WesCeleb Zak Kirwood ’12
Zak Kirwood ’12 is a pretty recognizable figure on campus; he’s been known to wear sparkly gold spandex paired with a fabulous striped sweater, he can often be spotted chalking about “how we need to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation, and destroy the male sex,” and he has a unique sprightly gait. But let’s be honest—the real reason that he’s a WesCeleb is that his initials spell out his first name: Zak A. (“the A is for Attack”) Kirwood. Awesome.
The Argus: Why do you deserve to be WesCeleb?
Zak Kirwood: Is that a real question? Do other WesCelebs get that question? I think that my name has appeared in The Argus like a bajillion times. It’s not because I’m a particularly newsworthy person, but I tend to submit stuff. I’m a loudmouth.
A: What is some of the stuff you’ve been in The Argus for?
ZK: I’ve written a lot of Wespeaks.
A: About what?
ZK: I wrote a Wespeak calling out Mytheos Holt ’10 for being a homophobic douchebag, I wrote one telling people to go “silence Scalia” which pissed a lot of people off. What are the other things I’m in The Argus for? Aren’t you the editor? Shouldn’t you know this?
A: I would say that your claim to fame on campus comes from your involvement in the activist community.
ZK: I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even like the term “activist” that much because it can set up a role for a person that sets them apart from the community they’re in, and actually, I think there’s something in The Argus of me saying exactly the same thing a few years ago. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s important to be involved in your community. I’ve been involved with the University Organizing Center and the Horizontal Power Hour, which is a biweekly anarchist radio show on WESU—we’ll be on the show today at 4 p.m.! This is our fortieth episode—we’ve been doing this for two years. It’s not just me; it’s a collective of about ten people. I also try to organize things related to healthy sexuality and reproductive justice.
A: Freshman year you got an award from Planned Parenthood. What was that for?
ZK: It was this really silly thing called Young Volunteer of the Year. Isn’t that silly? I don’t know what it means. They told me I got it because in high school I wore a backpack with a mesh pocket on the side that I would fill with condoms and they were like, “What a great volunteer.” I was kind of uncomfortable getting the award because I think there are a lot of other people who deserve more recognition.
A: But you have been really involved with Planned Parenthood, right? How did you get involved with them, and what have you been doing with them in your four years here?
ZK: I originally got involved with the Planned Parenthood of Connecticut in high school—I was a peer educator. It was part of a program of about 15 of us, all in New Haven area schools. Then I went to Wesleyan, which is also in Connecticut, so I stayed involved with it through their college intern program, which is more about politics than about sexual health. I and the other intern, Sue Banks ’13, work together to plan events. We had Reproductive Justice Week last week. We had Loretta Ross, one of the founders of the reproductive justice movement, speak about the myths about whether or not abortion in black communities is genocide.
A: What sparked your passion to be involved in these issues?
ZK: I think part of it was feeling marginalized as a young person for my sexuality. I think that that feeling connects me to other people and other struggles of people whose decisions about their bodies are being controlled by authorities, such as women who need abortions [or] anyone who needs any kind of sexual health care. It’s pretty bad right now in state governments across the country. And the federal government—it’s unprecedented what they’re trying to do to control peoples’ bodies in the name of “fetal rights” or religious freedom.
A: Can you talk about being marginalized as a young person for your sexuality?
ZK: I’m trying to decide whether or not I want to use the “g” word. I guess I’ll say queer. Being queer in my high school was a struggle—like it is for anyone—because even though my high school was not violent against openly queer people, the social scene still completely revolved around heterosex and athletics and all these things I didn’t feel connected with. And of course, that still continues here, although to a much lesser extent. I think those dynamics continue unless you establish a homosupremacist separatist commune. Which maybe I will do.
A: How do you plan to continue to be involved in those issues post-graduation?
ZK: My current plan is to work in a reproductive health clinic. I would be doing testing and counseling people for STIs, making sure they’re okay with what they’re doing, supporting people who need these services, and basic sexual health. It’s kind of a transition for me because I’ve been involved with the political issues and reproductive justice issues for a while now, and I’ll probably be frustrated by the fact that the work you do in a clinic can’t always match up with your politics because our health system is such a profit-driven bureaucratic mess, but it will be a challenge, and I hope I’ll learn something.
For the longest time, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but I’m having second thoughts about the ability of progressive people in the legal profession to actually make substantive change that doesn’t have unintended consequences. I don’t think it’s impossible, but I think you have to be really careful and I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. I also don’t want to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans.
A: Can I ask how you met your boyfriend?
ZK: Which boyfriend? I could draw you a map of where and how all the boyfriends fit together. JK.
A: Do you want to talk about why you’re opposed to monogamy?
ZK: I wouldn’t say I’m opposed to monogamy. I would say it doesn’t work for me. I think monogamy is one of many things that come with heteronormativity. Monogamy is one form of normativity, like white supremacy and property and all sorts of other things like that. Marriage. I think that monogamy is something that people have been compelled to adopt when they might not really want to. There are lots of myths about why monogamy is the best and they don’t hold up to the reality, which is that people break up all the time, cheat all the time, because they don’t feel like they have a trusting relationship with their partner where they can go outside the relationship if they want to. But I do think commitment is important.
A: How do you manifest those ideals in your life?
ZK: I try to communicate with my partners. I could always be better at it. I think it works just as well as monogamy works for a lot of people—it works differently, of course. It has its own challenges. The one everyone always talks about as far as why polyamory could never work: jealousy. You never have enough time in the day. But I think human beings have the ability to work through those things. I feel like right now we’re living in a society that is at a point where marriage and monogamy is becoming less and less the normal thing. There are more people now in the United States that are not living in a “normal,” married household—most people don’t live in that type of family structure. I think that’s because that kind of lifelong monogamy, heterosexuality, propertied domesticity thing is becoming less and less applicable to people’s lives, and we need to figure out other ways to organize our sex lives.
A: To conclude, what do you think is the most effective way to subvert heteronormativity?
ZK: I think there are lots of ways. I think the least effective way is by saying that there’s one way. I think we all do it to some extent in our everyday life. We just have to figure out what those ways are and make it more possible for them to happen. It all starts with realizing that what we think of as normal families are imaginary and don’t actually exist for most people and that we have the ability to make other ways of living and loving.