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Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

SeanDorseyJumpingByLydiaDanillerSean Dorsey is an award-winning choreographer, dancer and writer. Recognized as the United States’ first out transgender modern dance choreographer, Dorsey has won audiences and accolades from San Francisco to New York with his powerful dance-theater. Dorsey is the founder and Artistic Director of Fresh Meat Productions, the first U.S. non-profit dedicated to the year-round creation, presentation, and touring of transgender arts.

Dorsey’s current show, The Secret History of Love, will be in San Francisco from March 28-31 as part of a 20-city national tour. Dorsey was able to talk to me via e-mail about the show, the LGBT history project upon which the show is based, and being out and trans in the dance world.

Matt Kailey: How did you get interested in dance and choreography?
Sean Dorsey: I have always loved dance and movement. I spent a lot of time twirling around my living room in my leotard, dancing to records as a kid. I didn’t grow up at the ballet barre, though – I came to dance “late,” and didn’t start my professional dance training until I was 25. When I did start, though, I hit the ground running!

MK: Did you become a professional dancer and choreographer prior to your transition? If so, how did your transition affect your career? If not, did you enter the profession as an out trans person?
SD: I started my dance training prior to my physical transition, but I was trans and queer identified. Changing rooms and gendered movement in dance were very challenging, painful. I would do everything I could to avoid using bathrooms or changing rooms, even once I started dancing professionally.

It was hard. I didn’t know a single trans dancer in the world, had never heard of a single one. I became very driven to create space in dance for transgender and queer people – both through my choreographic work, and by founding Fresh Meat Productions (the nation’s first nonprofit to create, present and tour year-round transgender arts programs, including our resident dance company Sean Dorsey Dance).

MK: Do you think that being an out trans person has hurt or helped your career overall and in what ways? How are you and your shows perceived/accepted by non-trans, mainstream audiences?
SD: There have been plenty of painful parts about coming into the dance world as a transgender person – but I feel very, very blessed to be transgender. It really is an enormous blessing to be a trans person. (more…)

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While mentors are an important part of any new experience, for newly out or newly transitioning trans men, they are sometimes hard to come by. But Zander Keig, MSW, and Megan Rohrer, MDiv, decided to solve that problem with the book Letters for my Brothers: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect, a collection of essays by trans men reflecting on their transition experience (disclaimer: I have an essay in the book, but I get no royalties or other financial compensation for sales from the book).

Since the book was published in 2011, it has become increasingly popular – with new guys looking for guidance, with “elders” who transitioned years ago, but who like to read about others’ experiences, and with allies wanting to support a trans friend or loved one through transition. I interviewed Zander Keig by e-mail about the book, and here’s what he had to say :

Matt Kailey: Tell us a little bit about the people behind this collection – Zander Keig, MSW and Megan Rohrer, MDiv.
Zander Keig: Megan and I met while we were seminary students at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, in August 2002. Megan is a full-time Lutheran pastor, the executive director of Welcome, a non-profit in San Francisco that “seeks to provide a faithful response to poverty,” and the brainchild behind Free Farm, which has “grown and given away over 3 1/4 tons of fresh organic produce” since 2010.

I am a medical social worker for a federal government healthcare system, working with people experiencing challenges with a lack of housing and employment, as well as dealing with substance abuse and mental illness. In addition, I am a board member for Welcome and TransMentors International, the volunteer coordinator for Trans Youth Family Allies (TYFA), and a regular presenter at Gender Odyssey.

MK: What made you decide to put together this particular collection? Where did the idea come from and why is it important?
ZK: One day I was having a conversation with Megan about what I perceived to be a dearth of mentors in the FTM community. What I envisioned was a way for post-transition trans men to stay involved in the FTM community to provide guidance to their brothers. We decided to publish a book, an anthology of transition narratives, which offers a retrospective lens of the journey taken by the writers. The hope was that, in looking back, the writers could glean a bit of wisdom about the challenges and celebrations they have encountered and share that with the readers. (more…)

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While Nebraska might be a nice place to visit (or drive through on I-80), it can prove intimidating for trans people who are all too familiar with the murder of Brandon Teena near Humboldt.

But now a positive story comes out of the Heartland (and the state of my birth). Author, speaker, activist, and trans man Ryan Sallans introduces his new memoir, Second Son, detailing his both his struggles and his triumphs growing up, transitioning, and remaining in the Cornhusker State.

“I felt that perceptions around Nebraska needed to be changed and Heartland voices needed to be heard,” he says.

Below, he talks about his book, his eating disorder, his relationships, and what’s in store for the future.

Matt Kailey: You have been a diversity trainer and consultant since early in your transition and prior to writing Second Son. How did that come about, and what made you decide to be out as a trans person instead of to transition and assimilate into mainstream male culture?
Ryan Sallans: I was very fortunate to begin my transition and career working as a health educator with a non-profit agency. It was through my work educating communities, and my experience being profiled in the LOGO network documentary Gender Rebel, that I found the importance of sharing stories.

I didn’t plan to “out” myself and use my story as an example, until one day when I was working with some counseling students and they all were looking at me with the same expression, which I knew meant they were thinking, “Why is this guy doing this topic and how does he know so much?” I decided to let go of my filter and “out” myself, which then turned my training into a whole new experience for the audience and myself.

I always work with terminology and society, but then open it up to my story because I feel putting a personal face to a word, label or identity makes the concept real. Being vulnerable with an audience and allowing them to ask me anything allows them to let down their guard and open up their minds to the reality and spirit of a transgender identity.

Throughout my life I have always chosen careers where there is a deep passion attached to it. Even though being out can be scary, threatening and draining, I wouldn’t want it any other way. (more…)

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Shawna Virago isn’t shy. This in-your-face singer and songwriter lets you know just what she’s thinking – about being trans, about being a woman, and about being Objectified. Her first CD is out now, and I hope there will be a second.

As someone whose iTunes collection pretty much came out on vinyl first, I appreciated the ’60s political folk influences on Virago’s album, Objectified, but this isn’t your mother’s (or your grandmother’s) protest music. Virago’s “folk punk” is definitely twenty-first century stuff – and here’s what she has to say about her music and herself:

Matt Kailey: How would you describe yourself and how do you identify?
Shawna Virago: I would describe myself as a songwriter who happens to be a transgender person. I don’t identity with any one particular gender, although I have used terms like trans woman, transsexual and she-male, as well as debutante, bitch, femme and the-girl-next-door. I’m proud to be transgender. Life would be so boring if I wasn’t.

MK: How would you describe your music and who are your influences? I definitely see some good ol’ ’60s folk/protest music influences, in both the lyrics and the musical style, but it might just be my age.
SV: I would describe my music as folk punk with a touch of Americana. I listen to a lot of country music and roots music and music that comes from swamps. I have also been influenced by political songwriters, such as Woody Guthrie, Billy Bragg, John Doe and Exene Cervenka and Joe Strummer.

MK: Is Objectified your first major CD? Please describe your musical history – when and how you first got interested in music, singing/songwriting, etc.?
SV: Objectified is my first solo CD. I’ve been in many bands over the years, each one of them quite raunchy. Playing guitar and writing songs is something I’ve wanted to do since I was young and I’ve been playing guitar for over twenty-five years. (more…)

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In 2003, photographer Jana Marcus started photographing and interviewing trans people for a small photo exhibit. She didn’t know at the time that the exhibit would grow into a major project, Transfigurations, that would travel to galleries around the country for several years and receive prestigious awards and universal praise.

Transfigurations has recently been released as an elegant softcover book that is destined to be in every trans person’s collection (and on his or her coffee table, as well). With a foreword by renowned trans activist Jamison Green and over 100 pages of photographs and bios of trans men and women, Transfigurations presents the true diversity and varied experiences of the trans community.

Matt Kailey: Transfigurations, which is an absolutely beautiful book depicting a diverse cross-section of the trans community, was originally an award-winning gallery exhibit. Can you explain how the whole project got started and why you decided to take on this project?
Jana Marcus: I’m a documentary photographer, which for me means I enjoy telling stories through images and words. I’ve always been drawn to subjects I don’t understand, and try to discover answers through the camera.

Transfigurations started when I went to graduate school in 2003 and had the opportunity to spend three years creating personal work, which is a huge luxury for any artist, especially for me, who had been working as a commercial photographer for years. Around the time I started grad school, I had rented a room in my home to a young man who was studying at the local university. After six months, he shared with me that he had been a woman five years earlier, and told me about his transition process. I was amazed.

I didn’t know any transgender people at the time and certainly had no idea women could become men. His story stayed of great interest to me, so as I was deciding what my thesis in grad school would be, I decided to photographically investigate who trans men were and their thought processes around what influenced their concepts of masculinity. The original work was twenty pieces titled The Making of a Man. After grad school, I took six months to photograph trans women and their concepts of femininity. I then repackaged the entire work, of both trans men and women, and that became the exhibit Transfigurations. (more…)

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If you’re looking for a way to make a difference this holiday season, you don’t have to look any further than H.O.P.E. House, a safe house and transitional living home for trans people.

Located in Phoenix, Arizona, and run by Michael Brown, founder of TransMentors International, and his wife, Lillian, H.O.P.E. House serves trans people in a variety of ways while providing them with a safe place to stay as they work toward getting back on their feet. Consider a tax-deductible donation of any amount, or, if you live in the area, spend a few hours as a volunteer. To find out more, read on:

Matt Kailey: Can you please describe the purpose and mission of H.O.P.E. House?
Michael Brown: H.O.P.E. House is a Trans Safe House and Transitional Living Home. H.O.P.E. House provides a safe place for trans men, women and youth (18+) to live, instead of someone’s couch, or worse, the street, because of the discrimination and hate they have experienced in their lives. Many arrive with only a few clothes, and even fewer basic personal supplies, and many arrive so emotionally beaten down and exhausted that they are simply “existing.” They need a helping hand up, and that’s what H.O.P.E. House offers. Residents find clothing, personal basic items, food, a furnished room, and much more when they arrive. During their stay at the House, residents learn (or relearn) responsibilities, structure and organization, job hunting skills, budgeting, social skills, computer skills, and much more, all of which helps them succeed once they are ready to leave the House.

MK: How did it come to be?
MB: H.O.P.E. House “happened” after taking in an 18-year-old trans boy kicked out of his parents’ home. We quickly saw and realized the sheer number of trans men and women who found themselves in crisis, homeless (or soon to be), abusive situations, hurting financially due to job discrimination, loss of employment, evictions, etc., and others who were moving into the state to begin, or continue, their transition. We recognized the need for them to have a safe place to call “home” where they can get back on their feet again and move forward in their life’s journeys, so we opened our private home to them as a way we could help. (more…)

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Travel writer Nick Krieger’s memoir, Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender, was released earlier this year to rave reviews, in part because it presented a side of gender experience that is usually absent in traditional trans narratives.

The title reflects Krieger’s refusal to follow the Western binary-gender model that requires the adoption of male or female, man or woman, as an identity, and the book recounts the personal journey that Krieger took to get to that place of comfort and self-actualization.

Matt Kailey: At the close of your book, you had undergone top surgery, but you were not on testosterone and you had no intention of transitioning to male. You also use the name Nick, which is considered a “male” name in our culture, but you do not identify as male. Has anything changed since then? Can you please explain to the readers how you currently identify or how you see yourself in relationship to the Western binary gender system?

Nick Krieger: My identity now is very much the same as it is at the end of the book. I identify as transgender. Other words I use are genderfluid, genderqueer, or hybrid. I do not fit into the Western binary system because it only allows for man and woman, and I understand myself as both man and woman.

I do have what many consider a “male” name. “Nick” came to me, literally popped into my head, many years before I took it as my name. It showed up at a time when I was living as a woman (a lesbian) and the boy-part of me was unseen and unrecognized. Having this “Nick” alter ego, which I kept a secret, helped me to acknowledge the boy side of myself. And well, some things just stick.

MK: You’re a travel writer by profession. What made you decide to write a book about your gender experiences?

NK: I am a travel writer, but my preference, even in travel, is personal narrative. I like first-person writing. I find that it allows me deeper access into whatever I’m exploring. It also gives me the room to be funny. I love self-deprecating humor, but I’m sensitive about cracking jokes about other people. In general, I like to write about topics that are urgent and compelling. For a while, it was my travel experiences. Then it became my gender experiences.

MK: It seems that you were not truly aware of any gender identity/body misalignment until you were in your twenties and exposed to both trans guys and female-identified individuals who were packing and having top surgery, but not transitioning. The realization also seemed to come on gradually. Do you think that it really came on gradually or do think you were in denial or were burying it for many years and were given “permission” to acknowledge it by those you saw around you?

NK: My realizations did come on gradually, and I think this has a lot to do with the fact that my gender identity was and is very much in the middle of man and woman. Growing up as a girl/young woman was quite comfortable for me. Both the social and athletic aspects of women’s sports teams were a huge and enjoyable part of much of my life. I was a tomboy, but I didn’t see myself as a boy. Currently, I relate to and identify as much with women as I do men. If my gender identity was black and white – man or woman – then maybe it would’ve been clearer to me at a younger age.

That said, I do think I buried a lot of my body discomfort for many years. I did this by ignoring my body, dissociating from it, and to a large extent avoiding sex. Once I started to pay attention to my body, it became clear to me that my understanding of my physical self was way more male than female. (more…)

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