BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Joshua Byron is a gift. Bryon, who is a writer and video artist, recently wrote a collection called NB Carrie Bradshaw, which focuses on exploring gender and dating - particularly as someone who identifies as nonbinary. The collection, which was just released by Epigraph Magazine, was hailed by Shy Watson, author of Cheap Yellow (CCM, 2018) as "intimate and hilarious."
The collection is a necessary read right now, as the exploration of nonbinary and trans identities are still so new and often ignored by mainstream media. Byron is raw and real when describing loneliness, heartache and missed connections. It's a read that may be difficult, but it may also seem familiar to you, which is everything right now.
I was lucky to be able to speak with Joshua about the collection, which you can read below:
Talk about about struggles with gender identity and what identifying as nonbinary means to you. How have you navigated the landscape? What is something that has helped you with it?
Gender is often hurt for me. Gender is often abstraction for me. In my book, I discuss gender as, gender as, gender as. It's something I have been thinking through way before I even know that's what I was doing. I was thinking how I was not a boy like the other boys. I was the typical sissy- I hated sports, was beaten by other boys, and loved girly things like reading, fashion, and art. I loved Pokémon, not Call of Duty. In fact, the men loved to show me Call Of Duty and hear how I would screech.
My voice, too, it never really "dropped". For me, nonbinary is a way of exploring these genres of gender without the same context. There is always a history- gendered histories of actions, looks, and movement. It's not exactly an opting out or an opting in, but a new way of relating to my body and its décor. Of my body as an enacted gender. A weapon of gender. Gender as desire and history and joy and pain. It is simply and complexly a modality of moving through the world.
Nonbinary allowed me a way of expressing and allowing myself a dance with gender that felt freeing. The term also has a flexible strength to it. I never felt like a man, nor a woman, nor did I feel like nothingness. Nonbinary while often discarded as only saying what it is not, is also a culture and a legacy. I think the way words have evolved is volatile and must be exorcised. We've become very callous yet sweepingly naïve about what words we use. Certain words contain trauma for certain people. How do we navigate that? I don't know entirely yet.
When did you start writing this project? What prompted it?
I read the Argonauts by Maggie Nelson and Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose and found a new way to write. I started chronicling the last days of college as a way of understanding an ending to the finite part one of my life. In many ways, my life was building towards a what now?
College was always discussed as the last certainty. For me, I knew that the next fixed point was a city. The book began as a way of processing endings and past, trauma and joy, memory and love. But it continued for about a year as I moved, dated, filmed, and made new friends. Brooklyn represented something of a part two, but I still didn't know what. I wrote to find out. I tried to understand who I was, why I was, and what that meant. I also was obsessed with branding and the way we seem to flatten ourselves for social media. So the title is almost ironic. Yes, I am a nonbinary Carrie Bradshaw, and yet... I hope this book also reflects a more ambiguous, nuanced person than just any one internet persona. I am also deeply flawed, ambitious, strange, scared, optimistic, and stressed out. Also, Joni Mitchell.
What is dating like as a nonbinary person? Is it difficult? Do you deal with people making weird assumptions often?
Dating as an nb person often feels like shooting a volley of arrows at a field of raging antelope. Why am I asking you for things, when you should want to give me things? I recently saw Call Me By Your Name. It reminded me why I am alive and dating and looking for more. But the daily reality is much closer to Sex and the City- futile, frustrating, a long haul, boring, scary, and gut-wrenching in a tedious way. People ask silly questions out of curiosity.
It used to hurt being asked if I was a woman, what genitals I had, and more- but what I've found really hurts is when people break up with you or use you as an experiment. It's something dark, yet much more subtle and hard to detect. Microaggressions. A desire to appease you and then run away in disgust. NB people are seen as low on the desirability food chain so sometimes we are treated as accessories, experiments in desire or political inclusivity, or worse. We are seen as disposable a lot. These are much more painful, these moments of singularity. I am drawn to them over and over. Why is it that what I want is so much to ask for? And yet, I search for the consuming fire too. Why do I go back over and over to the cliffs? I know what he will do. Yet I jump. I am lucky that I have not gone without a date a week in almost 6 months, but this isn't the case. And of course, dating requires us to look ourselves in the mirror over and over and affirm our own humanity and dignity.
What are three books that you've always identified with?
There's something darkly avant-garde and passive about Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. A sense of dread of what has already happened. I feel this a lot. That apocalypse happened long ago, and we are now living in it. There is no second coming, we are already there.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami is one of the best fairy-tales of any time period and chronicles the intense isolation and fatigue we feel from capitalism and love in a way that is fresh, fun, bubbly, and accessible. I think a lot about the play with passive-active characters and this is certainly a prime example of Haruki's narrators being chained yet ambitious.
Qiu Miaojin's Notes Of A Crocodile is a sparse yet haunting account of college that I read this past summer after I first moved to Brooklyn. I remembered my own coming out, trauma, and the ways in which queerness can be a haunting for long after the "coming out" moment occurs. There is no escape, yet why do we want one?
Choose a gif that encompasses mornings for you.
What do you imagine the apocalypse is like? How would you want to die?
Apocalypse may have already happened. I am tired of the way we use the word revolution as if we are waiting for some grand change instead of giving money to each other locally and doing what we can. I think the end of time is really a sparse concept that is unimaginable. Apocalypse is much more likely eco-centric. We may well burn into the sun in a few hundred/thousand years. But this is all part of the cycle. I believe in cycles more than endings. I love Adventure Time, I think apocalypse would be similar to its version. A new beginning, maybe full of candy, or some other element we don't yet know of. I don't know how I would want to die in this sort of a sequence. I want my ashes to be buried in a holy spring.
If you could only watch three films for the rest of your life, what would they be?
My Neighbor Totoro (the Catbus/rain sequence alone puts it on the map), Sea in the Blood by Richard Fung, and Persona by Bergman. Close follow-ups: Carol, Call Me By Your Name, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
How would you describe your social media persona/role?
Social media is tricky, a balancing act of flat and chiaroscuro roles - my role is probably more matronly than active. I am more of a far-off character than an immediate one. Yet I also balance the way that I am a fairly active dater, much more than many other friends even as it feels like I am more of a homebody in my own life. This is quickly changing. This week I have a date or event every night. I think I'm becoming more of a matron-with-a-night-life persona, but the night life is entirely about my work and my art. No clubs for me. I'm not into posting quick cute pics, I like to post emotions. This sometimes does well, and sometimes doesn't. Algorithms are often disgustingly trite in what gets promoted more.
What do you carry with you at all times?
I carry my tote bag at all times with: concealer, lip stick, my note book, one or two books, pencils, and my planner. My tote is a picture of Charlie Brown and Snoopy in the style of Keith Haring.
Joanna C. Valente is a ghost who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and Sexting Ghosts (Unknown Press, 2018). They are the editor of A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017), and received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, a managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and CCM, as well as an instructor at Brooklyn Poets. Some of their writing has appeared in Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, Them, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, and elsewhere.