Casey Plett On Community and Being Open To Strangers
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
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from the episode:
Maris Kreizman: I really love how you talk about treating strangers in this book. Which, you’re a trans woman, you have every right to be guarded.
Casey Plett: Yeah, I just doggedly, doggedly, with all my heart, believe that there is a balance that most of us know in our bones, to some degree, about a distinction between guardedness and openness. And I think that, first of all, plenty of people I know in my life who have survived some of the most awful things at the hands of strangers are also some of the kindest people I know to people they don’t know. I think about times in my life where I have had some really unpleasant shit happen, and the next day I still had to get up and go to work. Like, I had to get a coffee from somebody, and I don’t want to be a dick to that guy who’s giving me my coffee. I want to be nice to him, you know? That’s the kind of thing I think that lots of us in our bones understand in some way, and so I really do believe that when it comes to talking to strangers there has to be… a way to mix protection and openness.
And I think that throughout the course of human history, to some degree or another, and often imperfectly, we end up living out that kind of balance anyway, because you have to exist in the world, you know? And I also think that the majority of the world knows what it’s like to be a woman walking around in public, right?
Like, the majority of the world understands those stakes to some degree or another. And, I don’t know, I believe in all those studies that talking to strangers makes you happier, and that talking to strangers is a way to ward off a lot of the bad things that come with isolation. I believe that with all my heart, I always do, I always have, and I always will. Even though, yeah, I carry trauma around with me, certainly, from things that have happened between me and strangers.
I still really, really do believe that.
MK: Maybe this speaks to the city as a community, but growing up I was taught to fear anyone I didn’t know, and I moved to New York City. And I remember specifically not smiling, just kind of like, don’t fuck with me. And it’s taken a long time to change that mindset.
CP: Yeah. Tell me where do you think that fear, that myth, came from?
MK: The evening news?
CP: Mm hmm.
MK: And it does seem like one of the negative parts about a small community, living in a small town is that there… Well, you use the word assumptions many, many times in this book. And of course, we have to make assumptions about things we don’t know, and yet.
CP: Yeah. It’s an inevitable part of life. Kristin Dombek talks a little bit about this in her book [The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism], about how you kind of have to, on a day to day basis, you literally function [by making assumptions] moving through a day. But it’s good to examine those things, and I think it’s especially good to examine those things when you find yourself acting with negativity or fear or unkindness to other people. And I will never ever forget, a friend of mine, a trans woman in Winnipeg, once said to me, we don’t have the right to feel safe, what we have is the right to be safe.
And I think about that all the time. It’s a heavy statement, and there’s a lot of contradictions involved in it, but I also think there’s probably a lot of truth in it. And so when it comes to these ideas of assumption, yes, they’ll happen. You can’t really control it, you can’t not have assumptions. They’re part of day-to-day functioning. But there’s probably some key ones that it’s good to really stop and examine and think about.
Casey Plett is the author of A Dream of a Woman, Little Fish, and A Safe Girl to Love, the co-editor of Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy From Transgender Writers, and the publisher at LittlePuss Press. Her new book is the 8th book in the Field Notes series from Biblioasis, and it’s called On Community.