Friday 22 April 2016

Interview with Griffin Rae Birdsong

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Griffin Rae Birdsong, an American poet, writer, official blogger, and contributor to the Death Rattle Writer's Festival, and member of Idaho's 2015 National Poetry Slam Team, the author of the biographical book titled “A Pansexual Adventure Through Time: A Transition Autobiography” (2016). Hello Griffin Rae!
Griffin Rae: Howdy! And thank you so much for interviewing me! I feel so special! 
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Griffin Rae: Oh, I’m just your average 26-year-old trans woman looking for a purpose in life. I’m a chronically unemployed college dropout. I was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho and I currently live in Boise, Idaho. Lucky for me there is an excellent artistic community that has accepted me for who I am and allowed me to flourish as a fledgling performance poet.
Monika: Is there anything like transgender literature?
Griffin Rae: Yes and no. On one hand, the transition autobiography genre is a fairly new and emerging trend in literature. On the other hand, I think it’s important to remember that transgender literature is human literature. While trans narratives seem new and exciting to most people, I’m certainly not the first to feel this way and I’m sure that anyone who has ever set out to find themselves could relate.
Monika: What does it mean to be a transgender writer, poet, or artist?
Griffin Rae: Well, for those that do not know, transgender people are people who do not self-identify with the gender that they were assigned at birth. To be a trans woman is to be a particular, albeit rare, variety of woman. I think that to be a trans poet is to be open and transparent about this. Trans people often do not like to be perceived as trans and try to blend in. When you’re a trans poet you forego this option and not only allow yourself to be seen as trans, but you also act as a mouthpiece for the whole trans community. Rather than trying to blend into the woodwork, you try to leave your mark instead.

Her book via Amazon.

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?
Griffin Rae: I would. It did not take long for me to live as a woman to realize that this is truly a man’s world, especially in Idaho, and that women are just living in it. When you’re a woman and an artist everything that you do is perceived as rebellious in comparison to a male artist.
It’s hard to believe, but people are still getting used to it. Of course, if you’re like me, then you don’t mind being perceived as rebellious and you become twice as loud out of spite.
Monika: What is your general view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Griffin Rae: It is not good. This is a hard question to answer without writing you an entire essay on visibility and representation.
Instead, I’ll just say that most of the time in films, newspapers, books, we don’t actually have a hand in telling our own stories. Men are cast as trans women in movies because the mainstream media still doesn’t know the difference. Artists will co-opt our stories in an often well-intentioned, but blundering attempt to seem sympathetic or edgy. And at the end of the day, if trans people have any sort of criticism for how they are portrayed, we are told that we should be happy to have any sort of representation at all, that we are being divisive, that we should be grateful that someone else was benevolent enough to tell our stories all wrong.
I think the best example would be from about two years ago when Arcade Fire released their music video for “We Exist”. What was meant to be a gesture of support for the trans community ended up being a disaster. The main character, a trans woman, was played by Andrew Garfield, it was full of stereotypes and it was clear that Win Butler thought he was God’s gift to trans people for creating it.
My personal hero Laura Jane Grace, the trans frontwoman for Against Me!, famously responded to the video saying, “It's called ‘We Exist’ and there is literally no sign of that existence represented. . . should have been called ‘They Exist’”.
Monika: Why did you decide to write your autobiography?
Griffin Rae: I wouldn’t be the first one to claim that all writing is autobiographical. When I write, I just try to express my feelings as honestly and directly as possible. When I was just beginning to bust into the Boise poetry scene all the poems I had been writing at the time were about my transition. These were the poems that got me noticed.
When my publisher, H.O. Tanager, and I first sat down to discuss the possibility of a book I was sitting there reading over the small selection of poems I had brought over and I realized that together they were forming a narrative. It was my narrative, so I just called it as it was. Just for the sake of being thorough, I guess I should mention that the book doesn’t come out until this summer.
Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other trans women?
Griffin Rae: The central metaphor in my book compares transition to puberty. Many of us feel like the time we spent pre-transition was wasted and so many of us feel that we were deprived of our childhoods in this way. What I hope trans women take from my book is that it’s OK to want to relive these moments on your own terms. It’s OK to feel 16 when you’re actually 26. It’s OK to do silly, irrational things if that’s what it takes for you to finally feel OK for the first time in your life.

Being a poet.

Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Did you have any support from your family or friends?
Griffin Rae: I didn’t realize I was trans until I was about 22. I didn’t actually come out to anyone until I was 23 and wasn’t able to start hormone replacement therapy until I was 24. In those early years, I thought for sure that no one would support me. I thought heavily about suicide to the point where I felt as good as dead.
The magic thing about feeling as good as dead though is that you stop feeling afraid of the ways that your life could go wrong. I told my friends and family and was pleasantly surprised that they were happy for me. My dad in particular has been incredibly supportive and I’m not sure where I would be without him. 
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Griffin Rae: I know I mentioned her already, but Laura Jane Grace came out as trans literally within a week of when I first realized I was trans. It was extra amazing because she was my favorite songwriter and had been for some time. It felt almost like a sign from God.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Griffin Rae: The hardest thing was trying to get people to understand. Almost everyone in my life was supportive because they loved me and wanted me to be happy, but very few of them knew the correct way to support me. I’ve had screaming matches with some of my best friends over why pronouns are important. I’ve devoted hours to explain to people that I’m not a drag queen.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Griffin Rae: In some ways it’s getting better, more and more people are becoming familiar with the idea of what a trans person is. It’s safe to say that there has never been a better time to be trans in America. But still, things are pretty dire. Several trans women are violently murdered each year, especially trans women of color who have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered. Very few legal protections and policies exist for trans people.
In addition, new problematic legislation is constantly being brought to the table by lawmakers who don’t understand us. I’ve been discriminated against and even fired for being trans. Unless I feel like wearing a sports bra to work every day, that’s just the sad reality of being trans in America.
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?
Griffin Rae: Yes and no. Half the time even queer people simply assume I’m just really super gay, which is of course not true. And it’s generally these same people who use the term “LGBT” interchangeably with “gay”. I said it once already, it’s a man’s world. Naturally, gay men get all the spotlight while trans people, especially trans women, are largely forgotten about.

Being cute.

Monika: Is there anyone in the American transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the USA in the 60s and 70s for gay activism?
Griffin Rae: Unfortunately, no one that I’m aware of. We just haven’t reached that level of acceptance and representation yet. Trans activism is still a new idea to most people.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Griffin Rae: I most definitely believe that trans women can make a difference in politics. I myself am not wildly political in a traditional sense. I try to effect change through my poetry and by performing every chance I get. In a culture that is largely indifferent, if not hateful, of trans women, I tend to be of the persuasion that simply having the courage to be yourself is a revolutionary act. 
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Griffin Rae: If you read my book you’ll find that both love and sex are things that I can never seem to shut up about. I’m a romantic at heart. Always have been. I’ve always needed more love than the average person. But I think love is especially important to me at this juncture of my life because every time I fell in love pre-transition it was always tainted by the fact that I couldn’t love myself. It wasn’t actually me. I was a shell of myself. 
In a way, it feels almost as if I was born just two years ago and that all the love I had before then didn’t count, because I didn’t really exist.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Griffin Rae: I can’t say I’m huge on fashion, I kinda just wear whatever I think looks good. Most of the time I give off a slightly punky vibe, which generally necessitates not caring about your appearance to a certain extent. I hardly ever leave my house without my leather jacket. That said, I do like to feel pretty and feminine. I think I love dresses more than the average girl, I can spend hours primping and I’ve been told that I’m pretty good at makeup in spite of the fact that I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.
Mostly though, I’m a firm believer that sexiness is an inner thing.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Griffin Rae: The idea at this point is to go to school and eventually go into counseling. Other than that though, I’m really not sure. It’s fairly evident that I need to get out of Idaho and head someplace a little more progressive, but for the time being, I want to stay here and continue doing the whole writing thing. My good friends Diana Forgione and Dig Reeder have recently founded their own writer’s festival “The Death Rattle Writer’s Festival” located in Nampa Idaho, and I’d like to be a part of that for as long as possible.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Griffin Rae: To all the trans girls out there, I just want to say that I know it’s hard.
I know you might be living with more than your fair share of self-loathing or regret.
I know firsthand how difficult that can be, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s good to have feelings.
It’s worth mentioning that, even if those feelings are painful, they’re powerful too.
It might take a long time for you to understand just how, but you can use that power.
You can use it on whatever you want, but I would recommend using it on yourself.
The next time you hate yourself, do some cardio, practice winging your eyeliner, take a selfie, write a sad poem and see if it doesn’t end up being at least a little bit beautiful.
You have nothing to lose. If worse comes to worst you can lock yourself inside and sleep until you feel better
If worst comes to even worse, I hope you look me up. I’ll be happy to tell you what I tell myself.
All you can do is be brave, so be brave.
Monika: Griffin Rae, thank you for the interview!

Personal poetry blog:
Link to buy my book via Amazon.

All the photos: courtesy of Griffin Rae Birdsong.
© 2016 - Monika Kowalska

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