Friday 21 February 2014

Interview with Morgan M Page

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Morgan M Page, a Canadian transfeminist activist, artist, film director, writer, founder and curator of Trans Women’s Arts Toronto, and recipient multiple awards, including two SF MOTHA awards and the LGBT Youthline’s Outstanding Contribution to Community Empowerment Award. Her performance and video art has shown in galleries and festivals around the world, including NEMAF New Media Arts Festival (Seoul, South Korea, 2013) and the Adelaide Street Gallery (Melbourne, Australia, 2014). Hello Morgan!
Morgan: Hey there.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Morgan: Sure, I’m a performance + video artist, activist, writer, and Santera in Toronto. I’ve been an activist for sex workers’ rights for about eight years now. I travel throughout Canada and the United States, lecturing and performing, and my video art has been screened in Canada, Hong Kong, and South Korea.
Monika: You describe yourself as a transfeminist. What does transfeminism espouse? 
Morgan: To me, transfeminism is a political movement around the equitable treatment of all people. And it means looking at things intersectionally – that people receive both privilege and oppression on multiple fronts, such as race, class, and gender, and that these issues need to be addressed.
I think for me transfeminism centres the experiences of trans people, particularly trans women. So, issues that affect us, such as access to health care, the criminalization of sex work and HIV non-disclosure, racism, treatment of prisoners, and immigration policy are at the forefront of all discussions.
Monika: Is transgender art becoming more prominent these days?
Morgan: I hope so! That’s my dream. Of course, trans people have been making art for a very long time, and over the years a few of us have received significant recognition for our artistic output.
I’m thinking here of Greer Lankton, in particular, whose work showed in the Whitney Biennial in the mid-90s, shortly before her death. I’m really excited to see more and more trans peoples’ art being shown, and I think a lot of it has to do with the tools for organizing and promotion that we have access to thanks to the Internet.
Now anyone can start a Tumblr account, post their art, and get hundreds of people exposed to their work. I’m really hoping that we can keep pushing that to the next level. I want to see trans people’s art in every major art gallery. I want to see it on TV, and in the cinema. I want trans peoples’ fiction and poetry to line shelves of bookstores.

Monika: You are the founder and curator of Trans Women’s Arts Toronto, the first ever Trans Women’s arts festival. Could you elaborate more on the festival and invited artists?
Morgan: Sure. So, TWAT/fest was an idea I had when I was submitting my own work to a lot of shows. I thought, “why aren’t there any trans-specific art shows for me to get my work into?” And I remembered that there was this really inspiring art show that ran here in Toronto for five years in the late 90s and early 2000s called Counting Past 2, which my personal role model Mirha-Soleil Ross had organized.
So I put together a call for submissions and started soliciting submissions from trans women artists. We had about ten artists in the show, including Mirha-Soleil Ross, Kiley May, Isz Janeway, and Morgan Sea. And the event was packed! We almost sold out the venue. I think we were ten tickets short of selling out. It was incredible. I honestly didn’t even think ten people would show up for it!
And now it’s become this ongoing project where I’m traveling around lecturing about trans women’s art and pulling together panels of trans women to talk about their artistic work. I focus primarily on video and performance art, along with some photography and sculpture, but that’s just because that’s the stuff that excites me the most.
Monika: In addition, in 2012 you started directing films yourself…
Morgan: Yeah! Well, films is a generous way of describing them. I’ve made several short video pieces. It started when I applied to be part of the Queer Video Mentorship Project at Inside Out Festival, where they take eight queer and trans people and teach them to make videos.
So I made a video there and it went on to screen in Asia, as well, along with another video I made called RIGHT BACK THERE. My work is a lot about grief, mourning, trauma. So, you know, light topics! I’ve also started incorporating video projections into my performance art, which is exciting but a lot of work.
Monika: What does it mean to be a transgender writer, poet or artist?
Morgan: That’s such a big question! I think I have some narrative and stylistic concerns that are specific to be trans. My work often deals with the body as a site of political conflict, such as in my SAY IT TO MY FACE performance where people yell transphobic slurs at my body for an hour.
Monika: Some critics say that the 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?
Morgan: Absolutely. Women’s art is underfunded and undershown. Many art galleries get by without showing any women in their collections. It’s terrible. And trans art is shown almost nowhere on top of that. The situation is similar for artists of colour as well. And I think that’s why we need to create our own spaces. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely want to be shown in major art shows, but I think there’s value in producing our own work and creating spaces we control to show it.

Photo by Tania Anderson.

Monika: What is your general view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Morgan: Dismal, mostly. I’m excited about the future, though. I think Imogen Binnie’s novel Nevada (Topside Press, 2013) has changed the landscape in literature about trans people.
And that Laverne Cox’s performance on Orange is the New Black is changing the narratives about trans people on television in a major way. We need to keep going in this direction! We need to demand better representation, and we need to start telling the stories we want told instead of the stories they want to hear.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Morgan: Not really. I was very young, like 15 or 16, and this was in the early 2000s. We didn’t have trans characters on TV or anything. It was a few years before I even really met another trans person I could look up to. I often call this the “problem of images,” because there just weren’t any images for me to see of myself in culture, so I thought that I couldn’t do anything.
I thought I couldn’t be an artist because I didn’t see artists who were trans. It wasn’t until, really, I saw Mirha-Soleil Ross’ work that I realized I could do whatever I want. She changed my life.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Morgan: Everything before it. When I came out, everyone already thought I had come out before. I wasn’t fooling anyone. It was a glass closet. But anyways, before I came out I was bullied intensely and had to drop out of school. I was addicted to amphetamines. Then I realized that I was trans, dropped the drugs, and things starts to get a little easier to deal with in life.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the Canadian society?
Morgan: I think we face significant legal and social barriers that affect our ability to gain employment, housing, access to healthcare, and other things. I think things have changed significantly over the past ten or so years that I’ve been transitioned, which is awesome, but we have a long way to go!
We still need to push for the decriminalization of sex work and HIV non-disclosure, and for better immigration policies. We need to push for more access to health care, particularly for more surgery assessor sites to be opened. And for breast augmentation to be covered by provincial health care.

Monika: You are involved in many projects advocating the transgender cause, including programs for trans adults, trans youth, and trans sex workers…
Morgan: A lot of that is through my job at a local LGBT centre, although I’ve been involved in a lot of advocacy around trans sex workers for nearly a decade now outside of that. It’s very intense but rewarding work.
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Morgan: I shy away from the human rights framework a little bit, and instead focus on the bigger issues of the law such as decriminalization, prison policy, immigration policy, etc. But I do think trans rights are an issues that’s more on the map these days than it’s ever been before in North America, and that’s pretty cool.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Morgan: I would consider myself very active in politics. Mostly on the grassroots level, although I’ve been marginally involved in municipal, provincial, federal, and international political efforts, especially around the decriminalization of sex work and HIV non-disclosure. I think trans women can make a huge impact, and would love to see more of us out there making change!
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Morgan: That’s an intense question! Love is very important to me, and often elusive. I think love for people is what informs my political and artistic work. I feel moved by the people around me, and so I can’t help but work in solidarity with them.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Morgan: I’ve very interested in fashion! I used to be a make-up artist, and at one time wanted to be a fashion designer. My favourite designers are Gareth Pugh and Alexander McQueen. I’m into that high fashion thing, and I try sometimes to bring that into my performance work. If only I had the cash to buy all the clothes I want!
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Morgan: I’m not really interested in them. I mean, that’s great if people are, but it’s not my thing.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Morgan: I do write creative non-fiction pieces from time to time, and I would like to do a collection of them, but I’m not invested in the celebrity autobiography form of the transsexual memoir. I think it’s been all we’ve been allowed to write for decades, and that we can and should be able to move past that.
I’m working on my first novel right now, which I hope will be out later this year. My novel definitely has some themes that resonate with my own life, but it’s not a memoir by any stretch of the imagination.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Morgan: As I said, I’m finishing work on my first novel right now. It’s very exciting, and also driving me up the wall a little. And I’ve got a lot of performances coming up soon. I’m hoping to make a few video pieces this year, as well. People can find out more information about my work at and on twitter at morganmpage.
Monika: Morgan, thank you for the interview!

Main photo credits to Boy Pussy.
All the photos: courtesy of Morgan M Page.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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