‘We’re in the midst of a gender revolution” – An evening with Juno Dawson

by - Monday, August 21, 2017

If the 2010’s have taught us anything, it’s that it’s more important than ever to embrace and accept the many different ways in which people choose to live their lives. For writer Juno Dawson, exploring the different expression of gender has shaped her entire life, realizing at a young age that societies norms were no fit for how she felt inside.

Born and raised in Bingley, Juno lived the first 28 years of her life as James Dawson, experiencing huge success as a PSHE teacher and young adult novelist before sharing her desire to transition with her parents in 2015, a conversation that Juno says was “even harder than telling them she was a gay man 10 years earlier.” Northern attitudes have come a long way since the 80s, but due to a lack of trans visibility and understanding of gender as a spectrum, she believes that her self-acceptance as a trans woman could have come a lot sooner.

The mainstream press likes to belittle teen authors, but there is no denying that Juno’s work is exceedingly powerful and vital in a world where sex education in schools (for the LGBTQ community especially) leaves plenty to be desired. Stepping aside from fiction to release ‘This Book Is Gay’ in 2014 was a watershed moment for her career, an uncensored look at LGBTQ living that acted as both friend and confidant to countless teenagers across the globe negotiating their sense of identity.

Returning in 2017 to her hometown, Juno appears at Leeds Waterstones in order to discuss and take questions about her latest book, the Gender Games. A memoir of sorts, it’s a delightful and touching read, discussing the process of her transition from gay male to straight female and the acceptance that you can never be truly ‘finished’ with becoming who you really are.  She talks about the process with great humour and self-deprecation, immediately likeable with her broad smile and penchant for an air quote that puts the audience at ease.

“I used to think that a person had to be over 80 before they wrote a memoir, unless they are a Spice Girl, or you have shaped or changed history in some way; like a Spice Girl”, she reads from her opening chapter. Explaining further, she details that the idea for the book only came about during the research process of ‘This Book Is Gay’, which found her introduced to a much wider trans community than the one she has been exposed to in Bingley.

“I knew that there were trans people in the media but hadn’t spent an awful amount of time with people of my age. It was really important to me with that book that I featured people from right across the gender and sexuality spectrum, and it was only really in hearing various trans men and women speak that I realized they were telling me my story, telling me the things I’ve always known to be true about myself”.

Speaking of the earliest impressions of gender placed on children in maternity wards right through to the ‘distinct, dissonant’ behaviours that society teaches us to expect of men and women, “The Gender Games’ is a self-aware read that regularly reiterates the fact that no person’s experience is the same. Juno is quick to admit that her transition may have come about more easily that others experience and notes her own ‘slim, white, aesthetically femme’ privilege in the process of trans acceptance.

“I felt very privileged to be in a position where I could explore my gender identity working in the media and in London where it was comfortable, and I was financially stable enough to be able to pay for my counseling which not everybody is.” She explains. “After about a year in therapy I started to confide in friends and family and got all my ducks in a row.”

Despite having time to come to terms with both her own gender and the process of writing a book, nothing quite prepares a person for the act of laying their life story bare in memoir form. “I’d been through the treadmill of social media backlash so I approached the gender games thinking ‘I’m in charge’” she admits. “There were bits of my life that I was happy to share and bits that I didn’t think were that shocking, but what I hadn’t realized it that once you publish a book, it’s completely out of your control. My mum got hold of the Guardian extract which had details about my sex life and she was really upset – not that I’m an adult doing adult things, but just that sense of ‘why is my child in a national newspaper talking about her private life?’. Some of my friends were a bit upset in the way they were described which was hard for me because it was never my intention. I think there’s a lesson there to anybody writing confessionally; releasing the book can be much harder that writing it”

Despite her fair share of narrow-minded backlash online, Juno remains a fierce defender of social media and the relationship it allows her to create with her mostly young adult readers. “I don’t know if anybody sets out to be a role model because it’s a very heavy burden. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t get a letter from somebody which is such a compliment, but it’s very very difficult to be able to give advice because there is no one way to be or to come out” she explains. “If I say ‘just tell your mum, mums love a gay!’ and that child finds themselves on the street, how can I live with that?  The problem with social media is that it’s a nuance void – it’s very easy to lose the intention. It’s a dangerous thing – you know when you publish a book like ‘this book is gay’ that it’s likely to ruffle some feathers and good, because sex education in schools is so undersupported and underfunded. You get people telling you to kill yourself on twitter and you think ‘this is the worst’, but then you close your laptop and you go outside, and lo and behold, nobody runs ups holding the trash emoji. For all of it’s faults, I still love twitter. I’ll defend social media to the death because if youtube had been around when I was a teenager, I feel I’d have discovered my identity a lot sooner”

Drawing the evening to a close, Juno is left to part with some final words on the legacy she hopes ‘The Gender Games’ will leave. With an updated paperback edition already in the works for next year as well as a hush-hush documentary (“I got some free plastic surgery out of it, you’d do it too”), she hopes that the book will open up a much-needed discussion in not just trans peoples lives.

“When I was approached for the book I was really keen that I didn’t just perpetuate this stereotype of ‘trans person: my brave journey” – I feel we’ve moved past that” she says. “What I’m interested in is everyone’s relationship with gender – whether you’re Cis, Trans, Agender, Non-Binary, we are all tuned into Radio Gender . From such a young age it says don’t wear this or shave that or you run like a girl or boys don’t cry, all these potentially harmful things. It’s important to me that the reader comes away from it addressing their own relationship with gender. Whoever you are and however you identify, we are living in a completely gendered world, and unless you’re Piers Morgan, I don’t see anybody denying that.  I feel we are in the midst of a gender revolution – there’s documentaries and tabloids and forums and social media discussions, there’s definitely something happening…”

You May Also Like