Meet the Podcaster: An Interview with Nia King “People who have privilege often don't let the

fact that they don't know what they're talking about stop them from talking. And they don't let the fact that they don't know what they're doing stop them from doing stuff. And I think that we as queer women of color, and really I'm just speaking about myself here, I think we often have all this self-doubt that prevents us from doing stuff. And doing stuff is how you learn and how you get exposure. So, overcoming fear of failure is really important if you want to become successful as an artist.” - Nia King (musical interlude) Myles: Welcome to We Want the Airwaves: QPOC Artists on the Rise. This is a guest interviewer, Myles Luber, and I am Nia King's boyfriend [laughter]. Nia usually interviews on the podcast, and we're switching it up today, I'm interviewing her. For those of you who don't know, Nia is an incredible artist and activist. She writes comics, which she puts online every week at comicsbynia.tumblr.com, she's also a filmmaker and one of her films is online. You can view it right now, actually, it's called “The Craigslist Chronicles” and it's an account of her hilarious and sad experiences [laughter] trying to apartment hunt in Oakland as a queer woman of color with a trans partner. That's on Vimeo right now. And what else do you do? You do so many awesome things. She's a zine queen, she's written lots of zines. She's sort of famous for her zines and is an amazing girlfriend and makes really good brussel sprouts. [laughter] So, I'm going to interview Nia today. Say hi, Nia. Nia: Hi. Myles: [laughter] I just made her all blushy and shy. But I am sure we will work through that. [laughter] So today we're gonna take you through Nia's life art story from growing up in a black nationalist household, to, you know, traveling across the country as a young anarcho-punk, to going to various private schools and navigating the racism and homophobia in those spaces, and coming out the other end as a bad ass queer artist. And we're really excited that you're here today to listen to the podcast. So, yeah. Make some tea, sit down, and enjoy the ride. Nia: I love you. Myles: [laughter] I love you too. [musical interlude] Nia: So, I was a teenage anarcho-punk back in Boston, Massachusetts growing up. I started when I was 15, or so, and I used to hang out at this radical bookstore called the Lucy Parsons Center. And that's where I first came across Colorlines, and that was really exciting. It was a print magazine then. It was really exciting because I was sort of in a sea of whiteness that was like the Boston anarcho-punk scene, and this particular radical bookstore and Colorlines was like my life line, sort of, to like, radical brown...ness, culture. And so, it sounds really corny but I guess I kind of picked it up and found myself and have wanted to work at Colorlines ever since then. That was when I was like 16, 17, maybe, and now I'm 25. When I moved to the Bay, I kept the dream of working for Colorlines alive, and after I graduated from college I applied for an internship there. I didn't hear back for a long time, and was offered another internship which I took, and then went to another nonprofit job, where I worked for like a year and a half, ultimately quit that non-profit job, and ended

up applying for another unpaid internship at Colorlines because that's how badly I wanted to work there. And at my interview, I told Channing, who is now my boss, “I applied to work here in 2011, I have been reading the magazine since I was a teenage anarcho-punk. Like, if you don't give me this job I'm just going to keep applying.” [laughter] And I got the internship. Myles: You mentioned being an anarcho-punk when you were a teenager. Was that somewhere where some of your art started or bloomed, I guess? Or do you feel like it was at a different point in your life that you started focusing on your art? Nia: I don't know. I think definitely zines were something that was kind of like, connected to punk for me. Myles: What are zines? Nia: Zines are anything that you self-publish. It's short for magazines, but they're not glossy and they don't have ads usually. It's just like, you can make it by yourself or with a group of friends, with a typewriter and a copier or a computer and a copier. It's very lo-fi, DIY, low budget selfpublishing. And, I also “discovered”—I'm making air quotes—zines at the Lucy Parsons Center, which was that same radical bookstore, and realized, I can do this. I can self-publish. And zines were how I sort of processed a lot of stuff around my mixed race identity. And like, not really having anyone else to talk to about it, I could just sort of do it in writing, and put it out in the world. And people responded to it. So that was really validating and cool for me. Myles: What were some of the zines that you did? Nia: I did one called Angry Black White Girl, which was a perzine, as we call them in the biz, it's just short for personal zine. And then I did some— Myles: And a personal zine, that's like a memoir? Nia: It's like, just by one person about their life usually, as opposed to a zine that's about bikes, or like, how to fix things. Oh yeah, so then I started like, editing a series of zines that were stories by other mixed race writers about their experiences growing up. So the first one was called MXD: True Stories by Mixed Race Writers, and then I changed the name of the series, so the next two were Borderlands 1: Tales From Disputed Territories Between Races and Cultures, and Borderlands 2: It's A Family Affair, which was organized around the theme of family. Myles: So, besides zines, what kind of art do you do? And are zines still something that you're doing? Nia: I'm not really doing zines anymore. Sometimes I feel like I should be. I draw comics, I am a writer, but I'm not really writing right now. I'm a filmmaker, and now I'm a podcaster. Oh, and I play drums. I've been playing drums for 10 years and I play in a band currently. Myles: And I've seen on your Facebook and your Tumblr and you Twitter and all these things, your tagline, or the way you describe yourself is as Art Activist Nia. What does that mean for you? What does being an art activist mean for you? Nia: I think that for a long time, I had some weird internalized stuff around art really not being

enough, or like, not doing anything, or that art was somehow frivolous or excess or surplus. And I think a lot of people feel that way. That art is somehow not vital to life or vital to social movements, and so art activism is really, I feel like art activism is two words, but it’s one concept. Which is that like, art is activism, the movement needs art, art is what feeds the movement and keeps it going strong. And I really believe that that's true. I wrote my thesis about this queer and trans people of color performance group called Mangos with Chili. And how they give people the will to want to continue to live in the face of homophobic and transphobic and racist oppression. And while I wasn't able to prove definitively that this group prevents people from taking their own lives, I think I was able to prove that it adds value to people's lives and makes them feel in some way as though their lives are possible and worth living. Myles: So, in your thesis when you're talking about Mangos with Chili and the impact that it has on queer and trans people of color, what do you think it is in particular about those performances or about art in general that has that really life-saving impact on those communities? Nia: I think it's the power of storytelling, and in particular like, giving you access to stories that are like your own but coming out of someone else's mouth. So that you know that other people are going through, or have been through, what you're going through. And have survived it, and are these beautiful, resilient performers, and who just radiate life and who you can aspire to be like. I think people really need to hear their experiences validated. Especially queer people of color are often isolated, which, if you're like the only person going through what you're going through, it's really easy to feel like you're alone, or like you're crazy, and it's all in your head, and sometimes people will tell you flat out that like, “the oppression you're experiencing isn't real.” Or, “the things you think are true aren't true.” And so to be in a space where other people like you can validate the knowledge you already have, that the oppression you face IS real. And that shit's NOT just in your head, I think can be really powerful and help people feel really grounded. And able to face another day of you know, whatever bullshit they have to go through. Myles: So, I'm gonna dial it back a couple of minutes, back to the anarcho-punk questions. Nia: Okay. Myles: So, what was it like for you growing up in that scene, and being part of, you know 16 is a pretty formative time in your life, so was that a challenging place to be, and do you feel like you still carry things with you, like the affects of those communities? Nia: I think, I feel like I went through this weird sort of, pattern of racial consciousness, where like, I grew up identifying as black, and being really proud to be black. And I feel like I grew up in a black nationalist household, even though I don't know if anyone else in my family would agree with that assessment. You know, I was given a Swahili name, we celebrated Kwanzaa growing up, like everything was really about, “Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud!” James Brown was big in my house growing up. And then, it was like this little girl with very light skin, going out into the world telling people I'm black. And having people say, “no, you're not.” And me being really angry about that. I had more friends of color when I was in elementary school and middle school than in high school. I feel like once I became an anarcho-punk, my community became totally white. I don't think I ever stopped thinking of myself as black or as a person of color. But somehow that just took a backseat for a while. I still felt like I was more aware of race and racism than the people around me when I was in the anarcho-punk community, but I wasn't as much of an angry brown person then as I am now. I think I was more of just an angry punk, like angry at some sort of broader fucked up

system of oppression, angry about global capitalism, more so than like interpersonal bullshit or the fact that there were no brown people in the scene. Except for, there was one Latino dude named Lucho, who booked Latino punk shows in Boston. He was like, the guy. [laughter] He was the Latino guy, who booked the Latino shows. That was pretty much it. Myles: What was it like being a queer, I was going to say woman of color, but I guess girl of color in those scenes when you were a teenager? Or was that something that wasn't really on your radar at that point? Nia: I was queer, or I was out as queer to myself, and I think to others, but I was also, for part of that time, in an ostensibly straight relationship, and so it didn't really come up that much, I guess. I had this friend, who is now a trans man who, when I met him, was a queer-identified non-male person. I don't know exactly what words they would have used to describe themselves. But I was very into riot grrrl and being a girl drummer and Bikini Kill and all that stuff. And I feel like they were really an inspiration to me in terms of like, what it meant to be a woman punk and queer punk, and a punk in the scene. I don't know, I feel weird talking about all of that because they're maleidentifed now and I don't know if they would describe themselves, or themself at that point in their life, as a dyke or whatever. Myles: So, did you leave that leave that at some point? Like, did you make a decision, I'm leaving the scene? Or you just sort of, moved on from it? Nia: Well, I went away to college in Baltimore for a semester. And then I came back and was sort of back in the scene. I was a really active volunteer with Food Not Bombs. But as soon as I came back from Baltimore, the people that had been holding it down in Boston Food Not Bombs, were like, “Oh, great, someone else is taking care of it,” and just stopped showing up. [laughter] So it somehow became on me and my partner to keep it going, which was really stressful. We lived like an hour away, outside the city, and it was winter and it was just a mess. I think after that, I feel like that's when I started to become disillusioned. Maybe not started, but that was definitely a big part of it. I was like, “Seriously guys? You're just gonna leave us to cook all this food for all these people by ourselves, with no help? And we don't even live anywhere near here?” Also, when my partner and I broke up, I kind of felt like I had to separate myself from the scene. Weirdly, even though I was part of it before he was, I felt like somehow that was his space, or I just couldn't be around the people that were our mutual friends. So, I was living on my grandmother's couch at the time, I was just kind of hiding out in this suburb of Boston. Myles: So you said that you've been to Baltimore for a semester of school. What's the story with that? [pause] Or [laughing] do you not want to talk about that? Nia: Art school… is a terrible place for people of color… and other living beings. I went there because I wanted to do comics. I wanted to be an illustrator. So I was planning to major in illustration. I was only there for one semester. I didn't really get to do, like the first semester of the curriculum was pretty much all planned out for you, so you didn't really get to do stuff you find interesting. Unless it happens to be Drawing I or Sculpture I. There's this class called Elements of Visual Thinking, another class called Critical Theory, or something? [laughter] I don't know. Myles: You know, Critical Theory. Or something. Nia: That was the one that was supposed to be not an art class. But it was really mostly devoted to

talking about art. Which, I felt sort of cheated. Myles: [laughter] Nia: It was like, “Finally I get to do some sort of thinking. Some academic brain exercise.” But no, we just looked at pictures. Myles: And what was your experience like there? Nia: [laughing] It was bad! It was real bad. There was a particular, so there's this class, I really just wanted to do illustration. That's all I really cared about. I only got to take one illustration class. Actually, only half of it was illustration. It was split between graphic design and illustration workshop. So the first half was graphic design, and then we finally switched in the second half of the semester into the illustration section of the class. I was super excited about it, but as I was walking through the illustration department, I saw some drawings on the wall that I felt like were unflattering caricatures, of women in particular. Like I remember there was this one image, a woman hugging a man who is presumably her boyfriend, but then she has like, a knife behind his back. I felt like it was such a cliché of how women will like cut your heart out or whatever. Like, [sigh] go cry about it or whatever. [laughter]. But in my illustration class, the theme of the class was “the future,” which I thought was really stupid. And there was this one really like, nationalistic, patriotic dude, who every week would bring in some racist-ass shit. A lot of it sort of targeted at Arabs and Muslims. But I remember, what stands out to me most was this one illustration he did about “the future”— Myles: This is in air quotes for everybody listening. Nia: [laughter] I feel like they can hear the air quotes in my voice probably. In the future, this guy's concept was that Michael Jackson was going to quote-unquote “go black again.” And of course, this was before Michael Jackson died. And the image, the drawing of Michael Jackson going black again was him with an afro, and I think a wide nose, and some bling. And so it was sort of, this idea that, I don't know, that being black is sort of inherently married to... that the signifiers of blackness are also signifiers of urban-ness, and hip-hop, and poverty, and particular phenotypes which, though those ideas are commonly accepted in our culture, they're still racist! [laughter] And this dude, in particular, I felt like, was not coming from a place of love with this caricature. He was white. [laughter] Surprise! And I tried to talk to the teacher about it, who happened to be the head of the department. And she was having the hardest time understanding why I thought this might be racist. I sat her down, I spelled it out for her, and even though it was really exhausting, and I was already feeling really triggered, and all this stuff, and finally she looks at me and she says, “I see what you're saying. But I really feel like it's a kind of benign racism. I mean, it's not like he's in a hate group or something.” And I think that's when I realized I had to drop out of art school. She was the head of the illustration department. And in my first semester, I kind of realized that because there were so few students of color - there was one black girl in one of my classes, and she dropped out before I did, [laughter] which was not that long. Because there were so few students of color, and so few faculty of color, there really wasn't anybody to help people keep their racism in check. Or like, hold anyone accountable. Which did not feel like a mantle that I wanted to take up. It felt really exhausting, I already felt really exhausted, just like showing up to class and expecting to be triggered and offended all the time. That was definitely one of the first big clues.

And I didn't really have anyone I could talk to about it. My roommates were all white, and some of them were well-intentioned and more liberal or whatever, but there was this really weird divide between the school being mostly white upper/middle class New Englanders, and the city, which is a poor black city. And so there was kind of like, a fear and animosity toward black people and toward the surrounding community on campus, which I feel like was very much fostered by the administration. Particularly when they would send out these alerts whenever someone got mugged, it would be like, “student got mugged walking across the street. Black man, black hoodie, age 1225,” like super vague. All they really told you was, black dude did something bad. Watch out. And since I couldn't talk to my roommates or any of my “friends”—[laughter] friends should also be in air quotes—I went to the Office of Brown People Affairs, which was officially titled the Office of Multiethnic and International Student Affairs. I guess they grouped all the brown people together. And it was one person. And she could not understand for the life of her what I was doing there. I think she actually asked me if I was lost. Because she was not used to seeing a nonapparently brown person in her office. I came to her office, I don't think I was in tears when I got there, but I was getting really upset. She wouldn't really let me talk. She kept stopping me to repeat back what I had said while sort of looking at me incredulously. Which made me feel like she didn't believe any of it. And after I finally got my story out, she just really seemed confounded by why or how I could be upset by racism. And so when I finally explained that I was mixed race, I could kind of see the “Ohhhhh” [laughter] washing over her. I don't want to insult this woman's intelligence. I'm sure she had a really hard job and was a really smart lady. But she was not the resource that I had hoped she would be [laughter] in my time of need. So basically that story ends with her being like, “you should go to a black student union meeting.” And me leaving in tears knowing that was not going to solve my problems. Also I can't believe they even had a black student union. There was like 6 black kids in the whole school. So, yeah. Once I realized that all four years could be like that first semester, because there were very few people of color around, not enough people of color around to make white people watch themselves, I decided to drop out of art school. Myles: So I know that after you were in Baltimore, you were in Denver for a while, going to school and working. What was that experience like? I guess that's a pretty broad question. Nia: So, I moved back to the Northeast for a while. I saved up some money. I was living on my grandmother's couch, working at Peet's Coffee. I then traveled across the U.S. for 4 months. I knew I wanted to get out of Boston but I didn't know where I wanted to move to. I went down the East Coast, across the South, made a big detour to go to Denver, and then worked my way back down and across the Southwest, and then up the West Coast. And I fell in love with Denver. I was there during the Denver Zine Fest. And I didn't really know anyone when I got there. I sort of knew one person, who happened to be a person of color living at this punk house, even though she was not really a punk—I think she would feel comfortable with that assessment—and who was a friend of my friend D's. So other people at the house were involved in Denver Zine Fest. And so I went with them to Denver Zine Fest. And there I met a bunch of other mixed race zinesters. Which was really cool for me cause I didn't really have a mixed community at all back home. And who never really had people to talk about being mixed with. And in Denver in particular I felt like people were willing to accept me as a person of color without me having to feel like I had anything to prove. Like they kind of understood that, you know, that white-passing people of color is a thing that exists. And so I felt really validated there, which made me want to stay. And also, someone

promised that if I moved to Denver, they would hook me up with a job interview, a free bike, and a first date. So that seemed like a pretty good deal. Myles: [laughter] A job interview, a free bike, and a first date? Nia: Yep. Myles: So, how did all three of those work out? Nia: I got a bike. Myles: Okay. Nia: I built it myself. At Derailer Collective, which is the radical bike— Myles: Wait, is that getting a bike though? That's you making a bike. Nia: Well, I made it. But I got it for free. I didn't like, forge the metal parts or anything [laughter]. Myles: [laughter] Alright, okay, fair enough. So the bike worked out well. Do you still have the bike? Nia: I do. It's on my front porch. Myles: That's awesome. And how about the interview? The job interview? Nia: I mean nobody hooked it up for me exactly, but I did interview at the Colorado Anti-Violence Program for a position called Director of Training Education. Which I was not at all qualified for at like, 19, or whatever age I was when I applied. But the Executive Director really liked me and she encouraged me to apply for this internship through the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training. Which she had been through. So I did that, and I got in that way. And interned with them doing fundraising, which was really good experience. At the at the same time I enrolled back in school, at Metro State College of Denver, to study social work. Myles: So what about the first date? Nia: I did not really date when I was in Denver. I had this one friend that I was crushing on, and we would hang out, and I could never really tell if it was a date or not. And then later it turned out she had a girlfriend. [laughter] Myles: [laughter] Well, two out of three's not bad. Nia: There you go. Myles: So you were studying social work at Metro State, how did that come to be? What made you want to work in social work? Nia: I think I was looking at jobs and all the ones that looked interesting to me seemed to require a B.A. in social work. I didn't actually really, like I was working on a social work degree while I was

there but none of the classes I took were specifically about social work. I took statistics, which was awful. I took cultural anthropology, which was racist. I took this class called Women of Color, which I was super excited about but then ended up being really basic and kind of homophobic [laughter]. Like well-intentioned, but really, especially around trans stuff, not good. I took Intro to African American Studies, with this professor that would always refer to us as “scholars.” She wouldn’t be like, “Alright, class,” she’d be like, “Alright, scholars.” She really wanted us to believe we were smart people. Which was cool. And it was very Afro-centric, so I felt right at home. I also took Spanish, which was probably the best class I took there. I would hear the Spanish teacher, these two things she would say over and over again was, “preguntas?” like, “questions?” and then “chicos,” which is like “kids.” So I would just hear her saying those over and over, even in my sleep. [laughter] “Questions, chicos?” Like, where am I? Myles: [laughter] Obviously now you're in the Bay, you've been in the Bay Area for a while now. How did you end up moving from Denver to the Bay Area, from Metro State to Mills College? Nia: I had applied to Mills when I was a junior in high school or whatever year you are when you start applying to colleges. I had applied to only two schools, MICA, which was an art school, and Mills. And I think at that time I was not really quite ready to move 3,000 miles away, and also not really sure about going to a women's college. But I was in Denver and I was kind of stagnating in school and at my job, and trying to figure out what was gonna be next for me. And my next-door neighbor… I lived in a duplex with two friends that lived on the other side. And one of my neighbors, Jessie, said that she though Mills would be a really good fit for me. And so I applied, and got in and then went. And I'm glad I did, cause that's where I met you! Myles: Heyyyy! [laughter] So when you transferred to Mills, were you studying the same thing, or...? Nia: No. I had thought… Mills didn't have a social work program. And that's still what I thought I wanted to do, so I was going to be a sociology major, but the more I learned about the Ethnic Studies program, the more that's what I felt like I wanted to do. I really just wanted to talk about race. I feel like that's what I've been doing since I was a little kid and what I enjoy doing. Ethnic Studies seemed like a good place for that. Myles: Were you working on art while you were at Mills studying Ethnic Studies? Nia: I wasn't. I had wanted to still be making art but didn't really find the time or energy to take any art-making classes. And it also seemed like if you wanted to do art at Mills, you had to really make that your focus. You couldn't just do it casually on the side. Myles: Yeah, I definitely remember when I started taking art classes and I was like, “Oh, this will be a great elective thing on the side” and then ended up spending every night of the week in the studio, crying into my wood chips [laughter] just trying to put everything together. Nia: Yeah, they don't play over there. Myles: [laughter] No. So, you were taking some time way from your art while you were at Mills. When and how did you start getting back into your art?

Nia: After I graduated, I enrolled in the Queer Woman of Color Media Arts Training Program. And so that's how I started doing film. That was a good experience. It was really challenging. Making a film is really a lot of work. Myles: What made you want to go into doing film? Cause I know you didn't have, or from what you said, you didn't have much film experience or photography experience prior to that. Nia: Yeah. While I was at Mills, I ran a film series for queer and trans people of color, or about queer and trans people of color, and as part of that I had invited a bunch of local QWOCMAP directors to come show their films and speak about them. And so that's— Myles: QWOCMAP being the Queer Woman of Color— Nia: Yeah. QWOCMAP, Queer Woman of Color Media Arts Project. I had known some filmmakers that had gone through the program, so that was the first imprint that was made on me that maybe that might be a thing to do. Mostly the reason I did it was because it was free, moreso than because I had this passion to be a filmmaker. It was just like, this is a free resource for queer women of color, why not take advantage of it? Especially while I'm unemployed and not really all that busy. Myles: So did you find that once you were in the program that you had a passion for filmmaking? Nia: Yeah, once I made the film, and particularly once I got to screen it in a room full of likeminded folks and get a standing ovation, I was like, “This is pretty cool. I could get used to this!” It felt really good, it felt really good to have a finished product to show people, like, “I made this.” Even though I didn't make it by myself, it was my vision and largely my execution. It's really cool to get to see other people bring your vision to life. And it seemed like a more accessible medium than zines, for example, which I had been doing before but that only reach punks, really. [laughter] Myles: [laughter] So who was your crew when you were working on your film? Who were the people who were helping you with the filming and the actors? Nia: You. [laughter] Myles: Not trying to give myself a cookie, [laughter] just trying to talk about all the people that came together for that. Nia: It was some of my classmates, and acquaintances that happened to have lighting experience, that allowed me to borrow them for a day. Myles: And the actors? Nia: Actors I found partially on sfcasting.com and some of them were also friends. Myles: So what was your first film about? Nia: It was about apartment hunting. In Oakland... It was about being a queer woman of color looking for an apartment and having a transgender partner and trying to find a place that, even though we weren't living together, where he would feel safe and welcome and not be asked like a

hundred weird questions all the time. And how surprisingly challenging that was, even though people think the Bay is such a progressive place. And it is, but it's not, like, utopia. Myles: So, it's probably apparent to the people listening that it's a relatively autobiographical film at this point. So what were some of the experiences that led you to want to make that film, that you had while you were apartment hunting in Oakland? Nia: I spent a lot of time looking at apartments on Craigslist, and sort of started to notice that there were different types that would emerge. Which, all of them, when I try to describe them sound very similar. But there would be like the older white hippie lesbian lady, who teaches yoga and/or gives massage, and has a lot of Buddhas in her house. Myles: You lived with that lady. Probably once or twice. [laughter] Nia: I lived with a couple of those ladies, yeah! [laughter] There's a lot of them in Oakland! And then there'd be these multicultural coop group living situations, which are appealing because they're usually dirt cheap. But also sometimes they expect a big commitment in terms of community gardening, or fixing bikes, or making dinner for 18 people twice a month, and they kind of expect you to hang out a lot, and I'm an introvert. Living with 18 people just seemed like it would be a party all the time, and not my kind of a party. [laughter] Myles: What were some of the challenges that you ran into searching for housing beyond just the... Nia: The hippy-ness of it all? Myles: The hippy-ness of it all. Nia: I think in Oakland, I picture housing in Oakland as a Venn diagram, where there's one circle is housing that is affordable and another circle is housing that is safe and the overlapping part is just a teeny little sliver. But in addition to that, just finding people that were trans-aware and socially conscious was difficult. I think a lot of people just had never met a trans person before, and maybe, might have been the most well-intentioned quote-unquote “open-minded” liberal, progressive folks but still had a lot of questions just because they didn't know. And I feel like creating a safe space for you as my partner is more than just like, “this person is not an OBVIOUS transphobe.” It's like this person is not gonna look at you weird, or ask you weird questions, or like, try to figure out what's in your pants. [laughter] Everyone wants to know what's in your pants, that's the problem! That's what makes finding housing a problem. Myles: I should just wear no pants. And then you'd have no problem. [laughter] Nia: I'm not sure that's the case. [laughter] More pants please. Myles: Okay. All pants. All the time. Nia: Pants up to here. Myles: [laughter] So you finished your first film. What did you do after you finished it? Did you show it, or take it to festivals, or what did you do with it? Nia: I had to wait a year to show it at festivals, because I had to sign a contract with QWOCMAP

saying that I would premiere it at their festival, which wasn't for a year. Myles: That had to be hard, not showing it for that whole year. Nia: Yeah. It was. Cause you put all this work into it, then you just have to sit on it for a while. But, I mean, I got to premiere it in front of a queer people of color audience of 700+ people, which was a really incredible experience. And I got to sit in the crowd with them not knowing it was me, and just kind of be a fly on the wall while they were viscerally responding to the film. Myles: What was that like? What did you hear people respond to? Nia: It was super validating. People seemed to identify with what I was going through on a very visceral level. Like I could hear their sort of sympathy sounds, and their laughter, and their applause, which was really exciting. And it's a comedy, so the worst thing is if people don't laugh. But it got a lot of laughs. So that made me feel good. Myles: I think a lot of your work, if I may say so, works off of comedy. Like your comics work off of comedy a lot, even if it's sometimes comedy of the morbid or the mundane. You made a face, is that a not-compliment? Nia: That my comics are morbid and mundane? [laughter] Myles: No, I guess I mean that, by the morbid I mean, the racist and the transphobic and the terrible, and the mundane like, our everyday life together and those sorts of things. And your films I think are similar, in that you use comedy as a way to talk about things that are sometimes actually really messed up and challenging. What do you feel like your experiences as somebody who is a queer person of color doing comedy when so much of mainstream comedy is really dominated by white male voices and straight voices? Nia: Yeah, I'm not really in the same pool as them, so they're not really my competition. I know that my stuff is very niche, and that's fine because I only really exist in that space. I feel like my audience, the people who read my comics, I mean I can't know for sure, but I would guess that they're mostly people of color and queer folks. I've gotten a couple messages from other cis women that are in relationships with trans men that are super excited to see a representation of a relationship that looks anything like theirs. Which is awesome. Myles: Is this about your comic online? Nia: Yeah. But it's not like I feel like I'm fighting for space in the comedy world. Because I'm not really on the radar of those people, for lack of a better term. I think more of what I face, maybe it's more internalized than anyone actually saying it, is the idea that art is already not really valued within the movement. And then comedy is even less so. I feel like comedy is the bottom of the barrel in some ways, and that people feel like if you make art about social justice, it needs to be depressing. And that if you're not depressed then you're not learning. Or if you're not outraged you're not going to be moved to action. But I think comedy is actually a really powerful tool in getting people to think about stuff critically. And I think that comedians like W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu are already doing that really successfully. And those are the people that I kind of seek to be like.

Myles: I agree with what you said, that a lot of people see comedy as being frivolous I guess, or less valuable than work that is, I don't know, more depressing I guess. What do you feel like is so powerful about comedy? And what draws you to work with comedy? Nia: I think what's powerful about comedy is that it can make social justice fun. Like if you are laughing, then you're enjoying yourself, and so it's nourishing rather than draining. It makes you want to be part of the movement, because you're getting something from it, which is joy, instead of feeling like you're pouring your life into it and being exploited. I think, in Ethnic Studies, particularly when I first transferred to Mills, I was taking like three Ethnic Studies classes in the same semester. And so it would be like, before lunch, watch a documentary about Japanese internment, and after lunch, watch a documentary about the abduction of Aboriginal children in Australia. And I would go home from class and want to crawl into bed and never come out. And it's not that we shouldn't learn about that stuff, or that it's not important, but I think that if you continue to be useful to the social justice movement, you can't only be engaging in work that makes you want to hide under the covers. You also have to engage with work that makes you want to come out from the covers and feel like there's hope and a point to what you're doing. And that everything isn't so horrible and there's no point in even trying. Myles: I think one of the challenges for me personally as an artist has been how to be open to and to incorporate the critiques and the feedback that you get from people without getting stuck. And continuing to want to make art knowing that you're going to get negative feedback and people calling you out on things and some of it's gonna be, you know, the dregs of the internet, YouTube commenter kind of people— Nia: I haven't got those yet. I feel like that will mean that I've made it. Myles: [laughter] So what's your process for incorporating critique or listening to what people have to say about those sorts of things? Nia: Yeah. I think initially it's always hard at first. And so I try to just sit with it and not react defensively. I mean this is my ideal self, this is maybe not my actual self. But to just be like, “Okay I hear your feedback and I'm gonna sit with it for a couple of days.” And I'll usually process it with you or Channing or someone and be like, “Is this valid or is this person just a hater?” And then try to figure out how I can incorporate that critique into my work if it is indeed a useful critique. And most times they are. I don't think the people that bother to give me their feedback are coming from a hateful place. Myles: Is there any feedback you can think of that changed the way you were looking at work that you were doing? Nia: Yeah. I mean, Channing, my boss, is always telling me to have faith in myself to tell the stories the way they need to be told. And that is something I would love to do. That's really hard. I have a lot of ethical questions about things, particularly about representation of marginalized communities, which is really all I do. I'm really only interested for the most part in examining the lives of queer folks, trans folks, and folks of color. But representing those communities is really politically charged and really difficult. Myles: What is it that you find challenging in particular about those representations?

Nia: Part of it is how do you visually represent otherness, whether it's queerness, brownness, transness. For me, I'm a person of color that rarely ever gets seen as a person of color. In my first film, I casted a darker skinned actress to play me, just to have someone on-screen that was representing me that sort of, I don't want to say looked the way I see myself, because I know I have light skin, I'm not in denial about it, but just to sort of be visible, at least in my imagination, as a person of color. And I thought about casting a lighter skinned actor, but light skinned actors are not the ones that have trouble finding roles. That's where it gets politically complicated for me, like I want to find people that I feel like visually represent my community, I want actors with dark skin, I want actors with natural hair, I want actors that are not quote-unquote “traditionally beautiful,” that look like real people. Which a) is challenging in itself, and b) does that mean that all the good guys have to have dark skin and natural hair and all the bad guys have to have light skin and straight hair? That's not really the way the world works. You know, maybe since we have such an overrepresentation of light skin being equated with good and dark skin being equated with bad, that it's okay to have just all light-skinned villains all the time. But I feel like that over-simplifies things, and I want to be real. And the real truth is complicated, and it's not always pretty, but I also want to accountable to my community and not create representations that are damaging. You know, psychologically or otherwise. Myles: So, we were talking about your film before. What have you done since your film or what are you planning to do with your art next? Nia: Well, my comics have just been accepted into this show in Chicago called Lady Drawers, which is also the name of the organization running the exhibition. Myles: That's cute. Nia: Yeah! And I pitched a workshop to them that I'm waiting to hear back about, about visually representing difference in comics and film. I'm trying to generate new content, new comics and new podcasts, every week or every other week. And I might have some commissions coming up from this woman Cameron Russell who is a supermodel, who runs some kind of women's media lab. Myles: How did you get connected with her? Nia: She shouted me out on Twitter. And I was like, “Who the hell is this?” [laughter] And then I watched her TED Talk video and I was like, “Oh wow, she's a legit supermodel. And this is definitely her.” But she's been really supportive and is always telling me what a fan she is of my work. So that's cool. That's a weird thing about the internet, is that you put stuff out there and you have no idea where it's gonna go. Sometimes it seems like no one is watching or listening. And then you find out that, actually that is not true. I do a comic about our relationship. Some of it is just cute little stories, some of it is more political, about being in an interracial, queer/trans relationship. I feel like it's not really about you being trans so much. It's more about how we never go out because all movies are about white people and I don't like going to parties where I'm the only brown person. I think one of the things that's interesting about the comic is that it pretty much exclusively is only us at home, or in the car, or in bed. It's almost never us in public space. And so it doesn't really deal with how people respond to us in public space. It's kind of like our own little world, where nobody questions that you're a man and nobody questions that I'm a brown person. And we just get to be ourselves, which is ideally how the

whole world would be. But in actuality only exists within these four walls. And the four of your house. Myles: [laughter] Can you give us an example of one of your comics? Or maybe which one is your favorite one to make? Nia: I don't know which one's my favorite to make. I think they're all a little challenging in that I have this vision in my head of what it's going to look like and how funny it's going to be. And then I draw it and it's often not quite that. Like, I did one recently called “Unemployment,” which, whatever, I'm not going to put down my work, but the first panel is us playing cards, which I don't think we've ever done in our relationship. And I say, “Hey, remember when we had money to go places and do things?” and then the second panel I say, “that was fun.” The implication being that we don't anymore, [laughter] because we're unemployed. And there's something weird about my eyes in the second panel, it looks like I'm staring daggers at you, like somehow it's your fault that we don't have any money. Which is not actually the case, in any way. We don't have a joint checking account or anything like that. So that was sort of an unintended thing that happened because I tend to draw kind of quickly and sometimes detail or intention gets lost a little bit. So that was one that I was really not that happy with. One that's gotten a lot of positive attention is, I did one called “White Christmas” about spending Christmas with your white family, which I did for the first time last year. And they're totally nice people, but I have a lot of insecurity and just internalized stuff around being brown and fearing that they're not going to think I'm good enough, or not white enough, or not rich enough, or whatever, because your parents are both doctors. Even though my parents are both psychologists, which is not like, the biggest step down. My mom was disowned by her family for marrying my dad, and there's just a lot of stuff around race and class. Myles: What was the comic? What happens in the comic? Nia: I don't want to give it away. You have to go to the website. Comicsbynia.tumblr.com Myles: [laughter] That's some true marketing right there. Nia: Oh yeah. Myles: Wanna say it one more time? Nia: Comics. By Nia. C-O-M-I-C-S B-Y N( as in nighttime)-I-A dot tumblr dot com. Check it out. Myles: Everybody got that? Okay. Nia: I'll make sure to include a link. Myles: [laughter] Let's see, what else? What other art stuff do you do? We talked about your film, we talked about your comics, we talked about your great journey westward. If you could tell other queer women of color artists three things that you think that they should know, what would those three things be?

Nia: Don't compromise your vision to make it more marketable to a community that is not your own. Myles: That's one. Nia: Yeah. [laughter] What was the question again? Myles: Three things that you would tell other queer women of color artists, and why, I guess. Nia: I guess, find community with other artists who are like you, and will get what you're trying to do. I think when you have feedback from people outside the community, and that sounds really weird to say, but if you're trying to make work about race or about gender, or about sexuality, in a class with a bunch of straight white guys, you might get great feedback, but a lot of times you're going to get resistance. And sort of an inability to engage with whatever it is that you're presenting. And so the feedback that you're getting is potentially not as useful as feedback that you might get from other people that have personal experience with the issues that you're trying to represent, or discuss, or examine in your work. I interviewed someone who, she was a white trans woman who went to art school. And she said that she would bring a friend to her critiques, so that she could actually get useful feedback, because other people did not know how to engage with her work at all. Which is kind of the whole point of art school, like what are you paying all that money for? It's true though, like when you are part of a marginalized demographic that is underrepresented in art school, often you're not going to get the feedback that's going to help you grow as an artist. And the last one is one that I've really struggled with, and something that's really been drilled into me by white male mentors, which is don't be afraid of failure. I mean you can be afraid of failure, that's fine, that's human, but don't let it hold you back. Because I think that, and I'm sure people will argue with this, and it's a generalization, which means that it's obviously not true all the time, but overall, a part of the reason that you're at a disadvantage as a queer woman of color is that you're queer, and of color, and a woman, but the other reason is that people who have privilege often don't let the fact that they don't know what they're talking about stop them from talking. And they don't let the fact that they don't know what they're doing stop them from doing stuff. And I think that we as queer women of color, and really I'm just speaking about myself here, I think we often have all this self-doubt that prevents us from doing stuff. And doing stuff is how you learn and how you get exposure. So, overcoming fear of failure is really important if you want to become successful as an artist. So I think you have to have faith, whether it's true or not, that you will get second chances if you fuck up. Cause if you don't at least believe that, then it's hard to get anywhere. Myles: So then the second part of my question is if you could only ask one question of all of the other people you're going to interview on this podcast, all of the other queer women of color artists in the world, which is everybody you're going to interview for this podcast, obviously, when you get famous, if you could ask them one question that you really wanna know the answer to, what would that be? Nia: How do I make it as an artist without compromising my vision? Myles: And how would you answer that?

Nia: Just ignore all the haters and keep doing what you're doing. Myles: [laughter] Okay, is there—oh, no I'm not trying to say that to what you were saying. I was just thinking about the next question. So, before we start to wrap up, are there any other parts of your history of arty-ness that you want to talk about? Nia: I kind of mentioned it before, but just that I took a really long break from making stuff and from drawing in particular. And it is kind of like riding a bike. I was worried that, I had all this stuff around dropping out of art school when I started drawing again, which was really recently. I felt like I was still drawing at a high school level. And I felt like, weirdness and shame around that, this is gonna make me sound like a real asshole, but I think it's important to realize that there are people less talented than you doing better than you are [laughter]. Especially when you're a queer woman of color, and if you don't keep that in mind, it's really easy to feel like you're the least talented person in the bunch. And like everyone else is better, so why even try? But, I don't know. I've looked at comics, like people who have been published or self-published, where you can't even tell what's going on in the panels. And you know, that's a style. And who am I to say that it's more or less legitimate than any other style? But if you have something to say, you're already more interesting than a lot of the people that are creating work. So, say it.

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