The Momus questionnaire: Juliet Jacques

Juliet Jacques is an author, journalist and critic who has written for publications including the New Statesman and Guardian. Her memoir Trans, which was published by Verso in 2015, blends her personal story of gender transition with passages exploring the theory and history of transgender narratives, as well as the ongoing travails of Norwich City FC. She was longlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2011 for her series on gender reassignment and Trans was runner-up in Polari LGBT Literary Salon’s First Book Award for 2016.

The Momus Questionnaire was created by musician Nick Currie, and is designed to identify the aspects of the subject’s personality which give them a positive self-image, or ‘subcultural capital’.

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Have you rebelled against someone else’s dreary expectations of your life, and become something more unexpected?

Ha! Yes, I think it’s fair to say that I have. I’m not sure what my parents’ expectations for me were, but I think they were “Get a ‘good’ job and make lots of money.” I don’t think ‘transgender writer’ was part of that.

What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, ‘I Did It My Way’?

Well, speaking of ‘transgender writer’, I’ve done all I can to refuse that label. There was an obvious career path I could have taken, popping up in Comment Is Free and being a talking head on Newsnight etc whenever there was a news story about trans issues. It would have been boring and draining, and impossible – one person can’t represent an entire community, however convenient it would be for editors and broadcasters. Instead, I’ve tried to write on various subjects, using various forms – it’s far more rewarding.

What creative achievements are you most proud of?

My short fiction. I have a technique that I’ve used several times, of taking a real-life story or work of art and inserting a fictitious person into it, to make the surrounding events illustrate what I want. Perhaps the most successful – and succinct – time I’ve done this was in ‘I’m too sad to tell you about I’m Too Sad to Tell You’, where I used Bas Jan Ader’s short film to discuss the futility of striving for happiness, in just 700 words.

If there was one event in your life which really shaped you, made you the person you are today, what would it be?

Changing school when I was 12. I was at a private school – my parents ran out of money and sent me to the local comprehensive. There’s an unwritten rule that you can move from state education to private, but not the other way – I didn’t realise that at the time, and wasn’t equipped for the opprobrium I received – nor did I really understand the class issues at play. Seeing first-hand the developmental opportunities taken away from those who couldn’t pay for them made me a lifelong socialist, and (I think) fuels a lot of my creative work –
even into my thirties, I still feel like I’m trying to make up lost ground.

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If you had to make a rap song boasting about your irresistible charm and sexiness, how would you describe yourself?

I’d like to opt out of this one, please.

Have you ever made material sacrifices because of your integrity?

Yes, a handful of large ones (turning down an editorial job with a large media organisation, for example) and quite a lot of smaller ones (mostly refusing invitations to go on TV or radio because I hated the way it was framed). It’s funny, the gap between people thinking you’re everywhere, hungry for exposure, and the number of things you turn down …

Describe a public personality who exemplifies everything you’d like to be yourself, then another public personality who incarnates everything you’d least like to be.

I think Stewart Lee provides a great model of how to work in the mainstream and maintain your integrity and creative vision, and he’s the only one of the heroes from my youth who hasn’t disappointed me in some way. As for everything I’d least like to be – there are so many! It would be too obvious to say Donald Trump, wouldn’t it? But there are so many people around him, or supportive of him, who embody everything that’s wrong with everything. But I’ll go for Dan Hodges, who shines through in an incredibly crowded field to win the coveted title of Stupidest Person in British Media. (If you don’t know him, look up his political predictions. Genuinely staggering.)

If you were an Egyptian pharoah and had to be buried with a few key objects to take to the next world, what would they be?

I’d want all of my music, so an MP3 player, I suppose. (I’m far less fussy about the physical objects than I used to be.) Alcools by Guillaume Apollinaire and Paroles by Jacques Prévert. Oh, and my season ticket at Norwich City. Perhaps there’s some Paradise where we’re a bit more competent.

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Do you have a favourite joke, quotation or proverb?

I’m very fond of Quentin Crisp’s line: “Time is kind to the non-conformist”. Certainly, if you stick to your guns and articulate the things that you really believe in the face of pressure not to, the world does eventually come round to you. At least a bit.

What’s your favourite portrait (it can be a song, a painting, a film, anything)?

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno.


ImagesUnsure Of The Next Step, Ariel Dovas, Creative Commons, author photo courtesy of Juliet Jacques.