INTERVIEW WITH CHEF / ARTIST BERLIN REED

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(Berlin Reed credit JuLee Lebert, 2012)

Morty: So, lets start by discussing your book tour for your new book, The Ethical Butcher.  How’s it been coming along?

Berlin: Tour was pretty good and full of the fun and wild travel experiences one would expect. This is my 4th year of touring but it was my first experience touring as an author with a book and having a publicist and more support in the logistics of travel like arranging flights, radio spots, bookstore events, etc. The highlights were getting to work with other underground chefs, chefs with vision and confidence and integrity. The same kind of work that I had done by myself before writing the book.  I had a great experience with a dinner in Chicago. That was the highlight of the entire trip. Shout out to Brave New Art World and Tuesday Night Dinner!

Morty: Tell me more about the Chicago dinner.

Berlin: It was a bunch of young chefs doing 4 courses in a collective art/living space called No Sandbox. The Tuesday Night Dinner crew has been doing underground dinners about as long as I have, they’ve just kept their magic in Chicago. They invited me to do a “Cameo Course” and do a book signing, sort of a guest chef thing. I did the main course. They booked a really good local DJ who kept the energy flowing. There were installations by local artists. All local and good food with all kinds of people. The whole thing was 30 bux to attend! It was a lot like the brunches 718 Collective, a  chef collective I co-founded, used to do in Brooklyn last year. It was just good times all around.

My course was a savory french toast thing I called pain perdu a la printemps. It was a duck egg french toast which I make by soaking bread in a savory custard for 8 hours before baking in lemon butter. It was topped with an oven jam made from ramps I foraged with my host chefs, and rode along with a fresh cherry tomato and purslane salad over a chive blossom buttermilk whipped cream. Oh, and the french toast was perched on a bundle of tea-braised ham hocks and salsify that I cooked in 3 stages over 2 days. The whole plate was maybe 5 bites. The other courses were equally beautiful and labor-intensive. People were stoked and I had such an inspiring time with the other chefs.

Morty: For those reading this interview that don’t know a lot about you, what would you say about who you are as a butcher/chef…the essence of it for you?

Berlin: Well basically, I started this food project in 2009 based around my becoming a butcher after 14 years of vegetarianism, which included a nice chunk of intense veganism. A few months after starting the blog, The Ethical Butcher, I started traveling around the country visiting farms and doing dinners with whole animals. Gradually, the events took on a life of their own, as a means for me to express my political views through art. Slowly, my attention shifted away from just meat and butchery to food culture and food justice in general. After a while, only talking about local foods and “sustainability” felt really one-dimensional. My events went from being whole animal farm dinners to community meals that focused on community engagement all the while challenging patriarchy and colonialism through food culture. I’m interested in turning the elitism of cuisine on its ass by creating these conceptual events and menus and charging 10-30 bux. I also bring all of my kitchen work and food thought together through writing. So, along the way, I got a book deal to write about The Ethical Butcher.

Morty: Sounds like it was a very organic process for you. Did the book deal come out of nowhere or were you looking to publish?

Berlin: I just set out on this journey and it came to me. An agent called me one day in early 2010 after she had read about me in some Brooklyn paper asked if I wanted to write a book. I figured, so many writers spend their lives trying to get an agent and I wasn’t even looking for one, I’d be an idiot to pass it by. So, I accepted her representation, and wrote a nonfiction proposal. My agent, Elizabeth Evans from Jean Naggar, a woman-owned and run agency in NYC, shopped it around, and in fall of 2011 I got a deal with Counterpoint Press.

Morty: How long did it take to write the book?

Berlin: Well, I never stopped touring, so it was really hard to work the writing in because I was in near constant motion. I had written a couple of chapters as part of the proposal and I started writing the rest last summer, while I was here in Montreal. I had been trying to settle back in NYC after the busy year of travel but was so busy with 718 Collective and the pace of NYC that I couldn’t write. I was coming up on my deadline, so I came up to Montreal to kick it on the cheap and focus on writing. Only, I didn’t focus on writing, I got really into the food culture. Eventually, I went to hid at a friend’s place in the mountains of Northern California to finish the book. The bulk of the writing happened over just a 2-month period last fall. City life was blocking me. Out there, I was able to be outdoors a lot and write all day.

Morty: So lets discuss the intersection of food justice, art and gender.

Berlin: Sure! My work and life intersect with those discussions quite a bit. I definitely work in a male-dominated patriarchal world that is traditionally based on strict hierarchy. Often the restaurant world and food culture are a crucial stage for classism, racism, sexism and misogyny.  Early on, I knew I had to get out of the restaurant world if I wanted to be happy in the culinary field because I couldn’t get down with those parts of kitchen culture. I stay mindful and purposeful about how being read as male affects how my actions are interpreted by others. The kitchen is a stressful environment and the traditional hierarchy controls that stress in shitty ways. When I’m working in a crew, like, if I’m collaborating or working with volunteers, I try to keep it moving forward and posi as possible. I make sure to work with mostly queers and rad people because I really can’t get down with Boys’ Club bullshit. I love kitchens that don’t have a head chef. 718 Collective was started with 2 other chefs in Brooklyn last year. 1 person did everything front of house, and myself and the other chef, Jesse Gold, a super rad genderqueer musician who had been a sous chef in restaurants for years, ran the service together on equal footing. I have always had my friends, queers and artists, to collaborate with, and keep my outreach to word-of-mouth and social media. Thoughtful food and skilled technique are exciting, but fancy restaurants pretty much bum me out. I really don’t want to run a business, I’m here to have fun and make art that has a lot of politic behind it. I don’t ever want to establish the atmosphere that “fine dining” restaurants do, which is usually a whitewashed version of whatever food culture they claim to be representing, if not an outright performance of capitalist elitism and the classism and racism that ensure its existence. That’s not my game.

Morty: So, this is your ethos of your work, to be on equal footing and cultivate a positive atmosphere….

Berlin: To work as equals, bring good food to everyone, support local communities and to generally decolonize my lifestyle and share what I learn along the way in order to help others to do the same. In the work I do, I honestly have to say that what I encounter most is racism and classism. Also, to be an artist and to be a non-academic intellectual. No knocks to those who are working to change academia, but I am proud to be where I am today without a formal education. I don’t have a degree, I don’t have a long list of Michelin restaurants on my resume. Being a non-formally educated black dude makes “earning” respect in this world quite a difficult process, regardless of achievement or goals. This is especially true for someone like me who doesn’t want to cling to traditional (read: white) masculinity for power. So, it is most important to me to be myself, represent my work fully and be as unapologetic in my critique of food culture as I am talented in creating delicious food. All I can do is exist in the ways that feel right and keeping working for something better.

Morty: Please explore that a bit with me - are you talking about your clientele?

Berlin: It’s not just my clientele. It’s the world that colonialism and western imperialism has built. There’s racism in the comments I might get at an event. Or in the fact that any given “fine dining” restaurant will be full of white people, but everything will be prepared and served by brown people. It is see it in peoples surprise that I could write the book I did without a college degree. It is in the fact that I am hard-pressed to find leaders and heroes who include people like me in their analysis. It is in the fact that not ONE week goes by without the news that yet another young black man or trans*woman has been killed or beaten or imprisoned. It’s a big question that can’t get answered in this interview.

Morty: Can we discuss your thoughts on trans-related race issues a bit?

Berlin: Sure….everything really switched for me when I began to be read as male, far before I started T. Becoming a black man in America is a rough triumph. My connection to my queerness and queer community changed completely, as did my connection to the world at large. Even by other queers I am read as a black man before I am read as queer. I’ve had people question my presence at queer events, I’ve had queers I know fearfully cross the street when they didn’t recognize me, I’ve been called a nigger in a queer dance party. It became more and more clear to me that “queer space”  really did not always mean space for me. My experience with transition was one of finding out who my real community is. 6 years later, my relationship to queerness, even trans* identity, is quite different than it was before I transitioned. Even looking through your blog, I was sad to see very few brown faces. It is tricky being a black masculine person, too, because while I am pushing for my own representation and inclusion, trans*women-of-color have even more to push against. The misogyny, racism, classism, transphobia and other bullshit present in the world is present in the queer community and I do wish there was some real movement on a lot of sticking points. So much racism and misogyny are tolerated, from femmephobia to exclusion of trans*women to body shaming and cultural appropriation.

Morty: I know you wrote for Original Plumbing for some time…can you tell me what you see in trans male culture?

Berlin: To be honest, these days I have a hard time separating transmale culture from masculine culture. Folks like myself who are read as cismales are afforded male privilege, and all masculine people benefit from misogyny and sexism. Just as all white people benefit from racism. Butch-women, studs, AGs- they can all perpetrate the same misogyny and I think queers give carte blanche to some people based on their identity. For instance, I’ve seen some butches pull the same antics that frat boys would, and other queers just laugh it off. Anyone and everyone who strives for normative masculinity is perpetuating the patriarchy.

It’s so boring!

I was read as male way before starting T. I’m really off and on…I’ve had two shots of .25 since last fall. It’s funny though, because I’ve never fully identified as male, I just know that’s the label I carry in this world. I don’t know. T itself… I wish I didn’t need it but I have a hard time with bleeding….physically, it has always been hard on me, so I’ve been thinking about getting back on.  

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(Berlin Reed by Texas Horatio-Valenzuela, 2013) 

Morty: Where do you see normative masculinity and power connect?

Berlin: Yeah. Power. That’s what everyone is taught to push for. I see it more as the privilege of masculinity over the privilege of maleness. I know that my personal experience has been that. Nobody questions my birth gender, so I’m read as cis, all the time. Many trans guys are. They benefit from the same privileges as a cisguy. Similarly, a stud or butch lesbian will get a lot of the same privileges. Normative masculinity has been defined by colonization as power and strength, domination and will. People who espouse these traits are thought to have power. That kind of power is an empty virtue.

Morty: How can we work to be masculine while working to stay feminists?

Berlin: Ya know, that’s been one of my main questions for the last two years because I’m trying to not only be a good feminist, but also rescue my own masculinity from a culture which is determined to eradicate it. I have had to learn how to carry this weight of being a black man in America, seeing people like me killed by police daily, seeing my “queer allies” misuse and appropriate images and artistic expressions of people like me. I have to do this while figuring out how to wear this masculinity in a way that does not rely on dominance or power, and while defending myself in a world that fears what it sees. There’s no safe harbor for that work within the queer community. At least, not one that I’ve found. Not when there are drag queens in blackface and white queers using ballroom slang and big black booties on party flyers. Using language like “cunt”, “hunty”, “what’s the T” and forming “houses” while labeling black music and black culture as misogynist and violent. Not while well-intentioned radicals are getting schooled in how to break up black families through social work programs and queers are gentrifying black neighborhoods, or white feminists are talking about “safety” in the ways that regard black and brown men as heathens. I love queers and queerness with all my heart, but the ways that oppression has remained a part of queer culture is heartbreaking at times. Working through that heartache to be a good feminist is hard, but it is always always at the forefront of my mind.

I really don’t know what’s to be done or where to start, and that can’t be my role. I think we all have to just do constant internal work to decolonize our minds and our lives, to constantly unpack our own baggage and check ourselves and surround ourselves with people who value that work. I think people need to reevaluate what being an ally means…because in a context of combating centuries of oppression being an ally mostly means sitting down and shutting up and listening. The way for us to be good feminists is to change masculinity and try our damnedest to be good dudes, even if we don’t identify as dudes. To be a good cis- ally is to change the way you think about gender. To be a good white person, you have to understand that the world is just totally fucked for other people and you’ll never get it but it’s still your job to work on your shit. We don’t get ribbons for not being racist or misogynist. We just have to work and keep trying to make things better for ourselves and our communities, whatever that means to each person.

Morty: Thank you for that. Part of doing these interviews is injecting this dialogue into the diaspora of trans art and literature. I personally do not think it is explicitly the role of a trans / gender variant artist to change all of these inequities but this is about knowing what we should be thinking about and what could happen in our communities if we work at it.

Berlin: For sure. I definitely think it is so important to expand the issues we talk about in the queer community and that really only happens through expanding the conversation to people from all sides of the community so, I thank you. I really often feel left out of the “queer dialogue”, even though my work is queer as fuck. People often don’t register food as art, or food justice as a queer issue.

Morty: Well, it is very obvious you have art and justice enmeshed into your work with food. Hopefully this interview can change some minds.

Berlin: It is validating to be included here and to discuss these topics. I used to say I wanted to create queer food culture… I now call it decolonial food culture.

Morty: Right, because even queer food culture is colonized. The question I always ask is if you call yourself a “trans/gv/gq artist”…do you put your gender identity front and center in a way where people are supposed to “see” it at all times?

Berlin: Nope. I sometimes use “queer” in reference to my work, and my work on Original Plumbing is very public but I almost never describe myself using trans/gv/gq unless I am speaking in a very specific context. For me, my trans identity is only one way of describing my gender and it is specifically a way of describing it that conforms to a western concept of sex and gender. It’s more of like a medical term to me. I  live my masculinity in a way that most people read as feminine, so my queerness is front and center. Most people read me as a fag and I definitely identify as a princely sort, so that works for me with representing my work. It is much more important to me that my work is seen as radical and challenging. I’m inquisitive and creative and full of energy and pissed as fuck about the state of the world, and I want that to be communicated more than I need people to know about my gender identity. I kinda stopped trying to pinpoint my gender years ago, so I don’t really care to dwell on teaching others how to read me. It is equally important to me to represent the man that I want to be, never the man I am told I should be. If I wanted to become a talking head, I could. If i wanted to be a pedantic lecturer, I could. If I wanted to shoot to the top of the chef world, I could. And that is not cockiness, that is the road before me because I’m a guy in a man’s world. But I want to use any power I am given to change this world and bring up the hard conversations. I want to share any space that I find with others who are seeking space, too. It’s been funny, with more mainstream media, they think they are about to get this ex-vegan, punk butcher dude who is gonna tell them some gnarly stories. Then they interview me and I’m talking about patriarchy in the kitchen and prison abolition!

Morty: Again, thank you for being here with me, Berlin. Because I do believe it is important to talk directly to trans people of color on this blog I would like to end the interview by giving those readers some last words of advice about how to do what you love. Your thoughts on how to be an artist and stay true to your vision in all that you do.

Berlin: Aww man, I could write this answer forever! I guess, when it comes to living a life that is authentic to who you are, I think it is just about learning to love and trust yourself. I know thats mad cheesy, but it is true. To be fulfilled as an artist and human, for me, meant getting out of all normative structures. I traveled for 4 years straight, just following my dream and making it happen. That’s not to diminish the work, the sacrifice and tears that it took to make it through those years. But I wouldn’t trade all of the uncertainty and hungry nights for a steady paycheck or stable home. I was committed to existing in the world in the way that felt right to me, and I finally found it. All that is not to say that having more stability can’t be a part of someone else’s plan. I think it is all about being honest with yourself and doing what is right and what works best. I think especially for those of us with marginalized identities that is incredibly difficult because we exist in a world that tells us we can’t be who we are and be happy. We also have few examples of successful people to look at for inspiration. What I often talk about with my closest friends is the fact that we as brown queer people were once the shaman, healers, midwives and witches that brought blessings and were thought to hold a closer connection to nature. I think that when we, as queer people of color, embrace our genius, we are liberating ourselves and acting as a light for others. Personally, I learn everything about being the man I need to be by watching the brown femmes in my life. I can go on about femme worship forever, too!

Morty: Perhaps the next time we talk! Thank you for the interview, Berlin. I am looking forward to joining you at one of your meals, hopefully soon!

Berlin: Thank you.


TO BUY BERLIN REED’S NEW BOOK, THE ETHICAL BUTCHER,

CLICK BELOW: 

http://www.amazon.com/The-Ethical-Butcher-Thoughtful-Eating/dp/1593765053

TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT BERLIN REED PLEASE

CHECK OUT THESE LINKS: 

Elliott DeLine Interview 

Bio: Elliott Lawrence Renehan DeLine (born 1988) is a novelist, short story writer, speaker, and essayist from Syracuse, NY. He is the author of Refuse- a 2011 LGBT Rainbow Awards finalist, a contributor to The Collection: Short Fiction From The Transgender Vanguard- currently up for a 2012 Lambda Literary Award, and author of the forthcoming novella, I Know Very Well How I Got My Name. 

Please support trans authors! Buy Elliott’s books by clicking the link: 

http://elliottdeline.bigcartel.com

And his events page: http://elliottdelineofficial.wordpress.com/events

TEN MINUTES WITH WRITER EVERETT MAROON

Morty: So, you’ve been a writer for quite some time now. How did you start writing?

Everett: I actually started writing as a kid, banging away on a cast iron Royal typewriter. I don’t have any of those stories anymore, but I’m sure they were funny and awful. I went to writer’s camp in high school and as a solid middle class teen I figured any career needed to be able to support me, so I focused on journalism, rather than battle my parents over doing something “artistic.” But lo and behold the idea of writing creative fiction and nonfiction keep tugging at me, and I eventually got back to it after a professional career in project management. Which is nothing like writing.

Morty: Do you see your book as creative nonfiction?

Everett: There are so many categories in the publishing world—genres, sub-genres, niche markets, etc.—I suppose memoir is a kind of creative nonfiction. I call it memoir or autobiography, because, well, books on the history of passenger cruises could be creative nonfiction. Not that there’s anything wrong with books on the passenger cruise industry.

Morty: Your book is a humorous take on your transition. Why did you decide to write about your trans experience, and why through the lens of humor? 

Everett: Great questions! I decided to write about my transition because I’d recently moved to a small town from a big city, and one of the first things anyone asked of me was to mentor a young trans man in town. He had some supportive friends, but very few resources in the way of figuring out where he saw himself in the great big gender nonconforming world, and I owed it to him not to push him in any one direction. It had to be his idea and his initiative. I’d struggled with that in my own transition, and it occurred to me that I could write a book which allowed for me to tell the just-coming-out trans person to be open to their own gender interpretation. And the only way I could figure out how to do that was to tell it from my own experience.

Humor, meanwhile, has been with me all of my life. It’s been the one thing I could count on in tough times or when making difficult choices. If I write anything about me and my observations, it will have at least a stream of humor in it. That said, my transition has really pointed out to me how ludicrous gender is in general. I really wanted to highlight that.


(Everett’s new book!) 

Morty: Do you have any specific ‘ludicrous gender moments’ from your book (or life) you wanted to share?

Everett: Well, there’s the moment when post-top surgery, my nipple scab fell off, down through my shirt and out my pant leg onto the floor of the men’s room at work while I was washing my hands at the sink. I wasn’t sure what to do about it! It’s a nasty rest room floor, but I “dropped” it after all. It was part of me, but not part I’d keep, and so on. Had anyone noticed? How long was I going to wash my hands while I wondered what to do about a freaking nipple scab? The thing was the size of a dime. I left it on the floor. I laughed at the marketing of products to trans people. Stand to pee devices, packies, binders … who was selling used items, who was complaining about the cost of a $12 packer, the ways in which manufacturers tried to appeal to us as a consumer group. That was strange and laughable at times.

Morty: Yes, I agree. I’ve worked in the sex toy industry, so I have experience marketing/selling some of those products. Speaking of work, do you have job on top of writing?

Everett: Right now I’m the acting executive director of an HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C advocacy and case management nonprofit. Which is a lot more of a mouthful than “writer.” It’s a whole different job but it’s much the same, in that I’m always tasked with messaging ideas to people.

Morty: I also saw on Facebook that you are a new father. Congrats! That must be amazing.

Everett: Watching the development of a tiny human figuring out their place in the world is really amazing, that’s a good word for it. When I get stressed about my own negotiation in culture, I can come and play with baby feet, and get a reality check on what’s really important. I’m so privileged to be a parent.

Morty: I am wondering how did you find the time to write in between work and family? How do you keep the balance?

Everett: It’s all about excellent time management and learning to live with some imbalance, as well as general chaos. I’ve nearly run out of gas twice this year because I keep forgetting little things like filling the tank. Plus gas is like the price of gold right now.

Morty: Do you have any advice for new writers?

Everett: For new writers—stick to your guns, write what you most care about, because you’ll be pushed on your work at some point and you need to really believe in it and its value. And, I know it sounds trite, but don’t give up! If you’re really interested in getting your work published, accept that you will get a lot of rejection notices. It’s helpful to save up money to attend writer’s conferences where you can network, pitch your books in person, and learn about what other people are doing in the industry. By the way, I got 18 rejections before my new book found a publisher.

Morty: Last question: What can you say about trans writers and the trans writing genre in general?

Everett: I think we’re at the cusp of a great wave of transgender writers and artists, I really do. We’ve been around for a long time but I feel us reaching a tipping point. Red Durkin, Tom Leger, your work, Ivan Coyote, S. Bear Bergman, Amos Mac, there are so many others (I blame new dad brain for not listing more), they’re all doing incredible work and I’m honored to be a tiny part of it.

Morty: Thank you! I am looking forward to reading your book!

Everett: Thank you, Morty! 



LINKS: 

Buy a copy of Bumbling Into Body Hair

Read the short story, Underwater, by Everett Maroon

Check Everett out on Facebook

INTERVIEW WITH WRITER ARDEN ELI HILL

Morty: Hi Arden. Are you ready to chat?

Arden: Sure!

Morty: My first question has to do with your work…how did you decide writing would be the thing you would dedicate yourself to. 

Arden: I fought the idea of being a writer at first. This might have been in part because I thought I was going to be a medical doctor (like a dermatologist or something)  

Morty: Really!

Arden: Yup. The gender neutrality of “Doctor” also might have appealed to me on a subconscious level.Eventually, I realized that in any career I thought of for myself, I saw myself writing. I realized what a large space writing had in my passions. It was just bigger than a lot of my other life ideas.  I actually never took creative writing classes in college although I did write a chapbook of poems for an independent study and again for my undergraduate thesis.  I quickly dropped the pre med major. I didn’t like the science classes or blood and guts.

Morty: And now you’re in a PhD program?

Arden: Yes, out on the prairie.  I got my Masters of Fine Arts in poetry from Hollins University but, because I still like the critical components of writing, I decided to pursue a PhD.

Morty: Have you always had an interest in writing?

Arden: The signs were there before I made the switch in school. In my advanced biology class in high school I wrote a paper that focused on the stereotype of the “evil albino” in literature and culture. I think I titled it the social consequences of albinism or something “very scientific”.  I’ve always written poetry. Eventually I branched out into creative non fiction and fiction..and erotica. Poetry is what I’m working on the most in my PhD program.

Morty: Because you’re getting a Phd, does that mean you want to teach? 

Arden: Absolutely.  I’m currently teaching in addition to taking classes, so that’s a tough load.  I’m looking forward to teaching at the college level after I graduate. Teaching writing while I am writing feel very complementary to me.  Having enough time to be the kind of teacher I want to be and still produce, publish, and keep up with the work of other writers can be tricky but I’m learning.  I have and have had many great teachers as mentors.

Morty: Poetry can be very hard for people - what do you say to those who find poetry hard to “get”?

Arden: There might be multiple meanings behind a poem. Also, the language can just be delicious on the tongue… I think in my own poems I try to tie language and imagery to some element of narrative.

Morty: Yeah, I see that in a lot of your work.

Arden: There is still poetry I don’t get. Sometimes this does prevent me from enjoying the poem.

Morty: Well, I love poetry. I tend to enjoy the more narrative stuff.

Arden: Yeah, I love hearing a story.

Morty: Some of your work focuses on disability. Can you talk to me about that?

Arden: I write from the perspective of a bi-polar person. This has connected me to other kinds of disability and crip communities. I also tend to have crip lovers and write about relationships so disability appears in that approach as well. Recently, I’ve been focusing on formal poetry (sonnets and sestinas mostly) about disability. There is an appealing connection there between human form and poetic form. Some of my poems are explicitly about disability but even the ones that are not are filtered through my experiences of disability. It works the same way with gender and sexuality in my work as well.

Morty: Right, which brings us to some of my questions about gender.

Arden: Dun dun dun!

Morty: Ha ha! Yes! First, how do you identify regarding gender?

Arden: I primarily identify as “genderqueer.” I also use “transgender.” Sometimes to keep it simple (or try to) I use “FTM” but then I get really caught up in qualifying. I also identify as a femme. In terms of pronouns, I prefer “ze” and “hir” but function primarily with “he” and “him.” Pronouns stress me out a little when I’m writing my bio.

Morty: When did you begin to identify as such?

Arden: I had the ideas as a kid and started finding words in college.

Morty: Since this is a magazine about gender variant and trans artists/writers I always ask “Do you identify as a “genderqueer writer”? Or “trans writer”? Or does that feel way too limiting?

Arden: It doesn’t feel limiting. Gender is an important part of what I write about and also a huge piece of myself as a writer. I’ve been heavily influenced by strong women writers which I think is a direct result of having been raised as a girl. My 9’th grade English teacher called me her little Sylvia (Plath).  I’ve cheered up some. I think being trans has also helped expose me to the work of trans poets like Ely Shipley, Stacey Waite, and Trish Salah. I don’t think being a trans or a genderqueer poet means that my work is not relevant to cispeople or to the larger communities of writing.

Morty: Have you found a trans/queer poetry community?

Arden: I’m a little isolated out here in Nebraska but I’m still connected to a writing community in Boston. When I lived there Toni Amato, who runs Write Here Write Now, played a large role in connecting me and other writers to community as well as connecting writers to their craft. Google and Facebook are good starts for finding trans poets and also asking other trans poets who they are reading. Often times the people listening to and reading poetry are also writing.

Morty: Regarding building community - how would you recommend artists and writers start that process? I’m curious as to how others, including yourself, might help out the newer generation of young trans writers? 

Arden: I don’t think I am part of the older generation.  I haven’t had enough history yet with my own identity and I’m still emerging in terms of publications.  I’m not sure how much has to do with age.  I’m 32 but am frequently read as a high school student despite the smattering of grey in my hair (thanks grad school). I am pretty familiar with the application process in terms of graduate programs in writing.  This can be particular daunting for young writers (I think especially genderqueer and trans writers) because of all the little boxes and past history complications.  The fact that I went to a women’s college used to make me very nervous in terms of applications and resumes but it has been ok.  I’m much better qualified to talk about entering academia than how to promote a novel.

Personally, I turn to writers who have published books, or who have taught writing, for advice.  I also point younger writers to writing contests and relevant journals. Facebook has been really useful in connecting with all sorts of folks.  People can post and re-post calls for submissions which, I think, has increased the amount of exposure trans and genderqueer work receives.

Going to writing events like conferences and readings is also helpful.  Some of them are more costly than others. If a person has a couch in a city where there is a writing conference then perhaps someone can offer that sleep space to a young writer, who might find their path to attending the conference a little easier. We all have things we want or need and we all have things we can do or give.  Money is not the only thing of value.  More seasoned writers can read the work of emerging writers and offer feedback. Younger writers have an incredible amount of enthusiasm and immediacy so the benefits of an established writer working with an emerging one are not one sided.  

I also recommend that writers selling chapbooks and such to set aside a certain amount of books to be given to writers who otherwise would not be able to get them.  

Morty: I want to go back to asking you about your work. What prompted the foray into erotic stories?

Arden: I had a really positive experience reading an erotic piece in a writing workshop. I sent it out, it got accepted, and I’ve been writing erotica ever since. I actually really like to read it out loud too. I’m more unselfconscious reading my erotica than my poetry out loud. I’m more of a page poet than a stage poet

Morty: What is your piece about in the trans/genderqueer erotica book Take Me There?

Arden: It’s about a boy who first appeared to me in a poem. Ze is “out on loan” to a femme mistress. It’s hot and it has a bit of tenderness to it too.

Morty: Hmm, based on someone real?

Arden: Bits and pieces… Most of my poems as well as my erotica stories are in the first person. This can be sort of funny depending on what kind of literary voice I’m using.

Morty: You’ve published a lot of your work in literary magazines and you are one of the poetry editors of the journal Breath and Shadow. What advice would you give for those looking to publish their work?

Arden: Writing can be a really private, sometimes isolating practice. I’d advise writers to find other writers to share work with. Being a part of writing groups has helped me get my work to a publishable state. The moral support is a big plus too because there are going to be many rejection letters. Just keep trying and be smart about where the work is being sent. Pay attention to what writers or what style of writing is being published by a magazine to see if your writing would be a good fit. Calls for submissions can be a great way to find magazines and anthologies that are looking for work on specific subjects. Also, for writers who are more established, help the newer folks out by building connections and community.

Morty: Wonderful, those are great ideas.How did it come about that you became a Lambda Literary Fellow?

Arden: I believe Charles Flowers told me about the program at an AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference but it might have also been at the Saint’s and Sinners writing conference down in New Orleans.  I applied, got in, and had amazing support from Lambda and people in the community.  I really enjoyed the people I met there and the time to focus on writing in such a queer environment.  At some point I’d like to go back for fiction or creative non-fiction.

Morty: It seems the main advice to give to queer and trans writers reading this is: apply and submit, you may just get in! What do you have planned for yourself in the coming year other than being in school?

Arden: Hehe, so I won’t say homework! Well, I need to send out more work. I also need to read more.

Morty: Anything else?

Arden: Well, I need to go running too!

Morty: Yeah, I have exercise in my to do list, too…

Arden: I have an essay I’ve been picking at for awhile now and I’d really like to place it somewhere. I need to follow the advice I gave and send out work because that’s a crucial step in the publishing.  In about a week I’m headed down to Louisiana where I grew up.  I’ve been writing more about race and identity especially in regards to family and adoption.  I might pull a “ding dong you’ve got my chromosomes” approach to meeting my biological family.  It should be a pretty intense trip but I’ll take notes and I’m sure that whatever comes out of it will appear in my writing.  Sometimes knowing that something scary will prove useful to my writing helps me get past my fear.


To read work and find out more about Arden Eli Hill please visit the following links: 

No Name Reading Series Podcast - Arden comes in at the end of minute 13. 

Wordgathering.com

Breath and Shadow - Journal of Disability Culture and Lit

Willow Springs Literary Journal

Take Me There - Book of Trans and Genderqueer Erotica 


Ten Minutes With Writer Cooper Lee Bombardier

When did you decide that you would go for it and enter higher education for writing/publishing?

I was a self-taught writer, just making it up as I went, and for several years I had this vague desire to go back to school and get a Masters degree. But like a lot of things in my life prior to transition, I had a hard time making concrete decisions and figuring out how to make it happen. From 2007 to 2010 I worked primarily as program coordinator for a state-wide queer/ straight ally youth leadership program through an experiential education/outdoor learning center, and I was mentoring young people to be empowered in their lives, families, and schools. Sometimes I wondered what the hell I had to offer young people, because I certainly didn’t feel like I had it all figured out for myself. But there’s sometimes this weird magic in helping other people, you often inadvertently help yourself. My time at that job really helped me evolve, and was in fact a very healing experience. Whether I was working with the LGBTQ youth, or juvenile offenders in lock-up, or addicted adults, I was constantly in the presence of people confronting their shit and trying to overcome it. It was the least I could do to try to overcome my fear of being successful in my writing and art. I was writing letters of recommendation for my friends to go to grad school, writing letters for the youth that I worked with for college, jobs, scholarships. I realized it was time for me to step up to the proverbial plate. 

I was accepted into the Portland State University Master’s in Writing/ Book Publishing program in 2010, and I am almost done with the program. I saw school as a container, taking on a financial burden that signified that I was spending this time focusing on my writing. And it has paid off. I didn’t know how I would carve out the space in my life to focus in this way without school. The book publishing program has been amazing. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in working in any aspect of publishing, or in becoming a more published writer. I have made some really amazing friends and connections through the program, and feel pretty solid in understanding publishing as an industry. Also, the program is very much up to speed with all of the rapidly emerging changes in publishing. I will begin the MFA in Creative Writing – Nonfiction, also at PSU, in Fall 2012. Being in school as an older person is a hoot. It is so much easier than crawling around on my hands and knees welding structures for ten hours a day.

 A lot of your writing comes from your history and much of it has nothing to do with being trans. Where do you find yourself writing from lately? What point of view?

Currently I am working on a book about my early twenties, It primarily takes place in Provincetown, but there’s a bit of Boston and San Francisco in there, too. It is really about another world. This is in the late 1980s - early 1990s. Back then I was critiqued by young Smith College lesbians for being “too butch,” or even “such a man” once when I was carrying a 50lb box of potatoes into a restaurant kitchen where I worked as a chef. People in my community were dying left and right of AIDS. I was newly out as queer and there was still an outlaw status attached to that, which I actually loved. I was working my way through art school in Boston, figuring out my sexuality, and dealing with the death of my younger brother, who was murdered. And the parts of the book about San Francisco, though minimal, are about a city that doesn’t exist anymore. It was pre-dot com, pre-AIDS drug cocktails that kept people from dropping like flies.  It isn’t specifically about my trans identity, because it was before I even had words for it, or real awareness of transitioning as an option for myself, but of course those threads are there. All I knew was that I felt like I should have been male, but I tried to reconcile myself back then to the idea that this was the hand I’d been dealt. I had no idea in 1990 that there was anything I could have done about my gender distress.

It’s interesting to write about that time, trying to stay true to that innocence about gender and life. Especially when we workshopped one of my chapters in class this term, which talks about my life “before.” I recently had to add a little disclaimer, coming out to my classmates, so they wouldn’t be totally confused. They probably were confused anyway, but very gracious about it all. It would be easy to rewrite my past to some extent as if I had a solid awareness of being trans back then, but that would be a gross over-simplification. I would rather hang with the uncomfortable truths of my experiences around gender back then and I hope that it will resonate with other people. Despite trans issues being so widely visible in recent years, it still feels like the hugest A-Ha! moment to anyone who realizes that about themselves, and it is each persons’ individual, unique experience.

I also write a lot about work. I have worked tons of different jobs, mostly blue-collar, physical labor jobs, and as someone who is always observing and studying gender, in particular masculinity, my jobs have always been a rich microcosm in which to explore these dynamics. Also, since I’ve always felt it was my true work to make art and write, I’ve had a certain detachment to most of my jobs, deep down I knew I was just there, passing through for a paycheck, and the adventure. The exception to this is of course the job I mentioned above, working with queer youth and other disenfranchised folks. Most of my jobs have been an adventure. We spend an enormous amount of our lives at work, and yet so few people explore that. I love exploring work in my writing. Naturally, being trans comes up in my writing about work, but it is not always the most significant dynamic I am writing about.

What does it take for you to sit down and write? What are some of your tricks to get yourself to write with intention? 

I have been working really hard at creating a consistent writing practice. It is so easy to get distracted by everything else. I have an office space now, where I can go work. My housemates understand that when I am in there, I am in the fortress of solitude and quiet. I feel lucky to have a dedicated work space. Sometimes I work in a cafe, to get out of the house and away from distractions. Mostly, I schedule office hours and try to stick to them as closely as possible. I have to not be on-line, unless I am doing some research, and I have to leave my phone elsewhere in the house. I spend part of my office hours each week applying to things and submitting work. Like anything, it is a habit that one can develop, and if you mess up, you just need to get back on it the next week. It’s like working out. If I miss a regular workout, I just have to get back on track next week, not sit around and mope and throw everything I’ve worked for out the window. I saw the amazing photographer, Cathie Opie, give a talk at the Portland Art Museum last year. She talked about “persistent practice” when it came to making art and it seems so simple but it hit me like a lightning bolt. I knew then that it was what had been missing for me, and I committed to figure it out for myself. Two days after her talk I got the words tattooed on my wrists as a constant reminder. I also wrote it down on a piece of paper and put it on my altar. 

Deadlines are a big motivator for me. There’s that saying that diamonds are created under pressure. Not everyone works that way, but I find that deadlines give me someone else to answer to, I am not just writing to hide it in a box under my bed. It engages me in a dialogue, and challenges me to push myself on a topic, a word limit, a time-frame, and encourages me to keep trying to get my work out there. I keep a list of things I want to submit to, and projects I want to work on. There was a saying I heard while working as a union stagehand that work will expand to fit the time allowed. It is so true. If I have what feels like tons of time, I am like Moses meandering through the desert. If I have a firm deadline, I can hone in and focus. I am pretty ADD, and it takes a ton of energy for me to focus sometimes. I just keep working at it. When I was a Lambda Literary Foundation Fellow last summer, one of our instructors, Ellery Washington, spoke about how you can train your brain. He started to get up very early every morning at the same time and write. He insists that you can train your brain to work like this. I am a total bear in the early morning hours, a grumbling, confused bear, so writing at five in the morning is probably an unachievable goal. But writing at least five times a week around my school schedule is an achievable goal. You have to set yourself up for success. I think it’s all about creating a habit. A good habit.

 

Is it hard to write about your life experiences and put trans somewhere in there? 

I write about human experiences from the perspective of someone who happens to be trans. My life experiences and my trans experiences are kind of inextricable, but I really try to avoid being “educational”. I think if you just write about your own truths and experiences, people will learn a lot more than if you try to insert Trans 101 into every story you write. That being said, I do think education and Trans 101 are very important, and I have given tons of those trainings and workshops to non-trans people. I just don’t think my creative work needs to be a Powerpoint presentation. In a class last Fall, I wrote a piece about working a construction site and my co-worker asking me about my trans identity. Suddenly, I stopped being “in” my story, and started worrying that nobody in my workshop would have a clue what the hell was going on. Nobody in the class except one friend knew I was trans. So, my writing shifted gears with them as my audience, and I suddenly lapsed into Trans 101, like I was clicking through the Powerpoint. When we workshopped my piece, the response was amazing. The instructor and the fifteen other people in the class really disliked the “educational” stuff, which I had really written for them. Nobody cared or was confused or upset that I was trans, they cared about how I fucked up a perfectly compelling story by inserting a public service announcement in the middle of it. My instructor, Tom Bissell, marked that section of my piece: “Don’t educate us. Surprise and delight us.” It was a huge gift to have that experience. 

It is only hard to write about my trans experience when I feel like there is a requirement to announce blatantly “Hey look at me, I am trans!” somewhere in there. Sometimes that is necessary, but whenever I am writing about my life, I am writing from a trans experience, so I dislike a requirement to have to make it hammer-you-over-the-head obvious. Sometimes I want that to be the loudest instrument in the band, other times it is more about all of my experiences and identities playing seamlessly together like an orchestra.

Have you found grad school to be fulfilling in the way you thought it would be?

Yes. Grad school was a container for me, as I said already, to take my writing seriously. I have had amazing instructors and feedback from my fellow students. As a self-taught writer, I felt totally intimidated, but I feel like my writing has improved so much due to the whole package: time to work on it consistently, feedback, instruction, understanding what makes great stories work. I have developed an incredible network here. School has helped me become much more disciplined about my work. And like most things in life, it is all about the people, the people I have met through school are from all walks of life and experience, and it feeds my writing to stand in the warm breeze of their brilliance.

Do you ever call yourself a “trans writer”?

Yes, on occasion I do. It just depends, I guess it is mostly intuitive. It is important to me to be visible as a transman. I always came out to the queer and straight ally kids that I worked with, and I told them, it’s not because that information is so amazing. It is because when I was in high school I had no idea that people like me even existed. I just wanted them to know we exist, in case any of them ever felt like I did. What is most important to me in my work is that I speak to a human experience that people, trans or not, will find literary worth, creativity, and meaning in. I want to become a writer whose writing is read because it is good, and who also happens to be trans.


Bio: Cooper Lee Bombardier is a visual artist, writer, illustrator, and performer from the South Shore of Boston. He was a Lambda Literary Foundation Fiction Fellow in 2011. He has been a construction worker, a cook, a carpenter, a stagehand, a welder, a dishwasher, a truckdriver, and a housepainter, among other things; now he is busy being a grad student. His visual art has most recently appeared in group shows like Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, NM; the 2011 National Queer Arts Festival in San Francisco, and Helltown Workshop in Provincetown, MA. Cooper’s writing has appeared in many periodicals, most recently Cavalcade Literary Journal, Unshod Quills, Faggot Dinosaur, Pathos Literary Journal, andOriginal Plumbing; and the anthologies The Lowdown Highway; From the Inside Out, and Trans/Love. A veteran of the original Sister Spit tours, he has performed his writing all over the country. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon.

A Short Interview With Artist Simon Croft

Simon Croft is a London based trans-man and visual artist with a particular interest in the rapidly evolving artistic expressions of the FtM trans experience and how they contribute to trans community and culture. He has exhibited in LGBT shows both in the UK and US, and also occasionally writes, curates and provides publicity images for other trans events.

NUTS by Simon Croft

 What brought you to begin work as a fine artist?

Transition, really.  I’d done nothing artistic since I was about 15.  Looking back at what I was doing artistically at that time, I was repeatedly drawing myself as a boy though I didn’t recognize it at the time!  Then I just stopped doing anything art based – I guess my art was telling me things I wasn’t ready to deal with.  I started making work again at around the time I transitioned about 13 years ago, to try and re-engage with my creativity and it was only five or six years after that, that I started explicitly working with trans themes and deliberately drawing on my trans experiences.

 

Side view - NUTS by Simon Croft 

Are you often, if ever, pigeonholed as a “trans artist”? If you are, does this bother you?

I describe myself that way.  I work with and from my trans experiences so in reality it’s a fair description.  I want to make work that speaks to other trans people; I’d like it to be seen more widely but I don’t know how realistic that is, at least for now.  I’m conscious that as and when I move on from working thematically in this way, I could be stuck with a label I don’t want, but at the moment it doesn’t bother me.  Ask me again in 5 years time, if I’m trying to paint landscapes or something!

 

HAIRSHIRT by Simon Croft 

 Being a trans identified person, how does this identity lend itself to being an artist?

Transition is a creative act – as are most other ways of trans-living.  Art is a good way to reflect on it.  It gives you something to say, a different perspective from most people; we see things many people never get to see and that’s quite a privilege. 

I also feel that living long term, it’s important to have a space to consider and value my transness, which will always be part of me – that’s very important to me. 

As well as creativity, transition involves risk – if you transition physically, you don’t know what’s really going to happen.  Changes to physical appearance, how you think and feel, relationships – it’s just not certain.  Pretty much everything is back in the melting pot.  At a certain point I just had to trust myself to handle whatever would come along when I made the choice to transition. 

I see taking risks and trusting yourself as part of making good art too.  Some of the ways I work parallel the transition process; I’ll set a process up – like dripping ink onto a cardboard house - and let it run and see what I get at the end.

 

Close up HAIRSHIRT by Simon Croft 

What words would you give to those out there who are interested in beginning their careers as artists?

That’s a difficult one! 

Find a way of working that fits with you and your life – whether that’s a little everyday or setting aside intensive bursts of time, or some other way – but make sure you deliberately set aside time and actually make work.

Take a look at the constraints you have to work with – usually time and space and funds - how can you make them work for you as opposed to blocking you?

Get your work seen – submit to shows and publications etc and get some feedback.

Be organized.  Making good art isn’t enough – you’ve got to have a whole load of other skills like self-promotion, negotiation (learn how to read a contract), fund-raising, admin (it’s no good missing the shipping deadline for a show).  As an artist starting out you have to do most things for yourself because you probably won’t be in a position to pay anyone else to do them for you, and that is likely to mean self-discipline to do the bits you don’t naturally take to.  Take a deep breath and don’t leave them to the last minute.

Probably the best tip is to read Michael Atavar’s book – ‘How to be an Artist’.  Someone suggested it to me and I revisit it quite often.

 Good luck, and don’t forget to have fun!!