Guest Editor Profile: TC Tolbert

TC Tolbert often identifies as a trans and genderqueer feminist, collaborator, dancer, and poet but really s/he’s just a human in love with humans doing human things. The author of Gephyromania (Ahsahta Press 2014) and 3 chapbooks, TC is also co-editor (along with Trace Peterson) of Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books 2013). His favorite thing in the world is Compositional Improvisation (which is another way of saying being alive).

TC Tolbert, along with Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, 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 edited an anthology of trans and genderqueer poetry with Trace Peterson (Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, Nightboat Books) that was released in 2013. Have you noticed any trends or changes in trans poetry with the increase of trans visibility?

TC TOLBERT: The most exciting change to me is the increase in trans poetic visibility. I mean this in a few ways. One, trans and gender nonconforming poets are seeing and connecting with each other and making shit happen. From trans publishers to trans lit journals to trans poetry Facebook groups to trans poetry tours to trans lit classes – trans poets are making a scene (to take back a shaming phrase from my childhood). Two, the cis literary world is taking notice of trans writers. There are special issues like this one (y’all are rad!), trans writers are being published by cis-run presses (I can think of at least 10 books just this year), and Lambda Lit now has a Trans Poetry category. And finally, despite mainstream media’s best attempts to reify a single dominant transition narrative, trans poets are upending the binary imperative all the way down to its syllabic roots. The trend is to be alive – fiercely, wondrously, complexly – in a political and social system that would rather we be dead or ashamed or mute.

You’re “just a human in love with humans doing human things”: what are some of your favorite human things to do?

Oh, I love this question! There are so many. Let’s see: pretty much anything that makes my body/mind do things I didn’t know (or forgot) it could do. A short list: walking, hiking, going either really fast or really slow, turning a flip under water or, really, anywhere. Trampolines and access to water (either rivers, lakes, oceans, or pools) should be required at every school. Zumba, step aerobics, power-bottoming. Sitting outside and waiting for a very long time while the birds forget I’m there. Ball sports. Climbing. Road tripping. Slumber parties. Making breakfast for dinner. Sitting on the periphery of a really smart group conversation. Going into the wilderness with friends. Trying to figure out what prayer is/isn’t. Poeming. Watching other people poem too. A few years ago, I took a Statistics class at the community college for fun.

Now that you’ve edited an anthology of trans and genderqueer poetry as well as assisted in curating this issue, what do you want to see more of in trans/gnc lit? What do you want to see less of?

I just want to see more.

For anyone who’s reading out there and is questioning their identity, what do you think are some great resources for them?

I made a list of resources a few years ago for Made for Flight – a youth empowerment project I started in 2010 that utilizes creative writing and kite building to create a living memorial commemorating transgender people who have been murdered in the last year. I think it’s still a helpful list.

Also, in terms of readings, here are two lists I made last year for the Trans Literature class I teach at University of Arizona. The first is suggested framework textsThe second is general trans lit.

Your Facebook is filled with beautiful landscape shots of where you teach and where you’re traveling. How much does location/geography influence your work?

In The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Button says: The significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are different people in different places and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be. I look at my house, my wilderness(es), my relationships, the things I’m writing, the way I’m writing, my body. These are synonyms. Inextricable. And I wonder how non-trans people (and other trans people) experience these things. Is your body an architecture? Is your name? What are you constructing now? Can you visit it, and therefore, can you leave?

You’re a dancer as well – how does that work within your writing life? How much do they diverge or overlap?

I’m not a trained dancer (and I want to say this with more pleasure than timidity but it just depends on the day) but I do indeed dance. Specifically, I practice Compositional Improvisation with Movement Salon, a collective of dancers, musicians, and writers I’ve been with for about seven years. We learned this practice from The Architects. We compose together in the moment to create dynamic, complex, and fully realized pieces without rehearsal or planning and this practice has taught me to pay attention to the intersections of text, body, architecture, and space in ways that the page does not. In an interview, Christopher Soto (aka Loma) used the words “chorus,” “orchestra,” and “conversation” to describe a piece I did at The Poetry Project. I like those words and they wouldn’t be possible without this practice of Compositional Improvisation. A conversation is nothing if not partial improvisation and when we enter into one, we accept that we must be flexible, porous, able to be changed. I’m less interested in giving a reading and more interested in sharing an experience with an audience – a conversation. For the last two years or so, I’ve committed to myself that I will not give readings but I will engage in site and audience-specific collaborations. In this way, even “finished” pieces are continually re-/de-contextualized, edited, revised, erased.

So, similar to my experience of place, my experience of my body in motion (or attempting stillness), in sound (or attempting silence), and in relation (or attempting solitude) shapes my writing. Utterly.

What was the most challenging aspect of working on this issue (as well as Troubling the Line)?

I want to answer this by telling a little story from a class visit I did a few weeks ago at the University of Oregon with Margaret Rhee’s class. Guest speaking (by which I actually mean conversing b/c I don’t lecture – I very much try to create an atmosphere of conversation/improvisation! amongst many people) is always this incredibly generative and clarifying occasion for me where I find myself saying things I didn’t know I thought or felt (and, in turn, learning from what others say and how they say it). During that visit, someone asked a similar question about my experience of editing TTL and I said something like this: “It was excruciating to choose. Not b/c I don’t have very clear preferences about the work I like (I do), but b/c THIS IS MY COMMUNITY. I LOVE THESE PEOPLE. Even, and maybe especially, the writers I don’t know who have taken a great risk to trust me to hold space for their work and treat it with the respect it deserves. I believe much more in inclusivity, as a poetic and political practice, and the work of an editor is navigating what/whose voice should be included and what/whose voice will be left out. The whole reason I wanted to create TTL was to celebrate trans poets and trans poetry, not b/c I think I’m qualified to say which work is most worthy of celebration. It’s a complex power to wield and I struggle with it.” That said, the joy (and I do mean the true wonder) of being an editor of something like TTL and/or this issue is reading an incredible range of really fucking amazing work and being introduced to new writers. I mean, I was asked to select 10 poems for The Offing and I simply couldn’t do it – there was too much goodness – so I chose 13. And there are easily 8 other writers who I want to search out now and read more of their work. It’s a private expansion that I always want to make more public.