Joshua Jennifer Espinoza is a trans woman poet living in California. Her work has been published in The Offing, The Feminist Wire, and variously online. Her first book I’m Alive / It Hurts / I Love It was released by Boost House in 2014.
Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, along with TC Tolbert, H. Melt, Cam Awkward-Rich, and Devon Llywelyn Jones, contributed as guest editors to The Offing‘s Trans Issue 2015, which ran from November 16-26, 2015.
Interview questions by The Offing Poetry reader, C. Russell Price.
C. RUSSELL PRICE: You went on a tour this summer composed entirely of trans writers, what was that experience like?
JOSHUA JENNIFER ESPINOZA: It was life changing for sure. I’ve never been on an extended road trip like that and I spent most of the year avoiding readings because I was too anxious to make the one hour drive to Los Angeles from where I live, so it was super scary and challenging, but ultimately so rewarding. Also, I got to hear Manuel Arturo Abreu, Jos Charles, Die Ashley, and Sara Woods read their poetry almost every night, which was amazing!
Your poetry is blunt, honest, humorous, and heartbreaking; do you find your work driven by an experience (narrative, situation) or by the emotional response?
My work is generally driven by the experience itself — emotions are weird and often illegible to me, so I use my writing to respond to experiences and help make sense of what I’m feeling about them. Poetry helps bring out feelings I might otherwise suppress and makes them at least somewhat tangible. I can tell myself what I’m feeling with a poem. It makes all these feelings easier to live with.
What do you want to see more of in poetry? More specifically trans poetry (which feels like complete bullshit to segregate it from *all* poetry)?
I want the privileged white academic voice to stop existing as the standard for what poetry “should” be. I want trans people to be able to write poetry that doesn’t have to pander to cis people’s feelings about what constitutes transness. I want trans people to be able to say fuck you to those who whine about “identity politics”, and embrace their writing as coming from a different place than their cis counterparts. I want poetry that challenges white supremacy and poetry that challenges cis expectations to exist at the forefront. I want more poetry that fucks shit up as opposed to poetry that keeps shit in place.
While curating this issue, did you find any images or motifs that seemed to pop up across authors?
There seemed to be a recurring theme of a complicated relationship to one’s body, and also to the idea of bodies in general — how when one is trans one’s body seems to not belong to oneself, how the line of separation between the trans body and the world that names it is constantly confused and blurred.
Are there such things as tropes in trans poetry?
Definitely. Trans people are obviously going to write about their experiences and so you have the dysphoria poem, the hormone therapy poem, the surgery poem, etc. This is fine and I definitely engage with some common tropes in my own work, but I think there is a tendency for cis audiences to enjoy and respond to work that confirms what they already think about trans people — that all of us hate our bodies and seek medical transition, that we all think of ourselves as having been another gender before we “became” this one, or that we were all “born this way”. I don’t fault any trans person for writing about their own experience, but I think it’s important to show that there are multiple and endless ways of being trans that don’t always involve the most obvious and prevalent tropes, that aren’t bound to the white, western construct of the gender binary.
Which piece in this issue are you most excited about?
I really love the three poems by Manuel Arturo Abreu that ended up in the issue. There’s a line in “Untitled (Plants)” that goes “We betray our bodies as if we had a choice” that just kills me. Their work always feels very honest and devastating and also funny to me in an effortless sort of way. Their poetry does a lot of different things at the same time but doesn’t ever feel like it’s getting in its own way, if that makes sense. I’m always excited about Mani’s work.