Monika: Today it is my pleasure to interview Jennifer Maidman, a talented British musician, songwriter, actress, music producer, humanistic counsellor, and writer. Hello Jennifer!
|Jennifer with Boy George in 1989.|
After that I suppose it was a mixture of hard work, stubbornness and luck - the synchronicity of being in the right place at the right time. I skipped university and all that. My teachers warned me I'd have “nothing to fall back on”. Maybe it was the arrogance of youth, but it didn't really occur to me that I’d “fall back'. I had no plan B, it was Monte Carlo or bust! Maybe because of that attitude, any opportunity which came my way I grabbed with both hands. All sorts of people were very generous with their time and talents, I could write a very long list of people without whom I might have fallen flat on my face. Hopefully, they know who they are, and know I'm eternally grateful to every one of them.
You can make art because you want to make money, or get famous or whatever, but I think, unless there is also a genuine need of some sort, the results tend to lack substance and longevity. I’m not a prolific writer, but f I do write a song lyric, it's because I feel a need to, often because I'm trying to figure something out, trying to explain to myself how I feel about something maybe. It's a way of "working things through" as therapists sometimes put it. With the music side it can be similar, there’s a need to hear something funky, uplifting, sad, or angry, or whatever.
|On stage in France 2013.|
The problem has always been finding the time. It’s great to be in demand as a player, and I’m very grateful to be busy, but one consequence is that I always seem to end up heavily involved with other people’s projects and solo stuff goes on the back burner. Sometimes I think it’s a problem, but then again I suppose things happen if and when they’re meant to. Watch this space.
Annie is a great artist and bandleader, who has worked with lots of great people and made several solo albums. She's also an amazing person with an unusually keen instinct for truth. It was Annie who really encouraged me to embrace my own truth and step out of the shadows in all sorts of ways , personally and creatively.
The band was like a family, the members of which did all sorts of other projects too, but who met up whenever they could to make a special kind of music. The founder, Simon Jeffes, picked people who intuitively understood what the Penguin Cafe was all about. It was essentially to do with giving earthly form to something which had started out as a dream of Simon’s.
I think everyone was a bit surprised at how popular it became. We travelled extensively, did a lot of gigs, and developed a great deal of trust and intimacy within the group, both musically and personally. I still see those people. Once a Penguin always a Penguin. A few of us still do gigs as The Orchestra That Fell to Earth. We called it that because that’s what the PCO became over its lifetime. It was a dream and it became a reality.
|Jennifer on stage with her partner Annie Whitehead.|
I’m also doing some gigs with Tony O’Malley who’s one of the singers in Kokomo, and a very funky guy too. I’m working with Annie on various things, including a duo where we do a mixture of songs and instrumentals. That’s great fun because there’s a lot of freedom with a duo, and we know each other very well obviously. We’ve been doing some gigs in London alongside Lund, a band whose debut album I produced last year.
And there’s a live album coming out very soon with Paul Brady, featuring some amazing people. We’ll probably do some TV to promote that. Paul is one of the finest songwriters around I think, I was lucky enough to produce two of his albums in the eighties. There's also a new project just started out with Annie, Steve Monti (ex Ian Dury and the Blockheads) and Phil Saatchi, a great singer songwriter and friend who I've known since the eighties. All in all seems to be a lot going on. Still hoping to get some solo stuff happening though!
Come to think of it, he was a big influence , because he was the first person I ever met who was utterly devoted to his art. He lived and breathed the theatre 24/7 and seemed to be not remotely interested in fame or fortune. He made theatre because he felt it needed to be made.
|With guitarist Phil Palmer in 2013.|
I’d love to do more, but I’m not sure there are that many parts for transgender people. It’s changing perhaps. If there are any casting directors out there looking, please give me a call!
What does it mean to be a transgender artist? I don’t think I see myself as that. I’m an artist who happens to be transgender. It’s always work in progress for me, but if being trans has an effect, maybe it has something to do with ‘dancing outside the box’, bringing a perspective which is perhaps a little less polarised and binary than the norm. Something about embracing uncertainty and fluidity at a deep level. You don’t have to be trans to do that of course, but maybe it helps a bit.
Jennifer: I wouldn’t say more and more. A few. C N Lester springs to mind as someone up and coming. But it’s still a bit scary to be openly trans in the UK. Things are moving fast but we’re not there yet.
|With singer songwriter Robert Wyatt.|
We’re all mortal, fallible and vulnerable, and passengers on a mysterious journey we don’t fully understand. The least we can do is try to be nice to each other during the trip. I suppose I’m still just a hippy at heart.
Then in my twenties I was working with Boy George and I came out with a bang, but still wasn’t sure what it meant. I was seen as a ‘cross dresser’. For quite a while I oscillated between self acceptance and self hatred, which I think is quite common. There wasn’t much around in the way of role models in those days.
I think I knew intuitively who I was at some level, but I hadn’t really found a framework or a language with which to explain it to myself – and the available stereotypes didn’t seem to fit my experience. I did crave authenticity but the idea of formally transitioning at that point didn’t seem to make sense, and I probably wouldn’t have ticked the official boxes anyway. Things started to change in the nineties with the coming of the internet.
Trans people across the planet began to talk to each other for the first time and break new ground in terms of identity. We realised there was a lot more to being trans than the very limiting stereotypes that the dominant culture or the medical profession liked to impose on us. More positive images of gender non conforming people from other cultures began to seep into our consciousness. We began to challenge our own internalised transphobia. It was a quiet revolution, and in many ways the professionals had to play catch up.
At some point, I think around the turn of the millenium, I found a professional sufficiently open minded to help , but the ‘official’ transition was in his words “like falling off a log”, because I’d started the journey years before that. Transition can be emotionally very tough for those around you, who feel they are losing somebody. There’s a grief process that has to have space. That was probably the most difficult part, working through all the emotions, both for me and those close to me.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
All the photos: courtesy of Jennifer Maidman.