Author interviews / Autism / Offering Support / Represention / Spoonie Spotlight

Spoonie Spotlight: Talia C. Johnson

ID: Grey backdrop. Two spotlights on each side of the room. Text reads: Spoonie Spotlight: Talia C. Johnson
ID: Grey backdrop. Two spotlights on each side of the room. Text reads: Spoonie Spotlight: Talia C. Johnson

It’s your friendly neighbourhood SpAN Editor here. I thought for the start of 2019, it would be great to highlight how our contributors (and other awesome humans) are using their spoons!

For this week’s Spoonie Spotlight, we’re featuring Talia C. Johnson, who does so many thing with her life, I just wanted you to learn more about this person who is the Brain to my Pinky.

This responses to the following questions have been minimally copyedited, to preserve the integrity of the live text-chat interview. Also, things might get slightly silly at times because she’s my BFF.

Hello, person I barely know! What I would like is for you to tell folks all the hats you wear. Metaphorically, of course, because I’ve only literally seen you wear one hat.

LOL! Sheesh, where to begin…

*pokes with stick*

In no particular order:

Coediting the Nothing Without Us anthology (you might know about it…), sitting on the board of directors for Heartspark Press, writer, poet, to be—all going well—ordained a Kohenet Hebrew Priestess in August, activist, part of the organizing group of Autistics for Autistics Ontario,

Trying to think what I’m missing.

Keeper of the kitchen sink?

Could be, yes.

Can we start with Heartspark?  Tell us a little about this publisher.

Heartspark is a non-profit press by and for trans women/(C)AMAB non-binary folk. (C)AMAB means Cohersively Assigned Male at Birth. Everyone involved is a trans woman and/or a (C)AMAB person. This year we’re publishing the 99% Chance of Magic anthology of fiction for children—specifically, transgender children.

That’s amazing, and the first publication was the Resilience anthology, right? Didn’t you have a work in that book?

I don’t recall if Resilience was the first published book, but, yes, my poem Holy Love is one of the pieces in the anthology.

Poetry is one of your writing vehicles (and she’s awesome at it, people). What are the themes you explore in your poetry? Have you done a lot of spoken word nights?

My poetry tends to focus on queer and trans topics, marginalized folk, and a collection I’m currently working on combines this with the archetypes of priestessing we have been studying as part of the Kohenet program, as well as some of the holy days in the Jewish year.

I have performed my poetry live as part of book launches, used it in services, and as part of a couple of concerts/spoken word events.

Let’s talk about your spiritual life for a second, because it’s a big part of you. Can you explain to us what it means to be a Kohenet priestess and what your faith means to you?

*drops 30-page spiritual autobiography on desk*

Seriously, though, spiritual life has been an important part of my life for a long time. I started the Kohenet program in 2016, and I’m the first trans woman in the program. My religious/spiritual life has always been one of questioning, so at one level I’m agnostic, and at the same time feel there is a connection between people and with a wider divine.

Do you value spiritual-based community?

For me it’s something that works for me, so, yes. At the same time, it doesn’t for many. Far too often people have been harmed by religious and spiritual community.

So true. It’s really important to find people who are supportive and don’t make judgmentalism a full-time job.

Unless, of course they are judges presiding over courts.

Yes, we can accept them as long as they are judgy in the correct context! Hey, I remember a hat you forgot to list: Sensitivity Editor! As a sensitivity editor, what are the most common mistakes that authors make when writing queer and/or trans characters?

Obsessions with genitals, surgery, focus on “trapped in the wrong body,” and that trans women are only attracted to men.

These are the BURN THEM WITH FIRE tropes, right?

Pretty much, along with movies and television shows that hire cisgender people to play trans people. Usually cis men playing trans women.

And it still continues, like, even this week! How would you like to see trans folks appear in writing?

Not as afterthoughts, someone who must be tragic. Living lives that are working for them, doing interesting things, smashing the patriarchy and toxic masculinity…

I love smashy stories like that!

Switching to another hat, you’re autistic and work to support others. What are some of the frustrating views allistic (people who aren’t autistic) have about autistic folks? Where can we go to see more accurate representation and what are helpful resources for people who have just realized they are on the spectrum?

That all autistics are white, middle class, males who resemble Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rainman. Lack of accomodation for sensory and other disability needs, that ABA (Applied Behaviour Therapy) is a good thing—it’s abuse, and it’s techniques are essentially the same as reparative therapy for queer and trans folks.

For helpful information, ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network) is good, Neurodivergent Rebel on FB & Twitter, A4A’s site (still relatively new, but growing). Autism Speaks is one of the worst sources; they do not represent autistic folk. They represent parents and don’t listen to actually autistic people.

That reminds me: #ActuallyAutistic is also a good way to connect, right?

It is, yes. It’s also important to watch out for groups that sound supportive, but say that “high functioning” or those not “severely autistic” don’t know what we’re talking about.

Ah, yes. I had a troll say that I’m just trying to call myself autistic for attention and am hurting others because I don’t have a diagnosis.

Cranial-rectal inversion at its finest. Because of prejudices and the way it is and was diagnosed, many people do not have a diagnosis. Particularly those of us who are older and did not fit the stereotypical autistic behaviours.

And testing can be really expensive, too!

Yes, upwards of $3,000 or more depending on how comprehensive it is. This means that children are often not diagnosed because they are on wait list for funded testing through schools or hospitals, but those with money can get their children properly tested. And, in order to get accommodations in schools, one needs a diagnosis…

This makes me Hulk-smashy!

Talking about elevating voices, you are coediting an upcoming anthology (with a remarkingly good-looking human). Tell us about the Nothing Without Us project, and why it’s important.

All too often fiction does not include disabled people, or when it does, the representation is horrible. This anthology is different. Each story has a protagonist who manages/has a disability or five. We’re also eliminating stories that include problematic or downright shitty representations of disabilities. Examples include, but are not limited to, disabled person is there to uplift an abled person, does something despite and even though they are disabled, inspiration porn, disabled person as predator (and not the type from the Predator movies).

And we also include protagonists who are Deaf, neurodiverse, and/or who manage mental illness! I feel that abled folks don’t always understand there is so much diversity within this community. They often think “disabled equals wheelchair.”

Exactly, and there’s a common expectation that disabilities are visible.

Yes! One can have really debilitating chemical sensitivities, for example. Or a condition like fibromyalgia.

Or, as in my own case, multiple things. Autism and fibro that create a feedback loop between each other.

Yup! I feel that one. So, what do we hope to achieve by publishing NWU?

The first step is taking over the world… 

I’m hoping that the voices of disabled, Deaf, and others managing various disabilities will be recognized. Also, it will show that disability isn’t a tragedy, something to be pitied. We’re humans with diverse interests, needs, skills, frustrations, etc.

I’m so ticked off at you! I was gonna ask you what we’re doing tonight! LOL!!!

Same thing we do every night…

Hee hee hee! Well, thanks a lot for sharing all the things with us. Where can people find your work and learn about all that you’re involved in?

My website is: https://taliacjohnson.ca (I’m in the process of updating my own site.). Heartspark is at https://www.heartsparkpress.com/.

And your autistic advocacy group?

A4A’s website is: https://a4aontario.com/

Great! Thanks, Brain!


TaliaCJohnson
Talia C. Johnson

Talia Johnson is a multi-faceted woman who is transgender, autistic, Jewish, queer, and more than the sum of her parts. Her work centres on bridging faith and queer communities, facilitating workshops, educating, speaking, writing, one-on-one coaching, counselling, and mentoring. She is a queer and trans sensitivity editor for writers and publishers. Talia’s most recent poem, Holy Love, appears in the Resilience anthology from Heartspark Press. She is currently studying in Kohenet towards becoming a Hebrew Priestess, and working toward entering graduate school at the Master’s level. Her studies bridge faith, queer, and psychology using queer and feminist intersectional approaches. 

Talia is also coeditor of the Nothing Without US anthology, a collection of short stories that have protagonists who identify as disabled, Deaf, neurodiverse, Spoonie, and/or who manage mental illness.

She lives in Toronto, Ontario.

You can follow Talia on her websiteFacebookGoogle, and Twitter.

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