Thursday, 23 January 2014

Interview with Sissy Début

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Sissy Début, an American singer, songwriter and actress. Hello Sissy!
Sissy: Howdy! (In True Southern Fashion.)
Monika: When did you decide that you would like to be an artist?
Sissy: Basically I exited the womb testing out my vocal chords as legend has it, but music was ALWAYS in my family. I grew up in the Mountains of North Carolina so it was either do work, kill things (hunting) or play music. I chose music! (laughs) Being an artist for me, is that sweet spot of the soul where time and thought stand still and that’s where I love to stay if at all possible.
Monika: Having so many talents, would you regard yourself as a singer/songwriter or actress?
Sissy: I get asked that a lot, so normally I say I’m a “performing artist” that way it encompasses all of my GREAT LOVES. (laughing.) Music is the fabric of my soul, but there are times I do put it aside and focus on other things like writing (an upcoming Web Series is in the works), as well as acting. I love them all equally but when it comes down to it the one thing I could NEVER live without is me and my guitar and singing.

Monika: Your theatrical debut took place in 2005 in the Joel Stevens’ play titled “Arrived Naked”. Did you enjoy acting in that play?
Sissy: YES! But not at first, moving to NYC fresh out of college and from the backwoods of NC was a CULTURE SHOCK to say the least. I didn’t leave the room I was renting for 2 weeks, I was so overwhelmed and scared and thinking “what the HELL am I doing here”. I showed up in NYC not knowing a soul and with like 500 bucks to my name. Just for the record, I do NOT recommend this method to ANYONE.. (laughing.)
But I’d done Community Theater for years and I thought “why not”. I auditioned, and to be honest I think they were more fascinated with me as a person than my acting chops, but alas it was a FANTSASTIC experience and it PAID! Plus, me and some of the cast became really great friends, still are. 
Monika: Did you act in any other theatrical plays afterwards?
Sissy: Not any worth mentioning. Ha! I moved to LA in 2008 and did live theater but it was mainly Improv stuff, I performed with some local “Groundlings” and then started producing shows in LA, because I wanted to create a platform for other LGBTQI artists to showcase their talents as well.
I did a 6 month run of a play at Peter Mac’s lounge at Oil Can Harry’s and we were sold out more times than not. Peter Mac and D.J. Schaefer wrote and produced the show. It was simply AMAZING and I was glad to be part of it.
Monika: In 2010 you acted in the movie titled “Not Porn”, directed by Chris Kessler. You played the role of a drag queen…
Sissy: Wow you’ve done your research. “I got my Tuesday panties on, but I bet you already knew that”… ha ha (a quote from the movie “Big Business”.) Chris was a really great guy and so was the rest of the cast as far as I can remember, it was a terrific experience a lot of the cast have actually gone on to do a lot of other stuff as well.
As for the role, well hell I’m from the south most of the women there could pass for Drag Queens in LA, so I didn’t mind the typecasting at ALL. (laughing)… Although I will have to say it is hard to find roles that AREN’T reliant upon me being Trans or in the LGBTQI community. But as my grand mammie would say “don’t bite the hand that feeds ya.” 
Photo by Megan Bumgardner.
Monika: In 2011 you co-starred in the web-series “Dixiewood”. Could you also say a few words about that project and your role?
Sissy: I LOVED “Dixiewood.” I had been carrying around the title for years but never really had anything it would work with and then I hooked up with two other women from the South and it just clicked. 
It was super empowering to have three strong, independent, creative women bringing something to life together. 
Theresa Shell and Christa Woomer are wonderfully talent women and both BIG advocates for the LGBTQI community and we wanted to create something that people could relate to and a show where we could tackle issues without my role being so focused on the fact that I was Trans, and when the hilarious and YouTube weblebrity Brian Ecker signed on it was just the icing on the cake. I was devastated when it totally tanked, it’s still one of my favorite things I’ve done.
Monika: What is the origin of your stage name “Sissy Début”?
Sissy: Well isn’t THAT the million dollar question! LOL.. Actually Sissy has been my name since I was a little wee thing, and not in the derogatory way you may think… ha! I grew up in the south, in the trailer parks of the south, and there was a neighbor lady I CLUNG to.
Big Hair, Big Mouth, Big Boobs but most importantly BIG gaudy jewelry and a little vocabulary (laughs) and I was her shadow, everywhere she went I wanted to go. So everyone would say “Look! Here comes Sissy and little Sissy” and viola, that’s how it started! As for my last name well I can’t give all the secrets of Castle Grayskull away in the first interview now can I? LOL.. :-P
Monika: How would you define your music?
Sissy: I used to say I was the illegitimate love child of Joni Mitchell, Al Green and Cher, but then I got a cease and desist letter so I guess I’ll just say my music is like a interracial orgy in a Southern Baptist church. LOL. Meaning it’s soulful and sultry, but yet spiritual and ethnically inclusive.
Plus I’ll always have a LITTLE twang to my music; I can’t help it no matter how I may try. As for song content, I write whatever they pay me to write, but most of MY personal music that appears on my album is very melancholy, music that hopefully speaks to the spirit. 
Monika: Am I wrong to say that so far you have not decided to record an album, preferring to produce a set of individual songs? When can we expect a release of your debut album?
Sissy: You are correct. I was on the road for 4 years opening for artists like Emmy Lou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow and others, all the while having a publishing deal. So recording a collection of music was never really conducive to my schedule, I just performed everything live.
Plus when I transitioned way back when I lost A LOT of contacts in the business and it took me a rather long time to get over and recuperate from that. Currently, I’m actually in the midst of putting the finishing touches on a long overdue album, which I’ve produced with a friend of mine. Two of the songs are currently up and running on my Reverbnation page “Wait” and “Blind Foolish Love”. We are schedule to shoot a video for the first single next month. I figured the lesbians have gone long enough without good Vag-Rock to listen to. (laughing)
Monika: In 2011 together with other transgender: Mina Caputo, Angelica Love Ross, Our Lady J, Shawna Virago and Amber Taylor, you recorded a fantastic David Bowie cover “Changes”, which promoted “Transbeats”, a documentary by Michael A. Simon about six talented transgender musicians (including you) that come to LA to make it in the music business. How do you find your participation in that project?
Sissy: Ah, good times! I was asked to be part of that show probably just by default.. (laughing) I mean there aren’t THAT many Trans artists out there to pull from, so I guess I can thank “Google Search” for that one. It was a FANTASTIC experience though and I’m so grateful I was asked. Michael Simon is one of the biggest cheerleaders we have in the media world and I was SUPER thankful to be part of that pilot. Michael, along with the creators of “Taxi Cab Confessionals”, filmed us over the course of a month.
Following each of us around to catch our lives and interactions and then shopped it to a lot of the networks. Unfortunately none of the networks were ready for it at the time, although I hear one of the networks are now in production with a series very similar to it. 
So hopefully the Trans community will be showcased with the respect and integrity those guys had taken with the project. But it was a GREAT experience, just to work with all of the beautifully talented artists and get to know them; it was a comradery of talent and a very supportive environment.
Photo by Kevin Break.
Monika: What is your general view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Sissy: Eh…. A lot of it, to me at least, seems to focus too much on privates and not the person. I mean everyone has bits and pieces and they come in all shapes and sizes, so why people stay SO FOCUSED on ours I’ll never know.
The media has done a GREAT job at over sexualizing Trans women and now the rest of us are left to deal with it. I have to face it every day, but thank God my mother taught me how to handle an overzealous person (Aqua net and a Bic Lighter usually.)
But all joking aside it’s a real obstacle for a lot of us. A lot of people in positions of authority within the music, entertainment industry still look at us like Porn Stars which depending on your moral fiber may or may not be a good thing. LOL… But for me it’s not a very welcomed stigma.
Monika: At the time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Sissy: Just Dolly Parton. LOL. I think the majority of my role model material came from myself, from refusing to let others keep me down. Being 413 years old (laughing), the only web I had to worry about was the ones I had to walk through in the morning while milking the cows and we hardly EVER had television in my house, so I was hard pressed to find a “role model”.
But I grew up in a family of strong willed women and the first time I saw Dolly Parton I knew I wanted to be like her, trans or not. We share very similar stories and I think she is one of the most AMAZING and LOVING women on this planet. I actually spent time with her sister in Ashville and she is just as LOVING and WARM HEARTED as Dolly.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Sissy: (singing) “Tale as old as time…. True as it can be” (laughing) probably losing my family. I come from a VERY VERY Southern Baptist Family and I knew how they felt about EVERYTHING since before I was born, which is probably why they had to use forceps to get me OUT. (laughing) And while it was certainly NO SHOCK to anyone that I was (to paraphrase the play “A Lovely Bouquet of Flowers”) “A woman having a transgender experience”, as I was pretty much always my mother’s daughter from BIRTH, it was considered a “Cross I should bear”, not embrace.
My mother always knew but never spoke to me about it, but I still felt like I was letting her down, but thank GOD her and my father BOTH were very supportive and accepting. The rest of my family not so much, they still refuse to accept it and I haven’t seen some of them in over a decade, not that I would care to now.
My grandmother, whom I love dearly, as much as it kills me, wouldn’t want to see me face to face. But I’ve gotten to a place to where I know that’s her loss more so than mine. I know she loves me, but she loves her beliefs more I suppose. 

Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the American society?
Sissy: It amazes me at how far we’ve come and how far we STILL have to go. I think about the trans men and women that have come before us and I’m ASTOUNDED at the lives they lived and the obstacles and challenges they must have faced. THOSE are the people we owe the most to.
I think the Trans issue is reaching more and more people every day and people are identifying with it more so than ever and I hope that continues. I would like to see a little less sensationalism and a little more sincerity though; we are people just like everyone else. It’s not a choice or a decision we made, it’s a life we are destined to live and we deserve happiness just like everyone else.
But I think we are still a far cry from seeing a transgender artist or performer reaching mainstream success and it shouldn’t be that way. Education and Enlightenment is the key, so there is hope!
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Sissy: I certainly hope so. As much as I hate to say it, it amazes me how even within the Gay and Lesbian community people think being trans in a choice, that this is something we “brought on ourselves”, and I’m like “Um.. Am I in an episode of the Twilight Zone, aren’t we all in this together?”
But I’m hopeful when I see all of these uplifting videos with Kids views on Gay Marriage and Gay rights, it gives me hope. Hope that someday kids will be watching that about transgender people and say the same things. Kids are truly the future and here’s to hoping their parent instill them with education and enlightenment instead of a lack of understanding and an over-abundance of fear.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Sissy: Honey I’ll play any lobby that will have me. (laughing) Kidding aside I think that transgender women (and men) are HUGE allies to have in the advancement of Trans rights. We put a face with the word; we show that we're people just like everyone else, just wanting the simple basic things everyone else wants.
I speak wherever I’m asked to and I’ve participated in several panels thorough the years, I certainly could do more and want to and with being more visible this year with my music and acting, I hope I can be. I’ve found the best way to make a difference is BE the difference, so the more uplifting and outspoken Trans activists we have the better.
I’m not a believer in fighting against anything (metaphysically speaking,) but I’m a big believe in working for something. I’m actually in the midst of finishing up a song called “Someday” that takes on the minds of the masses, with the message that hopefully SOMEDAY the world will be a dream come true for the human spirit. I think we are closer now than we’ve ever been.
Photo by Megan Bumgardner.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Sissy: (Singing the Doobie Brothers) … Without Love where would we be now… Seriously though, Love does make the world go round doesn’t it? And I’m certainly a lover and not a fighter.
My mother is one of the most angelic women I know and I’m glad to say she taught me well. It took me a rather long time to learn Self Love, but I think that’s probably the most important love there is, once you TRULY love yourself without exception you can love others so much more deeper and openly.
I’m a big cheerleader, I’d rather see someone succeed than fail, I’d rather help someone than hurt them it’s just a better life experience. I have AMAZING friends, AMAZING family and AMAZING people around me and that kind of LOVE is irreplaceable I’ve always heard it said “we are only as strong as the people we surround ourselves with.” 
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Sissy: Oh I’m a fashion whore! Totally! However it’s a double edged sword, I’m not ABOUT to spend $2,400 dollars on a pair of shoes or a handbag when there are starving children in the world, unless I’m able to give quadruple that to charities and while there was certainly a day I did, those days are on the down low for now. (laughs) But I do have a 2 bedroom apartment for just myself and my clothes and shoes.
My style changes from day to day, depending on my mood but I like a lot of layers, skirts paired with this or that, and you can never go wrong with a dress that hits you in all the right places. As shallow as it may sound it’s REALLY hard for me to wear the same thing twice! (laughing) Stage wise, I stick to boots and leggings or skirts as well, but again it changes with my moods.
I think I subscribe to every fashion magazine there is, so there is no possible way I could pick one designer but I do have a soft spot for Mrs. Diane Von Furstenberg, because I met her once in NYC and she changed my LIFE… (laughs) she said “Dahling, the best piece of advice I can give you is NEVER leave the house without a black body suit (shaper) on”, and I haven’t since. 
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Sissy: I’m currently in the process of writing a screenplay; I think everyone has a story to tell. I had a VERY rocky childhood to say the least, I grew up in the sticks, my mother re-married a man that was an abusive alcoholic more so than not, I left home when I was 15, put myself through school all the while becoming the woman I was meant to be, moved to NYC with next to nothing, so yeah I think there is a story in there somewhere. But then I am rather self-absorbed so who knows. (Laughing)
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Sissy: 2014 is going to be an AMAZING year! With the new album coming up this spring, new performances, a new web series, other media appearances and the screenplay; I’m already tired just THINKING about it! Plus I’ve learned big things happen when we least expect it. So who knows, I’m open for business 24/7 like a Waffle House! 
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Would you agree? 
Sissy: I concur. It goes back to my statement that we are more than our genitalia, that’s the smallest fraction of who we are. I think we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be limited by anything or anyone, because when we do they’ve won. The best we can do for this world is to be true to ourselves and try to be as happy and productive as we can be.
Making a difference in spite of the fact, some of us will make small differences and some of us will make larger differences, but they are all equally as important. So staying focused, staying attuned to our spirits, regardless of what anyone else is doing or thinking is the best course of action for me.

I’m more than just the sum of my parts (pun intended). The greatest injustice we can do as humans, to ourselves and this world, is to limit ourselves in ANY capacity, we are all here for a reason (or so I believe) and the worst thing we can do is let someone or something or some train of thought derail our life paths.
One of the most powerful pieces of literature I ever read which hangs in my hallway to this day, is the “Desiderata” and so I leave you with this quote. “ You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should..”
Monika: Sissy, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Sissy Début.
Done on 23 January 2014
© 2014 - Monika 

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