Feminist Writers Festival – Q&A with Amy Middleton

We’re thrilled to be supporting the inaugural Feminist Writers Festival, taking place in Melbourne from 26-28 August this year. We’ll be featuring interviews with several artists and Committee members over the coming months in the lead up to the event.

Our Editor/Founder, Zoya Patel, will be speaking on a panel during the Networking Day on Friday 26 August – to find out more, and see all of the amazing events programmed as part of the festival, head to their website.

Our next Q&A is with  Amy Middleton, founding editor of Archer Magazine. We talk about what it’s like running a publication with a unique focus on sexuality, gender and identity.

How did the idea for Archer first come about, and why do you think it’s important to have a publication like this available? 
When I had the idea for Archer Magazine, I was working full-time at a publication about caravans. I loved the job, but it got me thinking about the themes I’d rather be writing about, which were sexuality, gender and identity.
I went on the look-out for my next dream job, but I couldn’t find a publication that talked about sexuality and gender from an inclusive perspective — there were straight mags, gay mags (and particularly mags for gay men), but nothing I could see that offered a place for all identities.
I reckon regardless of who you are, stories about sex are a) interesting and unique, and b) rarely as straightforward or predictable as the sex that is portrayed in the media and pop culture. So I think we all need a bit of solidarity in that area, and that’s what Archer Magazine offers.
You guys publish some amazing, boundary-pushing, transgressive material – how do you decide what to feature, and what your audience wants to read? 
This is something that’s been evolving over time. Out of necessity, I think, Archer Magazine kind of belongs to the community, because it exists as a platform for lesser-heard voices. So it doesn’t really make sense for one person — the editor — to curate the content, although that’s generally what happens in publishing.
Every couple of issues, we do a call-out for pitches and story ideas to get a sense of what people want to read or write. We do reader surveys and talk to people in the community on a daily basis about these issues, to try and pick up what’s being discussed.
I’ve just brought on a trio of co-editors to help me commission stories and find writers, so the scope expands beyond just one person. This feels really crucial, but it’s been a difficult thing to put into practice until now, because I’m so time-poor, and everyone on the Archer team works for free, so their time is limited. (It’s hard to believe how hard people work in the arts, and it’s almost impossible to explain it to those outside the arts. It’s like this invisible community of artists just silently toils underground for their entire lives, to essentially hold up society and keep it from sinking. Pretty amazing. Like, I’m really tired, but no-one else seems to complain as much as me.)
You’re speaking at FWF about queer, transgender and feminist writing – what are you hoping to explore in that discussion?
I’ve been asked to chair a discussion, which means the bulk of the opinions will come from the people sitting next to me, but I’m really interested to talk about the role of writing in terms of self-discvoery for people who identify as trans and non-binary, and also for feelings of community and closeness.
I’m also keen to talk about feminism in queer communities, because this is a huge issue that doesn’t get talked about a lot. See my next response for more.
What is the synergy you see between the queer and feminist movements? 
The way gender inequality plays out in queer circles and communities is unfortunately all too familiar. People assume the patriarchy isn’t as evident in LGBTI communities, but it permeates every corner of our society.
Inequality is a broad, social problem, in my opinion, and so it can’t really be pinned on any individuals in particular, but a wider awareness of it is essential to empower women, queer women, and people who are trans and non-binary.
I think writing and art are great formats for this discussion, because they can be experimental and exploratory, rather than directly confrontational. In my opinion, lateral hostility brings a whole lot of anxiety that many queer people don’t need, or don’t have the energy for. (But perhaps that’s just me.)
I’m pretty keen to chat to our panellists about this issue, because I feel strongly about it, as you maybe can tell.
What’s next for Archer? 
We’ve just released our latest issue, the SHE/HERS edition, in which all the articles are written by people who identify with feminine pronouns. At the launch events, this edition brought together hundreds of people to listen to stories about women’s bodies and female-identifying people’s experiences of sex, and it really hit home how rare that is — to walk into a room full of people and hear about vaginas and menstruation and trans-feminine experiences.
Also, there are tons of boundary-pushing articles being published regularly on our website and Facebook page, thanks to Archer’s awesome online team, which includes Lucy, Bobuck and Fury. These volunteers do an incredible job of finding new stories each week, and again, creating a safe space for diverse stories and attitudes.
So good things ahead, if we can all keep from burning out.
You can grab a copy of the most recent issue of Archer, or subscribe via their website. Find out more about the Feminist Writers’ Festival and register to attend here.
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