Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Interview with Juno Roche

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Juno Roche, a Writer, and Campaigner, Patron of cliniQ, and a Trustee of the Sophia Forum. Juno writes for a wide range of publications and is currently writing her first book. Juno campaigns for transgender equality focusing on the education and sexual healthcare sectors. Juno has been HIV positive for over twenty years and considers herself a 'long-term thriver'. Juno was a Blair Peach Award winner, one of the most influential LGBTQ leaders in the UK, listed in the Rainbow List 2014/2015 and the World Pride Power List 2015. Juno was shortlisted for the European Campaigner of the Year in 2016 and has just been shortlisted for Campaigner of the Year by Diva Magazine. Hello Juno!
Juno: Hi Monika, it's lovely to chat with you.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Juno: Mmmm, a few words, I'm known really for talking an awful lot so a few words always seem difficult, but I am a happy, energized, and driven woman who wants simply to make a world for trans peeps which is full of aspiration and equal chances and to enjoy my own life.
Monika: Do you like teaching? When did it become your vocation?
Juno: I stopped teaching a few years ago when my campaigning work needed full-time attention. I set up JustJuno.com and started to write and talk widely about the issues that had impacted my life. I adored teaching it is one of the most beautiful professions, seeing children understand how big the world can be is inspiring.


Monika: Your transgender rights activism was sparked when after teaching for eight years in primary school, in 2009 you faced some problems when you came out as a transwoman. How do you recollect those times and reactions of other teachers, parents, and pupils?
Juno: I don't want to go into too much detail here, it was widely publicized at the time but parents and children were brilliant and supportive and just wanted me to carry on being their teacher. At the time the education system found it tough to accept that you could be a teacher who also happened to be transgender and stay in post whilst transitioning. I wanted my community to be part of my process, to see me process and to understand.
Monika: For many years you have been working on how to promote the rights of transgender teachers in the UK. Could you enumerate some of the improvements that have been introduced?
Juno: We are still working hard to get government-specific legislation but the Equality Act 2010 is used much more widely to ensure that we have policies in place and discussions in the education sector around the rights of both trans teachers and pupils. It makes me incredibly happy to see many more trans teachers in the post being role models for trans and non-binary pupils.
Last year I held two events that brought together educational professionals, government, and third sector groups to examine what next? The fact that now we have national campaigns seeking to establish consistent strategies is a real achievement for many across the sector.
Monika: I love your argument that a teaching body should reflect their pupils and society at large. If it is felt that up to 2% of the population is likely to be gender variant, then the education system should not exclude and ostracize transpeople …
Juno: Absolutely, I was a trans kid and I felt like I was the only one in the whole world, it took me almost 30 years to be able to understand and accept me as me. If I had looked up and seen myself at the front of the class, employed, teaching, smiling, and happy what a difference that would make. That goes right across the board our teaching staff should completely reflect the society in all of its wonderful difference and diversity.

Monika: What remains to be addressed in the years to come?
Juno: It is felt that up to 19% of all trans women could be HIV positive worldwide yet less than 1% of research is dedicated to resolving this. We need structurally money now dedicated to supporting and enabling our communities to be equal in society. This inequality makes me mad, I am part of that 19%.
Monika: You started the transition in 2009? Was it a difficult process?
Juno: I actually started in 2000 but was held back for about ten years because I was HIV positive and surgery was refused. It still is in many places, private clinics, etc. In Bangkok, I could only find one surgeon who would enable me to have gender alignment surgery but they wanted to charge me 50% more. It was tough. 
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Juno: No not really, we were still a few years away from the tipping point. Strong women and feminists always inspired me and I suppose becoming me was a testament to them. Women such as Kate Bornstein and Laurie Penny.
Monika: Which feminist ideas do you regard as most important and appealing?
Juno: I do an awful lot of work that examines the connection between gender-based violence and HIV and intimate partner violence and HIV. We know that many women, trans and cis, are still victims of violence perpetrated against them by people they know and often have relationships with. Society still places these women as being wrong, as being to blame, look at the new law in Russia in relation to violence within relationships. There is a huge amount of work to do in order that women are safe within societies and that women have autonomy over their own bodies and actions.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Juno: Yes absolutely but too many to mention. We are a rather wonderful bunch of superwomen in my eyes, who are working hard to really change society for the better with considerable opposition. 
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Juno: It wasn't hard, there were difficulties but coming out and being true to myself has been an absolute blast and a joy. Facing discrimination is never easy but it made me even more determined to live my life authentically and honestly.

Juno photographed by Fox Fisher.

Monika: I read your very emotional article about the GRS complications that you faced. I was really touched by the certain sadness and pain that you felt after the operation. And you cried out so many questions …
Juno: Yes, there were some issues, it's not always a perfect surgical procedure, I think it's important that we as trans folk talk about that openly and honestly. Like we should talk about our desires, our sex lives our attractions. I just felt like if I shared my problems then it may help other trans women, younger trans women.
Monika: But you have never regretted the GRS, have you?
Juno: Not for a second, I love my vagina through all the problems I am incredibly happy. I think some people may have thought that I was unhappy and regretful but I really just wanted us, as a community, to explore our bodies much more. I'm currently making a film about that subject, 'what is a vagina?'
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Juno: Absolutely we are always far stronger together and besides I don't see it as a list with a beginning and end rather than as a set of different people who work wonderfully together. It's how the community has grown and changed that matters, not the order of letters.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Juno: Lots of it is good, as many different stories as possible begin to really open up a wide debate, I am a little tired of seeing 'the first trans.........' though, it seems a little pointless as more and more of us carry on with our lives without fuss. It just gives newspapers salacious stories. 
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Juno: Lobbying for good research into why trans women (especially) are seemingly high risk in relation to HIV. It matters to try and support this vulnerable community of which I am a part. I am also with cliniQ trying to create the first permanent trans sexual healthcare center in London. We currently don't have our own space so I am working with them to try and secure major funding.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Juno: I love clothes, but I work mainly from home so frequently am in lounge-wear and yoga wear. If I'm going out I like good white shirts, jeans - smart casual. I have a passion for handbags and spend far too much on them. I love Ralph Lauren, VB, and Chloe.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants? Some activists criticize their values, pointing out that they lead to the obsession with youth and beauty.
Juno: Anything that makes people feel better or good about themselves is fine if it's not hurting others. I might think, as a feminist, that beauty pageants are a little silly but if it gives pleasure to the women taking part then why not. I would prefer though if we moved away from a rigid binary model of beauty which in the long run helps no one.


Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Juno: Love is incredibly important and I definitely need to meet someone lovely! I am content and happy by myself but this year I am going to get out onto the dating scene. 
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Juno: Films about our bodies and writing 2 books one about my experiences and thoughts and the other on sex.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Juno: Believe that it will get better, it does, in my darkest days I didn't think I'd pull through but here I am now with a life that is much more wonderful than I ever imagined possible and when I look in the mirror I am completely happy with me now. Aiming to be authentic and honest with yourself is always a good thing. Trans people are superheroes! 
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Juno: Absolutely the surgery is just a very small part of the journey, everything after, before, and during is equally important. Many people will not have surgery but still, be beautiful authentic people.
Monika: Juno, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Juno Roche.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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