AJ Clementine Transcript

OUTcast S2, Ep 2 • 7 Mar 2022 • 32:08

00:00:05 Rosie: Welcome to OUTcast, the podcast where we catch up with some of the most engaging, courageous, and inspiring LGBTQ+ people from all over the world. We ask our lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer guests where their coming out journeys began, what they’ve gone through along the way – the joy and the pain – but we promise there will be more joy, and what gives them hope. I’ll be interviewing people from all walks of life, from hardworking, queer people behind the scenes to more familiar faces. You might have never known even had the coming out stories they are about to share. You can follow us on social media at @OUTcastLGBT, and you can find us online at outcastpod.com.

00:01:00 Rosie: AJ Clementine is an Australian TikTok and Instagram influencer, model and creator. As well as her love for fashion and modelling, she’s known for her LGBTQ plus advocacy. She’s passionate about sharing her experience of being transgender and being open about her gender confirmation surgery to help the next generation of trans and LGBTQ+ people feel inspired and supported in their own journeys. Her book, Girl Transcending is part memoir, part guide book for navigating the trans journey. And it’s packed with resources and advice for fellow trans and LGBTQ+ people, as well as allies. AJ writes, “When you’re growing up and forming your sense of self, every casual comment adds up: a racist comment, a transphobic joke, a slur whispered under someone’s breath. It all piles up in the back of your brain, feeding the negative preconceptions you hold about aspects of your identity. That’s why coming out to yourself is by far the hardest thing to do. At least it was for me.” In telling her coming out story so honestly today, AJ hopes others may one day find it easier to tell their own stories and truly be themselves. AJ, welcome to OUTcast. It’s amazing to have you on.

00:02:14 AJ: Thank you so much for having me.

00:02:15 Rosie: Your book, Girl Transcending, is fantastic, fabulous, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful read. So I can’t wait to get into that with you. In your book, you write about being born in this shell, this magical body, that made you look like a perfect little boy on the outside, even though you were a girl. You describe it feeling sort of darker and colder inside as the years went on, as you got older, which you can now recognise as gender dysphoria. For listeners who haven’t read your book yet, what were those childhood years like?

00:02:49 AJ: I guess it was… it was very conflicting and confusing as a child to navigate those feelings without knowing what it meant or why I was having those feelings. It felt very, like, alienating and just separated me from every other kid because I’d never thought why, why was I different to all the other girls that were just growing and maturing as I got older? And then again, I was also being categorised in a box, which I did not feel was me, and resonated with me. And it wasn’t just because of, like, toys or interests. It was down to like the core and soul and all those kind of things that as a kid I was recognising. I was recognising that there was a physical thing called gender and our society where we group certain things for girls and certain things for boys.

00:03:47 AJ: And it goes beyond just, you know, certain things. It’s also like the roles that we play in society, and understanding that and realising that as a kid was just so terrifying. And it was just really scary to see that that was the road I had to be forced down and pushed down to fit in. And as soon as I started to realise I wasn’t going to fit that mould, I just guess I just stuck to the things that made me happy and didn’t really think anything of it as a kid, which I’m glad that I did. I’m glad I had that kind of essence of not really giving, like, two craps about what other people thought, but as I did get older, it was much more difficult to hold on to that.

00:04:35 Rosie: And you talk about these roles, as well as the things you were pushed into, but that wasn’t the case at home, was it? You were very much yourself at home. You were a girl. You could follow your interests and be yourself.

00:04:47 AJ: Yeah, definitely. I feel like it was not, there wasn’t any boundaries or there wasn’t any limits on, in terms of what I could do or feel as safe as I wanted in myself and my environment. So yeah, it was never looked down upon. There were some moments where, you know, it would be questioned or would just, would talk about why I was doing those kinds of things. But at the end of the day, I would just continue to say that it was making me happy and then my family stood by that.

00:05:21 Rosie: Yeah, you describe really wonderfully in the book, your mum just allowing you to play and allowing you to grow. It’s really inspiring to read that that was happening. And I think, accordingly you didn’t really come out to your parents as such – your mum and your stepdad, your biological dad – there was an essence that people knew, but what happened when you were able to start making these realisations that were so painful and then navigate actually talking about it with your parents? Like, how did that go down?

00:05:51 AJ: I guess it was definitely something that they wanted me to talk about with them, but I felt like it was something I had to do on my own or keep to myself. Just because, you know, there was nothing really to follow. I didn’t know how to transition. I didn’t anybody that was also transitioning. There was no one to tell me how to start, and all that kind of stuff like that. I just focused on doing it myself, and I knew that my parents wouldn’t have any idea of what that meant or have any knowledge of this. So I just felt like I couldn’t really involve them in it, but I guess the real discussion with them was when it came to me bringing up wanting gender confirmation surgery. And they knew that that was something that I wanted, but they were just kind of glad that I actually brought it up with them for once, with something that was in my transition, because I kind of just did everything and kept them in the loop, but didn’t really sit down and discuss something with them until that moment. They knew that it wasn’t a phase anymore.

00:06:57 AJ: They knew it wasn’t something that was just like my interest. They knew that it was serious and they just, yeah, they didn’t really think anything of it because they knew that deep down that’s how I was and that’s who I am.

00:07:14 Rosie: Yeah. And how old were you when you talked to them about confirmation surgery?

00:07:19 AJ: I was like 19. Yeah.

00:07:22 Rosie: Speaking of when you were a teenager, you discovered trans German singer songwriter, Kim Petras when you were a young teenager. You call it your light bulb moment. How did it change things discovering a trans role model like her?

00:07:37 AJ: It literally changed everything of how I felt towards myself and trans people in general, because up until that point, I only thought trans people existed in porn or in sex work and as the butt of the joke in movies and films where it was a comic relief, or it was, you know, a villain that was just trying to fool people into believing that they are just like dressing up. And I didn’t think of it anything more than just that until I came across Kim Petras and she was living her life and she had gender confirmation surgery at 16 and, you know, it just felt like a whole nother weld. And the fact of her story reached like, you know, it went like worldwide. I just didn’t know that existed. And the way that she spoke about it as in Germany it’s been a thing for ages.

00:08:36 AJ: And like they have a whole system in order for trans people to transition without any fuss and to just get the surgeries and hormones they need. And I just felt like, wow, this is crazy. And I started to do my own research, but at the time you had to go to the family court, if you’re under 18 in order to get hormones. And it was just like a scary thing to think about, to tell my parents like, “Hey, like I want to go to the court to get hormones.” And I just kind of thought, well, I’ll just wait then until I’m 18.

00:09:27 AJ: Definitely there was a moment with my friend in high school. She took note of all the things that I would do and I was at a point where I was introducing more feminine clothing into my wardrobe. And at sleepovers I had this cheap Lady Gaga $10 wig that I always wore just to… around my friends and I slowly started to… I wore the wig, even though it was just such a bad wig, I like wore the wig to school sometimes just for fun. And my friend was, well she just took note of it. And she just was kind of informing herself about trans people. And she was watching lots of documentaries. So she pulled me aside, like one sleepover, and just asked me straight to my face. Like, “are you trans? Like, do you think you want to transition?”

00:10:20 AJ: “Because if you do, then I’m here to support you through it all.” And at the time I was just not fully ready to accept that label yet. And that was before the Kim Petras situation. So in my mind I had a lot of internalised transphobia because of all the things that I saw and consumed in terms of trans stuff. So I just rejected her help and just thought, “no, like, why would you think that? Like, I’m just me.” I am not all of those things that I was thinking in my head in terms of like being, you know, in porn or a sex worker, or the comic relief joke. It felt like an attack, even though she was just trying to be my friend in that moment.

00:11:06 Rosie: Yeah. As you say, that internalised shame is really difficult to overcome. Yeah. But I love your “someday soons” and “your time will come” mentality in the book. It’s really positive. And I know it will resonate with so many readers, and so many listeners to this podcast. How did your experience of being mixed race in Australia intersect with your experience of being trans? Because you do write about that.

00:11:33 AJ: Honestly, I was definitely, like, confused by it growing up. Just because the narrative in terms of when I was in primary school to high school, from teachers and the principal, there was this narrative of being like, “Australia’s multicultural. We accept everybody. You know, we have so many cultures that we want to embrace,” and that was true. Like there was lots of different people in our classes. And for me, when I was growing up, it was very much 50:50 Asians and white people at my school. And that was the one culture that, like, I would just see and hear lots and lots about. But when there was, like, Asians, it was mostly like… there wasn’t really anyone from South East Asia, which was like, you know, my cultural background. So it was very difficult as a kid to be excluded from that because I would always… because my Filipino mum was more of a role in my life and connected me to Filipino culture and just Asian culture in general.

00:12:44 AJ: And I was more raised like that. You know, I had my stepdad and my biological dad, and my biological dad played a very minor role in my life and my stepdad was always working. So my mum was the one person in my life, and for me, I felt more Asian than I did with white. So I would try and be friends with Asian people. Um, but then would slowly be rejected as a kid just because I didn’t look like them. It was so strange because, as kids, you don’t really see, you know, that sometimes you don’t see how people look, or their skin colour. It’s like stuff that people actually tell you to focus on and to look at because of us, like, as we kind of take note of these kind of things. And so I just kind of always felt out of place in that, in that kind of world, just because I spent most of my time in my schools just having a whole white friend group. It was just strange, because I found myself trying to relate to, you know, more of like the Australian culture and forcing myself to, kind of, change and tweak just to try and mould myself and forget about being, you know, having that Asian culture inside of me.

00:14:10 AJ: And it just added so much confusion because lots of people at my school would be like, “why are you doing this if you’re like are not white, or you’re not really from here?” And I didn’t know where I stood because for me, I thought that I looked more white than I did Asian because of the Asian people at my school being like, “Oh no, you’re not Asian enough.” And then, you know, white people would be like, “oh, like you don’t look white and where are you from?” All this kind of stuff, like the one feature was my eyes. And, like, people would just always be like, “oh, why do you have Asian eyes?” Like all this kind of stuff like that. And I never wanted to get into it. And I never really wanted to be like, “oh, I have Asian eyes because I’m Asian.”

00:14:54 AJ: I would just ignore it and be like, “oh, I don’t know why I have Asian eyes,” you know? Which was just a weird kind of conflict to have. Because then, like I said before, the adults in these schools would be like, you know, we embrace all these cultures and stuff like that. And it was, it was true. Like there was so many people like being able to just mingle and there was no differences, but then when it came to being mixed, it was like a conflict of being like, “you’re not enough of this, so what are you doing? And then you’re not enough of that. So what are you doing?”

00:15:29 Rosie: Yeah. Again, like these boxes and stereotypes that you talk about now around LGBTQ+ labels are just as bad around race.

00:15:36 AJ: Yeah, exactly.

00:15:38 Rosie: And especially, yeah, when the figureheads and the people in charge of saying, “oh, but we’re so multicultural, like we’re paying lip service,” but not necessarily understanding the nuances on the ground. Yeah. Let’s pivot to the trans experience. You’ve documented a lot of your journey being transgender on YouTube and TikTok. What role has social media played in your coming out journey?

00:16:01 AJ: It’s played like such a huge impact because, like I mentioned before  in terms of the lack of positive representation for trans people, social media really acted as a way to counteract that and show that even though mainstream media isn’t really showcasing the true, authentic stories, there’s actually lived experiences out there. There are trans people who are living their best lives, and you can follow that. You can consume that. And navigating the few years of, like, my teen years, the end of my teen years, I really grabbed onto that. And I took that as hope. And I saw that like, there was an outcome, there was an end goal and a future for me. So it was such a positive role in terms of that.

00:16:55 Rosie: Mmm hmm, definitely. In quite a frank YouTube video, fairly recently, you talked about hating being trans, but what you meant was that you wouldn’t pick something like that. You wouldn’t choose to be born in the body that you weren’t meant to be born in. But in spite of that, your advocacy work is about being really visible and telling these stories, the same stories that helped you on social media, telling those same stories and driving trans visibility. Why is visibility so important?

00:17:26 AJ: I guess, like, just because of what I was mentioning before, like with the struggle that I went through in terms of the internalised transphobia that I faced and having to unlearn that was like so difficult because it’s really ingrained into you. And I understand why people hate so much, like why they hate certain people for no reason, certain minorities for no reason. It’s because it’s learned, and visibility can act as a way of information and it provides a human-like nature to people. And diversifying that and the media adds to that because, you know, for years and years we’ve had the same narrative and it literally controls the way that we view groups of people because of our movies and Hollywood was, you know, dominated by white people, it literally creates a… a narrative in which forms a certain type of trust out of nowhere.

00:18:33 AJ: And I’ve seen that. I see that in my Filipino mum and like my Filipino culture, because it’s literally focused around whiteness and wanting to be white. And that is because of mainstream media and the desire to want to be that, and how white people will always be ‘the saviour’ in all situations. And that’s something that, like, is still an issue that needs to be tackled in Filipino culture. But that is a prime example of how visibility made that impact on a whole country and like affected it in so many different ways in terms of, you know, having babies to try and get rid of darker skin. And it’s all of those kind of things that just like shows that, because of the lack of visibility in terms of more skin colours on film, just in that, and just having more authentic people shown, could have stopped that in its tracks, and showed that like, you know, every type of person is beautiful. And that goes the same for LGBTQ+ community. People, are kind of moulded into these boxes that they feel they have to be. And it creates all of these toxic traits, for humans, and they can’t just live authentically because they don’t know any better.

00:20:00 Rosie: That’s it. I think, you know, when film and TV sort of emerged and became such a huge media, there was this thoughtlessness. The sort of people with power produced the art. And then when we started consuming the art over decades, we assumed that what we are consuming is what life looks like, and definitely should look like, and then you get this horrible affect where people just take it for granted. So then when they see different, you know, as well as all those messages about what you should like, or shouldn’t like, you just think it’s “the norm”, in air quotes. It’s really, um, it’s really toxic. Speaking about representation in film and TV that we’ve been touching on, a really negative example is Hangover 2, that you mentioned in your book. A character sleeps with a woman and learns that she’s trans and he vomits when he finds out, and it’s just the most toxic, very privileged masculine white American trope. And it’s really, really horrible. But how has trans representation sort of evolved in your lifetime? You speak about social media, but potentially in mainstream media, film and TV, have you seen a bit of an evolution?

00:21:09 AJ: Yeah, definitely. I feel like there has been in the recent years, there’s  been so many characters that have brought life to trans people. And we’re moving into a new era where  trans people are demanding  to play trans roles because, you know, you go back just like five years ago and trans characters were being created, but they were played by cis people. As much as those stories were good, you know, they were different. And they were changing the narrative of like what we discussed before, it was still, at the core, played by a cis person. And that means that they get to walk away from that role, take off the wig, take off the clothing and they’re not trans. And that also still adds to the narrative that trans people are dressing up and are just playing a role, which isn’t true. And now I’m glad that, like, you know, it’s not being given to cis people and we know that’s not right, and it should be given to trans people, and it’s so great to see that there’s an actual trans woman playing a trans super hero playing Super Girl. And there’s a main character trans woman in Euphoria who, you know, has her own struggles outside of being trans and is navigating that and gets a love story and gets to be a love interest. And it’s just new things that we’ve never seen. And it’s cool to see because like, you know, that would have helped me so much in high school and I’m glad that the next generation gets to have that.

0:22:46 Rosie: Absolutely. And like you say, those little tiny messages that add to the bigger message that a cis person playing a trans person can take the costume off at the end of the day. It’s a really good point. Even shows like The L word, you know, the original L Word is so old fashioned and there was so much to learn. And then with Generation Q they’ve at least gone some way to trying to right some wrongs around trans representation and things like that, which is positive. Another thing you’re really good at talking about is why LGBTQ+ labels, and the huge rainbow of labels within that, are so important. I think even within our community, people that weren’t necessarily raised in the social media age, they feel out of touch with the labels or that they’re not for them, or that they don’t get them. I love how you speak about them and you hit the nail on the head. Are you happy to talk a bit about why those nuanced labels and ways of identifying are so empowering and so important, for any allies listening or kind of older listeners to the podcast who, who might’ve grown up without so many labels?

00:23:48 AJ: Yeah. I feel like we progress and we move on with different language and we understand things better. It adds to, you know, finding new identities and, you know, it’s not just that these identities are coming out of nowhere. Stuff literally has been documented in different ways in history and it’s just putting it into new words and also describing it in ways that just resonate better with people. And as much as like, you know, I understand labels and I get labels, but then also I’m on the other side as well, where it’s like, we shouldn’t have to label each other and we should just be and exist as people, but it’s validation. And it’s also a way to explain yourself to people where, you know, they can just, if they don’t want to understand it in that moment, that they can go and educate themselves if they want to. And it’s just important to have that as a way to give people a bit more understanding of, like, not only on themselves, but then for others to understand them too. It goes both ways with sexuality being on the whole spectrum and then gender just being, like, you know, there’s not one way you can be and, you know, it’s constructed in a way that you can literally just… however you feel is how you can identify.

00:25:18 Rosie: And I like how you put it, that it would be ideal not to have labels, but at the moment, I think such nuanced and such, kind of beautiful spectrums of labels actually help form a bridge to that kind of utopia where it wouldn’t be necessary. But at the moment, yeah, it’s a way of educating, explaining, empowering yourself, just celebrating yourself really. 

00:25:54 Rosie: And you do say that enough isn’t being done to support and protect trans people today. And I think especially around the world, certainly in the UK, Australia, the US, and all over the world, there is this sort of backlash against trans lives that you feel online and in the media, I think as we’re learning more. What more could be done to protect trans people?

00:26:17 AJ: Definitely education is the one thing that will protect trans people and their lives. It’s just adding the education around it and not pointing that weight onto trans people to educate. Because, just because trans people are educating on their own platforms, or however they’re doing it, doesn’t mean that everybody is listening and it needs to be, you know, in the forefront. It needs to be in places where the person’s not looking for any information on trans people, because that’s when it becomes dangerous when they do encounter a trans person and their first reaction is to be negative or aggressive. It’s just, it’s missed. Like, it’s a way in which that that could have been prevented in ways that like, just people understanding. Sometimes they literally just have their own perception on what they think trans people are like, because of all of those negative things in history or what people are telling them. And it shouldn’t just be relied on in social media. It should be just literally discussed in schools and in the mainstream as well.

00:27:33 Rosie: Yeah. Definitely. Where would you recommend trans allies go to find out more about the trans experience? I think you’re right. I think people have to do their own reading and their own education whilst it’s not available in schools and stuff. Where can people go to get some good reading? Have you got any great books or great websites or resources?

00:27:53 AJ: I definitely do vouch for Minus 18 as a great resource for anyone that’s wanting to understand, you know, the community, especially in a way that it’s constructed for youth and the younger generation, and understanding, you know, your children a bit more and like where we’re heading in terms of just like language. Also there’s lots of great resources in my book, as well. There’s a whole bunch in that, that I feel is so important for parents and for queer kids themselves to just try and understand themselves a bit better, because knowledge is definitely power and that will help us.

00:28:35 Rosie: Yeah. Yeah, listeners: AJ’s book, Girl, Transcending, does have incredible pullouts, almost, like lovely pop-up boxes of great websites to visit. It’s conscious of international audiences as well. So you have resources in the UK, US, Australia, it’s fantastic. So anyone listening to this, I really, really, really urge you to get AJ’s book, read her story, and check out her resources. They are incredible. 

00:29:17 Rosie: AJ, what would you say to a young trans person listening who was going through the same pain and uncertainties that you’ve experienced?

00:29:25 AJ: Life is our own separate journey. And as much as we want to try and compare and follow the same path as anybody else, it’s never going to be the same for us. And we don’t have to treat it as a race because we can literally just take it at our own pace and not have to have everything figured out in this point in time. And you don’t need the stress, in terms of, like, knowing that you don’t have everything that you need because we are a work in progress and it’s okay to slowly get to where you are because there is no time limit.

00:30:06 Rosie: Yeah. I love that. And I love how you put in your book, “when they look at me, people now see the person I knew I always was.” It’s such a beautiful sentence, it encapsulates your journey and how hopeful you are. What gives you hope, now and for the future?

00:30:26 AJ: I feel like definitely just seeing more representation and visibility on screen, and also just in general, diversifying, you know, the world and how we see things is just… I feel like it just gives so much hope and it gives so much more to the next generation in terms of how they see and can see themselves, and see themselves in certain aspects of their lives. And I just think that’s so important and so inspiring.

00:30:56 Rosie: Absolutely. Definitely. Thank you so much for being an OUTcast. Thank you for your beautiful book. Congratulations. {Thank you.} I know it’s out in Australia, out in the UK as well and online, and you can check out AJS channels. They’re incredible, nice and easy to find. Thank you so much for your time.

00:31:17 AJ: Thank you, thanks for having me.

00:31:21 Rosie: Thank you for listening to OUTcast, a podcast with interviews and coming out stories from inspiring LGBTQ+ people. Don’t forget to go back and listen to other episodes if you’re new to the show. We have a fascinating interview with Tilly Lawless, the Sydney-based queer sex worker and novelist, as well as the British transgender priest, Sarah Jones, and Gogglebox Australia’s Tim Lai of Tim and Leanne fame. And there are so many other incredible guests with illuminating and uplifting coming out stories in our first season, which is available online, at outcastpod.com, and wherever you usually get your podcasts. I’m your host, Rosie Pentreath. I hope you can join us again next week.

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Coming out stories from inspiring LGBTQ+ people today.

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