"The temporal threats that condition your body from another juncture in time."
on martial environments, cultures of control, and shifting one's attention
martial environments of teenage cyborgs
I used to role play in America Online member chatrooms, making a name for myself as the only cyborg in the elite guard of an ambitious space-faring empire reinventing its hold on power in the universe.
I was around 13-14, when my neighborhood skate crew ditched me for not turning into a groupie, once my novelty as ‘girl skater’ wore off and I understood I was not ‘one of the guys’ as I had hoped.
I was crossing the thresholds from parochial 8th grade to public high school, scene A to scene C, neighborhoods and turfs known and brand new.
My skater headbanger friends from Catholic school and I started meeting up at ska and hardcore shows downtown, where I waded into a larger scene of ska kids, hardcore bros, and some ‘apolitical’ ‘trad’ skinheads (aka the ones who claim it’s only about the fashion and having ‘working class pride’), from the far reaches of surrounding Philly and South Jersey middle class burbs to the nearer neighborhoods of Juniata and Bridesburg.
At this crossroads I stood hoping to be claimed and guess who did it first.
In the Warped Tour skank pit of a forgotten ska band I—14, still in my skater style with a cotton candy pink undercut bob and baggy cargo pants slung at the hips—got a crush on a brown boy who could dance, wearing skinny jeans and a tight polo shirt, 8 hole doc martens, skinny suspenders—a trad skin from South Jersey by way of Connecticut. His wiry blond friend, with similar style, could dance too. I could dance. Another kid who I see as a grown up around Philly to this day held down that pit too. Did you see that movie Ya No Estoy Aquí? (It’s on Netflix) The way Ulises and Los Terkos and the other crews dance… We were on some shit like that, except their music is way better imo.
Me and the cute brown trad skinhead with style started seeing each other from then, and a once we were well into our afterschool habit of meeting up downtown to make out in the corners around City Hall, I cut my hair into a chelsea, the skinhead girl haircut, so he’d be even more hot for me. Ska compilation and flyer artwork routinely had miniskirt-wearing rude girls with bobs and skinhead girls with chelsea cuts as mascots of the quasi-rebellious music-tethered social scene for adolescents that we were in. Skinhead girls especially, for this scene of boys and men who shaved their own heads, were super hot. And I thought, skinhead girls are tough—but did I personally know any? No—they were so rare in their sightings as to be mythic. And, knowing no better, I fashioned myself into this malleable and mythic mascot for male attention, yet to learn the lesson that this was not the same as being acknowledged as a peer.
I’ve gone into my trial of being a teenage skinhead on my socials before. I was a teenage fashion skinhead. Till I was like 15? This happened in the setting of Philly’s patriotic and misogynist (is that redundant?) scene of mostly white mixed and assimilating hardcore kids and skinheads (and sometimes the punks and goths), me fresh from going to a mostly white Catholic K-thru-8 school in Northeast Philly where my nana lived (and not the majority Black & Caribbean neighborhood of Olney where I grew up). It happened on South Street and downtown, on the streets around the Erie-Torresdale El stop, and sometimes up Lancaster Ave into West Philly squatter punk houses.
One day like two weeks into my budding boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, the boy brought me around some of his friends, and we spent the afternoon walking from Erie-Torresdale area up to around my mom’s new (and only) house, a rowhome near Five Points. Me, him, two slightly older boys—actually they all were slightly older. One closest in age to me was Puerto Rican and Irish, I was Mexican and Irish. One was the wiry blond kid from Warped Tour. We coalesced into a crew that began to hang out at shows with a couple other groups of people. Nobody had any trouble with any of the area hardcore gangs (cargo shorts, New Balances & flat Jansport backpacks worn by a single extended strap). Everybody had each other’s backs. Or that’s how everything starts.
I’ve been writing this newsletter for days, trying to fashion the crystal facets of the intersecting layers of this year of my life, when I sped through transits of social constellations.
I am trying to write about cyborg life and militarism and martial/Martian matters, which is to say that our society is shaped by the industry of war. It is the world-sphere-reality as presented to us by authorities, who tether our attention well away from the memories in our ghost.
I stopped being a teenage fashion skinhead. The crew fractured. Me and the boyfriend broke up. He exiled himself in forties, no longer beholden to his standard to never drink around me, falling down drunk on the floor of the Stalag where I didn’t go. His two friends, our friends, had one after the other gone off to boot camp for the Navy, and when they came back they had faces stuck staring into their impending future whenever they looked at us the girls or the kids on track for college. A conniving suburban chick who was always testing how much racist shit she could openly say had weasled her way in. My girl friend from high school had joined and was staying out late drinking and serially sleeping with all the guys, while I was getting grounded for longer and longer stretches of time for not calling when I wanted to stay out past curfew, coming home crazy late after missing the once-an-hour bus home from Frankford Terminal because I tried to stay at the show long enough to see at least the first band go on.
When I stopped being a skinhead, I went full in with an online freeform role playing guild and was logging on 56.6k to AOL every night to play ever longer hours in an imperial DBZ-AU (alternative universe) game, run god-style by a traumatized 24 year old predator dungeon master.
I think about what I wore to ska and punk and hardcore shows, on dates with my boyfriend—short thrift store mini skirts and tight polo tees and fishnets with white bobby socks and docs and shit. Everything clean, pleated, even, polished. It wasn’t much different from my Catholic school uniform. (Pause to picture Sailor Moon in full Moon Prism Power.) In the freeform RPG, our guild had uniforms too. In the chatrooms, we dutifully, voraciously described our black and red skintight battle suits made of not-yet-invented technologies, replete with matching boots and gauntlets and glimmers of sneers and smirks. We had fanart character pictures that we’d email each other lagging on the dial-up. We had protocols. We had honor systems. We had death matches.
I took aikido during this time, too. My birth dad handing me my weekly dues on his Monday visits. The feeling of changing out of street clothes and into the heavy rough cotton of the gi????? Phew. I needed it. Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido wrote down shit like
As soon as you concern yourself with the "good" and "bad" of your fellows, you create an opening in your heart for maliciousness to enter. Testing, competing with, and criticizing others weakens and defeats you.
In the art of peace, a single cut of the sword summons up the wondrous powers of the universe. That one sword links the past, present, and future; it absorbs the universe. Time and space disappear. All of creation, from the distant past to the present moment, lives in the sword. All human existence flourishes right here in the sword you hold in your hands. You are now prepared for anything that may arise.
Those who are enlightened never stop forging themselves.
But Morihei Ueshiba hung around with right-wing nationalist imperialists in the pre- and post-WWII eras. He trained Tokyo politicians and military units. Have you seen that article about how Orwell wrote 1984 in the wake of quitting his job as a cop in Burma? I have to wonder if Ueshiba took this turn or what.
Back in Philly, we be out at the park—sike—Somewhere else in Philly, in this age of my early adolescene, there was a scene of transplant anarchist genderfuck punks in their 20s out squatting empty buildings and planting gardens and protesting for MOVE and Mumia. Elsewhere I was thigh-deep in a so-called punk scene where everyone was conservative and uncritical of authority and talked to—or were even friends with—cops. Cisgender and heterosexual bores, where the few who were vocally accepting of homos turned out to be the homos later on. People who over-identify with The Misfits and Dropkick Murphys, who think the Dead Kennedys are serious, who apologize for Skrewdriver cause ‘the music is good,’ and probably personally identify with the lads of Peaky Blinders now. Shit like that.
Yeah I had found myself increasingly hanging around dismissive and big chest big bicep know-it-all white guys and their silent girlfriends, patriotic alcoholics looking to start fights, dudes who brought dudes who were white power skinheads, all wearing this chintzy cultural veneer of white-washed Irish Italian Polish and so on 1950s working class identity, backdropped by the military. It was the style to wear American flag patches on the shoulders of our Ace flight jackets, right above all our little 1” band pins on the side pocket. (I can’t remember if I did or not—there’s a picture of my burgundy flight jacket fully vested in Moonska patches somewhere). I remember standing quietly by during debates between the know-it-alls of whether or not it was a good look to rock certain military patches like POW MIA without having served, watching with what-the-fuck suspicion as they welcomed the encouraging paternal opinions of motherfuckers with shady (white power) style choices.
Towards the end of my trial as a token skinhead girl—outside shows at the Church, the sidestreets around the Troc and South Street bar venues—I was getting tired of these guys showing up, punishers and creeps, men with violent reputations and nervous compositions. If I didn’t avoid them I’d be pushing back on their racist commentary from time to time like hey my family is Black and Mexican man watch what you say. And the people at my side—the fractured crew, associates, these grown men from Allentown dressed like frat boy renditions of Popeye the Sailor Man—acted like they didn’t hear me or they didn’t wanna argue, sometimes the lowest effort shoulder shrug of can’t say nothing to that.
WE CAN’T HELP OURSELVES EVEN BEGIN TO HEAL RACIALIZED TRAUMA IF WE DON’T ACKNOWLEDGE THAT IT EVEN EXISTS.
I ordered a copy of My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies after I listened to this podcast episode with its author, Resmaa Menakem titled ‘Notice the Rage; Notice the Silence.’ Menakem is a therapist trauma specialist. His book and this podcast concern noticing and practicing to heal from deep generational somatic trauma. The stuff that lives in your cell memories, in your bones, your grandmothers mother’s bones. The temporal threats that condition your body from another juncture in time. The book has somatic practices for what he calls black bodies, white bodies, and police bodies. In the podcast, he mentions how white bodies contain the whole undealt-with trauma from 800 years of the Dark Ages, which is shit that stays on my mind.
In the podcast Menakem also refers to people of culture rather than people of color, it seems, a use of word order that I hope to understand the reasoning behind. I’m sure you’ve seen any number of memes or online commentary or maybe (if you’re white) got told to your face, that white people don’t have culture (and that’s why they go around stealing everyone else’s). Sure. But if you ask me, that’s not true. White culture is a culture of violence. Of militant-fanatic support-indoctrination around a patriarch authority who rules through abuse and demands absolute and complicit silence. White culture says I told you so after you got a beating. White culture ignores you when you need to ask for something important, and laughs when you shrink away in hurt or death. White culture is made of popular tales of mythic empires and noble soldiers and their families, forever marching forth from a romantic past that did not happen. White culture ignores the dead, deadens the spirit, disrespects life, does not remember and isn’t moved to ask why.
White people have culture.
I watched this Hortense Spillers lecture on Touch on the same night I listened to the OnBeing podcast. Her lecture itself is brief amidst the hour-long video with Q&A. It’s worth watching because I must leave out the full network of associations she weaves, but here is a node:
I tend to think that the Jefferson-Hemmings case did not define the norm, just as we wish to broaden the lens across the whole terrain of intimacy under conditions of enslavement, and whether or not we would be justified in calling such relations intimacy at all. In a circumstance where flesh becomes the medium of exchange, it is hard to imagine what intimacy is, or what the career of touch would be under conditions defined by violent coercion.
What an investigator is looking for in this case tends to evade the archive and to disappear into the world of the everyday.
If the shadow families of the master class were defined primarily by their economic relations to the master, then how did this intrusion of money matters—or was it an intrusion?—transform structures of feeling between husbands and wives and sibling relations within the official family. In other words, we do not expect master families to carry on ‘as usual’—whatever as usual is—and that just occurred to me, that there was really no such thing as ‘a normal’ under conditions of slavery, as I understand it. Those people who were enslaved and then those people who were not—I mean it seems to me that the whole is affected by institutions of ownership in a world where human beings have become property. So we don’t expect master families to carry on as usual when the conditions of slavery prevail.
all out of control
Something that annoyed me reading Paul B Preciado’s TESTO JUNKIE was that it reminded me of watching 90s MTV movies about European junkies, people frenzying their dead-end violent lives with drugs and petty crime and technology, and we’re supposed to get a thrill out of it. It’s supposed to be art. It’s supposed to mean something. But look at what it glorifies. Crews of men and their girlfriends whose lives are intertwined because of their bad circumstances and bad decisions, who lie murder and steal on each other. Do you know how many skinheads love watching movies with white gang violence in them? How many decades now the History Channel been airing documentaries about the lives of Nazis?
There are bigots in cyberspace too, but they can look like super saiyans there.
Have you ever role-played being something other than a human being? Did your nervous system pull taut at the sight of the Connecting.. screen? When I watch anime with transformation sequences (like when the EVA units fill up with fluid or the nail polish dazzles onto the sailor senshi’s wand-gasping fingertips), I’m like that’s what I experienced over and over again, when I donned the mantel of awareness that was this cyborg character. I was her more than I was myself. And she had no qualms with the totalitarian aspirations of empire.
Alice Sparkly Kat has said in an interview that under a different name they are a fanfic writer and that they have been posting a chapter to their fic every week for years. On top of that their astrology writing and accompanying imagery frequently mentions fandom culture. Maybe I don’t dwell in the places I yet seek, but I don’t know many writers or artists who bring fandom and queer POC anti-colonial anti-capitalist and traditional astrological bodies of thought into motion like ASK does. The other day they said
Horoscopes, like other forms of art and culture, can be used for fascism. Just like there is a such thing as a fascist song or a fascist play, there is a such thing as a fascist horoscope column.
Mars in Aries energy had me engaging with Clarion again, this time in the form of a panel talk they were hosting called Writing the Future, helmed by Kim Stanley Robinson (beloved by a number of anarchists and whose books I haven’t read). Robinson is like, "Clarion is a volunteer project and a collective through time." And one of the panelists Eileen Gunn is saying it changed her life to be around writers who were all on her level and very political. And Ted Chiang is like "prior to going to Clarion I didn’t know anyone who even read science fiction let alone anyone who wrote science fiction." And I’m just like jesus christ I just THINK ABOUT everyone left behind!! Meanwhile writer Jamie Berrout (pay her) sustains her plainly spoken attack on the publishing industry from major to independent for its absence of trans writers of color.
The kind of work that I'm doing, alongside a number of other emerging trans writers of color, is vital because so little of it is available at this moment. For generations, it has been nearly impossible for us to write our own stories and share our thoughts and experiences with others in our communities. The same social conditions that erased much of our collective past, and that to this day make it hard for us to even survive, make it so that our creative work is devalued, underfunded, and ignored when it is not being attacked out of hatred. That's why I'm asking for your support
With her wide-ranging work with time-temporalities, Rasheedah Phillips maintains an afrofuturist practice that centers poor Black people, who are targeted for punishment by a white imperialist system of linear clock time originating out of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
Two months ago on this imperial linear calendar time, the screen-light rendering of Cyrée Jarelle Johnson’s A Paradoxical History of Black Disease was hitting my eyes.
Since they could no longer own black people, they happily left us for dead. Legan notes that former slaveholders were “freed of the antebellum master-slave relationship in which the blacks had represented capital investment” and thus “expressed little concern for the health and welfare of the freedmen except when it posed a threat to their own.”
Somewhere along the line I clicked on Neel Ahuja’s chapter in Control Culture: Foucault and Deleuze after Discipline titled Post-Mortem on Race and Control, and there’s a bit in there that goes
Turning to the ascendance of empires and the problem of their inability to cope with change, Burroughs thus concludes that control's ultimate dependence is not on labour nor technology but on time itself
Ahuja is in there relating William Burroughs’ (who I’ve never read) thoughts about how “the precolonial Mayan calendar schematised the total control of the population,” which is akin to something Alice Sparkly Kat lays out in the A History of Western Astrology section of their Astrology and Storytelling book, that “Conceptual time most frequently takes the form of the calendar and propagates certain cultural orientations, exporting them to other places. The time frames of cultural centers of power, such as the capital of one empire, are exported to locations considered peripheral or marginal, creating time differences, or cultural gaps and distances.” Empires need calendars, in other words. Back in Ahuja’s chapter, they return to how Burroughs and the Beat writers fucked up by not including the realities-impacts of “colonisation and anti-black racism” into their own writings about control. They white wash it. They make it a white paranoid fantasy. Dystopia tourism, as I like to call it.
a speculative vision of advanced capitalist control (Yu 2008).
When I stopped being a teenage fashion skinhead, I turned to spend my hours in a text-based holodeck of sensory-jacking solace. For years, it had my full attention.
What haven’t you been paying attention to?
till next time