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Episode six of 'TEA: The Transgender Experience in Arkansas' featuring Angel Renee

Sophia Nourani

Taylor Johnson: "So your pronouns are she/her. And you were born December 5th, 2001, in Rogers, Arkansas."

Angel Renee: "Yes I was."

Johnson: "How was growing up in Rogers?"

Renee: "It was okay. At first, thankfully, I grew up pretty privileged in a money sense. But growing up to become a queer individual, that definitely made it a little more tricky. It's a southern town. So of course, we can't expect anything less. But besides that, it was pretty good."

Johnson: "How old were you when you first realized that you were trans?

Renee: "Honestly, it was really recent, compared to, like friends of mine, who came out pretty young. I happened to come out February of last year. And overall, it's still a scary experience. I have strict religious parents. So, it made it a difficult situation overall. When it comes to friends and my community, thankfully it's been a lot easier. Out of high school out of school, which, you know, school can be treacherous when it comes to queer people. But now I have a community that actually accepts me. And so when I told them it wasn't a bit coming out moment. It was just like hey, I'm a woman and they were like, ok great!"

Johnson: "You are a professional trans drag queen artist. You have one C4’s Next Top Entertainer. You've appeared in Northwest Arkansas Fashion Week, and you've appeared at Crystal Bridges in their ‘Fashioning America’ exhibit. Do you want to talk about those experiences?"

Renee: "So doing drag, it can be very competitive, especially in smaller areas, because there's just not as many opportunities. And so you have to do competitions like these. And at the time, I was doing C4’s Next Top Entertainer, I was in two other competitions as well, both in Little Rock. And it was very scary. It was very tight on timing. But I managed to snatch one crown, at least. And that has launched my drag career, thankfully, and I've gotten to do plenty of opportunities because of it, including performing with RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni like Detox, or Dragula, they’re alumni as well. And I've gotten to meet a lot of people. I've gotten to perform out of state now, which is very exciting. But Fashion Week, that was a big thing. Coming out as trans and not feeling like I may have a place in fashion and modeling was a scary road to start on. But I've gotten to do it for three seasons now. And then the Crystal Bridges exhibit -- it was a big moment for me because I knew that I had a spot at the table and I was able to sit there and be welcomed. It was in the same exhibit as a gown Rihanna wore at the Met, and Beyonce’s clothing in Destiny's Child, like I was in the same exhibit."

Johnson: "Do you notice any differences between the Fayetteville queer community and the Little Rock queer community or other pockets of the state or other states?

Renee: "I think as a whole, Arkansas queer people, we're all on the same base, if that makes sense. We're all going through the same things, the same trials and laws and bills trying to be passed. And on that account, we're all kind of the same. I find that as communities start to form, and we all start to become friends, there are differences, of course. But honestly, it’s really nice to know that we're all one unit trying to fight for equality. Together."

Johnson: "Do you mind sharing with us your sexual orientation?

Renee: "Now, that's a tricky question, because I don't necessarily know where I stand. My friends would like to say that I'm straight since I'm a woman now. But honestly, it's more of a pan[sexual] feeling because I don't push anyone out. But I also am not looking. So, it's like whatever comes will come."

Johnson: "Were there any aspects of the dating scene that surprised you, after you've come into your trans identity, that you kind of didn't foresee before?"

Renee: "The dating scene is a little tricky of a situation because at first, I didn't think that many people would be interested and would be confused and weirded out since this is such a small area. I found out that unfortunately, it's the opposite, but not in a good way. I have learned that a lot of people can fetishize trans people and see us as just objects for pleasure rather than an actual human being. And so even though I am being wanted, it's not in a genuine, heartfelt way. It's in a sexual gross way that I don't want to be a part of. And that's kind of a big reason why I'm not necessarily looking for anything, just because in the moments I've tried, I've just been dealt with that. So -- with that being said, it's, it's not the greatest, but also I'm not necessarily needing that. So honestly, I'm just kinda, I'm just kind of chilling at the moment."

Johnson: "Are you or have you received gender affirming medical treatment? Would you be willing to talk about that?

Renee: "Yeah. Unfortunately, I have not gotten the chance to yet. My day job, they give actual [medical] care to trans people, and they'll pay for my hormones. And they'll pay for those things. I just have to get on that. So hopefully, within the next month or two, I'm going to be starting that medical journey, which is going to be quite interesting."

Johnson: "Right now, and for the past couple of years, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding drag queens or just drag performers in general, especially when it comes to the youth. Have you participated in any kind of children's drag story hour or storybook readings? And if you have, what was that experience like and what does that mean to you? And what does that mean to the youth that go to these events?"

Renee: "Personally, I have never done a story hour, I've never gotten the opportunity, but also my drag isn't necessarily for children. But for me, when it comes to this whole situation that we've been dealt, I find that drag as a whole is something that I wish I truly had when I was young. When I was that age, I wish I was being taken to drag shows to show that I wasn't alone. We are not trying to change your children, we're not trying to convert them, we don't have an agenda. What we are doing is trying to give them a space so if they turn out to be gay, or trans or just queer in general, they have the ability to create a community and to have one faster than we did growing up. That is where my mind is thinking about drag story hour. Yes, I personally am not one to want to do that. I think it’s so important because the kids who are getting to see there's drag and see there is a community that they can belong to one day, that's important, so we don't have to fight as much as the older generations, or even us now."

Johnson: "As a trans woman and open drag queen artist, have you been confronted by transphobic individuals? How do you manage that?"

Renee: "Thankfully, I have actually never had a true transphobic attack. Thankfully, like I'm so thankful that that has never been my story. Of course, there's been the looks, the stares, and, and just kind of the internal struggle of trying to fit into the cis world."

Johnson: "We've seen more and more Arkansans come out as trans, especially youth and teens. Do you have any comments about that?"

Renee: "Yes, because politicians love to say, well, it's a fad. It's something that's just popular right now. And that's why everyone's coming out. And that's why we shouldn't treat it with respect and actual care. What I've come to see is that more people are coming out as trans because they have a safe place to do it. We've always been here. We've always been here."

Johnson: "Why do you think the civil and cultural rights of trans youth teens and adults in Arkansas are just being relentlessly assaulted by right wing Conservative Christian politicians?"

Renee: "I feel like we're the scapegoat, if you will. There's a lot of problems in politics too, not to get too political. But there are so many issues in our government and in politics in general. And instead of taking accountability, and getting the problems that we have solved, they're going to turn everyone's eye to a group of people that are just trying to live. So they don't have to worry about people actually seeing the real problem."

Johnson: "Are you aware of trans folk evacuating Arkansas, in order to avoid things like that? Basically, the state's growing transphobic culture. Have you ever considered leaving and going somewhere else?"

Renee: "Yeah, I thought about it. I've heard multiple conversations of us thinking like what should we do here? Should we stay, should we go? I like it here, I really do. I love this area, and it would hurt to have to leave, not by my own choice, but by the government making this just a not safe place to live in general. And so I can imagine the amount of people who are trying to leave, who did leave. Because it's not safe anymore, unfortunately."

Johnson: "What would you like listeners to know about your trans experience in Arkansas?"

Renee: "I would say that we're just human, we just want to live. And we wouldn't choose this life. We wouldn't pick this life if we didn't have to. And that is just needed to know."

TEA: The Transgender Experience in Arkansas is directed by Emerson Alexander, co-hosted by Taylor Johnson, edited by Sophia Nourani, and produced by Jacqueline Froelich. To watch our episodes visit TEA on Listening Lab.

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Emerson Alexander is the coordinator of KUAF's Listening Lab.
Jacqueline Froelich is an investigative reporter and news producer for Ozarks at Large.
Sophia Nourani is a KUAF producer and reporter.
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