gender feelings #alwayscomplicated: A Conversation with jayy dodd

gender feelings #alwayscomplicated: A Conversation with jayy dodd
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courtesy of jayy dodd

Transfaith Youth Writing Fellow mud howard interviews writer, poet, and interrogator jayy dodd.

mud howard: jayy, how is your Mercury in retrograde going? I’m so glad that we are finally able to get into each others inboxes. It’s been a hectic few months. How's your life been in this end of summer daze?

jayy dodd: Hi hello! Sorry for the delay. The whole season era has felt surreal, both destabilizing & transformative. I’m having difficulty returning to a centered state & do finally feel things coalescing to a better place. I’m excited to be in communication with you again. If I’m not mistaken you're across the globe? How is the atmosphere?

My schedule is fairly open just moving soon.

courtesy of jayy dodd

MH: The other side of the globe feels calmer; the days are shorter. I’m sleeping all the time, growing out my facial hair and leaning into all the complicated gender feelings that come with that.

Where are you moving to? This eclipse season is exciting with so many shifts for so many people. What have you been doing to try and stay centered? Do you have any rituals that help keep your feet on the ground through so much change?

JD: Ahhh shorter days have their own magic yo. Long nights means more time to conjure with the moon & such. I’m sleeping so much too yo. More day sleeps than "a contributing human" to "society" should but it's working something? re: gender feelings #alwayscomplicated

Moving back home to California. For a time. Unknown. Which is too much & not enough to talk about. i’m surprised with how long the descent has taken, I feel like the descent & after effects are coming in waves. I don't do enough to stay centered. I’ve been trying to rebuild a sleep structure. Or eat. I had been traveling recently & on top of my (arguably) mangable daily anxiety of human interaction / introversion, I had to navigate some serious harassment during my travels that took me out.

When my creative & emotional bubbles get popped, especially away from a homebase, I have to rebuild myself. I feel frailer than I know how to describe. I have some rituals: prayers, meal preps, meditation, watching shows I’ve already watched etc. Just to retune my sensibilities back to themselves, then back to myself, so I can become receptive to the universe again.

courtesy of jayy dodd

MH: Ah yes. You're moving back to Cali. What was your relationship to the west coast before you moved? I remember something about your mother being a minister...did you grow up in her house? Will you be seeing her again?

Concepts of home are fragmented, but there is something cohesive about moving back to a place you used to call home. I know that for most trans people, cohesion is a rarity. There is something that feels both safer and scarier about being in a place that was once so was familiar to you.

JD: Well, I left when I was in high school, so I haven't lived their full time since then. I love the West Coast & over the last decade I've been really affirmed in how Los Angeles influenced my cultural competency & made me a more empathetic person. Dually, my desire & commitment to aesthetics across even my (hopefully radical) work comes from critical appreciation of being raised in city of media. My mom has left the West Coast, but I'll be staying with my father who is also a minister — but that's a whole different bag of tricks.

I’m hoping that returning home will be cohesive. I'm not going back to LA proper as my Dad lives in Orange County now, but reconnecting with to a land & people who have seen & known me over time I think will beneficial. Also, living at home as a baby trans will be it's own "adventure." Gender non-conformity is a bigger thing my personal world, with several close family members also queer, so it fortunately will be easier to navigate in some regard. I've also been a big ol' faggot most of my life so my Dad's learned to go with it.

Would you consider yourself far from "home" or residing in a new iteration of it?

MH: Gender non-conformity is such a beautiful, radical and extremely taxing thing. Gender non-conforming people are straight up proof of transcendence, like, the modern world just isn't ready for us. It's funny how the cities we come from shape us and then we, as trans and non-binary people, reject those shapes and make our own. However, it does seem that some imprint of hometown always shines through. How would you say a commitment to aesthetics functions in your current work? What projects are you immersed in now?

I’m guessing that with both your parents as ministers, you were raised religious. How does that play out for you now? Has it shifted since you were younger? Would you ever consider becoming a minister? An academic of ministry?

JD: It's funny, ever since leaving people don't consistently [know how to] place where I’m from. New Yorkers can usually guess, but I didn't realize how unknown & ubiquitous California (but specifically Los Angeles) was across the nation. I think in some ways being from LA made my navigation into gender non-conformity harder because the performative & aesthetic central culture of LA muddles the radical refusals of gender. "Out West" has long had a connotation of "free love " or "progress" so much of the gender transcending I saw didn't feel that fantastic. It felt daily, flesh, concrete. The effortlessness was part of the illusion but also didn't reveal how hard it would be to wake up every day & say “No” to gender.

My work is filled with aesthetic. I think my poems have a distinct tone. A directionality that can be reverse located back to how I see myself. As a sociologist, I’m very curious about cultural optics as kind of aesthetic. Like where I decide to submit my poems & which poems & how long do I wait. I've been treating my books & poems like EPs, considering singles & deep cuts. but aesthetics are all they are for me always: conceptual, pragmatic, revealing & concealing.

I didn't miss a Sunday in church before college. But honestly that's why it's so hard for me to return, I never felt I chose the Church or Christianity. And now I've learned too much to not see church as this capitalistic fallacy. I see faith weaponized against the most marginalized. Concepts of the sacred resonate. The Greater, The Universe, A Divine of sorts. My mom really wants me to go to seminary but I worry it will whittle the last bit of faith I have out of me.

courtesy of jayy dodd

MH: Wow yes. I’m a person that people can't often place as well. I usually have to tell people my hometown six or seven times before they remember. I like to think that's because my gender non-conformity is so other-worldly that people can't fathom a place on this earth that could have produced me.

There is always that push-pull with the performative aspects of gender. On one hand visibility is crucial and so influential, especially when we consider young people who need reasons to stay here. On the other hand, visibility is a trap and the illusion of gender transcendence as trendy and uncomplicated doesn't prepare us for the worst of it.

The way you talk about your work is so multi-dimensional. I can't wait to read your book. I’m ordering myself a copy the second I settle down with an address to ship it to.

What you say about religion resonates here. I often believe that trans people's relationships to religion must rise above structures. It can be too hard, too painful, too hypocritical to sit through church or seminary and try to transcend the oppression you witness or feel in that space. I hold to the belief that many trans people touch the sacred in profane ways—late night kitchen conversations with trans femmes who keep on surviving, dance party outfits planned a month in advance, the sheer ability to keep making art despite the violence that says you should not exist.

What moments feel sacred to you?

JD: In what I hope is a testament to my kind of faith, I believe in sacred moments more virtuously than I say I feel them. I do think the sharing of space between bodies navigating similar bodies can manifest the sacred. But I believe bonds are the most sacred thing that manifest. I believe bonds that can (& too often must) traverse space & time & reason to find ways of sustaining speaks to the divinity of relation.

I often consider if the bonds we make, remake, unmake with our bodies negotiates the sacred constantly. There is also an occasionally incoherent conflation of the sacred & the divine. Consider how a queer dance space is undoubtedly divine, its sacredness is mutable with the lingeringly dangerous aspects of racism, misogyny & transphobia.

Maybe I’m positioning the sacred as too special to exist in any safe community space, but I think that is because the faith in a divinity we should all be attempting to emulate is not practically applicable. I think belief in the divine would alleviate & challenge people's politics; making empathy & valence more dynamic ideas to embody. It goes back to my insecurities around the explicitly religious language, because people can so readily weaponize what is sacred, but the divine exists beyond our mortal parameters.

courtesy of mud howard

Mud Howard is a white, non-binary trans poet who believes in the healing power of the selfie. Mud writes creative non-fiction, lyrical essays and really good international love letters. They write about witches and ghouls, the inadequacy of the binary, covert toxic masculinity in the queer community and the big blue ocean. You can find their work in THEM literary journal, The Lifted Brow, Black Napkin Press, and Cleaver Magazine. Mud is so excited to collaborate with Transfaith for this monumental fellowship.

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