By Elliot Owen
Bay Area Reporter
Google the phrase “queer and trans artists of color” and the first three search results turn up Nia King’s acclaimed podcast, “We Want the Airwaves,” a monthly series that features the stories of queer and transgender artists of color who’ve found the sweet spot between making art and making a living.
It would be fitting, then, if King compiled those invaluable interviews into one publication and titled it Queer & Trans Artists of Color: Some Stories of Our Lives – which is exactly what she’s done. The book, which King and co-editors Jessica Glennon-Zukoff and Terra Mikalson say is the first of its kind, will be available starting Friday, September 26 at 7 p.m. at the official book launch party hosted at downtown Oakland’s Show and Tell Concept Shop, a queer-owned retail business located at 1427 Broadway.
“All the energy spent on this has been worthwhile,” King, 27, a self-identified mixed-race queer woman of color, told the Bay Area Reporter. “Knowing the community believes in this is incredibly validating. One thing I hear a lot is that there are no books like this in the world. That’s part of why it’s so important.”
The book features King’s interviews with an array of differently-identified artists of color whose platforms and mediums are just as diverse. They span the globe in terms of hometowns, homelands, and home bases, and range in exposure from locally-known to globally-celebrated.
Readers can expect everything from juicy anecdotes to priceless survival strategies from Janet Mock, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Virgie Tovar, Magnoliah Black, Ryka Aoki, Julio Salgado, Yosimar Reyes, Nick Mwaluko, Lovemme Corazón, Kiam Marcelo Junio, Fabian Romero, Van Binfa, Micia Mosely, Kortney Ryan Ziegler, Miss Persia, and Daddie$ Pla$tik.
“It was important for me to get a diverse group of artists both in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity,” King said. “And I have a broad definition of what art is and who’s an artist. It includes stand-up comedians, cartoonists, and people working in forms that are often devalued. If people don’t care about brown or queer people before they read this, I hope they do afterward. They’re really good stories.”
Co-editors Glennon-Zukoff and Mikalson agree. After combing through each interview countless times, they both find the stories just as engaging as upon first reading.
“There are still moments from different pieces that come back to me,” said Glennon-Zukoff, 23, a self-identified queer white working-class cisgender (identifying as the gender you’re born with) femme,” especially the ones with concrete advice. I’m thinking mainly of Virgie Tovar’s interview where she talks about surviving academia as a multiply marginalized person, what resources she sought out, the logistics of getting published, and shifting paradigms by paying artists for their work.”
In addition to concrete advice, the book is sprinkled with candid humor, dynamic storytelling, and inspiring resilience. A few teasers include Salgado’s recap of a date with a gay Republican Latino, Reyes’s rundown of having almost been deported on his way to perform for Carlos Santana and Harry Belafonte, Aoki’s memory of working as a forensic scientist and studying the flashpoints of human body oil, and Black’s reflection on learning to love her body through kink.
Black, 33, a self-identified Southern black queer femme, has been performing dance and spoken word in the Bay Area for almost six years. Black was honored when King asked her for a podcast interview and subsequent inclusion in the book. Visibility, Black said, is crucial for queer and trans people of color.
“Through visibility, we can find normalization, and move away from being tolerated to being accepted and celebrated,” Black said. “It feels great to get my voice recorded, my words written down in a permanent way. I’m being able to tell my own side of my story, and that’s empowering. For multiply marginalized people, those who live at the intersections, I hope this serves as a lighthouse. You are not alone. We’re strong and connected and we’re going to survive and further, thrive.”
King started the podcast in March 2013 and five months later discovered a demand for her interview content in non-audio form. After transcribing interviews, King approached Glennon-Zukoff and Mikalson about embarking on a book project together. Just over a year later, the book is done and King has big plans for it.
“I hope this book gives young queer and trans people of color the opportunity to see some aspect of their experiences reflected,” King said. “My other hope is to get it into the academy, that teachers will teach this book and it will reach people that way. I want to see this flourish as a field of study. When people learn about art history or the history of social movements, I want them to know it’s not all about white people or straight people, but that queer folks of color have been a force and their contributions are often overlooked or erased.”
Mikalson, 24, a self-identified white Jewish queer non-binary person, agrees and also mentioned the importance of the book circulating in non-queer and non-person of color artist spaces.
“I hope it reaches queer and trans people of color especially,” Mikalson said, “but I hope it enters other circles, too. My older sister is an artist in New York and I recommended the podcast to her even though she’s a white ally. Even though she shares some of the same artists’ struggles, others she’s not going through at all, and I wanted her to be aware of that fact. There are some things she doesn’t have to deal with.”
Aoki, Tovar, and Black, all artists featured in the book, will be performing at the book launch party. The entrance fee is $10-$20 (no one turned away for lack of funds) and includes vegan Palestinian food and brownies. Copies of the book are $10-$20 sliding scale. The location is wheelchair accessible and attendees are encouraged to arrive fragrance-free.
To purchase a copy of Queer & Trans Artists of Color: Some Stories of Our Lives online, visit http://www.amazon.com/Queer-Trans-Artists-Color-Stories/dp/1492215643.