JD Samson is best known as a member of electroclash band Le Tigre and the art/performance collective MEN. She helped form the Dykes Can Dance troupe, and contributed to Broadly documentary The Last Lesbian Bars.
Lottie Turner interviewed JD Samson for issue #6 of Archer Magazine, which you can buy here for the modest price of $14.95AUD.
Q: Let’s chat queer identities. How do you identify?
I think my identity, or the words that I choose, vary a bit – but I would identify as a woman, as a lesbian and as a queer person, and also as genderqueer. Sometimes that word doesn’t feel exactly perfect to me; it’s the one that comes out of my mouth most often when describing my non-binary gender expressions.
Q: In what situations do you use the word ‘genderqueer’?
I feel like the identification of queer has really affected the community. It has created a more integrated space, basically, and I love that about it. So I choose to use that word when feeling excited and joyful about my community.
I think there are so many words to choose and in a lot of ways I’m fluid in general, so I don’t get upset when people use the wrong identifiers for me. I don’t get really caught up with words, and that has actually been the thing that has stayed the same for me – I don’t really care about much. [laughs]
Q: Do you embrace labels, generally?
I guess I do, to the extent that I need to and it makes other people feel comfortable. When other people feel like they need to identify me, I use them. I think I’ve just always felt like, I’m me, and that’s what I am. And I still feel pretty proud of that identity.
Q: How do you find others respond to that?
It’s been pretty interesting to see how people want to identify me. There’s often times people think they have my back by saying, “Hey, JD uses male pronouns,” or something like that, and then me correcting them, like, “Well, thanks, but actually I don’t.” In a way, labels are really helpful in forming communities… but they also pit us against each other and focus on our differences. That part has been complicated within the community.
Q: How do you navigate gendered spaces, when folks are quick to make assumptions about your identity?
Broadly, I guess I would say that I do what I feel is most safe. So I use the men’s restroom in public spaces, because I find that men don’t care who’s in the bathroom, and women do. It’s interesting you’re bringing this up today, because two days ago I went to my first CrossFit.
Oh, thanks. I actually hated it, but it wasn’t because of the workout. It was because it was so gendered and I found that the instructor didn’t know where to place me – in the women’s or men’s group – and also didn’t know how to treat me in terms of my form. I feel like women’s and men’s bodies are different, and therefore when you’re doing proper form for workouts, it can be different for men than women, you know?But it was interesting, because I found myself really affected by a gendered space and I don’t consider myself someone that is super sensitive to that stuff.
Q: You gave a TED talk about tokenism. What made you want to start talking publicly about this issue?
My career in a lot of ways is about being a token. I’m chosen for a lot of gigs because of my identity rather than the work I’m doing, and that can feel depressing, and then at times it feels really powerful.I mean, I think I did it to myself. There was a moment when I realised I was filling up this space that hadn’t been filled up before, and I just took it upon myself to donate my body to my community, in this way of, I am now the face of ‘us’, or something – without giving myself too much power or applause.
In the same breath, I could say tokenism has given me a career, and it’s totally made my life hell. [laughs]
Lottie Turner is a human-rights advocate agitating for a health sector that’s both responsive to, and inclusive of, diversity. She is content advisor for Archer Magazine.
To read the full article, grab a copy of Archer Magazine #6.
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