Tomas Moniz wants his daughters to have vibrant sex lives.
“She was about 17, she’d had this boyfriend for like two years, I knew they were having sex and she asked me if he could spend the nights at our house.”
When Moniz writes in his award-winning zine, Rad Dad, about the importance of being open and reflective in tough parenting moments, he’s writing about moments like these.
“Of course my first thought is WHAT? HELL NO!” Moniz remembers. In principle, Moniz is sex-positive. He knows that conventional fatherly protectiveness implies a certain mistrust of young men’s sexuality and an underestimation of young women’s agency, but damn isn’t there room for some healthy denial and aversion of the eyes?
Though it is not his primary focus, Moniz’s newly released novella, “Bellies and Buffalos,” tenderly observes the interplay of two things we try to keep separate: parenting and sexuality. The novella is interested in all the ways we love each other and not so interested in making easy delineations between what is sexual and what is not. Reading the novella is an exercise in letting sexuality out into the light a little bit; letting it play with the other bits of life, giving it a chance to do more than sneak around in the shadows. The novella is less overtly sexual than a lot of Moniz’s writing and yet it has everything to do with sex. In “Bellies and Butterflies,” there are middle-aged men who go on road trips with strange teenage girls, and it’s not creepy. There are teenagers that make love by sketching each other. There are bodies that betray their domestication by romping in fields with buffaloes. Perhaps, if we meditate with Moniz on the expansiveness of sex, we won’t have to lie to ourselves about the fact that our daughters have it.
Rad Dad was created because Moniz needed help being a good parent. He found discourses on family building and “child-rearing” so bound up with conventional ideologies that radical politics were often at odds with the advice being peddled. “I wanted to hear from other people of color, from queer people, from broke people and activists and people with non-normative families” to learn how to extend radical principles to parenting. Moniz’s style of anarchism is about embodying one’s political ideals in daily life. He doesn’t buy the idea that our political agency can only be exercised by petitioning the Powers That Be and waiting to see what they decide. Instead, he’s devoted his political energies to fostering a community-built resource that helps us raise children who are open to difference, committed to cooperation, and capable of genuine love. Good politics will follow. “People are confused by the title ‘anarchist.’ Anarchism just recognizes the political nature of everything,” Moniz says. “I practice anarchism by being a good dad.”
Moniz is one of those special Bay Area people who creates the togetherness that is a condition for that particular urban magic we all pay inordinately high rent to live here for. As a young father, he organized a neighborhood child care collective and then built the network of writers and readers of “Rad Dad.” Now he hosts the Saturday Night Special open mic at Nick’s Lounge and the Lyrics and Dirges open mic at Pegasus Books, both in Berkeley. He also helped create the East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest, which takes place this year on December 7th and will feature readings by Steve Almond and Sister Spit, among others. Asked if he thinks community is a concept we dote on out of nostalgia or if it is acheivable, Moniz is enthusiastic: “Oh yes, definitely! That’s what’s so incredible about the Bay Area. I can barter my book for a bag of avocados and when strangers get together they’re usually interested in getting to know each other.”
Moniz is hopeful about the power of shared experiences of art to teach us empathy. “I’m serious about making sure that the readers at the open mics are not all white dudes,” he says. He’s fascinated by the way we each piece together an identity from sources that can be contradictory; the more fragmented the more interesting. His fiction tells stories of characters who negotiate a sense of belonging through a multiplicity of cultural niches. “It’s important to me that Sonny [the protagonist of Bellies and Buffalos] reflects an authentic Chicano experience,” Moniz says, “but also that Sonny does more than think about being Chicano all day.”
So, did he let his 17 year old daughter’s boyfriend spend the night? “Of course. I can’t say I’m sex-positive on the one hand and then create a practical barrier for my daughter to apply that principle,” Moniz says. “It’s about transparency and integrity and creating a relationship based on something other than authority.”
Join Moniz for a “Bellies and Buffalos” release party at Nick’s Lounge on Nov 30th.