Tuesday 31 August 2021

Interview with Mira Eskelinen

Monika: Today I am going to interview Mira Eskelinen, also known as Miss Vinyl Envy, a Finnish writer, actress, producer, performer, and queer trans woman. Hello Mira!
Mira: Hello Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Mira: Sure. :) I'm 31 years old, and I live in Helsinki with my 8-year-old cat Minttu. I've spent the last months recovering from the gender confirmation surgery I had at the beginning of last December, and I'm slowly getting better and feeling very happy with the results (and two days ago I had my first post-op orgasm!). I'm currently working on a video series about trans issues and writing my first book.
Monika: I always find it strange that the topic of our having sex is taboo. For some reason, transwomen are not supposed to talk about it, though we have the same needs as ciswomen.
Mira: I hate the idea that we're not supposed to talk about our pleasure and our sex lives. Sex as a trans woman can be so incredibly good, but we never hear about it. And why would we? Trans women have for so long been portrayed as sexual predators or fetishized objects, so it can be very scary to talk openly about one's sexuality as a trans woman, especially in the current anti-trans and TERF-filled climate. We're not expected to have any agency of our own (except when portrayed as aforementioned sexual predators), so when we openly talk about our pleasure, it can be very threatening to people who want to exclude us and/or benefit from our silence.

"Trans women have for so long been portrayed as
sexual predators or fetishized objects, so it can be
very scary to talk openly about one's sexuality
as a trans woman."

When I started transitioning, I feared that my whole sex life was going to be in ruins, that no one would ever want me or desire me. I had internalized so much transphobia and transmisogyny that I had a hard time believing that I could be desirable. I wish I had heard more stories about trans women thriving and having fulfilling sex lives, so maybe it would have been easier to imagine the same thing for myself. These days, sex feels so much better, and in hindsight, it's pretty clear to me why: when you're more in tune with yourself and your body, and you are having sex as your true self, with someone who sees you as you are, it is an incredible experience.
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?
Mira: I have been incredibly lucky. Pretty much all my close friends and family members have been supportive and accepting. These days, most of my loved ones are trans and/or queer themselves. Same with my job: I was already working with a bunch of queer and trans artists, so my transness was seen as something to be celebrated instead of shunned. I and my girlfriend of six years did break up about 1,5 years after I had come out (she’s straight), but we’ve remained close friends.
For me, the higher price would have come from not coming out and transitioning. I understand it’s a very lucky and privileged position to be in, but for me, transness has been first and foremost a gift, and it has brought so many incredible and beautiful things and encounters and people into my life. It was tremendously scary as well, especially in the beginning, since it was such a big unknown thing, and positive stories of trans people and transitioning were still very few and far between.

"I've always struggled to pin it down since I've
moved between work roles and mediums and
art forms so much."

Monika: Were your parents surprised by your transition? Did they accept it?
Mira: My mom has been very accepting and supportive. I think she always thought that I might be gay or bi, but as far as I know that transness never crossed her mind. She has many gay male friends, so queerness is not a foreign thing for her, and I think that affected how she raised me a lot. When I was a kid, my mom never wanted to put labels on me on my behalf, and instead she just always said that one day I would make some girl or boy very happy (turns out she was partly wrong – both my partners are non-binary). She never criticized me for doing ”girly” things, in fact, she actively embraced and supported all my explorations, whether it meant painting my nails blue in 4th grade, dressing up in all my grandmother’s jewelry, or growing my hair long.
My mom’s biggest concern when I came out to her was whether I had had to keep things secret and suffered because of it. She’s just been so amazing about everything. Of course, it took a little while for her to remember my new name, but that was all. My dad passed away when I was six, so I don’t know how he would have reacted, but the rest of my family has been lovely and loving as well.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Mira: Yes, very much so. My favorite effects have been the ability to cry again after 15 almost completely tear-free years, the subtle changes in my body and face that make me look so much more like myself, and how much better my sex life has become.
Before HRT, sex and getting turned on felt like this very strong compulsion that demanded an immediate release. I disassociated during most of my sexual encounters. With HRT, the compulsory feeling retreated, and I was able to actually explore my body and how different things and touches felt in a completely new way. I was afraid that HRT was going to take my sex drive away, but it has done quite the opposite because being able to have sex as myself with people who see me as I am is the sexiest thing ever.

"my work, both as an artist and producer, has included
podcasts, stand-up comedy, essays, drag performances,
rap, short videos, monologues, and queer variety
shows, to name a few."

Monika: Mira is a nice name. How did you choose it?
Mira: Thank you! When I started to look for a new name, I first just spent time going through baby name lists on the internet, but I was overwhelmed by the possibilities. Then one day I realized that I want a name that is somehow related to the ocean. I've always loved the ocean, and I see a lot of myself in the ocean: it's powerful, untamable, magical, ever-changing, and there's always more to discover and explore.
There's a Finnish name Meri which directly translates to the ocean, but I did not want that as my name since I already knew people with that name, and I didn't want a name that already had a personality attached to it in my head if that makes sense. But it helped me narrow down my name search, and through that, I found Mira, which means the ocean in the Sanskrit language. It also has beautiful meanings in other languages: it can mean either wonderful, peace, kindness, or princess, all of which I can relate to. But most importantly, it felt like me. 
Monika: You seem to be a woman of many talents. Do you regard yourself more as an actress or film producer?
Mira: I've always struggled to pin it down since I've moved between work roles and mediums and art forms so much. I like to think I go story first, and the story which I want to tell – or which I want to enable someone else to tell – defines the medium that's best for that particular story.
So that's why my work, both as an artist and producer, has included podcasts, stand-up comedy, essays, drag performances, rap, short videos, monologues, and queer variety shows, to name a few. In the last couple of years, I've moved from focusing on producing events to performing. And in the last year, I focused more on writing – partly due to Covid-19 making it impossible to create live events and performances.

"As a producer, I am immensely proud of Punch Up!
– Resistance & Glitter, a queer variety show that I
produce with queer comedians James Lórien
MacDonald and Juuso Kekkonen."

Monika: Which of your artistic initiatives do you regard as most successful?
Mira: Can I say three? :D I'll say three. As a producer, I am immensely proud of Punch Up! – Resistance & Glitter, a queer variety show that I produce with queer comedians James Lórien MacDonald and Juuso Kekkonen. It's a show that brings together queer drag, burlesque, stand-up comedy, rap, and spoken word artists.
We started it in early 2018 when Mad House Helsinki gave us two nights at their venue to do a show. We thought that it would be great to have all these incredible queer artists we knew perform under the same roof, since before that there hadn't been that much overlap between the aforementioned art forms and their audiences in Finland.
In the past three years Punch Up! has developed into this amazing show where queers, misfits, outcasts, and other rebellious souls can come together to tell, hear, and share stories through performance, and I can't wait for the Covid-19 lockdowns to end so we can continue touring with our show around Finland and hopefully abroad one day.

Miss Vinyl Envy - My Song (Trans Girl Rap).
Available via Vimeo.

As a writer, my favorite piece so far has been my essay "The Magic of Queer Sex". I wrote it in 2019 for Mustekala online publication and translated it into English in 2020. It was scary to write so openly about my life and experiences as a queer trans woman seeking pleasure and having sex, but it was so worth it. The feedback I received from it encouraged me to seek more writing opportunities and develop my skills further, and right now I'm working on my debut book that will hopefully be released in late 2022. 
And finally, as a performer, the most nerve-wracking but also one of the most rewarding and fun acts I've ever done was my rap song called, aptly, "My Song". Performing a rap act had been my dream for ages, and in early 2018, after being inspired by the documentary film Silvana about Swedish queer rapper Silvana Imam, I made a public Facebook promise to perform a drag rap song during that year. Being the procrastinator I am, it took me until mid-December to do it. I'd love to record a proper version of the song one day, but we'll see how long that'll take.
Monika: How do you choose topics or themes for your artistic projects?
Mira: I try to follow the feeling of joy: what feels joyful to work on? This does not mean that the projects themselves are always joyful or deal with happy themes, but that working on them – and with the people in the given project – brings me joy. Usually, the things that bring me joy also feed my curiosity and vice versa. This is why I've never settled on one artform or scene or overarching theme, instead of bouncing back and forth between whatever happens to tickle my fancy at any given moment.

"I often deal with transness in my work, and I love
to connect with other trans artists, and experience
and listen and watch and read their work."

Monika: Did the transition change you as an artist?
Mira: I feel like it gave me so much. It freed me, and gave me direction and purpose, and also a lot of material to work with. On top of that, understanding and accepting my own transness led me to discover the vast and magical world of other trans artists and trans art. 
The community of artists and creators I've been lucky to become a part of has affected and inspired my art. I often deal with transness in my work, and I love to connect with other trans artists, and experience and listen and watch and read their work. Not only because they deal with transness in their art, but also because the art they make is simply beyond incredible.
Monika: Mira, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Mira: Thanks for having me, Monika!

All the photos: courtesy of Mira Eskelinen.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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