Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Interview with Maki Yamazaki

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Maki Yamazaki, a British musician, producer, artist, games developer, trans-feminist and advocate of queer and disabled peoples’ rights, the creator of Dr. Carmilla - a retrospective-futurist cabaret, the head of Silvana Studio and games developer. Hello Maki!
Maki: Hi there, lovely to meet you and thanks for having me!
Monika: You describe yourself as a transfeminist. What does transfeminism espouse?
Maki: Trans-feminism is basically feminism that is fully trans inclusive. It's not implicitly one kind of feminism but an umbrella term for different types. But the key thing is about trying to make things better for women of all kinds, with the inclusion of trans-feminist writings and ideas (such as 'Whipping Girl' by Julia Serano).

See Maki's page.

Monika: You are the composer of 5 music albums: Transmisson 01, Transmission 02, Made in a Day, Ageha, and Exhumed & {Un}plugged, written and recorded at your Silvana Laboratory. Where do you get your music inspirations from?
Maki: I find a lot of things inspiring! Sometimes it'll be a dream that I wake up from, or random thoughts that I have. Inspiration is everywhere, for me! However, more than anything I like my work to inspire me. Often, I'll just play around until I found a sound or a lyric that I like and build from there.
I find the whole process of music-making to be quite explorative. If I start out with a solid idea of what my music should be before I start making it, I find it impedes my ability to let it grow into what it could become. It's like a loop between what's going on inside my head and what I'm hearing.
Monika: The contemporary music has produced a new wave of transgender female artists, just to name few of them: Mina Caputo of Life of Agony, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, Marissa Martinez of Cretin, Amber Taylor of The Sexual Side Effects, Namoli Brennet, Sissy Début, and Jennifer Leitham, and many others. Are we facing the creation of a new music trend in this respect?
Maki: I think it's much more to do with the information that's available to us, especially where the Internet is concerned. More and more trans individuals are finding the information that they need to come to terms with their gender dysphoria than ever. I don't think there's much of a unified movement, just a lot of really good conversation happening. But it's really encouraging to see trans individuals from all walks of life finding more and more success in the world.

Monika: You are the creative mind behind Dr. Carmilla, a retrospective-futurist cabaret about a lesbian vampire in space. Could you say a few words about that project? 
Maki: I could probably talk your ears off about Dr. Carmilla! But currently I'm on a bit of a break from doing Dr. Carmilla as a project. I spend 5 years working on the music for Dr. Carmilla, so I decided it was time to try some different things for a while. It's really sad to do though, because I dedicated so much time and love into the project.
At first, it started out as Dr. Carmilla & The Mechanisms, but life circumstances took me away from the rest of the band, and I decided to go solo. It was probably the best decision I ever made as it coincided with setting up my own studio and focusing on making recordings in a very complimentary manner. But I do miss working with The Mechanisms very much. Perhaps one day our time and locations will re-convene and we'll do something together again. But for now, I'm pretty much snowed under with work to do.

Monika: In 2009, you founded Trans-script – a show that ran for Oxford’s Pride festivals during 2009 & 2010, performed in collaboration with a number of other trans individuals. How successful was that event?
Maki: It was pretty successful and a lot of fun! It came out of a need for trans-focused events for Oxford Pride and I realised if I didn't do anything, there weren't going to be any events at all. We ran the event for two years, and in both Oxford and London, but I moved to Liverpool the year after, so I sadly couldn't keep running the event. The year after I ran Transistor Cabaret, which was really successful too, but I've had to step down from organizational positions for now as I have a lot of my own work to create.

Great music in the making.

Monika: What is your general view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Maki: In general I think there's a lot of room for improvement, especially in terms of not only the language that is used (both written and visual), but also a concerning lack of understanding from many of the editors/directors involved.
Often when I see a story, be it real or created, I too often see the same tropes about transgender people thrown around. Far too often our stories are used to make other people money, and far too few opportunities to really tell our own stories, the way that we need to tell them.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the British society?
Maki: It's not good. There are places in the world where it's a lot worse, but I think there's a global lack of places where it's actually 'acceptable to be trans' by society’s standards. 
Monika: At what age did you begin transition? Was it a difficult process?
Maki: I came out at 17 and have never really looked back since. It was quite difficult, but the alternative seemed much more difficult to me.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Maki: Sadly not, this was a while ago. I'm glad things have changed since.

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Maki: Making the first steps and dealing with the consequences were probably the hardest things. That and the abuse I've suffered at the hands of others. Not everyone has a difficult time when they come out, but sadly I got a lot. I'd had a lot of it before, though, due to being a person of colour and an aspie, and coming from a large town with a very small-town mentality.
Since moving away from there, I've had very little in the way of violence for being trans. Changing location can make a huge impact to your life, and I'm glad that I managed to get away from all of that for the most part.

Her game Shiro//Kuro.

Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Maki: I try to be as active as I can, but unfortunately it's quite difficult to be as involved as I'd like to. Health and disability are really major factors in deciding what I am and am not capable of doing.
However, I think we definitely can make a difference, no matter how disempowered we might feel. But personal safety should come first, if it's an issue.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Maki: I think the definition of love is too big a concept to really encapsulate in one paragraph, but yes, it's very important! I can't even imagine what my life would be like without the love of others. But learning to love yourself can be the most important and the hardest part.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Maki: I've thought about it lots, though right now I'm too busy making music, art and games. When I have a year to spare, I'd certainly like to consider it.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Maki: Quite a few actually! Largely, though, I'm working pretty hard on the games that I'm developing at the moment.
I often have ideas for projects that I begin and then decide I don't have the time to dedicate myself to them. It's sad, but I learn to pick those which I feel I can complete and the ones that don't require an overwhelming amount of research and development.

I've almost finished working on my album, Transmission 03, and I've just got the cassettes for my release of the Made in a Day Extended Edition! It's terribly exciting!
I'm also working on another album, with a focus on ballads, with some guest musicians. Despite my large amount of solo work, I really do love working with others, and it's really fantastic doing that in the context of working in my own studio.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Maki: The most important things I've found that have really helped me is learning to have patience, confidence and to keep those that treat you without respect at a clear distance – you really don't need those people in your life, if you can avoid it.
Monika: Maki, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Maki Yamazaki.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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