Morty: The first question is a two-in-one. When did you know you wanted to become a writer? Are you more a writer or poet or do both words appeal to you?

Oliver: “Writer” is functionally correct, of course, but “poet” feels more true to my heart. I worked for a year as a technical writer at a federal agency in Washington,DC. That was writing, sure, but it wasn’t poeming. So I like to get specific about it. And I’m not sure I knew I wanted to be a writer. Maybe what came first is that I knew I wanted to write. The “being a writer” part followed. I’ve always written, but it was kind of a process of realizing that I could just do that and take it seriously.

Morty: Can you tell us about the MFA program you’re in? How did getting the Martha Meier-Renk Graduate Fellowship come about?

Oliver: The MFA program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is such a gem. I seriously don’t have enough good things to say about it. It’s small—there are just six of us poets. The fellowship relieves me of my teaching duties for next year, and while I love teaching and will miss it, I’m also so excited for the gift of extra time to write the best poems I can possibly write, and to complete my MFA thesis, which will be a book-length manuscript of poems that obsess over gender, hybridity, identity, and language.

Morty: On your website it says you teach creative writing. Where do you teach and is teaching everything you thought it would be?

Oliver: I teach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Teaching is great fun; I’ve enjoyed it so much. This past year, I’ve designed and taught a section of Introduction to Creative Writing, which at UW is a class for sophomores. I’ve written more about teaching here at Original Plumbing.

Morty: Do you consider yourself a “trans poet/writer”? Tell me why or why not? Does it feel too limiting?

Oliver: This is such a great and big question! If we look at the prefix trans- which means, “across, beyond, through, so as to change,” then who wouldn’t want to be a trans poet? For me, in poetry, there must be movement, some kind of tension, and I see my trans experience as deeply informing that. I don’t find it limiting at all. I find it greatly expansive. For me, this expansiveness comes from the specific ways in which I understand the words “queer” and “trans”—as referring not only specifically to sexual orientation and gender identity, though of course they describe that, too, but also to all things strange, odd, boundary-defying, and so forth. So, while I can identify with ease as a queer writer or a trans writer, identifying as a “homosexual writer” or an “FTM writer” might make less sense to/for me, because my relationship to those words is different.

I’m still just beginning to think this through, and it’s possible that I might answer this question differently in the future. We are supposed to fear being pigeonholed; we are not supposed to be an identity poet. I try to write poems that people can connect with, can have an experience with, whether or not they are trans, but I’m also not interested in going the Edward Albee route and pretending that my trans experience hasn’t greatly informed what I want to do with language. Much of what I’m interested in relates to queer and trans poetics—imagination, futurity, genre, shame…. in language, really, and in queer and trans ways of doing punctuation and grammar and form.

There’s nothing wrong with identifying as a trans writer. People get so afraid of that. The truth, I think, is that it’s both/and. The prefix doesn’t make us any less of a writer. I don’t want to make an authoritative declaration about this, though. I understand that there are writers who identify as queer or trans but don’t link that to their writing, and there’s got to be space for that, too.

Morty: I really love Glitter Tongue as a place for queer/trans poetry to thrive online. I’ve gone back to the site many times to reread poems which resonated with my own love life. What was the impetus to start Glitter Tongue?

Oliver: Thank you! Glitter Tongue began, really, with a Facebook update that the fabulous queer poet Margaret Rhee posted—something about how queer love is so good but so hard. And I responded and we decided, with a few others, to write queer love poems that week and share them with each other. I was so moved and excited to read their poems that I wanted to expand the project, to have more people write queer love poems and more people read them. And that became Glitter Tongue. I’ve been so excited by the response.

Morty: Where do you think trans literature is headed? Do you see a shift occurring?

Oliver: There’s this quote by Trish Salah, from an essay I read recently titled “In Lieu of a Transgender Poetics”: “Back to the word transgenre, and the genre of trans, writing. It isn’t quite yet one. But like most things that are only partly there we can imagine its future or past shape.” I like thinking of it in this way. I don’t know that I can say where trans literature is headed, but I know that it is heading, is in motion, and that excites me greatly.

Is trans yet a genre? I don’t want “trans literature” to be its own, isolated genre—I want it to inform all the genres, and even more so, I want it to inform the way we think about genre, which is really just another system of categories. I think we’re at a point in time where trans literature is beginning to be written, in glimpses. Trans literature is nascent and therefore brimming with possibility, and I can’t wait to see where we take it.

Morty: Who are some of your favorite trans, genderqueer, gender variant, intersex, etc.  writers/poets?

Oliver: Where do I start? I’ll take the easy way out and refer you to the forthcoming anthology of trans and genderqueer poets, edited by tc tolbert and Trace Peterson, which will have poems and poetics statements from fifty poets. In addition, at AWP this year I went to the Gender Interrupted reading, which featured the poets Stacey Waite, Sam Ace, Ely Shipley, and Joy Ladin, who are all doing really exciting and important work. The reading was packed to the brim—AWP has got to start giving bigger rooms to the queer and trans panels! Or maybe it’s fitting that way—our critical mass/gorgeous excess was so inspiring.

Morty: What advice would you tell aspiring trans writers about the decision to go to school to study writing?

Oliver: If you feel like you must write, if you have tried to do other things and can’t, if you have tried to talk yourself out of it and can’t, then you should maybe consider getting your MFA. More and more these days—many people still don’t know this—there are programs that will pay you to attend and write and be in workshops and teach. It’s the gift of time, yes, but it’s also building a community and having readers and being a reader and allowing yourself to be immersed in your craft for a few years. That’s a pretty amazing thing.

But if you can’t, or won’t, get an MFA for whatever reason, you’re not out of luck. Writers since time immemorial have held down day jobs. Whether or not you go to school for writing, my advice would be to read as widely as you can. And write. And don’t self-destruct.

Bio: Oliver Bendorf is an MFA candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he teaches creative writing and serves as Editor-in-Chief ofDevil’s Lake. His poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Ninth Letter, PANK, Anti-, The Journal, and elsewhere, and his work was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The recipient of fellowships from the Lambda Literary Foundation and the New York State Summer Writers Institute, he also writes for Original Plumbing magazine. Please visit: oliverbendorf.com 


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. 


Breath and Shadow - Journal of Disability Culture and Lit

Willow Springs Literary Journal

Take Me There - Book of Trans and Genderqueer Erotica 

intercept by Rex Leonowicz

 i never worry that we don’t deliberate,

arm ourselves with gloves   thick

against our elements    i don’t think to

put up barriers   we’ve convinced

ourselves impervious

even while some of us dodging little futures:

paunch she called baby fat pressed to my back

in sleep. i hated baby fat and

when she said

we have such different bodies.

there have been dangers,

close scrapes    desperate beach nights,

      carolina men, thirty-seven and seventeen

we quicken

        when it’s over

kiss, queer again in new york.


Bio: Rex Leonowicz is a femme transdude, intersectional feminist, and soon-to-be graduate of Warren Wilson College. He is originally from New York City.

Self portrait with Bowtie, 2011 Tenderqueer Love Song, 2012 Portrait of Gael as a Young Tran, 2011 Pansylvania, 2010/11 Trilobite House, 2011 Wesleysaurus Flash, 2011 Ray Bear, 2012 Unkosher (Closeted), 2010


Morty: Hi Buzz!

Buzz: Hi Morty!

Morty: I went to your website and saw that you have this huge body of work. I also saw that you work in many different mediums. Can you give me an intro to your career as an artist? Did you go to art school?

Buzz: I started studying painting and drawing on a college level in high school. I was lucky to be able to do a lot of the summer and weekend programs at various art schools (Pratt, RISD, SVA, etc.) and I also went to a public school in New Jersey called Columbia High School that had some amazing art electives. Maplewood/South Orange, NJ was a very creatively supportive community to grow up in, and my parents were always taking me to museums as a kid. I ended up going to Sarah Lawrence College instead of art school because I wanted to make sure that I followed other academic interests to make my art more interesting. I also didn’t think I’d be intellectually satisfied at an art school, which I think is probably true. That being said, SLC turned out to have an awesome art program. Sometimes I joke that I was socialized to be an artist.

Morty: What was your major?

Buzz: Well, Sarah Lawrence doesn’t have majors, but in addition to art, I also studied labor and economics, queer art history, radical movements of the 60s, etc. By the end I was mostly doing sculpture, video and art history.

Morty: Which artists gave you inspiration in college?

Buzz: During my senior year I interned at Electronic Arts Intermix, which is a video art archive in West Chelsea (in NYC), and so I had a lot of access to pretty esoteric queer video art. It was during the same time I was writing my final paper on queer video art… I got really into the work of Sadie Benning, Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn, and Jack Smith.

Morty: So, you were out as a queer artist in college?

Buzz: Totally… I had been building queer community in Brooklyn for a while already since I was doing social justice organizing with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), and a lot of the Brooklyn queers helped me develop a strong queer identity in my art practice. It was somewhat isolating in college because most of my art peers in class were not queer identified. Some of the comedic video work that was specific to trans politics didn’t really get many laughs. I was lucky to have a lot of queer professors who pointed me in a lot of helpful directions.

Morty: When did your gender identity change for you? Do you currently identify as trans, gender variant, or something else entirely?

Buzz: I used to identify as gender variant pretty literally, because for a period (maybe like 2009-2010-ish) I felt that my gender did often vary! When I was in college I felt like a secret fag-like identity was being nurtured by my high femme presentation, and that was super fun for a while. Eventually, I realized that I had been obsessed with trans politics and I began to cultivate a more genderqueer/fluid/genderfuck presentation. My preferred pronouns are they/them. I think that in every frontier of coming out, I always first identify my community and then later realize that I am one of them. I think finally moving to Brooklyn felt like this big homecoming where I could finally explore my true gender. It was a scary time. I didn’t  leave the house often, and did some creepy drawings of my closet, so that was productive.

Morty: To be clear, you’re saying the coming out process with your gender identity was scary and led you to stay inside?

Buzz: Well, I moved to Brooklyn with internships but no paying job. It felt like there were all these contradictions in the job market, because I was qualified to do a lot more for art nonprofits than I was getting paid for. The high rates of unemployment and the excessive exploitation of interns made me afraid of getting out there in the career sense. Partially because my gender was shifting and I didn’t know how employers would perceive me. I think I did a lot more socializing than I remember, because the days that I didn’t have a job or internship to go to felt really debilitating.

Morty: Right. I completely understand that shift and had job issues when I was beginning my transition.

Buzz: Was that during the Year In Pink performance you did?

Morty: No, it was way before. I was 23 and living in San Francisco.

Buzz: I’m 23 now! It’s an interesting liminal time between life stages.

Morty: It certainly is! So, tell me then, has the life of a young artist in NYC been a good experience for you so far?

Buzz: It has been amazing! I feel so lucky. It feels like I magically fell into some amazing gigs and roles. In January 2011 I co-curated my first art show with Hugh Ryan as The Pop Up Museum of Queer History. We were expecting 100 people to show up at his Bushwick loft, but then 400 showed up… it had to be broken up by the cops! It’s not a radical queer event until the cops bust it up! The response to the project has been really exciting, and has really helped it take off.

Morty: Sounds amazing. Wish I could’ve been there!

Buzz: There’s a lot of energy in Brooklyn right now for queer art and history. It feels like something is in the air.

Morty: Why do you think?

Buzz: There’s a lot we weren’t taught about our recent history, because of the stigma around AIDS, structural homophobia, and the queer generation gap. I think that young queer artists and activists are starting to get more curious about ACT UP and the movement to fight AIDS. We’re trying to find out where we come from. It’s kind of like after a forest fire, the plants start to regenerate after a while, and now they’re in bloom. I’m close friends with Dan Fishback, who is doing a lot of performance work around that stuff with his “thirtynothing” solo performance at Dixon Place. It’s been fun to work with him on projects alongside him.

Morty: It also seems like the older generation of queer artists are coming together with the newer queer artists and finding more cohesive community in New York City…even more so than a few years ago.

Buzz: Yeah, there’s a lot of interesting dialogue going on right now. I think it’s a sensitive relationship to navigate, because no one wants to feel fetishized for having lived through the height of the AIDS epidemic, but it’s important for the older generation to know that we realize we know very little about it and that we’re curious to hear whatever they’re interested in sharing.

Morty: For instance, I just recently heard about QuORUM (Queers Organizing for Radical Unity and Mobilization) in New York City. When did this come to exist? Are you familiar?

Buzz: Yeah! I was involved with QuORUM for a little while in between Pop-Up Museum shows, and then I got too busy. I am close with them and we love collaborating on events. We have a dream of starting a DIY Queer free school called U QUEER. QuORUM is, after all, how Pop-Up started!

Morty: Oh, ok. So, all of this action was beginning when?

Buzz: We were the opening event of the Quorum Forum in January 2011. Then this January, we were the opening event again, but instead, I led an unofficial docent tour of the Hide/Seek exhibition (on gay portraiture) at Brooklyn Museum. The controversy surrounding that exhibition and censorship in Washington DC during 2010 is what inspired the Pop-Up Museum into existence. It was a very hot topic, the David Wojnarowicz piece censorship, so it seemed apt for me to study the works and present my reflections as an event.

Morty: It really does sound like a great time to be a queer/trans artist in NYC but an artist has to eat/pay rent and NYC is still so expensive to live.

Buzz: it’s true!

Morty: How do you go about living in such an expensive city?

Buzz: It is so expensive here, especially if you want to have a studio, or take classes to expand your skills. I think a lot of us babysit! We have a little network of trans nannies. We pass around gigs we hear about and also process together about how the children we work with perceive our genders, etc. I work after school hours in Park Slope, with these adorable girls that love drawing! I also work as an artist assistant in the West Village. I also do some freelance design work sometimes.

Morty: I guess just how artists have always done it, by the skin of their teeth. Going back to your identity as an artist, I kind of have this stock question I ask most of the artists I’ve interviewed. That is: Do you identify as a quote “trans or gender-variant artist” and if so what does that mean for you?

Buzz: Well, I was an artist years before I identified as trans… so something about combining them as a term feels odd. Both words bring up so much about individual subjectivity that it’s hard to understand at this point what that means in the grand scheme of art movements. I think it will take time to see the ways that being trans influences my artwork. But, ultimately, I guess I am a trans artist! I think I forget how much my portraits are about trans community, not just about friendship and love.

Morty: I see from what you have up on your website that lately you have focused primarily on drawing the gender-variant and trans community.

Buzz: Yeah!! I think when my gender shifted I felt less of a need to focus narcissistically on myself in my video work, and I felt less like an outsider to Brooklyn and the queer dating scene (which is the perspective from which I did the OK Cupid drawing series). I have become more focused on creating an emotionally supportive and energetically sustainable lifestyle and community within trans and genderqueer people. I want to get back into video, but I think more along the lines of drawings that talk, kind of way. Also, I’ve been doing a lot of bookbinding and crafting, which are not things I post on my website, but are symptomatic of my return to more tactile explorations of materials and how they can interact two-dimensionally.

Morty: Can you tell me a little about the video Cool Rider? I really love it.

Buzz: Well, it all has to do with my friendship with Julie Blair. We became friends because I met stand-up comic Red Durkin at a Tranny Roadshow performance and I couldn’t stop talking about Grease 2, and how I read into all these themes about gender failure vs. gender success in the movie. Red was like “you have to be friends with Julie.” Julie totally understood my gender situation. At the time I was femme-presenting and mostly interested in dating transguys, but felt frustrated because I didn’t feel like a cisgender person trying to date a trans person, if that makes any sense. I projected my situation onto the movie because I read Stephanie, the main character, as a femme that didn’t wanna date “an ordinary guy”, AKA a trans guy! It was a way to parody the fetishization of transmen in queer communities, and distance myself from it by making fun of it. We couldn’t stop laughing the whole time. Nobody in my sculpture class understood what Cool Rider was about!!

Morty: Yeah, I love that it really delves into the sticky subject of fetishizing transguys.

Buzz: Totally. Fetishization is always difficult to talk about. People get really defensive!

Morty: Are you trying to get your work seen in places like museums and gallery settings? I know the Pop-Up museum you do is an answer to that.

Buzz: Exactly.

Morty: But do you feel, as an artist, like more queer/trans work needs to be seen in museums and galleries and try to infiltrate that area?

Buzz: I think most of my energy going out to museums and galleries is either through my paid (or unpaid, ha) work, or Pop-Up. I collaborated on a piece with LJ Roberts (http://laceyjaneroberts.com/index.php?/work/crafts/) that is getting a lot of museum and gallery representation. As far as my own work, I’m mostly trying to develop my body of work and do smaller, community-based shows. I think I will try to get my work out there more when I’m done trying to get the Pop-Up work out there! I really do want there to be more queer and trans representation in the museum and gallery settings. I find it exciting that the Hide/Seek show is doing so well, and was the first major queer exhibition at major museums. But unsurprisingly, it mostly represented the work of gay white men. It is a very exciting first step, and I’m committed to pushing queer representation much  further.

Morty: I look forward to seeing more of your work as things progress!

Buzz: Yeah, thank you!  

Morty: Keep me posted on what you have going on with the Pop-Up Museum, and any other projects, so I can post it on Bodies Of Work.

Buzz: Of course! Thanks so much for interviewing me! This has been fun.

Morty: Likewise! 

To see more work from artist Buzz Slutzky please visit their website HERE

Oliver Binding by JJ Levine Oliver Binding by JJ Levine Oliver Binding by JJ Levine Nora 2010 by JJ Levine Johnny Forever 2010 by JJ Levine Marty 2012 by JJ Levine James by JJ Levine Noam by JJ Levine James and Laurence 2012 by JJ Levine Photographer JJ Levine

All photographs above are copyright protected by the artist. Please do not copy or reprint in any way without express consent of JJ Levine.                     


What are some of the reasons you chose photography as your main artistic expression?  

I use photography as my preferred medium because it feels intuitive.  I’m not sure how else to describe it.  I am interested in video work as well, but the still image feels much more grounded to me.  I find the analog photography process really magical.  Each portrait I make is given great care and consideration: from the lighting, to the camera, to the type of film, to the furniture, clothing, backdrop, facial expression, body position, gaze etc.  Every detail holds weight and importance. I work with film and I really appreciate having to wait a few days to pick my negatives up from the lab and find out if anything from my shoot turned out.  I can be a pretty impatient person, so this really forces me to take a second.  I print my work in a colour darkroom, which is also a pretty time-consuming and tricky process, involving countless test strips and subtle enlarger adjustments.  I feel more aware when I’m in the darkroom than I do almost anywhere else in my life.  Even if it can sometimes be tedious and frustrating, the end result is so incredibly worth it for me.  My work would be completely aesthetically different if it was shot and printed at the same large-scale but digitally.  I don’t think it would compare.   

 Do you identify as a trans or genderqueer/gender-variant artist? If so, do you see it as limiting? 

Yes, I identify as a trans artist. However, more than trans I strongly identify as genderqueer and my artistic practice speaks to both of those identities.  I am interested in a duality, or multitude of genders within myself, and my work reflects that.  I was assigned female, and am read as such a lot of the time.  I am on a low dose of T and intend to go off of it once my voice drops a bit more, but before I pass full-time as a man.  Perhaps if my photo practice wasn’t so closely linked to my sexuality and gender identity I would feel pigeonholed by the label “trans artist,” but I believe that positioning myself with the context that I am working, is essential in exposing the power dynamic that exists between artist and subject in portraiture.  I am not a voyeur but rather a participant in my queer community in Montreal and in these images.    

What informs your decision to shoot in certain settings, with certain people? 

In terms of setting, I am inspired by my environment.  I’ll be hanging out at a friend’s house and make little mental notes about my surroundings and call upon them later when planning a shoot with that person.  And for my subjects, I pretty much exclusively photograph the people I intimately interact with in my everyday gay life.  I take pictures of my roommates, dates, lovers, siblings and friends.  I am so lucky to be surrounded by incredible people who are willing to sit for me and be so vulnerable in that way.

Can you give aspiring photographers some pointers on getting to where you are now? 

Hmm, tips?  Well, I went to art school, and I actually got a lot out of it.  I think that was mostly luck though, because I had a few amazing professors who really pushed me.  It wasn’t an entirely positive experience though, I came across a lot of criticism from narrow minded people who were more interested in arguing about world views that actually engaging with my work.  I definitely don’t think school is for everyone, but it’s where I learned technique and discipline.  I think having the opportunity to go to University is a really privileged position to be in, and I don’t take that lightly.  I was extremely lucky to not have tuition at the institution that I studied at, and therefore was able to fuck around until I figured out what I really wanted to be learning, which was photography and queer studies in the end.  Many incredible artists, however, never went to school and have had really prosperous art careers.  I’ve been out of school for several years now, and working as an artist.  Sometimes it feels like it’s all about finding a balance between creating new work and pushing it.  I find that part really challenging.  I don’t feel like I’m super connected in any art scene, so finding out about opportunities to show that I should be applying for can be pretty hard. I also don’t spend enough time on the internet to always be aware of what’s going on in other queer art communities.   It’s all a learning process though, and I’m getting better at putting my work out there.  I think I’m afraid of being obnoxiously self-promoting, but if you want people to pay attention to your work, that’s kind of necessary at a certain point.     

Artist Statement

Queer Portraits is an ongoing series of large-scale colour photographs of my community in Montreal.  This project captures the complex, emotional relationships that I have with my friends, lovers, and siblings.   My work explores issues surrounding gender, sexuality, and queer space.  Each studio-lit portrait is shot on medium format film, and taken in a different domestic setting, characterized by saturated colours, and often discursive backgrounds.  Through these portraits of queer and trans people in my life, I explore my own identity as a genderqueer artist.  I am interested in expressing fierceness, beauty, and resistance through the aesthetic of my queer culture.

Please check out more of JJ Levine’s work HERE

Self Portrait with Mom by Jess Dugan Melsen by Jess Dugan June by Jess Dugan Connor and Erika by Jess Dugan Jen and Dari by Jess Dugan Jessi by Jess Dugan Nate by Jess Dugan


What are some of the reasons you chose photography as your main artistic expression? 

I make photographs because I have to. It is the way in which I relate to the world around me, and the way in which I am able to know and understand myself. I primarily photograph people, and my camera functions as a way to get to know a wide and diverse group of people very intimately. One of the things I love about photography is that is gives me a reason and medium to explore absolutely anything I am interested in. My camera functions as an access card in many ways, giving me a reason and opportunity to know someone or something in a very personal way.

My first real photographs, taken at age 16, were of my fellow queer and gender variant friends and peers. I was just learning how to use my camera and technically, the images were not very good, but the process of making this work was my first experience with the power of exploring identity through photography.

Do you identify as a “trans artist” and, if so, do you see it as limiting? Why or why not? 

This is something I grapple with a lot.  I actually don’t really solidly identify as a “trans” person.   I consider myself to be gender variant, and I am a part of the trans community, but all of the labels feel limiting to me.  I am not transitioning from one thing to another, but rather on a more fluid path of shifting gender expressions that feel closer and closer to who I am.  So maybe I’m F-to-me. 

A lot of my work is made within the transgender community, and I very strongly feel that I am a part of this community and as such, approach photographing trans and gender variant folks differently than someone outside of the community might.  Ultimately, though, my photographs have to be about much more than someone’s identity to be successful.  I want the viewer to first relate to my subjects as fellow people- to have a connection with them on a purely human level, whether or not they recognize that they are looking at a trans person.  I want my images to portray the complicated and universal experience of being human. 

In terms of the art world, I do think it can be limiting to be labeled as a “trans artist,” or to be perceived as such.  Though a lot of my work deals with gender and identity, many of my projects are not specifically trans related.  Again, if I feel that my work is successful, it will operate on many levels, perhaps appealing to the specific community in which it is made but also appealing to a much broader audience on a more universal level.

What informs your decision to shoot in certain settings, with certain people? 

Choosing who and where to photograph tends to be a fairly instinctual decision.  I often work within certain parameters, such as a location or subject matter, but ultimately it is all about making compelling portraits.  I try to find settings that increase the intimacy of the connection between me and my subject and also make a visually compelling picture.  I told someone recently that finding subjects is just like attraction in terms of dating, etc.  I was asked why I’m drawn to certain people, and I said, “I don’t know, I’m just photo-attracted to them.”  There is something about them that I find interesting or compelling, something about them that makes me want to spend time with them, and ultimately, to spend time looking at them. 

You have shown your work in galleries and museums, can you give aspiring photographers some pointers on getting to where you are now? 

First, I’d say make work that you’re passionate about.  The passion has to start with you.  It is difficult to make work and to pursue a life as an artist, so it has to be something that completely inspires and compels you.  My gallery director always tells me that she wants to work with people for whom making photographs is something they simply have to do- a compulsion, if you will, to create and to make meaning out of their world through photography. 

Second, participate in the world around you.  Go to openings.  Meet people.  Look at the work of other photographers you admire.  Identify people who are successful in the ways you want to be successful and figure out how they got there.

Once you’ve got work that you’re ready to share, apply for group shows, attend portfolio reviews, submit to online photography blogs, etc.  Do whatever you can to get your work out there into venues that feel appropriate for you.  And above it all, keep making work that you’re excited about.   



Bio: Jess T. Dugan is a large-format portrait photographer whose work explores issues of gender, identity, and shared humanity. Born in Mississippi and raised in Arkansas, Jess then spent twelve years in Boston, Massachusetts, where studied photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and Museum Studies at Harvard University.  She currently lives in Chicago, IL and is pursuing her MFA in photography at Columbia College Chicago. Jess’s photographs are regularly exhibited nationwide and are in the permanent collection of the Harvard Art Museums and the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts. Jess is represented by Gallery Kayafas in Boston, MA and the Schneider Gallery in Chicago,  IL. 

 For more info please visit the website: http://www.jessdugan.com/