Interview with Kathleen McIntyre

I first met Kathleen McIntyre when she joined For The Birds, a feminist collective I have been a part of since its inception five years ago. Among our many activities is maintaining a zine distro of feminist titles ranging from personal zines, to resource guides to compilations of various topics. Kathleen’s compilation zine on grief and loss, The Worst, is regularly a best-seller and is scheduled to have its third issue released later this year. While not involved in feminist organizing or zine-making, Kathleen is also a social worker in New York City. Her work is a constant inspiration and I was excited to ask her about the many intersecting facets of her work.
 

What were the original inspirations for the zine, or what was your original goal in editing a compilation zine like The Worst, as opposed to writing a personal zine or essay on the topic?
 
My inspirations were personal zines where the authors would devote a handful of pages or a full issue to exploring the losses they had undergone.  (Cindy Crabb, Sascha DuBrul, Timothy Coleman and Ciara Xyerra are some crucial writers who addressed grief in this way).  I realized I wanted to hear more stories from folks who somehow identified with radical, activist or d.i.y. communities about how they were engaging with the grief process.  I also wanted to create a forum for ideas about how we might push these narratives into a larger, community-level grief praxis, which took the form of introductions and “commentary pieces,” suggestions for grief groups, and resource lists in each issue of The Worst.  So ultimately I wanted to merge these intensely personal accounts of loss from many different voices with more over-arching narratives that we might begin to engage with at the larger community level, and the compilation zine format seemed to fit these needs the best.  
 
In the words of Audre Lorde: Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare. I’m interested in the aspects of your zine where contributors discuss coping mechanisms and elements of self-care in the grieving process. Is this aspect of the zine political to you?
 
This aspect of the zine is perhaps the most political to me and I hope for most readers.  My radical feminist anti-capitalist lens includes a critique of interpersonal relationships and emotional lives as a crucial “site” of reproduction of capitalist value systems, and likewise as a potential location from which we can struggle against the intrusion of capitalism into our most precious human experiences.  In other words, neoliberal capitalism depends, not only on people accepting an economy based on wages and alienated labor, but on us internalizing certain capitalist values and dynamics in our home and personal lives, in our “social factories.”  This presents us with a mainstream narrative of the grief process as something that should be silenced, contained, time-limited, and proscribed by capitalist psychiatric “science” (for example, the DSM 4 alots a time period of just two months after a loss occurs in which a person may be diagnosed with “Bereavement,” after which they must be diagnosed as having either Major Depression or Adjustment Disorder).   Within this climate, any enactment by a griever of the authentic experience of their loss becomes a useful counter-narrative to speak back to the narratives that are imposed upon us.  Oftentimes, these authentic articulations of grief expose peoples’ ongoing needs for care—both from themselves, and from their communities.  Self care in this context becomes a radical assertion that our relationships matter and that the loss of a relationship therefore requires care.  Enacting this care, or claiming one’s own need for care within an often uncaring system is a powerful refusal of capitalism’s “business as usual” in our relational lives.  It can be quite a source of power for someone who is grieving to truly be cared for by themselves and their community.  My strongest intention for the zine is that it be a tool for helping all of us learn and re-learn how we might struggle to make this very personal and very political process happen.  
 
In that same vein, how is community response to grief and loss a feminist issue?
 
My own feminism emphasizes that everyone deserves a place at the table, so to speak.  A pervasive myth in capitalist culture is that everyone starts from a level playing field, and the things we gain are all possible if we simply work hard enough for them.  In fact, this myth seeks to erase our culture’s long legacy of structural inequality; slavery, economic oppression, gender-based violence, disenfranchisement of the poor, people of color, and immigrants, violence against the mentally ill, and biased legal systems and policies which enact social control differentially based on what should be non-relevant factors like race, gender, and language ability, etc. (Stop and Frisk is just one example of why our country is not and has never been a true meritocracy).  On top of all this, we all have “normal life events” to deal with that impact our emotional lives, such as loss, aging, physical and mental illness, and the maintenance of relationships and families through carework.  Grief is exhausting and requires time and energy to process in healthy ways, but all too often, it gets suppressed or de-legitimized in the face of so many other pressing issues of survival.  We grieve within historical and political contexts.  Trayvon Martin’s parents, for example, are not simply grieving the loss of their son, but also trying to cope with the fact that his murder was racially-motivated and is being processed by a judicial system seeped in white supremacist rhetoric and practices.  So feminism provides us with a complex analysis of all of the factors that shape a person’s grief experience and thus becomes a tool for validating the many permutations that grief can take, rather than imposing a “one-size-fits-all” model of what grief “should be.”  
 
Feminism also has such a rich history of praxis around struggles for marginalized groups to gain access to resources and community support they have previously been denied.  Because the experience of loss cuts across ALL social and class divisions, it is crucial that in our feminist organizing we understand how grief can affect us, how it can interface with other life issues to create specific realities, and how leaving grief and other emotional needs unaddressed only weakens our movements.  Within a culture that suppresses and contains the authentic expression of our emotions, a griever who does not feel supported in their grief does not have a place at the table until we do the work to make one.  
 
After putting together two issues of the zine, and now a third one on the way, are there similar themes that contributors want to change about popular thought surrounding grief and loss? How are you feeling the impact of the discussions started by the zine?
 
A compilation zine is interesting because the authors are not necessarily in dialogue with each other as they write and contribute.  Thus, any themes which emerge end up having a coincidental undertone to them, which can be quite exciting, or, scattered.  What seems to have emerged is a need to not be silenced or contained by others; a need for others to understand, in depth, the contributors’ pain.  And that until this kind of safe acceptance is achieved, many contributors seem to have been blocked in their healing, or stuck in a pattern of complicated, persistent grief.  I’m excited to say that, quite by accident, issue 3 is dealing a lot with suicide and the tremendous intense anger that we often feel when someone dies.  Both of these themes are some of the more “taboo” topics in grief and as an editor watching the submissions come in, I had the sense that people were really working hard to get to some of these more stigmatized emotions.  So whereas the first two issues had explored meanings around sadness, shock, depression, confusion, and hope, this issue is tackling the rest of it;  when the person you died was someone you also hated, who may have been abusive, who you’ve had a complicated relationship with.  When the person chose to die, and all of the complicated feelings that arise from being left to pick up the pieces without them.  When families and friends had a different experience of the person we lost and we feel isolated and silenced as we try to process what their death means to us vs. what it means to others around us.  
 
So I would argue that all of these themes are important, but the great thing about a compilation zine is that you can take what you want to take from it and leave the rest.  So in terms of discussions being started or supported by the zine, I’ve heard of some radical grief groups that formed using the zine as a starting point; of friends learning about friends’ experiences with loss for the first time through the zine and that leading to conversations; family members reading a submission and being able to broach different divisions or mis-communications around a loss for the first time, and people using readings or gatherings to share their pieces publicly for the first time as a way to heal.  While I’m not sure what larger themes have come out of these interactions, the biggest function of them seems to be making grief okay to talk about.  This theme, while simple, is probably the most important goal of the zine, because if we are able to engage with each other around these things there is no limit to what we can build, and how much more support we can receive/offer.
 
In terms of physically making the zine, and it’s very cut and paste aesthetic and approach, how important is that aspect and aesthetic to you?
 
It was always crucial to me that the zine be considered an “object” one could interface with; I wanted it to be sturdy and last a long time, because grief goes on for years, so I gave it a cardstock cover.  I wanted people to know how meaningful it had been for me to make it, so I decided to hand-print all of the cover images.  I chose legal-sized paper to help the interior space of the zine feel a bit more expansive—that you could jump into it and hang out for a while without feeling rushed onto the next page, and so people had room to speak on the pages.  And the cutting and pasting of each submission is a crucial part of the project for me both in form and draw, or perform their own narrative experience in a way that is healing.  Sadly, we can get so stuck in our own pain that we forget we have this power and zines can be a great reminder.  I do take care to keep The Worst separate from clients because I’ve written a lot of my own personal story in it, and in nearly all cases their knowledge of the content of my own struggles would interfere with the type of relationship we are trying to build so that they can heal.  My dream is to one day work in a clinic or practice with other rad social workers, and have a zine and book library in the waiting room that all clients could explore, access, and contribute to.  Perhaps The Worst will eventually make it onto that shelf… .
 
If you could pick up a compilation zine on any under discussed topic, what would it be and why?
 
In my opinion, any zine about dealing with a specific mental illness that provides a collection of voices and experiences and perhaps some concrete information and tips would be of tremendous value in our communities.  “Panic” is one of my favorite zines, and its quite simply around a dozen pages or so on one woman’s experience with panic disorder, resources she found helpful, and methods for identifying and coping with panic attacks.  We distro this zine with For the Birds and it sells out constantly, which to me indicates there is a need for this kind of information among “zine-reading communities,” who often avoid mental health services because of (often legitimate) negative past experiences or fears of being misunderstood, judged, coerced into medication use or hospitalization, or other forms of violence.  A simple zine can be a tremendously validating experience to read, for people who often feel like they are the only one going through a stigmatized experience such as mental illness and can be a great stepping stone to figuring out how they can help themselves or ask others for help.  
 
 
KATHLEEN MCINTYRE is a radical social group worker living in Queens, New York. She is the editor of The Worst, a compilation zine on grief and loss, as well as a member of the feminist collective For The Birds. Kathleen recently contributed a chapter to the anthology “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways To Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities” entitled “Parental Caregiving and Loss: Ideas for Caregivers and their Allies,” co-written with Cynthia Schemmer. You can find out more information on The Worst at theworstcompzine.blogspot.com.
 
LAUREN DENITZIO is an artist and musician living and working in Brooklyn, New York. Their practice focuses on embodied identity, chosen family, and the construction of psychological space. Lauren is also a member of the feminist collective For The Birds and regularly collaborates with activist and social justice organizations. They are currently pursuing an MFA in Fine Arts at Parsons the New School for Design.