Friday, 28 June 2013

Interview with Natasha Muse

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Natasha Muse, an American stand-up comedian, and artist. Hello Natasha!
Natasha: Hi Monika!
Monika: How did you start your artistic career?
Natasha: Well, I started performing at a restaurant here in San Francisco called 'AsiaSF.' I never really thought performing would be a path for me, but someone approached me while I was working out at a gym and asked me to audition. In all honesty, I didn't think they would even give me a second look since I'm a shy person by nature. I just did it so I could say I gave it a good shot and did my best. But (as you may have suspected) I got the job and slowly but surely grew to love being on stage.
Monika: You perform all over the San Francisco Bay Area, including Cobb’s Comedy, the SF Punchline, Harvey’s, and the Dark Room. Do you have any performances outside the Bay Area?
Natasha: Oh yeah. Actually one of my goals this year has been to perform further away from what I've come to think of as my 'comfort zone,' San Francisco.
So, a few months ago I started doing shows in LA. I also occasionally get up to our state's capital, Sacramento. Plus: I'm on the internet, which is worldwide! I even have a strange podcast called 'Too Soon.'
Monika: In addition to stand-up, you produce and host the monthly underground hit “A Funny Night for Comedy” at the Actors’ Theatre. Could you say a few words about the event?
Natasha: Well, right now it's a bit up in the air because the theater has had to temporarily shut its doors while they find a new location. The show will continue though! It's a comedy talk show I host with a handful of other characters who fill the roles of sidekick, sign-master, one-man band, and stage manager. We have my comedian friends as guests who perform their acts and get interviewed in addition to topical jokes, games, and sketches. It's a pretty wild show and I'm excited to find a new home for it soon!

Throwing Glitter.

Monika: And your performance with the sketch group Femikaze?
Natasha: Ha! As luck would have it, right now Femikaze is sort of in the same boat as AFNFC: Great show, no home. While we look for another venue, we've been busy writing, scheming, and planning our future.
But Femikaze is a really cool group of funny women to work with. We all have a good time rehearsing together and I think that shines through in our performances.
Monika: You write about life as a mom for Queer Landia. How did you start this project? 
Natasha: I started this project because I'm much too eager to begin things! When we were expecting the baby, I thought it would be nice to share my experiences raising her. Since then I realized that what I really needed to do was start a journal. My home life is pretty great and there are just some things in my life I don't want to pick apart for public consumption. At least, not as it's happening- I think I need time to figure out how I feel about something before I share it with the world. Especially when it's a subject as near and dear to my heart as my Little One!
I guess the answers to these three questions paint a picture of someone trying to do too many things! If I've learned anything from this interview so far, it's that I lack focus.
Monika: You received many professional awards. Which awards are you particularly proud of?
Natasha: I won a comedy competition a few years ago, it was the Battle of the Bay 2010. It was the first time I made a good chunk of money from doing comedy, and it felt like confirmation I was heading in the right direction. And then in the 'Best of' edition of the SFWeekly here in the city they cited me as one of the 10 “Comedians to Watch” in 2013. That's not actually an award. More of a kudos. It's pretty nice though. Just enough validation to get me through the next few months.

Monika: Are there many women in San Francisco that are stand-up comedians?
Natasha: Yes! I think so. I guess that depends upon what you might expect. It's still not a representative number of the population, but it is a growing percentage. There's a new generation of women who don't feel the need to ask permission to be creative and funny, which is something that has held a lot of women back in the past, in addition to the world of comedy (and in general) being a male-dominated (and controlled) place.
But if you were to blindly pick an individual from the SF comedy scene, you'd probably end up with an unemployed white dude, so we still have some growing to do on many fronts.
Monika: How does your transgender status contribute to your artistic perception of the world in general?
Natasha: This is one of those questions that's always hard to answer because I don't know what it's like to NOT be a transgender person to compare it to. But I do imagine what my life would have been like had I not been a transsexual person. And whether it's me being a regular woman or a regular man I always picture these alternate realities of my life as being relatively quiet and boring for me.
Being transsexual has forced me to take a strange path. In my journey to deal with it, I moved over 3000 miles (almost 5000 km!) across the US to SF, lost a lot of friends, and learned a lot of lessons I might not even have been aware even existed had I stayed in NH. It made my relationship with my mom very difficult for a while, and it's still hard with my dad.
It was also, as I talked about above, the catalyst which moved me into performance. Being (a poor) transsexual has put me on one of the lower rungs of society and it's basically been the cause of every major change in my life. So trying to extricate that from who I am as an artist is impossible, it's woven into who I am.
Sexy Biology Lesson.
Monika: Do you often tell transgender jokes while performing stand-up comedies?
Natasha: I do! It's a deep well of thoughts and ideas I like to draw from, but I've also been trying to write jokes about other things too so I don't become a one-note comedian. Plus, my personal life is interesting, but I find other topics much more intriguing and would much rather talk about those on stage.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Natasha: We're coming up! Right? I don't know. I think we're enjoying greater visibility than ever before which is a positive thing, but we still have a ways to go. We're the red-headed black-sheep of the LGBT movement, and we get dropped sometimes when the 'normal' looking queers want to put a nice face on for middle America.
I know here in SF (which, admittedly is a bubble that is not representative of the rest of the country) people seem to be nice enough to me and I get gigs and stage time dependent upon how funny I am. I don't think being transgender has held me back (yet) but then, I guess, it's hard to know what isn't happening, if you know what I mean.
Monika: Do you think that in our lifetime we could live until the day when a transgender lady could become the US President?
Natasha: I plan on living a while, so yes. But it's not going to be anytime soon. It took us over 200 years of 44 presidents to break the chain of white Christian straight men, and we did it with a half-white Christian straight man; we're changing, but slowly. Let's see if Hillary wins in 2016 first and go from there!
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Natasha: I'm not and I don't. But I do think about it a lot. I feel like our system is broken and until there's a viable path for a third-party candidate to win an election (like being allowed to participate in the debates) I'm not going to waste my time supporting the lesser of two evils.
But I do definitely think a transgender woman could make a difference wherever she chooses to, if she puts her mind to it, works hard, and gets lucky.


Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends? Did it have any impact on your job situation? 
Natasha: I started in my early 20's, and it was very difficult. This was back in the '90s before the Internet was anything even close to what it's like now. I spent a lot of time poking through books in the library, making awkward phone calls to medical professionals in search of treatment, dealing with one very bitter electrologist, and going to support groups looking for answers.
When I moved out to SF, I basically started my life over. No one I knew was particularly supportive, my parents didn't understand, and I lived off the money I had saved from my high school job for over a year. It definitely affected my job situation, but at that time I think it was mostly because I was so lost, depressed, and diffident in myself that it was hard for me to look for a job. And then, of course, later on, it became the prerequisite for the last job I held.
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Natasha: I had read some biographies of famous trans people, which helped me understand myself more, but I learned a lot as I went. I didn't really know any trans people until I started transitioning myself.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Natasha: Coming out to myself. Accepting that transitioning was what I needed to do for a chance of happiness.

Monika: Have you ever been married? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Natasha: I am married! To a woman! We got gay married back in 2008 when it was legal in California for a few months. I don't think I could overstate how important she is to me. To put it simply, she's the reason I decided to leave my job and pursue comedy full-time. She supports me and inspires me to be a better person.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Natasha: Fashion is… interesting. I don't keep up with it. Transitioning was never really about the clothes for me. I like wearing comfortable clothes with simple designs that won't go out of style too fast. When I like something, I get attached to it, and I don't wanna get rid of it just because it's dated. Flowy dresses, cute sweaters, open-toed shoes, jeans, and tank tops. Also, I'm currently really into wearing this oversized camouflaged military jacket for some odd reason.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Natasha: I was in one once! I lost, but I won Miss Photogenic (so I didn't even really need to go.) They're not really my thing, but I think it's cool they exist. Just like regular women, trans women have all different types of interests and talents so the more avenues we have to explore them, the better. It was a fun and memorable experience for me, and I'm glad I got the chance to be in one once.

Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Natasha: Yes, but not until my story is about more than just my transition. Many of those books are a bit like “Transgender 101.” I'd like mine to add something different to the conversation.
Monika: Have you worked on any new projects recently?
Natasha: Oh yeah! I was in a short film called “The Fiction of the Fix,” which was featured in some film festivals, including Frameline.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Natasha: Sure! Well, I'll just say I'm a happy person. I guess I'm a woman too. Close enough, right?
Monika: Natasha, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Natasha Muse.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska  

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