Inspirational interview with award winning author Abigail Tarttelin
Name: Abigail Tarttelin
Occupation: Author, Singer, Actor, Director, Editor of Rants Zine
Hi Abigail, I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some of my questions. This interview certainly covers some of the more interesting topics that I have come across.
There is no question that you are talented! You only have to look at your website to see your achievements! Award winning Author; Golden Boy and Flick, Actor, and singer, band GIRLBOY who performed at Radio 1 introducing, and you just launched a magazine!
How do you decide which projects to take on and how do you find time for it all?
What do you favour over writing/singing/acting?
Thank you! Most of my projects are self-initiated, so it’s often not a case of deciding what to take on, but what creative direction to take next. I like to be really busy, because I love my work. I take a lot of inspiration from the American DIY culture; people who wanted to make music, zines, films, and create their own stories and art, and just did it themselves because their ideas weren’t being financed or otherwise supported by the establishment.
You are from Lincolnshire, just like myself! Now you share your time between London, LA and your family home, did you ever imagine that this is how your life would turn out? What did you want to be growing up?
Growing up I wanted to be an actress primarily, but I realised when I started working in film in London that the type of roles on offer didn’t appeal to me. Writing novels suited me because I could act out a diverse range of characters and viewpoints. I always imagined life would involve travel, freedom, and creativity. I have experienced all these things, but I have also had setbacks, both personal and professional. I realise as I get older that it’s not about ‘getting there’ at a certain point, but about sustaining a life where I can be happy, and continue to create and be free to roam.
On your website you state that you wish for everyone to be seen as people rather than by their gender, do you think that this is possible? And why is this important to you?
I think it is possible, through subtle changes in the way we talk and the way we view the world, to see people for who they are rather than for what they are (i.e. for their gender, ethnic background, age, sexuality, physical disability etc). It takes everyone as individuals to open up our minds and let down boundaries that are enforced upon us; to understand that a difference between us is not a wall. By breaking down and agitating against gender stereotyping, we can make sure when we DO refer to a person’s biological sex, or gender identity, that we don’t make assumptions based on it. Freedom is very important to me, and I want people to be free to be who they are. Life is too short to be contained by another’s judgment.
There is no doubt that males and females ARE different, men are seen as strong and powerful and females as the home makers, do you think that the roles stereotyped to men and women are important in life?
I actually would disagree with the phrasing of this question I think biologically male and female organisms are different. They reproduce in different ways, their physicality is a little different, as is the way hormones affect their growth, but there is far more difference within the sexes than there is between them. Stereotypes are just that – stereotypes. Personally, I am surrounded by strong, tough, independent women who often earn more than their partners, and loving, kind, thoughtful men who are wonderful fathers, friends, and partners.
In the future should you choose to have children, what would you teach them regarding gender? One family who received media coverage allowed their little boy to wear dresses and play with dolls what are your thoughts about this?
Dresses and dolls have nothing to do with biological sex. It makes just as much sense that boys would want to wear dresses and play with dolls as it does that girls would want to. Children learn the concepts and roles of gender from us, so if a boy is outraged by the idea of playing with dolls, it’s because the people around him have taught him it is shameful to play with them. I have read extensively about the idea of gender neutral parenting. My advice would be to overcompensate either way, in order to combat the teachings boys and girls will receive in the outside world. Boys are likely to be taught, for example, that it’s shameful to have nurturing play, or to have friendships with girls, which disadvantages men when they come to be partners and parents. To teach them to be nurturing, I would encourage play with dolls and teddy bears. This will help them no end in their adult life. When it comes to girls, it’s all about making them speak out, speak up, stand up for themselves. I’d suggest a martial art, like kickboxing.
Your magazine, I hope you like Feminine Rants has only female participants. You are also a self-confessed feminist, I know that being equal is important to you, but what would you say to people who see this as a contradiction to your message regarding gender?
I think it’s silly to see that as a contradiction. If I had burned all men’s magazines in the world, then started my zine – sure! But Rants zine’s focus is on topics which affect women, and like any specialist magazine, its contributors are experts on their topic. If I was editing What Car? I wouldn’t fill 50 pages with the cyclist’s point of view. We don’t have a ‘no men’ policy, and we likely will have male contributors in the future, but I’m not going to run around finding 12.5 men to speak about having a vagina every time I edit an issue. Rants is also a platform for female and feminist voices, in a world of platforms for male voices, and misogynistic ideas. I’d have to become something like the feminist version of Rupert Murdoch before I even got close to worrying about over-representing female voices.
My sister had a copy of Rants which I took a peek at, keep up the good work!
Why is it important for you to raise awareness of the subject of intersex individuals?
An intersex person is someone who is neither male nor female, due to genitalia, hormonal activity, or chromosomes, different from what is normally expected in a male or female person. Intersex activists have been working for a long time to bring attention to this common condition. It’s important for me, because so many people around the world suffer with needless shame and with depression because they feel they have to be secretive. I’m proud that Golden Boy has reached so many families and intersex individuals – and anyone struggling with gender issues – and made them feel that they are not alone. It’s been a privilege to be involved with raising awareness of intersexuality, and a pleasure to hear from readers who have identified with Max’s story. I definitely agree that its important and beneficial in many ways for individuals to feel like they can relate/identify with someone.
Where did your interest in this subject come from? This is certainly not a subject that many people will be aware of.
I saw the Argentinian film XXY in 2009, in a tiny cinema in Leicester Square, and researched the topic. It seemed interesting to me, given my own relationship and journey with my gender identity with regards to what people expected of me, and how I felt inside. When asked to expand on her own personal relationship regarding her gender Abigail respectfully declined at this time to do so.
When doing your research for Golden Boy did you come across the story about David Reimer? This is the true story of a male twin, born non-intersex, and his circumcision going wrong, as a result David was gender reassigned at 8 months old, and being brought up alongside his male twin as a girl. Q; John Money the psychologist assigned to this case states that gender identity is all about nurture (upbringing) and NOT nature. What are your thoughts about this?
I did. Reimer did not identify as female from age 9-11, and later went public about his case to discourage this medical practice. He then committed suicide at age 38. The John Money/Reimer case is an abhorrent, deeply sad affair, and I disagree with the practise of both the circumcision that caused David to lose his phallus, and the gender reassignment that followed. I do think a lot of gender identity is about nurture, but biological sex, and sexuality, is about nature. Reimer was biologically male, and shots of oestrogen to make breast tissue grow was never going to make him female. He was left urinating through a hole in his abdomen; Money tried to force his parents to consent to David having a vagina constructed; Reimer lost his ability to have biological children. This was an extremely sad case indeed, I agree I was certainly moved when I read about this case.
With regards to seeing past someone’s gender what do you think of the subject of transgender? What are your feelings towards children as young as 7 believing that they were born in the wrong body?
I think it’s important that everyone has a choice to live how they want and need to, but I also understand some of the inherent problems between gender and trans activists, because the idea of gender activism, gender play, and agitating against the concept of gender can seem antithetical to the idea of being one sex and feeling like the other, and feeling happy once one is living as the alternative gender identity. What I would like is for trans to always be a happy choice, and transitioning never something children feel they have to do to be able to freely express who they are inside. To ensure this is a reality, I think we need to acknowledge that we as adults and parents educate children with regards to the terminology of gender and sex, and in doing so, create those boundaries in which they can express themselves. We should be careful not to say: ‘You can only be a man, or a woman. There is no alternative. If you are a boy but want to wear fabulous dresses, you must be a girl.’ Instead, we should say: ‘Be whatever you want! If you are a boy but want to wear fabulous dresses, you can do that, no problem! If you are a girl and want to be an engineer, no problem, you can do that and still be a girl, but also, if you wish to refer to yourself as a boy, there’s no problem with that either.’ The best thing we can do is encourage children to be strong, and stand up for who they are and what they believe.
In my opinion, a pre-pubescent child should really not be worried about anything related to gender or sexuality, because a) girls and boys are physiologically so similar at this point anyway, and b) these subjects are really never worth worrying about on a personal level, because they don’t make us better or worse people. Framing these topics as having significance makes them a source of depression and anxiety, when gender play and sexual experimentation are in reality joyful, innocent activities.
Is it true that Golden Boy could be hitting our TV screens? You will no doubt reach a wider audience this way, how does this feel?!
Hopefully yes! It’s always a long process, but we think the time is right for an intersex story to be onscreen, and Golden Boy has such a wealth of material and wonderful characters that we think it would be ideal for television. For me, the greatest thing will be to reach that wider audience in the UK, and perhaps further afield, to help kids with gender issues or intersex conditions of any kind come to terms with who they are, and help their families understand them more. I will be watching!
You back Hillary Clinton as next President and are a member of the UK’s Green Party, is politics important to you? Do you think that the government should do more to address gender issues?
I really enjoy following electoral politics. Politics can change everything! For better or worse. While there is inequality, of course, yes the government should always try to do more, for women, men, and intersex people. Depression and mental health is currently something that needs attention for men. For women, I think quotas for scripted television, and theatres, already backed by taxpayers’ money would be a brilliant idea to change perceptions of women. Intersex people need to see themselves in the world, plain and simple. That’s more about television commissioners finding the right productions to back and broadcast.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Reading always leads to writing, but I also find inspiration everywhere. I am generally interested in everything and anything. I like to bounce around on Netflix, watching social commentary documentaries. I think life and people are inspiring, and interesting, and in order to write books of substance, you have to live in the world, and experience love, pain, and growth.
What advice would you give to people about pursuing their dreams and ambitions?
Work hard, play hard, learn a lot, feel joy, finish things.
What is your ultimate goal with regards to your work and your future projects?
To be happy, and to be free, and for my life to have meaning.
I thank you for your time Abigail and wish you all the best with whatever your next venture is!
Facebook: Abigail Tarttelin