the following is an interview with my friend brawny, as part of my home project. believe it or not, i met brawny on instagram after a friend found their #freddiemercorgi hashtag, and eli and i stayed with them in decatur, georgia. content note: the following conversation discusses general trauma around grief, loss, and queerness, as well as white supremacy and colonization.
Who are you and where are we?
My name is Jillian, or Brawny, and we are in Decatur, Georgia.
Is there a place you consider a home of origin?
Probably Shorewood, Wisconsin.
What sights, sounds, smells jump to your visceral memory when you think of Shorewood?
I think of water. Big bodies of water. I lived about a block and a half away from Lake Michigan. Going to the lake was really my first process of working through my emotions on a tangible, physical level. Almost every single day after middle school or high school I’d just walk to the lake. I spent a lot of time crying and looking at Lake Michigan. It was so cold, just this sharp bitterness. Your senses are almost sharpened when it’s that cold. The sun hits the snow and colors seem brighter. It’s just like whenever I go somewhere that cold I feel a sense of home, and feel more alive in this way.
Since I’ve lived there I’ve lived predominantly in the southeast. The mugginess and all that is so distinct. The texture of the air really quantifies different types of home to me.
If I could get a little bit woo, which I know you’re down with…
Let’s go all the way.
What does home feel like in your body and soul?
I’ve been processing a lot with the feeling of emptiness and loss. Feeling like I’ve lost so much of who and what was home to me very recently. I feel it in a wholeness. Like if my body was a pitcher, how full am I with water? Is it up to my kneecaps, or up to my chin?
I’ve had a lot of experiences lately with myself about gain and loss at the same time. What I’ve found is what so many queer folks have found about coming into your identity as a queer person in the world, as a radical person in the world, the painful reality of losing so many people in your life. The ways in which people are still holding on to the “who” they thought you were instead of embrace the current you.
I’ve had a lot of understanding the imperfection of my upbringing, and trying to come to terms with the love that my parents were able to give me was incomplete and imperfect. It’s what they could give. It’s not that they were bad people or it was bad love. It was just realizing in myself I need and deserve more. I’m coming into that and realizing that my concept of whole-ness is shifting. Being a female-assigned-at-birth person and being perceived as predominantly female in the world, you’re taught how little space you’re allowed to take up. I’m in a process of reclaiming and the love and respect and all the good things in the world that I need. I got a long way to go. But I’ve learned a lot about giving that to myself, which I did not have when I thought I had wholeness.
It sounds like there’s a lot of grief and joy at the same time.
Yeah, and it’s also coming into politics. When I think of home, I think a lot about my political home. That’s really where I’ve found so much healing from my own trauma and found the words to explain what is going on in the world — being like, okay I’m not the only one seeing this. I’m not out of my mind to see the systematic oppression that exists for myself and my comrades. I’ve got my political home, and learned that, too, is imperfect. Right now, home, for me, is figuring out the healthy balance of conflict and struggle and love and respect.
When you talk about your political home, what are you talking about?
I’m mostly talking about specific groups and specific ‘who’s.’ The people that I’m closest to right now are people that I’ve done political work with. Girls Rock Charleston is definitely a political home where we all kinda came up together and created this organization off the ground. Just the like-minded people talking about like-minded goals, and just the feeling of coming home, where you get to come in and immediately take off your pants. It’s like, political home is where we get to come and don’t have to be sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to deconstruct someone’s racist comment, or be misgendered by your friend.
Can you describe the home and world that you and your comrades seek to create?
My political people are my home and we’re thinking about who we’re gonna be when we grow up, and how to actually decolonize our life. We think a lot about communally raising babies, and the dreamy stuff like that. You get some land and you get off the grid. We’ve always been thinking about the ways in which the nuclear heteronormative family has failed us, so what can we create to not fuck up our kids as much as we were fucked up? That’s on a small level.
In a grander scheme of things, decolonizing the world, and all that means. Breaking down white supremacy and the heteropatriarchy in every single space that we can while knowing that it’s probably not gonna be in our lifetime. What does it mean to continue working with that on an interpersonal level, at the very least? That’s the kind of world I want to live in.
I’m curious to hear about your thoughts and feelings about forging home in something tangible, like a land project off the grid, when we are talking about indigenous land, and trying to address colonization and de-colonoize our lives. Have you gotten anywhere on that? Because it’s something I feel pretty overwhelmed in thinking about.
Yeah, I think about that so much. A friend of mine in Charleston was really invested in making what he called a ‘cool space,’ but how to not gentrify by making this sort of space. Most of us are working class — people working in food/bev, or working in non-profit movement work which pays very little, so what would it mean to be able to have a piece of land? What does it even mean to own a piece of land? I don’t know how to completely decolonize, except for like, go back to the Czech Republic where my people are from, and create a habitable community outside of Prague. Maybe that is the answer. I really don’t know. As a white person, I think a lot about trying to live as intentionally as possible and actively invest in what it means to leverage and give up my privilege, instead of just being like, “I have privilege, that sucks, but aren’t I a great guy to say I have privilege?”
And this concept of identifying and being a white person but also knowing white isn’t a race. What does it mean to reclaim where you’re from as a white person? The way in which whiteness and the privilege that we benefit from creates this vacuum of culture which then leads to appropriation. What does it mean to actually fill yourself up with where you’re from in this way that doesn’t center your white experience, to the people around you at least?
I think one answer is reparations, in any way. What does it mean to give back this land? Of course you can’t undo the terrors and the horrors that were enacted by our ancestors, but I just can’t subscribe to so many white people’s tendency to throwing up their hands and being like, ‘we didn’t do this, what do you expect us to do?’ Because it is our burden to bear. When white people think about being intentional people and giving back to people of color can get in this whole white savior complex as well. I like to focus on the more spiritual piece of decolonizing and understanding that in every system of power and oppression, the group in power is spiritually bankrupt in ‘having’ this in this way. So many white people, even in movement work, don’t understand the spiritual burden of white supremacy on them. I think a lot about breaking that down.
Thanks for getting into that, it’s a really layered question.
I basically just said a bunch of words that amount to, ‘I don’t know.’ But I’m interested in knowing and I’m interested in struggling. I think that’s an important piece. What I admire in people doing this work is the transparency and willingness to fail, and failing and showing up and knowing it’s not gonna be beautiful but it’s just trying the best you fucking can.
I’m gonna shift and ask about — obviously you have a special relationship with your dog, and I wanted to ask if your relationship with your dog has impacted or helped create or had any kind of interaction with your relationship with home?
Yeah, a lot. My dog Freddie Mercorgi is very much home, in all the definitions of home. Like the Hallmark card, sunset picture, talking about home, that’s me and Fred. But she also really helped me with taking back feeling good in my physical space of home. Growing up I had very chaotic parents. My home was always a mess and my parents were prone to outbursts so I never really felt good bringing people over. I didn’t spend a lot of time at home. I’d go to the library, I’d go cry at the lake. The fact that I have this dog at home waiting for me has really brought me back to the safety and comfort and being welcome and excited to come home. I got her when I was 24, and the 24 years before that I never had a reason to come home in that way.
Well, she’s a perfect angel baby.
You talked a little bit about the world you envision and the space you kind of stride toward in your political home. And I wonder if you could also talk about the home you’ve envisioned for yourself in a more physical sense. It seems like you’re in transition and I wonder what you see when you’re in a more — I don’t know if grounded’s the right word, but in a place where you’re like, yes this is where I wanna be.
I don’t have a lot of depth into that for myself. Lately I’ve just been fascinated with this concept of home ownership. A few hours ago when I was driving home, I was looking at these houses and thinking, wow, it would be amazing to feel rooted and feel investment in a particular space, both a specific home and a city. I also think about the exhaustion of capitalism and the money that I pay for rent just disappearing. It’s too hard to think about.
Most of my relationships are tremendously intimate and platonic. I don’t have a lot of partners. I spend most of my time being single and in that I’ve really been able to reconstruct romance and polyamory and the ways in which we can connect with one another that doesn’t involve prioritizing romantic and sexual partnerships. Whenever I envision myself being an actual grown up, I envision collective living.
Can you paint me a picture of dreamlife, or the thing you want to struggle for in making home, even if you don’t know where that would be, or how?
I don’t know what my dream home looks like. I’m in this process of completely deconstructing my life. It seems like I’ve lost so much. In this way that doesn’t take loss as an exclusively bad thing. I have let go of so many things to shift what I’m looking for. I was just thinking about how I have a lot of desire that’s just not directed. I’ve been struggling with deep depression and this feeling of desire is new and exciting in this way that I don’t wake up and just go through the day and go to sleep. It’s funny having this desire without any sort of direction. But definitely creating a home and knowing what that looks like is something that’s on the way. I desire to know what that is, even. I’m at square negative two.
In what ways do you seek and make home, and in what ways have you found home?
I’ve definitely found home in Freddie, and in a few pieces in my life. One of them is my groupchat that has been named in my iPhone as ‘Cry Club’ with Salter and Cole. Cole actually texted me and Salter. They were listening to an interview with Janet Mock and she said — her eloquence is beyond me, I can’t, so I’m gonna completely butcher the quote — she was talking about home being people you come to completely empty so they could fill you up. I felt that so much.
I’ve found home in creation. I’ve found home in my weird fiber art things. I’ve realized I am very self conscious of calling myself an artist. I had drinks with this older butch the other day and she was going through my instagram and pointing out pictures and being like, ‘this makes you an artist.’ It kinda reminded me of the first time I was called femme. It was not by myself, it was by a butch who was like, hey, you’re a femme. Okay butches, you can tell me who I am, but give me a break, so I can be the one to say it.
Even though I hate working in food/bev, I like the process of making coffee and using my hands all day. That’s a way I’ve found home in my body.
I’m really seeking a home where I feel both useful and fulfilled. I’ve had a lot of trouble in my past with codependent relationships, and the way I’ve given so much of myself to situations and relationships where I’ve not sustained me or filled me. So I’m looking for about where can I come to be filled up, and where can I too fill other people, places, and things up, like the Janet Mock quote. Sustainability is a big word when it comes to home. I’ve been thinking of all the tag phrases of being a millennial, and doing political queer work, especially in the south. How can we be sustainable when we’re trying to chisel a life out of the bible belt for us? What even does it mean that we’re trying to survive in places where people are telling us we don’t belong? What does sustainable living look like? Even in doing collective liberatory work, what does sustainable living look like when you’re always in the battle? I’ve been thinking a lot about that — what’s the answer to sustainability and anti-capitalist self-care and preventing burnout.