Interview with Mads Ananda Lodahl
By Lars Henriksen
Photos by Lærke Posselt
Please introduce yourself.
I work in three tracks, you could say. The first is political, activist, and influences opinions. The second has been a more cultural and creative track, where I have written books, worked as a film critic, and created various music and festival projects. My third track is as a massage and mind/body therapist. What connects it all is sexual or gender minorities: queer, trans, LGBT, whatever people choose to call it. And in a wider sense, identity and minorities, and inclusion/exclusion, majority, discrimination, resistance. The LGBT-track is the red thread.
Do you at some point encounter some sort of trigger that shifts your work with yourself and your own norms, and opinions, or perception of the LGBTI+ community, or the LGBTI+ cause, to a queer perspective?
In Herning, where I grew up, I was very much a freak. When I left there, I came across some punk kids on a train in Southern Germany – way out in the countryside – and ended up at a punk concert. I had no idea that punk even existed. That was a landmark moment for me, and I remember sitting at that punk concert thinking to myself that “I have come home.” Punk is my subcultural home. It is where I feel most at home.
Punk to me is a purification or rebellion, where you in a way scorch out everything that you are brought up to believe: irrelevant norms for how to behave, how you sit, dress, eat and all those sorts of things, but things, which are at the same time very basic for us.
I find two things absolutely essential and at the nucleus of punk and anarchism: one is that it is anti-authoritarian. This means that no one should lead ME, or decide what I do, but it also means that I don’t want to lead others – I don’t want to be someones’ leader, or have fans or followers. I would like to put something out into the world, but it is up to people to decide on it on their own. I want to go alongside other people. No one should walk in front of me to lead, and no one should walk behind me and take my lead. I want to walk next to people – or otherwise to walk alone.
The other essential thing is DIY. The idea that you do things yourself. I don’t need approval from some kind of authority, or to be told that what I do is good enough. I am a perfect judge of that myself, or I can decide that with the help of my friends. I really believe that this holds a lot of people back: “Oh – I would love it if there was something like this for someone like me!”, where my answer would be: create it! Who is holding you back?
The other catalyst was when I participated in “Queerruption”, an international Queer festival in Barcelona back in 2005. That was my first real encounter with Queer, in this old, squatted factory with 1,000 Queer punks. I just felt: “Ok, this is how things should be, right!?” I was at my first sex party and ‘build your own dildo’ workshop, and loads of political talks, and brawls with the police and you know – all sorts of things – and all kinds of different genders, it was complete chaos.
“I want to go alongside other people. No one should walk in front of me to lead, and no one should walk behind me and take my lead. I want to walk next to people – or otherwise to walk alone.”
You as an author, I feel, have moved from activist literature into a different field with “Sauna”. How do you see this?
I have written stories since I was a child, and in ME it has always occupied a very central place. Then when I joined all these different political movements, it became more pressing to write more political things, and I have been very proud of that, and happy about it, but I have always known that what I really wanted to write is fiction. “Inappropriate behavior” in a way was a compilation of all the work I had done in the years previous, me saying: “Listen, everyone, let me tell you, what I have learned!”
It was my sense, reading “Sauna”, that I was reading a fictionalized version of “Inappropriate Behavior”.
That goes back to the three tracks I work in. That red thread that is LGBT lives, well-being, community, bodies, sex, whatever. But one is a political project. “Sauna” is a literary project.
And what is it that literature can do? Why do we write literature? How do we consume art, why do we watch movies? We do that to experience something other than ourselves. To experience being someone other than who we are. But also to be better at being ourselves, right? Our identity is formed through the mirror image of different tales, some of which are not true, and are made up. In mythology, stories told by the bonfire, or Hollywood block-busters, we can watch and say, “Ah, yes, that is also a way to behave.” Or that is also a way to deal with a certain situation, or that is also a possible way to fall in love, or… And fiction does that so much better than non-fiction.
Does it also contain an element of discovering a different version of yourself that we, as LGBTI+ folks, do not necessarily find in other art production?
100%. I just wanted “Sauna” to become this page turner that you could lose yourself in completely, and EVERYONE is telling me, “I read it in one day”. Also people who do not normally read, and that was exactly what I was aiming for. This book doesn’t belong in the “fringe-box”, it is not a niche book, it just needs to get out there. That is also why it made me so happy that Gyldendal (publishing house, ed.) agreed with me that this is not a niche book. It is a book of general interest. And before anything else, it is an entertaining book.
There appears to almost be an LGBTI+ wave with publishers at the moment. Is there some sort of break-through in the understanding of LGBTI+ literature not being niche literature?
Something has happened within the last 10 years that is completely unique in the history of the world. That you, as an author, can be completely open about your LGBT identity and write about LGBT topics explicitly in your texts, and still they are first and foremost perceived as literature. That has NEVER existed before.
In “the olden days” you were often left with the choice, “Do I want something that I find relatable, or do I want something that is good?” Today you can get both and that is actually pretty neat. This is also why it is imperative to also have heterosexual readers, because otherwise it isn’t financially viable.
Do you reflect on who is allowed to write what, about whom, and when?
I do indeed. It is my position that everyone is allowed to write exactly what they want, and about whomever they want. I believe that 100% and it is REALLY important. There must be FULL freedom of expression.
But I find that if, as an author, you write about a group (and it doesn’t matter whether you yourself belong to that group or not), which has historically suffered under a lack of representation, misrepresentation, negative representation, or even hateful representation, I think you should consider that – responsibly. To take responsibility is not the same as being obliged to represent people in a positive light, but to represent people fairly, with respect and nuances.
It is necessary to distinguish between fetishizing, objectifying, and exoticizing on the one hand, and subjectivizing and sexualizing on the other. It was wildly important for me to SEXUALIZE and subjectify William (a transgender male character in “Sauna”, ed.). To make him into a sexual object AND to a sexual subject. I mean, someone with a sexuality, someone who is desirable, and who has a clear desire. But without REDUCING him to that. At the same time, he must be desired and respected – at the same time, and by the same person. We all deserve that.
Your work is characterized by the ability or the courage, I would almost say, to expose your own vulnerability and flaws. Is that a conscious choice?
I have learned my lessons the hard way. In the street, alone, by making mistakes. I was 23 before I first heard the word feminist, and I just reacted with, “What does that mean?” And people were completely like, “God! You are so dicky!” But where the hell should I know it from? Nobody had told me about it. I think that is why I have always tried to show understanding and patience towards people who are just initiating this journey. Because my own life has been enriched and expanded by the patience that others have shown me.
I see this as a journey without a destination. At one point – and he is not the only one to have said this – Simon Emil Ammitzbøll (Danish MP, ed.) was quoted in an interview saying, “This is it; we have reached the goal when it comes to LGBT rights.” And first of all: NO! We haven’t! But secondly, I find it fair to ask: What the hell are you getting at? What does that mean, having reached the goal? It is as if some people have this linear concept of us exiting the concentration camps and coming directly to where we are now and then all is well, and we can just [brushes his hands together in a dismissive gesture] enjoy it from this moment on, and I just don’t feel that way.
This goes also for the whole debate around gay marriage. Is that the goal? For some it may be. For others it is a step further away from the goal. The point is that we simply do not share the same goal. And what may be the goal for Simon Emil Ammitzbøll is in no way the goal for me, for example – or for you.
And the myth of moving from darkness towards the light…..
Yes – I don’t see it that way at all, and perhaps that is part of the reason why I have so much more patience, and forgiveness with myself and others. I don’t believe that because you have been a jerk once, then you suddenly become a good person. It is like this: you made a mistake, and you learned from it, and then perhaps you make that mistake again, and then you think: “Well, now I learned this lesson again,” and it continues that way. It is more circular, you know?
Within Queer Jihad (Danish activist group, ed.), we insisted on the right to make mistakes and the right to be in doubt. It was even one of our slogans: “For the right to be certain of being in doubt”. That is in itself a very Queer perspective.
It really annoys me, that “queer”, which means “disgusting faggot” or “pervert” hasn’t received a proper translation into Danish instead of just adopting the English term, because something has really been lost. I can talk about Queer this and Queer that, and even meet people who identify as Queer. If I then say things like, “Well trannies and other perverted freaks and faggots, you know…” they become all heated and will go, “Hey – you can’t talk that way,” and my response is: “Do you even realize what QUEER means?”
Just imagine what it was like for Judith Butler to get up in front of a university auditorium, and talk about queer theory, how provocative that must have been. And that is exactly what Queer is: unapologetic. We are the way we are. We fucking ARE this way! We are dirty, we are perverted, we have loads of lovers, we do all sorts of dirty things, and it makes us fucking HAPPY: It is GREAT that we are this way. Don’t feel sorry for us. We are not sick! This is not something we can’t help. We can refrain if we want. And there is something wonderfully provocative, and controversial, and combative in that – it is a confrontative approach, but also a very empowering one, that ensures that we are not afterwards dealing with guilt, because, oh, well, now I ended up stating that I am BORN THIS WAY. Like hell am I born this way! I CHOSE to live this way!
“And that is exactly what Queer is: unapologetic. We are the way we are. We fucking ARE this way!”
Mads Ananda Lodahl has, amongst other books, written “Inappropriate behavior” (Publisher: Solidaritet), 2018, “Sauna” (Publkisher: Gyldendal), 2021 and is part of the author group behind the compilation “BøsseDanmark” (Publisher: Vild Maskine), 2021. He recommends films and literature via his blog “Ekstra Pensum”, gives talks, and works as a therapist.