S. McDonald was born, raised, and continues to relentlessly live in Toronto. Ze grew up in pre-gentrification Cabbagetown and Regent Park.
Ze is the love child of Christine Jorgensen & John Rechy & the spiritual godchild of Jacqueline Susann, and has performed Zir’s alternative spoken word performance pieces at The Calgary International Spoken Word Festival, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s annual Rhubarb Festival, Proud Voices and ,Paddy’s Playhouse.
Zir’s debut poetry collection Confessions of an Empty Purse (Frontenac House, 2010), was one of ten manuscripts chosen as part of Frontenac House’s Dektet 2010 competition, using a blind selection process by a jury of leading Canadian writers: bill bissett, George Elliott Clarke, and Alice Major.
This interview was conducted by guest writer Reverend Cindy Bourgeois.
CB: Why did you start writing poetry?
SM: I think one of the main reasons I began writing was because all the books and articles I’d ever read on the subject of transsexuality (which was everything I could get my hands on ever since my ‘70‘s adolescence) I didn’t find my particular life or “story” in all of those words. Certainly, I’d found similarities and common threads and shared feelings but never anything really close to what I was living on a day-to-day/year-to-year basis.
I’d always had a special love and affinity for poetry and so when I started writing about my life I wrote it in a way that I’d whish I’d been able to read when I was a teenager and that was poetically. That‘s why I call my book, Confessions of an Empty Purse, a poetic transmemoir.
CB: What is your writing process?
SM: It’s an odd combination of inspiration and focus; perseverance and desire. Sometimes the words flow and sometime drip out, slowly, one. at. a. time. It’s mostly about the need I have to make some kind of sense (and sometimes nonsense) out of what I’m feeling and thinking
CB: Much of your writing is political. Do you also write about the fun stuff of life? Why or why not?
SM: Well, yeah it is and yeah, I do. I think all writing, all art is political but even though I wrote about the pain of growing up “gender terrified” and what it’s like to live internally somewhere between the lines in Confessions of and Empty Purse I hope that my humour, dark though it can be (well — is, I suppose) comes creeping through.
Honestly, if I didn’t have a sense of humour and if I hadn’t been able to laugh – even in those “dark night of the soul” years – I wouldn’t be here today. My poems do have humour in them and some are flat out funny but maybe it’s just how I express my humour and what I think is funny. Interesting.
CB: Who are your favourite writers? Do have any favourite trans writers?
SM: Some of my favourite writers (just to name a few off the top of my head) are Jacqueline Susann, John Rechy, Anne Sexton, Flannery O’Connor, Margaret Atwood, Thomas Merton, Edmund White and Audre Lorde. I’m also a great reader of autobiography — I find the human journey endlessly fascinating.
One of the lifelines that kept me alive as an adolescent though were the words of other transfolk (mainly in the form of autobiography) like Canary Conn, Jan Morris, Christine Jorgensen, Renee Richards and Mario Martino. Currently, some of the trans writers I read and enjoy are Kate Bornstein, Leslie Feinberg, Jennifer Finney Boylen, S. Bear Bergman and Patrick Califia.
CB: Do you do anything for Trans Day of Remembrance?
SM: I’ve been “online” for many years and began such on AOL in the mid/late ‘90s. Gwen Smith used to moderate the trans boards/area and that’s when I first became aware of the Trans Day of Remembrance. I lead a fairly isolated and almost hermetic life – if not always physically then certainly emotionally – and so what I do on this day is something along the lines of contemplation and silence … quiet and personal, in remembering our dead.
CB: What does Trans Day of Remembrance mean to you?
SM: Trans Day of Remembrance means to me that at some moment during that day/evening, and however you choose to personally observe that time/moment be it private or public — I feel it is perhaps the one time in the year where all transfolk are on, more or less, the same page. The differences, the “cliques”, the pettiness, the *politics* pause for a “moment” as we remember those who are no longer with us.
Also, to the world at large? One word: visibility. What most people know and, more to the point, don’t know about the real lives of transfolk is little to nothing. It’s a time for people to see us in a way that the media at large doesn’t often portray us and that is as a tribe of strong, diverse survivors who have a long and continuously evolving narrative.
CB: How does your gender or gender identity influence your writing?
SM: My gender variance or at this point I’d probably say my transvariance of course, absolutely has very much informed my writing. I can only write about my life and what interests me and for many, many years it’s been about my gender variance. I find that even when I think I’ve exhausted this subject there is always something else that bubbles up from somewhere inside me and that I need to express. Always.
CB: Do you think that that your gender variance makes you a better poet? If so, why?
SM: I don’t know if it’s made be a “better” poet (well … maybe) but I think I can say that my gender variance has made me a writer, a poet. The writing, like my artwork, was a way for me to work out so much that was just spinning and spiraling around inside of me. Writing poetry was a way to get in out and to be able to look at it in a very black and white on-the-page way and to try and make some sort of sense of what, of who I was — of who I am.
It also, I believe, has given me an unique perspective and artistically that’s a great place to be.
CB: Do you see your poetry as activism?
SM: I see my poetry first and foremost as poetry. I was once asked if my book could be seen as a “how to” book for transfolk and my immediate response, without even pausing to think about it was: “no, I think it reads more as a cautionary tale”. Well, that stopped me cold for a moment. Where did that come from? What my response did though was open a door for me to talk about how we need to hear all aspects of the trans *experience* and, of course, no matter how many (or few) common threads we share that no two transpeople are alike and even if you decide not to transition or even de-transition it doesn’t in any way mean that you are not longer trans. For whatever your reason(s) may be to not physically transition they are yours to share or not and I’ve chosen to share.
That’s why I do think of my poetry as “activism”. As it expresses a specific experience or *voice* of one transperson and maybe (and that’s a big ‘maybe’) sheds a little light on it — our — cause as a whole then, great. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I had longed to see an experience closer to my own reflected back at me in all the reading I’d done growing up and so, if one other transperson (especially a young transperson) experiences this while reading my poetry then I’d feel that I’d really accomplished something beyond just the satisfaction of my artistic expression.
CB: What advice do you have for young writers?
SM: This is cliché as all hell but I’m going to say it anyway: just write, write, write. At this point it almost matters not what you’re writing but the fact that you’re writing it down to express what you are feeling and thinking. It doesn’t even matter what other folks think of your writing (or if you even show it to anyone). You’re writing and that is what matters.
When I was a teenager in the 1970’s and living in Regent Park there was absolutely no one I could speak to about everything that was going on inside of me. Nobody. All I had were all the books or articles on transsexuality that I could find and what I would write down about myself. It saved my life; of that I’ve no doubt.
So, write. Please.
Cindy Bourgeois is the first known out and proud trans person to be ordained to ministry by a mainline Christian denomination in Canada. On this coming International Woman’s Day ze will “make [zirself] a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let those accept this who can” (Matthew 19:12).
Please read a previous interview with Trans poet Eli Clare and Black Coffee Poet published in XTRA!
Tune in to Black Coffee Poet Friday November 19, 2010 for video recordings of S. McDonald and Cindy Bourgeois reading their poetry about Trans life.
The Trans Inclusion Group hosts a FREE screening of: “TWO SPIRITS”
co-hosted by the Women and Gender Studies Student Union
Everyone welcome. Allies welcome.
► TWO SPIRITS: In 2001, 16-year-old Fred Martinez was brutally murdered near his hometown of Cortez, Colorado. Two Spirits is a compelling documentary about a life that was cut short for a Navajo teenager who was nádleehi – person with both masculine and feminine essences. The film is more than a story of what it means to be poor, transgender, and Navajo, but also looks at the lives of the friends, family and larger community of Fred Martinez, reaching beyond the violent act that ended with his murder, and exploring issues of gender, spirituality and sexuality. http://www.twospirits.org * regretfully the film is not closed-captioned *
Date and Time: Monday November 22, 2010 6pm-8pm
Location: William Doo Auditorium, 45 Willcocks st.
Open community discussion afterwards
** This event is part of “LINKED OPPRESSIONS: Racism, Homophobia, and Transphobia” organized by the Equity Students Student Union, Women and Gender Studies Student Union, LGBTOUT and The Centre for Women and Trans People UT **
** TRANS DAY OF REMEMBRANCE EDITION **
This screening is part of The Centre’s week long series of TDOR programming (Nov.15-22).
Check the website for full details and updates.
For accessibility accommodations contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Post-event a DVD copy of TWO SPIRITS will be available through The Dr. Chun Resource Library (a social justice library and joint project with OPIRG Toronto located at The Centre for Women and Trans People).