Friday 10 January 2014

Interview with Sherilyn Connelly

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Sherilyn Connelly, an American transgender writer from San Francisco, author of "Malediction and Pee Play”, featured in Topside Press‘s “The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard”. She writes about movies and television for Medialoper and the popular Gawker Media blog io9 and is the head film critic for SF Weekly. Hello Sherilyn!
Sherilyn: Hi!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Sherilyn: I'm a San Francisco-based writer. Most of my personal writing has been memoir, but over the past few years, I've been working professionally as a film critic and journalist for the Village Voice and SF Weekly.
Monika: How did you start writing?
Sherilyn: I'd always wanted to be a writer from a young age. Two things I wanted to be, actually, were a writer and a girl. At the time, the chances of either happening -- let alone both -- seemed impossibly remote.
Monika: Could you elaborate a little on “Malediction and Pee Play"?
Sherilyn: It's an excerpt from my first memoir, "Bottomfeeder."

Monika: You are also the author of other stories such as: "The Last Dog and Pony Show", "The Big Reveal", "In the Shadow of the Valley", "Outlet", "Sherilyn’s Skool for Girlz" and "Two-Sixteen-Ought-Four". Which story are you particularly proud of?
Sherilyn: "The Last Dog and Pony Show," which was published in the British anthology called "Unthology No. 1". It kind of sums up a lot about me. I'm also especially proud of the fact I recently wrote my first feature story for the SF Weekly, a 3,000-word article that got my name on the cover and had nothing whatsoever to do with me and/or transgender issues.
Monika: When you create transgender characters in your books or projects, do you include any autobiographical elements in their life or stories?
Sherilyn: To date, I haven't actually written any fiction involving transgender people, or really much fiction at all; all my narrative writing has been memoirs. I'm not sure I could write a fictional trans character that was sufficiently different than myself.
At Everfree Northwest, 2012.
Monika: Is there anything like transgender literature?
Sherilyn: It's part of the broader genre of queer literature, but like everything else regarding trans issues in the broader queer culture, it's not as accepted or taken as seriously.
Monika: You are a film critic. What is your view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in art, films or books, etc. so far?
Sherilyn: I usually cringe when a trans character is introduced in a movie; more often than not, we're still treated as a joke, as an excuse for a cheap punchline. As such, when a trans character is actually treated with a modicum of respect, I make a point of mentioning it in my review. 
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?
Sherilyn: Oh, absolutely. Certainly, as far as movies go, the majority of them are still targeted toward men, and in 2013 in particular there was an astonishing number of movies that were basically the screenwriter working out his daddy issues, and the female characters typically just got in the way. That said, I do think things are slowly getting better.
Monika: What does it mean to be a transgender writer?
Sherilyn: In the case of myself, it just means I'm a transgender person who's a writer; not everything I write is about being transgender, and if being transgender has hurt my career, I haven't really noticed it. Indeed, I think it's gotten me into a few non-transgender books I might not have been in otherwise.
Monika: Are you working on any new book or project?
Sherilyn: I have two different books in the works, and of course my ongoing film-critic job, which takes up quite a lot of my time. I'm also in grad school to get a Master of Library and Information Science with the goal of becoming an archivist, so that keeps me busy as well.

In a natural habitat, 2011.

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, Ryki Aoki, Red Durkin or Imogen Binnie. Do you think that there is a chance for the more prominent status of transgender writers?
Sherilyn: Oh, without a doubt. There's always a hierarchy in every subculture, some people who are higher up on the ladder and some who are lower, and those who are higher up generally have a better chance of finding some degree of acceptance and status from the wider culture.
Monika: In general what do you think about the situation of transgender women in American society?
Sherilyn: Better than it was when I started transitioning in 1998, that’s for sure. There's still a lot of fear and backlash from conservative and religious circles, but I can't help but envy the younger kids who are just starting out; from what I can see, they have a much stronger support system than existed in my day, largely thanks to the internet. The nascent world wide web of the mid-90s was an invaluable help to me in my own coming-out process.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Sherilyn: Transgender women can and do make a difference in politics, and I respect the hell out of those who do, but I am not personally involved in politics. I sorta consider my political action to be just being who I am, largely without compromise.
Knifing, 2004.
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?
Sherilyn: I genuinely believe our biggest obstacle right now is compassion fatigue. The public and the government have come to accept gays and lesbians to a great (and wonderful extent), and open homophobia is much more difficult to get away with.
However, extending that to transgender people -- and, more importantly, understanding that we're not simply a variation on garden-variety homosexuality -- and getting them to take us seriously is proving to be a bridge too far. The attitude seems to be, "Fine, fine, queers can get married and teach our kids or whatever, but now you want us to let a man in a dress use the women's bathroom?"
The cognitive dissonance that middle America was able to overcome regarding homosexuality has taken a lot out of them, and it's just easier to continue to not take transgender people seriously, particularly on a policy level.
It's why the conservatives are fighting so hard to battle pro-trans legislation, and with the kind of ferocity, they used to use to battle gay rights. They've given up on the anti-gay positions by and large, but they're nowhere near close to being ready to give up their anti-trans stance, especially because visually we're harder to deal with. At least your average homosexual LOOKS normal to them, y'know?
But trans people, especially trans women, are easy to use to scare people because we don't look right to them -- and the gay establishment, having achieved so much of what they're been working for, are reluctant to help us out. Bleargh. (And, in spite of all that, I swear I'm not political!)
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?
Sherilyn: I was 25 -- my very first appointment with my therapist, the twelve-week session that led to me starting on hormones, was on my 25th birthday -- and it wasn't easy, though I know a lot of people who had a much more difficult time of it than I did.
The most difficult part might have been overcoming all the relentlessly negative images I'd seen growing up of trans women. It helped that I had a job in the tech industry in those days which allowed me to pay for electrolysis and hormones, a job which I got laid off from in 2001, and that I lived in San Francisco. My family and friends were all very supportive, thank goodness.

Preparing for anything, 2006.

Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Sherilyn: I don't know that I had any role models per se, though I admired Candy Darling on an aesthetic level. I actually knew quite a lot about transgenderism, as I'd spent a lot of time as a teenager at the library, reading everything I could find on the subject. This was long before I found the courage to actually come out, though.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Sherilyn: It coincided with breaking up with my girlfriend, whom I'd been with for eight and a half years. We'd been together since we were teenagers and were bound to break up anyway, but it just made starting my transition that much more emotionally tricky. 
Monika: Do you intend to get married and have a family? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Sherilyn: Love is important to me, but I have no intention to get married and/or start a family. That's not for me.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Sherilyn: Heh. That’s practically ALL I’ve written thus far.

On the Bridge, 2010.

Monika: Having transitioned yourself, what would you recommend to all transgender women struggling with gender dysphoria?
Sherilyn: Take the plunge. Do what you need to do to be comfortable in your own skin.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Sherilyn: Oh, good heavens, I could no more guess where I'll be in 5-7 years than I could have guessed 5-7 years ago where I'd be now! Mostly I hope that I'm making a comfortable living as a writer, an archivist, or preferably both.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Sherilyn: I am, indeed. I've become who I wanted to be, who I truly am.
Monika: Sherilyn, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Sherilyn Connelly.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

Update: In 2021 Sherilyn published her book.

Full title: "Beautiful Ghosts: A Queer Memoir of San Francisco" by Sherilyn Connelly.

"A Generation X transgender woman, Sherilyn Connelly came out of the closet in 1999. Her own identity still emerging, she had stumbled into a difficult, stifling relationship. Also, her employment at a tech company ceased when the dot-com bubble burst. It was a goth boy from Bolinas that first took her shopping for make-up, and the San Francisco goth scene became her respite. This wickedly eye-opening memoir reveals how Connelly dealt with a toxic partner and found her voice as a woman. A longtime cinephile, it tells how she became a writer, rekindled a love for cult films and horror conventions, and learned "the secret to becoming a star. "Her remembrances are also a tale of a bygone era of sex, music and San Francisco and its darkened underworld of goth strays--her literate vampires and beautiful ghosts."

For more info on transgender biographies, visit TRANSGENDER BIOGRAPHIES.

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