Queers Fail Better – Q / A with Louis Esmé Cruz

Queers Fail Better – Q / A with Louis Esmé Cruz

Think back to when you started writing. What’s an earlier influence you outgrew, abandoned, or turned against?

When I was 4 or 5 years old, I recorded myself talking into a voice recorder, telling stories about whatever images came into my head. Later found by my older sister, these stories provided ample entertainment for my family - both because I was unreserved in my thoughts and also because The the content and characters were considered absurd by my family. A common thing I do is to place myself in binaries within colonial narratives, as either a part of, or in resistance to. The story feels stronger to me when I let myself be both. Storytelling is old; mixedness is old. I’m visually writing to get closer to old.

When a piece of writing doesn’t work out, what do you do with it? Discard? Fold it into another project? Salvage parts?

Most of what I create isn’t seen by anyone. This mostly has to do with whether it’s ready to be seen yet, or I’m ready for it to be shared. When it’s not about this, it’s about being a really insecure person who wants to be liked for what I do rather than who I am. The work is strong when reasons for making it outweigh complicity.

What do you do with your rejection letters?

Consider myself lucky for having been given a response, think about what happened, learn from it and move on. The same is true for acceptance letters.

Do you plan out the piece beforehand or find your way as you go along? A combination of both?

There’s usually some idea of what the work is meant to do. It’s not always up to me how it happens, the stories just find their own way out. Trusting in my own abilities helps with the birthing process, seeing as resistance to creating makes the whole thing unnecessarily painful. My work processes the long-term effects of forced removal, erasure, attempted genocide, land theft. I want to leave people with a feeling that addressing colonialisms is possible and can be freeing. Doing this is both joyous and painful, it’s being honest about what’s happening, right now, while learning how we got here.

When a project is finished, how do you start the next one? Or do your projects overlap?

There’s a long river of information running all around us. I fish out the ones that are needed, can be tackled, in the moment when a story is needed.

Have you ever not sent a piece of writing somewhere because it seemed “too gay/queer” for that publication?

Sometimes editors and other people in charge of literary decision-making don’t even know they have a bias against 2Spirit creative work, even specific narratives within this frame. Sometimes this bias against comes from our own people. They have conceptual and aesthetic preference about what creativity is and isn’t, also about form, content, canon and authorship that rarely addresses range of narrative. Choosing to side-step work and artists who address 2Spirit narratives are complicated choices, wrapped in colonial aesthetics - but they can also be about not wanting to publish a half-cooked piece. Choosing inclusion is complicated as well, with the potential for things to get overly simplified. It’s important to not edit work before it’s ever seen, even if we’ve had painful experiences with sharing our work. There are many Indigenous people and peoples whose stories need hearing and respectful response, beyond the ones we are most familiar. Do people want to be a part of honouring survival and renewal in the midst of ongoing genocides? I look to writers and educators like Marie Battiste, Daniel Heath Justice, and Qwo-Li Driskill for guidance, as well as my beloved friends.

What do you do to procrastinate?

Everything that doesn’t need doing! Lately I’ve been baking the shit out of everything.

Has anyone ever said something completely discouraging to you as an artist? Did it take the wind out of your sails or did it drive you forward? Or both?

I had this ceramics teacher in school who was known for giving brutally honest critiques of his students’ work, just saying what he thought. When it was my turn to face scrutiny, he didn’t mince words about what parts he thought were useless and useful. It was hard to have someone spend 5 minutes looking at something that took me months to make and break it down so quickly, to be that vulnerable with a respected ceramist. Recognizing his honesty, it’s also important for writers to not feed people what we think they want. Creation is chaotic and messy and divine and grotesque. Even though I’ve stepped away from clay to focus on visual writing, it’s his concise opinions that remind me to come back to my own beginnings and be grateful that anyone thought something I made was worth pulling apart.

Can a piece of writing fail, or is that a bullshit notion?

Perfectionism, so fear of failure, is about surviving completely unnatural and violent situations. Writing is one of the first lessons young people learn in school, which they then get graded on, judged. Who’s dropping out of schools? Who’s in prisons? People Indigenous to North America and Africa. One of the earliest writing systems in the Americas was created by Mi’kmaq ancestors, which was then recorded and adapted into Catholic prayers as a tool of conversion by missionaries. These ways of writing are still with us. They tell us who we are, how we think about things and how to let go of thinking judgments. Schools as we now know them are very complex places, all these neighbourhoods crashing together inside four walls. If my Granny were still alive, I’d ask her every day what she thinks I should be writing.

Louis Esmé Cruz is based out of Toronto, 3 Fires Territory. His recent collaboration is the Tities Wîcinímintôwak Collective: 2SpiritSkillshare.tumblr.com