Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Juliet Jacques, an inspirational British journalist, critic, writer and columnist for The Guardian and The New Statesman. Hello Juliet!
This was made easier by the fact that other trans people had established themselves in the British media, sharing some of the responsibility that I felt when the Guardian series was in full swing, in 2010-2011. I should say, too, that the backing of Trans Media Watch was vital – I wasn’t affiliated with them, but they provided invaluable advice when I wasn’t sure how to approach certain subjects.
Monika: It is inspiring to see the growing number of transgender women on The IoS Pink List, an annual Independent on Sunday Pink List of Britain’s most influential LGBT people. In 2013 you were ranked 60th …
But there are people doing other work: Sarah Brown, who was the UK’s only openly transgender politician at the time; CN Lester, a musician who co-founded the Queer Youth Network; Natacha Kennedy, who’s particularly concerned with gender-variant children; and Roz Kaveney, an inspiration who still fearlessly challenges transphobia, especially from feminists or elsewhere on the left. In future, I’d like to see more representation for trans men and people of colour.
My favourite was Cobra by Severo Sarduy, a playful avant-garde novel about a transvestite trying to reach a mythical Valley of the Dolls. Roland Barthes wrote The Pleasure of the Text about it, and how it disrupted all sorts of literary and social categories.
At present, if there is a ‘transgender literature’, it’s of characters in texts that don’t focus primarily on them: Sarduy’s Cobra and Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge, from the late 1960s/early 1970s, remain rare in making us protagonists.
Monika: What does it mean to be a transgender writer, poet or artist?
Employers are not allowed to sack people for transitioning, and gender identity is a protected characteristic in the 2010 Equality Act, but workplaces can make life difficult in subtler ways, and the 2010 Equality Act explicitly draws on radical feminist attacks in stating that there are situations where it is permissible to exclude trans people from services or social settings.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Jet Moon’s performances were warm, funny and smart and every time I met her afterwards, she was friendly, kind, open and nurturing – I felt so comfortable with her, and so inspired by her.
There have been some moves towards letting trans people speak for themselves, but it’s still quite limited – a handful of writers, mostly white trans women based in London – and needs to be more diverse in terms of race, gender identity and class.
Monika: You co-founded the Justin Campaign against homophobia in football, named after Justin Fashanu, the world’s first openly gay professional footballer who committed suicide. How did you get involved in the project?
At first it was just three of us – another player, Paul Windsor, tended to handle the financial and practical aspects of a campaign that tried to use art and entertainment to raise issues – and we also worked with a filmmaker, Ian McDonald.
I often speak at events with Football v Homophobia, which grew out of the Campaign, but I left both the team and the campaign when I began transition, and it took a more conventional path, working on initiatives with organisations such as the Football Association. I wrote more about the first year of the Campaign here.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?