Meredith Talusan is a talented and multifacted Filipino-American transgender woman: a writer, artist, photographer, interpreter, and advocate. Her articles have appeared right here in The Advocateas well as in The Nation,The American Prospect,Vice,The Guardian, and BuzzFeed.
Talusan, 40, proudly announced on Twitter Monday that she'll now be working for BuzzFeed full-time. She is the website's first transgender staff writer.
She's done more in her 40 years than just study and write, however; in 2012, Talusan founded the Ricefield Collective, a campaign that provides employment opportunities to Filipino rice farmers.
Talusan made headlines of her own last fall, several months after she came out as trans at Cornell University, where she was a graduate student. She became embroiled in a dispute with one housemate at the Cornell-affiliated Telluride Association. Talusan told The Advocate she was a victim of harassment and transphobia, and was in danger of losing both her housing and scholarship. After many months of setbacks, Talusan said she reached a settlement that paid for off-campus housing for the 2015 spring semester, without giving up her right to seek legal remedies in the future.
As a trans woman who is the first to be hired by The Advocate, I recognized her struggle in my own, given how common it is for trans individuals to experience significant discrimination. The choice we face is to either speak out or suffer in silence, with both choices resulting in emotional damage and material cost.
To introduce our readers to BuzzFeed's first transgender staff writer, we asked Talusan to answer five questions.
The Advocate: What issues that affect the trans community do you hope to cover for BuzzFeed?
Talusan: First of all, I have to say that I'm incredibly, incredibly excited to be BuzzFeed's first trans staff writer! What really attracted me to my position and BuzzFeed in general is their openness and the fact that I can cover important issues in many different ways. So with a mix of reporting, personal writing, and criticism, I want to dig as deeply as possible into some of the most pressing issues in trans life today, whether it be violence especially against trans women of color to the many media representations of trans people. But I also think it's important to have moments of laughter and fun, so rather than just feature trans-related problems, I want to write about the joyful, exuberant, and wonderful aspects of our community as well.
How is being trans either an advantage or a disadvantage in your professional life?
Oh, wow, that's a tough question! As many, many trans people have, I've endured my fair share of problems because of my trans identity, not just from colleagues who've had a hard time accepting trans people, but also experiencing firsthand how male- and female-presenting people are treated differently in the workplace. At the same time, it's been a built-in advantage as a trans journalist covering trans issues, and I hope there will be many more of us,that there's an immediate rapport that comes out of me having gone through many of the difficulties that my subjects have, or I'm at least more familiar with them than the typical nontrans reporter.
Your 10-year wait to become an American citizen gives you a valuable perspective on immigration as a journalist. What is your view on the policy toward LGBT detainees and immigrants?
I actually struggled with the decision to get American citizenship for a long time and for various reasons, including traumatic experiences with immigration authorities, even as a documented immigrant, so I can't emphasize enough how the struggle of LGBT detainees and immigrants is real. I of course would call for humane treatment, including proper medical care, trans women not being housed with men, and not using solitary confinement as a way to "protect" transgender detainees, but I would also implore government officials to really consider what many LGBT detainees would have to go back to, and our potential to make meaningful contributions as U.S. residents.
Do you think the LGB community and the T community should continue to work together, or should they separate?
I don't think of this as an either/or question. I think there are many ways that activism around gender expression and sexuality should ideally be integrated, but not if it means the continued marginalization of the trans community. I also think there should be more contact between the trans and feminist communities as well as trans and racial justice movements. So I would say it's complicated and it depends, but one thing that's clear is that T has been limited by only being seen as a satellite to LBG. I think it's time to both allow trans people and issues to be more prominent within the LGBT movement, but also play an important role in other social justice movements.
If you could be the first trans journalist to sit down with Caitlyn Jenner for an interview, what would be your first question?
As another woman with high cheekbones, do you have problems finding sunglasses that don't hit your cheeks too? Though, seriously, first of all it would be a huge honor, and I would probably ask her what part of herself she feels most insecure about and if she wouldn't mind talking about why. I know that's a risky question to ask a trans woman, but I can approach these types of issues with more sensitivity as a trans interviewer who understands some of what Caitlyn has experienced. I hope to bring a deeper understanding of trans life to the general public, and I will sometimes have to ask hard questions to do that, but also always try to do so in a well-considered and mindful way.
Meredith can be found on Twitter @1demerith.