Interview with Trans Writer Jenny North

| Jun 5, 2017

Not all Trans writers have published books. Some amazing writers publish their work on various websites, especially Fictionmania. One such writer is the incredible Jenny North from Arlington, Virginia, USA. It has been my privilege to know Jenny for several years. I met her when she attended one of my writing seminars at the Keystone Conference. She showed up late, during the writing exercise, but jumped in with both feet. I thought she was a genetic girl, as she seemed so natural and comfortable in her skin. Jenny graciously agreed to sit down to an interview about her writing, life, and stuff.

TGF: So. I can make up a bio, or you can. What would you like the TGForum peeps to know about you?

I’ve been involved in the TG community in various ways over the years. Some people may remember me from my “Transgender Graphics & Fiction Archive” website which I created in the mid-90s to share excerpts from various TG media. (Mainly comics, since I’m a comic book geek!) But I got away from that when I started delving into my TG side in real life, going out quite often as Jenny and supporting my local TG support groups. Then several years ago I got into cosplay, which has been terrific fun. And a few years ago I was bitten with the writing bug and have been posting TG-themed stories that may be fantastical or humorous but often grounded in my real-world experiences as a trans woman. I wish I had time for all my interests!

Jenny North

Jenny North

TGF: Most of your stories have a light, humorous touch to them. Why is that?

Two reasons, really. First, like the song says, “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” Even my most comedic stories have serious moments or little life lessons in there but rather than get on my soapbox I think people are more receptive when they’re entertained. After all, Pixar learned long ago that their movies are often brilliant not just because they make us laugh but because they show us something about ourselves that resonates with us.

The second reason — as I climb on my soapbox, ahem, is that in my opinion it seems like the trans community has almost forgotten how to laugh at ourselves. We focus so much on our pain and our struggles — which are very real, don’t get me wrong! — but we so seldom stop to appreciate the whimsical aspects or the little absurdities that life throws us along the way. Many trans fiction stories are either filled with shame and regret or are escapist wish-fulfillment fantasies, but I think a fun and funny tale that makes us look at ourselves and smile can be a refreshing change of pace.

TGF: In The Real Enemy you took a darker turn. Where did that come from?

It’s funny that you say that because that story has become a bit of a Rorschach test! It’s a short story that takes place in a futuristic sci-fi setting where two veterans from opposite sides of the Gender Wars meet over a beer and discover that as much as they hate each other and everything they stand for, they discover that the real enemy is the hate itself.

I wrote it well before the election but living in DC I was struck how much our political struggles are very much like a civil war in that regardless of who wins or loses, ultimately both sides have to coexist afterwards, a task made all the more difficult since the underlying hate and fear still remain. But of course you don’t defeat hate by pummeling the other guy into submission, screaming in his face, or trying to win an argument, you do it by listening and working to find common ground with open hearts and open minds.

I’d written the story to be included in an anthology of stories about hope, but when that fell through I just posted it myself. It may seem like an odd perspective on hope, but I think people often mistake hope as this happy and effervescent thing when in fact it can be wildly difficult and taxing. Sometimes hope means not taking the bait, not throwing a punch. Listening to someone you see as an enemy instead of screaming at them. It means not giving in to our baser instincts. It’s in every choice we make and those choices can be really, really hard, but always worthwhile.

TGF: You are quite the expert on Trans characters in comics. I can guess the why of it. Who was the first trans comic character you encountered? Which is your favorite?

I know this isn’t quite what you mean, but this story sticks in my head. I started crossdressing at a very early age (I was quite the expert at dodging babysitters in a dress!), and one day while exploring the house I discovered a couple of my father’s Playboy magazines. Way in the back there was a little advertisement that had artwork of a sexy and made-up brunette woman trying on vampish stiletto heels, and underneath the art in big letters it had the words “Are You a Transvestite?” and maybe a phone number for a sex line or something.

Art

Eric Stanton Art

I thought the woman in the picture was pretty but I didn’t know the word transvestite, so I did what I always did and trotted over to the dictionary to look it up and in that moment my life changed. Until then I didn’t even realize there was a word to describe my interests much less other people out there like me! Many years later I discovered that same artwork by fetish artist Eric Stanton and it’s funny since the woman isn’t obviously trans, just a sexy woman trying on sexy shoes. But it definitely fired my young imagination!

My favorite trans comic character is probably still Mantra, the ’90s character from the ill-fated Ultraverse line of comics, and to the best of my knowledge she was the first trans character to headline her own monthly comic. The writing was just okay since the writer had very Silver Age sensibilities and unfortunately tended to flit from idea to idea without really exploring them, but the concept was gold: a 1500-year-old male warrior trapped in a woman’s body to learn sorcery and also deal with being a single mom. But what really impressed me was that it was one of the few times you saw a character’s perspective really evolve through the gender change. It was a little ham-handed, but it was unusual to see a character start to come to grips with her new gender, and never in a comic book like that.

Of course these days we’re starting to see characters like Chalice who were transgender before getting their powers, and it’s really nice to see them represented!

TGF: If you could have any ONE superpower, what would it be?

I think shapeshifting would be fun for obvious reasons although it would probably take a lot of the fun out of my cosplay! Though several years ago a friend posed the same question and I said that super speed might be cool. Then I asked him what his choice would be and he said, “Total dominion over space and time.” I was like, “That’s a good answer.”

TGF: Tell me about Identity Crisis, please. Where did you get the inspiration? What would you like the readers to know?

Identity Crisis is my first attempt at a novel-length TG fiction story and is what I refer to as a superhero action/adventure comedy teenage coming-of-age story with gender change and crossdressing. So that’s a lot going on!

My main inspiration for the story came from thinking about Batman’s sidekick, Robin, who if you think about it had a seriously sucky job. Sure he got to hang out with the Dark Knight, but in the original version with Dick Grayson he runs around in short shorts and elf booties and wears a colorful costume with bright yellow cape . . . he’s basically Batman’s target dummy! So I figured the only reason he stuck around was because he was waiting for Batman to get killed or retire so that he would then get to be Batman. So the loose premise of Identity Crisis is, “How much crap would a sidekick endure to inherit a cooler name?”

In the story, to impress his would-be hero mentor Prodigy, our young hero Chris reluctantly uses his limited shapeshifting ability to present himself with the only heroic identity he was able to get: Prodigious Girl. That’s bad enough, but when his parents discover the stash of girls’ clothing he’s been using to maintain his cover they jump to conclusions and rather than divulge his secret identity, he lets them think he’s secretly a crossdresser. However, since they don’t want him to skulk around and be ashamed of who he is, they eagerly support him by “encouraging” him to dress as a girl all the time. Hilarity ensues.

Oh, and he also has to stop this hidden plot [that] puts hundreds of thousands of lives in jeopardy. So no biggie.

A recurring theme in some of my stories is that the characters become “trans by circumstance” but from there they have to find their own balance point, their own truth. Identity Crisis follows the same model, and we get to see Chris deal with these roles that are thrust upon him and try to balance these various identities in his life even as he discovers the kind of hero he wants to become. I think that’s a journey that will resonate with a lot of trans readers!

TGF: What’s next for Jenny North?

Writing and cosplay! I need to get busy on some new costumes — including a Prodigious Girl costume, which should be fun — and I’ve got a number of stories that I’m hoping to write. Right now I’m scripting out a very funny new My Uncle Fifi story and I’ve got ideas for a few short spinoff stories for Identity Crisis and I’m doing research and sketching out ideas for a possible sequel. And maybe a couple fun surprises along the way!

TGF: Anything else you want to say?

Right now is an amazing time for trans people to tell their stories since people are aware of us but don’t really know what we’re really all about yet, and there are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation out there. So whether we tell the stories of our lives or fictional stories that feature trans characters, there are lots of opportunities to be creative and visible. So if you have an idea or want to express yourself, go for it — there’s an audience out there!

Thanks so much for having me!

Thank YOU, Jenny!

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Category: Fun & Entertainment

About Sophie Lynne: http://sophielynne1.blogspot.com/ : http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/storywall/transgender-today/stories/sophie-lynne : http://articles.philly.com/2016-06-29/news/74075409_1_transgender-students-gender-identity-transgender-people

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