Sunday 15 December 2013

Interview with Rachel Pollack

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Rachel Pollack, an American science fiction author, comic book writer, and Tarot grandmaster. Rachel was born in Brooklyn, New York, and graduated from New York University and Claremont Graduate University. Her interests include the women's spirituality movement and writing. She is known for her novels: Unquenchable Fire (1989), "Godmother Night" (1997), and "Temporary Agency" (1995). Hello Rachel!
Rachel: Hi, Monika! Thanks for doing this.
Monika: In most people's minds, "Tarot card reading" means a woman in flowing robes, leaning over a small table in a candlelit room, foretelling impending doom. How far is it from reality?
Rachel: There are always people who do this sort of theatrical style, and always some who want to scare their clients. But most modern readers are serious about interpreting the cards to benefit people. Much of modern reading is psychological, about character as much as events. And there is a strong spiritual component.
Monika: How did you start writing?
Rachel: I started at 8 or 9, in a Big Eagle tablet that my parents gave me to keep me occupied on a vacation trip. Never stopped.

The Tarot of Perfection: A Book
of Tarot Tales - Amazon.

Monika: You are the author of 6 novels and over 20 non-fiction books. Which novels or books are your particularly proud of?
Rachel: My current total is actually 34 published and two more on the way. The favorite of my novels is either Unquenchable Fire or Godmother Night, I can never decide. Of my non-fiction, my favorites are 78 Degrees of Wisdom and The Forest of Souls, two very different books about the Tarot. 78 Degrees has had a great impact. I get letters from people all over the world saying how much it’s meant to them.
And of course, there’s also the comics I wrote, which are high among my favorite works, especially Doom Patrol, where I got to introduce Kate, the transsexual lesbian super-hero with alchemical powers. And my novel A Secret Woman holds a special place in my heart. It was meant to launch a series starring a transsexual detective, but sadly the publisher did not want to pursue it.
Monika: When you create transgender characters in your books or projects, do you include any autobiographical elements in their life or stories?
Rachel: More a mix of myself and various people I’ve known. The activist Anne Ogborn has actually been a character in a number of my stories (mythologized, but with Annie, it’s never a big step). When I created Kate Godwin (the name taken from Kate Bornstein and Chelsea Goodwin) I made her a former prostitute and computer programmer, just because those were at that time the most common professions for TG women. This is definitely not an expression of transgender.
Monika: What is your view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films or books so far?
Rachel: In general, I find that far too many are written for a non-TG audience, trying to explain what it means to be TG. Or worse, pleading for acceptance.
Monika: Is there anything like transgender literature?
Rachel: It’s emerging, and will emerge more as TG writers realize they can write from within the community.

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?
Rachel: Well, the entertainment world seems to be run by young men, which certainly limits the ways women are shown and the kind of stories that can be written. There are more strong women characters in movies, but they usually are strong in the way men imagine strength. And they all have men’s names. Max, Jo, Sam, Alex. It’s as if the men who run things can only imagine someone with a masculine name.
Monika: Are you working on any new book or project?
Rachel: Two major things coming. The first is the Burning Serpent Oracle, created together with the artist Robert m. Place. It’s a version of a tradition known as Lenormand. We’re crowd-funding this, and it’s due to be announced any day now. The second is my first novel in 12 or 13 years, The Child Eater, due out in England in July, and the States a few months later. I’m very excited about this.
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?
Rachel: I think everything is opening up for trans people. It’s an exciting time.

Leading a ritual on a sacred journey in Greece.

Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Rachel: It seems to me that some kind of threshold has been crossed, where more and more people take TG seriously, and don’t just assume it’s a branch of gay. There’s still a long way to go, but I think it’s begun.
Monika: Was it harder to be a transgender lady in the 70s compared to what transgender women can do these days?
Rachel: It’s hard to compare the situation. Out transwomen were fairly rare then, and the range of possibilities was quite narrow. For example, no one would have thought of transitioning at work. And the doctors had much more power over people’s lives, withholding hormones or surgery until people twisted themselves into knots to satisfy the doc’s ideas of what a woman or man should be.
One awful thing that was going on was the wave of hatred from women who thought of themselves as radical feminists. There’s still some of that now, but they are much more isolated.
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?
Rachel: I came out as trans when I was around 25. Being a radical, I understood that living my life, being who I was, was a much better way to be than seeking help from doctors (I managed to stay out of the hands of the psychs the entire time of my transition). I had a lot of support from friends, including my partner. The family was difficult but they came around.
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Rachel: There was an older woman I met in London, named Della, who was a model for me of living your life with openness and strength and honesty. There’s a character based on her in my novel A Secret Woman.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Rachel: To be honest, it was a thrilling experience. Over time, however, I had to deal with the layers of shame I’d built up in myself since very early childhood. But coming out itself was great. I suppose having to tell my family, and deal with their shock and, to some extent, horror and disbelief, was the most difficult part.

Monika: American politics is based on the interaction with different interest groups that wish to pursue their specific goals. How successful is the transgender community in this respect?
Rachel: The sense I am getting is that the community has been successful in getting the issues out to the public. That’s the most important thing. When the Vice President of the United States says that transgender is the civil rights issue of our time we know we’re getting somewhere.
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?
Rachel: This has always been a huge problem. But what I’m seeing now is that for a good number of young lesbian and gay activists and people who are just community-minded, T is very much a presence, with a desire to get it right and be on the same side. I find this a very exciting change.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Rachel: I have not been directly active for some time. I was so in the early 70s, then again in the early 90s, so maybe I’m due for another round. I do think transgender women can be effective, I see it.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Rachel: people have urged me to, but to be honest, it’s never been a temptation. Besides, my life has had some other major stories, so it would be hard to narrow it down.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Rachel: Oh yes. One thing I think I can say is that I know myself, have a real sense of who I am, and I’m not sure that someone who has not been through something like the experiences I’ve been through can say that in quite the same way.
Monika: Rachel, thank you for the interview!

The main photo: credit to Rubi Rose.
All the photos: courtesy of Rachel Pollack.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

Rachel Pollack has passed to the other side. May she find the happiness and love she gave to others. Thank you for all you have done ...
7 April 2023

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