Author Juno Dawson wants you to know the ‘powerful trans lobby’ doesn’t exist
Juno Dawson, the bestselling author and screenwriter, will be hosting a trans literary salon this weekend at new Brighton-based LGBT+ book festival The Coast Is Queer.
PinkNews talked to Juno Dawson about trans literature, the state of UK politics and why she is trying to answer Carrie Bradshaw’s questions on her new Sex and the City-based podcast, So I Got to Thinking.
PinkNews: You’re going to be holding a trans literary salon at The Coast Is Queer in a couple of weeks. Which authors are you particularly excited about at the moment, and why?
Juno Dawson: I’m super excited because so many of the writers are friends! Jonathan Harvey, Dean Atta, Juno Roche, KUCHENGA, Sea Sharp and Patrick Gayle to name just a few.
In my limited experience, books by trans people often are memoir, or for the “cis gaze”, or feature personal stories of coming out and transition (or all of the above). This year it’s been really cool to see books like Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl (Andrea Lawlor) and Freshwater (Akwaeke Emezi) – books with a trans narrative, but where that’s not necessarily the point of the book – do well. Do you think we’re seeing a shift in the way trans stories are told?
I hope so, but never overlook the importance of coming out narratives to people who are coming out. It doesn’t matter how much progress we make – that’s never, ever an easy thing to do. I know from my young adult heartlands that there will always be a market for “entry-level” stories!
It feels impossible not to address the general state of UK politics at the moment. How are you holding up?
To be fair, I was in Australia last year and you sometimes forget that politics is in a mess wherever you are. In the UK, right now, I’m deeply confused – as I think everyone is. Keeping up with it all feels like a second full-time job I have neither the time or energy for, and there’s a danger it’s all disengaging voters when we desperately need to engage. I do think there’s a power in the whole country recognising that our leaders are, by and large, incompetent. We need better leaders.
We’ve seen reported recently that Number 10 wants to try and weaponise trans issues in the event of a general election, yet it was only a few months ago that Theresa May declared herself a trans ally. Are you surprised?
No! LGBTQ people are acutely aware that our existence is political. If the Tories think they can mop up a few votes from the homophobic protests outside primary schools, they’ll be after those next too. I hope the electorate is realising that certain politicians are playing games with real lives just to cling on to power.
Plus, with all the Epstein stuff, MeToo is back in the headlines. Meat Market has its own MeToo moment. What was your thought process behind including something like this, something quite serious and heavy, in a young adult book?
Young adult has always explored the darkness in society. Look at my novels: Clean deals with addiction, Meat Market with rape. Authors like Holly Bourne, Patrick Ness, Louise O’Neill and Melvin Burgess have always “gone there”. It’s an exciting group of authors to be a part of.
A lot of queer people seem to be living more and more in permanent eco-dread. Where are you at with emotions around impending climate apocalypse?
I refer you back to “we need better leaders”. We also need America to sort its s**t out and acknowledge climate change. On a personal level you can only do your bit – I’ve cut out meat (and found it surprisingly easy to do so) and knocked makeup wipes on the head.
This year lots of people, particularly women, seem to be increasingly aware of the impact of consumerism and fast fashion on the climate crisis. Is this something you thought about while you were writing Meat Market?
Very much so. Writing that novel has completely changed how I shop. Buy vintage! It’s fun and you don’t end up wearing that one f***ing Zara dress.
Meat Market is being adapted for screen. What’s that process been like? How do you find TV as a medium for this kind of story?
TV is very much a group effort – it’s much more collaborative. It’s out with commissioners at the moment, which is a nervous time. I’ve enjoyed playing on a bigger canvas – the TV series isn’t tied to Jana (the main character in the novel) so we can go anywhere and get inside some of the supporting character’s heads too.
What do you love most about writing for a younger audience?
I don’t write with a particular audience in mind. I know what I loved when I was 16 – Buffy, The Craft, Scream, Dawson’s Creek… I just try to write something I’d have loved back then.
What do you make of Dave Chappelle’s transphobic “jokes” in his new Netflix special?
It’s never very dignified to see a comedian “punching down” is it?
TV shows from the 90s haven’t always aged well. Your new podcast is based on you rewatching Sex and the City and trying to answer Carrie Bradshaw’s questions. Where did the idea for this come from, and what made you decide to do a podcast about it?
It was a lovely conversation between Dylan [B Jones, editor of QX magazine] and I. He suggested we should rewatch SATC as a podcast, and I’d already had some interest from Acast. I wanted to make it more relevant than just discussing the episode so I suggested we use Carrie’s questions to structure our conversations and it just worked right from the pilot episode. I’m having the best time recording it!
It’s looking like we’ll have a General Election soon… In the 2017 snap election, seven trans people stood as candidates – but none were elected. What do you make of the chances of us getting trans political representation this time around?
This would be a huge step forward. So much is said of the “powerful trans lobby” but, in reality, there are NO trans people with any real political sway in the UK. We have a handful of trans people in the media, but that isn’t power. Sophie Cook was very, very close in 2017 in Shoreham, so let’s see. Fingers crossed.
The Brexit Party has announced it’s fielding two trans women as General Election candidates. If one or both of them become MP’s, what challenges do you think they’ll face?
They can get in line as we struggle to access our HRT medication following a no-deal Brexit.
What’s next for you, work-wise?
There’s two books out next year – and that’s all I can say really! I’m working on a number of TV projects so hopefully they’ll continue to progress too!
Catch Juno Dawson at The Coast Is Queer at The Spire, Brighton, from 12 to 15 September 2019.