(Cliff Central, 2018)
Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with madison moore, up and coming cultural critic and author of Fabulous: the Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric. He talked about his own journey as a writer, and lets us in on the struggles for those living while marginalised.
You’re a DJ, professor, author and cultural critic. That’s an admirable number of titles to hold!
You know it’s interesting, it’s easy to cordon these things off as different practices. These to me are not really different things. Whether I’m in a classroom setting, or writing a book, or doing a DJ set, it’s still about sharing an experience and trying to create a conversation around certain topics – it’s instructional either way.
I don’t know how else to do it really. When I was in graduate school, I was as passionate about music and fashion as I was about critical theory. I didn’t want to have to make a choice between being a DJ or being a professor or being an author or being a cultural critic.
How did it all begin?
When I was in graduate school, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be an academic. But I knew I wanted to be a writer and I knew I wanted to write. Even in school I was curating parties and performative events. I was also interning at Magazines in NYC like Women’s Wear Daily and Interview Magazine, which at the time didn’t really have to do with my studies per se. Then I was kind of moonlighting in the New York club world and art world. Or I might’ve been a club kid who was moonlighting as a graduate student, I don’t know!
I don’t think of these things as being linear – I have a lot of interests and I have my hand in all the pots. I think that’s really how it was nurtured. People do wonder how I can be in all these different spaces but to me, it’s just all the same thing.
Your book “Fabulous: the Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric” recently came out this year. Can you tell us a little about it?
The book started initially as my dissertation project and even then, I wondered if I would get away with writing a dissertation about Fabulousness! I was trying to speak the language of the institution or the field in a way that was my voice.
The one thing that I will say, and it’s the thing that I always say, is that the kind of crux of Fabulousness is really quite simple. It’s about thinking about which bodies can go get a sandwich. There are certain people who, during their lunchbreak can go to Subway or McDonald’s and it’s fine. Then there are others for whom that journey is more precarious. That same thing is met with verbal violence, catcalling, could be met with physical violence as well.
And so that’s the sort of anecdote I give for people to think about how they circulate and who gets to circulate in what way. Not everyone can move through space with the same ease and finesse.
What motivated you to write it?
I grew up working class in the mid-western United States and we didn’t have a lot of money, but we took fashion and appearance very seriously. I was interested in what it means to people who come from very little to still be able to be full of exuberance and radiate energy through style and fashion.
And then I thought, well I’m a person of colour and working class, so what does that mean when we were still able to enjoy certain kinds of spectacularity even though we are fundamentally disempowered? What does it mean for people who are marginalised, disenfranchised and basically not cishet white men, for these folks to do spectacularily or to embrace or choose differently than what norms have in mind for them?
Tell us a bit about your upcoming performance lecture “Dance Mania: A Manifesto for Queer Nightlife”.
I wanted to try out some new ideas, where club culture and queer night life are bases of emergence and possibility, and also escape and disappearance.
It’s my second time working through these ideas so I’m thinking about the value of queer life spaces and the fact that we often talk about ‘safe’ or ‘sacred’ spaces in queer nightlife discourse right now, but actually these places have never been safe, they’ve always been targeted or raided or illegal for whatever reason.
And so, I’m interested in reclaiming the value of the spaces as sites of community and creativity, as well as innovation and experience. That’s what I’m hoping to do in the lecture.
What inspired you to do a performance lecture, rather than a ‘regular’ lecture?
My dissertation advisor always likes to think about the connection between theory and practice, and he’s someone who really encouraged me to think about the connection between the two.
So, the theory is not only talking about it in class or writing papers about it or being intellectually engaged with the subject, but also creating an experience that people can have, so that even if they didn’t read the book or have degrees or whatever other barriers institutions put in place to keep you from learning, by being in the space in something performative and experimental, you can still come away with something really important.
I think that there’s something really exciting about bringing a performance into a lecture space. It’s a different way of knowing, it’s a different way of experiencing. I think it’s also fun for the lecturer.
To be fair, there are people who have really mastered the form and can give great entertaining lectures and that’s great. But for what I’m trying to do and what I want to develop, it’s the performative format where it’s active and interesting and activating different sides of you.
Has being a strong voice of the marginalised always been something you wanted to take on?
I don’t really think of myself as having a strong voice per se. What I would like to do is to encourage more queer, trans and people of colour especially, to pursue that voice, because you have to realise that you are a possibility for somebody.
You do not have to follow all the rules and you do not have to suppress your own voice in order to make it in this life. Doesn’t mean it’s gonna be the easy route. It’s hard and it’s complicated and there are ups and downs and ebbs and flows.
I tell this story right, I had my birthday party at the same time as this neighbourhood party, and I have these sequin mermaid boots that are knee high. I took them off because I wanted people to try them on and sort of play with them as well. These kids came by, maybe around 12 of them, and they’d seen us having fun in the house and so they came over and one of them was like, “Oh my god can I try those shoes on?” and I’m assuming he was around 10 and he was so excited to try these shoes on. Both him and his friends were. And you know what? They were like, “Wow, I feel like a superhero in these!” or “I feel so powerful in these!” and never once did they say, “These are girl shoes”.
And so these are the moments I think about. When I do this performance lecture or when some people read this interview, there’s gonna be somebody out there who will see this as a possibility. They know that it’s possible to survive and thrive as a queer kind of person who is not invested in norms.
Was or is it hard to be so vocal/have you ever received backlash for the ‘unconventional’ topics you discuss?
I’m scared everyday! But really, the other part of the narrative, especially around Fabulous the book is that, it isn’t simply like, “Oh I wrote this book and now I’m safe all the time and I’ve reached this sort of nirvana of experience.”
In fact, Fabulousness is always a negotiation. I might not want to deal with the catcalling or other bullshit, so I might wear clothes that are safer to go to the grocery store or go to school in. Or I might take an Uber and spend the $6 to go safely to where I need to be, as opposed to getting on the bus and having to deal with all the stares or whatever it is. It’s a constant negotiation, and it’s never like, I’ve written this book and everything’s fine and everything’s cute. It’s never won and done. It’s always an ebb and a flow and I think that’s part of the crux of it. How it matters. We constantly make these choices, minute by minute, day by day.
What do you see in the future for those who are non-gender conforming/part of a marginalise group?
You know, you hear a lot of rhetoric nowadays around tolerance. You hear people say, “Oh, queer people, non-binary people are tolerated, they’re on television and on magazines.”
I don’t want to be tolerated. I want to be fucking centred. And that’s it really. I don’t want to be tolerated and I don’t think any non-binary person or trans person wants to be tolerated, we want to be the centre. We want to be housed, we want to be safe. This is the future that I want and that I think we should all be working towards. White supremacy is destructive to all of us, not only hetero-normative people, so we should all be working every day to dismantle it along with the patriarchy. That’s the future that I envision and that’s the future that I would like to have.
My experience you know, [was] going into the bookstore and getting the ladder to reach up to the porn section and get this gay magazine that was really just a gay magazine for teenagers. It’s just like, teen vogue for gay people. They just treated it like porn.
That was my experience, to now, where we have conversations about creating other gender possibilities, [and] these folks are already growing up with RuPaul’s drag race! So, I do think that things are changing and moving forward in certain ways.
What’s next for you?
I’m so excited to come to Australia. The book has really opened up doors to travel places and to connect with new people and I love how people have been telling me on Instagram about their experience with the book or sending me selfies of getting the book in the mail. You know, people who I don’t know. It’s been touching because you do something like this, and you don’t know how it’s going to reverberate. To get that feedback is amazing.
Catch moore at this year’s Writers Week as part of Perth Festival, running from the 18th – 24th of February. His performance lecture ‘Dance Mania: A Manifesto for Queer Nightlife’ and panel discussion ‘A Queer World’ on creating work that challenge narratives of identity will be held on the 23rd of February, so get in quick before it’s sold out!