Monday 19 August 2013

Interview with Susan Jane Bigelow

Monika: Today let me present Susan Jane Bigelow, an American transgender writer, librarian, political columnist, and author of "Ramona’s Demons", featured in Topside Press: “The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard”. Susan writes a weekly political column for the outstanding Connecticut political news website, CT News Junkie, where she focuses on politics inside and relevant to the Nutmeg State. In 2005-2010, she wrote for the Connecticut political blog CT Local Politics. Hello Susan!
Susan: Hello, Monika! Thank you for having me.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Susan: Sure. I’m a librarian, a political columnist, and a writer. I live with my wife in the northeastern United States. I’m the author of the Extrahumans series, the Grayline Sisters series, and you can find my writing in QUEERS DIG TIME LORDS as well as the Topside Press COLLECTION.
Monika: How did you start writing?
Susan: I’ve always been a writer, even when I was little. I would make up stories, and my mother would encourage me to write them down. I can’t imagine myself without writing at this point.
Monika: Could you elaborate a little on "Ramona’s Demons"?
Susan: Absolutely. When Topside Press put out the call for stories, I’d been busy reading urban fantasy novels, so I decided I’d write an urban fantasy story starring a transgender protagonist. It’s the story of Ramona, who is assigned to find a missing item that turns out to be a little lost demon kid that she has to protect from those who want to do him harm. She also has to face up to her own past, confront her father, and convince her friend Dori that she isn’t completely full of shit. It was a fun story to write!
Monika: In addition, you are the author of the Extrahumans novels. What are they about? 
Susan: That’s a science fiction series about super-powered people living under a fascist, authoritarian government that would like nothing better than to either exploit or be rid of them. But they’re about a lot of other things, as well! I encourage people to go check them out.

"The Spark" (2012)

Monika: When you create transgender characters in your books or projects, do you include any autobiographical elements in their life or stories?
Susan: Honestly, I don’t—not for the trans characters. Ramona is nothing like me, and neither is Renna Fernandez Silva from FLY INTO FIRE (Extrahumans #2). Dee White from THE SPARK (Extrahumans #3) might be the character who is the most like me—and she’s cis.
But as an extra-human, she goes through a lot of the same alienation and struggles with things like “passing” for “normal” as opposed to being “out”, which is very familiar to me. There’s also a lot that I write about names, how identity is formed, etc. in those books.
Monika: Is there anything like transgender literature?
Susan: I think we’re figuring that out as we go. It’s actually a very exciting time to be a trans writer, there’s a lot of great stuff coming out now from lots of fantastic writers like Imogen Binnie and Everett Maroon. This is a kind of literature that is growing and changing fast!
Monika: What is your view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films or books so far?
Susan: I’m not a fan of most of the mainstream stuff—with a few exceptions. I really liked Mrs. Hudson in Elementary (a TV series), for example.
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?
Susan: I would, at least when it comes to mainstream media. I think there are lots of smaller niches where the exciting stuff is happening, but it’s very hard to get the same kind of exposure that stories by and about men tend to get. As a science fiction/fantasy writer I often feel this pretty keenly.
Monika: What does it mean to be a transgender writer?
Susan: I have no idea. I’ll let you know if I ever figure this out!
Monika: Are you working on any new book or project?
Susan: Always! I just finished work on the second Grayline Sisters book (the first one, THE DAUGHTER STAR, came out in May), and I’m working on another science fiction adventure book about queer women, robots, and all kinds of wacky stuff happening in space. Plus I have some short stories coming out in the near future, so there’s that as well! 
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, Susan Durkin or Imogen Binnie. Do you think that there is a chance for the more prominent status of transgender writers?
Susan: You’ve named some fantastic people! I certainly hope so. These are amazing writers, and they deserve a wider audience!

Eating a cake.

Monika: In general what do you think about the situation of transgender women in American society?
Susan: Not as bad as it was even five years ago, but there’s still a long way to go. This is especially true for non-white trans women, who still have to face an awful lot of marginalization and risk. We can and must do better.
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?
Susan: I was 31. I had a lot of support, thankfully, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. My job was great about it.
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Susan: I didn’t really know anything! I made some good friends who I used as role models, but I didn’t really see anyone in the media. Now there are some fantastic role models like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox to look up to, which is just awesome.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Susan: I’m a very private person, usually, and making something that seemed so very private public was uncomfortable, to say the least. I was lucky that I didn’t have to deal with a lot of harassment or hate from people, they were mostly very cool about it, but it was (and still is!) very hard for me to come out to people. I did it, though.
Monika: You have a family. Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life? 
Susan: I couldn’t get by without my wife, who has been my most constant and passionate supporter, and my best friend. She’s been with me every step of the way, even when it wasn’t easy to do. I owe her a lot, and my life would be immeasurably less without her love.

"Broken" (2011).

Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Susan: I’m a political columnist for, which is a politics and news site in my state of Connecticut. I write about all kinds of things, but one of the columns I was proudest of was one supporting a trans rights bill—which was passed and signed in 2011.
Monika: Do you think that in our lifetime we could live until the day when a transgender lady could become the President of the USA?
Susan: I’d be very surprised, but wouldn’t it be nice?
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Susan: Ha! I’ve thought about it, but I can’t imagine anyone would want to read it! 
Monika: Having transitioned yourself, what would you recommend to all transgender women struggling with gender dysphoria?
Susan: Find someone to talk to, and then do what you need to do when you need to do it. And remember, everyone’s experience is different.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Susan: I really don’t know. I intend to keep writing and working, and we’ll see!
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Susan: I would.
Monika: Susan, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Susan Jane Bigelow.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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