The Poetry Project

All My Life I Had to Tear So Crazy

Conversation between Zora Jade Khiry and Juliana Huxtable

I still remember the first time I heard the now legendary “Dekmantel Podcast 288,” more intimately known as “GERMAN VISA PIPELINE,” on Soundcloud… Chills… The mix introduced me to a kind of musical catharsis I had never experienced before, one that induces a healthy amount of fear (somewhere around the 25 minute mark, to be exact). More fabulously, it introduced me to the nonpareil, la muñeca, Juliana Huxtable, and from there, her boundless and beloved book of poetry, MUCUS IN MY PINEAL GLAND. Juliana and I officially connected just a few months ago when I wrote about a portal-opening, gravity-shattering set she played this past summer. But we had sweetly apprehended each other a number of times before that, an enigmatic DJ behind the booth connecting with an enigmatic raver in front of it. Now, in anticipation of Shock Value’s 10th anniversary (Tongue In The Mind gave rockstar 101, maniacal merriment, faggots and dolls bouncing off the walls at Market Hotel) and her Merge NYE set b2b JASSS (it gave techno fabulation, power lesbian, symphonic frisson), I am honored to tickle the inner profundity of an artist I deeply respect, and I am excited to ki with my sis.

We sit in her apartment, colorfully and comfortably lit by a collection of beautiful, floral lamps, sip kratom over ice, and talk for almost two hours about techno, Palestine, and trade. Juliana is as kinetic in conversation as she is in poetry, music, performance, and imagemaking. She is an engine of intensity, discipline, caprice, and taste. She is beyond the affectations of genre and concept. To put it simply, sis just fucking tears!

— Zora Jade Khiry

ZORA JADE KHIRY: I’m obsessed with the word “tear” and all of its tenses and forms. I feel like I’ve only used that word at its most basic linguistic form until I started transitioning and going out. Now it has a totally different connotation. So, I wanted to ask you how your style of DJing relates to a tearing of sonic, spatial, or physical fabric?

JULIANA HUXTABLE: Oooo, love! I mean, as a meta note, I just love the way that language evolves in nano-culture. The evolution of language and nano-culture in New York is so fun and fascinating. It’s a place where you can really participate in the generation of new language from the ground up. I’ve seen things within my own friend group. We start using a term, and even if the term doesn’t originate in that group, the specific usage of that term, a kind of colloquial usage or meaning, can go all the way up [she raises her hand into the air and makes a circular motion as she says this] and then you see it move through. And, first it’s always the girls and gays. Then it’s, like, the stylist is working with Travis Scott and then Travis Scott drops it in some song and then he was smoking weed with Drake who heard about a party that’s kind of late in New York but to him, it’s the greatest thing he’s ever heard. You can really watch it move. And I’ve even had friends, like my friend Jade, who I grew up with in Texas, we went to high school together. She’ll be like, “Wow, Juliana. I really be finding out shit before it happens by talking to you.” So, there’s a joy with language that I delight in.

But, tearing specifically, I’ve definitely taken to. I find certain terms I am attracted to more and I love “tear” because it’s related to shredding. I think “tear" is femme of “shred,” you know? When I think of shredding, I think of shredding a guitar. I think of going so ham that a string breaks, that you tear a muscle or a ligament or some sort of connective tissue. And so it has built within it violence, but violence as a kind of celebratory excess. The violence that’s attached to ecstasy and joy and breaking through.

I remember when I first got into understanding different theories of the sublime. I’ve never encountered a concept since then that evolved beauty in such a distinct way where it’s both the beautiful and the terrifying, in one—a waterfall is sublime but a bow is pretty. In order to make a bow sublime, you would have to distort certain characteristics. I don’t think it’s a paradox but there’s something about the tension between beauty and terror in “tearing”... almost about ecstatic states and the violence that is accorded with it, a kind of mania… Even the way people say it, “You TOREEE, you’re TEAAAARING!” It’s like a serrated edge moving through something. When I DJ, I like really intense music. You have states of calm and rest like we’ve just come out of chaotic woods or a tsunami, but in general, I really want to move through ecstatic states, states of intensity, even if that intensity isn’t positive and so I love tearing for that.

ZJK: Do you feel like your sets have a narrative structure to them?

JH: Sometimes they end up having narrative structures that I don’t understand until after, especially as someone who uses techno as a larger genre-window through which to express ideas that can’t be reduced to just techno. It allows me to just follow a sensibility. Techno was the first genre that I chose to try and understand. How are other people engaging with genre? What expectations are they bringing to it? When someone says “techno,” what do they mean? When someone deploys that genre or attaches it to a song or a set or a sensibility, what does that mean? I got into watching all these techno documentaries and reading about the history of techno and early German techno DJs that feel some type of way about the historicizing of Detroit techno. I can’t remember the name of this guy, but he was one of the early East Berlin, German techno DJs, and he literally said, “We are white boys with no soul,” as this sort of celebratory thing. So there are aspects of the “purity of techno” that stresses me out. But ultimately I do think techno has a mechanistic sensibility—as someone who is so about the sample, when I’m operating in the capacity of a techno DJ, I use way less vocal samples. I do love DJing as an opportunity to mix in culturally familiar references, and that is more narrative. But for techno, I specifically enjoy moving into abstraction. If there’s a breadth of how I approach DJing, techno is where I can move outside of language…When I’m releasing a mix online, I like to tell a story. Like, some of my favorite mixes I’ve released are stories. I make mixes when I love someone or even for a breakup. I have one mix that is called “The Awakening,” which is all about this really intense, horrible breakup that I went through and I had to rediscover myself afterwards. I love the final scene in the book, The Awakening, when she drowns herself, I was like, iconic. She’d rather drown herself than submit to the really despotic expectations placed on her. She drowns herself by choice. She just walks into the ocean. She has a young lover. She hates her husband. She’s completely alienated from her domestic and social life, and she gets just a taste of excess, a taste of what she wanted, and she’s like, you know what? Boom. I’m just gonna kill myself. And that scene, I was like, period. That’s kind of how I felt at the end of that relationship. So that mix is moving through these different stages to ultimately come out—I didn’t have to kill myself, but killing a part of myself that was tied to expectations regarding love or heterodystopic coupling patterns that I was like weirdly being asked to perform.

ZJK: Do you feel like DJing can be compared to a language or like the stylization of language?

JH: That’s a really interesting question… To a certain degree, yes. I think certain types of DJing lend itself more to a language-based structure. If you’re DJing music that is lyrical in nature I think that is obviously way more true also because music influences how people use language in such clear ways. I think sampling can definitely function as a language. I saw Nene H play the closing set at Berghain earlier in this summer—I was there with Christina, my sis—and she [Nene H] was weaving in one reference from a dance hall song that was brought into the UK and then got into garage, and then a UK funk/house DJ picked it up and put it in a song… Like there are these little vocal samples that do travel like language travels. There were parts of her set where she’s literally playing the history of this sample in how she’s mixing these different songs.

ZJK: That’s fab.

JH: She ATE. And so in those moments, I’ve been able to see or understand the structure of language in music. But in other ways, I think it is fundamentally different, as someone that values language so much. Language is such a heavy part of almost everything I do. There is an aspect of music that can move into the ineffable, beyond the grasp, into the ethereal. I really love when sound can do things that just cannot be done in language.

ZJK: I love that. Kind of bouncing back to the previous question; how do you feel about the term “doll techno”? And do you feel like it is an accurate categorization of your style? Because I have my thoughts…

JH: I don’t know how I feel about that term but I do think there’s something there. People bring their cultural data into their musical sensibilities and their rhythmic structures—even on a city level. I think there is a sensibility that you can try to extract. I don’t think you can ever reduce it to something that has non-porous, set boundaries. But, historically, when I hear a sound, I’m like oh, that’s a Detroit-ass sound. That’s a nasty-ass, Detroit-ass beat. Or that’s a Baltimore-, Philly-ass sound. Sometimes, I’ll even have moments where—because of the way that music travels now with the internet, sometimes the references can get mixed up—but I’ll hear a DJ, I’m like, oh, that’s nasty and I’ll think in my head, “oh, he must be Black.”

ZJK: But he’s not Black.

JH: No, it’s like some random white dude from Switzerland, and I’m like, OH KAY! Granted he’s probably only listening to Black people… [We laugh because… many such cases] I think that there’s a playfulness to, specifically now, the kind of doll ascension into DJ culture. I remember when I first started, the only doll DJ that I knew of was Honey Dijon. I mean, there weren’t even really that many girl DJs, women DJs, period. Even at the gay parties, half the time, they were hiring straight white men to DJ… I came up at a time before trans visibility really crossed the threshold. For me, I even felt like the sociality of being a doll necessitates a hybridization that really had no contemporaries at that time—at least in New York culture—where you can no longer just say that a space is queer. What does it mean to have a queer space? Are we defining queerness based on how you move through the world, yourself? Or, are we defining it based on how you are embodied and how that embodiment informs your desires and who you are desired by? Is it sexual politics? Is it gender politics? Like, how are we navigating these questions? What does queerness mean in that context? Is it just like a social sensibility? Dolls really embody all of that. With straight dolls—well, now the trade’s in the picture, on either spectrum. Trans people in general, I think, force a kind of questioning and a mixiness that does fold into music. I remember when I came up I felt like my sound was informed by the fact that I was moving through a lot of different spaces. And in all of those spaces, I both felt external to them but a part of them in some aspect. And that kind of Lego-like aspect to building identity I do think plays into a musical sensibility. However, I am generally reticent of attaching music too much to an identity category without a material analysis of where that’s coming from.

ZJK: PERIOD. Um, okay. Where do we wanna go next? Should I do a light question?

[JH laughs.]

ZJK: I know that you love Clarice Lispector and Toni Morrison.

JH: I do. Those are my queens.

ZJK: So I wanted to ask: what’s your favorite Clarice Lispector and what’s your favorite Toni Morrison?

JH: As a front-to-back read? My favorite Clarice Lispector is Near to the Wild Heart. Per-ri-od. My ex gave me that, one of the only lasting things he gave me that I still have the ability to cherish. That book was really so paradigm shifting for me… As an account of a woman who is truly committed to her sense of freedom, but is also a lover and a romantic, and trying to understand how those two are an antagonism to each other, and how to evolve as someone who is moving through the world in the category of woman… But, truly committed to curiosity, to freedom, to your own internal descent into madness... The descent into madness as a part and parcel of freedom is just so fab to me. I remember a scene when she wakes up one morning, laying next to her lover in bed, and she’s just staring at him, watching him sleep there… She starts seeing him as this basic, disgusting, baby-like animal who’s just like siphoning all of her time. You know, she wants to get up and run around town and do the things that she wants to do but she’s laying in bed next to this man-baby who doesn’t value or understand any of the things going on inside of her. Why has she allowed herself to do this? She goes into this full kind of like—

ZJK: Spiral, very familiar.

JH: Yeah, and then he sort of wakes up or puts his hand on her or something, kind of horny. And then she’s like, “Ugh, I love him.” And I was like, wait… she toreeeeeeeeeee.

ZJK: She loves doing shit like that.

JH: She tore! And I have never related to the central actor in a novel more. But that book was amazing and so formative. I also love The Passion According to G.H. That novel is iconic. Because that’s her being like “Look at me, now I’m carrying”... And, sometimes I’m like, yeah… you are carrying. We’re like 20 pages into the sands of time and the roach thing, like I get it.

And then Toni Morrison… Oooh, that’s hard. That’s really, really, really hard… because I love Jazz so much. But, I also love Beloved so much… If I have to pick, I might have to pick Beloved just because it also has the Interspecies element. But, I love Jazz because she’s having so much fun with language. I was like, wow, Toni is fun! You know? Not that there isn’t fun in all of her novels––but the joy she was obviously taking in describing dancing and adolescent love and the older couple with the guy who’s having the affair with the younger girl and his wife’s obsession with thinking that if she can just eat more cornbread that now she has a fat ass, but it’s like, girl, no. No one thinks you have a fat ass. You’re carrying. She had so much fun with that novel. But as a starting point for Toni Morrison, I always tell people, Beloved, yeah. Just like I always say Near to the Wild Heart for Clarice.

ZJK: I think my favorite Clarice is An Apprenticeship or The Book of Pleasures. Have you read that one?

JH: No, I haven’t read that one.

ZJK: It is so good. And it also has a very similar throughline of a woman that is really committed to her own thing, but is also unsure of what “her thing” is, but then is also in love and is trying to reconcile what that means for her when she has no real concept of it. It’s just fab.

JH: Period, that will be my next Clarice. I’m about to go into another Lispector spiral. I had to take a break from her.

ZJK: Okay sorry, back to DJing. How do you use the dance floor as a space for intentional catharsis and expulsion? For yourself and who you’re playing for?

JH: Yeah. I guess I can answer that question as both a DJ and a dancer. As a DJ, honestly, I do it so much now that I really be swag-surfin’ up there.

ZJK: No, for sure.

JH: I really be swag-surfin’. And so that kind of catharsis? That’s what I live for. And I don’t drink, I don’t do any undles.

ZJK: Okay! You’re sober the whole time? I’m gagged.

JH: I am on seltzer water when I DJ, the whole time. And people are always like, “you’re not doing anything? Not even a joint?” At Merge, I was lit by the very end of the set… I had a tequila soda. I was hitting the blunt, but generally speaking, I go into most sets the entire time on seltzer water, even if I’m playing for four or five hours. The music itself and the mixing and that practice is so electrifying and spiritually animating that I don’t need anything. And, you know, I work on my sets in the sense that––ooh, there’s a sensibility I’m into or ooh, I wanna find a way to weave these 20 sounds together. You know? So it’s not like I don’t think about the set beforehand… I feel my obligation to the craft of DJing is to be as technically adept as I possibly can so that I can be a better conduit for that energy. I always want to learn more. There’s so much to learn… like the way that music theory applies to DJing and, you know, little ways of mixing… I’ll fixate on a filter I’ve never used before like, “Oh, what does this one do?” I’ll just fuck around. And sometimes, I’m like, “Okay, that didn’t quite work in the way I wanted to,” but I really want to get to more and more and more and more—not only knowledge—but a familiarity and a comfort with that knowledge so that I can be a better vessel.

But at this point, I feel like I’ve learned enough to where it does the thing… It really, really, really just does the thing. But, I wanna stay sharp and that’s why I treat it like a sport. I just need a bunch of seltzer water and some limes, you know?

ZJK: Period. I love that you are still so committed to learning. You take it really seriously. We hear that, but it’s like you’re so good at it that it almost seems like you could be someone that just sort of jumps up there and plays.

JH: Yeah, and I do that a lot but… the ability to do that… In the way I’m doing it now… I’ve always felt drawn to DJing and… I’ve listened to enough of my sets in retrospect where I’m like, I’m good at this point. I still wanna learn a lot more but now I’m like “let’s get up there and let’s go.” And I pay attention to the energy of the room. Merge [summer of 2023], in particular, was so fun towards the end of that set because it was really kind of bright in there and I could see people, you know what I mean? So many Black and/or trans people up in the front. It was so fab. And so, when I’m in that setting, then I’m cutting up. I was cutting up at Merge.

ZJK: You absolutely were.

JH: And at Nowadays for Pride… I was cutting it uppppp.

ZJK: That was… so formative for myself and a lot of my friends.

JH: Okay, period! I’m honored.

ZJK: It was truly everything. That kind of goes into another question… I feel like the way that you maneuver through so many different practices is very informative for Black and/or trans artists that are still figuring out their practice. I think a lot of times we think we have to stick to one thing, but because you maneuver all of your different shit so well, and you’re so good at all of it, you are a mother to many of us. So I wanted to ask you, what does being referred to as “Mother” invoke for you and who are your mothers?

JH: There was a period of time where I would always tell people “My womb is barren. I have no children.” [I laugh at the playfully dramatic voice in which she says this.] I was really carrying back then… I struggled with imposter syndrome for years and years and years. It wasn’t until other people could recognize me as something that I was able to just say “I am an [X].” I would be like, “I make art sometimes” or “I operate in the capacity of a DJ.” I would say weird shit and people would be like “Girl, what? You operate in the capacity? What?” I really had a lot of imposter syndrome…

I had mothers, but I didn’t have any trans mothers. I was part of that cusp generation where, in the spaces that we’re in now, like the ones we found each other in, and all my other friends… There were no trans people in those spaces. Like I said, Honey was the only trans DJ that I knew, and I wasn’t close to Honey then, whereas now I consider her a friend of mine. There was Amanda Lepore and Connie and a few other figures in nightlife. And it wasn’t giving lonely, isolated, “oh, what will I do?” kind of thing. But, the specific kind of way I was moving in the art scene, I did feel short of out there… At least regarding the trans stuff. I was lucky to have mothers and fathers and parents and elders that had my back, but none that were trans, or at least not out as trans at the time.

So early on, I almost fell into that trope, which I’m so glad I didn’t, because I understood but resented [that trope] in older trans women who saw my movement through the world as significantly easier than theirs. And so it was difficult for them to see the joy… That you could just be young and trans and doing your thing and making art. Like, I’m downtown and here’s my cute little whatever-boyfriend, who’s maybe a sociopath, but I’m just navigating the normal things of life without a sense of “All my life I had to fight.” It doesn’t need to give Celie.

Now I actually find a lot of joy in it. I really love that and it really honors me. Someone came up to me at Nowadays yesterday, and they were just like, “Just so you know, you’re a Mother.” They were like, “You’re mother. And we just wanna let you know that.” And I actually think that’s really cute. Because I love that. Even you, sis! Like, yes to all the girls out here that are so smart and sharp and beautiful and multifaceted, you know? It really brings me joy. I’m glad that I was able to be a Mother, in that sense.

ZJK: I wanted to maybe shift a little bit to talk about Berlin. In Berlin and many cultural centers in the West, there’s been an intense, punitive Zionist backlash to pro-Palestinian organizing. I think it’s an evolutionary response from a dying oppressor, like a last-ditch effort to resuscitate itself. But, ultimately in that attempt, the people that get harmed the most are people on the margins: activists, organizers, journalists, educators but also DJs, poets, artists. How have your artistic practices and relationships helped you sort through recent political repression?

JH: Being in Berlin was very difficult because the silence, the docility, in relation to state interests surrounding Israel was almost near unanimous. I was so shocked that I was considered singular in what I was saying… At the time, I had my solo show open, I was DJing in Berlin all the time, there was a lot of press surrounding me and what I was doing… And so this year in particular was set up in a way that I was like, “Okay, I’ve spent a lot of time in Germany. I’ve spent a lot of time in Berlin and I love Berlin!” And when all of this popped off, it’s almost like there’s a lot of people there who resented that. I think people at the margins were attacked because it’s like… Germany was just barely on a wave where it was really unheard of that someone like me would get to move through the spaces that I was moving in without constantly billing myself as the identity booking, the transgender booking. It’s like, no, no, no… If you’re gonna book me, you’re gonna book me because I’m eating. And this is true for a lot of people, particularly in Germany, where they are very anti-identity politics, in general… To the degree that they are foaming at the mouth, ready to call someone an “identitarian shill,” that they actually can’t even see when people are tearing because they’re only able to see their identity. And it’s like, now you’re actually doing the thing that you think you’re fighting against on principle.

But yeah… I felt waves of resentment that were expressed towards people in perceived positions of cultural capital. There was a tacit kind of conditional agreement where it’s like, “Okay, we’re gonna let you move up in this space, we’re gonna let you do your thing… but you better shut the fuck up and follow our idea of what a secular, German, bullshit EU identity is.” The idea that you would challenge Zionism was really unheard of. So, the crackdown was so intense. I was like, “I’m not even a big enough figure… How am I in newspapers? Y’all are really writing newspaper articles?”... DJing was really difficult during that time period. Ultimately because I don’t approach music frivolously and I really wanted to be a conduit, I was able to find a space where I could play, even though partying was difficult.

I still am grappling with how insane Zionism is as an ideology… that it’s now the face of imperialism and colonialism. It has really merged itself through a kind of holding up the Holocaust as the end-all, be-all of crimes against humanity. It’s really an opportunity for people to stop thinking, to stop pushing, to stop being critical. There is no end-all, be-all. There is no absolute worst. Humanity can always be worse. It’s been worse before. It will continue to be. The idea of a zero point of evil is inherently a setup for more for evil shit to happen.

And I was already struggling because I had a horrible experience with Fotografiska, this crazy-ass institution that’s actually a real estate scam run by a Zionist billionaire. I was sold a lot of dreams and I bought them. And so when this jumped off, I was like, wow… This is… really, really difficult. But I do believe the club is also church. All music can in some way serve as a hymn, as deliverance. There is a transference, for me, of the social role that church played––I was in church all the time growing up––and I don’t need an idea of God. I don’t need it to be dogmatic. But I do think that space for collective release, exaltation, is there. Music is one of the few art forms that still feels really prescient and powerful and capacious. And also with the band [Tongue in the Mind] (rockstar 101), playing live music actually really helped.

It’s easy to forget the people that are experiencing marginalization, the people that are speaking out and feeling isolated—there’s so many Palestinian people in Berlin. So many of my friends are Palestinian. I’ve lived in Lebanon, and so many of my friends are Lebanese, and all of these people have so much direct history attached to Zionism’s violent, colonial expansion. People would come up to me and be like, “What you’re doing actually means something… I’m happy that I can get on a dance floor where at the very least the sound is coming from a source that doesn’t think that my erasure is, not only justified, but fab.” And so in that sense, the community that music can form has been really encouraging. I’ve turned to it a lot. For me, that has been a key space, but I don’t wanna conflate that with the space of struggle. I think that can be a carry when people are like, “My resistance is my DJ set.” We don’t need to give all of that. Like, there are people that are giving literal resistance. But, there are spaces for working through something, spaces for mourning, spaces for transmuting indignation into something else, even if just for a moment. I do think that music can do that.

ZJK: I can only imagine how horrible that was. Also, you’re based in Berlin and New York, but you’re from Texas, and obviously travel all over the world as an artist. So, how do you find home?

JH: For me, it’s like, this [her apartment in NYC] is my capital-H home. Even when I’m somewhere else in the rest of the world, and I know I’m gonna be there for six months, I’m like, oh, there’s that space over there that’s got my stuff in it. And if nothing else… If I run myself into the ground and I’m flat broke, I know I can’t have my apartment in New York and I can hustle somewhere to pay that rent. But, home is also just where I can find a sense of peace. Sometimes, I have relationships with cities. I don’t believe in love at first sight, it just hasn’t happened for me. I’m not holding that up as a model that I even really desire. That seems kind of unhinged in terms of interpersonal dynamics. But I do have feelings when I get to a city… I kind of know right away that I have to be here. I need to be out in these streets. And I felt that way about Berlin. Obviously, I felt that way about New York, specifically Chinatown when I was a kid. I felt that way about Beirut. I also felt that way about São Paulo. I haven’t been back yet, but I will at some point. There is a kind of inexplicable feeling… a place inviting a sense of peace within me that I can’t fully explain. Is it historical? Is it weather? Is it just the vibe of the people? Is it a combination of things? I don’t know but when I get out of the airport in Beirut, I’m just like… “Wow, I really fuck with it out here.” I remember my friend Renata and I were walking—we were actually in Italy. Like, that’s my sis from Beirut but we were in Italy at a friend’s anniversary party. We had been up all night on acid and we went into the town to get some snacks for everyone. No one had slept. It was kind of like a rave. And I remember just like walking in silence. It was like me and Renata in silence, just like walking up a hill with all the snacks from the store. And I turned to Renata and I was like, “I actually feel peace right now.” Renata was like, “Bitch, I feel peace too!” And that for me was a moment of like, I’m at home.

ZJK: I love that. Tripping with friends is so important. And here, in this home, being in the United States, there is such a weird obsession with trans people.

JH: It’s really intense over here.

ZJK: How do you move beyond the world’s desire to make everything that you do as a Black trans woman a revolutionary act, and instead just do the shit that you wanna do because it’s fab?

JH: Yeah, I’ve always tried to push back against that. I’ve always thought that was so manic… like people shouting at me “You’re so brave!” And I’m like, “Oh, okay… I’m getting a matcha latte… It’s 1:00 PM on a Tuesday. What’s up girl? You’re scaring me.” And, yes, I do understand what that’s undergirding. Trans people have been denigrated for so long. Black trans people have been the butt of jokes for so long, have been invisible for so long, have been rendered worldstarhiphop dotcom clickbait. You know, I think so often it’s funny that intersectionality has been picked up as the bullshit, worst of the postmodern, Marxist, whatever the right wingers are saying. But like, even people that are purportedly coming from the left—I know most Black people, trans people, queer people, everyone is over the bastardization of identity politics—but it’s interesting that something like intersectionality has been held up, like Kimberlé Crenshaw is just full of shit and an example of the failures of identity politics because I’m like… Well, actually no. Most Black feminist thought really encourages complexity in a way that y’all are not.

ZJK: The girls don’t read.

JH: Like, did y’all even read? The hoes don’t be reading. They literally think intersectionality means the more things you can add on a laundry list, the more of a platform you should be given. And I’m like, what?

But you know, for me… Yes, I’m a Black trans woman. Have I experienced people trying to kill me, blah, blah, blah? Yes. But for the majority of my adult life, I’m fine. I went to college. I’ve had some shake ups, but really, like a little bit into the ’mones, shit got chill and things got easier over time, for me. And the horizon of possibility that my life could be easier is also conditioned by my class. I grew up middle class. I didn’t grow up working class. My first job out of school was the ACLU. I’ve struggled a lot. There’s a lot of intense trauma in my family. You know what I mean? My single, Black mom was barely holding onto the middle class, blah, blah, blah. But the girl who deserves the flowers for facing death everyday is not me. I also don’t think that should be the center point of why you respect trans people. Trans people should be allowed to have medical care because they’re human beings with specific experiences and we have the ability for a diverse, empathetic world in which we can accommodate everyone’s right to exist in self-determination. It’s not that complicated. And, it’s an American obsession but it’s also a UK one. They are also really fixated on trans people. And, yes, fuck Germany right now. We see what’s going down over there. But, I have enjoyed that part of Germany, like being outside… [she leans in and whispers] People don’t care. There’s no debate around disclosure. It’s like if someone doesn’t know and we’re at the club… Okay, are you into it or are you not? It’s just not that big of a deal. It’s not a question of, oh, you’re setting yourself up to get your throat slit open in public or some crazy shit. The stakes of transness here are so high, which also affects how I move through the streets. Like, I just find men here scary. If a cute guy walks up to me on the street in other parts of the world, I’m like…

ZJK: “Heyyy, how you doing?”

JH: Like, “What’s up?” I’m not stressed. I don’t feel the need to tell them right away. It’s just chill. Things will work out as they work out, but over here? It’s lit out here.

ZJK: What new writing are you working on and what have you been reading lately as inspiration?

JH: So, I am working on my next poetry book [applause from me] which is coming out next year on Wonder. I’m also working on a long form, erotic fiction—maybe giving novella doll but we’ll see—exploring the sexual politics of club spaces and altered states. And then there’s another one that I sort of fell off on but I’m gonna pick that up at some point… my first novel. I need to get the narrative form down. I’m gonna take a class. Narrative is not what I’m naturally drawn towards. I’ve been anti that for so long and now I want to tell a long-form, cohesive story.

In terms of what I’m reading, I’ve just been expanding my knowledge on what’s happening in Palestine because I just wanted to use my platform for that. I was already pretty knowledgeable from my work in human rights like, I’ve studied the history of the IDF and things like that. But I was like, if people are paying attention to what I’m doing, I really want to try and provide historical context. Give some tea. I’m a tea doll. I’m a research head. I’m good at that. I know how to navigate that. Most of my reading recently has been related to that, both for my own knowledge but also to share with other people.

I’ve also been reading Story of O, an originally anonymously published French erotic novel from the 1950s. It’s lit. That’s been my most recent pleasure reading. I’ve also been reading this book called Brainwyrms [by Alison Rumfitt]. Iconic. My friend Riley’s reading that now. It’s like a queer, political horror/terrorism novel. It starts with a gender identity clinic being blown up by a TERF in the UK and then it moves through this kind of love story. It’s really pioneering. I’m not gonna say more than that because this book is next level and you should read it. It gives gore, it gives germophilia. Super fab. I don’t normally read horror, but that was one of the best reads of this year. Oh, also Wallace Stevens’s biography. I’m obsessed with Wallace Stevens. He’s like one of my favorite poets.

ZJK: You’re an extremely colorful person, even in the decor of your apartment. But also, your style, the blue eyeshadow. Just fab. What’s your relationship to color and do you feel like your personal style has evolved as your artistry has evolved?

JH: For sure. I love color. My life without color would be insane. I can’t imagine it. I’ve always been that way growing up. My family is color focused. I come from the country country—on my mom’s side especially—country, Alabama, Black people. So it’s giving stun-ty. Big hats, big colors, and I’m from the flashy part of my family, so everyone looks crazy. Like, Easter Sunday is lit. My room was blue. Our living room was orange. I remember growing up, we had to match, but didn’t get positive information on what matching meant. We learned it through what it wasn’t. So my mother would say, “That yellow does not go with that brown. You need to go back in there and get that together.” But wouldn’t say what we should pair it with. We just kind of had to develop an intuition that fit my mom’s idea—my mom has an insane sense of color. Also, my art teacher growing up, when I was in elementary school, we would stay after school and we would just play with yarn and paints and she would tell my mom, “Oh, they have such an evolved sense of color.” It’s kind of always been a thing for me.

But I think personal style is the most immediate way to express an idea. For a long time, I had a lot of imposter syndrome, I didn’t have a studio, didn’t have the means to produce art, and didn’t have the money… and so I think personal style, because it’s so immediate, some version of the idea that I have can just come out now.

ZJK: What possibilities are you most hopeful for in the new year?

JH: I am hopeful for freedom for Palestine, the Congo, and Sudan.

ZJK: Absolutely.

JH: And, I am hopeful for the expansion of the window of permissible time in New York for people to go out. I’m really happy Nowadays is doing Nonstop every weekend. I’m just like why is it ending at 6…? This happens to me all the time. At Basement, it was 7:30 and I had just put my bag down and was like, “Bitch, we lit.”

ZJK: [loud buzzer noise]

JH: Clubs closed. Not lit. We just really need to expand our time. I know it’s tied to productivity and labor and money and all of that stuff but—

ZJK: There’s so much possibility with more time.

JH: There’s just so much possibility.

#275 – Winter 2024