Big Love

4.1.2009

By Vivien Goldman

Do you have a lot of siblings?
There are seven of us all together, with a 20-year age spread. I am the fourth, and I love them. There were so many of us that we all had different experiences, responsibilities, and roles. My mom and dad got divorced when I was 5. I was like, 'Peace out, guys!' I didn't understand. My other brother, who was four years older than me, was really upset, and I didn't know why. Now I guess I do. It was kind of sad.

Did you sing in church?
Yes, but it wasn't what people imagine -- soulful people with healing hands. We didn't have that, but my Grammy did. She was a full-blown Pentecostal who would speak in tongues and jump up and down. My Grammy grew her own food and didn't have a restroom until the '80s and lived in a shotgun shack insulated with newspaper until the very end. The things that woman could do! Growing up that way made me and my brothers resourceful. We had to make our own fun. We didn't have fancy toys, but I felt like we had a lot. We were really creative. I wouldn't trade any part of it, even the most horrible parts. Just being in this really surreal side of the world --

-- Arkansas, you mean?
No, I mean Paris. It feels surreal. My mom is still in a trailer. We were so broke, but she really didn't want us to look dirty or neglected, even if the hot water got turned off. She used to say, 'I don't care how poor you are, there is always water somewhere.' There were a lot of filthy kids with dirty mouths in the neighborhood who used a lot of double negatives and wrong forms of the words. I was a weird, fat, talky kid.

Intelligent.
I have a really great ability to turn things around. That's how I can survive now. In my little elementary school brain when I was growing up, I was really obsessed with how there were way more poor kids than rich kids, but somehow it was always the pretty girls who got voted into student faculty and the rich kids who were popular. That made no sense to me because we, the poor kids, were the majority. From an early age I thought, Whenever there is a vote, if we all get together then one of us will win it.

What happened when you campaigned for the weird kids?
It completely worked! My senior year I was a big yearbook kid.

You made your own family and you have Freddie, the love of your life. If you had met him when he was still a girl, would you have felt the same?
Freddie has asked me not to talk about him in interviews anymore. But I can tell you I met him when he was a girl.

So you did share that journey.
It's more about your pronoun and the context of your gender in the world than it is about a binary gender system. It's making things more fluid and accessible to people of all identities, who don't really fit into one or the other.

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