Sunday 3 December 2017

Interview with Marissa Alexa McCool

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Marissa Alexa McCool, an American LGBT-rights activist and speaker, multiple podcast host (The Inciting Incident Podcast), author, mother, columnist, and stage performer, the author of “Passing Cars: The Internal Monologue of a Neurodivergent Trans Girl” (2017) and four other books. Hello Marissa!
Marissa: Hello Monika, thank you so much for reaching out to me. It’s a pleasure.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself? You are a woman of so many talents and interests. Is writing most important for you?
Marissa: I don’t know if I can rank my interests by importance, but perhaps I can by longevity. But let me answer your other questions first: I’m 32. I graduated cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with degrees in English, Cinema and Media Arts, and Anthropology. I live in Saint Paul, Minnesota with my husband, partner, and two children. 
Writing is the interest I’ve been pursuing as long as I can remember. I learned to type when I was four years old, and I can remember using a word processor as a young child to create stories involving people I know. As I grew up, I used that imagination in role-playing stories, and I couldn’t imagine pursuing anything else when it came to university focus. I was able to learn from some amazing professors, including Meta Mazaj, Kathy Van Cleve, and Marion Kant, and I don’t know where I’d be without them.

Available via Amazon.

Monika: Your first book “The PC Lie: How American Voters Decided I Don't Matter” (2016) is a political manifesto …
Marissa: I wrote that book shortly after the US Presidential Election. I attended the same university as the man who was unfortunately elected president, so a lot of us were surrounded by that rhetoric even more than the rest of the country. As I walked around my own country feeling terrified for a few days, it came to a head the Monday after when all the black freshmen were added to a lynching group on Facebook.
I started writing in class, and before I knew it, I had 30 pages. I wrote the book in 9 days and never looked back. I had it published before the end of the year, and it contained my initial rant as well as personal essays and trying to make sense out of a country that would use such animosity to put so many of its citizens in deliberate danger.
I reached out to a lot of people to contribute to the book, and one of my personal heroes, Chris Kluwe, was among the first to agree to write something. What I saw more than anything was that I wasn’t alone, and that motivated me as much as anything to continue to speak out. It may seem weird that telling the story of my non-traditional wedding exists in the same book where I’m dropping f-bombs every other sentence, but I’ve never been much for following expectations.
Monika: “False Start: A Novel” (2017) is a story of Logan and Ezra. After Logan’s father gets deployed to Afghanistan, he is about to face many temptations and adventures. It starts as a simple plot but we are about to discover more and more secrets, including a transgender twist as well…
Marissa: False Start is a story that I used to tell many of the stories I had growing up while trying to learn who I was. It’s hard to say that there’s one character who inhabited these the most, but growing up in a conservative area while being obviously feminine was not the safest place to be.
It’s always been important to me to include trans people in my stories, because in mainstream media if they’re included at all, they’re punch lines. Jokes. Or serial killers. I try to create representation for my community without their entire identity revolving around the fact that they are trans because that’s how most of us live our lives.
It’s also vital to me to confront the realities of mental illness without making that the joke. Logan, the main character, appears to have everything on the surface but is unable to find anyone willing to listen to him when he reaches out about the issues he’s facing. Too many people in this world aren’t willing to make space for others, whether that be for trans people, those with mental illnesses, or those just trying to find their own way.
Monika: “Silent Dreams” (2017) is as you described it yourself “a set of essays and poems from a public transgirl.” Was it a special way for coming out?
Marissa: Truthfully, my Coming Out piece was The PC Lie, as I went from closeted to the public almost overnight with the speed and ferocity in which it was written. Featured in this book were a lot of the performance pieces I wrote, including the one that’s read really fast that I tend to open my speeches with (Ode to the Blocked) and the original piece I wrote and performed for the Vagina Monologues (Once Unspoken.) It also included some of the pieces I wrote for school and other articles I had featured. This was a good book to have on hand for someone who wants to quickly become familiar with my work, or maybe someone who doesn’t have the time to read a novel or a whole book of essays like PC Lie or Passing Cars. I’ve found that the compact nature of it has had a lot of emotional impact on my readers.

Available via Amazon.

Monika: Do transgender characters or plots appear in “Voice in the Dark” (2017)?
Marissa: There is a trans man in the story named Jesse. He struggles with being bullied for appearing too feminine as a boy, and it ends up getting out of hand in multiple ways. He takes matters into his own hands after being encouraged to stand up for himself by the main character (Lucas), and that’s what really kickstarts the story.
I grew up on the counterculture stories and narratives of the 80s and 90s like Pump up the Volume, Empire Records, Heathers, and Daria, and this was sort of my love letter to that particular style. I haven’t felt like it’s been represented in the American mainstream much since September 11th, as at that point, not being part of the crowd was no longer welcomed and dissent was criticized and categorized as un-American. I didn’t feel like there were stories “for me” anymore, so I decided to write one that mirrored the ones I grew up on, for those who didn’t have any real interest in the standard, traditional tropes; either in stories or real life. Not that there’s anything wrong with those; they were just never for me.
Monika: And finally, the most recent book “Passing Cars: The Internal Monologue of a Neurodivergent Trans Girl” (2017) is a compilation of essays reflecting on pivotal moments in your life.
Marissa: It’s not just reflecting on those pivotal moments, but it’s also comparing the thoughts I was having at the time against what they are now. For instance, the struggles I had as a teenager make a lot more sense when viewed through the lens of trying to discover my gender identity and being untreated for autism, but I didn’t know that at the time, so it came out as being rebellious and unwilling to cooperate with others.
I also had a great variety of contributing writers talk about some of their own pivotal moments, thus giving various different perspectives to this idea. The chapters/pieces are arranged according to the five stages of grief, and that was a suggestion/decision made by my publisher, Wyrmwood Publishing. They’ve worked with me in some capacity for all the five of my books I’ve published since coming out, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Marissa: A lot of what I do when it comes to putting myself out there is trying to answer a lot of the initial questions that cis people tend to have so that other trans people don’t have to. Sometimes a lack of empathy is seen in reactions; especially when someone may think they’re just asking a question, but in reality, it might be the ninth time I’ve answered that question that day.
I’m six feet tall with purple hair, so I draw a lot of attention. But that’s what made me come out by screaming in the face of a hate preacher in the first place: I can handle it. If I can draw the fire away from those who don’t have the support structure or relative stability that I am privileged enough to have, I feel like I’m helping by adding a positive voice out there in the mainstream. The biggest thing we can do is normalize it in the eyes of as many as possible so that the younger generation of trans kids don’t have to face some of the difficulties we had to, the same as previous generations have done for us.

In Santa Monica, CA.
Photo credit: Kayla Hunt Currivan.

Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process?
Marissa: I’ve always been a woman, but most people didn’t know that. In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense. I always related to women better; I never really hung out with a lot of boys, nor did I have any interest in doing so. I wore makeup, wanted to be one of the girls, and was always particularly feminine and attracted to feminine energy.
It was difficult in the sense that I tried multiple times before the time that became successful. In 2014, when I was 29, I was coming out and flourishing until I was sexually assaulted twice a week, and that made me go into hiding for almost two years. It was the Pulse shooting in Orlando that became the impetus for my coming out.
When I saw that the second name on the list of victims was McCool, I had the realization that if I had been in that building, 98 percent of the people in my life would not remember the person I truly was, but only a false persona I presented to protect myself. Within a month, I was officially on hormones, but I stealthed it for a while. I was scared to be completely public until I had an epiphany when a bully preacher was on campus blaming the suicide problem we’d had there on acceptance of LGBTQ people, and I responded by standing up to him and coming out publicly on video. That was less than a month before I started writing The PC Lie, came out on my podcast, and became an activist. Not a lot of time transpired between my public coming out and stepping into the public eye, but I do not regret the decision.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Marissa: My friend Asa, a trans man, ran a blog and did a lot of work bringing trans visibility to my local area. Laura Jane Grace of the band Against Me! wrote songs that I didn’t quite understand until I started living fully as a trans girl. While I didn’t relate to her story as much, Janet Mock is someone I really admire and follow closely.
It would also be impossible to talk about trans role models without mentioning Callie Wright. Callie is another trans woman podcaster (The Gaytheist Manifesto) and was responsible for the first public appearance I made as my true self in November 2016. Since then, we’ve worked together many times, became really close friends, and co-founded a nonprofit/media network designed to help raise visibility for trans podcasters called the Trans Podcaster Visibility Initiative. We have 12 members and are currently running a fundraiser to help a local trans family send their child to a better school. Callie was the first person in the podcasting community that I didn’t already know who I came out to privately, and she is one of the most special people in the world to me.

Available via Amazon.

Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Marissa: Still Callie Wright, and of course Janet Mock and Laura Jane Grace. To add to that though, I’ve met so many trans women that I admire, love, respect, and learn from all the time, and I continue to do so as I travel to meet so many others. Andrea Jenkins got elected to public office as an open trans POC here in the Twin Cities, and that’s near the top of my admiration list for sure. Melina Barratt, Chloe Goldbach, Maddy Love, and so many others have made such a difference in my life for the better that I feel I’d never run out of names if I tried to think of all of them.


All the photos: courtesy of Marissa Alexa McCool.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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