Transcript: Season 1 / Ep. 2 Drag

Drag (2).png

(intro music, synth beat melodic repeating medium tone voice singing "ah, ah, ah ah...")

Karen: You’re listening to Who Raised You Podcast? A Kitchen Table Conversation between Karen Jia Lian Yang and Treasure Shields Redmond.

Treasure: Unfurled and unafraid, we’re centering voices of color from flyover country. And we start every podcast with a poem.

(music fades out)


By Anna Ojascastro Guzon

A Novel in Nine

The war breaks.

Resources are scarce.

The oldest boy is sent

Down the mountain for food.

The house is empty

When he returns.

His family is split

Into different camps.

They do all they can

To reunite.

His mother returns

Without his sisters.

His father returns

Without his brothers.

The boy never loses

His need to apologize.

(music fades in)

{Song lyrics: Sometimes what I say ain’t right

Givin’ you such a hard time (time)

Ain’t nobody said I was perfect (perfect)

But baby, good love is worth it all and I won’t let you fall <fades out>}

Treasure: What if a black poet from Mississippi and a Taiwanese-American minister from Silicon Valley had a podcast?

Karen: We’re about to find out!

Treasure: We might even blowuptuate.

Karen: You’re listening to Who Raised You? A kitchen table conversation between Karen Jia Lian Yang and Treasure Shields Redmond.

Treasure: Whoop whoop!

Karen: As we explore how culture, family, and intersecting identities pave our way toward liberation, we wanna know: who raised you?

Treasure: (curious and thoughtful) Hmm…

Karen: We’re curious, and nowadays, especially with barricades going up across court houses—

Treasure: Oh God.

Karen: --we’re pretty irritated. Sit down; we have lots to talk about.

Treasure: Today we’re joined by Joss Barton, a writer, photographer, journalist, and artist documenting queer and trans life and love in St. Louis. She was most recently a 2016 Fellow at Topside Press’ Writers’ Workshop, for trans women writers and a 2013 Fiction Fellow at the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Emerging LGBT Writers’ Retreat. Her work has been published by Ethica Press, Vice Magazine, HIV Here & Now, Locusts: A Post-Queer Nation Zine, and Vetch Poetry: A Transgender Poetry Journal. Clearly, she is brilliant and full of Latina girl magic AND beauty!

<general laughter>

Joss: (Happily) Thank you! Hi, hi…

Treasure: Hellooo!

Joss: Hi Karen, Hi Treasure.

Treasure: Hey!

Karen: We’re so glad to have you here! (giggles)

Joss: Thank you for inviting me! Thank you so much.

Treasure: We don’t have smell-o-vision, or— (Joss laughing raucously)—smell-o-radio—

Karen: No, we have to describe it for you.

Treasure: But, she smells delicious. That’s all I can say. (Joss laughs)

Karen: Okay, what kind of delicious, though? Because I didn’t sniff her. Is it floral or is it fruity? Or is it—

Treasure: It’s—no, it’s musky grown woman.

Joss: Yes, it is musky.

(general laughter)

Karen: Ooh! (singing to the tune of “Grown Woman” by Beyonce) I’m a growwwn woman!

Treasure: Yes!

Karen: Right! I sang that really terribly, but you know what I’m saying.

Joss: It is some musky, yeah, like second wife. County… Ladue… the second wife.

Karen: Not the first one! The second one—

Treasure: The second one, honey.

Joss: The second one. Yes.

Karen: When you leveled up and know what you want.

Joss: Yes, exactly.

(general laughter)

Treasure: Alright, so we have to start out with the infamous first question which is, Joss, who raised you?

Joss: I was raised by my mother, Carolyn Barton, and my father, Donnie Barton, in a small little hamlet in rural southeast Missouri. I am a child of adoption. I was born in Guatemala. But my parents, who are actually white, adopted me at a month old. So I grew up pretty much my entire life in rural southeast Missouri.

I was raised by them, obviously my extended family. I was raised by members of their church. I grew up in a very evangelical Christian church.

Treasure: Mmm!

Joss: So yeah, I guess that’s the short answer! <laughs>

Treasure: Wow! That—there’s a lot to unpack there.

Joss: There’s a lot.

Karen: So much.

Joss: There’s a lot, but there’s—I mean, they were the people that raised me from childhood. I would also include the queer and trans elders and chosen family in my life as other people that have raised me.

Treasure: Mm!

Joss: As a 30-year-old trans woman here in St. Louis, I have been raised by a ton of people that are not my quote-unquote “patriarchal and matriarchal family.”

So I also have that kind of raising that has influenced my life and my art and my writing.

Treasure: That’s true. It makes so much sense. Well, you know, this episode, we invited you because you’re so fashionable.

Joss: I try!

Treasure: …As well as brilliant. And I just want to ask you, who raised your style, and how did your style grow up?

Joss: Oh, my sense of style…

Treasure: So, okay, you’re 30.

Joss: I’m 30 years old.

Treasure: So that means that you were a teen fifteen years ago.

Joss: Yep!

Treasure: Can I do math? What year is this?

Joss: Like, early 2000s!

Treasure: So early 2000s, okay.

Joss: Early 2000s—

Joss: But I’m a 90s baby, so I grew up in the 90s.

Treasure: Oooooohhhhh! Okay, okay, so phat jeans—

Joss: Yeah.

Treasure: Phat tennis shoes

Joss: Yes!

Treasure: Phat shirts.

(general laughter)

Joss: Phat shirts. Chunky shoes, yes! Flannel, overalls—

Treasure: Flannel, yes.

Joss: Lots of bright neon colors—

Karen: Gloss, I think…? Yeah…

Treasure: Oh, yeah!

Joss: The windbreakers…. It’s really interesting, looking back at childhood photos of myself and my brother. I have a brother, who’s not adopted, who is my parents’ biological child, who is a year younger than me. And looking back at photos of us as little kids, my mother was obsessed with dressing us alike, even though we were—well, I guess we were very close in age.

So we could wear the same size clothes. But she was obsessed with dressing us alike! Almost as if we were twins—

Karen: Like twins, yeah

Joss: --but we were clearly not twins!

(general laughter)

Joss: And a lot of those clothes, when I look back at those pictures, they really do warm my heart, because she had us decked out in like, matching corduroy little jumper overalls and—

Treasure: Aww!

Joss: --little cowboy boots and little matching hats and matching sailor striped t-shirts.

Karen: Now, did you like that? Or did you put up with it?

Treasure laughs

Joss: I remember—I mean, it’s hard for me to really remember being that young. But looking back on the pictures, I loved it.

As an adult, I think it’s adorable and cute. My earliest memory of, I guess, clothing—well, I have two very early memories of clothing. One was that my father, who was a Marine, teaching me how to line up my belt buckle to my pants and my t-shirt—

Karen: Mm. Treasure: Mmm!!!

Karen: Very, like, orderly, uniform-type of a thing.

Joss: Yeah! Yeah, and things that we would—you know, the nice clothes that they would put us in when we would go to church.

And I really, for some reason I distinctly remember my dad liked to—you know, this is how you’re supposed to button your shirt and line it up with your belt, and then it’s supposed to be lined up with the fly of your pants—it was really weird, but I distinctly remember that. And the other thing I distinctly remember is raiding my mother’s closet and wearing her negligees and high heels!

Treasure: Yeeesss!

Joss: And putting on like her clothes, and her dresses, and her skirts, and my parents thinking it was the funniest thing and just taking pictures of me.

Treasure chuckling

Joss: And so I would, like, wear my mother’s clothes around the house and just play around in them, and my parents would take pictures of it. That lasted for a little bit! Until they were like, Oh, this, this, this has got to stop!

(general laughter)

Treasure: They were like, “Oh. She likes.”

Joss: “She likes it a little too much!”

(general laughter)

Joss: But those are kind of—those are the earliest memories that I have around clothing and fashion and expression. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they’re very gendered memories.

Treasure: Yes! That’s what I’m thinking about! And I also—not just gendered, but also, I think your mother was explicitly trying to build family.

Joss: Yeah!

Treasure: Because they chose—they chose a baby, which is very special.

Joss: Yes, yes.

Treasure: So that lets you know she was into motherhood.

Joss: Yes!

Treasure: I came to motherhood—my child was planned, but I was unaware of the work.

(general laughter)

Karen: Who is really aware?

Treasure: I was shocked! I was totally shocked. She sounds like she threw herself into it.

Joss: Yeah, she did. She—my parents were married very young, right out of basically high school, so they were like, what, eighteen? Nineteen, twenty years old.

 And they tried to have children for almost ten years, and it just never happened. And it wasn’t until they were in their thirties that they decided to adopt. Once they got all the paperwork signed, then went through the adoption agency, and the States and also coordinated with the American embassy in Guatemala and they basically, back then, from what I understand my parents telling me! They basically got a call one day, they were like, “Okay, we have a child if you want it. If you want ‘him’”—

(general laughter)

Joss: --“You would need to come down immediately so you can fill out paperwork and everything.” And so that’s basically what happened. And my mother actually went by herself; she had never flown on a plane her entire life.

Treasure: Really?

Joss: And she got on a plane—PanAm—

Joss: Remember PanAm, remember?

Treasure: (laughing) Back in the day, PanAm

Joss: Back in the day.

Karen: And she’d never flown, so that was like—

Joss: She had never flown

Karen: --really courageous.

Joss: Yeah!

Karen: Especially when I talk to people who’ve never flown and they’re afraid of flying—it’s a very real thing, there’s so many things that go into it, that they don’t…

Joss: I’m sure! She flew from St. Louis to, I believe, I believe she flew to somewhere in Mexico, possibly. And then from there, she had to get on just a—what do they call those planes?

Treasure: A commuter? Like a little commuter plane?

Joss: Yeah, like a little commuter plaaane! <laughs>

Karen: Wow!

(general laughter)

Treasure: Just start singing “Help me Rhonda”

Joss: That was basically “Help me Rhonda”!

(general laughter)

Joss: That she told me, yeah, it was really wobbly and it was probably terrifying for her to be going on from a nice plane to this little rickety plane and she flew to Guatemala by herself, and doesn’t know Spanish. She’s from rural (laughs) Ozarkian Hills of Missouri!

And she, by herself, just had to figure it out, met with people she needed to meet with, and filled out the paperwork, got me from the hospital that I had been staying in for a month basically by myself after my birth parents had given me up. And, you know, filled out my citizenship papers and flew back with me by herself.

Treasure: Wow!

Joss: And that was before we had accommodations for infants on planes so she had to hold me the entire 15-hour flight back to Missouri.

So, yeah. I think that is definitely an aspect of my mother that I really do appreciate and respect a lot. The amount of work and courage that it took to do that as a young, young woman.

Treasure: Very intentional.

Joss: Yes, very intentional.

Treasure: And was she like that about her own personal fashion?

Joss: Ah… you know, when I look at pictures of my parents from when they were younger, they were very fashionable for the time! And I love it!

Treasure: Really?

Joss: They really were!

Treasure laughs

Joss: Now they kind of just look like your normal mom and pop in their sixties, you know?

(general laughter)

Karen: Very comfortable, after a while.

Joss: It is comfortable after a while, but I always really just love the clothes that she wore growing up. They were fashionable, lots of colors and lots of patterns and I think it kind of rubbed off a little bit on me!

Karen: I see a little bit of that here! I’m reminded of our last podcast session; we talked a little bit about people’s experience with diaspora. Like when you’re taken from one place to another, is that something that you ever think about?

And sometimes I talk to people who themselves are immigrants or are second generation— I’m second generation. And do you think of yourself as any US-American? Do you think of yourself as Guatemalan? Do you not think of yourself in those categories?

Joss: Yeah, that’s a very interesting question that in my experience reading other accounts and talking with other people, it’s really very an insular experience that only certain people experience who have been adopted into a family that’s a different race and different nationality than where they were born.

And it’s a very interesting, interesting concept. Nowadays, a lot of the conversations in, I guess if you would call it the research or theory-making around adoption and those situations are really try to integrate the child in as much cultural relevant background and information as possible so they have an understanding of this is how the world views me outside of my home.

And these are the ways in which, you know, even though the people raising you don’t have this background and this culture, where you came from has this rich history.

Um. (amused) I was born in 1986!

(general laughter)

Joss: That was not a part of the discussion! (chuckling)

Treasure: Right, right. They were like, “Here’s your white drag.”

Joss: Yes!

Treasure: “Put on your white drag!”

Karen: Mmm!

Joss: It really was white drag!

(general laughter)

Joss: That’s the perfect way to describe it! And I grew up in an all-white town, an all-white school, and an all-white church so although my parents were—told me from a very young age—another one of the earliest memories I have is my parents telling me, “You were chosen, we adopted you.” Telling me the story of my adoption.

Many times, ad nauseum, to the point where I was like, “Okayyy, I get it!” But not really appreciating it as a young child, but it was something that was drilled into me from a young age, so although I knew I was adopted from a young age, the concept of race and culture and ethnicity didn’t really hit me until I got older and realized, “Oh wow, I don’t look anything like any of these people!” (chuckling)

So it’s a very interesting situation! Especially as a writer and an artist that really deals heavily in identity and culture.

 It definitely has given me a perspective that not a lot of people have. Also kind of it creates for me—I can’t speak for everyone that’s had my experience—but it does create almost a void in your life that almost feels like you’re constantly trying to figure out who you are, because you have always known from a very young age, “I don’t resemble the world in which I find myself in.” It’s almost constantly reinforced into your face, even though it may not be a vicious reinforcement, sometimes it’s just like, “Wow, I don’t look like these people.”

Even though I grew up in a very homogenous society in my rural town, the difference—just the outlying physical difference—does have a big effect on you if you are the outsider or the other or the black sheep (laughs) if you will.

So, you know…

Treasure: Or the lovely cocoa brown sheep

Joss: Or the cocoa brown sheep!

(general laughter)

Joss: I guess, the brown sugar sheep. So it definitely gives me a very interesting experience to work from that definitely has influenced my writing, my art. And it has been a process for me, I think, to work through. But not one that I regret in any way. But it definitely gives me a different perspective on the world, I think.

Karen: You know, I’m remembering how at certain points in my life, when things have been really tough, I’ve turned to writing, and just at some point I learned, you know, you can do free writing!

Joss: Yeah!

Karen: And you can just get everything out there. And I’m aware that there’s a lot of reasons why people do writing, you write—

Joss: Yes

Karen: --you know, Treasure’s a poet, so that’s also a form of writing, I’m clearly writing some sort of questions for you all so that’s also writing. What part of writing is about just expressing and working through and processing stuff?

And what part of it is in some ways to kind of write yourself into a story, or like, write yourself into the world so that other people can see that your existence is a possibility?

Joss: Yeah! I mean, I think all of those different ways of narrative that you describe exist; that they can exist are totally valid. For me, I kind of always felt that my writing is really a way—and I guess this might be a selfish way to look at it, but it’s a way in which how—my writing allows me to find things out about myself that I didn’t know before I started writing.

I feel very, very incapable trying to write something to enlighten a stranger or even my best friend.

So for me, writing has always been an insular experience. What is it about myself, my desires, my pain, my joy, the ugly parts of myself—how can I explore those in my writing so that when I’m done and I come out of the piece, I’ve learned something about myself?

It’s kind of a selfish way to write, but it’s really the only thing that feels authentic to me. If I’m trying to teach someone through my writing, it almost never works.

I just look at it, “This is horrible! This is horrible! I would never put this out into the world!”

Karen: That’s a thing! Writers are very critical of their work.

Joss: Yeah! But if I’m writing so that I am trying to teach myself something—and of course, I’m using all sorts of different structural methods, dialogue, character development, poetry, prose—

Karen: Use all your tools

Joss: Yeah! Have the tools; but if I’m starting from the place of there’s something about me—because I really believe that every person is complicit in the world that we live in, in some way in these systems, so, if I’m writing about the ways in which we have the systems of the world that oppress us, that oppress trans women or people of color or poor people in this country, people that are not able-bodied. If I’m writing about these systems, how am I complicit in these systems?

So if I’m writing from that perspective, just to start with, to me it feels that the writing is healthy and productive and speaks to a reality that is more authentic and useful than if I’m just trying to lecture people about injustice that I see.

Because I know that I’m a part of that injustice in some way. I’ve helped facilitate it somehow. And there’s a million different ways you can examine that, but knowing that we are not absolved of this inhumanity that we find ourselves in.

Treasure: Mmm. So it’s kind of like you’re grabbing us by the ears—

Karen laughs

Treasure: --and re-centering our attention to our own complicity.

Joss: Yes

Treasure: And I experience your work as highly erotic.

Joss laughs

Treasure: And I know that other people could experience it as shocking—I’m using air quotes, you guys can’t see it.

Joss laughs raucously

Treasure: But desire is never shocking to me, it just is.

Joss: Right, right, yeah.

Treasure: You, earlier, told us a story about putting on your mother’s lingerie. And that is also erotic, even in your nascent sexuality.

Joss: Right

Treasure: There’s an eros there.

So I want to know: your focus is definitely gender, race. But the focus on the erotic: what purpose does that serve in your work?

Joss: (sighing) Oh! I do love sex. (laughing) I love sex! I love my body, I love my body—

Treasure: That’s awesome!

Joss: I love playing with other people’s bodies, but as a writing tool, I think that sexuality or desires, or what some people might just call a fetish or a kink, I think people underestimate the ways in which those parts of our human existence can really, really pinpoint or highlight how human beings really behave and think about each other, relate to each other, relate to the wider world around them.

So it’s always been something that’s interested me. I think also growing up in a very religious community, where the stories about desire and sexuality were always laced with this evil…

Treasure: Judgment? (chuckling)

Joss: …this abomination—

Treasure: I wondered about that, whether you were trying to write against your biography.

Joss: Yeah! I remember I used to read, I used to seek out every sexual scene in the Bible and just devour it. (Treasure chuckles)

Karen: Yeah

Joss: Almost like, “Oh, wow!” Even though it was written in this place of judgment, like “ Oh, these people are going to go to hell because they had sex with an animal,” but I’m just reading it like, “Having sex with an animal?! What?!”

Treasure and Karen laugh

Joss: Or, you know, like the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, or Samson and Delilah, like those erotic stories, Song of Solomon, these erotic stories. It just always kind of interested me and fascinated me. And I kind of—I guess a lot of what I write about, although I honestly do—I see it as empowering. But it is very—it—the shock factor, I think, when people hear my work, it’s shocking because it’s almost unapologetic in the depravity of what we do to each other sometimes.

I think that’s something that shouldn’t be shied away from. That’s kind of where I come from.

I grew up with a lot of, although I have no desire to be in the congregation of these men anymore, but I grew up with a lot of fire and brimstone tent revival preachers, and although I think what they were preaching is very destructive in how they positioned our place in the world, and the subjugation of, like, we should be doing to a quote-unquote “God,” the way in which they could tell stories through their body language, their voice, their inflections, you know, it was mesmerizing when I was a child. I guess I try to hone that a little bit in my writing.

Karen:  You know, it’s really interesting, Treasure, that you bring up the erotic in your writing, Joss, because I had not heard of you until Treasure said “We should have Joss on our podcast.”

And the more I read into kind of what you’ve shared in terms of interviews and then also on your blog and things like that, the more I really felt, “Oh my gosh, I see why Treasure said we have to her on here!”

Treasure and Joss laugh

Karen: Because there’s something about your writing that’s really compelling, and it’s very juicy and rich. It’s something where, when you’re reading it, you can’t help but feel. And I think that might be the eroticism that you’re talking about. That it’s sensual, because the body is really important there. And when I was reading it, what I was struck with was that you’re playing with kind of a contrast between life and death.

Joss: Yeah, yeah

Karen: That it seems like there’s really high stakes in whatever you’re writing about. There are some people who write, and they really love the little mundane things?

Joss: Yeah, yeah

Karen: But it’s like, “Oh, you know, so-and-so’s just cooking in the kitchen, and, you know, the slight smile that they had…” but yours is not boring like that—

Joss laughs

Karen: --and that’s not to say that that writing’s not important.

That writing can be really beautiful. But that’s not your approach, is how I felt.

Joss: Gotcha. Yeah. Um, I (amused laughter) I totally understand what you’re saying.

I do love the mundane, though! I love the—I love nuanced writings, writers, and nuanced writing like that. I do, I love it, I read it. I salivate over the nuance.

It’s hard for me to write like that; but sometimes I feel like there’s parts of my writing that is a little bit more one day kind of nuance. It’s just—those are more the kind of gems hidden in my stuff.

Yeah. I think, again, a lot of it just comes back right before my background, coming from a very very religious upbringing, where in that world, it is life or death situation, if you’re not obedient to the quote-unquote “word of God,” well, you’re going to hell. (laughs)

So I think that always kind of stuck with me, even though I don’t believe that. It does fascinate me, how storytelling in that kind of way can really influence how people view themselves in the world and the way in which they decide to treat other people in the world.

So, I think for me, if I’m doing that with a little bit of my writing, it’s really to try to encourage people to, you know, to love each other a little bit more.

Treasure: Mmmm! There’s a concept! (laughs)

Karen: Well I think also, not just love in this very abstract sense, but that the love takes very specific embodied form.

Treasure: Yesss. Justice.

Karen: And sometimes it’s very salty through your tears, sometimes salty through your sweat, sometimes it takes blood, you know? All these different things that you feel. I’m reflecting on my own evangelical background; I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene?

Joss: Okay

Karen: And so there is kind of like some of those more conserving overtones. And at the same time, it was in Silicon Valley, so I was raised by all these, like, tech, nerdy, geeky folks like my pastor at—Treasure knows this, my senior pastor for most of the time was the vice president of an engineering software design company.

Joss: That is so amazing… so interesting!

Karen: --Yeah, so there was both the very intellectual, kind of like, here’s the historical background, this is what it’s about aspect, but then there were some of those holdovers that you’re talking about, of religion, where—I went to seminary, so I’ve learned that there is that kind of Western, especially Greek concepts, where the body is your enemy, and it’s really, you want to get to the Platonic ideal of the mind and all these perfect things. And you want to push away the desire, you want to push away your body, which is going to be holding you back.

Joss: Right, right. I totally agree with that, and it’s really interesting thinking about the ways in which the influences I had growing up totally, totally seem almost ridiculous in a way, if you know the reality of the area that I grew up. Southeast Missouri, if you look up—it is a fact, it is one of the top ten poorest areas of the country. Because there’s nothing down there. (laughs)

Treasure: Right. No industry—

Joss: There’s no industry, there’s nothing. There’s nothing. And so growing up, you know, being surrounded by such immense poverty but not realizing that it was poverty until I got out of it and then being like, “Oh, wow, this is—we’re poor! We’re poor! We are poor people out here!”

And just kind of being influenced by how, where I grew up. Although people realize it’s hard down there. But it’s—I don’t think—I would imagine I can’t be the only person that, while I was in it, totally couldn’t grasp the immense violence that poverty really was on our everyday existence when I grew up, and on people that are living there now, and grow up there now.

Because it really took me leaving and going to college, being in a different community, city, town, whatever you want to call it, to realize, “Wow, this is some po-ver-ty.”

So yeah, that’s another thing that I think really influenced the way in which I think about the world. And I try to convey it through my writing.

Treasure: So, you’re telling us that you were at the intersection of class, race, gender... (Treasure laughs)

Karen: Well, see, technically, we all are! But then how that plays out, absolutely—

Treasure: And evangelical Christianity—

Joss: Right

Treasure: So within the eye of this perfect storm, right?

Joss: Mhm

Treasure: You’re being given this theology of punishment, basically, which is a similar theology that I was raised with as a theology of punishment. That we’re trying not to go to hell.

Joss: Right

Treasure: We’re trying to go to your reward, you’re trying to go to heaven.

Joss: Right

Treasure: And there are some behaviors that can keep you out of heaven. So, there had to be a moment, several defining moments where you had doubts.

Joss: Oh, yesss! Of course!

Treasure: And I wanted to know, did they dovetail your coming of understanding of yourself as a woman?

Joss: Um… the doubts I had about the religion in which I was raised in really didn’t have much to do with my gender. It really had to do with just seeing the immense ridiculousness of the Bible that I was forced to read.

(Treasure laughs)

Joss: I remember one day in Sunday School, we were reading—I don’t remember the exact passage in the Old Testament, but it was one of the war chapters, where the Israelites are commanded by God to kill their enemies—

Karen: Yeah! Kill everyone. Yeah.

Treasure: Gird your loins, pick up your swords

Karen: Because if you kill everyone—

Joss: Exactly, because you know, you can’t let these people live, because they’re just going to continue worshiping their pagan gods.

And I remember I asked my Sunday School teacher, “Why would God allow this to happen? You’re killing these innocent people who had nothing to do with what their husbands or their fathers were going to war—like, why would—this is ridiculous!

And I remember my Sunday School teacher being like, “Well, you know that’s what God commanded them to do. And if they didn’t do it, then these people would just kill them back.” And I’m like, “Well, that doesn’t make any sense! Just keep killing each other?! For no reason??”

So that, to me, was really the moment in which I was like, “This doesn’t make any sense. This is so not—this is so not real!” And then as I got older and I started to realize more about my gender and my sexuality, then obviously that was the more, like, that is what people see in the movies as the veil uplifting, like, “Oh, I was praying to God every morning and night to change me.” And of course, yeah, I went through that, too.

But to me it really was more like seeing kind of how ridiculous it was.

Treasure: Well, I think it’s interesting that what pricked your doubt was the violence.

Joss: It was the violence.

Treasure: And you called poverty “violence.” Interesting.

Joss: Yeah. I didn’t grow up—like, I got some whoopings, and obviously, I’m from the country, you spank your kids in the country

Treasure laughs

Karen: Right

Joss: And I don’t agree with it as an adult, but I don’t have children and probably will never have children, but like where I’m from, that’s just, “Oh, your kids are acting out? You need to get them together.”

But it was not an overt violence. Like, I wasn’t—I never felt like, when I got a spanking, although it was a form of violence, I wasn’t scarred for life from it.

That’s just how I felt. My parents were very Christian, they were sober, they didn’t drink, so there was no, like, incredibly violent episodes ever in my house, so I just was never exposed to real violence. And so, like, I was reading about it, or hearing about it, or hearing the justification for it, yeah, it did rub me the wrong way.

Because it just was so foreign to me. But yeah, as an adult, I can see how poverty we were surrounded in, and the ways in which it affected people I grew up with; it was violent. That was a form of violence that people just accepted. Because that’s just how it was down there.

And, you know, that’s just what happened. And so, that also was a kind of a turning point, just realizing that there’s another way in which we could be living our lives. You know, we don’t have to be constantly enduring this crippling poverty.

Treasure: Mmm.

Joss: And these stories that allow us to justify being violent to other people who don’t look like us or believe like us or pray like us, you know, we don’t have to be doing this to each other. And so, yeah, a lot of that I kind of explore through my work.

Treasure: So, when you went to college—

Joss: Mmhmm?

Treasure: --how did you—how did you choose to leave your community? What made you want to leave?

Or were your parents promoters of college and going away?

Joss: My parents were big promoters of me utilizing education to get out of there.

Treasure: Mm.

Joss: I did very well in school; I always had good grades. And so, for me, graduating—high school I knew I wanted to go to college, I knew I wanted to write, I just didn’t know what form that would eventually take. I thought I was going to be a journalist, so I wanted to go to a journalism school, so I went to the University of Missouri Columbia, Mizzou, for people that are familiar.

And my parents were very supportive of me going to college. They wanted me to get an education because they never—they were never fortunate enough to go to college and get any education really higher than a high school diploma. So, they were definitely supportive of me doing that, although four years at Mizzou did make me realize I didn’t want to be a journalist.

Treasure: Okay (chuckling)

Joss: But! It gave me a lot of great skills. I don’t regret doing journalism as a major. But, when I left and graduated from Mizzou, I just really realized I don’t want to be a journalist, I want to do the creative stuff. So that’s really where I felt the energy, the passion, and the creativity. That’s where I found myself really gravitating toward. And so I’ve been doing that ever since. But probably my parents wish I (laughing) probably had pursued journalism as a career! Because I would have, like, a big adult job. (laughing) Instead of being just a poet/artist.

But you know, they were very supportive, and when I went off to college, they were supportive of me doing that. Because, like I said, where I’m from, there was no—there really was no option for me staying there.

There would have been nothing for me there. At all. Outside of just slowly finding ways to become comfortable or numb to living a false sense of identity. I guess I would have to marry a woman and pretended to be a man and maybe have kids and work some job that I don’t really like.

That was not going to happen for me. I wasn’t going to allow it, for myself. I never was going to do that. But if I were to do—if I were going to stay there in some crazy alternate universe, that—

Treasure erupts in laughter

Joss: --would have been what happened. And you know, that’s just what you do. So, yeah. They were supportive of me leaving.

Treasure: Okay.

Joss laughs

Karen: Yeah, you know, going back to the conversation about violence and then also to tie it into just the decision to leave and do something different; I’m starting to think about how I think people more and more are talking about how the antidote to violence is not necessarily nonviolence. Because that in itself sometimes results in more suffering for people. But that the antidote to violence is imagination.

Joss: Oh yes! Of course!

Karen: And so I’m thinking about your blog, which is entitled “The Queer Imagination Liberates Its Damn Self.”

Joss: Yes, yes.

Karen: And I have some feelings and wonderings and thoughts about why I believe that that’s an amazing statement, but I want to know from you, what do you mean by that?

Joss: Well, what I mean by that, I think starts with my definition of queer. My definition—I identify as a queer trans woman. And although I am primarily attracted to men, my definition of queer is really a political definition.

It’s a way that I see the world as possibility to exist that isn’t dependent on these forms of oppression that we have seen clearly are not working.

Treasure chuckles

Joss: You know, they clearly are not working

Treasure: Clearly!

Joss: White supremacy is not working.

Karen: Sure

Joss: Capitalism is not working.

Treasure: Mhm, mhm

Joss: Patriarchy is not working. So for me, queer has always been a political identity. And so for me, the queer imagination is this imagination to re-imagine the way in which the world should exist.

And it also means to me that we can’t really depend on well-meaning liberals to do that for us.

Karen: So no one can save— Treasure: Mmm!

Joss: Yes!

Karen: Okay.

Joss: Yeah, like, although I love, I love Barack Obama, and the former First Lady—

Karen and Joss laugh

Joss: --Michelle Obama, they could not liberate us. You know, we can’t depend on well-meaning, progressive liberal people to do that. I mean, it really takes a queer imagination to liberate all of us.

Treasure: (whispers “Yesss”) I gotta give you a snap for that! (snaps fingers)

(general laughter)

Karen: Okay, we’re all snapping here!

(more fingers snap)

Treasure: I’m going to keep snapping here, it’s true.

Karen: I was just reverently quiet, like, “Oh!” Making some Mmm sounds, like, “Mm. Mm.”

Joss: So, yeah! Because that title came about at a time when a lot of people were thinking—when a lot of people were, in my experience, thought the election of Barack Obama was going to totally shift the paradigm in this country.

And it didn’t. I mean, it did for—in certain ways, which I think are very, very important. We shouldn’t overlook that, or pretend as if the Obama administration didn’t do a lot of great things. But it didn’t radically shift the narrative. It didn’t radically shift the way in which we are forming our society around real justice and real community.

Treasure: Right, right. It didn’t become what I was hoping it would become.

Joss: Yeah.

Treasure: He would take off his mask on inauguration day and—

Joss: Yeah

Treasure: And be like, “Guess what? I’m a tree-hugging leftist.”

Joss: Yes.

Karen laughs

Joss: “I’m a Communist!”

Treasure: Right, “I’m a Communist! We’re about to have a collective government.”

Joss: Yeah, yeah, exactly!

Joss and Treasure laugh

Joss: It wasn’t what we thought it was going to be. It was—and so that title came out of—it really came out of the Obama years, where I was writing a lot about this imagination is ultimately what is going to save us if that’s what we want. Because the business as usual for traditional liberal politics is not cutting it. It also clearly is not working either. (laughs)

Treasure: Yes. You know, I was just listening to this amazing podcast; I’m going to try to find the name of it. But it features one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, Patrice Cullors.

Joss: That’s fabulous.

Treasure: And I posted what she said, because it was so powerful to me. She said, “Black Lives Matter is a rehumanizing project.”

Joss and Karen: Mmhmm

Treasure: Rehumanizing. And then she went on to talk about how black bodies—and we can include queer bodies, trans bodies, bodies of color—are imagined as always dying—

Joss: Right

Treasure: --as always captured—

Karen: Oh yeah

Joss: Mmhmm

Karen: Think of any TV show, movie about—

Treasure: Exactly. She talked about futuristic films, how there are no people of color in the future—

Joss: Right. Karen: Yeah

Treasure: Well, there is one Asian person, who is running the technology.

Karen and Joss laugh

Karen: And just sits in the background, not saying anything…

Treasure: In the background, handling the technology…

Karen: Yeah, right.

Treasure: But, what you said about the queer imagination is also a rehumanizing project. It’s saying, we’re not always abject; we’re not always tragic.

Joss: Right Karen: Mmhmm

Treasure: We’re not always on the poster with rest in peace.

Karen: Mm Joss: Right

Treasure: We are here, vital, important, and we will save our damned selves.

Joss: Exactly. Yeah!

Treasure laughs

Joss: That’s—I think you said it better than I did!

(general joyful laughter)

Joss: But no, that’s so true! That’s exactly—that’s exactly where—that is exactly where I try to come from in my work, in my writing. That sentiment is what influences me every day that I try to sit down and write something that feels somewhat true to the way in which I want to live my life. And I want to see my world and my community and my family grow and live as—in really their true potential of justice, community, love, understanding, empathy.

Treasure: So, let’s move forward to St. Louis.

Joss: Okay!

Treasure: How did you wind up in St. Louis?

Joss: Oh wow. Okay.

Treasure laughs

Joss: I went—so, right after graduation was the recession, and no one had jobs. No one could get a job. Everyone was getting fired, so it was really hard for me to—I had moved to, like, St. Charles County. I was working a shitty, shitty mall job, and I hated my life.

And I eventually had kind of a mini mental break down, and I had to move back with my family for a summer. Which was actually, strangely probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I smoked a lot of weed. (Treasure chuckles)

I wrote a lot, and I read a lot. And I pretty much spent every day with my grandmother. (laughs)

Treasure: Really?! Under the tutelage of the ancestors.

Karen: She got all of these pearls…

Joss: Well, my grandmother was from, was born in Arkansas. And grew up, and lived in the small town that I’m from. And so, you know, how grandmas are, they’re different than your parents. They don’t care.

(general laughter)

Joss: They’re just like, “You know, just come on over.”

And so, even though I have kind of an interesting relationship with my parents where their religion does keep them from truly understanding me, and all of me, my grandmother and my grandfather were much different. They were just like, “This is our grandchild, whatever. Just come on over, we want you to come over.”

And so, my family knew that I was going through a really hard time. And so I had moved back for the summer. I got to spend a lot of time in my grandma’s garden, hanging out with her, reading a lot, and writing a lot. And around that time, a friend of mine had suggested I come to this queer camping trip that was out in Lebanon, Missouri.

Karen: Whoa!

Joss: In the middle of the woods.

Treasure: Mm!

Joss: It was about 500 LGBT folx just camping out there, walking around naked, and partying—

(Karen chuckling) Treasure: Fantastic

Joss: --and I was like, “But I don’t have any money, I’m broke, I don’t have a job.” And this is kind of like, to me, I’m still surprised by what real, chosen queer family can, should be. She was like, “Just come. Just come. We’ll feed you. You just need to get away from everything for a minute.”

I was like, “Okay.” So I came, and it was a life-altering experience (laughing) to be around so many queer people just living and walking 100% free in the woods, away from everybody. Away from civilization. It was very interesting. And I met my ex-boyfriend there.

And we just hit it off, and we had sex, and I thought I was going to have fun and probably never see this person again. But somehow we just started—we kept in contact after that camping trip. And we started dating, and he asked me to come to St. Louis and move in with him. And I was like, “Okay, I have nothing else to do, so!”

“So, let’s just do it!” I just took a chance and I came, even though I—St. Louis wasn’t a total, I wouldn’t say it was a huge risk, because, like, my father was born in St. Louis, so a lot of his family is still in St. Louis. So I had some connection to St. Louis. And I had several really good friends of mine from college who are St. Louisans and lived here after college as well, so it was like, “Okay, I know a couple people in St. Louis,” so I wouldn’t be totally, like, out of my realm.

And so I moved here with my ex, and we were together for about four years. And after that relationship ended, I was just like, “Well, let’s stay here.” I know a lot of people, I have a job, and I’m kind of writing, and so it just kind of stuck here!

We were talking about St. Louis is a sticky, sticky kind of place…

Karen: Yes… yeah, I think you said that, Treasure, you said that St. Louis is a sticky city.

Joss: It’s a sticky city.

Karen: Or someone I know has said that St. Louis is a sticky city.

Joss: It kind of is, yeah! That’s what happened! I just got stuck.

Treasure: Yeah. I always tell that story of coming across the bridge from Illinois into St. Louis, the Poplar Bridge—

Joss: Mmhmm

Treasure: --the one where you see the Arch to your right.

Joss: Mmhmm

Treasure: And this little voice in my heart said, “I love you, St. Louis.”

Joss laughs Karen: (tiny voice) Aw!

Treasure: And I was like, “How fucking dare you, Lord.”

Joss and Karen laugh

Treasure: (gradually louder) How DARE you!!!!

Joss: Nice, right

Treasure: You love an abusive lover!

Joss: Yesss, yesss!

Treasure: You know what I’m saying? But it just worms its way in!

Joss: It does. It really does.

Treasure: It’s the craziest thing!!

Joss: It really does. It really does.

Treasure: And then when you fight for something you really love it.

Joss: Yeah, that’s true.

Karen: (laughing) That’s real

Treasure: So I think that the Ferguson uprising bonded a lot of us. All of us have stakeholders all over the country who tell us, “You could be doing this and this in this city,”—

Joss: Yeah, yep

Treasure: Everybody sitting at this table is the bomb.

Joss and Karen: Mmhmm

Treasure: We could go somewhere else and do something, but we’re going to do it here.

Joss: Right

Treasure: And they’re going to take it.

(General laughter)

Joss: That’s true!

Karen: We’re mindful of the Stockley verdict coming soon—

Joss: Yes, yes

Karen: --having Anthony Smith and his family in our prayers.

Yeah, can we say that again? “When you fight for something, you love it.”

Treasure: Mm, that’s right.

Karen: That’s for our listeners, just to sit with that. That’s so powerful.

Treasure: Mmhmm

Joss: It is. I agree. I have a very similar feeling. You know, I’m from Missouri. I’ve never—I didn’t grow up in St. Louis, I have no real association with St. Louis, other than maybe visiting throughout maybe childhood once or twice.

But living here, yeah, you do find yourself loving it. You just wake up one morning and are like, “Yeah, this is my home.”

Karen and Treasure laugh

Joss: As strange as it is that the next day you’re going to wake up like, “I fucking hate it!”

Treasure: Yes! (chuckling)

Joss: “Why the fuck am I here?!”

(General laughter)

Joss: But it is!

Treasure: You have your famous Facebook spin-out, where—

Joss: Yes!

Treasure: --are there jobs in Poughkeepsie?

Joss: Yes, yes!

Treasure laughs

Joss: Right? I think we’ve all had our Facebook spin-outs, like “I’m out, KRD, kick rocks, deuces, I’m leaving,”—

Treasure: (laughing) Right

Joss: But no, you do, you just, you don’t leave, you stay here. Something happens, or you meet someone, or you hear an amazing or witness or consume an amazing bit of art or poetry or painting, and from someone that’s here, and you’re like, “Wow, this is amazing.”

So, yeah, I totally get that.

Karen: One of the things that me and Treasure have talked about in planning this podcast is that it’s so important to have voices from flyover country—

Joss: Yeah!

Karen: --or at least coming out of flyover country, because so many stories are from the coasts.

Joss: Yes, yes!

Karen: And even though we both have roots in Mississippi and in California, that’s something that we recognize. So as someone who grew up in (chuckling) rural Missouri, now in St. Louis, do you have thoughts on what are some of the more important stories that need to be told, or?

Joss: Oh, I feel like people don’t understand the intense—the intensity of what we may call, in 2017, a liberation movement exists here—

Karen and Treasure: Mmm

Joss: --in Missouri, from Dred Scott to Ferguson—

Karen: Yeah, right. Treasure: Mmm

Joss: --to the first Supreme Court case allowing a LGBT student organization called Gay Liberation out of Mizzou in the 70s to exist.

Treasure: I didn’t know that!

(Karen laughs)

Joss: (emphatically) Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Karen: Treasure’s all leaned back on her chair, looking at Joss like, “What is this?” all sideways--

Treasure: (high-pitched) What?!

Joss: Yeah, because so much—there are so many untold stories. And I think it’s really—once you hear these stories and it becomes part of you, or you become a part of a story, like Ferguson, it kind of makes you realize that there is important work to be done here. That the work isn’t done, and that a lot of what we are able—how we are able to live our lives as people trying to seek liberation, that work is coming from ancestors before us from this part of the country.

Karen and Treasure: Mmm

Joss: So, yeah. I think it’s very important.

Karen: Yeah, and it’s so related to our earlier conversation about, like, what is liberation really about? And in my mind, I think a huge part of it is about agency and it’s about power, kind of like, you don’t wait for other people to tell you what to do and you kind of tell yourself that what you feel is right, you can go ahead—

Joss: Right, right

Karen: --and so there is something about the coastal and then the Midwest dynamic, where it’s like there are so many power-holders, whether they are elected leaders or they are like major non-profits or whatever they might be and media that says “This is how things go” or “This is how things will go” or “This is how we see it from here,” fly-in, literally, (laughing sarcastically)--

Joss: Right Treasure: Mmhmm

Karen: -- if we’re talking about the Ferguson uprising, fly out, and then once the cameras leave, shit really gets real.

Joss: Yeah, for me as a trans woman writing, I personally am in awe sometimes of the stories I find out about St. Louis and Missouri in general.

The fact that the first autobiography by an anonymous gay man was written here in St. Louis—

Karen: (laughing) Treasure’s learning so many things! Her eyes are just like opened. Literally opened.

Joss: --and was published here in St. Louis

Treasure: This queer archive of history; I’m like, what? That’s the grant we need to help you write! Excavating the queer history…

Joss: --to the—yes!—to the unknown and unmade archive history of trans women of color here in St. Louis at the turn of the century. Some amazing articles you can find from the Post-Dispatch and other archives here in St. Louis.

Treasure: Mmmm

Karen: LGBT History Project of Missouri

Joss: Yeah, my favorite is a trans woman who was hired at a downtown department store to waitress, and worked until her employer realized (laughing) she was quote-unquote “a cross-dresser,”—according to the paper, and then getting fired.

Treasure: Oh, wow

Joss: But this is like, you know, the risk people took back in the day. Another one of my favorite stories is, it was in the paper, it’s—the headline was—what was it? It was—oh, what was it? Something like, “The She-Man”—oh, yeah, “The She-Man of the Ozarks”—

Karen: Mmm—of the Ozarks

Treasure: The She-Man of the Ozarks?! <laughing>

Joss: “The She-Man of the Ozarks,” who went on a bank robbery spree—

Karen: That’s amazing (laughing) Treasure laughs

Joss: --through Missouri, and she was described in the paper as holding up a bank in a wig and a—like a needle-point purse and a dress—

(Treasure chuckling)

Karen: That’s so perfect

Joss: --and robbed banks—

Treasure: She was like, “If I’m going to rob this bank, I’m going to be well-dressed.”

Karen: But it’s like, did she start, was she the actual person who started Occupy, though?

(General laughter)

Karen: Like, that’s what I want to know!

Joss: Right! Right.

Karen: That’s the genesis.

Joss: That’s probably—that may have been the genesis!

Treasure: Right

Joss: That she was on the run, and she ended up in St. Louis before she was caught, and like—

Treasure: Oh, wow

Joss: Just so—like, yeah, I think for me, right now, recently, I mean I’m getting a lot of inspiration finding out more about the history, specifically for me of trans women and gender non-conforming and queer people here in Missouri and St. Louis.

Treasure: Mm. I love that work. Count me in on that work.

(Karen and Joss giggle)

Treasure: So, we made it up to you coming to St. Louis, which was through your ex—

Joss: Mmhmm

Treasure: --as well as some association with the city I did, too.My mother’s sister moved here and raised her family very near Ferguson, in a place called Cool Valley which is basically Ferguson. (laughs) And actually my daughter’s baby shower was in Ferguson; the Saint Louis baby leg of the shower because we took that baby shower on tour.

Joss: Ha haa!! hahahaha

Karen: (laughing) That’s amazing.

Treasure:  We had to get coined up for that baby

Joss: Right, yeah.

Karen: If you’re going to have a baby you got to make sure to have one of these, you have what you need

Joss: Yes

Joss:  You got to do what you got to do

Treasure: But, when we talk about the Ferguson uprising one of my memories is seeing Joss periodically at downtown actions.

Every now and then I would see Joss and we both would be documenting and pissed off, and we would hug, you know (Treasure and Joss laughing)

Treasure: --and I just wanted to know like how did the Ferguson uprising kind of shape your view of Saint Louis?

Joss: Well, when Ferguson happened, Michael Brown was murdered, I always look at it as--I don’t look at it as someone that tried to support the dedicated organizers and activists as much as I could.

There were people that were at every action

Karen: Mhm.

Treasure: That’s fine.

Joss:  --that did eeeevery protest.

Karen: And before they were even called ‘Actions’--

Joss: Before, yes.

Karen: --when it was just you were going out at night, in the streets.

Treasure: Mhm, Mhm.

Joss:  Exactly, exactly.  And I was, I never claimed to be one of those people because I wasn’t, but I felt like this was something that needs to be supported by all of us if we are truly down to be ‘woke,’ or ‘liberated--’ or for justice, then it is our duty to really support as much as we could, whether, I mean: if you have the money, giving funds.  If you have the physical ability to be out there in the streets--you know, be out there in the streets.

Joss:  If you have the ability to give resources to the organizers, do that.  So, for me it was like: ‘Okay.  I don’t have money.  But I’m--I am able bodied.  I can be out there. I--

Treasure: And witnessing--

Joss:  Yeah

Treasure: --witnessing is work.

Joss: Yes, yeah

Treasure: Because as you can see from your recovered queer and trans histories people try to erase--

Joss: They do.

Treasure: --and they’ll rewrite the narrative.

Joss: Mhm.  They do.  And so for me, I was like: ‘Okay, I can’t be out there every day but when people are sending a mass text message and I know I can do it, I will be there.  And I also know there were a lot of people that were specifically dedicated to disrupting the normal flow of our white supremacist police state here in Saint Louis.

And so, for me, it’s like: Okay, what can I also do while I’m there? I can document this, accurately, so that when it’s over and the police unions want to rewrite (Karen scoffs) what happened, I can be there like: “No, actually, that’s not what happened I was there.  I have proof.  I have photographic, video, anecdotal evidence. You know, this is, this is not what, y’know, yall thought it was on Fox News every night”—

Treasure: Mhm Karen: Right.

Joss: --"it was something totally different.”  So, for me as someone who went and was trained as a journalist through my undergrad education, I was like: ‘Okay, I’m going to be here taking photos”--as many photos as I possibly could. Jotting down as much dialog as I could hear from people out in the streets, and for me that culminated in a piece titled ‘The Narrative will Kill You, Sooner or Later.’

Treasure:  Mmmm.

Joss: That’s a--a pretty, a longer prose poem that really incorporates a lot of what I saw and heard in Ferguson and is a way in which--I am--I’ve written it to incorporate and really place queer and trans people of color in the center of that uprising, because they were there from the beginning.  And that should, I feel should be--

Karen:  And leading.

Joss: And leading, yes.  And leading.

Treasure: Mhm.

Joss: And that was my, my way of helping document, it’s a--an intersectional approach to liberation that started from queer and trans black folk here in Saint Louis--

Treasure: Mhm, mhm.

Joss:  --you know, that, you know, again was not--that’s not going to be reported on Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC that you know, it was queer black women that helped spear Ferguson.  It was trans people of color here in Saint Louis that helped cohesively organize people.

So, yeah, it--it definitely also influenced the way in which I see our police operate here in Saint Louis.  Even though I may--I never really had--I, personally never had any interactions with police that I could write down and say I was brutalized by the police.

I have a lot of privileges when it comes to the way in which I look.  And how I have certain class privilege so, I have never been brutalized by the police.  But Ferguson, even though I knew it was an issue, Ferguson really opened my eyes to, wow, the police, here in Saint Louis, really are on one.

They are on one.  And for me it influenced my work in that, going forward, I know we--we cannot just take their word for it.  That’s not--we don’t live in this, you know we don’t live in, like, this is not the Andy Griffith show anymore.

This is not, you know, this is not Mayberry anymore.  We are in, we are living in a country where the majority of people have been apathetic and almost, almost gleefully enjoying the fact that police, in their communities, are going to harass and brutalize people of color, and especially black people--

Karen: Yeah. Treasure: Mhm.

Joss: --in our country.  That we--that we have become okay with it. It’s something that this is just, this is how the way, this is how--this is what the police are supposed to do.

Treasure: Right. Karen: Right.

Joss: And, so Ferguson really opened my eyes to this is how, mainly white people, want their police to act in this country. They want the police to be harassing and violating the constitutional rights of black people and people of color and poor people.  This is, this what we have allowed to happen, and we want to happen.  And if we don’t want it to happen anymore then we really need to be stepping up as much as possible and questioning everything the police say.  Because Ferguson really proved to us that they’re lying most of the time. Like, they’re lying most of the time.

Karen: So, I’m, I’m curious how your witness has interacted with your white family or people in your home town--

Joss: Yeah.

Karen: Do you still talk to them? Is that something that you can share here?

Joss: When Ferguson went down I would talk to my parents about, like, attending actions.  And they were not for it.  They were like: ‘You should not be out there.’

Karen: They were, like, worried about you.

Joss: Oh, they were worried, but they were like ‘We don’t, we don’t understand.’

Karen: Mmm.

Joss: I’m like: ‘Well you don’t, you don’t get it like--the police are not doing what they are supposed to be doing. They’re not protecting and serving.

And I try to have conversations with my family, and of course it’s a little bit difficult to have conversations, especially if your parents are, you know, older--

Karen: Mhm.

Joss: --white--

Karen: Yeah. Treasure: Mhm.

Joss: --don’t have a police force in their backyard that targets them.

Karen: Mhm. Treasure: Mhm.

Joss: So it’s hard to get them to grasp that, but it was important for me to tell them, like, this is not, this is not how the police operate in Saint Louis.

It is a different world in Saint Louis.  And when fifty percent of the population in Saint Louis is black and the majority of the police force is white--

Karen: Mhm. Treasure: Mhm.

Joss: --and they are actively targeting people of color so that they can make money--

Karen: Yes.

Joss: --then, then we have a problem.

Karen:  Yeah.

Joss: So--But, I mean they never, I mean, they, I mean when they--and they know me well enough to know that I’m going to do what I want to do.

Treasure: Mhm. Karen: Mmm.

Joss: So, you know, really all they can say is ‘Be careful, I guess,’--

But, yeah, I mean, that is another thing about people that have raised me: they don’t realize the immense, the immense discrimination that happens in other parts of this country.

Because they, they, they’re not exposed to it. And part of me does know that, you know, a lot of people like my parents don’t want to be exposed to it. They’d rather not know about it.

Because then they--it allows them to not have to, like I said earlier, address their own complicity in the situation.

Karen: Yeah.

Treasure: Mmm. Well, you know what, we’ve entered--we’ve entered an interesting time in the culture, and we’ve entered a time of hypervisibility of trans women of color.

Karen: Mhm.

Joss: Mhm.  Yeah.

Treasure: You know, we have Janet Mock--

Karen: Or certain trans women of color.

Treasure: Right, certain trans women of color.  And, we talk, I mean, you know, we think about some of our wealthier, you know Caitlyn, very wealthy, very white, and then you have some who have different stories… And what I would like to know, as we kind of round out our interview, at the beginning we asked who raised you.  So now you are this woman growing up, becoming, becoming a writer, becoming an activist, becoming--what would you say to younger trans women of color about their maturation process, growing up?

Joss: Well, I would say that, I mean, for me – I know there are some trans women that--when they transition that’s it; they don’t want any interaction with the rest of the community.  Which is fine, like--

Treasure: Uh-huh.

Joss: --I can’t, I can’t judge a person of color, for reaching a status of being so passable and so stealth that they are able to operate and move through society very much like we see in historical accounts of very white-passing black people in this country--

Treasure: Mhm. Karen: Mhm.

Joss: --totally--choosing to live a totally new life as a white person when they are, find a way to totally alleviate themselves from white supremacy by the mere fact that they just happen to be so, so--fair skinned and I sometimes see that with trans women and so I can’t judge them.  I can only talk about what my choice has been.  And that was, I made a choice, very quickly after I went to college, to surround myself with queer, black, folk.

Treasure: Mhm. Karen: Mhm.

Joss: Queer and gay and trans, black and poc people.  And those were the people that raised me to be the person I am today.

Treasure: Mmm.

Joss: They were some of the first activists I met at Mizzou, some of the first organizers I met, and some of the first people to really not give a fuck about the feelings of our white classmates.

(Treasure and Joss laugh)

Joss: And so, I would suggest, and that was – and so for me it was important to surround myself; like make a family with those people, because I knew those people would have my back.

And they have through my, through my transition, and so for other trans women I can’t really, I can’t really give any solid piece of advice that would work for their situation, but if a trans woman has an idea of who she wants to be that is unapologetic about her journey; her past, I would say definitely surround yourself with other fierce queer and trans people of color, even if you’re a white trans woman <laughs>

(Karen and Treasure laugh)

Joss: --please surround yourself with, you know, queer and trans people of color because they are really going to be the people that are going to be able to speak truth to power and really disrupt the systems that need to be disrupted.

Treasure: Mhm.

Joss: And really hold your hand through some really hard times.

Treasure: Mhm.

Joss: So that would be my suggestion and my piece of advice.  And just keeping an open--open arms to other people around you, especially younger queer and trans gnc, gender non-conforming babies around us because they need elders, too. You know, they’re going to need elder trans people, and elder trans women, and elder gnc people to look up to.

So just keeping open arms around the people that are going to come up after you because those people are going to need, especially in the world that we’re living in now, they’re really going to need those elders in their lives to help them deal with some fucked up shit that we’re about to deal with Trump, right? You know?

Treasure: (sighs) Oh, well that, that, I think that that’s a beautiful way to end. Talking about putting our arms around the babies. All the babies, the gnc babies, the babies of color, all the babies, let’s put our arms around them.  And this, this has been “Who Raised You.”

Karen: This has been “Who Raised You.”  And so for our listeners, I think that’s a--that’s a good question.  How can you put your arms around the babies around you? How can you use your imagination to liberate your own damn self, (Joss chuckles) but also, do that in community.

Because apparently you need a lot of it.  (laughs) These are some tough times, y’all.  And, what, as you move forward, what are you carrying with you in all of this?  How, how are you working through your journey as you write or as you, you know, put clothes on, or as you make art? There’s all sorts of ways to express yourself.

Treasure: Mhm.

Karen: So, we ask you to visit to learn more and support us.  You can book us, or donate to buy us a cup of tea--

(Joss laughs)

Karen: --and support media by people of color from fly over country.  Yes, and even if you want to talk to some of our guests, we can put you in touch.  But, you know, we’ll talk to you first. (laughs)

You can like us on Facebook and Instagram, email us at to suggest poets, guests, topics and to help with transcription. 

This is co-hosted by Treasure Shields Redmond and Karen Jia Lian Yang – that’s me!

We have consulting by FarFetched Collective.  Contact to learn more about how they can help you launch or expand your project, business, or nonprofit with their agency framework, and thank you so much Joss--

Treasure:  Yes.

Joss: Thank you so much for having me here.

Karen: --for being beautiful, and being on our show today.  So, your first book.

Joss: Yes.

Karen: An Ozark Rainbow is coming out soon – it’s going to be published in 2017 by Indolent Books, right?

Joss: Yes.  Yes, hopefully, slated--

Karen: Fingers crossed?

Joss: Yes. Indolent Books is the publisher.  I’m hoping it gets published by the end of the year.  It might take a little bit longer, but yes: I’m trying to finish my first manuscript.  So, yeah.

Karen: That’s awesome.

Treasure: Okay.  Excellent.

Joss: Hopefully it will be out in the world so you can read it and share it and--yeah.  Gift it.

(General laughter)

Treasure: Yes, buy multiple copies.

Karen: Yeah, yeah – lots of work ahead of you, right?

Joss: Teach it – teach it, there’s another thing:  you could also teach it.

Karen: So how else can our listeners support you, Joss?

Joss: To be honest, supporting me right now would mean supporting in the local and national transgender legal and civil rights organizations.  If you’re a Saint Louis local I would totally suggest donating to the Metro Trans Umbrella Group.  They are one of the biggest trans and gender nonconforming organizations for the Saint Louis metro area, and the metro east.  National organizations: The Sylvia Rivera Law project is also a great, great, organization to donate to. I say that because right now the forces against us have a lot more money (laughs)

Karen: True.

Joss: --than we do.  So I think it’s definitely going to take a lot of energy, a lot of lawsuits, a lot of organizing, a lot of disruptions, in your face shutting it down, so the more resources we can get these organizations to help facilitate the work on the ground and the policy work--that would be the best way to support me and my trans and gnc fam.

Treasure: Yep. Beautiful.

Karen: Yep. Look out for the fam.  Thanks so much.

Joss: Of course.

(synth music fades in)

{Song lyrics:

Baby I just need you to know

Your essence is beautiful


I’ll always love you so (Oh)}

(music fades out)