The Feminist Killjoy Handbook is out in the world! Bringing it out into the world has taken time – and my blog has been quiet during that time. I am glad to share its arrival here. Please do order the book from independent bookstores, many of whom have got behind the handbook: you can find a list here. If you do read the book, share a picture on twitter (using the hashtag #wearefeministkilljoys). It means so much to me to know the handbook is in your hands.
We launched the book at an event in Rich Mix, London, on Thursday, March 2nd 2023. It was electrifying and emotional to be with so many people – killjoys, colleagues, affect aliens, trouble makers, friends. Each of us can be all of the above! And we filled the room with our killjoy solidarity. And, it gave me a chance to think more about what I mean by killjoy solidarity. Killjoy solidarity is how I sign my letters, in Killjoy Solidarity, Sara, kiss, kiss. But it means much more than a way of signing or signing off. For me, killjoy solidarity is the solidarity we express in the face of what we come up against. In the handbook I offer what I call killjoy truths, or hard worn wisdoms, what we know because of what keeps coming up. Let me share the last truth offered in the book, which probably best explains what I mean by killjoy solidarity.
Killjoy Truth: The More We Come up Against, the More We Need More.
The more we need more. Sometimes, being feminist killjoy, can feel like coming up against it, the very world you oppose. Killing joy, naming the problem, becoming the problem, can make us feel alone, shattered, scared. I think of a student who wrote to me from a very painful place, giving me a trigger warning for the content she was to share. At the end of her letter, she said “My killjoy shoulder is next to yours and we are a crowd. I cannot see it at the moment, but I know it’s there.’ I love the idea of a killjoy shoulder, becoming feminist killjoys as how we lean on each other.
We cannot always see a killjoy crowd. But we know it’s there. And we are here.
That’s one reason I wrote The Feminist Killjoy Handbook, to say, we are here. Although I have written about feminist killjoys before, the handbook is first book I gave them of their own. I made their book a handbook, because I think of it as a hand, a helping hand, an outstretched hand, perhaps also a killjoy shoulder, or a handle, how we hold on to something. A history can be a handle. It can help to know that where we are, others have been. When we travel with feminist killjoys, going where they have been, feminist killjoys become our companion. We need this companionship.
Killing joy can take so much out of us, the energy and time required to name the problem, let alone to become one. My emphasis in the handbook is also on what killing joy can give back to us. Whilst being a feminist killjoy can be messy, and confusing, it can also lead to moments of clarity and illumination, sharpening our edges, our sense of the point, of purpose. In addition to killjoy truths (those hard worn wisdoms), I offer killjoy equations (what is revealing and quirky about our knowledge) killjoy commitments (the wills and won’ts of being a feminist killjoy) and killjoy maxims (the dos and don’ts). In the second chapter, I also offer some killjoy survival tips; my first tip to surviving as a feminist killjoy is to become one.
To become a feminist killjoy is to get in the way of happiness or just get in the way. We killjoy because we speak back, because we use words like sexism or transphobia or ableism or racism or homophobia to describe our experience, because we refuse to polish ourselves, to cover over the injustices with a smile. We don’t even have to say anything to killjoy. Some of us, black people and people of colour, can killjoy just by entering the room because our bodies are reminders of histories that get in the way of the occupation of space. We can killjoy because of how we mourn, or who we do not mourn, or who we do mourn. We can killjoy because of what we will not celebrate; national holidays that mark colonial conquest or the birth of a monarch, for instance. We can killjoy become we refuse to laugh at jokes designed to cause offense. We can killjoy by asking to be addressed by the right pronouns or by correcting people if they use the wrong ones. We can killjoy by asking to change a room because the room they booked is not accessible, again.
Killjoy Truth: We have to Keep Saying It Because They Keep Doing It
Note that negativity often derives from a judgement: as if we are only doing something or saying something or being something to cause unhappiness or to make things more difficult for others. Killing joy becomes a world making project when we refuse to be redirected from an action by that judgement. We make a commitment: if saying what we say, doing what we do, being who we are, causes unhappiness, that is what we are willing to cause.
Killjoy Commitment: I am willing to cause unhappiness.
But it can be hard, precisely because the negativity of a judgment sticks to us, because eyes start rolling before we even say anything or do anything as if to say, she would say that.
Killjoy Equation: Rolling Eyes = Feminist Pedagogy
She would say that; we did say that.
Even if we say it, killjoy solidarity can be hard to do. I learnt so much about killjoy solidarity by talking to those who did not receive it. I am thinking of the conversations I had with students and early career lecturers who, having made complaints about sexual harassment by academics, did not receive solidarity they expected from other feminists, often senior feminists. Why? It seemed that those senior feminists did not want to know about something that would be inconvenient for them, which would get in the way of their work or compromise their investments in persons, institutions or projects.
Killjoy Commitment: I am willing to be inconvenienced.
It is not so much that killjoys threaten other people’s investments in persons, institutions, or projects. We become killjoys because we threaten other people’s investments in persons, institutions or projects. And “other people” can include other feminists. And “other people” can include ourselves. Killjoy solidarity can also be the work we have to do in order to be able to hear another person’s killjoy story. We need to be prepared for our own joy to be killed, our progression slowed, if that is what it takes.
So yes, the negativity of the judgement can stick to us. It can slow us down, make our lives more difficult.
I think also of the negativity of words such as queer, which have historically been used as insults, and that are full of vitality and energy because of that. Reclaiming the feminist killjoy is a queer project. A killjoy party, a queer party, is a protest. I wanted to have a party, also a protest, to launch the book because of how many of us are under attack, our claims to personhood dismissed as “identity politics,” our critiques as “cancel culture,” our lives treated not only as light and whimsical, lifestyles, but as endangering others, as recruiting them. These attacks, which are relentless, designed to crush spirits, are directed especially to trans people right now. I express my killjoy solidarity to you, today and every day. It can be exhausting having to fight for existence.
Killjoy Truth: When you have to fight for existence, fighting can become an existence.
And so, we need each other. We need to become each other’s resources. Feminism can or should be such a resource. But what goes under the name of feminism, at least in the UK right now is anti-queer as well as anti-trans, willing to use categories such as sex or nature or natal to exclude some of us, categories that many of us have long critiqued. We say no to this. That no is louder when we say it together. A book can be a no to this. We keep writing, keeping fighting, knowing that we are sending our work out into the hostile environment that we critique.
We say no even when we know it is hard to get through.
We say no together, to make room for each other.
I am glad to be embarking now on a book tour, which we are calling Feminist Killjoys on Tour (you can find some of the events listed here).
If I am near you, come by and let us share some #killjoy solidarity. I want to say thanks, too. I left my post, my profession, my life really, back in 2016. I am profoundly grateful to all of the readers who have stayed with me because you have made it possible to dedicate my time to writing, to become a killjoy writer.
For me #killjoy solidarity is also how we thank each other for what we help make possible for each other.
I think of the feminist killjoy as a shared resource for living strangerwise. Strangerwise, is an odd world for an old wisdom, the wisdom of strangers, those who in being estranged from worlds, notice them, those who in being estranged worlds, remake them.
In fighting for room, we make something for ourselves.
Killjoy Truth: To make something is to make it possible.
Possibility can still be a fight because we have to dismantle the systems that make so much, even so many, impossible. Still, this truth is closest to what I call killjoy joy. Killjoy joy is how it feels to be involved together in crafting different worlds. We need joy to survive killing joy. We find joy in killing joy. I think of all the letters sent to me by feminist killjoys, how we reached each other. I think of what I have learnt from picking the figure of the feminist killjoy up all those years ago, and putting her to work. When I think these thoughts, I feel killjoy joy. Perhaps we find killjoy joy in resistance, killjoy joy in combining our forces, killjoy joy in experimenting with life, opening up how to be, who to be, through each other, with each other. Killjoy joy is its own special kind of joy.
In killjoy solidarity,