HUMAN OF THE WEEK ⋆ CHUCK SJ
1. To begin with, tell us how did you got into music! Was it something you always knew you wanted to do, growing up?
I started playing guitar from a really young age – my primary school had hired an instructor to teach guitar group lessons that my little brother wanted to go for, so I went together with him! I became really obsessed with the guitar very quickly, excelling beyond the group classes. We could not afford one-on-one lessons, so I taught myself. The internet wasn't as advanced and resources weren't as accessible. I feel like teaching myself is what developed into a really unique style of playing. In answer to your question, yes, from the moment I discovered guitar, it's all I’ve wanted to do. I did not know I was autistic whilst growing up, but looking back, at the relationship I had (and still do have) with this instrument, let’s just say I'm so thankful I tagged along to my brother’s class.
2. What pushed you to start BYENARY? How has the experience been thus far?
I’ve been going to gigs for a really really really long time, and it’s now 2020, and I’ve still yet to have seen a trans person playing music on stage that isn’t someone I already knew beforehand. Everyone needs representation, and when you grow up not being able to see someone who resembles yourself anywhere, you feel so lost. So I started BYENARY to create representation, and also to get a feeling of community back into the music scene. The music scene often feels very much detached – where the artistes are on stage and doing their thing, while the audience is offstage and made to simply observe. BYENARY seeks to reunite artistes and their audiences – my long term goal is for us to have a roster of many musicians, drag artistes, dancers, all of us on stage, off stage, taking up space, with the audience, creating a sense of community and representation that we need. BYENARY is basically about trans people coming together!
Photography by Jemima Yong
3. What's the coolest moment you’ve experienced in your journey as a trans autistic multidisciplinary artist and musician?
This is a tough question – I could never put a finger on a specific moment, or have favourite anything-s. I don’t have a favourite moment, or a favourite colour, I feel different all the time, and sometimes I prefer different things. So, to think of what the coolest moment I’ve experienced is, is tough! I think fundamentally it always comes down to people and what they share with me – sometimes I get emails from trans people all across Europe who have very different experiences from my own. They’ll open up and share with me, telling me how they felt since they’d heard me, and the growth and journeys that they’re on – it’s truly phenomenal, and I’m so fortunate to be able to have that connection with people. It’s just beautiful, I don’t think anything could top that.
It’s amazing how generous people are with their truths, once you create a space that says “Hey, I see you, and I do hear you.”
Photography by Jemima Yong
4. As a trans autistic individual, would you say your gender identity and/or autism affected your career in any way – whether positively or negatively?
My biggest struggle is always being misunderstood – not communicating myself properly, not articulating well enough. The way I talk is blunt and to the point, which can come off as rude or disrespectful. I piss people off without knowing it – it happens a lot with autism, and more so when I’m communicating with someone through text (which is great how you guys are allowing me talk to you through voice messages!) People assume that I am purposely being rude when it’s just the way I talk or text, I can burn a lot of bridges in a very short amount of time. A few years ago I wasn’t ever asking myself what I needed or how I could do things differently, so I was doing things the same way over and over, and getting misunderstood a lot. When you’re talking to someone and it feels like they’re hearing something completely different from what you’re saying, it’s a very scary feeling. The fear of being misunderstood is perhaps one of the reasons why I even started doing music in the first place, and why I started doing spoken word – I found that I was finally able to communicate.
Wish We Were Here is about the restrictions that social constructs place in our way to be intimate with one another. In the queer community, we’ve figured out a way to build up to a place where we can be intimate with one another, but there are still ideologies that we place into the way that we are with each other. Like, we assume that someone else is obsessed with us, we even suggest it, and confuse admiration and signs of affection as if it comes from a place of over-keenness or over-eagerness. We still play games like how to play it cool, who texts first, or who’s allowed to sleep with whom depending on who their exes were. There’s still a hierarchy of barriers that prevent us from allowing ourselves to just be with each other.
In an ideal world, humans could just meet and connect however they need – whether platonically or not. However, that’s not what’s happening with our social construct. It’s already difficult to be intimate with someone – there’s already so many social hoops that we have to climb through. When you’re autistic or trans, this is brought to another level, with so many other things to think about. With autism, I frequently use other people’s body language to figure out how they’re feeling. For example, when someone is feeling nervous in an intimate setting, they may use jokes or sarcasm. Without visual cues, I find it difficult to comprehend sarcasm and may misunderstand the situation, so I practice understanding someone’s body language to interpret the context of things better.
I wrote Wish We Were Here 3 weeks into lockdown due to the COVID19 situation happening worldwide. Because of the lockdown, all of these tools that I have been using to interpret situations better have been taken away – and now I’m trying to be intimate with certain people but I can’t see them and I can’t feel them.
There were also several other personal experiences that inspired Wish We Were Here.
7. Who are some of your favourite independent musicians or artists?
Like I said previously – I don’t have favourites! I’m definitely going to miss people out, but I particularly love the DIY arts scene in London, whether it is music, drag, spoken word, burlesque… the list goes on. There are so many radical humans underneath the surface – people are missing out if they’re not going to their dive bars! Here’s to name a few that I can recall now:
- Subira Joy - Poet (Brighton, UK)
- Romeo De La Cruz - Drag & Dance (UK)
- Dancing Queer – Belly Dancer (Bristol, UK)
- Jada Love – Burlesque, Dance (UK)
- Bitch Hunt – Band (London, UK)
- CECILIA (ceceliacrossover) – Band (London/Brazil/Spain/Mauritius)
- T-Bitch – Band (Southend, UK)
- Bridget Hart – Poet (Bristol, UK)
- Bee & Jack Rabbit – Band (Brighton, UK)
- Oliver Assets – Drag King (Bristol, UK)
- Vlad Von Kitsch - Draglesque (Brighton, UK)
- Pink Suits - Band (Margate, UK)
- Wandia Nduku – Poet (Hamburg, Germany)
No, absolutely not. I don’t think I could answer this question any further – just, no, not even anywhere near sort-of-close.
Photography by Jemima Yong
10. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I do think a fire needs to be put up people’s arses to start standing up! Transphobia is huge, and has risen so much over the past few years. With increased visibility has also come a lot of harm, and this is especially so for black trans women who are affected by the intersectionality of both the issues of racism and transphobia. The Trump administration in the U.S. even scrapped a policy that protects LGBTQ+ patients from discrimination, and that allows doctors to refuse to treat trans patients if they caught COVID19. Not a single one of my cis friends had anything to say about it. None of them could comprehend what that feels like – that if I was in America and I caught COVID19, a doctor could say, “no, we’re not going to treat you”.
It is with this feeling and these types of experiences that I can begin to understand the feelings and experiences of people of colour, and what they have to go through. Unfortunately, many are still oblivious – if they aren’t affected by a social issue, they can just choose not to look at it or think about it. But they have to start.
Also, if anyone would like to support me or come join me on my alien spaceship, I have a Patreon where I frequently upload videos, poems, rambles, songs, etc. You can be a Patreon for the same price as a coffee a month, and no matter how much you chose to pay, everyone has access to the same material. It would be really great to meet some new people there, it's patreon.com/chuckintransit
You may find Chuck SJ on Instagram and support them on Patreon, @ChuckInTransit