How has the metaphor behind the key “turning” image of Turning evolved since you started the project in 2004 for the Whitney Biennial?
It emerged over the course of the performance and even in the years since the performance, and kept taking more shape. I feel like I almost stumbled upon the form long before I had an idea of its ramifications. As the years have passed, I have been more able to put language around the curation of the models. Even if you look at the way people discuss [the project] in the press, most people can’t really get beyond one aspect of the curation. People have described them as “13 transgender models.”
Right, which is not the case. In the film, you talk about that — how Le Monde dubbed the Turning tour a “transsexual manifesto” in 2006.
How incomplete that vision is! The people are still doing it in the press because — I think it’s a lot for people to take in. I’ve been collaborating with a group of women from Turning — who are some of my best friends — over the last three years on Future Feminism, which is where we thought to articulate our perspective. And it was the first time we really had the language. So it’s been really wonderful for me to bring the language of Future Feminism — now that we’ve started to clarify — back to Turning and to say that Turning represents the alchemy or the meeting point between transfeminism and Future Feminism. When we were first doing Turning, I knew I’d asked all of the powerful women I knew in New York to stand next to all these powerful trans icons and artists, but I didn’t have language to talk about why that was happening and no one could really put it together. We literally didn’t have the language yet in 2004. And now we’re in 2014.
Now the “You Are My Sister” video, which features similar imagery of both trans and cisgendered women slowly turning, is going to be playing in Times Square.
It’s the series they call Midnight Moment, which is an opportunity that they afford artists to show work in Times Square, each year. The theme this year is circling contemporary women’s issues in America. This year they chose to show “You Are My Sister,” which was actually a video for a single that I released nine years ago. And now it’s been deemed not just contemporary but kind of frontier and relevant in an American conversation. It would never have happened nine years ago. When we did Turning in 2004 for the Whitney Biennial, it was as underground as something could be. It was so intimate and it felt like something was being born. It felt so precious. For those images, a decade later, to be ricocheting through the billboards of Times Square, amidst all that advertising, swimming against the tide of all of that dominant culture — it’s a very exciting opportunity as an artist.
In that vein, have you been been keeping up with other widely disseminated depictions of transfeminism? Transparent, Laverne Cox’s plot on Orange Is the New Black…
I have friends involved with both of them. Zackary Drucker was a part of casting for Transparent and I’m dear friends with her, and also my dear friend Gaby Hoffmann is acting in it. She’s a fantastic person, I just love her so much. And then Laverne Cox, who I’ve known for years — Laverne came up in the same scene as me. She lived in the building where my best friend Chloe [Dzubilo] used to live — Chloe, who was another trans activist who died in 2011, was kind of like my spirit mom in a way, and Laverne knew Chloe.
I’m so proud of Laverne. We’re really blessed to have her out there on the front lines, speaking as articulately and courageously as she does, giving so much language to daylight culture. Her second appearance on Katie Couric was a complete milestone. Laverne thanked Katie Couric for being teachable! It was such an incredible moment in American television. It’s just one of those really subtle moments when someone from the subculture can be the kind of spirit guide for the evolution of the nation. And that Katie Couric also had the courage and humility to be open to it. It was just so cool. It was my favorite thing to happen on TV in a million years.