Sunday, 1 February 2015

Interview with Ellah A. Thaun


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Ellah A. Thaun, a transgender women, artist from France, singer & guitarist, co-founder of the electronic duo Valeskja Valcav and playing solo as a folk songwriter. Hello Ellah!
Ellah: Hi Monika!
Monika: When did you decide that music will be your profession?
Ellah: I was 5 or 6, after watching the documentary "Imagine" (about John Lennon) with my mother, I think. I remember being deeply moved without knowing why exactly. I started my first band at 13 after listening to 'Nevermind', like a lot of teenagers born in the eighties and I haven't stopped playing since.
Monika: Where do you get your music inspirations from?
Ellah: I think I love music so much it's like I'm studying every record I'm listening. Some are made just like any piece of art. There's an architecture, a texture, thoughts hidden behind the sounds capes. But I've always said to myself that you can't really make music until you've have really lived things, felt things, experienced life. That's why I was so frustrated as a teenager, I felt like I had nothing to say except writing about teenage anger, you know.
And at the same time, I wanted to say everything about everything. That's why I've never forgotten that working on 2 sleepless nights in a row on a record is totally stupid and useless if you're not capable of allowing yourself to go outside and follow what life has to tell you. So, that's the true inspiration for me.


Monika: What was the origin of Valeskja Valcav? Could you elaborate more on the band’s music and Lps?
Ellah: It started as a collective in 2007 in my hometown, then in Paris where I lived because I wanted to settle down here. But that didn't work, the collective was pretty much not playing but I released two EP's and a single for a Parisian label. That was shoegaze, arty music sung in French at the time and I was bored with it and was ready to stop eveything when I met Jill, my astral-siamese-soul. She insisted on making a new band, as Valeskja Valcav, and as a duo. It was late 2009, early 2010. We made pure instrumental noise music for a year, then added drumachines, and voices. Starting from nothing, we made our first concerts in Paris, then recorded two EPs, had very good reviews, made a residency in Rouen where I was beginning the study at art school.
People seemed to be very enthusiastic about our music and we toured as much as we could, in France, and then in London, Berlin... We recorded what was going to be our first LP in 2013 but we never finished it. We didn't really like what we did, we experienced a lot of technical difficulties too. We got a little freaked out about what was going to be the next VV, so we took a year off, to focus on our respective solo projects, and to rethink VV for the third time.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now? Where can we see your live performance?
Ellah: Well, in 2014 I worked intensively on my solo project as Ellah a. Thaun. I've released 13 LPs since 2010, pure lo-fi folk music. Collage of demos, rehearsals, sessions alone in the bed with my guitar, always in relation to my artworks in drawing, photography.
Like in VV, artworks are as much important as music. That's when I've decided to finally start touring solo and release my music on physical supports too. I'm touring in France throughout the year but not as much as I want because I need to prepare my degree for the art school after five years of study. I'm playing in Berlin in April.
For VV we have a date next month in Paris, and another one coming in Brussels, but more important, we feel ready to release our first LP, I hope before June. When we'll have it in hands, we'll look for a label and start intensive touring next year I hope !
Pastel-Goth Transgrrrl.
Monika: Did the transition change your artistic perception of the world? What does it mean to be a transgender artist?
Ellah: It changes everything to be honest. It's like some parts of my brain I didn't know about are working now. It's like awakening when you think you're already awake.
Everything's new and just like it was at the same time. And it has bad sides too. I'm more intuitive, but more impulsive too and sometimes that's better to mature things. I'm working on it. Since I've decided to transition, even if I was already in an "androgynous, agender" phase for some time, it opened up a gateway to creativity that I never thought I would have.
I really can't define myself as a transgender artist. I consider myself as "a girl with a transgender path who is an artist". I mean I can't let the fact that I'm trans, leading my artistic life for the rest of my days. I prefer the idea that it will always appear as a filter, disturbing or lovely, depending on what side you are, on all my works. That's where it will touch people. People get bored so easily. And there's a real problem in France about the theatricality of trans issues. So you need to be very clever on how you approach transition publicly.
Monika: The contemporary music has produced a new wave of transgender female artists, just to name few of them: Mina Caputo of Life of Agony, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, Marissa Martinez of Cretin, Amber Taylor of The Sexual Side Effects, Namoli Brennet, Sissy Début, and Jennifer Leitham, and many others. Are we facing the creation of a new music trend in this respect?
Ellah: Totally. I mean, the seventies and the eighties saw a lot of musicians and artists coming out as gay, right ? The same thing is happening here. Some of them, like Laura Jane Grace, are very open about this, explaining to people what it's REALLY like to be trans. And she's doing it very, very well. With documentaries. People start to understand, that's it's not a shame, not a disease or something to laugh at. Maybe they will start to really like it ahah.
Monika: Are there any other transgender bands in France?
Ellah: Not any I've heard of. There's a real productive queer scene in Paris of course, but that's more like a really cool rocky-horror-picture-show-esque scene for me than a real trans artist community. I mean they're all trans-friendly, but not trans.
Rehearsals.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the French society?
Ellah: It's a NIGHTMARE. For trans people, the access to hormones is easier, I mean, a little easier. Doctors are more aware of trans situations. That's all. The hard part is to change your IDs. It can take years. Mine are going to court in March.
It's been like two years and a half working with my lawyer just to have my document done. And it can take like another year or two just to have an answer.
There's no law about trans people in France. They have something that tells you that you need to have done a Gender Reassignment Surgery, but the European Court tells that hormone replacement therapy is enough to have your ID change and that other surgeries belong to your private life. So the court can't say "yes" and can't say "no". And so the judge is here to tell you "yes" if he's trans friendly, "yes but you need to make a surgery" if you haven't done any, which is not legal according to the European rights, and then there are months of medical and psychiatric humiliating expertise. And the judge can say "no" by losing your case in more years of administrative Kafkaesque nightmare.
Even if you have underwent GRS, the whole process can last 5 or 6 years. Sometimes without it, it could take a year and a half... it only depends on the court, the judge and your lawyer. It's a shame.
Lot of trans people are facing suicidal thoughts doing that path and I totally understand that; you're here telling people that didn't know you that you are "you" and they say "no, you are not you, you are someone else". That is so stressful, so strange.
The fact is, that looking for a job with the wrong ID is almost impossible. All administrative tasks are always met with transphobic reactions. I've had years of panic attacks about this. I can't even go to the post office to receive a package, they won't give it to me saying that I'm not the one on my ID card. "Ahah, yes that's not me so why can't we just change that f****** card ?", you know.
The French politicians are saying that keeping this ID issue difficult is to prevent the country from overflows of lunatics or terrorists. They are the terrorists, they're killing transpeople that are ready to work for them, leaving us to very a difficult life; and alone.
For the non-trans people, it's better. I've had some really beautiful reactions and feel protected by my close friends, by the people I work with everyday. But I've had so many deceptions, even violence, and so much really, really WEIRD reactions that I'm totally suspicious every time I face someone I don't know. And that is really exhausting. People in France are absolutely not educated about this.


Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Ellah: Yep. Two. A beautiful French girl, Amanda, she had a blog on YouTube and I cried watching her videos about her transitioning. I felt so close to her about everything. When she started hormones and when I saw the changes on her videos I knew that was my path.
And there's Isley, a girl who lives in LA, who had a videoblog too. She's beautiful and made her transition public with her own eye as a photographer and that is truly interesting. That was the first time I was following a transgirl on Internet and saying to myself "wow I love her clothes", "wow she's guitarist in a girlband", you know, everything was so intelligent and so cool about her.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Ellah: Everything. As long as I remember I always knew I was a girl. But it takes different steps to put words on things. As a child I didn't remember being anything, a boy or a girl I mean. I was just reading books most of the time, really shy, some friends but not that much.
In the early 90's kids were not that gendered you know. I remember boys and girls dressed pretty much the same way. I was falling asleep at night sometimes wondering if I could wake up the next morning with a girl's body. And I was deeply sure that I'll grow up as a girl, just like that. But nothing happened ahah.
The hard part came with high school. With boys I was forced to play in the way that I could not be "discovered" as I truly was, and I was playing that quite well I think. And with girls I was like "I am so much like you, everything like you but I can't tell you". That was so frustrating. I hid myself mostly with drugs (legal ones and not legal ones), I was smoking hashish from early in the morning to late at night, and I ended high school with make-up, long black hair and wearing my at-the-time-girlfriend's clothes everyday, so I think that a lot of people thought this was only provocative, I was fucked-up, end of the story.
Leaving high-school for university didn't work for me, I was too stoned to do anything, and for a job, well, that is the moment where you need to fully expose your gender, you know. So after 2 years experimenting with hard drugs and drinking, I was totally depressed and unhealthy, then that was psychedelics, thoughtful, deep experiences but there was a problem every time I was back into the real world.
I knew I had something from my childhood that I was hiding, something simple as "this is not my gender, I want to change", which was preventing me from doing anything true or correct in my life. And now that was destroying my body and my mind. I knew that I was trying to follow something that my parents wanted for me that was not me and I was screwing everything up. It was like living a lie all the time.
Then I've had panic attacks everyday from waking up because I felt that was not even my body. Gender dysphoria can be really frightening and dangerous to yourself if you're not listening to what your mind is telling about you, if you're doing things the way people think you are. If you know you're a girl, then you are a girl and that's it.
Nobody has the right to tell you the contrary. I've had a younger brother, who, sadly is not even as powerful as a word, passed away four years ago this week. He was so intelligent and aware about so many things. He was one of the 2 or 3 people that really made me fully conscious that I was slowly transitioning without knowing it. Losing him at the beginning of my transition was worst than any nightmares but he gave me the strength to make everything true about myself and about my life, and I'm grateful to him everyday.
OOTD (outfit of the day).
I have started to talk to my parents about gender identities, politics and stuff for 6 or 7 years. I wrote a letter to my dad like 5 years ago to explain to him what was a transition and what I was going to do, but they were holding to what they thought was me.
My mother is not anymore, she recognizes me as her daughter now, but that is recent, it was hard for her and she told she had to reconsider everything she knew about femininity. My father is totally aware of my transition and understands it conceptually I think, but he's still referring to me as "he", which is humiliating for me and raising eyebrows around him because no one know who he's referring to, using those words.
I know that a transition can be really difficult sometimes for parents but I can't see this as a severe, very serious issue for them, like an illness or something; it's just about life and who we are, truly and deeply.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in French films, newspapers or books so far?
Ellah: Stupid and awful. We are lucky to have some cool people here, like Virginie Despentes or M. H. Bourcier. There are like 2 or 3 documentaries that are not transphobic in essence. Everything else really gives you all the reasons to overdose on barbiturates. 
For French TV - and French TV is like GOD for more than 50% of the French people at least, trans issues are associated with: transvestites, prostitutes, HIV, messy surgeries and big breasts, Thailand; and they're talking of those in a very, very bad way. Disgusting.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Ellah: Not sure. It's really complex. Even people inside LGBT could disagree a lot on questions about gender, politics and there are more concepts of feminism now.
I knew trans people who had really radical positions on politics and who wanted to be heard, and others who just wanted to disappear peacefully in the world. I'm not sure LGBT-Q-I will last very long as we know it now. The structures proposed by the LGBT community, like places to welcome kids kicked out of their home you know, are very important. Those things will stay.
But in fact, I think the need to have a real trans community found a way with the Internet. People are coming out more easily. I tend to hate social networks but it could be helpful in a way in your transition, to re-learn to interact with people, with your own image. Blogs are talking about hormone dosages, legal procedures.
What we need now (I mean here, in France) is someone that could speak for all these people, a trans person of course, that could lead discussions with politicians as giving a public image of trans people around the world that is accurate.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Ellah: I really do not have the time for it now sadly but I will once my degree and art school is finished, definitely. I was pretty active online about it, years ago, but again, not time enough now.
I think transwomen can make a difference, of course! And transmen too, you can learn a lot from a transman as a transwoman and vice-versa. I can't think of anything else but equality here.
And cis-people do have A LOT to learn from trans people. Sometimes it's like the world is telling us to learn from them... But I don't want that. I mean, I totally understand cis-issues and I learn a lot from my cis-friends but I hope they're learning from my transition path, even if that's a little.
Peaceful room.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Ellah: Ahah, yes I'm really into it. I really like 90's fashion, that is what was on movies and TV when I was a kid and how I pictured myself as an adult. That's funny it's so trendy now.
I do love contemporary clothes too. I think I love pretty much everything about Topshop. And I worship them for having a collection for tall girls with really, really cool stuff; for some reason, from colourful, patterned grungy clothes and dyed blue hair I switched slowly to black and only black. So right now that is black crop-tops/sweater, black pencil skirt or mini dress, black opaque tights, grey sometimes, my Nike blazers or Dr. Martens, like, everyday.
And with this I can't think of myself without my dyed blonde-to-grey hair and pink pastel tones! I do have some vintage jewellery, some with esoteric stuff. Just a little of gold fits well with black. And chokers. And my heart-necklace. I do really love hearts as a necklace. I'm lucky enough to have my breast grow with hormones, so I spent a lot of the money I was saving in lingerie sets ahah!
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Ellah: That is everything to me. I love everything about love. In love with love. Deeply romantic etc...
It's like a curse sometimes. I'm single, it's been some months now, and even if that may sounds childish, that makes me really sad. I'm doing lot of cartomancy and astrology but all that is interesting me is the heart, fate, will-I-meet-someone stuff to be honest ! I'm not comfortable at all with the idea that being single is being free, cool, sleeping with whoever you want to, and on the contrary being a couple means you're imprisoned and frustrated. I think that giving love, true and pure love to someone is the best thing that could be on Earth - and it's even more great if there's a lot of sex- and I have this in my heart.
There are so many ways to be a couple without feeling oppressed. Falling asleep in the arms of someone will always be ten thousand times better than reading a book alone until it's 4 in the morning. This can sound sad, but I can't stand when someone tells me « oh, you're single, ah! you're lucky, you have everything for you » I'm not lucky at all. Being single could be really hard for anyone unless that's a choice. And you can't force fate. And yes, I'm totally aware that what I'm saying is really a symptom of leaving the mid-twenties to the thirties ahah!
And being single AND trans. You can't date anyone you don't know without at a fateful moment, telling your story. And there's people you know for months or years, they tend to forget what « you really are » and when they realise it, they disappear. I'm bisexual, or pansexual, I don't care about what my sexuality is, I just know that I don't care if my partner is a man or a woman. I love both, and there's so much pleasure to receive, so much I can give. I mean that is not the problem. And there are some people that are not afraid to sleep with a transgirl. But to date her...


There's a social pressure about couples. Some people prefer to be single and lonely because they only see the couple as a social pressure and not as they deeply are and how they conceive it. Some people prefer to be unhappy with someone that is socially OK, I know people like that, just to have a chance to not confront themselves to something they hide inside. I'm not talking about sexuality. I'm a girl with curves and love handles, I'm tall, got piercings and tatoos, not that many but still. I'm everything but the kind of girl you would present to your parents, a girl that is socially correct. That not the case for everyone of course ! But that's a reality you can't miss.
I know men or women that would really love to sleep with, date, even marry a transgirl. But in fiction. In the real world... That is a different story. Like I said, I'm absolutely romantic, so I love to think that someday, someone will come to me, will cross my path, and that person would tell me that he or she doesn't care about me being trans, but me being who I am, a girl, and someone to love. I'm saying that because I do not have the right to lose hope for now. I have faith.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Ellah: Yes. I do. I worked on something when I started hormones but stopped. I promised myself to write a book about my transition when I will have my ID changed. Right now I'm working on micro-edited stuff, like an art-zine, to present trans-sexuality after hormone-therapy begins, for transgirls and for the ones who wants to be with them, like a sex manual. I was influenced by Miranda Bellwether and her "Fucking Transwomen" zine. 
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Ellah: Don't be afraid.
Monika: Ellah, thank you for the interview!
Ellah: THANK YOU !!!

All the photos: courtesy of Ellah A. Thaun.
Done on 1 February 2015
© 2015 - Monika 

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