Sunday, 3 December 2017

Interview with Marissa Alexa McCool


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Marissa Alexa McCool, an American LGBT-rights activist and speaker, multiple podcast host (The Inciting Incident Podcast), author, mother, columnist, and stage performer, the author of “Passing Cars: The Internal Monologue of a Neurodivergent Trans Girl” (2017) and four other books. Hello Marissa!
Marissa: Hello Monika, thank you so much for reaching out to me. It’s a pleasure.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself? You are a woman of so many talents and interests. Is writing most important for you?
Marissa: I don’t know if I can rank my interests by importance, but perhaps I can by longevity. But let me answer your other questions first: I’m 32. I graduated cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with degrees in English, Cinema and Media Arts, and Anthropology. I live in Saint Paul, Minnesota with my husband, partner, and two children. 
Writing is the interest I’ve been pursuing for as long as I can remember. I learned to type when I was four-years-old, and I can remember using a word processor as a young child to create stories involving people I know. As I grew up, I used that imagination in role-playing stories, and I couldn’t imagine pursuing anything else when it came to university focus. I was able to learn from some amazing professors, including Meta Mazaj, Kathy Van Cleve, and Marion Kant, and I don’t know where I’d be without them.
“The PC Lie: How American Voters
Decided I Don't Matter” (2016)
available via Amazon.
Monika: Your first book “The PC Lie: How American Voters Decided I Don't Matter” (2016) is a political manifesto …
Marissa: I wrote that book shortly after the US Presidential Election. I attended the same university as the man who was unfortunately elected president, so a lot of us were surrounded by that rhetoric even more than the rest of the country. As I walked around my own country feeling terrified for a few days, it came to a head the Monday after when all the black freshmen were added to a lynching group on Facebook.
I started writing in class, and before I knew it, I had 30 pages. I wrote the book in 9 days and never looked back. I had it published before the end of the year, and it contained my initial rant as well as personal essays and trying to make sense out of a country that would use such animosity to put so many of its citizens in deliberate danger.
I reached out to a lot of people to contribute to the book, and one of my personal heroes, Chris Kluwe, was among the first to agree to write something. What I saw more than anything was that I wasn’t alone, and that motivated me as much as anything to continue to speak out. It may seem weird that telling the story of my non-traditional wedding exists in the same book where I’m dropping f-bombs every other sentence, but I’ve never been much for following expectations.
Monika: “False Start: A Novel” (2017) is a story of Logan and Ezra. After Logan’s father gets deployed to Afghanistan, he is about to face many temptations and adventures. It starts like a simple plot but we are about to discover more and more secrets, including a transgender twist as well…
Marissa: False Start is a story that I used to tell many of the stories I had growing up while trying to learn who I was. It’s hard to say that there’s one character who inhabited these the most, but growing up in a conservative area while being obviously feminine was not the safest place to be.
It’s always been important to me to include trans people in my stories, because in mainstream media, if they’re included at all, they’re punch lines. Jokes. Or serial killers. I try to create representation for my community without their entire identity revolving around the fact that they are trans, because that’s how most of us live our lives.
It’s also vital to me to confront the realities of mental illness without making that the joke. Logan, the main character, appears to have everything on the surface, but is unable to find anyone willing to listen to him when he reaches out about the issues he’s facing. Too many people in this world aren’t willing to make space for others, whether that be for trans people, those with mental illnesses, or those just trying to find their own way.
Monika: “Silent Dreams” (2017) is as you described it yourself “a set of essays and poems from a public transgirl.” Was it a special way for coming out?
Marissa: Truthfully, my Coming Out piece was The PC Lie, as I went from closeted to public almost overnight with the speed and ferocity in which it was written. Featured in this book were a lot of the performance pieces I wrote, including the one that’s read really fast that I tend to open my speeches with (Ode to the Blocked) and the original piece I wrote and performed for the Vagina Monologues (Once Unspoken.) It also included some of the pieces I wrote for school and other articles I had featured. This was a good book to have on hand for someone who wants to quickly become familiar with my work, or maybe someone who doesn’t have the time to read a novel or a whole book of essays like PC Lie or Passing Cars. I’ve found that the compact nature of it has had a lot of emotional impact on my readers.
"Voice in the Dark" available via
Amazon.
Monika: Do transgender characters or plots appear in “Voice in the Dark” (2017)?
Marissa: There is a trans man in the story named Jesse. He struggles with being bullied for appearing too feminine as a boy, and it ends up getting out of hand in multiple ways. He takes matters into his own hands after being encouraged to stand up for himself by the main character (Lucas), and that’s what really kickstarts the story.
I grew up on the counterculture stories and narratives of the 80s and 90s like Pump up the Volume, Empire Records, Heathers, and Daria, and this was sort of my love letter to that particular style. I haven’t felt like it’s been represented in the American mainstream much since September 11th, as at that point, not being part of the crowd was no longer welcomed and dissent was criticized and categorized as un-American. I didn’t feel like there were stories “for me” anymore, so I decided to write one that mirrored the ones I grew up on, for those who didn’t have any real interest in the standard, traditional tropes; either in stories or real life. Not that there’s anything wrong with those; they were just never for me.
Monika: And finally, the most recent book “Passing Cars: The Internal Monologue of a Neurodivergent Trans Girl” (2017) is a compilation of essays reflecting on pivotal moments in your life.
Marissa: It’s not just reflecting on those pivotal moments, but it’s also comparing the thoughts I was having at the time against what they are now. For instance, the struggles I had as a teenager make a lot more sense when viewed through the lens of trying to discover my gender identity and being untreated for autism, but I didn’t know that at the time, so it came out as being rebellious and unwilling to cooperate with others.
I also had a great variety of contributing writers talk about some of their own pivotal moments, thus giving various different perspectives to this idea. The chapters/pieces are arranged according to the five stages of grief, and that was a suggestion/decision made by my publisher, Wyrmwood Publishing. They’ve worked with me in some capacity for all five of my books I’ve published since coming out, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Marissa: A lot of what I do when it comes to putting myself out there is trying to answer a lot of the initial questions that cis people tend to have so that other trans people don’t have to. Sometimes a lack of empathy is seen in reactions; especially when someone may think they’re just asking a question, but in reality it might be the ninth time I’ve answered that question that day.
I’m six feet tall with purple hair, so I draw a lot of attention. But that’s what made me come out by screaming in the face of a hate preacher in the first place: I can handle it. If I can draw the fire away from those who don’t have the support structure or relative stability that I am privileged enough to have, I feel like I’m helping by adding a positive voice out there in the mainstream. The biggest thing we can do is normalize it in the eyes of as many as possible, so that the younger generation of trans kids don’t have to face some of the difficulties we had to, the same as previous generations have done for us.
In Santa Monica, CA.
Photo credit: Kayla Hunt Currivan.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process?
Marissa: I’ve always been a woman, but most people didn’t know that. In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense. I always related to women better; I never really hung out with a lot of boys, nor did I have any interest in doing so. I wore makeup, wanted to be one of the girls, and was always particularly feminine and attracted to feminine energy.
It was difficult in the sense that I tried multiple times before the time that became successful. In 2014, when I was 29, I was coming out and flourishing until I was sexually assaulted twice in a week, and that made me go into hiding for almost two years. It was the Pulse shooting in Orlando that became the impetus for my coming out.
When I saw that the second name on the list of victims was McCool, I had the realization that if I had been in that building, 98 percent of the people in my life would not remember the person I truly was, but only a false persona I presented to protect myself. Within a month, I was officially on hormones, but I stealthed it for a while. I was scared to be completely public until I had an epiphany when a bully preacher was on campus blaming the suicide problem we’d had there on acceptance of LGBTQ people, and I responded by standing up to him and coming out publicly on video. That was less than a month before I started writing The PC Lie, came out on my podcast, and became an activist. Not a lot of time transpired between my public coming out and stepping into the public eye, but I do not regret the decision.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Marissa: My friend Asa, a trans man, ran a blog and did a lot of work bringing trans visibility to my local area. Laura Jane Grace of the band Against Me! wrote songs that I didn’t quite understand until I started living fully as a trans girl. While I didn’t relate to her story as much, Janet Mock is someone I really admire and follow closely.
It would also be impossible to talk about trans role models without mentioning Callie Wright. Callie is another trans woman podcaster (The Gaytheist Manifesto), and was responsible for the first public appearance I made as my true self in November, 2016. Since then, we’ve worked together many times, became really close friends, and co-founded a nonprofit/media network designed to help raise visibility for trans podcasters called the Trans Podcaster Visibility Initiative. We have 12 members and are currently running a fundraiser to help a local trans family send their child to a better school. Callie was the first person in the podcasting community that I didn’t already know who I came out to privately, and she is one of the most special people in the world to me.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Marissa: Still Callie Wright, and of course Janet Mock and Laura Jane Grace. To add to that though, I’ve met so many trans women that I admire, love, respect, and learn from all the time, and I continue to do so as I travel to meet so many others. Andrea Jenkins got elected to public office as an open trans POC here in the Twin Cities, and that’s near the top of my admiration list for sure. Melina Barratt, Chloe Goldbach, Maddy Love, and so many others have made such a difference in my life for the better that I feel I’d never run out of names if I tried to think of all of them.
"False Start: A Novel" available via
Amazon.
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfilment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, many trans women lose their families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out? 
Marissa: I didn’t pay nearly the same price as so many of our community have to. Yes, I lost friends, and though I’ve had difficulty with some members of my family, I’ve never dealt with open hostility from them. I have never made light of the fact that I recognize just how lucky I really am to have a good job, a platform, and a lot of people who would go out of their way to protect me. I feel like if I wasn’t giving back to help those who don’t have that, I would be a hypocrite.
I try to help bring visibility to those voices, which is why on my trans-specific podcast, we interview a lot of non-podcaster trans people. We’ve had conversations with those who are differently abled, are or have been homeless, deal with different levels of erasure as non-binary people, including my cohost Ari Stillman. I try to do my best to make as many voices heard, loved, and respected as possible, and given how many private messages I’ve had on various social media over the last year, it has not been in vain.
Monika: The transgender community is said to be thriving now. As Laverne Cox announced “Trans is beautiful.” Teenage girls become models and dancers, talented ladies become writers, singers, and actresses. Those ladies with interest in politics, science, and business become successful politicians, academics, and businesswomen. What do you think in general about the present situation of transgender women in the contemporary society? Are we just scratching the surface or the change is really happening?
Marissa: It is better than it has ever been, but there’s still a long way to go. The Trans Day of Remembrance saw way too many names being read, as we did for the Gaythiest Manifesto this year on TDOR. We still deal with too many openly hostile people who minimize and/or contribute to the violence, discrimination, and difficulties we face in finding housing, employment, and love.
There are places in this country I know I can’t feel safe using the bathroom, and that is not acceptable. But even in just the last few years, it has gotten exponentially better for so many of us, but too many people in our community find difficulty getting their medicine, finding a job, and living comfortably because of the government making it easier to discriminate against us for being trans and doing things like banning us from serving in the military.
Change is happening. It is not fast enough, and too many people have had to suffer and die in the process, but it is happening.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the penultimate letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Marissa: For the most part, I would say we have. There are some who believe that only LG should be there, and LGBs who want us out of their movement. I’ve been lucky in where I live and the university I’ve attended to not have come across that as much as some others have. Especially in the last year, so many have come out and stood by us as our voices are heard and human faces are put on issues that previously were only words and misunderstood ideas.
"Passing Cars: The Internal Monologue
of a Neurodivergent Trans Girl"
available via Amazon.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Marissa: I sort of talked about this earlier, but until very recently, trans women were used as punch lines (Ace Ventura, most comedies before 2015) or portrayed as serial killers (Silence of the Lambs). Then as we became more represented, trans characters were little more than being trans and usually were killed or suffered horrifically. And, on top of that, in the movies were often played by cis people, which lends the inaccurate credence to the idea that a trans person is just a cis person in a different gender’s clothes or with a mental illness.
The progress is once again slow but noticeable. It shouldn’t be a shock if a trans character is played by a trans actor, but it unfortunately is at this point. I’m of course talking about mainstream, as there are lesser known works that have been representative, but it’s still far too rare and hard to find.
Monika: I have read somewhere that cisgender women were liberated thanks to the development of contraceptive pill whereas transgender women are free now thanks to the development of cosmetic surgery, so they are no longer prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome …
Marissa: That relies upon the presumption that anyone has access to it. Whereas some of my non-American friends have found access to trans healthcare relatively painless, here in America, access to affordable medicine, therapy, and trans-friendly care is not so easy. When you combine that with the aforementioned difficulties of finding housing, employment, and support, cosmetic surgery isn’t a realistic possibility for far too many. It’s also not a cure-all, as dysphoria happens and is valid even after surgeries have happened. The more accessible these procedures are, the more lives that can be improved, but it’s not a miracle cure for ailments we face in our society being trans people.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Marissa: I have a lot of love in my life. My husband, who is also trans, is my rock and has been there for me every step of the way. My partner, who is a non-binary person, loves me as well. I have a lot of friends (some of whom call themselves the McCool Militia) who are quick to come to my defense if someone is being hostile toward me on social media or in person, and I have met thousands of people in my travels and projects that have made such a tremendous impact on my life.
Love is not a pie, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to share some with so many amazing people. Without the love and support from my community and within my support structure, I don’t know where I’d be right now.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Marissa: When the #MeToo hashtag became a viral concept, a fellow podcaster named Thomas Smith (Serious Inquiries Only) featured three anonymous women on his show who shared their stories of sexual harassment and assault. He remarked before the interviews on that show that he could make a weekly podcast out of those stories, and I got the idea to do so after asking if I could use that idea.
That’s when I started the podcast called We Too - Our Stories, in which there is no intro, no outro, no music. Just anonymous stories and that’s it. That has been the hardest podcast I’ve ever done. But when so many men reacted surprised that so many women had dealt with assault and harassment, and hearing stories became therapeutic for so many, I felt like I could help by sharing stories of others to let everyone out there know that they weren’t alone.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Marissa: You are who you say you are, no matter who tries to tell you otherwise. I see you. I hear you. You are valid, and I believe in you.
The UPenn V-Day's 17th production of
the Vagina Monologues in Philadelphia, PA.
If I may also borrow the final words of every episode of the Gaytheist Manifesto, “I want you to know that if you’re lost, you’re hurting, you’re scared, if you feel like no one cares and no one understands - you need to know there’s a community out here that loves you, cares for you, knows you’re capable of amazing things, and that you are worthy of love. If you’re struggling, please don’t be afraid to reach out.”
Those words rang true after my interview with Callie before I came out. We spoke for over an hour after our interview was over, and it was instrumental in making me believe I could come out and be safe. I don’t know where I’d be without Callie.
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Marissa: Trans people are as capable as anyone else to achieve amazing things in this world, and whether or not they have surgery does not detail our validity or agency. We are who we say we are, we deserve love and respect, and our dreams are valid. Surgery is a dream of many of us, but that’s not an end goal, and it’s not the determination of the process; it’s only a step along the journey.
Monika: Marissa, thank you for the interview!
Marissa: Thank you so much. It’s an incredible honor to share my story with you. I want you, and anyone else out there for that matter, to know that I’m always willing to be there for you if I possibly can, and I’ll do anything I can to help you along the way. My inbox is filled with countless examples of this, and I try as hard as I can to do so.

My website: rismccool.com
My podcasts: The Inciting Incident Podcast, The Cis Are Getting Out of Hand, We Too - Our Stories, and are available on Libsyn, Spreaker, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and plenty of other streaming and podcasting apps. They can be supported on Patreon, and one-time donations to help my work or purchase my books through my own website are always welcome.
My books are available on my website as well as Amazon and other booksellers.
If you need to reach out, please do so at rismcwriting@gmail.com
Our nonprofit is the Trans Podcaster Visibility Initiative, and can be found on Facebook.

All the photos: courtesy of Marissa Alexa McCool. 
Done on 3 December 2017
© 2017 - Monika 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...