for conveying the pitch, even if I already know what it is. I am having my own private bodily experience over here, it is intense, and I don’t want to be an instrument for someone else’s use.

Now, sweet Max, I know you were not trying to use me, so here: my synesthesia impacts ME in many ways. I suppose that the fact that a number is a numb color to me or the fact that touches are sounds to me are facts that someone else (a friend just said this to me the other day, in fact) might find useful as they compose their own pages, but I don’t really know what it is like to live minus synesthesia so I don’t know to what degree what impacts what in regard to it. I do know however, that if you force yourself to soften your gaze when you are staring at something that is beautiful to you, your loosening one relationship to the thing being stared at will definitely result in you seeing more in what you are staring at.

I will note my synesthesia makes it hard for me to do public readings sometimes. Bright and fluorescent lights are particularly problematic; make me see things (that are there for me, but not there for others). Environmental tone can also have dramatic impact (especially tone that does not ensure a sense of safety in it (which is not the prerogative of “readings” but can be the unintended fact of them)). How about we hug, speak gently, and touch each other more at readings?

MWV:  How does your work relate to memory?  

My work relates to memory extremely. It relates by way of extremes and in extreme ways. I am not talking about memory in the sense of it being something that is constantly looked back at or inevitably found in the past. When I talk about memory, I mean somatic activity; relation being incessantly, even maniacally built between different forms of felt content.

The two things I love most about memory (how I work with it) are images (I enjoy the capacity to trace back or forward to discover unforeseen origins—the moments when image is no longer a duplicate or a partiality but a resonant existence, a primality) and feeling/sensation. Memory is a rich residence!

MWV:  You have written about gender in playful and immensely imaginative ways.  I also understand that you identify as genderqueer. What does that term mean to you? Do you see it as a spiritual project and a literary one?  

Yes. I identify as genderqueer (as pomosexual, post-binary-genderqueer to be exact). The term genderqueer has been an emancipating term for many whom more traditional forms of binary gender identity are not suitable (or leave too much of us out). For me pomo genderqueer relates to my identity as excess. Genderqueer feels like a social space (created by way of reclamation by queers (like the word “fag” being reclaimed by gay men)) that I can infinitely relate to because it allows me to consistently qualify myself in the context of my fluctuations and specificities.

Body is all spirit for me. That might sound like a paradox, but body is not the opposite of spirit. Spirit has been the only way (I have tried many methods) I have actually gotten into my body in a way that lets me feel my body as I wish to feel it: capable of being the unconditional, thaumaturgy to my freedom (in comparison to it being taught as the pitfall, the drawback, the sin-zone).

My gender and sexual identities are certainly literary projects in that the act of self-naming and the act of accurately (artfully) naming and referring (relation) to others is why I am still here. Accurate and caring reference and regard of one another is what form is for. Otherwise I would have jumped off a cliff a long time ago.

MWV:   Tell me about hybrid identities, and about the significance of your preferred pronoun, “pleth”?  

So here’s the thing: If you are close enough to me to refer to me as you (“I love you,” “I believe in you,” “how are you?”) then you is always my preference. I mean, I am definitely a me to me, and we are all capable of being yous to others, so I think that you (connoting relation) is one of my favorite modes of pronoun.

It is true that (out of need and a desire to honor) I invented a pronoun (as a way of having replacement of the traditional “he/she” be more site-relevant for me). “Pleth” is a monosyllabization (historical pronouns (“he,” “she,” “they,” ”we” (etc.) are monosyllabic)) of the word plethora. If there were going to be a pronoun that was indefinitely applicable for me, it would have to be one that had some elbow room in it, one in which the frames of reference (re: me) could fluctuate and change, punctuate themselves continually anew. Feel free to refer to me as pleth, j/j (I am totally comfortable having my name be used as my pronoun) or you. If you call me “she” I might answer (and might feel authentic in what answering to that pronoun implies about my body in that moment) but it is also possible that if you call me “she” I will not answer, because “she” leaves too much of my me out. The same applies for “he.”

I am not a rarity in having a hybrid identity. I think that many of us have them. I also think that not all of us  (of that many) feel compelled to alert the ways in which we are referred in public space. If my body is part of the non-colonizable commons (in which all beings’ authenticities can exist and are regarded with profound respect), if I want my body to be usable and healthful public space, then the above stated are some of my needs in regard to reference.

MWV:   Which poets do you think are particularly important to read?  

I will make a little list of (only) some of the dears: Nikos Kazantzakis, Gertrude Stein, Kathleen Winter, Doug Rice, Leslie Feinberg, Marguerite Duras, (look at) Loren Cameron, (look at) Del LaGrace Volcano, Brenda Iijima, Helene Cixous, John Cage, Robert Gluck, Joan Larkin, Julia Serano, Laynie Brown, Lonely Christopher, Tristan Tzara, Nethanael, Simone de Beauvoir, Tyrone Williams, Tim Jones-Yelvington, TC Tolbert, Jason Cromwell (Transmen and FTMs), Trace Peterson, Kate Bornstein, S. Bear Bergman, and YOU, Max! Folks should certainly read your sexy and stimulating book: The Testosterone Files (Seal Press).


Max Wolf Valeria, is a poet and author of The Testosterone Files (Seal, 2006), a memoir of his FTM transition mixing punk rock, sexual politics and testosterone’s howling masculinity.   He collaborated in 2010 with artist/photographer Dana F. Smith, adding poetry fragments to a triptych of art books: Mission Mile Trilogy + 1.  His poems are featured in the new anthology of Trans and Genderqueer poetry Troubling the Line (Nightboat, 2013).