Elisha Lim and Rae Spoon talk about “they” as a pronoun
Elisha Lim: So Rae, I’m thinking to myself, so much of the art that I make is hustle. Just hustling to get it out, to make a name, to push myself.
Rae Spoon: You have to hustle.
EL: How do you do it?
RS: You have to hustle to make a living. Oh god, you’re going to make me sound like such a capitalist…
But I think the music model is the best model. You have to tour like a musician. Even if you’re making books or drawings. You have to book a tour like I do and play in lots of towns. That’s when you sell your stuff.
EL: Huh, that’s smart. That’s a good tip. How about this-do you make goals for yourself? Like I want one day to have a drawing in The New Yorker.
RS: No. I just want to be healthy and happy.
EL: Oh. Well how about, do you ever feel like you have to segregate your stuff, like “this is for my gay scene,” and then “this is for the mainstream?”
RS: No. If you’re making art that’s good, it’ll go. I used to play banjo for the Boomers. But it wasn’t safe as a trans person. So now I play for the younger crowds, and I don’t have to hide it. I find that younger hipsters accept it all.
EL: Seriously! Hmmm…that’s really interesting to me. You know, like when and how do you find those little inroads where a mainstream crowd actually feels safe enough to support you? Like where I can say “I’m never gonna draw another white person again” and they applaud wildly?
If I make statements like that in person, usually people get quietly offended and stop coming around. But it’s like you, talking about transphobia to a bunch of hipsters in the audience and they love it. I feel like, in some mainstream spaces, some party venues, some stages, because there’s still a feeling of ‘art’ and ‘safety’, the audience totally goes with me into taboo topics.
RS: Yeah, it’s as long as everybody feels like they’re “in the club.” If you said ‘hey all of you are racist,’ and in fact they all are, I mean we all are, it wouldn’t have the same effect. But as long as everyone feels like they’re in the club, they don’t feel threatened. That’s the beauty of art. It takes you places you wouldn’t go. Sometimes I invite them into the queer world. Sometimes people want to be invited, you know.
EL: I find this really interesting. I think this is kind of my favourite part, the chance to experiment and take risks with activism, in the safety of ‘art’.
Can you give an example of when it worked for you in a really good way?
RS: Yeah. Well, I played Regina this year, and 200 people came out. It was a straight audience, it wasn’t a gay or trans event. But the organizer, she went around to every person working on the show and got them to use my pronoun right. She faced all the transphobic conversations. She really went to bat for me. She was an extraordinary person.
It’s really just about trying to respect other people. If someone says “I am this or that” I just have to respect it. If someone says “you offended me” I have to respect that too and not be defensive.
Anyways I think you’re getting attention cause your art is good.
EL: Thank you! Thanks.
RS: You just have to find the way to perform it, to tour it around. You need to get a public and a fanbase. Get a publicist. Get someone to promote you in magazines and on the radio. You need to get a presence. There’s nothing wrong with that, just making some money. I mean, I want a nice life.
EL: Hah, yeah. So what’s a nice life?
RS: You know, not thinking about being trans all the time. To have a home. A group of people that use my pronoun right.
EL: That’s tragic.
RS: Hahahahah… a nice life is when people get my pronoun right. Actually, I’ve been looking for a chance to come out as ‘they’ and maybe this is it. I’m going by ‘they’ now. I’m gender retired. I’m no good at gender.
EL: Let’s high-five to ‘they’!
RS: Yeah. Rae Spoon is using ‘they’. I mean, it helped me to see your petition against Xtra.
EL: No way! Oh my god that is amazing! It was an amazing petition with 1,500 people signing up to force Xtra to call me ‘they.’
But I felt like I let the ball drop. I never got what I asked for.
RS: But that helped me to say, yeah, now it’s time. I got permission from you to use ‘they’ and I could see people supporting it.
EL: Oh my god, that’s incredibly heartening….