Wednesday 31 March 2021

Interview with Adriana Roberts

Monika: Today I am going to interview Adriana Roberts, an American performer, DJ, event producer, and model. She is the founder and Queen Mother of Bootie Mashup, a nightlife and music brand dedicated to the art form of the pop mashup, producing theme parties and live streams. Hello Adriana!
Adriana: Hello Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Adriana: Sassy, smart, and sexy. There, that’s a few.
Monika: Adriana is a nice name. Why did you choose it?
Adriana: How do you know I wasn’t born with it? Actually, the name is a variation of a character’s name from the 1981 cult film “Liquid Sky.” 
Monika: I always wanted to have dreadlocks like you. How long have you been wearing them?
Adriana: After Burning Man 2003, my hair was already dreading, from all the dust storms that year out in the desert. Rather than deal with untangling it, my stylist suggested I just go all the way with it (but with better salon care, of course). And the rest is history. I’ve had dreadlocks ever since.
Monika: I am not sure whether all readers are acquainted with Burning Man. I know that it is an event held annually in the western United States at Black Rock City, Nevada, and it is a kind of experiment in community and art, influenced by radical inclusion, self-reliance, and self-expression. What did you experience there?
Adriana: Basically, it’s like building a pretend city out in the desert. At its core, it’s survivalist desert camping pretending to be an arts festival. I publish a newspaper out there every year, in addition to DJing Bootie Mashup parties at various theme camps.

"Bootie Mashup is a nightclub party and online music site."

Monika: How would you define Bootie Mashup? It is a radio channel and event platform, isn't it? What inspired you to launch it?
Adriana: Bootie Mashup is a nightclub party and online music site. In the Before Times, we produced regular mashup parties in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and many other cities. We now also have a Twitch channel where, even with events shut down due to Covid-19, we are still able to do DJ sets and host theme parties. In addition to that, we have a 24/7 internet radio station, a Patreon page, and we post mashups and mixtapes to our website on a regular basis.
Monika: How do you come up with your mashups? Is it like you think of some artists that have something in common, and then you try to mix it up?
Adriana: It depends. Sometimes there’s a song I just want to mash up so I can DJ it at our parties, and other times I just hear two songs fitting well together in my head.
Monika: In addition, you are a performer and DJ. What kind of events and performances do you usually produce?
Adriana: I DJ at the Bootie Mashup parties, of course, but I’m also the singer in the world’s first live mashup rock band, Smash-Up Derby. I also do burlesque, often with live vocals. 
Monika: Did the transition change you as an artist and your perception of the world? 
Adriana: About the only thing it did was push me into trying out burlesque! Such a cliché — “oh, I’ve got boobs now, let’s do burlesque!” LOL. But overall, not really. I was pretty much already “socially transitioned” when I started performing back in the ‘90s. I was ALWAYS femme on stage. Starting medical transition five years ago was just an “add-on” to where I’d already mentally been for years.

"I came up in the drag scene, and
burlesque is often not that
far removed."

Monika: I think in recent years, there has been a revival of burlesque, and Dita Von Teese and Julie Atlas Muz have almost an iconic status. What is so intriguing about burlesque shows? Power of femininity and beauty? Jokes? Which elements do you highlight in your shows?
Adriana: I came up in the drag scene, and burlesque is often not that far removed. But instead of lip-syncing, the thing that defines burlesque is taking your clothes off. There’s an inherent limitation to the framework of the art form -- the same as mashup production, actually. But that defined limitation actually creates endless opportunities for creativity: How do you manage to do this ONE THING but make it as interesting as possible, to tell a little story, or excite the audience.
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, we lose our families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Adriana: I wouldn’t say “we all” and I’ve paid more (literally) for life-changing events in my life, such as a divorce, a lawsuit, and buying out my business partner (and that was all within a 3-year time span!). The medical transition was a walk in the park compared to all that! 
I’m probably not the right person to ask this question, because my life didn’t follow the traditional, stereotypical "transgender narrative.” I had a very slow, slippery, 20-year transition — I mean, I had been presenting “androgynous femme” since my early ‘20s and, for all intents and purposes, identified as non-binary, before we even HAD the word. I didn’t really lose anyone or anything because it was all so gradual. If anything, it was harder to exist in the in-between space for so long, because it was much harder to explain!
The hardest thing was dealing with my long term partner who played into my subconscious internalized transphobia, who tried to convince me that she would be the only woman who would ever love me, but ONLY if I didn’t transition fully — that women were only attracted to androgyny, but if I crossed the line into “transgender,” the only people who would want to be with me would be creepy old guys. She really could simply NOT be more wrong, but she manipulated and gaslighted me in order to maintain some sort of abusive control in the relationship. It took a while to de-program 15 years of that.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Adriana: I mean, if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be on it. This is actually my second time on HRT, the first time being in 1999/2000 when they prescribed Premarin instead of Estradiol. That didn’t go so well, with wild mood swings, crying jags, feeling crazy — and instead of adjusting the dosage, they took the “one size fits all” approach, and when I said it wasn’t quite feeling right, the so-called medical professionals (and other trans women in my group therapy) said something like, “Well, guess you’re not really trans!”
Again, things have changed a lot in 20 years. Now, I get to call the shots and working with my doctor, I can adjust my dosage so I feel right. For instance, I don’t take spironolactone, which I don’t really like, but instead take dutasteride, a different kind of anti-androgen. But every BODY is different, so what works for one might not work for someone else. But back then, that’s not how transgender medicine worked.

"It’s funny, it took me a LONG time to “not give a fuck.”"

Monika: We are said to be prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome. Although cosmetic surgeries help to overcome it, we will always be judged accordingly. How can we cope with this?
Adriana: It’s funny, it took me a LONG time to “not give a fuck.” Changes in society and more knowledge and acceptance of trans people help. That said, even with all my surgeries and general “passability,” I still walk through life assuming that everyone clocks me as trans, but are then “just being polite” when they use the correct pronouns. Force of habit, I suppose. The only time I’m shocked that I’m passing is when I get gendered correctly on the phone because there are no visual cues.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Adriana: Author Kate Bornstein was, and still is, a transgender warrior, fighting the good fight back in the ‘90s. Nowadays, it’s YouTubers like Natalie Wynn aka Contrapoints, although I wouldn’t exactly call her a “role model” — more like a "kindred spirit” who I seem to share more than a few similarities with.
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Adriana: Not really! I remember reading about transgender people long before I encountered one on TV or in real life. I can’t remember who I would’ve seen first on television — maybe Caroline Cossey aka Tula in the James Bond film, "For Your Eyes Only.” Although I’m not sure if I knew she was trans at the time!
As far as meeting someone trans, that likely would have been at a club in San Francisco, but I met so many in such a short period of time when I first moved to the city, there’s no way I can remember who was first. Maybe Justin Vivian Bond? Although she and I have had similar long, slippery transgender trajectories, I’m not sure either one of us knew at the time where we were both headed!

"Changes in society and more knowledge
and acceptance of trans people help."

Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Adriana: Wait, what is the “situation?” The United States is a big country, and laws regarding the rights of transgender people often vary from state to state.
I’m a California girl though, and overall, I’d say we have it pretty good here. We even allow having a non-binary “X” as a gender marker on one’s driver's license or state ID card (which is what I have on mine).
Monika: It sounds like a great place for transgender people! You spent some time in Germany. Did you manage to organize any artistic events there?
Adriana: My partner is based in Berlin, so I live there as well. Pre-Covid, I DJed parties and performed at burlesque and drag shows there. There’s a reason Berlin has such a great reputation as the nightlife capital of Europe.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Adriana: I love fashion! Although my personal taste for what I like to wear tends to be more narrow than what I appreciate seeing on other people. I’m mostly talking about color, actually! I’m a bit of a goth at heart, so most of my clothes tend to be all black!
Daywear is usually simple black dresses, while my clubbing outfits and stage outfits are much more adventurous. I love fashion tights with patterns and hot pants, which is usually my nightlife go-to, paired with a skimpy top and a stylish shoulder shrug. My clothes tend to have lots of black straps and angles. And the two items that I can’t live without are my Victoria’s Secret Add-2-Cups push-up bra, and my Doc Marten’s stiletto boots (yes, they actually made a high-heel stiletto, and they are the most comfortable high heels I’ve ever worn).
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Adriana: Not really. I know what I like, and what looks good on me, so unless I’m doing something special for a show or theme party, I usually stick with liquid cat-eye eyeliner, dark smoky eyeshadow, and burgundy red lipstick (all MAC Cosmetics, incidentally). 
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Adriana: LOL, duh! Have you SEEN all the thirst traps on my Instagram page?
Monika: Haha! Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Adriana: The last time I had a job interview was in 1995. I was definitely a femboy back then, although that term didn’t really exist at the time. I’ve been my own boss since the early ‘00s, running my own company.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Adriana: Um… as someone who hasn’t really looked for employment since the mid-‘90s, I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer this question. I guess just be so good at what you do that they can’t NOT hire you!
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Adriana: Yes, but I’ll admit I was more involved when I was the art director for 13 years of the oldest LGBT newspaper in the country, the Bay Area Reporter.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Adriana: Pretty damn important, apparently! I madly fell in love with my partner, Jupiter, who lived on the other side of the world from me, amidst a slew of other logistical issues, including the fact that I was trapped in an abusive relationship. Somehow, eight years later, we are together, stronger than ever, as I just moved from San Francisco to Berlin so we could be together during the pandemic.

"I love fashion tights with patterns and hot pants,
which is usually my nightlife go-to."

Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Adriana: I’m already kinda working on it: “Trans Girl, Interrupted." Or "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Becoming a Non-Binary Icon.” I’ve had a very long, 20-year transition story that definitely doesn’t follow the traditional “I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body” narrative. I’m so busy with other projects though, so who knows if I’ll ever complete it.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Adriana: Um, I’m assuming you’re asking about transition stuff, and not, say, general life stuff, right? As far as I’m concerned, my transition is done. I mean, I still need to continue doing electrolysis, which seriously seems never-ending, and I like to keep myself well-maintained with aesthetic treatments like Botox and such. As far as where I see myself in 5-7 years? I don’t know, more famous, maybe? LOL. I probably need to be more on YouTube or TikTok then!
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Adriana: Don’t. Be. Afraid. Easier said than done, I suppose, but immersing yourself in other transition stories certainly helps you feel less alone. Watch every YouTube video, read every book and blog, follow every trans woman you can find on social media. Knowing there are so many of us out there certainly helps.
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 transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Adriana: That’s an interesting way to say “there’s more to your life than transitioning.” It certainly will FEEL all-consuming for a while, especially for the first few years. But after a while, as you get used to living as your true gender, you think about it less. It’s just a part of you, but shouldn't be the entirety of your being. Live your life, be free — but don’t let transitioning (or not transitioning) stop you from doing other things in life.
Monika: Adriana, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Adriana: Thank you! I hope my answers can help others out there! :-)

All the photos: courtesy of Adriana Roberts.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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