Interview with Kris Grey (aka Justin Credible)
Editor’s Note: This interview uses the gender-neutral pronoun “ze” to refer to its subject.
Kris Grey (aka Justin Credible) will be performing at the University of Richmond on Tuesday, March 13, at 6 p.m., in the Alice Haynes Room. I was able to connect with Grey before zer performance to talk about zer activism, art, and life. Grey is a genderqueer artist whose work combines strategies of communication, activism, community building, education, lecture and studio production in the mediaof ceramics, sculpture, sound, mixed media, performance and live art. One of zer infamous performances is “Ask A Tranny” where they place zemself in public environments to answer people’s questions concerning transgender people.
The following is an interview with Grey about zer activism, work and art:
GayRVA: Tell me about yourself. How long have you been involved with activism?
Grey: From an early age I was interested in social equity, but in my childhood we just called it being nice to people. Many of my core values and interests come from rooting for the underdog [and] being raised to be polite, and to treat people the way you want to be treated. These are simple principles but powerful ones. In my youth I came to see the widening gap in socialization between male- and female-assigned people as unjust and very limiting. I wanted to have the same opportunities as the boys without being policed for not acting like a “lady”. When I entered into college I learned the language to express these ideals through the study of feminism. I am, and will always be, dedicated to producing new feminisms, and I hope the work that I do in the world contributes to that history. Feminism is central to my practice because it lays the ground work for radical refiguring of gender beyond the binary model.
Activism for me just means being actively engaged in one’s political environment. I was the president of my class in the 6th grade and the 12th and I participated in several student leadership organizations throughout middle school and high school. I took on leadership roles in organizations at my undergraduate college, within the queer community in Baltimore, and I currently hold a seat on the Graduate Student Senate at Ohio University. In the past two years my on campus activism has focused in on visibility and equality for health care coverage. This week I sat in a small closed meeting to voice my opinions about our lack of health care coverage for trans students. Having a place at that table felt so empowering! When our radical queer lives and voices remain shadowed and silenced, the dominant group can continue to hoard all the power.
What drew you to the arts? Do you see the arts as a central component in social justice? You dont normally hear about queer ceramic artists. What drew you to working with clay?
I frame myself as artist in order to move fluidly between disciplines, or remain in the borders between established categories. I have attempted to remove the boundaries keeping my personal life separate from my art work- a lesson from feminism. There are certainly artists and collectives from our recent history that inspire me and that I see as central to progress and social justice. Groups like ACT UP and Gran Fury were integral in creating social and institutional change around the AIDS crisis.
I came to my current practice through craft which is ideologically avant garde and anti-capitalist. Craft is a marginalized field within the greater umbrella of the arts. Just like queer identity, that position can be powerful and productive. Because crafters often fly just below the radar we have every opportunity to challenge convention. In the expanded field of contemporary ceramics there are many brilliant queer artists making and working. I have had amazing educators and mentors who have always encouraged me to use whatever media necessary.
I see from your ceramic work how our gazes can sexualize anything from a skillet handle to a power tools. Do you think there remains any unsexualized object in our consumerist culture?
I really privilege language in my practice and I’ve become much more practiced in using it specifically. With my sculptural work I am often thinking of gendered objects or objects of gendering. Issues of sexuality may recede in the service of dialogs about desire. Objects are marketed to us in ways that are gendered, and that is a constant irritant. If you see a hammer with a sparkly pink handle and covered in flowers everyone knows what kind of person the manufacturer believes will be interested in buying it. I’d like to utilize my artwork to interrogate the ways we experience, perceive, and express our gender. In doing so we might invent ways of being and doing gender differently that would utterly disrupt capitalism and consumerism as well as disquieting the dominant culture. The goal is not to eradicate systems of gender but rather to elaborate them.
What was one of the most transformational conversations from your “Ask a Tranny” performances?
I’ve been running Ask A Tranny for almost two years. Each time is special. I’ve done this intervention/performance as far away as London and Finland and close to home on my own college campus. I had some great interactions in Newark, NJ where I ran it on the street practically at a bus stop. There were a group of teenage boys mixed in with the crowd. Many of them were exhibiting tough, hyper-masculine behaviors. I didn’t know if they would interact with me or just dismiss me. After a while some of them started asking questions that were really thoughtful about my family and how I navigate public spaces. Someone in the crowd asked if I wanted to have kids. Another participant said he felt like kids should have a mom and a dad at which point we had a bunch of folks chime in with opinions. One of the young men revealed that he had been in foster care all of his life and he refuted this claim about raising kids in a binary gendered household. I was so proud of him for sharing his personal story of vulnerability and strength. I love when people meet me with curiosity and then enter the conversation as equals. Ask A Tranny is about opening up to be vulnerable and get personal with complete strangers. It not only allows me to claim my gender queer identity in public but it also feels like a really direct way to create human connections.
I will be running Ask A Tranny in Richmond on Wednesday, March 14th on the University of Richmond campus in the outside Forum venue from 1:30-3:00 pm.
I see that you won Best Drag performer in Baltimore a few times. Richmond has a fairly strong drag community; I wondered if you had any advice for aspiring performers?
Drag saves lives! It certainly helped me explore gender variation and most importantly it allows for gender play! My advice would be to get creative. Sometimes people do drag that just reproduces sterotypes. I think really interesting drag illuminates the permeability of the gender binary through satire and intelligence. I would also say ‘just do it’; even if you are shy you can make up and become a character totally separate from the real-life you. And lastly, remember to have fun!
Do you have any big projects in the works? What are some of your personal hopes for the future?
I have a show in Athens, Ohio on May 11th at 6pm at the Ridges Auditorium titled The Body Dialectic. I will be in London for a month this summer traveling and performing. In September I will be the Artist in Residence at the ANTI Festival in Kuopio, Finland. Folks can keep track of performances and appearances by visiting my website.
Kris Grey (aka Justin Credible) will be performing at the University of Richmond on March 13, 6 p.m., in the Alice Haynes Room. The event is free and open to the public.
Jon Henry comes from the small town of Washington, Virginia. Xe finished xes degree at the University of Richmond and was named GayRVA.com's Out.Spoken. Richmonder of the Year for 2011. When not in class, xe is either in the studio or rabble rousing with other queer activists. Follow xem on Twitter.
Whoever Murphy was, his prescient pessimistic maxim has been the springboard for many a twisted tale and romantic comedy. Thankfully, Murphy’s foresight happily leads to another maxim: “All’s Well That Ends Well.” Many years ago, two University of Richmond buddies interested in theatre wrote a play, moved away, went their separate ways, but remained in [...]July 19, 2016
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