Monday 26 August 2013

Interview with Casey Plett

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Casey Plett, an American transgender writer, author of "Other Women", featured in Topside Press‘s "The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard". Hello Casey!
Casey: Hi Monika! Before we start, I must apologetically let you know I am actually living in Canada as of this January, so I'm only sort of American at the moment!
Monika: How did you start writing?
Casey: Well I've always read. I think I was eight when I got this idea that being a writer would be cool, and then I alternated writing sad or wacky shit off and on through my pre-teen and teen years.
A month before my nineteenth birthday, I was in Seattle for a weekend and suddenly in a rush just started writing down everything that had happened to me in the preceding months and that's when I thought "Nah, I'm really gonna give this writing thing a go, I'm actually gonna try and do this."
And like lots followed after like I did a bunch of schools, and I had periods where I didn't write and just smoked weed and got drunk. But that weekend in Seattle is the turning point that exists in my head, I guess.

Portrait of Casey.

Monika: Could you elaborate a little on "Other Women"?
Casey: "Other Women" is about a young trans woman who goes home for Christmas after her first year of transition and finds that all of her old relationships, while not erased, are jumbled up in ways she doesn't really expect.
I wrote "Other Women" in the summer of 2011, which was a pretty frantic time in my life for lots of reasons, most notably in that I was going through a breakup and was single for the first time in my post-transition life. (though the character of Megan, the protagonist's best friend, isn't based on my ex in any way).
I was thinking a lot at the time about the relationship as trans women that we have with cis women: As our friends, our lovers, our committed partners, and our family (chosen and not). Initially, when I was writing Sophie (the protagonist) I thought she would have all sorts of run-ins with different people from the past, but the story really quickly became about her relationships with Megan and her mother, these two women who have shaped so much of her life and are still doing so.
Monika: When you create transgender characters in your books or projects, do you include any autobiographical elements in their life or stories?
Casey: Oh man, all the time! I don't like to definitively say what comes from what though? Because that always takes away some magic for me as a reader when I find out what exactly an author took from a directly lived experience and what they didn't.
Monika: Is there anything like transgender literature?
Casey: You mean as its own strong literary category? I think up until very recently, not really. But we're starting to get there. There are lots of great trans writers and editors out there who are getting shit done in a pretty exciting way!
Monika: What is your view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in art, films or books, etc. so far?
Casey: This isn't a unique or original view, like, I'm so not the first person to say this—but my view on them is that most of them aren't real stories or characters? Like, there are dozens of examples but I'll use the one of this recent book Annabel by Kathleen Winter that I read a while back.
It's 500 pages about how this intersex person is tragically made to be a boy by their father but then women nurture the kid's feminine side and then they grow up to be this tragic delicate flower type of thing...and really, the protagonist never felt like a real person? They just felt like this gender fairy the author wanted to use to make some point about how gender is hard to pin down. The protagonist felt like a concept. Concepts aren't characters, they're not people. I want to read about people. I've written about how immensely Imogen Binnie's book Nevada rocked me. That book was about actual people.

"The Collection: Short Fiction from
the Transgender Vanguard" (2012)

Monika: Some critics say that contemporary art does not provide too many opportunities for women to show their talents and stories that are more interesting for the female audience. Would you agree?
Casey: Yes, I would. :)
Monika: Are you working on any new book or project?
Casey: Yup, I'm finishing up a collection of fictional short stories which has taken up most of my creative time this last year. I also have a memoir-type personal non-fiction project that I can't get a handle on finishing. We'll see on that one. Also a bunch of ideas for new projects, but you know, right now they're only ideas.
Monika: There are more and more talented transgender and prolific writers, just to mention: Jan Morris from the United Kingdom, Josephine Emery from Australia, and Aleshia Brevard from the USA as well as the new wave of such writers as Julia Serano, Ryka Aoki, Red Durkin or Imogen Binnie. Do you think that there is a chance for the more prominent status of transgender writers?
Casey: I think so? I think there's a lot of exciting stuff on the way. I'm pretty excited for new books coming from many of those you mention, like Ryka and Red and Julia Serano. Also, Janet Mock's new book coming out next year.
Monika: In general what do you think about the situation of transgender women in American society?
Casey: I don't even know where to start there honestly. Liberals over here love to gush about how things are getting better, but two black trans women were murdered last week and the vitriolic response to Chelsea Manning was just enormous, and like stuff is still majorly bad? And I can't tell you how much I worry about some of my friends.
At the same time, it's not like there isn't progress and there aren't a lot of powerful and good things happening? For sure. I don't know. I feel like I'm seeing more and more ladies around me that are so great and funny and inspiring and kick-ass, and yet there's still a mountain of bullshit out there. I'm not too good at sorting my feelings about how to answer that question, I think.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends? Did it have any impact on your job situation?
Casey: I started taking hormones in October 2010, when I was 23 years old. Very nearly three years ago. My first year of transition was actually pretty smooth, as far as these things go? My second year was a little rougher. I've definitely been pretty lucky overall though. Support from my family has varied quite a bit and is mostly OK now but still kinda complicated.
My dad has consistently been just an unfathomable champ though. To answer your job question, I've never been fired or given official shit based on my trans status (I also transitioned while I was in school) though I've had reason to think sometimes it was why I didn't get hired for certain jobs.

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Casey: Um, on an intimate level, probably dealing with my family. In terms of living in the world? Like, harassment. And the fear of stuff worse than harassment. (Transitioning in New York City was rough that way.)
When it became clear that moving through the world meant something intensely different than it did the first 23 years of my life. I'd like to think I've sort of made my internal peace in terms of dealing with both issues now but I don't know.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Casey: I really hope this book of short stories becomes a thing, but if it doesn't, I'll go on to some other projects. I really don't know about that many years out though.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Casey: My post-transition life looks so incredibly different than the pre-transition life that I don't know if I can answer that question in a simple or clean manner. I'm calmer though, internally I can say I'm calmer. I hope you don't mind if I punt the question of "happy" and instead sign on to "calmer".
Monika: Casey, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Casey Plett.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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