Saturday 18 September 2021

Interview with Iden Crockett

Monika: Today I have the pleasure and honor of interviewing Iden Crockett, an American trans female artist working in collage, pencil, and ink, and a former firefighter. Hello Iden!
Iden: Hello! I am so excited to do this. It is an absolute pleasure to speak with you.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Iden: Well, I am a forty-two-year-old bi-racial trans-female artist and writer. I work in pencil and ink but what I really do is make collages. Most of my drawing is in service of my collage work and I incorporate all of what do, the drawing, the poetry, into those pieces. I have three wonderful children and one amazing (A M A Z I N G!) wife, and we all live here in the U.S. in a small town called Yellow Springs.
Monika: How would you define your art?
Iden: Confessional. I was recently asked to write an artist's bio and I believe that I used the phrase "deeply personal." I came to art as a way of working through the difficulties I was experiencing with my mental health. I believe strongly that by being as open and candid as I can be about my own struggles, I can not only heal myself but also empower others to leave behind their secret shames as well.
All of us need to be free to be ourselves, fully ourselves, and that means not being afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed by who we are or where we have been. I vowed to myself the day I began my transition that I would never be ashamed or act from fear again. I meant it.

“Escape in the rain through the midnight
moon garden” by Iden Crockett

Monika: When did you discover that art will be your vocation?
Iden: You won't believe me but, it was only in late June of this year that I decided to be creative as a profession. In a previous life, I worked as a paramedic/firefighter and, during the course of that, had developed a not insignificant case of post-traumatic stress disorder. This was in addition to the problems caused by my dysphoria and not understanding fully who I was. It was a very dark time for me and I felt that I didn't have the words to express where in my mind I was. I couldn't explain it to others and I couldn't understand it myself. 
So, one day, I just picked up a pencil and began to draw and I knew that that was going to be the way forward for me. The problem was that I didn't know how to draw and I wasn't good enough at the time to express myself in that way. Collage was something that I had done for fun in college, but not since, and I didn't need to develop the physical skill of drawing to do it. So I began to make small collages and, over time, as I became more confident with my drawing I began to add my original pieces to the mix. I sought professional help through therapy and worked my ass off to begin my recovery. Then I came out as being trans. Being a transwoman in a fire department, where I was already a minority of one because of my race, proved to be pretty much impossible.
Monika: When did you come out?
Iden: I had come out to everyone in my life by August 2020. By March 2020, I had been falsely accused of a number of things at work. My career ended when it was alleged that I had attempted to strangle one of our ambulance patients. This was not true but it was my word against my crew's. They wanted me gone and that is what happened. I was forced to resign in June of 2021.
The cruelest part of the whole thing was that it was all unnecessary. I had already decided to leave. The stress of the job and the environment was proving to be too much for me and I didn't want to relapse back into the darkness I had just clawed my way out of. If any of the people there had just spoken to me like a person then I would have told them that and I would not have had to suffer the indignities and the dishonor that I did.
So there I was, I was devastated and heartbroken, and I didn't know what to do. I knew that I needed to move beyond this injury and begin to heal. And I knew that I couldn't do that by sitting at home all day hating and cursing. I decided to see it as an opportunity to move more into the fearless self that I had discovered when I began transition. So, now I am an artist.

"When I was just making art for myself, it was a
process very similar to dream interpretation."

Monika: Your art seems to focus on women. Almost all your art pieces show different hues and aspects of womanhood. Is it intentional?
Iden: You're so right! I do use women and imagery that could be interpreted as female (I am particularly fond of the moon). The answer to whether or not it is intentional is sort of. What I love about collage is the way I am able to get out of my own way and really let my subconscious drive the piece. When I begin a new picture I have no idea what it will end up as. I know that the form, flow, etc. will be guided by the shape of the base material (I use mostly found wood and scrap paper as my foundations) but the actual content I don't know. I sort through my materials until something grabs my interest and build from there.
When I was just making art for myself, it was a process very similar to dream interpretation. I began to notice images that were recurring. Women being an early and obvious one that jumped out at me. I did not realize that I was transgender until last year and it is humorous to me now, in hindsight, how I missed such an obvious message from within me. I thought it was just that I really liked women and the female form.
Then I thought maybe I had a statement to make about the patriarchy, female objectification, and the part I had played in that as a man. Those were and are still true statements, but I tried to put men into the works and it never felt right. Now I know that was because these pieces are autobiographical and I am not a man so the characters representing me need to be female. 
Monika: You also write poems. Where do you draw your inspirations from?
Iden: My poetry seems to come from a place of deep frustration and I only write them when I am upset. My moods sometimes vary widely. I have good days and bad, up days and down. When I am very anxious or distressed poems flow out of me one after another. I wake up in the middle of the night with them in my head. I have pulled my car over to write before because they come and go rapidly and I will lose a poem almost as soon as I have thought of it because another will come crashing into it. Then there are days when I get nothing or, if I do write, it comes after great effort. With everything I try to be very intuitive with the process and not force it. Some days it's poetry, some days pencil sketching, some times prose. The goal is to create every day in a way that feels natural and honest.

24x10 mixed media on wood by Iden Crockett.

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?
Iden: Once I realized that I was trans and that I could transition, then I knew I had to do that and that I couldn't waste any more of my life being unhappy. Coming out felt so necessary to me that it wasn't that difficult to tell people who I was. I was proud to tell them. My transition has been the most rewarding journey that I have ever embarked on. I have never felt happier or more whole. But, yes it has come at a price. My career ended the day I came out. Without question, my transition cost me my career. Most of the people that I hung out with regularly were paramedics and firefighters. I don't talk to any of them anymore. So, in that way, it cost me many friends.
As someone transitioning male to female, I gave up quite a bit of privilege that I enjoyed when I walked the Earth as a man. But, I think, a more accurate way to look at transition isn't in terms of what I lost. Rather, I think of the illusions that have been revealed. Those people who I thought were friends were not. Their friendship was an illusion. My privilege only came because I was presenting the illusion of man. Life after coming out is all about truth. I speak my truth, I present my real self every day. Now I know that if someone loves Iden, then they love me for the real me, all of the real me.
Monika: Were your parents and family surprised by your transition? Did they accept it easily?
Iden: Most everyone in my family and within my community has been wonderful to me. I'm not sure about my parents. My father has Parkinson's disease and lives in an extended care facility. I am not very close to my mother anymore. So it is hard to tell how much they actually understand what being transgender means. I think that my mom just thinks that I'm gay and I don't know if my dad even knows my new name. I don't believe most people were very surprised. I had always gravitated towards the feminine and female spaces. Most people sort of went "Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense."
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Iden: I love my hormones. Do I wish I could change more and faster? Of course. But I have seen some amazing changes. I am thirteen months now on HRT and I wouldn't trade my pills for anything!

"My transition has been the most rewarding
journey that I have ever embarked on."

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?
Iden: Oh the pain of the passing non-passing dilemma! I am in several online trans support groups and(I'm sure you know this too) that is a constant. Everybody wants to pass. Everyone is worried that they will never pass. I get it. I was there too. When I began to transition I was a five-foot ten-inch bald-headed fireman. I weighed 220 pounds and I was jacked. I wanted to pass so badly and I was nowhere near it. It was stressful and when I was misgendered it made me feel like a failure.
Then I realized that I had been looking at this all wrong. I am bi-racial but I'm dark enough that I am never assumed to be white, even though I am white just as much as I am black. My sister is much fairer and has the opposite problem. She passes as white. But that isn't her. It isn't her full self. She passes as something she isn't. That is what passing means. If a trans-person "passes" they are passing as cis-gendered and they are not. I was already passing as cis. Everyone thought that I was a cis man. I chose to transition because I am not cis. When people saw me that way I knew they weren't seeing me.
The whole point of my transition has been to free myself from other people's expectations. I promised myself, on day one, that I would never hide again in any way. When people look at me I don't want them to see a cis woman. I don't want them to see a trans-woman. I want them to see Iden. I want to be seen as myself first before I am slotted into a demographic. That is a harder path, but I believe it to be more rewarding. I dress in a way that makes ME feel good. I use the voice that sounds right to ME and I pursue the things that interest and improve ME.


All the photos: courtesy of Iden Crockett.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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