These are verbatim transcripts of interviews, reflecting spoken rather than written language.
INTERVIEWER 1: So it’s the 21st of January, 2022, and we are in Exeter on campus at the university to record a life story interview for the Out and About: Queering the Museum project at RAMM. My name is Jana Funke and today I am interviewing Jasper Privett, so the first question we are asking everyone who is participating in this is we’ve asked you to choose an object from the RAMM collections that you connect with, that resonate with you, so what have you chosen and can you describe the object to us?
PARTICIPANT 1: Yeah. I chose a wolf bone. It’s a leg bone. Which I definitely thought was a rib bone, but it’s a wolf leg bone from the Mesolithic period which is apparently 10,000 to 4,000BC. Yeah, it’s quite an unassuming lump of bone. That’s what it is. From a wolf.
INTERVIEWER 1: That’s a good assertion.
PARTICIPANT 1: I think it was found in Devon. Wayward Ho, maybe, in Devon, I think.
INTERVIEWER 1: So out of the big RAMM collections, why this object? Why did you choose this particular object?
PARTICIPANT 1: That is a good question. [laughs] Let me think. I think a couple of reasons. So I wrote my MA dissertation on werewolves as a transmasculine metaphor, so I was kind of interested in this wolf connection and also I feel like a bone, it kind of reminds me of the story of creation in the Bible and I think there’s an interesting stepping stone there that spoke to me in my dissertation and generally, I think, about werewolves as this stepping stone and connection between man and beast that destabilises that boundary and in the Bible the rib bone is kind of destabilises of men and women because it’s the rib bone that creates Eve and so both kind of destabilise that natural binary that people think is there and kind of collapse this idea that biology is destiny and that they are, what is the word? I can’t remember. [laughs]
INTERVIEWER 1: That’s really interesting. This challenging of those binaries and I love, I mean it’s not a rib bone-
PARTICIPANT 1: No. [laughs]
INTERVIEWER 1: [laughs] But it still resonates in that sense, absolutely.
PARTICIPANT 1: I also really like that it’s a really old bone. I think that was really interesting, to get that resonance from something so, so old. Like it kind of projected way backwards and I think there’s a kind of queer resonance anyway in a skeleton, it is a sort of bit of history that has tried to be erased by time almost, everything else has rotted away. It also is kind of both deathy and lifey, I think, and then I think there’s a queer resonance in a bit of bone that’s been, everything else has been stripped away, it’s been covered up by time and dirt and everything else, but you can’t quite get rid of it so I think I kind of imagine digging through and finding those little remnants of a queer history.
INTERVIEWER 1: Can you say a little bit more about your dissertation topic and how you started talking about werewolves and how you came across that topic?
PARTICIPANT 1: Yeah. So I’m really interested in this idea of alternative sites of representation, sort of non-canonical, for a lot of reasons, one I think that we’re denied history in trans contexts and other queer contexts. There’s a resistance, you know, if you try and say I think this historical figure might have been trans, you get all this argument and if you try and say that this character is this you get a lot of resistance and also a lot of trans stories and other queer stories are told by people who don’t have those experiences and so often sites of canonical representation in media feel hollow or not rich enough, and you know, similarly we don’t have all the history of real people, so you may feel really connected to a historical figure you think may or may not have shared your identity, but also there’s a lot of emptiness there that you can’t fill in and so I’m really interested in this idea of being like well, we are just going to find our own sites of representation that maybe it’s not true but it doesn’t matter because we are finding it and unearthing it and having a dialogue with it, so I was not trying to look for werewolves who were canonically trans but instead taking, looking at this idea of the werewolf as a figure that represented anxieties that people have about transness, both external, not cis, cis opinions of trans people that are, those fears and anxieties about the hybridity of the werewolf or the wildness and the danger that a werewolf has, but also of how, which I found more interesting, how a werewolf might speak to anxieties that transmasculine people themselves have about their own transness, so this kind of fears around excess of masculinity and taking up too much space or being too hairy and undesirable or that it’s going to be a change you into something aggressive, misogynist even, like all these fears around the idea of taking testosterone, if that’s what you want to do, or even identifying within manhood, I just think there’s a lot of kind of rich ground, so there was a base, a starting point about puberty, which werewolves are often a metaphor for, in Ginger Snaps and the Company of Wolves there’s a kind of big coming of age teenage girl puberty is the metaphor that they’re working with but I found a lot of transmasculine resonance beyond that and the more I went forward the more I found things to unearth which I thought was interesting, so this kind of wolf bone also speaks to that for me because I spend a lot of time thinking about [laughs] as sites of trans representation.
INTERVIEWER 1: I mean I love this idea of unexpected sites or forms of representation, you know, where can you find queer trans representation where you don’t expect to find it? I mean that’s also like a method of doing history or thinking about queer trans representation. Are there some other examples? I mean it’s fine if not but are there other things you see along similar lines in addition to werewolves?
PARTICIPANT 1: Werewolves are the ones I’ve spent most time thinking about because it was the subject of my dissertation but me and my housemate play a game of transing things, so I think like the Muppets are all trans, I think clowns and scarecrows, things like that, I mean most puppets I think have a trans resonance. Austin Powers has a trans resonance. Gomez Addams from the Addams Family, like all these kind of characters, like I think a lot of them have a route, like the Muppets and generally puppets and scarecrows have a kind of resonance, I think, in that they fundamentally disrupt a biological determinism, I think. I think there’s, to me, an undeniable trans resonance about taking a puppet who is also a frog who is also a man and that not have a sense of gender play, what about this frog puppet is a man? Nothing. But what we get socially and what we are told by Kermit the frog, which I think is really fun and with clowns for example, there’s a kind of performance and performativity, there’s a real in on the joke, everything is so extravagant and observed in a lot of ways and I think it kind of blurs a distinction between what is kind of performed, what is real, what difference do those things make? And one of my dissertation texts was Big Tops Scooby-Doo, which is a cartoon Scooby-Doo film which has werewolves and clowns, so I got in a bit of a rabbit hole in that one, because in Big Tops Scooby-Doo there’s two clowns in the circus. One of them says he’s not a clown, he’s an actor who plays a clown, whereas as his companion is a quote unquote, real clown, and this other clown almost entirely communicates in honks and gestures and there’s a kind of a lot of questions there that I think there that that brought up in an offhand joke about what is a clown in that context, what is the difference between a clown who is someone who does clownery in a circus and an actor who pretends to be a clown if they are performing in clown shows in a circus, so that kind of real versus performance gets blurred and I just think a lot of things that have trans resonance have it because it’s fun, you know? [laughs]
INTERVIEWER 1: I think I love those examples and there’s a richness to it and a wealth of references and points of representation. I love what you say about like there’s also a joyfulness but also with the werewolf, going back to that example, the sense of it allows you to think through anxieties, cis and trans anxieties, actually, I mean that’s really interesting, sometimes we might think that we need these affirmative celebratory examples, which doesn’t always allow us to actually to do a lot in terms of finding ourselves or thinking through issues.
PARTICIPANT 1: Definitely. I started testosterone while I was writing my dissertation, so I was having this real kind of dialogue with my dissertation and my own transition and I was writing about this kind of excess of hair and those anxieties that taking testosterone is going to make you mean and ugly and hate women, or whatever, while I was going through the early stages of my transition myself and I found it really productive. I think something that I really enjoyed in my dissertation was kind of privileging my own and other anxieties that I saw in my community around these things. I think with werewolves, for example, there’s a lot of anxiety around infection, which is echoed in a lot of transphobic sentiments, in Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier, the first chapter is called The Contagion or the introduction is called The Contagion. Very early on it lays out trans identity and specifically in that case transmasculine identity as a contagion that is being spread and I do talk about that in my dissertation, because it’s a massive anxiety that werewolves replicate but I also think it was really interesting and good to work through and have that conversation about well, these are anxieties that we have that I think, you can often feel like when you are talking about trans things and looking at representation that you have to show this easy narrative, this linear narrative, that’s digestible and understandable to cis people because you don’t want to look complicated or messy and I think that can make working through transness yourself really difficult, because you have no outlet to be like well, I have these complicated feelings or conflicting feelings or I’m not sure, and I think that space for uncertainty is, and I mean it was really important for me anyway, being able to be like, well I think this is it and you know what, that’s fine, I can try it out and I can try these things and find a path that works. I don’t have to be 100% certain or 0% certain and so these kind of alternative more complicated sites of representation that aren’t for cis people to digest and understand easily can be really generative both in what you can unearth in them and in what you can kind of unearth in yourself and make clear for yourself.
INTERVIEWER 1: Absolutely, I mean I totally hear what you are saying about moving beyond like a singular linear narrative that only serves cis expectations and how the werewolf can offer that richer more complicated side of representation, identification, whatever, absolutely. I guess one other question that we are asking is there’s a very unique resonance with a lot of these objects, but do you think other people who see this leg bone in the museum and the installation, do you think it would speak to them? Or is it something that’s quite unique for you?
PARTICIPANT 1: I don’t know. I feel like possibly the kind of wolf and then werewolf kind of connection might be a little bit particular to me. I do feel like possibly there’s a wider resonance in a wolf, particularly a leg bone as a freedom image, almost, which I think is also interesting with my trans werewolf’s hat on because you know, like a lot of, well I don’t know why I said you know, anyway, a lot of people inject their testosterone into their leg, often for me anyway, leg hair was a kind of very early sign that the first sign of change that I noticed, and even before testosterone, leg hair was something that was my sort of first, I can actually do something with my body that is unexpected and makes me feel affirmed in that way, and so there’s a sort of wildness and freedom associated with the leg, I think, in a trans context, and also with you know, running free, a leg bone is what you do with that, so I think that possibly might resonate with people but I also just think there is something very queer about a skeleton, like I said earlier that you can sort of cover it up so much and hide so much of a wolf before you’re left with a little bit that people can hold onto, you know? Kind of stubborn.
INTERVIEWER 1: That’s interesting, the queerness of the skeleton. Do you want to say a bit more about that? I find that fascinating. You don’t have to, it’s totally fine.
PARTICIPANT 1: No, I just don’t think I’ve thought anymore about it [laughs] than that, I just-
INTERVIEWER 1: I mean there is something queer about a skeleton, absolutely.
PARTICIPANT 1: I feel like yeah, that’s it really, kind of stubborn, hard to get rid of, it collapses, a skeleton is death, a death thing, obviously, but it’s also at the exact same moment evidence of a life lived, so when you unearth a skeleton or a bit of a skeleton you obviously are both reminded that something has died but if you hadn’t have found it, you wouldn’t have known something had lived, and I think especially sort of looking back at history there’s a real resonance with that kind of life and death being intertwined in queer history and lives and you know, when you look back at history it can be really sad in a lot of ways that a lot of history that you can find seems to be marked by sadness and oppression and death and all these kinds of things, but also it’s like even if you’ve only got those breadcrumbs, at least you can look back and see a history that was there, that you might not have ever even thought about ever being possible, even if it’s not always super happy.
INTERVIEWER 1: Yeah, absolutely. I mean I love what you say about the method of queer and trans history and finding something unexpected and I guess when you find a bit of a skeleton you are like what is it, is it a wolf, you know? What is it? Who is it? Where does it come from? So yeah, I love that as a metaphor. We are also asking people, I guess, how you feel about having your voice, your story, your object, represented in the museum as part of this installation and if there or what is the importance of this project for you?
PARTICIPANT 1: I think it’s a really interesting project and important one because I think queer histories are something that we are talking more and more about as something that are erased or denied or ignored, however you want to phrase it, they’re sort of made invisible and so I think it’s really interesting to kind of try and switch that perspective, but I also really like this idea of finding things that resonate now. I think it really puts a lot of humanity into these objects. I feel like the kind of image of a museum to me is you go around and there’s a little plaque that says, we think this is this, we think this is what it was for, and they kind of write what they think they can prove, almost, and it’s very backwards-facing, which you’d expect in a museum, but I quite like the idea of it being a conversation, like having a conversation with history as in, in some respects, so what it actually was, but how does it actually speak to us now and how can we kind of project forwards and backwards and have this dialogue with things as these non-sort of-proven, if you like, sites of not necessarily representation, I don’t feel that trans people are represented in the museum by a bit of wolf bone, but identification and it’s nice to be able to look back and think, okay, well maybe there’s not some things in the museum that I think showcase a rich and exciting trans history factually but that you can still walk around and look back and think I can see echoes of my experience in strange ways, even if, you know, I don’t think that this wolf is trans [laughs] but it’s like interesting to get something out of the experience of looking at these objects and to hear what other people find resonates. Like I think that just generally talking to people about things that resonate with them in that way can be really interesting into what they think themselves and kind of place them in a context that’s wider than just the official sites of representation and identification.
INTERVIEWER 1: Yeah, that’s a great way of putting it. So the last question we have is I guess when you imagine other people engaging with the installation, listening to these stories, including yours, what do you hope people might take away from it?
PARTICIPANT 1: I don’t know. Do what you want. It’s fine. Like go around the museum, make up your own, if you like it for this reason, if you imagine a rich history, like as long as you are not writing your little placard with some made-up thing and pretending it’s factual – even do that, I don’t care! – let it speak to you, let all these other things that are, there’s so many things in a museum, all these different experiences and glimpses to be in a dialogue with them. History isn’t separate from us. And what speaks to you can be just as interesting and generative as what the placard says. If you find a rich resonance in all these things, that’s interesting and exciting and you don’t have to be beholden to this sort of burden of proof and what is true in inverted commas, that matters in some contexts, but in a lot I just don’t think it does. I just think it’s really exciting to feel connected to something that’s incredibly old, whether that’s because you think that you may have had an experience similar to this object in some way or whether it just gives you a different way of thinking about your own experiences or other people’s experiences, it just opens up a whole world, I think, which I think is exciting and fun and we have not had history kind of represented in a long time, like we don’t have to have it represented by people that don’t have the same resonance as us. It’s quite empowering I think to go around and be like well, this might not be a history to go in a history book, but this speaks to me and as a person who will in time also be history, that kind of dialogue is really exciting and it’s just important. I think it can make you feel connected to a whole world, a whole rich history, in exciting ways that may not have been open to you before, so you can just throw out the rulebook. [laughs]
[00:21:08] End of transcript