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Luna: My name is Luna Merbruja. I am an author and an artist.

Nia King first interviewed me back


in June of 2014, I want to say.

Nia: I think it was 2013.

Luna: 2013.

Nia: It was episode seven or eight. [Fact check: It was episode nine.] It was very early on.

Luna: Yes, the podcast was very new. We were trying to find spaces to do it. We ended up doing it on
campus, at UC Santa Cruz. In the middle of our interview, this white guy comes in and is like,
“Excuse me? Do you have a room reservation?” We looked at him like, “We’re in the middle of
something right now.” [Nia laughs] And he’s like [Nia and Luna laugh.] My name’s Adam John Smith,
and I need this room. [Nia laughs] And him and his fucking white boy boots kicked us to the fucking
curb. I don’t even know where we finished that interview. Do you remember?

Nia: We were in a study room that we got kicked out of, and we just moved to the next study room, on
the other side of the wall. But it was much more echo-y for some reason.

[INSERT INTRO]

Luna: I want to talk about the intentions you had at the beginning of the podcast. So, you specifically
chose to interview queer and trans artists of color. So, that’s three intersections you had there. What
informed your decision to focus on this particular population?

Nia: So, in Ethnic Studies at Mills, I wrote my thesis on Mangos with Chili, which is a queer and trans
people of color performance art organization, which is sadly now defunct. Both of the co-founders have
been priced out the Bay, or displaced, which is happening to a lot of people, and a lot of organizations.
But that organization had a really big impact on me. Going to their show was the first place I’d
experienced that was intentionally for queer and trans people of color. When I first moved to the Bay, I
started going to their shows and was surprised by how many people… It felt like everyone I knew was
there. And I didn’t know that many people, because I was new in town, so it really helped me start to
feel like I had a sense of community here. But it also… The art was just mind blowing. The quality
was really, really high. So my thesis was trying to measure the impact of this organization by
talking to co-founders, talking to audience members, talking to performers. Specifically, I was trying to
look at it in the context of the queer suicide epidemic, which was getting a lot of media attention at the
time. Particularly queer youth and trans youth committing suicide. So my research question was, I
think in their mission or on their website, Mangos described themselves as “showcasing work of live-
saving importance.” So my research question was “Does this organization really save lives?” And it
was not a good research question, in retrospect, because the only way to prove that would be to get a
bunch of people on record saying “I was going to kill myself, and then I went to a Mangos show, and
now I’m not,” which were not the results of my research.

But what I did find was that Mangos for a lot of people, helped them feel that their future was possible,
which I would argue is life-saving. Because I think… We’re getting so deep in so fast. [both laugh] But
when we talk about suicide in queer and trans communities, we often talk about how to prevent people
from killing themselves, but we don’t talk about how do we make their lives feel worth living. Mangos
was described to me by people in the research project as something that helped them be able to see a
future for themselves. Which I think is a big part of staying alive, is feeling like you have a future.

Luna: Thank you. Wow. Yeah. [both laugh] We just dived in the deep end there.

Nia: Just some light Sunday afternoon talk.

Luna: [laughs] I’m glad that you brought that up. Yeah, that’s great. That’s the history of the We
Want the Airwaves, and then subsequently—

Nia: Sorry, I don’t know if I actually answered your question. We Want the Airwaves grew out of that.
After the thesis was done, I kept wanting to explore the topic. I kept wanting to talk to queer and trans
artists about their lives and their work. So this is kind of an extension of that.

Luna: Excellent. What have you noticed, working with queer and trans artists of color, and people
who aren’t in that category? Have you been exposed to art…When we think of women’s art, sometimes
people think of vagina art, and menstruation art. There’s stereotypes of it…

Nia: Yeah, no, you’re not wrong. I’m just making faces over here.

Luna: Right, definitely in agreement. Just kidding. But I mean, there’s stereotypes of different types
of minority-made art. So I’m curious, what are the trends in QTPOC art, and how do they compare to,
let’s say, an artist who’s not a person of color.

Nia: That’s a really good question that I don’t know how to answer. [laughs] Whenever I say “That’s a
good question,” it means I’m trying to buy time.

I guess there are concrete things that I could cite. Like, talking about the importance of ancestors feels
like a very QTPOC thing, or at least a very POC thing. I feel like it’s partially a hard question to
answer because I interview so many different types of artists. What art means to me is very broad. For
people that haven’t been listening since the beginning, I’ve talked to everyone from burlesque
performers to stand-up comics to video game designers, to painters and cartoonists, and really try to
break down the divisions between high and low art. And also between performing and written and
visual art. It’s all interesting to me.

Luna: I do want to touch upon the medium of your artwork. So, you started art making with comics?

Nia: And zines. Yeah, I guess it depends. In kindergarten or preschool [both laugh] my favorite
activity was… We had this paper, this long… I think it was probably 11 by 17. And the top half was
blank, and the bottom half was lined, so we could draw illustrations and write stories. I think we would
dictate our stories to our teacher, and they would write it for us, because our penmanship was not great
yet. And then we would illustrate them. So, that’s kind of a proto-comic, right?

Luna: I think so. Yeah. [both laugh]

Nia: But as, an adult, I would say zines. Both. I think zines and comics, kind of at the same time.
Luna: Yes, so your roots were in illustration, writing, and then you started doing the podcast and
interviewing other artists. I think it’s interesting because I don’t think I’ve ever heard you identify
making podcasts as a form of art for yourself. But you’ve done it for so many years. I think you’ve
made a craft out of it. There’s a quality of your work. There’s so much effort and work that you put into
it, and if you’re talking about art, isn’t that also making art? I’m sort of making this argument about
you making art because I think—

Nia: Because this is what I do to people on my podcast? [laughs]

Luna: Basically. [laughs]

Nia: They’ll be like “I’m not an artist.” and I’ll be like, “Shut up!”

Luna: I remember you did with Janet Mock. I remember she was like, “I’m a writer. What am I
doing here?” [both laugh]

Nia: Oh my god, did I really? That’s really embarrassing. [both laugh] She’s the most famous person
I’ve ever interviewed.

Luna: It was really funny. I loved it.

But yeah. They point I’m trying to make is that you make this podcast, right. I’m curious how you
went from this medium that’s very visual, drawing and writing, into making podcasts, where it’s pretty
much just audio, with the transcripts that you’ve provided. What made you want to do podcasts versus
doing video interviews, or written interviews?

Nia: Yeah, so there’s a couple things. I didn’t go straight from comics and zines into podcasts. I
actually learned how to make films first. When I first started… This is probably only interesting to
audio nerds, but because I learned how to edit video before I learned how to edit sound, I used to edit
this podcast on Final Cut, which is for editing video. It’s not for editing sound at all, but that’s what I
knew how to use, so that’s what I did. [laughs] Filmmaking is fun, but it’s really hard. It’s expensive.
It requires, generally, a crew. You need a lot of help. I think I like the audio medium, I mean first of all,
because I don’t have to be on camera. I hate being on camera. I hate having to think about how I look. I
think a podcast seems a lot more intimate. And I was also a really big podcast fan myself.

It’s kind of like if you take film making, and super strip it down, you get podcasting. After making a
film, just a short film, I was exhausted. I was like, “What can we do with less?” I think different
messages are maybe better suited for different media, but it’s also like, “What do you have the capacity
to do?” I think because I don’t like being on camera, I didn’t want other people to have to be on camera
either. I was like, let’s just talk like people. I feel like my friends are really smart, and I feel like in
private we have really smart conversations. But I felt like queer and trans people of color in general,
when they spoke to the public, were not really listened to. So I like this medium because no one can
talk over you, or be like “That wasn’t racist!” Or try and shout you down. It’s just like, we’re having a
conversation in private. Later this conversation will be broadcast. People can listen to it, but they can’t
really argue back. [laughs] I mean, because I don’t have a comments section. [laughs]

Luna: I was just about to say, you know, I’ve never seen a comments section on a podcast. That’s a
great way to avoid having—
Nia: There are definitely podcasts that have them, and have message boards and stuff. But those
podcast have engineers, and a lot more resources.

Luna: Excellent. Yes, that’s great. I think that definitely names why you chose podcasting over video.
But you did eventually evolve into written work by creating Queer and Trans Artists of Color, the
volumes, and the third one you’re working on now. I’m curious what was the factors influencing your
decision to make a book, versus just strictly keeping it a podcast.

Nia: I feel like people weren’t really listening to the podcast, when I started. I also went through
phases of trying to figure out… I think when I started the podcast, I was an unpaid intern, and then
became a paid intern, and then became unemployed/self-employed/freelancer trying to get by with
thirty different hustles, none of which were paying the rent. I was experimenting with different models,
in terms of trying to monetize the podcast. Because when I first started I was trying to do it weekly,
which was a completely unrealistic amount of work to set myself up for. Even after I moved to
monthly, I still was spending a lot of time on it, and it wasn’t paying anything. And I also didn’t have a
real job. [laughs] There was a time where I put all the episodes behind a paywall. Sorry, I totally forgot
what your question was.

Luna: My question was, what were the factors that influenced turning the podcast into a book?

Nia: Oh, the book. That’s right. So when it was behind a paywall, that stunted the growth of the
podcast, in part because people expect podcast content for free, because most podcasts are free. And
you’re never going to have as many listeners with a paywall as you would without one. So, eventually
with the help of a friend, Nic Bravo, I was able to, once the podcast had been going on for a while
longer, sort of end the paywall. It still sort of exists, but most of the episodes are not behind it anymore.
But yeah, it had to do with low listenership. And also feeling like I was creating something that had a
lot of value, that wasn’t being taken advantage of the way that I had hoped.

And what’s funny to me, I feel like I say this a lot, is that people take you so much more seriously
when you have a book than when you have a podcast, even though the content is almost exactly the
same. The books take a lot of work. The transcripts are highly edited. It’s not like we’re just dumping
the content from one container into another container. We’re also refining it, but… When you have a
podcast nobody cares. When you have a book, people are like, “Ooh. She’s somebody.” [both laugh]
And that’s changed, too. When I started podcasting, I feel like there were almost no women of color in
podcasting, especially no queer people of color in podcasting. I feel like at that time I could have
named one woman-of-color podcaster, which is Aisha Tyler. And that was it. Since then, since the
podcast started six years ago, the form has just exploded. There’s so many more podcasts in general,
but a lot more women, a lot more queer folks. My podcast is no longer the only queer and trans people
of color podcast. You can actually google “queer and trans people of color podcast” and not even find
me. [both laugh]

Luna: Damn.

Nia: Which I feel some kind of way about.

Luna: Erased!
Nia: I know, right? But it’s good. My hope was always to not be the only person doing this. And I’m
still the only person doing what I’m doing in this particular way. But it’s good. It’s good that
podcasting is no longer just a straight white man’s game. Although I think… This is going to get a
little shit-talky so I might have to cut it. I think someone sent me a link to this thing that was for
women of color. It was a Shark Tank-type thing. Like, “Pitch your podcast idea, and if it’s good
enough we’ll fund it, and train you.” And I was like… “You don’t need anyone’s permission to tell your
story, or make your own media. Don’t let someone else tell if your idea is good enough or not. Just get
out there and do it.” Which, maybe in some ways, is kind of a privileged attitude, because it does take a
lot of time and resources to be able to produce a podcast, even if it’s a very basic one. But coming from
zines, and coming from sort of a punk background, I was just like, “You don’t need anyone’s
permission to do this. Hot take: Your ideas are good.” [both laugh] “And you should just run with them,
if you can.” But I think it was also, I felt like it was coming from this attitude of “We need to diversify
podcasts.” And it’s like, “Why don’t you just listen to the people that are already speaking? Or
highlight the work of people that aren’t getting attention?” I feel like usually when people are trying to
diversify whatever they’re trying to diversify, there’s already people out there doing the work. They’re
just not getting the same attention.

Luna: Exactly, yeah. I think that’s really obvious when you share that example of looking up queer
and trans artists of color and podcasts, and then you being erased. I think that says a lot about how there
are always these histories and archives of work that has existed. And it’s not that it hasn’t been done,
but it’s that people don’t know how to get it, or know where to find it, and it gets lost in the number of
other projects that are similar to yours. I think you have… It’s great because I think that a way you’ve
been able to reach a wider audience is through your books, and then you continue doing the podcast as
a way to stay grounded to what’s actually going on. You could easily just stop the podcast and
continue making books with the interviews you have, but there’s clearly a drive for you to continue
doing these interviews with artists, who may not have these opportunities elsewhere.

That being said, I am interested in your selection process. I know you just touched upon diversity.
How have you incorporated diversity? We can say artists of color, but that means so many different
things to different people. How have you personally crafted We Want the Airwaves around diversity,
and in contacting the artists you reach out to, and book for interviews?

Nia: I started with people who I knew. And one of the limitations of that, particularly because I went to
a women’s college, is that who I knew was a lot of queer cis women and trans men. Because at the
time, that’s who was admitted to Mills. Their policies have changed, I believe, to become more
inclusive of trans women. But when I was there, that was not the case. So I graduated with this
community of folks who that were mostly… Can you still say AFAB? [both laugh] Assigned female at
birth?

Luna: You can try.

Nia: Oh god. I’m cancelled. [both laugh] So, you know, you start with who you know. And when I
look back at the first book, I feel like it’s majority men, and majority Black and Latino.There’s not a lot
of Asian folks, or Middle Eastern, or Indigenous folks in the first book. So that’s something that I’ve
been trying to balance out with the second and third book by making them less dude-heavy and less
exclusively Black and Latino.
So yeah, I started with who I knew, and then looked at who was missing. That’s still what I’m doing,
for the most part, is always trying to figure out which voices are missing. Even though I don’t just stick
to who I know, that I’ve worked to build relationships with communities of artists over the years. I try
really hard not to just, when I realize there’s a dearth of something, or some type of person in the
podcast, to parachute in and be like, “I wanna interview you,” and then parachute out, but to actually
build relationships over an extended period of time, and to maintain those relationships after the
podcast. After the episode is out. I’m definitely still limited to some extent by who I know. I definitely
know more Black, Latinx, and Asian artists in the Bay, than I do Indigenous or Middle Eastern artists.
So I can go to my friends who are part of those communities, and say like, “Who should I talk to?” But
that only takes you so far if you don’t really have meaningful relationships with multiple artists in the
community.

Luna: Excellent. And as with any QTPOC project, there’s bound to be call outs. I would love [laughs]
if you went into a call out that was actually really helpful for you. Something that grew your artistic
practice.

Nia: Yeah. With the first book… When I started out doing the first book, I wasn’t paying the artists.
And Kortney Ryan Ziegler was like “What the fuck?” [laughs] And that was a legitimate question. It
wasn’t in public. It was private. It wasn’t like he was trying to tear me down or anything. After that I
crowdfunded money to pay the artists. (20:58)

TEXT MISSING

(21:13) I’m like, my logic isn’t worth defending, but I’m going to explain it anyway. My thinking was,
“So I don’t pay the interviewees, and being in the book is not necessarily”— This was my logic, this is
not necessarily true— “more work than being on the podcast. Therefore it would be weird to pay some
interviewees, but not others. But realistically, and particularly at that time, I was asking the… I mean,
there’s two things, right. I’m making money off the book, and if the money isn’t shared with the
artists, then what the fuck am I doing?

And then there’s also that being in the book is more work, because the artists have a chance to look at
the interviews and let me know if there’s anything they want me to cut, or if there’s anything I got
wrong. And when I did the first book, they had three opportunities to do that, which was a bad plan,
which is why I don’t do that anymore. But, of course, that’s work. That’s almost asking them to be a
co-editor. I mean, my co-editors did a lot, lot, lot more editing than what I just described. But it’s a
collaborative process, and of course all collaborators should be paid.

Luna: I’m curious what your next steps are. You’ve had this project. You’ve been putting these books
together. Is this something that you want to continue doing? Or do you have visions for your art
growing or changing over the next few years?

Nia: I don’t know. I have a lot of ideas. I’m leaving the Bay, so that’s going to change the podcast.
It’s going to become less Bay Area-centric. And I might go on hiatus for a little while. I’m not sure. I
think that I’m not. Who knows by the time this comes out what will happen? I’m moving to the East
Coast, so it’ll become more East Coast-oriented. I’d still love to talk to West Coast artists, but we’ll be
in different time zones, so it’ll be over Skype, so we’ll see how the audio quality and scheduling go. I
don’t know. I feel like part of what I love about doing this podcast is that I get to continue to learn and
grow, without being in school.
At the same time… It’s not that I feel limited by QTPOC as a category, or anything like that. But in the
beginning it was more narrowly focused on how to survive capitalism. And specifically, if you don’t
come from class privilege, if you’re not white, if you’re not straight, not male, how do you make a
living off your art? And recently… I feel like only very recently I’ve started to talk to American artists
that are making a living off their art. But for a long time, no one I talked to was making a living off
their art. And the ones I know who are doing it are just barely scraping by. And they will tell you that
very openly. I’m not putting anyone’s business in the street. It was interesting talking to… I’ve talked to
a bunch of Canadian artists, and I’ve talked to one artist from Australia, and there it seems like there
are a lot more opportunities to get government funding for creative practices. And also my
understanding—people can tell me if I’m wrong, but—my impression is that it’s easier to get
government assistance to live… in other countries. If you don’t have to work three jobs to keep your
apartment, then that gives you more time to make art.

Luna: I was curious about your art practices. Do you think that you would make a return to zines, or
start doing illustrative work again?

Nia: Those are both things I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I’ve definitely de-prioritized them to
focus on the podcast, and the books, which are projects that feel really important. But there’s this thing
of trying to find a balance between highlighting other people’s voices, and putting out my own work,
work that is about me. I don’t know. I definitely wish that I was drawing and writing more. But I also
feel like… There was a time, especially with zines… A lot of my early zines are about growing up
mixed. When I wrote them, that felt so urgent, and so at the forefront of my mind, and so important to
talk about. After I got a lot of that shit off of my chest, I think I went to a more reflective place. I’ve
written other zines since then which are not about identity, or not about being mixed, but… Sometimes I
have a lot to say, and sometimes I don’t. I think that I’ve been in a place, for a while, of trying to figure
out what I want to say. It’s not until I figure that out that I’ll probably return to making zines, and
drawing comics. But, you know. That is something that I hope to do in the future. I have definitely
ideas for my next zine percolating. It’s just a matter of finding the time to write it.

Luna: So you touched upon, a few times, how the magnitude of QTPOC art has expanded so much
over the past five years, and how you can actually get lost in the shuffle of things.

Nia: Yeah, that’s the answer to the question you asked me earlier. You asked me how it’s changed. It’s
gotten… More and more QTPOC artists are getting attention now. QTPOC art is less hard to find.
That’s a big difference than from when I started, I think.

Luna: So, given that, how do you… Given that there’s so many people that you could chose from to
listen to, to watch, to support, you personally, how do you chose artists to engage with? Whether it
comes to buying their content, or wanting to listen to a podcast. Do you have a place that you go to
where you look for new queer and trans artists of color that you don’t know?

Nia: That’s a good question. I used to go to a lot more performances, and I think the podcast used to
be a lot more performer interview-heavy. I have chronic pain, so I go out a lot less than I used to. I
think that led to an increase of me interviewing writers, because I can read their books in bed. [laughs]
I don’t have to go out. So... I’m sorry, what was the question? [laughs]

Luna: The question was, how do you personally find new queer and trans artists of color?

Nia: Yeah. I try to choose artists I like. [laughs] That’s where I start. Is the work good? Do I think it’s
good? I hear about it in all kinds of different ways. There’s this artist I interviewed, DJ YNG GMA,
who… You’ve been in my car, [Luna laughs] so you know that I listen to her tapes constantly.

Luna: Yes.

Nia: I think for a year that I was all I listened to, probably.

Luna: Verified fact, yes. [both laugh]

Nia: And they’re also kind of… Or they’re also kind of elusive. So when I finally got them on the
podcast, that was a big get for me. Not because they were super famous or well-known, but just
because I really like their work a lot, and I was really excited to talk to them about it. I feel like
listeners can tell when I’m really excited about someone, versus when I interview someone because
someone else told me “Oh, you should talk to this person.” I mean, I don’t want it to be obvious, but I
feel like when I have genuine admiration and respect for an artist, that comes across. I hope that comes
across.

Luna: You’ve been going to QTPOC art events in the Bay Area since you’ve been here, basically,
right? For about ten years? Can you describe the differences that you’ve seen? You said ancestry was
a topic that a lot of us deal with. Are there any sort of topics that you’ve seen emerge over those ten
years?

Nia: Well, it’s interesting. Just thinking about the books that I’ve done, I feel like call-out culture was
a big theme in the first book. That was written when Tumblr was real big. I feel like it’s re-emerging as
a topic, but being called “cancel culture,” which is exactly the same thing. [laughs]

Luna: I totally thought the same thing, too. I’m like, “OK, we’re reinventing the wheel, but that’s OK.
I guess we need four of them to run a car, so...”

Nia: I feel like there was a moment. I feel like in the second book we were not talking about that
nearly as much. But yeah, your question was about themes?

Luna: Yeah. What are trends you’ve seen over the past ten years? Like you said, call-out culture was a
moment we had, right? [Nia scoffs, then Luna and Nia laugh] What’s a current moment? Or, what’s
something very different from ten years ago that we don’t do anymore.

Nia: Language has changed a lot. Queer and trans language evolves super-fast, which you know. For
example, the way that that might impact a book… I feel like in the first book we were using trans with
an asterisk, [FACT-CHECK] which people don’t use anymore. And we were also using Latin at sign.
Sorry, I’m making it with my fingers, which listeners can’t hear. Whereas now people usually say
“Latinx.” I feel like it went from “Latino/a” to “Latin@” and now it’s “Latinx.” And who knows what
it’ll be next? [both laugh] So, yeah, queer and trans language is always evolving. The terminology
changes very fast. It’s a little terrifying, but also kind of exciting, to think of how dated the book will
be by the time it even gets published.

I was influenced by this book called Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives, which was a book from
the 70s of interviews with just gay people, not necessarily artists. Just gays and lesbians. It was very
white. There were only a few people of color in it. And so, I was like, “I want to do this, but…
different.”

My point is that, you have to accept, when you’re trying to capture a moment, or when you do anything
that will become dated, which everything becomes dated, that you’ll be seen as regressive by future
generations. No matter how fucking radical you think you are right now. People coming up today are
going to look at you and read your work and cringe. And you have to be OK with that. Just because
something isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean it can’t be used doesn’t mean it can’t be used a building block for
something better.

Luna: I’m curious, because we have emerging language that comes out of our communities. Where do
you find people who are beginning this language? You noted there was this shift, or change. Over time,
have you been tapped into how it evolves? Do we collectively make a decision? Do we have someone
who writes a foundational text for it, and that’s how it happens? I’m really curious what are the roots
you’ve seen of queer and trans evolution?

Nia: I think a lot of it happens on the internet. And I think I’m getting to the age where I’m finding out
about it later. This is really embarrassing, but when I first saw the term “non-Black people of color” I
was like, “NBPOC? Like, what the fuck? [laughs] What are you talking about? Why are you
separating out Black people from other people of color? What function does that serve?” And now I
understand that… For example, in the Bay Area, you can go to a “POC” space and see no Black people
there. And that’s why this term exists. Because, on the East Coast, people might say POC and just
mean Black. Or they might just say Black, which is fine. You should call things what they are. But if
you find yourself in a POC space where there are no Black people, then it’s useful to call that term a
non-Black POC space, even if it’s not intended to be that. If it’s de facto that, again, just call it what it
is. But yeah, I’m not longer at the cutting edge of language change. I’m finding out about it later, and
mostly through the internet, for sure.

Luna: You’ve interviewed a lot of folks for We Want the Airwaves, and your content there is pretty
rich. You cover anything from scandalous sex in public, to… Actually a lot of the sexual things are
coming up. [Nia laughs] Writing for Playboy, or—

Nia: That’s funny, because I think sex is actually not a big theme for the podcast. I feel like it’s
generally pretty PG. I’d say it’s very PG, for the most part. Especially for a queer podcast. [laughs]

Luna: Yes.

Nia: But there’s so much more to queer life than sex.

Luna: Absolutely. What are some of those things [both laugh] that come up in queer life, more than
sex?
Nia: Survival is definitely a huge theme. The material conditions of survival, in particular because
the podcast started with an economic focus. I’ve been really surprised by how much people are willing
and seem comfortable disclosing to me, as someone that they don’t know. I try really hard not to open
people’s wounds, or poke at them. And not to be voyeuristic or exploitative in the way that I interview
people. And so I’m always surprised when they just come out and tell me about, you know, having
been homeless, or having done sex work for survival, or having survived cancer, because I’m never
been like, “Tell me about the most painful shit that’s ever happened to you.” But people seem
comfortable telling me, and that’s really cool, and makes me feel like I’m doing something right. But
also feels like a tremendous responsibility. I don’t know how comfortable you feel [Luna laughs]
having this on the record, but I interviewed you about your first book, and in that book you talk about
doing sex work as a minor. I feel like I came to you, and was like, “Are you OK with having this on the
record?” Because once it’s out there, you can’t take it back. Also you were really young [laughs] when
I interviewed you.

So, just also always wanting to make sure that people understand the implications and potential
repercussions of what they’re saying. Because the more marginalized you are, the more you have to
worry about losing your job, or your housing, for speaking your truth. I want to create a space where
people can do that, but I can’t protect them from the world and the potential consequences of sharing
their reality of their lives.

Luna: I think that’s interesting because Sylvia Rivera, when she was interviewed by Martin Duberman
for this book called Stonewall, she also came out as having done sex work as a minor. And Janet Mock,
in Redefining Realness, also talked about being a sex worker as a minor. It’s an intense topic, but
also—

Nia: You’re in good company? [laughs]

Luna: Yeah! In good company. With the greats. And also these stories need to be told. Sometimes
they come easily because people feel comfortable. You are a safe person to talk to, and that’s why they
tell you these things. And I think that’s what makes your interviews so rich, that you actually have a
platform that holds people. You’re not there coming in with an angle, or trying to prove your point, or
get something you want out of them. Just listening to you talk, and your interview style, it’s very clear
that you’ve done your homework, and your research. That you care about the person’s art. And yeah,
your platform has given them the space to talk about things that they don’t get to talk about in such a
public way.

That being said; how is the public reaction to the podcast? People listening to these episodes. Do you
ever get feedback from them? Do they have any sort of involvement with it, like coming to shows, or
something?

Nia: It’s pretty rare, in part because there’s no comments section, that I get to hear back about the
episodes that I’ve created. It’s good, and it’s bad. It’s good because I don’t want to hear negative
feedback, [laughs] but it’s bad because I don’t get to hear positive feedback necessarily. But sometimes
on Twitter people will share it, and recommend it to their friends, which is always very heartening.
This one woman sent me an email that was really sweet, and really moving. She’s a Black lesbian
living in Missouri, who said “I don’t have queer community, but your podcast makes me feel like I do,”
basically. I’m paraphrasing, those were not her exact words.
Luna: Those are so sweet.

Nia: That was incredibly moving, because she was also a little bit older, and maybe the kind of person
that I would think would have a hard time following some of the stuff we talk about. But that didn’t
seem to be the case. I think zinefests are where I get the most face-to-face feedback from people, which
is cool, because that’s a medium that’s not about audio, it’s about print. Even when people just pick up
my book and say “I’ve heard of this,” that always feels good. But there have been a couple of people
that came up to me, Black women, in both of these cases, at Chicago Zinefest, and at LA Zinefest, who
said “You are the reason I came to this event.” And that was incredibly moving. It definitely meant a lot
to me.

Luna: Nia King has fans! [both laugh] I’m the biggest one, so I’m interviewing you. I won the role. I
auditioned. Just kidding.

Nia: You want to talk about your Lammy nomination? [both laugh]

Luna: Shush. Nope. Cut. Sliced. Please tell me about content that you wish to see. I know you’re
doing your work interviewing, but is there content that you desire from queer and trans artists?

Nia: That’s a really good question. Because I do try to not go in with an angle. And I feel like when I
have gone in with an angle, that’s when I’ve gotten the worst results. A famous gay writer I interviewed
was Lebanese, and I’m part Lebanese, but my grandfather who’s from Beirut passed before I was born,
so I feel like I didn’t really have access to much of the culture. When I interviewed him, I just really
wanted him to tell me about Lebanon, and about being Lebanese, and teach me how to be Lebanese.
[laughs] And he was like, “I thought we were going to talk about my work?” [both laugh] And I was
like, “Yeah, that’s legit.” But it wasn’t until afterwards when I listened to the interview, that I was like,
“Oh. This is not a good look for me. [both laugh]

What kind of content I would like to see? I feel like it’s less about looking for a particular type of
content, and more just about I want the podcast to be content-rich. I want the books in particular to be
content-rich. I feel like there’s a reason that not a lot of podcasts have become books, which is that the
medium is good for just shooting the shit with your friends. But that doesn’t necessarily make for
compelling content. It can, but…

I guess I want to talk a little bit about the difference between editing the podcast, and the books, if
that’s cool. With the podcast, what I’m cutting out is “umms” and “uhhhs” and weird throat-clearing
sounds. Or burps, [both laugh] which I’ve done several times over the course of this interview. And
then also anything that seems really gossipy or mean, or maybe tangents that don’t really go anywhere.
And I do that in the books sometimes too, but the book is really about… I just want it to be super tight,
and to not have any filler. So anything that doesn’t move the interview forward, or add new
information, gets cut. I’d like to think that’s why the books are really good, is because there’s no filler.
I mean, I’m obviously biased, but I only leave the stuff in that I think is really engaging.

Luna: Yes.

Nia: Whereas the podcast, we can just kind of meander and go on tangents, and it’s fine, because
people have a higher tolerance for that with the audio medium, I think. So, yeah. What kind of content
I’m looking for? I’m just really interested in what makes people tick. I think in the beginning it was
more about how they got where they were, and me trying to crack the code to success of making it as
an artist, and also the code to survival. And now it’s much less economically-focused. And it’s much
more about, just like… What is it about? I don’t know anymore.

It’s about what drives people, but also the relationship between creativity and politics, and making
work at the intersection of those things.

Luna: As an artist, what are the things that you want to create? If you had all the resources in the
world, what would be your dream project to do?

Nia: For a long time I would have answered that question by saying I would just keep doing what I’m
doing. I would love to be able to travel more, and interview people in different places. One of the
people I interviewed, who’s going to be in the next book. He’s a journalist named Kamal Al-Solaylee,
he wrote this book called Brown, where he traveled to ten different countries and talked to people about
what it means to be brown. Talked about what it means to be brown in a Black country in the case of
South Asians [Indians] in Trinidad. He talked to North Africans in France. He talked to Filipinos in
Hong Kong. He talked to South Asians [Sri Lankans] in Qatar. So, brown people in brown countries,
where they’re still not the local brown, brown people in Black countries, brown people in white
countries.

I’m super interested in race, and I would love to learn more about how it operates. How race exists, and
is thought of, and how racism operates differently in different countries, to better understand the
similarities and the differences. It also sounds really depressing, but I guess that’s where my interest
lies. I also grew up with a very US-centric understanding of race, and by not taking classes with an
international focus in college, I continue to maintain a very US-centric understanding of race. I would
like to know more about how race operates differently and similarly in other parts of the world.

Luna: So your dream project would be to—

Nia: To write the book that he already…? No. [both laugh] Yeah, just to travel, talk to more people, and
learn more stuff. [laughs]

Luna: So, would your version be “what is is like to be a queer and trans artist of color in the United
States?”

Nia: That’s a good question. Because that would allow me to look at themes… No. I mean, I’d like to
leave the US. I’d like to talk to people outside of the US to get a better understanding. And it would be
really cool to see, if I was to stick with interviewing QTPOC, what do QTPOC here have in common
with QTPOC elsewhere.

Luna: What about the Bay Area—

Nia: Is special?

Luna: Yes. What is special about the Bay Area?


Nia: Oakland in particular, one thing that’s really unique is it’s approximately a quarter white, a quarter
Black, a quarter Latinx, and a quarter Asian. And that makes it very unique. It used to be a lot more
Black. It used to be, I think, at least 50% in the 80s and 90s. [FACT CHECK] So what might, on paper,
look like increased diversity is actually the result of black outmigration and black people being evicted,
and pushed out of their homes, and out of the city and the county. So it’s not necessarily a good thing,
but there’s not a lot of places where you have so many different types of people living side by side. I
feel like Oakland really shows you what the world could be, if we were all working side by side, which
sounds very utopian. I’m going to miss it. I’m going to miss that a lot.

Luna: What other things are you going to miss about the Bay Area?

Nia: I’m going to miss you.

Luna: Aww.

Nia: I’m going to miss my friends. I’m going to miss my roommate. I’m going to miss my apartment,
my neighborhood. I’m going to miss the diversity. I’m going to miss living in a place that is politically
very far left, even if we have still problems. [laughs] And big ones. I’m going to miss the creative
community for sure. The reason I started this podcast in the Bay, and I felt for a long time, like I could
only do what I was doing in the Bay, because the combination of creativity, diversity, and politics that
exists here, where we have so many different types of people of color engaging in political creative
work, I feel like that’s really unique. Not that it doesn’t exist in other places, but I feel like New York
and LA already get enough attention.

Luna: What are the things that you’re excited to leave behind? [both laugh]

Nia: [deep inhale and exhale] [both laugh] My job. Retail in general. The service industry as a whole,
god-willing. How crowded it is. And the extreme wealth and extreme poverty that exist side by side,
and how violent that feels. I think the Bay Area has been ranked one of the top for income inequality,
and you can feel it, in a way that you didn’t five or ten years ago. Certainly the Bay Area has always
had homelessness, but we didn’t have tent cities under every overpass the way that we do in Oakland
now. And I’m not trying to say that homeless people are the problem, but homelessness, and the un-
affordability of housing, and gentrification are the problem. People think that we have really good rent
control here, and we don’t. [laughs] People are like, “Oh, tenants in the Bay are so empowered.” And
I’m like, “Then why are there so many people on the street? These things don’t add up.”

The reason the Bay breaks my heart is because I’m always comparing it to how it was ten year ago, or
five years ago. Not to other cities. And other cities I’ve visited definitely feel easier to live in. Like,
people only have one job. [laughs] And maybe they even like the job they have. You’ll see “for rent”
signs everywhere and “help wanted” signs everywhere. And you’re like, “Oh, this is a place where life
feels more possible.” So, yeah. I think what I’m not going to miss is just, how hard it is to live here.

Luna: How do you think being in Rhode Island is going to affect… I know it’s going to affect you in a
lot of ways, but I’m curious what your— With your new ground, how are you going to interview
artists? What job are you going to take up? What do you think your life is going to be like in this next
big step for you?
Nia: [laughs] I have no idea about what I’m looking forward to, and one thing that I talked about
earlier, is that feeling that life is possible, right? I don’t feel that here anymore. I mean, A, it’s just hard
to stay housed. In part because I have chronic pain, and my job is very hard on my body. And also
because I’m qualified to do so much more than I’m doing, but I can’t find a job in any field that is
relevant to my skills. I feel like in the Bay we talk a lot about how shitty the housing market is, but not
so much about the job market, and how terrible that is. I don’t know. I feel like my parents are ashamed
that I’m a cashier. [both laugh] They’re like, “You’re so smart. What are you doing at that job?” And a
lot of cashiers are smart. Sometimes one of the only things that brings me comfort, and makes it feel
like it’s not that I just don’t work hard enough that I don’t have a better job, is that I know lots of
people that are smarter than me, and work harder than me, and have shittier jobs than me. I feel like it’s
the Bay. I feel like there has to be more possibility other places.

So yeah, I’m looking forward to just having room to breathe and regroup, because I feel like I’m
carrying this unbearable amount of stress in my body all the time, as a result of how hard it is to live
here. And I feel like you need space and room to dream, [laughs] and think about what you really want
for your future, instead of just survive.

Luna: Mmhmm.

Nia: So those are things I’m looking forward to, in the big question mark that is my future.

Luna: Yay! [laughs]

Transcribed by Joyce Hatton

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