Fury is a writer, illustrator, activist, and feminist. Their work focuses on queer and feminist issues and social inequality. They are the 2017 Kat Muscat Fellow and their work has appeared in a range of publications, including Overland Journal and Kill Your Darlings.
How do you describe yourself and your work to people you’ve just met?
Every event asks for a bio, which, you know, is a perfectly reasonable request but I also think it’s a completely unreasonable expectation. In theory, they are supposed to boil a person down and give a snapshot of what the person does or is or is working on. However, somewhere along the line, the culture of bio writing became a space to show off all the accolades you’ve got and all the great things that you’ve done. While some people step into that space really easily, for a lot of us – particularly the ones in the margins – bios are a source of anxiety. To mitigate that anxiety, my bios are always a little sideways. For example,
‘Fury is a despicable changeling creature birthed from the sulphur swamps of greater New Zealand, currently inhabiting the desolate desert landscapes of Melbourne’s CBD. You can tell them by their webbed fingers and shifting red eyes. To ward them off, you may leave an inverted coat or open iron scissors where you sleep. It is not advised to read their guileful poetry as their words encourage restless sleep.’
So to answer your question, I am introduced to most people as a changeling, or sometimes a cyborg. But these days I feel more like a chimera who dabbles.
The work you’re being supported to complete as the Kat Muscat Fellow focuses on the relationship between lesbians and gay men during the early AIDS crisis. What drew you to this particular point in history and this story?
It was an article about a thread on Reddit. There was this part in it:
‘It was, at the time, not at all unusual for gay men to snicker as the bull dyke walked into the bar with her overalls and flannels and fades. Much of the time, it was casual ribbing which they took in stride. But it could also be laced with acid, especially when lesbians began gravitating toward a bar that had until then catered largely to men.
When the AIDS crisis struck, it would be many of these same women who would go straight from their jobs during the day to acting as caregivers at night. Because most of them lacked medical degrees, they were generally relegated to the most unpleasant tasks: wiping up puke and shit, cleaning up houses and apartments neglected for weeks and months. But not being directly responsible for medical care also made them the most convenient targets for the devastating anger and rage these men felt – many who’d been abandoned by their own family and friends.’
That snickering and that tension still exist. I think that’s largely because the LGBTIQ+ community is always a form of diaspora. Unlike race or religion, we are never born into a culture of queerness. Like, maybe two queers have a kid but it’s never a sure thing that that kid will be queer themself. So it’s always a process of finding community, stepping away from the mainstream and coming into that history and that culture and that context. But this means any bridges built by older generations aren’t necessarily there or taught to younger ones because queer spaces are always being rebuilt and reformed.
The AIDS crisis was a point in which both communities had to come together. I’m especially interested in the women. They experienced loss, too. They have a slice of that history. So I want to tell that story – not to the exclusion of men, but as a way of showing, like ‘hey, this is our mutual history. This is the ground we stood on together.’
What do you hope to achieve through this work?
Write a play and see it put on. Anything more than that is kind of a bonus.
You’re the 2017 recipient of the Kat Muscat Fellowship, what inspired you to apply and what kind of impact do you think fellowships like this can have on artists?
Aw jeez. I was friends with Kat, you know? It made applying for it feel really weird. Namely, I don’t want this fellowship to exist because I want Kat to exist. A part of me can’t ignore that correlation and the swathe of undesirable feelings that come with that. I know they’re not logical, but if it were possible to reason with emotions I wouldn’t need a counsellor to tell me to stop pretending emotions don’t exist.
That being said, a big part of why I applied is that, like, you know when a tree falls in the rainforest? Once one of those big trees falls, suddenly light is cast on a bunch of other plants that get this opportunity to grow. I think that’s a good analogy. I can’t change what happened, but I can help shape one part her legacy. I’m going to grow her a beautiful fucking plant.
I illustrated a book with my friend Bec Shaw last year and when we sat down with our publisher, Affirm Press, they mentioned that they always have a little gander at who gets awarded the Hot Desk Fellowships at the Wheeler Centre. Opportunities like these – the Hot Desk Fellowships because they are so many and so varied across disciplines, and the Kat Muscat Fellowship because it’s targeted, gender wise – are important because they lead to other things. Everyone in the literary community keeps a casual eye on who is getting what.
It does mean that people who are doing truly experimental works often get overlooked, though, as there’s no precedent for their projects so people don’t back them. Like, ReVerse Butcher slipped 2,000 odd poems into books at the State Library of Victoria (among others) in an anti-residency project. The politics and the project are really compelling and radical but they never would have got funding for it. The sad truth is that we’re all pretty middlebrow when it comes down to it.
What keeps you going when the going gets tough? Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Oh my god I have just the thing for aspiring artists of all creative disciplines. It’s a recording by Ira Glass that I send everyone who expresses interest in writing. He really just breaks down the time it takes to get good at something. It is just so heartening because he talks about how he sucked at his job for longer than anyone he knew but he is where he is because he didn’t let that stop him. I think especially us queers and us women (and, from what I understand, people of colour) have a propensity to give up before we get going or, if we do get somewhere, feel like we’re not good enough because that’s the subtext we experience everywhere.
There’s that adage on the internet of ‘have the confidence of a mediocre white man’ and honestly it’s my mantra. I whisper it under my breath when I am applying for funding. I say it to myself before an interview. It makes me look at my work and think ‘if I were a mediocre white man I would be SO PROUD of this piece of shit’ and suddenly I get this context and reminder: I am better than my cis, straight contemporaries because I have gone through more shit to get here and despite that, I am still underrated.
Which is funny when you think about it because the standard one-liner from cis people or straight people or white people is ‘oh you only got here because you’re [whatever]’. This cracks me up because it’s like – what, you think the Oscars is so white because of merit? Like all people of colour just totally by coincidence happen to be worse at acting than white people? It takes some serious mental contortionism to accuse a marginalised group of unfairly receiving the very privileges you have in spades. The mantra ‘have the confidence of a mediocre white man’ reminds me of that and keeps me grounded.
It also reminds me to seek out works by people of colour and other folk in the margins. If they have reached any small level of acclaim then they need to be treated with more respect and consideration than their mainstream compatriots because they, more often than not, will be supremely under-recognised and their work will, therefore, be primo.
So yeah, pardon the capitalist rhetoric, but buy products from marginalised folk – it is very likely a better investment.