You grew up in Sydney, Australia, and write about the whiteness around you: The underlying strain for whites of maintaining that easygoing Australian demeanor and the obvious strain for those who were not white.
Australia hasn’t really faced its past. It hasn’t really faced the legacy of being a settler, colonial nation. Those things are realities that I bring up in the book—and I create that parallel between facing our own wounds and facing societal wounds and how you have to do them in tandem with one another. And I think growing up where there wasn’t any awareness, or even speaking of the past violence that permeated every kind of element of society, made it harder to be performative. I wanted to be the person who was saying, “This is wrong. Why aren’t we talking about this? Why are we pretending?” I think a lot of my life’s purpose is to be that person with my voice, and also to bring us to places of solutions.
You have a line about white supremacy and the Hindu caste system, suggesting a relationship between those two. What does that mean?
I think any supremacy is supremacy. That’s all I’m trying to say. There’s a parallel between anyone who believes that they’re superior to somebody else. Right? And I think that always needs to be challenged and questioned. Why does anybody believe that they’re better than somebody else?
I watched two young men grow up in my small rural town in Oregon. I didn’t know them well, but I kept an eye on them over the years. And now one of them is dead and the other is being held in jail for shooting him. This is an area where we have white supremacists, but it wasn’t that. I don’t think it was really the guns or drugs either. It’s a despair among young people.
Any thoughts on that?
I have a lot of thoughts on that. I think that despair is also what I’m contending within the book. When we think of white supremacy, it’s very easy to brush it off because clearly all white people are not privileged. There are plenty of white people who do not have access to anything. So there are so many variations within this concept and construct of white supremacy. For example, I wonder if the overuse of drugs and the ways in which pharmaceutical companies leech off of young, poor white people across America has a lot to do with not facing the sins of the past. I don’t mean sins in a religious way. I mean, energetically.
I saw this with my mom. She’s one of the smartest people alive, and yet she is taken and consumed by something unknown to me and even to her. But is that the pain, is that the trauma, is that the epigenetics that she doesn’t have words for? Potentially it is. And I think it’s important to see that if I had been born in her generation, I could have been my mom. And when I look at young people across the board who are lost, who are violent, who are scared, I think it is a product of being in a society that is willingly turning away. A society that is willingly asserting the fact that money and corporate interest is far more compelling and important to the American government and to this country than the livelihood of the people who live here. That is very clear in the medical and wellness worlds.
But I think it is abnormal for us to not care. It is actually anti-human.
For example, the ways in which we’ve accepted homelessness. I live in Los Angeles and the homelessness is so exhausting because it permeates every part of the city. And yet homelessness is juxtaposed against extreme wealth. And to me, these things need to be faced. We need to understand why we have abandoned and denied so many people of the basic care that any human being deserves. Why is it that people who have so much are willing to give so little? And why are people willing to get so little? These are questions that need to be asked. What is at the root of white supremacy that denies fairness and respect of not only black and brown and indigenous folks, but also other white people.
You use the term de-growth. What does that mean?
I think de-growth is first about contending with yourself in this time of Amazon: When anything is accessible at all times, how can we get better at asking what we really need? I think these times of excess have made us believe that anything we want we should have. De-growth is really about acknowledging yourself and your consumption, and then societally understanding why we consume at this rate. Also, who pays—what is the actual cost of our consumption on the planet and on the labor of those who have to work to meet our needs. So, it’s also about the elite and asking, why do we have billionaires? And what is this money really for? How can we start asking more of the people who have put us in this place? Especially with regards to climate change … how can we stop denying culpability and responsibility and accountability, which are three things that are deeply needed in this time of ecocide—in the time of the inevitable collapse of this planet.
In writing about different ways of thinking, you mention the Oracle of Delphi. One archeological discovery is that there were faults in the rock at Delphi where ethylene gas seeped up. When someone asked a question, the oracle answered in a riddle because she was likely stoned out of her mind. Is that wisdom?
I know the theory that the Pythia were consuming the gas and getting high. But to me—as somebody who has a very sacred relationship to marijuana—I think it’s actually really cool to think about the ways humans in general augment their reality. You can’t say ancient Vedic scholars weren’t smoking weed. They definitely were.
Or look at ayahuasca. To indigenous folks she is a living entity, a deity. And she is to me as well. I absolutely can’t explain how she reaches out and speaks to me, but that is something that I feel, and that is the truth of my experience. When we try and rationalize these things, of course they don’t make any sense. But I don’t think the human mind is rational. So we sometimes have to take away the ways we normally compute and understand knowledge. Knowledge is immense and knowledge is expansive and knowledge also overlaps and is contradictory.
I think we should avoid streamlining knowledge, for example saying one narrative of history is the most important one. I would say, as a non-American, that most Americans have a very hagiographic relationship to the United States of America. But is the dominant American narrative based on truth? One-thousand-percent no! It’s based on falsity. But it’s still important and resonant. Nation-states are fraudulent, but we still believe in them.
The future I’m writing for is a dynamic, borderless world that accepts and appreciates difference and that acknowledges pain in every way, shape, or form. If I met you outside of this context, I would never say my life was harder than yours. I don’t think that gets us anywhere. I think you have to be able to tell your story, and I have to be able to tell my story. And within that, there is a shared understanding and reciprocity as humans. What’s unfortunate is all of these narratives wanting to be the dominant narrative. We have to understand that there are so many interconnecting and oppositional narratives that are important for us to accept so we can be a community. We have to face each other in order to hold each other.
What does being queer mean to you?
Queer in a lot of ways is like limitlessness. In sexuality it is a belief in all—a belief in fluidity. I think of myself as a very fluid person, both in gender and sexual desire. Being raised as a girl, my sexuality was formed for me: This is who you desire, and this is what you like. And, of course, that doesn’t work. You have to find what works for you. In that way, I think my generation is really lucky. We’re facing a different kind of reality where that sense of openness and fluidity is possible for a lot of people.
On the other hand, young people are genuinely not sure if there’s going to be a planet in 20 years, so our realities are different. If we’re not living for children that we are not going to have, then our lives are open and free. We’re not even sure there is a road ahead, and that in itself creates a different kind of opening. I think that’s where I’m at right now with myself. I just feel incredibly open to the world.