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Jenna Talia: What difference does it make what I look like?

If you want to see just how far punk has evolved then look no further than Glitter Trash and their larger than life vocalist Jenna Talia.  Her drive and passion for music is well known but what about growing up transgender in a time and place where it was generally either misunderstood or punished?  Here we find out about what it was like to grow up in an increasingly hostile Detroit and her thoughts on sex in music.

 

Tell us a bit about Glitter Trash, how old the band is and where the soul of your music comes from.

JT: “Glitter Trash started out in Detroit in 2010 and played on and off there with a rotating cast of musicians until late 2016. In that time period, the band was lucky enough to play a large number of gigs across the US, Tour the UK and also play Rebellion Festival 3 times. We have been very blessed to do so many amazing shows and make so many beautiful friends across the globe. With no budget, living hand-to-mouth, we kept it together until I decided to move the project to L.A. in late 2017 for a number of reasons (many personal), but primarily to work with guitarist Loren Molinare of The Dogs. I gained a lot of respect for him and his storied underground history in the Detroit and Los Angeles music scenes, his work ethic and our innate ability to quickly write great songs together. He’s become one of my best friends and I love the man to pieces. Through Loren’s L.A. connections, we also picked up an incredible bottom line with Chuch Rauda on bass guitar and Brian Irving on drums. Both are seasoned music veterans and extremely talented. It’s taken a few years to get here, but this band is about as solid as Glitter Trash is ever going to get, plus each member is an absolutely fantastic human being. So that’s a bit about where we started and where we are right now. We are scheduled to play Rebellion Festival in 2018, so we are extremely excited to come back over to Blackpool with a number of new songs and a very, very strong band.

Regarding the soul of our music, people listening to us probably think more Sex Pistols or Avengers, definitely ’77 style punk which was a strong influence on me when I was a kid. I was scraped off the mean streets of Detroit from childhood and lived and breathed that terrible city, not some posh suburbanite masquerading as a citizen of this shit hole, so Detroit bleeds out of my pores. Regarding our live show, I think if you paid attention to live early shows on Youtube of both the MC5 and Stooges with the fuck you, in-your-face explosive style of Iggy Pop and crossed it with the thunder and lightening storm of Rob Tyner, Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith, you’d instantly identify pieces of it in Glitter Trash’s live shows. It is critically important for this band to keep that high energy Rock ‘N Roll show alive and well since it is an integral part of Detroit’s rich Rock ‘N Roll musical heritage and something that I’m particularly proud of coming from that city, so it is naturally rooted in our style and something lovingly carry forward into the future for the audience to witness.”

You moved from Detroit to LA.  What was growing up in Detroit like?  What age did you move?

JT: “I started out my life in Detroit as baby living very close to the ’67 Detroit riots. My parents rented an upper flat not far from 12th street (known as Rosa Parks Boulevard today) which was the hub of the worst rioting. I can recall them telling me about the tanks and military vehicles heading towards the mayhem unfolding on the streets below. The riots tore the city into pieces with a large number of the middle and upper class white people eventually leaving the city primarily due to racism but also for fear of losing property, property value or life. When the government’s Desegregation Programs started in the 1970’s, Detroit’s wealthier white kids were sent by bus into predominately poor black school districts and poorer black kids by bus into predominately wealthy white Detroit school districts, and that was the last straw in the minds of most white Detroiters with most of them leaving in waves for the suburbs. My family stayed even though my Father held a decent white collar job with Ford Motor Company. I can recall seeing my friends, who I used to go to school with and were randomly selected by the Detroit Public School System to be bused into the poorer black schools, coming home with broken noses, busted lips and black eyes. As the whites quickly moved out of Detroit and into the wealthy white suburbs, poorer black families moved into the large vacated early century homes that had expensive maintenance requirements. Without money to maintain them, the homes quickly fell apart devastating Detroit’s property values, the tax base supporting the city vanished almost overnight and it could no longer support an infrastructure designed to hold 2,000,000 people. Throw in the collapse of the automotive and manufacturing industries in the 1970’s and 1980’s and it was a nuclear bomb going off financially for Detroit. Today, the city now holds just over 600,000 residents in it’s 143 square miles. I started my memories as a toddler on Detroit’s Eastside on beautiful Somerset Street in a home my parents purchased in the late 1960’s. By the late 70’s the ghetto had creeped into that beautiful neighborhood and devastated it with drive by shootings, murders, car jackings, home break-ins, open drug dealing on the streets and prostitution. Detroit’s neighborhoods collapsed. By the early to mid-80’s, I was living in one of the worst zip codes in America, with gunfire heard nearby as I lay in bed at night. I was a target of black-against-white racism on a daily basis. I understood where their anger and hate came from, but since I was not raised to hate by color of a persons skin, I too became angry at my treatment and the conditions I now had to endure. It was living hell. That was the Detroit I grew up in. I spent 30 continuous years there until taking a job in Cleveland, OH in 1996. I spent some recent years downtown at The Leland Hotel, very much like 1970’s Chelsea Hotel in New York, filled with artists, musicians, drug dealers, junkies, kooks and weirdos, but gentrification recently booted all those people out so the rich kids could move in. I have a lot of anger and mixed feeling about Detroit, but bottom line is that’s my home, that’s where I came from, so deep down I’d like to see it fully recover, but unfortunately that will not be in my lifetime.”

What is your earliest memory of a mental battle with your physical gender, and have their  been any significant events in your life that have particularly helped in that battle?

JT: “My earliest memories of Gender Dysphoria began around 4 or 5 years old. I can recall being 7 or 8 years old and spending my earned paper route money to buy girls clothing, which I wore in secret. I was very confused and conflicted about my feelings on why I so badly wished to identify as a girl, not a boy. By this time, I was also playing Pee Wee League American Football and Baseball, so this added to my confusion being very male physically. I grew up in the Dark Ages of transgender understanding and acceptance. The ground was just starting to get broken in psychology and psychiatry but in the 1960’s people were still being arrested during gay bar raids or being put into mental institutions for being transgender in America. I can recall, when growing up, my family and friends ridiculing or talking poorly of anyone transgender or gay, so it put a lot of fear and anxiety in me at a very young age. The media’s portrayal of transgender people in the 70‘s through the 90‘s did not help matters (“Dressed to Kill”, “Rocky Horror Picture Show”, “Silence of the Lambs” as just a couple examples) which made out transgender people to be killers, creeps and kooks. The Midwest was very conservative unlike New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles, which had more progressive environments, and I wasn’t gay, so I had no friends, no mentors or role models to aspire to, just sensationalistic media or very limited exposure focused on the issue. I was a screwed up kid completely lost. This was pre-internet, so I spent an immense number hours going to libraries trying to find anything I could read to figure out what was wrong with me, why I felt so confused, but the choices were usually outdated books from the 1950‘s or thinly referenced sections dedicated to transgender issues. I can remember the embarrassment and shame, as a teenager, sneaking over to the library shelves that were dedicated to LGBT psychology. There was nobody there to help me, so in my own fucked up, dysfunctional way I figured it out on my own terms. Unfortunately through it all, I grew up with extremely low self esteem and bottomed out self confidence. I was afraid of being “outed” with my friends and family. Nobody ever got to see the whole me because I had built a shield up to keep everyone out of the core of my being, including family and my closest friends. I used sports to burn the anger off inside me. GLITTER TRASH is a similar vehicle, but instead of hiding those feelings, I have come to terms with it and put them on display in my lyrics. I have large, gaping wounds in my psyche to this day, I struggle anytime I walk in public, in complete fear of large crowds unless I am onstage, so I am fucked up to this very second. Being transgender is like a tidal wave, that powerful wave coming toward land from far out at sea, nobody can see it way out there hidden in the sea, but when it finally came to shore and was exposed it destroyed everything in its path. Two relationships were decimated by my inability to deal with being transgender, my absolute fear to reveal it to my partners for fear of losing them. So to those who say being transgender is a “lifestyle choice”, they can fuck off. 4 year old kids (that’s about my earliest memory of my confusion) don’t make lifestyle choices, they simply respond honestly to their being until somebody tells them it is wrong or they are forced to hide it in shame. I’m very happy to see the recent advances made toward transgender people and acceptance seems to be gaining momentum in certain regions across America and the world. I’m human and I’m flawed.

Moving to Cleveland in 1996 was a groundbreaking turn of events for me as a trans-person. Inadvertently, my wife, daughter and I had moved to Lakewood, OH, a western suburb of neighbouring Cleveland, Ohio, for an Operations Manager job. I quickly  discovered it was a hotbed LGBT area in rival to, population wise per capita, San Francisco and New York, so I was exposed to a large number of “open” and “out” LGBT people which I had never experienced before in my life. As my wife and daughter returned to Detroit to stay with family, sometimes weeks at a time (she was very unhappy in Cleveland), it allowed me the opportunity to explore myself in ways that were previously impossible in Detroit. I saw an ad in the local newspaper for a transgender support group called Paradise Club and I wound up going to an event they sponsored, my first time socially with others dealing with the same issues as me, and it was my very first big step in self acceptance and my start in rebuilding some of my damaged self confidence and non-existent self esteem. That particular moment started off a chain reaction that eventually brought me to you and the readers of Punk Lounge…which is quite odd, isn’t it?”

You’ve previously used the term ‘hybrid’ when it comes to describing your gender – do you think there is a potential terminology minefield for people these days when discussing things like gender and race?

JT: “I prefer “Jenna” or “human being”. My typical response: “Unless you are fucking me, what difference does it make what I look like or what body parts are under my clothing?” Based on my past horrors with society, you can understand why most transgender people flee towards a place where they are considered completely passable “male” or “female”. Non-passable transgender people have very limited options for finding gainful employment and suffer financially and socially over their decisions to wear their truth on their sleeves.  I hope one day, in the not so distant future, being transgender will be a respected part of an individuals being, not something of shame and embarrassment, something to hide. That’s where I stand, non-passable and out transgender, and right now I’m taking direct hits from societies rocks, spears and arrows. In looking back, society used fear based thinking while holding hands with religion and conformism to put the screws to transgender people, but now I’m no longer afraid, so I won’t hide and don’t give a shit what people think anymore and that’s a very healthy and free place to be. I absolutely love the Native American peoples respectful handling of transgender people in their society, identified in various forms and also known as “Two Spirits” to be a beautiful version socially in accepting people as their own unique being. Read up on it, Google “Two Spirits”. Unfortunately invading Europeans wiped out this unique cultural phenomenon that was prevalent in almost every First Nation tribe due to European religious beliefs and missionary conversion of many Native American people to Christianity.”

We’d all like to believe that alternative music scenes are more open-minded environments than our ‘everyday’ lives. Do you think that’s true or have you encountered just as much discrimination and judgement within your musical career?

JT: “Music, art and fashion have always coddled the non-conformists and that is why I now call music my home. It took a while to find this place, but I’m finally in the right house. I think today’s musical landscape is as diverse as ever. I see a current movement in Los Angeles, particularly focusing on transgender artists and attempting to get them in the spotlight. Although I see the intention in doing that, I’ve never played the “trans card” in an attempt to get more attention or use it as leverage in getting something from somebody through fear or guilt trips. Glitter Trash is a punk rooted Rock ‘N Roll band that just so happens to have a transgender singer, at least that’s how I see it in my own warped world. The other bad ass gentlemen in my band aren’t transgender, they’re all straight males, so this is not a tranny band or a gimmick band, it’s a fucking Rock ‘N Roll band. I understand this is part of the process to enlighten folks, and I am very appreciative and humbled by the opportunity you have given me to help make attempts to pave the way for others like myself.  When people start interviewing me about the music only, then I will know the world is REALLY changing. I don’t see myself as a groundbreaker. I’m walking on a jungle path already chopped down with machetes by Jayne County, Christine Jorgensen, Jobriath, Elton John, Billie Jean King, Caroline Cossey, Harvey Milk and countless others…shit, I’m just maintaining the path so others can keep coming down it until is gets paved and modernised. I can see the paving equipment coming up behind me. To answer that question, we all get discriminated on in some forms. I am not going to let some short-sighted and unenlightened individuals stop this party train. Glitter Trash has always surfed over the shit and now that I’m in Los Angeles and I’ve got direct access to much bigger and better surf boards.”

For many people using music as their outlet for self-expression, the decision to get on a stage in front of people as the person they truly are can be the most daunting they’ll ever make, for fear of judgement. Was it initially scary for you or did it feel like a natural step?

JT: “Never any fear about performing…ever. Being on stage is my religious experience, my soul purification, my pedestal to put my human imperfection on display in image, sound and lyrics to let others know you aren’t alone, to embrace them with the power of Rock ‘N Roll…our time to hold hands with whatever force created all this craziness and share this brilliant energy that is life with each other. There is so much power in it that it brings tears to my eyes as I write this. The overwhelming experience of sharing energy with your bandmates and the crowd brings forth a high that the richest man on earth cannot ever buy….it’s what makes my life worth living and why I appreciate every single human being that comes to Rock ‘N Roll church with Glitter Trash and any other band that has the guts to fearlessly put truth and their hearts and minds on display.”

During your travels as a musician, have there been any countries or states of America where you’ve felt particularly threatened or discriminated against?

JT: “I’ve been quite a lucky chap. Never had any major issues. Before I was involved in music In Detroit, I’d been shot at two times, stabbed, been in multiple bar scuffles and robbery attempts so everything else is easy peasy Lemon Squeezy. I’ve had some online threats, but they never amounted to anything. The way I see it, if I get my head blown off onstage one day by a nutter, at least I was doing something I really dug when life ceased.”

Do you think the correlation is societal, educational or both?

JT: “The world is filled with uneducated dumb fucks, religious nuts, mentally disturbed people, blind followers and a handful of pure evil motherfuckers. I can only try to enlighten people one person at a time. There’s no magic wand to wave over steaming piles of bullshit to make these issues disappear. You have to clean it up one turd at a time. It’s a dirty job, unfortunately somebody has to do it. Before this lifetime, I think I must have been some cold, heartless rich bastard that fucked over the masses, so in recycling my soul, Karma made my being transgender and sent me here to eat shit this lifetime to make up for it.”

In Tommy Keeling’s interview he mentioned that he gets a lot less hassle at shows as a male than before his transition. Do you think you’d have encountered any less discrimination had you have transitioned from female to male?

JT: “Nobody, and I mean nobody, hassles the Jenna Talia.”

A huge amount of debate these days seems to revolve around sex or sexuality within music. In your opinion what is the role of sex in music?

JT: “You can take an unattractive dude, sling a guitar around his neck, throw on some leather pants and have him sing a hot song and girls (and some dudes) are going to want to fuck him. Sex is part of being human. Music is human expression, so sex is part of music, like it or not. This controversy is probably the brainchild of some Polo shirt and khaki pants wearing corporate turds that can’t get laid, trying to shit in musics party punch bowl. Can you imagine, instead of Elvis with all his charisma and sexuality churning his hips playing Jailhouse Rock we had adult diaper wearing Tiny Tim up there crapping his pants and playing it on his ukulele. We’d be listening to Barber Shop Quartets on the radio today, Rock would have died an instant death. The best part? Even Tiny Tim probably got laid after playing “Tiptoe through the Tulips”. You are who you are. Sex is primal, you can’t shut that off. Sexuality is always gonna be ripping at your core as a human being. Repressing it is unnatural but seems to be the new societal trend. If some people are charismatic sexually, I really don’t see what is wrong with that since that is a part of their being. Sex sells…always has and always will until the human race is hunted down and destroyed by artificially intelligent robots.”

What are your views on female musicians being called out for their choice of stage attire and why do you think people do this?

JT: “You are asking this question to a transgender person that has been known to go topless onstage. Last time I checked, the US and UK were free countries, so you can wear whatever outfit (or lack of outfit) or sing whatever song you want during your 30, 40 or 60 minutes onstage. I think people are being brainwashed by corporations and this bullshit is tricking down into the arts now. Just for asking this question I’m playing our next show nude.”

Let’s talk a little bit about the unseen Jenna.  So do you have any pets?  If so what are they and what are their names?  Who looks after them when you’re on tour?

JT: “I’m the father of three beautiful and smart children, Allison, Mariah and Tristan, who live in Metro-Detroit. My kids rock for having a transgender father, so I’m really proud of them for their strength amid a judgmental and shitty society. For work, I pet cute dogs for a living during my job as a kennel attendant at a Los Angeles dog daycare. I also stop them from fighting and clean up their piss and shit all day, so it’s not all fluffy glory. I’m in an open pit with 70 to 80 large dogs humping the shit out of each other all day, many getting in dangerous fights trying to show their dominance or simply pissing one another off, so you have to be in complete control or risk getting injured. They allow flexible scheduling so it works well being a musician. I’m a working class stiff that grinds it out 6 days a week full time for peanuts, so I barely have enough left from my pay check to buy some band shirts to sell you or order online cheap Chinese made skimpy stage clothes to piss off all the stick-in-the-muds. My girlfriend Michelle and I have two Chinese Crested dogs, Cuckoo and Keilie. She stayed in Detroit due to a lucrative job, so I’m living vicariously through rich peoples pampered dogs right now in Los Angeles.”

What are your favourite things to do that aren’t music related?

JT:  “Hanging out with my family, boogie boarding in the Pacific Ocean and laying in the sun on Los Angeles’ beautiful beaches, riding my bike along the ocean in Venice Beach and Santa Monica, shopping at thrift stores and going for walks in Glendale where I live. I’m a pretty simple cat.”

What do you most miss about home when you’re away?

JT: “My family, but home is wherever I’m standing. I’ve had so much stripped from me in my past life that I refuse to hold any place or possessions that close again to avoid heartache.”

You’re a regular at Rebellion festival.  So what do you find are the best and worst things about the UK?  And is there anything that you find just weird?

J.T:  “I’m in music, nothing is weird to me anymore. Best about the UK? The people! I absolutely love the UK’s wit, sarcasm, honest and unapologetic opinions and generally good natured ways, folks always looking for a solid laugh or chat. The bad? The Continental Breakfast at the Camden Lock Hotel…I still don’t now what they gave me in that white box. I gave it to a beggar on Chalk Farm Road and he threw it in the trash. I’ve never been one for tourist bullshit, I go straight to hangout with the people.”

If you could go back in time and change anything in history without any consequences what would you change and why?

JT: “Will I be doing this in a DeLorean?  I’d devise a way to change the balance of my bank account from $97.00 to $97,000,000,000 and give all my money away to people today struggling financially everywhere. There are so many that have nothing today, just skimming by, living check-to-check, working multiple crap jobs just to keep from going under. So many I know have no health insurance, no savings and are one car breakdown, one accident or sickness away from complete financial ruin or their credit ruined by large health care or credit card bills, leaving them financially incapable of climbing back out of the crater of a very large debt. America is in a downward spiral, the thieves and crooks have taken control of the system and the poor and middle class are fucked beyond belief. America shames you into being quiet about being poor or struggling regarding your financial situation, so people lie about it or remain silent. It’s a dire situation in America and everyone is too afraid to talk about it. Just look at me…I work 6 days a week, 8 hours a day. I cannot afford health care insurance. I eat canned goods and shit food because expensive quality food is out of my reach financially. I struggle to make ends meet. I literally have $97.00 in my wallet to last me for three weeks of living expenses…with every penny of my next pay check going completely to pay rent for a 10ft X 10ft bedroom/shared bathroom in a dumpy 3 bedroom apartment. This is how many Americans are living today. It’s stressful and terrible and most of it is due to the greed and control of the ruling classes.”

If you could place three items of any size into a time capsule for opening in 100 years to show future generations who you were what would you choose and why?

JT:“My Chanel scarf. Because even people in the dystopian future need to look fabulous.  A McDonald’s Cheeseburger. In case of famine 100 years from now the cheeseburger will still be edible.  A “Sorry Note” sending apologies for using up all the natural resources, for polluting the oceans, lakes, rivers and streams rendering water undrinkable and killing all the sea life, for storing nuclear waste underground and leaching radioactive contaminants and also oil from fracking into the watershed, for our inability to control our expulsion of greenhouse gasses which triggered the New Ice Age the mutants now live in in 2118, and lastly, apologies for the musical crimes of Simon Cowell.

Interview by Scott Bickers and Gary Trueman

 

 

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