21 October 2019

Trans Power: an interview with Juno Roche

“I have a duty to create more safe space before I go for generations to come."

Juno Roche’s Queer Sex, released in 2018, is still in the charts despite its “niche” subject area: queer sexual pleasure. The reason for this is immediately apparent to anyone whose bodies and intimate desires lie beyond the lines of propriety drawn by the powers that be. Not long after scrolling through the Goodreads reviews, you come across the following description: “The talk that every queer teen (or adult) should be able to get from a mix of people from different walks of life, with different generational experiences, different perceptions.” It’s a rather sweeping way of summing up the release (as all character-limited reviews tend to be) but it’s very much on the money. 

Whilst the UK ruled to include LGBT+ sexual education on school syllabuses earlier this year, previous generations had no recourse to information of this kind. School sex ed was limited to the condom on the banana demonstration, without any discussion of queer sexual health, or even pleasure. For many trans and non-binary individuals, the only way to learn about queer sex was to have queer sex — even if you weren’t sure whether you were emotionally ready or not. Speaking to HUNGER, its author Juno Roche succinctly puts it: “It’s amazing that nothing existed before. In Queer Sex I wanted to honour the spaces that we create with our bodies that is genuinely radical and dynamic, and sexy as fuck.” 

With the cis-centric nature of depictions of desire, even within queer culture, there is little information out there on how trans and non-binary people can have good, affirming sex. It’s easy to dismiss these conversations as frivolous when queer people are being murdered, but doing so fails to recognise the political valence of desire. Trans and non-binary people, just like everyone else, should feel sexy and have good sex if they want to — something that is often overlooked by the NHS. As Juno explains: “Sexual pleasure is important and being able to access that through our bodies is too. For someone that’s 21 I want the surgeon or medical professional to centre pleasure.”

So, if Queer Sex was an antidote to our sex-negative culture’s overly narrow protocols of desire, and the way that trans people’s sexual pleasure can become collateral damage, Juno’s follow-up, Trans Power, is a book about trans self-love and pride. Bringing trans voices to the fore — preventing them from being drowned out by the incessant chatter of TERFs — it serves as a much-needed remedy to a culture that looks upon trans identity as a stop-along-the-way to assimilation into cis society. Rejecting cisgender as the golden standard, Juno creates a space to explore the depth and diversity of the trans experience through interviews with phenomenal people from the community such as author Kate Bornstein, theatre-maker Travis Alabanza and writer-filmmaker Amrou Al-Kadhi.

At a very basic level, Juno explains that Trans Power is a declaration that: “We [the trans community] don’t want your pity and we don’t all want to look just like you.” Affirmations of trans and non-binary identity and culture are happening at a broader level, with Trans Pride celebrations in London and Brighton and the works of creatives like Kai Isaiah Jamal, Victoria Sin, Emma Frankland and Mika Johnson shining on the stage and on the gallery walls. Yet Juno is not interested in getting bogged down in the conversations around representation, stating that: “It’s about the nuances of our lives. It’s not about a tipping point and it’s not about being on the cover of a magazine.” For them, it’s not about representation: it’s about revolution. “We should take gender and make it something kinder. From the get-go people are told to feel uncomfortable in the one thing which is theirs — their body.”

Their commitment to opening up conversations about gender, sexuality and trans power, is rooted in her desire to open up space for younger generations — a commitment that begins with accessibility, even if that’s become something of a dirty word amongst literary circles. Citing an example of a fan messaging them from Australia to tell them that Queer Sex had “given me hope” Juno says: “that feeling needs to be accessible to everyone. I love Judith Butler’s work but I need to take a break and have a coffee, or take notes.” On the other hand, however; “You listen to bell hooks and you go ‘I want to be like that, I want people to be able to take something away from that.’”

For Juno, the act of writing and creating is a service to her community — and a way of paying homage to the queer and trans figures of both the past and future. As they put it: “I feel like I have a duty to create more safe space before I go for generations to come.”

Trans Power: Own Your Gender is released today, 21 October. Check out the book cover below.

  • words Megan Wallace

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