Thursday, 24 February 2022

Interview with Ian Thomas Malone


Monika: Today I have invited a very special guest. Ian Thomas Malone is an author, comedian, and podcast host from Long Beach, California. Her treatise The Transgender Manifesto is a bestseller in LGBTQ non-fiction and she has contributed chapters to academic books on James Cameron and Star Trek: Voyager. Ian’s debut comedy album, Confessions From My New Vagina, was released in 2021. She is also known for hosting the Estradiol Illusions podcast, covering entertainment and LGBTQ issues. Hello Ian, thank you so much for accepting my invitation!
Ian: Thank you so much for having me and for interviewing so many fascinating members of our community.
Monika: For my blog, I have conducted over 600 interviews with transgender women and I always find it striking that so many of us are stand-up comics and comedians. Is it striking for you as well?
Ian: Definitely. I think humor is a valuable asset for transition. I often see people in the media say that trans people are too sensitive or “snowflakes” and I think that’s so ridiculous. Having a thick skin is pretty much a pre-requisite for transition.
Monika: Do you often tell transgender jokes?
Ian: Humor helps me convey the trans experience to the broader public, whether it’s someone engaging with my comedy or simply someone I meet in the grocery store. I hear so often that people don’t really “understand” what it means to be transgender, but there are plenty of resources out there for one to learn. Understanding is mostly a question of wanting to actually engage with trans content, with comedy being a good gateway. To paraphrase from Mary Poppins, comedy is a great spoonful of sugar that helps open people’s eyes to our humanity as trans people.
I also get tired of seeing the same couple of jokes from cis male comedians that have been around for decades, fundamentally rooted in misinformation. For example, cis comedians often joke that trans women cut our dicks off, which is a completely inaccurate description of the actual surgery. I’d like for jokes to be anatomically correct! The real day-to-day life of being trans has plenty of humor without needing to peddle stereotypes.

Available via apple.com and spotify.com.

Monika: Your 2021 debut comedy album, Confessions From My New Vagina, consists of 22 parts, and I think that we could use them to structure our today's chat. The first part is called "Intro". Let me use it to ask you about your teenage years. Did you spend them in California? 
Ian: I grew up on the east coast of the US, in Greenwich, Connecticut, which is about 40 minutes outside New York City. I moved to California for grad school in 2015 and transitioned shortly after. I’ll always have a special place for the east coast in my heart, but California is very much home now.
Monika: Part number 2 is about SURGERY. You placed it at the very start of your list. When I think about my surgery, I would tend to place it at the very end as a grand finale.
Ian: I definitely think of surgery as the grand finale of my transition as well. For the purposes of the album, it made sense to start with the surgery, as the show is titled “Confessions From My New Vagina” and several of the tracks build off the surgery itself. I didn’t want the whole show to center around surgery or transition, so I thought it was a good idea to tackle that first so that the audience wouldn’t spend the rest of the show waiting for it.
Monika: In the third part, you focused on DILATION. Not my favorite activity, to be honest...
Ian: Nope! Hard to explain to cis people too, because they think it sounds fun with the lube and the dildo-like device.
Monika: Part number 4 - J.K. Rowling. Is it about transphobia and TERF-ism? Why do some ciswomen dislike us so much?
Ian: I get asked about J.K. Rowling pretty frequently, usually by cis people wondering what it is about her comments that is transphobic. She published a very, very long article about her views that seemingly no one read from start to finish. This particular track unpacks a tweet of hers that I found pretty offensive in her wording.
As for broader TERFs, I generally decline to talk about them. I think they’re boring and irrelevant, spouting nonsense into a dwindling echo chamber. I encourage trans people to ignore them. J.K. Rowling is the world’s most famous transphobe though, so it’s a little harder to want to ignore her.
"Humor helps me convey the trans
experience to the broader public."
Monika: The next one is titled Bathroom Stall Bins. The fight for the right to use ladies' restrooms is still raging everywhere in the world. What is the view of the comedian on this fight?
Ian: My 2017 book The Transgender Manifesto talked a lot about the bathroom fight, which is largely settled here in the U.S. For the rest of the world, I’d say that there is no data anywhere that supports the idea that trans people transform public toilets into doomsday dystopias.
It’s sad that some countries are still pursuing these hateful laws. What always made me laugh the most about this topic is that ladies’ restrooms are pretty exclusively single-stall spaces, as opposed to men’s that have open urinals. Ladies’ room is hardly a great place to go to get a peek of anything.
Monika: MEN. That is a tough one. I am not successful in this department...
Ian: Well, the world doesn’t make it easy. Plenty of men are attracted to trans women, but they’re often taught to be ashamed of those feelings or told that they’re gay if they date trans women. Dating in general is tough enough for trans people without all the social stigmatization factored in.
Monika: The seventh part is about an allegedly taboo topic - SEXUALITY. For some reason, we are not supposed to talk about it, though we have the same needs as ciswomen.
Ian: Nonsense like “autogynephilia” certainly sets a trap in that regard. People will attack you no matter who you’re attracted to. My heart goes out to anyone dating right now, especially in a pandemic.
Monika: BEING STERILE. Does it bother you? For me, it was a gradual process of self-realization that I had to choose between being a woman and being sterile. However, the fact that I will never be able to give birth is not easy to accept either.
Ian: I banked some sperm before I started HRT, which I talk about in the special. It doesn’t bother me, though I suppose that might be different down the road if something happened to my remaining sperm. My partner, a cis woman, and I often joke about how she wishes I could be the one to carry a future baby because she doesn’t want to. I don’t either! I know pregnancy is supposed to be rewarding and all, but I don’t personally know many women who enjoyed it.
Monika: PUBIC SCENTS. Haha, you caught me here. Is it a metaphor?
Ian: This one is an extension of a podcast episode I did a while back called “The Scent of a Woman” where I talk about the moment when I first realized that my body odor had changed after hormones, even without any surgery at the time. Basically, I smelled like a sweaty woman just after sex, if any of your readers are familiar with that particular odor. I’ve found that cis people are often fascinated by this story, a subtlety of transition that doesn’t get talked about.
Monika: The next one is something that we cannot always get even if we start hormone replacement therapy at a young age - TUSHIE ENLARGEMENT, though some of us may wish to undergo Brazilian butt surgery instead. I have a feeling that sometimes we want to be more feminine than most ciswomen.
Ian: For me, the growth of my butt was probably the first noticeable change of my transition. I got lucky I guess. One time maybe 10 months or so after I started HRT I was walking down the street and a guy yelled out the window “damn that ass is fine” at me. No one really likes to be catcalled, but I can’t say that I didn’t smile a bit at his appreciation.
With her father in San Diego,
Thanksgiving 2021.
Monika: Number 11 - GENITAL HAPPINESS. How to explain to a person that was born with her vagina how happy we are when we get ours?
Ian: That is a great question. As a community, we’ve made great strides to let the world and the media know that it’s not appropriate to constantly ask us about our genitals. But there is a happiness there from affirming surgery that’s really important. Part of why I made the album was to convey the message that my vagina is great and works really well, something the general cis public doesn’t always understand.
Monika: HORMONES. Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Ian: Incredibly. I’d also just say that aside from an injection on my very first day of HRT, I’ve been entirely using oral pills for HRT. I know injections are thought to be the most effective, but for any of your readers thinking about how to go about HRT and are scared of needles, you can get positive results from pills.
Monika: Number 13 touches upon SEX, GENDER, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. What a trinity in unity.
Ian: Oh yes. I come from a very religious family, with multiple priests, deacons, and nuns. My grandfather, a deacon and papal knight, is one of the staunchest LGBTQ allies I know. I think most of us wish the Church would stay out of matters pertaining to sexuality.
Monika: I like the next one - FASHION PUBERTY. We are exploring what we can wear and how we can look with teenage enthusiasm. Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Ian: You nailed it with that description. That sense of enthusiasm, especially at the beginning with all the exploration is definitely one of the most fun parts of my early transition. Regrettably, I am not into fashion at all. Yoga pants and an old t-shirt with no bra is my defacto look. I rarely wear makeup, even in formal settings. My sister picks out most of my makeup. But that’s also part of the beauty of transition. Sometimes you experiment with all sorts of styles, only to realize that you have no style at all!
Monika: Number 15 - LGBTQ INFIGHTING. This one is very intriguing. The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being one letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Ian: Yes. Trans people have certain causes that are distinct, but the people usually targeting trans rights are also fighting against gay rights as well. Every single day on Twitter I see threads about beef within the LGBTQ community. I won’t pretend like every single gay person out there is a staunch trans ally, but I think our community is by and large pretty united, as much as a diverse massive coalition of millions of people from every country on the planet could be united.
Monika: THE PROPER PRONUNCIATION OF HOMOSEXUAL?
Ian: Linguistics fun! My grandfather inspired this track. Americans generally mispronounce the word “homosexual” saying it as if it was like “homo sapiens” instead of the Greek word “homos.” I have a Master’s Degree in English Lit and like to bring wordplay into the equation when I can.
Available via Amazon.
Monika: Number 17 - The NEW CISGENDER. Time to change the word 'cisgender'?
Ian: Yes, it’s about coming up with a replacement for the word cisgender.
Monika: CANCEL CULTURE. Are we "canceled" as transgender women?
Ian: I don’t believe in cancel culture. Trans women face large amounts of societal discrimination, something many of us become acutely more aware of as we transition. 
Monika: NOSTALGIA. Are you a nostalgic person?
Ian: I think nostalgia is dangerous comfort food for the mind.
Monika: In MEN'S FASHION you touch upon social constructs of gender...
Ian: Yes. As someone who doesn’t care about fashion, I always find the gendered nature of clothes to be pretty amusing.
Monika: Will we always suffer from BIGOTRY?
Ian: Realistically, yes. It always gets better, but transphobia isn’t going away anytime soon. 
Monika: And the last episode VIOLATIONS. Any special reasons for addressing this topic at the very end of the show?
Ian: It’s a bit about my dining preferences. Yes, I wanted to end on something that didn’t have anything to do with LGBTQ issues after an hour mostly spent on those topics!
Monika: Ian, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Ian: Thank you for having me.

All the photos: courtesy of Ian Thomas Malone.
© 2022 - Monika Kowalska

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