Archer Asks: SJ Norman, author of Permafrost

SJ Norman is an author, musician, and curator whom operates across overall performance, setting up, book, sculpture, video clip, and audio. They have claimed various artwork honours, including a Sidney Myer artistic Fellowship and an Australia Council Fellowship, and had been the inaugural champion for the KYD Unpublished Manuscript Award.

SJ spoke to Yves Rees about their debut guide,


, a wonderful collection of queer ghost stories released by UQP in October 2021.

Yves Rees

: you are an artist and publisher which sits at intersection of several different identities. Which are the words you use to recognize yourself?

SJ Norman

: My personal tags move according to who i am speaking to. Labels are only previously helpful to myself as ways of mobilise ourselves through the world along with purchase to be noticed. That changes drastically according to the context.

When it comes to my trans identity, my standard self-definition might possibly be as non-binary transmasculine. I’m he/they, pronouns sensible. I do not care about getting


-d whether it’s relating to faggotry. Indeed, it’s a truly gender euphoric milestone for a transfag when people quit


-ing you in a misgender-y way and begin doing it in a queenie means.

When it comes to my social identity, i am Koori. Wiradjuri on my mother’s part, English on my dad’s, born on Gadigal nation. On occasion I’ve explained my personal Indigeneity as “diasporic” – an ill-fitting selection of phrase to describe the displacement experience definitely woven into Koori identity, although just word I had offered at occasions when trying to communicate the nuance of my cultural positionality and knowledge as an Aboriginal innovative functioning internationally. I borrowed this term from a buddy, another Aboriginal singer, Carly Sheppard. It really is helpful sometimes, often maybe not.

I’m lots of other activities, I really don’t want to name these. I wish i did not have to identify them, most of the time. Some body asked myself how I was yesterday and I also stated “I’m intersectionally tired.”


: for the majority of of one’s adult existence you’ve been excessively mobile, moving between so-called Australian Continent, Turtle isle, Japan, and Europe. In the final a couple of years, the pandemic features implemented stasis. Exactly what has that knowledge already been like for your family?


: I’ve moved around my life time. My personal mother relocated around the woman very existence, the woman mommy relocated around her whole life, along with her mother moved around the woman entire life. My dad can be a migrant, to ensure that’s a means of living I was created into. I don’t truly know another way to end up being.

I’m really home on the highway. I’m a lot more in the home in in-between rooms, both geographically and culturally, and physically.

The abrupt imposition of total stasis has been extremely tough. But none from it feels like a major accident.

We invested each one of 2019 on the highway between Europe plus the US, and was a student in the procedure of shifting my personal base to New York a lot more completely whenever I returned. We to the Country – Gadigal nation – to install my Sydney Biennale show to see household, and that I was only supposed to be here for two weeks. Right after which the most important lockdown struck weekly after that tv series exposed.

I happened to be intended to be on your way afterwards, as a result it has certainly already been a shock to my personal system become grounded right back here indefinitely. Especially because that has also meant indefinite split from nearest and dearest, partnerships and communities that I adore and are part of.

I cautiously created a life that allowed bi-location, for the reason that it’s what seems safe and straight to me personally. Having that cut-off has not noticed secure or right. It has been filled with grief and extremely tough.

I probably wouldn’t have gotten this book on, however, easily did not have all my different work cancelled. It really is used me personally 20 years in order to complete


because i am active getting a traveling musician. I write really on the highway. I actually do some my finest authorship in rooms in hotels or on trains. Its a situation that’s creatively fruitful for my situation. However the seed of


had been planted in Sydney, and I was required to return here in order to complete it.

I experienced to come back here to do lots of things, including my personal health changeover. I needed to come back to my personal birth country to begin that process, because it’s such a powerful change and rebirth. I needed to-be about this area to begin that.


: You composed a lot of the stories in


over a decade ago, and have only recently revisited them for book. What was it always get back to a version of previous home?


: Scary. And spooky. And overwhelming.

Once more, it was an ongoing process that was interwoven using my go back to Sydney. It had been a homecoming. We penned the manuscript, with the exception of the ultimate story, when I was actually living in Sydney in my own very early 20s.

I found myself a student at UTS, staying in Newtown. I am in Chippendale now, and I walk past my outdated Denison Street home every single other day. We start to see the place where this project started. Therefore felt like an important return; to return for this destination to deliver that job to end.

We remaining Sydney for the first time in 2006. We transferred to Japan, then towards UK for a bit. However came ultimately back here between 2007 and 2009. And it’s really when it comes to those couple of years that I had written the majority of


. Then I visited Berlin and stopped doing your panels. I chose it maybe once or twice, but only a couple of that time period. As I came ultimately back within 2020, that is as I made a commitment to finish it.

Absolutely a deep enmeshment of spot and home which was uncovered for my situation in completing this book. That is to do with my personal relationship to this land, but also my personal link to the broader queer reputation of this place, and my queer history within place, and my own layers of self-realisation and change.

I am in no way the exact same person I was when I was writing a lot of this publication. I’ve worked on the stories since I have initially drafted all of them, not seriously. The limbs are still similar.

There is a fearlessness you may have as a new creator and a new inventor. There was a fearlessness in me personally. I didn’t want to bang with those tales too-much, because there’s sorts of a purity for them which was via a significantly younger home.

The book I would compose now’s maybe not this book. But I have to address that younger self with love and respect. I am really strong dialogue with my younger home within space, as well as in finishing this publication.




has-been called queer ghost stories – an accumulation hauntings. On another level, it may sound as you’re being haunted by the former self just who initially wrote the book. The ebook is actually ghostly on numerous amounts. Just what attracts that the motif of hauntings?


: I’ve always been into spooky stories. As a Blakfella, you develop reading spooky tales. Its element of our very own culture to generally share hauntings, ghosts, metaphysical encounters. Its a portion of the quotidian lexicon of Blak knowledge of Australia. The discussion of literal spectral presences and ancestral presences in the house ended up being a normal incident.

I have in addition lived-in most haunted residences. I had a lot of spectral encounters in my own life. I have constantly noticed extremely close to that globe. It is something which’s preoccupied plenty of my work – not just my authorship, but my personal performance be as effective as.

With regards to ghosts and queerness, these exact things may in strong connection. Hauntings or spectral visitations, along with connection with ancestors, interactions with liminal thresholds, dwelling beings – they’re popular features of cultures being in deep commitment with passing. I’m speaing frankly about my society as an Aboriginal individual, but I am in addition speaking about my personal culture as a queer and trans individual.

Not all the the spirits in


are traditional real person spirits. They might be non-corporeal entities, however they’re not necessarily ghosts when you look at the classical feeling. They’ve been threshold beings, and people are attractive archetypal narratives in my situation as trans person, because we are usually in a place of inhabiting becoming, and inhabiting a collision of last and future selves.

I don’t want to reduce the spectral presences in


to metaphors – they’re not – but these stories have a sense-making quality for me as a trans person contemplating exactly how we occur worldwide.


: So even when you composed these stories before you decide to happened to be knowingly trans, there’s an incipient trans feeling inside their fascination with transformation and liminal places. Is that proper?

Archer Asks: SJ Norman, author of Permafrost


: Yeah, absolutely.

For instance, I browse ‘Stepmother’, the initial story when you look at the collection, as positively a tale about trans-ness. I blogged that story when I was 23 and categorically uninformed that I found myself trans.

We understood I wasn’t a female â€“ I realized that down whenever I had been really young. And I discovered various ways of articulating that more than time. It was circa 2004, around australia, and ‘queer’ was much less ossified in its meaning then, i believe. So’s the phase we used to describe both my sex and my personal sex.

In those days, I did not have a vocabulary or a way of comprehending me as a non-binary, transmasculine, pansexual fag. That isn’t something arrived in my situation until much later on.

But I’m able to see, extremely plainly, that ‘Stepmother’ is actually a tale about gender. It is more about a, unhatched trans human body trying to negotiate itself around with regards to the imposition of binary, cis-determinist femininity. And it’s concerning problem to reproduce pictures of this variety of femininity in relation to this very fecund figure associated with the stepmother.

It really is interesting whenever your publication transforms from a functional document to a bound book together with your name about cover. You can get this very dissociated experience of reading your book and it’s maybe not yours anymore.

I happened to be in a position to review my book as if some other person wrote it. And, in many ways, another person performed. Permits me to see items that I didn’t clock at that time, you are aware?


: In many of this stories in


, animals perform a key character. Do you consider there’s something naturally queer about animal-human connections? Do queers also outsiders have an affinity for interspecies relationality?


: It wasn’t extremely aware to add pets to understand more about queer interspecies subjectivity. But once more, looking straight back, we notice that’s the thing I’m carrying out.

In the same way that place is actually a fictional character, and metaphysical beings are figures, the creatures tend to be characters too. They could perhaps not function or speak or occur from inside the story in the same steps since person figures, but they continue to have their unique functions to try out. That comes from an interest in distressing hierarchies of personal relations, and that’s absolutely a queer sensibility. It’s also an Indigenous sensibility.


: Another recurring theme across these stories is sleep, and particularly awakening from sleep to realize uncanny things. In your head, is actually sleep a portal into supernatural globes?


: It completely is. Its untamed that people’re thus preoccupied because of the events of this waking globe, yet we have six or eight many hours throughout the day once we’re unconscious, once we’re somewhere else.

Where do we go during that time? The resides we reside when we’re involuntary are no much less real or important than we experienced when you look at the conscious existence.

Rest normally something which’s plagued me personally, because i am a continual insomniac. You will find countless unbearable rest dilemmas. I always have actually. I’m basically nocturnal.

I usually sort out the night. Which is as I have the most powerful, artistically. I am one particular open to story overnight after waking world is actually peaceful.

Additionally, the majority of my personal spooky encounters have actually happened about link amongst the sleeping and awakening globe.


: in advance of publishing


, you’re mostly known as an aesthetic and singing singer. How do you comprehend the relationship between your authorship and other forms of imaginative exercise?


: It is like a parallel life. Which is not to say that it’s separate. There was a conversation between those two practices. They’ve been entwined, emanating from exact same pool of electricity. Plus they are coming through exact same cipher that is my body. Even so they do feel just like parallel globes, and synchronous selves.

If something, I believed alienated from fiction as a craft for a long period. The reason why bother creating stories if the muck and complexity and nuance of daily life is so a lot more fascinating?

I believed nearly distrustful of fiction as an art form. It seems thus fairly weird having control of the truth you are generating for your readers. I’m over that now, that is great.

I am now newly experiencing the space that fiction supplies to share with yours tale with a great amount of independence. All my personal various other job is in a place of consultation and process – it is exactly about my personal link to people. And I also imagine creating fiction offers me respite from that.

It offers me personally a place to explore creatively, and develop into themes i mightn’t necessarily get to touch on if I was actually creating nonfiction.


: that the queer and trans experts you appreciate?


: Right now, i am reading

Dear Senthuran

by Akwaeke Emezi. It really is blowing my fucking mind.

It’s an epistolary memoir, and that’s a form Everyone loves. I did so an epistolary task last year with Joseph M Pierce labeled as ‘(XXX)’, in which we composed characters to each other. Everyone loves the page, as a quick kind, and it is an excellent principle for a memoir. It’s the journalist in discussion together with other folks in their own existence, instead of talking to a nondescript, broad readership. The letters are relational papers that actually work as a collection however they are in addition stunning separate parts.

I am in addition checking out Alexander Chee’s essays

How-to Write an Autobiographical Novel

, and that’s fantastic. I’m simply beginning
Billy Ray Belcourt’s

A History of My Quick Human Anatomy

, that has been back at my pile for ages. And that I was actually completely decimated by Tommy Pico’s

Character Poem

. Pico is actually a Kumeyaay poet, and a screenwriter for

Reservation Dogs


Record is too extended, though. Those basically notables from my recent bedside heap.

Dr Yves Rees (they/them)
is a writer and historian based on unceded Wurundjeri area. They might be a Lecturer of all time at Los Angeles Trobe University, the co-host of Archive Fever record podcast, and composer of

Exactly about Yves: Records from a Transition
(Allen & Unwin, 2021)

. Rees ended up being awarded the 2020 ABR Calibre Essay Prize and a 2021 Varuna household Fellowship. Their unique writing provides showcased from inside the Guardian, The Age, Sydney Review of Books, Australian Book Evaluation, Meanjin, and Overland, among other guides.

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