By John Clay, Rock At Night-London
‘Can a hate group call themselves feminists?’ River Gari A.K.A Idle Fire asks this question in the following interview regarding transphobia, gender critical activists and the reception of The Matrix Resurrections.
‘I read a tweet by prominent TERF Kathleen Stock where she was being apologetic of her friendship with “full-on-pro-lifers” because they are fine people with “fine qualities”. While self professing as a pro-choicer, not a word spent on the dark times ahead, not a word on how sad the day was for the Nation. What kind of “feminist” does that?’ – River Gari A.K.A Idle Fire
What aspects of those who describe themselves as gender critical concern you?
River: There are so many issues linked to these individuals and these groups’ activities, I would frankly struggle to list them all. There are folks who are more knowledgeable than me, who have already said it more eloquently than me, but essentially “gender critical” people (or “radical feminists”, a term they problematically co-opted) try to assign themselves a role of intellectuals and defenders of logic and truth, while actually professing beliefs that are anything but logical and true. I have no problem saying this: these are hate groups we’re talking about. No amount of scientific and academic proof will sway them from their essentialist dogmas. It’s extremely concerning that a lot of mainstream media is conniving in portraying them as feminists, which is a wild absurdity to my mind. How can someone possibly think that espousing a cisnormative and essentialist vision of biology does not reinforce the patriarchal hold on society? Rights are being taken away under our very eyes, and anyone who doesn’t see a connection needs to focus on the issue now, because lives are at stake, and not just trans lives.
Why do you think the media is complicit with gender critical activists who claim to be feminists? Is the use of the word feminist a problem due to various waves of equality seeking groups having different ideas of womanhood?
River: I think the media is in it for a number of reasons. First of all, it sells. That’s the number one logic, isn’t it? Conflict is exciting to read about. Secondly, there definitely is a political division. I guess most of the media outlets which foster problematic discourse are centrists, conservative, and right leaning. But not all left leaning media outlets are doing well. Finally, quite plainly, the media are made of people, and people are biassed, prejudiced, and not always open to learning about a topic before they talk about it. There might be more reasons for it, but these are the ones that come to mind. As for the use of the word feminist, I find it extremely problematic because I don’t see these groups seeking equality for women at all. They are rarely preoccupied with other issues. All they do is bash trans folks, especially trans women. Can a hate group call themselves feminists? I mean, clearly they do, but I don’t think they have a right to. On June 24, the same day as the horrendous American Supreme Court decision to remove the constitutional right to abortion, I read a tweet by prominent TERF Kathleen Stock where she was being apologetic of her friendship with “full-on-pro-lifers” because they are fine people with “fine qualities”. While self professing as a pro-choicer, not a word spent on the dark times ahead, not a word on how sad the day was for the Nation. What kind of “feminist” does that?
Often there is a critical approach to introducing the reality of same sex relationships into the educational sphere. Do you think this is because the myth of queer identity being something you can be corrupted by (rather than born into), is still upheld by mainstream culture? Will we get past this disavowment of what occurs in nature every day, or will the biassed partition between humanity and nature continue to consider LGBTQ people as individuals who become what they are rather than realise and accept it?
River: I think you’re hitting the nail on the head here. Unfortunately it’s hard to get past the depiction of LGBTQ+ orientations and identities as something pathologised, or even morally corrupt. Science and a portion of society have gone forward, and yet when it comes to the education of minors, it still becomes a very touchy subject. The root of this is clearly phobic, otherwise you can’t explain the double standards. No one has issues with the discussion of cis-heteronormative families, relationships, identities, and sexual education. The problem starts with the introduction of LGBTQ+ into the general discourse. Honestly I’m not even interested in the debate of nature vs nurture here. I don’t think anything made me queer, I just am, and yet that’s not the point. Nothing changes the fact that we exist and we deserve dignity and rights the same as everyone else. Our existence doesn’t harm anyone. Can’t say the same thing about the people who hate us. I’m worried about the queer kids, because seeing adults in their lives so openly reject them, whether directly on indirectly by criticising gay rights and the implmentation of LGBTQ+ curricula at school, have a terrible impact on their chances of growing up into healthy adults.
I’d like to think the nature versus nurture debate was long dead, but hey, it’s tragic to reconcile with the regression in culture by those who persist in framing LGBTQ as a perversion due to their essentialism overriding their acknowledgement that if all we are interested in doing is procreating then why do we entertain philosophy, art and technology? It can’t all be to entice partners into creating children, can it?
River: I agree. Essentialism can make people very rigid, and its flaws are very apparent to me. I don’t really think it is for anyone to try and establish a reason we’re here, and a purpose for our entire species. I see it as rather arrogant. I believe it’s up to the individual to find their own meaning to their lives, but some people just won’t let go, they need everyone to make sense of it the same way they do. I don’t think it can ever work out that way.
What current ongoing issue are you concerned with and what measures have you taken in any activism in tackling it?
River: The list is long and full of classics, sadly. The lack/insufficiency of human and civil rights including women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, especially in regards to trans and intersex folks, who are among the most fragile and marginalised. Systemic racism. Mental health stigma, ableism and neurodiversity pathologisation. The privatisation of education and healthcare. And then there’s obviously climate change, and the ever-increasing gap between the wealthy and the poor. Both between richer and poorer Countries, and among groups and individuals within those Countries. The general disregard of human life in favour of something as ephemeral and ultimately useless as profit. Of course all these issues are connected, and folks exist in intersections of all these identities and more. That is why intersectional feminism is so important, it takes account of the individual as a whole, and of their role within the dynamics of power in society. The biggest task is learning. Reading, listening to the voice of those who are oppressed. And sharing what I learn whenever I get the opportunity. And I try to do this with intellectual honesty. I’m trying my best and hopefully that’s enough if other people are trying too. I do see a lot of empathy around me, a lot of people trying their best to be kind. It gives me hope that we’ll be able to change a few hearts.
Do you belong to any real world groups in your local community and if so how did you come by them?
River: Back in London I was a member of the DIY Space for London, which was very active not only as a safe space to socialise and make art, but also often helped with fundraising in support of the marginalised. I have recently been following this new amazing initiative called Trans Creative Collective – The TCC, which are doing excellent work to promote equality in the creative industries, but they’re based in London so there’s a limit to how much I can participate. I’m still trying to see what is available in Stockholm, and if I find nothing, hopefully I can network enough to help kick start something, who knows! While not a member, I also try to support BLM as best as I can, I think everyone should.
Name three historical people you’d want the world to be more aware of.
River: That is a very difficult question, because I feel there are so many historical figures who the white supremacist ethnocentric patriarchal West has condemned to the the shadows of oblivion, or at the very least to a lesser degree of fame than they deserved. Off the top of my head I’m thinking of Hypatia, Egyptian philosopher, mathematician and astronomer of Greek descent, who lived in Alexandria under the Roman Empire in the late 300’s AD. Another example is NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, who only recently came to the attention of the public thanks to the film Hidden Figures. Finally I’d like to mention Audre Lorde, whose poetry is of immeasurable power – I wish she was present in school curricula in middle/high school around the world.
You’re a big fan of The Matrix and it would be great to see some of your views about its commentary on gender on this platform. Fire away!
River: Well, I guess it’s time to turn the geek on! I’ve been a big fan of the Matrix since the original film came out. I think it’s an extraordinary film, and it’s got many layers too. On the face it’s a cyberpunk action film, and a rather cool one at that, with awesome aesthetics and revolutionary vfx. But you dig a little and it’s quite easy to find pop culture nods to philosophies and religions, both Western and Eastern. It’s a story about finding your true self, a reflection on the meaning of love, a celebration of life. It’s a commentary on the sins of capitalism. There’s just so much to it. And then some folks started to see an allegory for the transgender experience in it, and once you look at it through that lens, it makes a lot of sense. Lana and Lilly Wachowski themselves confirmed it, although they weren’t necessarily aware that this was what they were talking about at the time of making the film. The heroes of the Matrix strive for authenticity, truth and compassion, despite society’s conditioning to believe certain lies that keep us from fulfilling ourselves. And that’s exactly what a trans person navigating today’s society needs to do. The 4th instalment in the franchise, The Matrix Resurrections, brings some of the topics from the Trilogy back into focus and it’s a fantastic film which not only provides an entertaining story, but also reflects on what the Matrix means in the 2020s. It’s fun, it’s smart, and it proposes positive values. I think the world really needs all of that right now.
What do you think of the critics’ mainly negative consideration of the film? What do you think they missed in regards to the meta commentary?
River: To be honest, I am not very familiar with what the critics said about the Matrix. I can imagine that some reviewers, especially those of an older generation, might have been too put off by the cyberpunk narrative frame and by the (frankly glorious) action to take the film seriously enough. But I’d be curious to know what you think too!
The main critique was the retread of the first film’s plot beats, the action being less formidable and the idea of bullet time shots being overly familiar. There was a rejection by many fans who considered the film to be overly complicated. I went from not liking it to thinking it was excellent after far more sophisticated people than myself pointed out just how deep a satire it was. The funny thing is that The Matrix, much like the third series of Twin Peaks had an uncompromising and meta way of illustrating that ‘you can’t go home again.’ Nostalgia and sentimentality is not how you build a new future. What do you think?
River: I thought you were referring to the criticism of the original Matrix! I have to say, while I can concede there’s some truth to what those critics said, I think they were missing the point. There’s definitely an element of satire, but to me it’s more than that. There’s also a playfulness, and there’s a reflection on what it means to tell a story, and what it means to go back to something that was commercially successful that was meant to carry a disruptive message. And there’s more but I don’t want to spoil things for those who haven’t seen the movie yet!
Well, at the risk of being glib, the box office being what it was and the amount of time that’s passed since its release I’d say spoil away. I’m sure anyone who hasn’t seen it yet will take this moment to scroll to an indicated paragraph where our chat wraps up minus any spoilers.
WARNING: MILD SPOILERS FOR MATRIX RESURRECTIONS
River: Well, in that case I’m just gonna say something that I really liked about the ending and what it means for the two major characters of the film along with Morpheus. The original trilogy did very well in regards to Neo’s and Trinity’s relationship, which is very much depicted as a relationship of equals, with both saving each other’s lives more than once. The film more than hints at the importance of love and its ability to renew us and help us find who we are, yet at the end of The Matrix Revolutions, Neo has to face the machines on his own. I think that was a fault that The Matrix Resurrections very much corrects. It’s not about just Neo, it’s about Neo and Trinity, together, it always has. It’s their love that can defeat the machines.
And on that very important note, I thank you for a grand multipurpose interview. Speak soon, and may ‘Starve to Strength’ be welcomed well by your friends, family and growing fan base.
River: Thank you, it’s been a real joy to chat with you.
Music video for ‘Starve To Strength’ is out now:
Music video for ‘Starve To Strength’ is out now! Produced by Chemically Sinister and Idle Fire, filmed by John Clay, the video brings a mysterious and intriguing vision to life. Actors Ruth Mestel and Bryony Miller contribute with dazzling performances, telling a story of dysfunctional love.
Check out IDLE FIRE’s 2021 EP Minus seven
- A candid interview with River of UK band Idle Fire - August 7, 2022
- Rock At Night Interview: UK band IDLE FIRE on politics and identity - August 1, 2022
- Starsha Lee: A Conversation on Images and Childhood - July 19, 2022