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SuperKnova on Gender Expression and Trans Safety - Tunes Tuesday Interview Transcript

Maud Mostly: Hi folks, I'm on. Mostly my pronouns are they/them and welcome back to Tunes Tuesday, a weekly series where I sit down with Queer/2SLGBTQ+ musicians and bands to talk to them about their music, their experiences, and so much more. This week, I am kindly joined by New York City-based pop artist, SuperKnova. Thank you so much for being here with me this week. Would you like to introduce yourself?

SuperKnova: Yeah, it’s lovely to be here. My name is Ellie and I perform as SuperKnova. I go by she/her/hers pronouns. I am a proud genderfluid trans woman, and I make queer pop music.

Maud Mostly: I am so thankful to have you here and I'm really excited to talk to you because I really relate to so many of your lyrics and so many of the experiences that you talk about so I'm really excited to dive into them, and I really wanna start with the fact that in a recent Pride campaign that you are modeling for, you discuss some of the struggles you had previously had with gender expression and finding outfits that made you feel comfortable. Prior to your participation in that, you released the music video for Goals_, which features you in several different outfits and aesthetics. Did those previous difficult experiences of navigating expression and dysphoria inform your artistic choices for the music video?

SuperKnova: Yeah, absolutely. I think there's a couple of facets to that have been a lot of ways, like that music video was a combination of or kinda proud milestone of where I was and being comfortable with who I am and what I wear, and that a lot of those outfits were not things I probably would have felt comfortable wearing five, ten years ago, certainly. And so in that sense, it was kind of the triumphant thing for the video on the other hand, but there's the other side of it, so getting to this idea of dysphoria and discomfort, so we worked with a great stylist who was in Chicago at a time for the video, and we went through so many different outfits and there's lots of things that looked great, but I might have fit the vision of the video, but I just didn't feel comfortable wearing. Or, I just just didn't feel right for me. So we went through a lot of different outfits, and so that it was still definitely a process. And makes me think of being thankful for where we are now, where there's more of these companies who make — that are run in life by trans people — who make close for trans and gender expansive individuals, that are made more for trans buyers in general.

I mean, it's never going to be perfect and we have a long way to go, but I think that's a really, really great thing. And also on another level, it's like, this was a music video, it's a little different. A lot of is costume right, there's different elements of fashion of things that you wear at home versus on the street, versus in a music video versus in a performance. I think for some people, those can be all one thing, and I think it's wonderful, but certainly for me, those are very distinct spaces. So if I'm performing, I might be more comfortable wearing something very different from if I’m just at home, now I'm sparing a t-shirt. So there's different spaces for, different fashion for different spaces.

Maud Mostly: Yeah, absolutely. And speaking about dysphoria, going back a little bit in your music career in 2018, you release the EP Splendor Dysphoria and its titular track tackles a difficult decision that a lot of trans people consider in their lives, which is this choice to present exactly the way you'd wish even if that presentation has the chance of putting you at higher risk of violence due to the transphobia society around us. How does it feel to speak to that complex experience?

SuperKnova: Yeah, absolutely, that's a good question. I think for Splendor Dysphoria, so we'll start with the obvious, which is obviously like your own personal safety is the most important thing. And so a lot of people, myself included, for a long time, I had to be in the closet. Certainly where I grew up in the transphobic environment that I grew up in, I might not be here today if I hadn't stayed in the closet for my own safety, emotional and physical safety. So I don't think anyone should ever — the song is very proud and about accepting or being who you are despite the consequences. But I wouldn't say that the main theme of the song is that that's like everyone should just go on and do that right now. So I want to get that clear from the get-go. But that being said, I think there's two parts, but absolutely at some point, when it is safe and when you are able to navigate these risks and are ready to take that on — because even anywhere in the world really still at, it's not totally safe for a trans person just to be out in public — even in liberal centers in the United States or Europe or wherever, not to mention the world at large.

And so I think there's something really powerful about having a song that is kind of anthemic of that idea to guide you. That's what it was for me to be like an anthem. That was kind of like one of the original things that made me start SuperKnova or to write songs in that vein was to have songs like that that I grew up listening that were necessary specific to the trans experience, but were about people with marginilized identities, whether that be for of race or gender or whatever, and being very proud of it and taking it and doing something powerful and beautiful.

Maud Mostly: Yeah, that sounds really empowering for yourself as an artist, but also for people who connect and relate to your music, and I also really appreciate you adding that caveat of making sure you are always prioritizing your safety when possible.

SuperKnova: Yeah, well, sorry, I just want to add one more thing. I just remembered.

Maud Mostly: Go ahead!

SuperKnova: Which is that, I think that is also the beautiful thing about music, in that not only that I can motivate you in your own life as you go out and do it, but that it allows you to be somewhere else, be someone else, live a life — a different life — even if it's for three minutes and thirty seconds, you get to feel that in the same way someone could write a country song about keying up their exes car or something, and you could feel… it doesn't mean you're going to go out and kee your exes car, but it feels really good. You can do it, you can listen to it, and you can feel like that cathartic feeling through the song, and that's the beauty of how music can transport you. I think that's something in Splendor Dysphoria as well, it's like, it doesn’t that and you have to immediately live it, but you can live for while you're listening to the song and feel that joy or euphoria or whatever it is, if you connect with it.

Maud Mostly: Yeah, absolutely, and I think you bring up something that actually Mathew V spoke about previously on Tunes Tuesday, which is this fact that queer music and queer artists have been rejected for so long from non-queer people because they think, “Oh, I can't relate to these queer experiences”, and it's like, okay, well, queer people have been listening to non-queer music for so long, we've been relating to those feelings and those experiences. So you know, you do, you bring up that important point where it's that anyone can listen to this, anyone can relate to it, even if these aren't feelings that you have felt.

SuperKnova: Yeah, I can't tell you how many people, you know obviously, the majority of my followers and supporters and listeners are a queer identified, but I have plenty of people who are cis, het, straight, who reached out to me, and they’re like “Hey, I'm not trans, I'm a cis het person, but I really relate to this song because the theme is very relatable of being yourself, doing what you want to do outside of society's expectations for you because of what you look like, or what your family says”. You know it’s like the classic trans rights are what we're fighting for, for trans rights is good for everybody. It doesn't benefit just trans people it benefits everyone. And that's the common threadline between lots of different social justice movements. So yeah, absolutely great.

Maud Mostly: Yeah, definitely. And so at the beginning, I did introduce you as a New York City-based artist, but you actually only announced your move to New York recently. So how do you think this move may impact your music and the future of your career?

SuperKnova: That's a good a question, I'm not really sure. we’ll find out. My move was honestly, entirely personal, not professional, my partner got into a fellowship program here and, a two-year fellowship, so I decided to move with her to live here in New York City. New York City is amazing and magical and what a rare privilege and opportunity to be here. But it wasn't, I think a lot of people, when I announced it, reached to me and thought that it was a professional move and were like “Oh, people move to a big city” or whatnot. I was already kind of in a big city, Chicago is pretty big, but a bigger city. But I think, yeah, for me was entirely personal, I think, especially for me being an indie artist, doing what I do, so much of what I do is online anyway. I connect through a lot of people through Bandcamp, through social media, through other avenues, and so I don't know if for, especially for an artist like me, if it'll affect a tonne of what I do, but I am excited to see what will happen. I've never lived outside of Illinois or the Midwest, which in and of itself is exciting.

It was hard for me to, one thing I can think of is that it was hard for me to tour in the Midwest because everything is so spread apart, and as like a one woman show who does everything myself, having to drive both long tours was very daunting. But on the East Coast, everything is closer together so maybe I'll do more tours, whenever that's safe to do again. But yeah, I am excited. I think there's good things wherever you are in the world, especially today, there's so many tools at your disposal to connect with people that aren't physical as there should be, for some people, it isn't even an option to be in a physical space or so many venues are not accessible to people who use wheelchairs or, the list is endless. Or you have social anxiety. I was like that too when I grew up. So it'll be interesting to see, but I don't think it'll change too much specifically for me as an indie artist.

Maud Mostly: Definitely, yeah, thank you for going into so many different aspects of that, and I always appreciate it when people bring up accessibility of the music scene in the show, because I think there's progress being made there, especially in the last year with people really realizing that something needs to change, but I think there's still a really long way to go, so I really love any conversations that relate to that intersectionality as well.

SuperKnova: Absolutely, yeah, it's so common. It's something that has been not talked about enough for so long, finally is getting a little bit more traction in the mainstream, you know ableism and making spaces more accessible, both physically and then in other ways too, in terms of safety and other things. But yeah, I’m glad it’s finally happening.

Maud Mostly: Yeah, definitely. Well, if you would like to follow along with SuperKnova’s journey, if you want to check out any of the music or music videos that we mentioned today, you can head to any of the links below this video. Thank you so much for joining me this week on Tunes Tuesday. And stay tuned for next week. SuperKnova will be playing us out.

*Goals_ by SuperKnova begins to play*

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