PhiLOLZophy Talks With Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart

A few weeks ago, I became aware of this Huffington Post essay by Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart. I thought it was really thought-provoking, so I asked him if he was interested in talking to me about it further. What follows is our conversation about sexual identity, social convention, and, well, fun.

The one thing that really struck me about your HuffPo piece was when you made the assertion that the acceptance of gay men versus the acceptance of lesbians is in some ways related to misogyny. Can you say a little more about that?

Sure, it was kind of a blanket statement. There’s obviously a lot more nuance attached to it, but essentially not the entire prejudice towards gay men, but a lot of it comes from the fact that in almost every culture in the entire world there is a fundamental misogyny. But one of the biggest reasons that people are bigoted towards men who have sex with me or gay men is that it somehow makes a man—you know, who’s supposed to be the pinnacle of creation—do something that is essentially the role of a woman; it somehow deludes the purity of masculinity by doing that and that somehow upsets the entire apple cart of social assumptions and makes people combative. There’s obviously several other reasons, but it’s essentially based in that.

What struck me so much was just that I’d never really thought of it that way. I think a lot of times too there is the associated assumption that gay men almost represent like a hyper-sexualized version of male sexuality, kind of on the other side of the coin, so I was interested to hear you say that.

Yeah, I mean that certainly exists. I think that probably freaks people out even more. You know, that allegedly deluding masculinity by fucking another guy but in a hyper-masculine sort of way maybe makes people more defeated than freaked out.

Right.

Which I think is totally rad!

I think I was pretty clear on where you stand on that, yeah.

[Laughs]

Not to get hyper-philosophical on you here but just out of curiosity, when you think about sexual identity—like that phrase—do you think that it actually is part of one’s identity—as in who you are as a human being—or do you think about it more in terms of a term we apply to the typical or average sexual experiences a person engages in.

I think it kind of depends on the person. I think for some people if they choose to determine what their own sexual identity is or if they ascribe to a widely understood socially-accepted identity, that can very much pave the road they decide to go down in life, and for some people it’s totally not. I don’t think there’s any sort of absolute in that at all.

I’d agree with you, definitely. So on that note, when Cynthia Nixon got all that backlash for saying she chose to be gay after previously having been heterosexual or in a heterosexual relationship, did you have any reaction to that?

You know, I didn’t hear a whole lot about it, but I mean it never fails to amaze me why people fucking care. I mean I heard a little bit about it and I was like, “Fucking people are such idiots. Who gives a fuck!”

Right, and there was such a huge backlash even from the GLBT community of people, saying it was so damaging that she said she chose to be gay in her relationship.

Who cares! I mean like to get pissed off—especially in the queer community, to get pissed off about that—completely goes against the very idea of being in the queer community! Just be yourself.

Well that’s what I thought, it’s like how are we telling her how she should feel about her own sexuality.

Jesus, I know.

I thought that was very odd so I’m glad to hear you share my opinion.

I don’t know, I mean the sort of reactionary side of it is that it takes away from the argument of biological determinism which for some people is totally true and for other people it’s not.

But like you said, I kinda wonder even how much that matters. Like I understand how it goes to the argument of normalizing homosexuality as just another accepted sexual preference, but does that have to happen with a biological explanation necessarily?

I think it matters because people can use it as a defense against the right, you know, but to even feel obligated to use it as a defense against the right is only just masking homophobia, like you feel like you have to justify yourself to bigots. Fuck them, who cares what they think.

To kind of shift gears a little bit, you’ve used the word “queer” once already at least and I read an article where you said you prefer to identify as queer rather than as bi if you had to be choosey. Can you say a little bit about why that’s the case?

Well, functionally I am bi, it’s just a little bit more of an inclusive word. I mean, I don’t mind saying “bi”, and I probably flip them around, but I think when I’m talking to the “community” I will say queer. I think they’re kind of interchangeable. Some people have a real political stance about the word which is understandable in some cases. But I use one or the other; if I could choose one as I’ve said before I’d probably choose “queer” just because it’s broader and allows for more interesting experiences I think.

Has anyone ever disputed your bisexuality to you? Like told you that you aren’t bisexual, that you’re gay or that bisexuality doesn’t really exist?

When I was really young, like in the 90s it was a bigger deal, but I don’t really think people make the biggest stink about it any more. At least I don’t have to deal with that. But then again, I’m not really part of the “scene” particularly; I don’t go out a lot so I’m able to avoid it just by not being there. I mean, do people still freak out about that?

I mean not so much freak out about it, but I know in my experience a lot of times I’m told I’m not bisexual, I’m just something else.

Really? That’s crazy. Who says that stuff to you? I wonder what that’s about. I almost kind of feel like that’s happening again, like that went away but it’s coming back.

Yeah it could be, I’m in my mid-twenties so maybe it’s resurging with our new strangely progressive but also raised by conservatives age group.

Definitely, could be. So weird. That’s fascinating.

I hear a lot that I’m not bisexual, I’m straight but I’m fun, or I’m horny or something…

You’re fun?!

I’ve seriously heard that, no, you’re just kind of slutty. It’s like okay… thanks.

Dude, I don’t know, I prefer fun.

That’s my new identity. “What’s your sexual identity? “Fun. Any kind of fun.”

You may have just changed my entire life, thank you for that. That’s gonna make things so much easier. And, by definition, more fun.

That’s good, I’m glad I changed your life.

But for real, that’s so odd, though. I mean I know I’ve shouted this before, but who cares. Why why why why are we so hung up on that? It just goes against everything.

Right, and it seems so unusual. Like I said before, to even think that you have the right to tell someone what their sexuality is. Like someone professes their sexual preference and you say, “No, I don’t think so, actually.” It doesn’t make any sense to me.

Yeah. That’s super weird.

Some of your lyrics at least seem to be centered on male sexuality. Has there been any reaction to that at all? I mean it’s not like you have delicate lyrics otherwise. Is your sexuality something that people want to talk about? Or does it not really turn out to be a super huge part of your public persona.

It comes up in interviews pretty regularly. I mean, my sexual history is a big part of what a lot of the song topics are about, and sexual politics are what a lot of the songs are about, so it stands to reason that people will bring that up. And probably about a quarter of the press that we get is queer-type publications, so considering that that’s the basis for the publication, they’ll ask about it.

I realize by saying this I’m kind of condemning myself in the process, but when you’re talking about doing press with non-queer publications, do you feel that it’s strange that people want to talk to you about your sexuality? Since you don’t really see straight people being asked, like, “How’s it goin’ bein’ straight today?”

No, I guess just because it’s a more rarified part of society. Hopefully one day it won’t be worth mentioning, but currently it’s something that people are wrapping their heads around, and even people in the queer community are still wrapping their heads around, what it’s like to be queer in a not-queer society. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to talk about. I mean what you’re saying totally makes sense, though, nobody fucking asks whatever other douchey indie rock guy, “How’s it going with your girlfriend,” or whatever. People don’t say, “You know, how’s it being white today? It’s the exact same kind of thing.”

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Xiu Xiu’s new album Always is out today on Polyvinyl and Bella Union so GET IT guys. World tour dates, including recently-announced legs in the U.S. can be found here.

Also, Jamie wrote a bomb ass book of haikus about “death, uncertainty, cats, being on weird tours, horrible sex, hating other people, bird watching in Guyana, and growing up in a dim and boxed-in valley” which can be purchased here. Do it.

Best Guesses as to What Will Happen at AWP

PhiLOLZophy is going to AWP in Chicago this weekend. Actually, we aren’t going to AWP, we are going to a party at Stephen Tully Dierk’s house and some other drunk stuff in the city.

I know next to nothing about what the actual conference about, including what AWP stands for. It’s a lit conference I think. It’s cool enough that people have been tweeting about it for awhile but not cool enough that I would bother to ask any of the (actually) cool lit people I know if they are going. I also bought a ticket to a poetry reading slash dance party so I think it will be fun? Anyways, here are some things I ignorantly expect to see at AWP:

A bunch of lit nerds wearing Cafe Press t-shirts that say “What happens at AWP stays at AWP.”

23-year-old litsters in their first year grad programs fully-functioning under the belief that they will get a job as a “writer” one day.

At least one girl whose Twitter bio reads “A modern [adjective] Carrie Bradshaw from [bumfuck, NW town] who loves [hipster cause] as much as Manolos!”

Conversations about Jonathan Safran Foer. Ugh.

Nerdy tattoos.

You try to pick up a girl you met on the #AWP hashtag. It works.

Someone asks your advice about whether their writing style is more “McSweeney’s” or “HTML Giant.”

You see someone reading When I Have My Nervous Breakdown I Want to Have a Biographer Present and give them a hug.

You meet someone who still says “‘zine” and immediately realize that despite your best efforts, it will be impossible to lose them for the rest of the weekend.

Former n+1 interns hazing wannabe n+1 interns.

A conversation or two about ableism.

Functional alcoholics doing poetry readings while alluding to their inebriated condition for street cred. Same person later claims to “not be that inspired” by Bukowski.

My Dumbest Valentine’s Day

When I was like twenty-two I was long distance dating this guy I really liked (here’s how it turned out, if you’re curious). By the time Valentine’s Day rolled around we’d been dating about six months, but we’d been dating on and off with varying degrees of seriousness for about five years. Somehow we’d never managed to have an ‘on’ phase that fell on V-Day.

The holiday came and nearly went until 10:30 p.m. or so when he finally texted me (rest assured I drank an entire bottle of champagne as a coping mechanism, rest assured that I drank it with my friends who were engaged while we watched Contact, rest assured they asked me to have a threesome with them and I muttered something incoherent and then claimed to have a stomach ache and went home).

Anyway, the text said something to the effect of “hey, you’re not mad I didn’t do anything today, right? I figured you’re too smart to care about valentine’s day.”

As you can see I’d now been trapped in some kind of bizarre romantic-philosophical paradox. If I say, “Yes, I care” then I’m dumb. If I say, “No, I don’t care” then I’m betraying myself. I mean, I’m not the kind of chick who wants a dickload of flowers and a $500 dinner. But some acknowledgment… any acknowledgment would have been nice? Plus I was still young/not that cynical/believed in love/LOL.

Regardless, that was the end of that. I think I probably didn’t respond and we probably didn’t discuss it. Flash forward to February 18th.

I go pick up my mail because I don’t have weird hyper-localized anxiety yet and there is a manila envelope from some girl named Kelly in Michigan in my mailbox. Inside is a non-shrink-wrapped CD from a band called Mae. There is no message and no packing slip. “Who the eff is Mae,” I thought. “Was my identity stolen?”

I take it upstairs and put it in my CD player (because I had a CD player, it was 2007, okay). Out streams some kind of off-putting emo-ish glam rock (sorry to any of you who like Mae, but back then the most indie music I listened to was Snow Patrol).

So I do what any rational, modern twenty-something would do. I Wikipedia Mae. Turns out they are one of those mainstream bands that is somehow secretly a Christian band. “OMG,” I think. “Who is trying to give me an albeit subtle and passive-aggressive intervention?!?!?!” I Googled and Facebook-stalked ‘Kelly from Michigan’. I read every news article about Mae that had been posted in the last thirty days (don’t worry, this pretty much occurred pre-blogs so this is a less creepy statement than it sounds like).

Finally after twenty-four hours of worrying that I’m about to walk into my very own personal intervention/exorcism orchestrated by Kelly from Michigan’s Finest Christian Rehab, I Facebook message her. Yes, that’s weird, but so is sending me a freaky CD sans explanation. “Hey, sup with that used CD you sent me, do I know you?” I ask.

The next morning I wake up to a response from Kelly from Michigan which read something like this:

“Hey, I sent you that CD because someone named [Dumbass] [Last name] bought it from me on Amazon. It was supposed to be used and I sold it to him for $4.34. Did I send it to the wrong place? Were you expecting a new copy?”

Needless to say, I never told him I received it, we never talked about it, and I never listened to it. Happy Valentine’s Day to me.