Images by: Juliet Jacques

Text by: Ersin Sinay

Issue name: The Down & Out Issue

Juliet Jacques: An Interview


Juliet Jacques is a freelance journalist writing for The Guardian, Cineaste and many more. She is best known for her ‘A transgender journey’ in The Guardian where she talks very openly about her transition.

Juliet’s column caught my interest when I first read about her visit to a speech and language therapist (SLT) to ‘sound more like a woman’. As an SLT student myself, I was very interested to know about her experience so I started reading. When I was finished, the title 'No wonder many transsexual people end up in sex work' caught my eye, so I read that too, and ‘I’d always hated my facial hair’ and ‘Are you a bird or a bloke’. I smiled at “Yes, they are the gatekeepers of my physical transition”, laughed at “ I bought a banana without judgement from cashier or customers, and confidently got the bus home”, and agreed on “After all, Big Daddy coped well enough with being called Shirley, didn't he? Well, to a point, I suppose.” I followed her on twitter and the first tweet I saw was,  “Are there ways (besides the black market) of getting hormone prescriptions more quickly?”

I had to meet her.

She said “It’s better to meet me in person” and so I did, on a brilliant sunny day in Brighton. We had a 2-hours long conversation about literature, films, politics and football. This was my first interview and was way over my head already.  In her article ‘What not to ask a Transsexual’, she clearly stated that one shouldn’t ask about her genitalia, sexuality, mental health and why. On top of that, Juliet had a long-list of interests and was dropping the names of authors, directors, politicians, footballers that I had no clue about. Feeling ashamed, I just listened.

She mentioned the anxiety and depression she felt during her teens, before starting to write. “I enjoy journalism that has clear social aims. I didn’t want to be typecast, which is a risk when writing from a minority perspective, yet had a very deep seated need to write about gender reassignment and the issues around it. People have no access to information about transsexual people. I remember growing up and reading about them in Daily Mail - which did not help at all. I want to help change people’s thinking for the better using journalism and creative writing.” Online journalism has allowed Juliet to chat and talk to her followers and to discuss with people with different perspectives on the subject. However, she is not sure if she wants to continue working within the mainstream, with the compromises this entails, describing the subject with a wonderful exchange between New Order’s Bernard Sumner and the band’s manager, Rob Gretton:

Gretton: Do you want a yacht?

Sumner: Yes!

Gretton: Are you prepared to do what it takes to get that yacht?

Sumner: No!

Juliet studied history in Manchester University and when she decided to do “something more to do with literature and media”, she went on to do a masters on literature and visual culture in Sussex University. She has a published book on the British Author Rayner Heppenstall (Dalkey Archive Press, 2007) and has many future projects in mind – more journalism, short stories, possibly novels and screenplays.

Literature rules her world; “I get influenced by what I read and it affects the way I think”. We move to talk about modern France history, revolution and French writing: Rousseau, surrealism, existentialism and extremism. She is also interested in African literature, as well as the Russian avant-garde (particularly Vladimir Mayakovsky) and lists Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz as her favourite movie; “one of the few movies that are better than the book”. B.S.Johnson and Rayner Heppenstall are two of her favourite British authors from the 60’s and have significantly influenced her writing – she quotes B. S. Johnson’s list of those who ‘write as though it matters’ (including Samuel Beckett and Ann Quin) as a real inspiration.

Fearing sounding “too serious”, we talk about football. Juliet refers to football as a social circle for bringing different people together and “a liberating force”. A Norwich City supporter, she was the ‘second striker’ (“just behind the centre-forward”, she says) for the Brighton Bandits in the Gay Football Supporters’ Network national league for two seasons and won the Men’s Shield Award with the team at 2008 International Gay & Lesbian Football Association World Cup in London.  Seeing her enthusiasm when talking about her memories with the team and their success, one is inclined to sign-up for a football team immediately. “As fun as it is to watch the game as it’s played and follow the results, they’re the least interesting when you read about football”. She’s fascinated by the French in that sense, regarding their colonial history, the collusion of French and North African footballers and the relationship manifested through football. She is currently reading a book about Italian football, mentioning Silvio Berlusconi’s involvement with AC Milan and Mussolini’s role in Italy’s World Cup victories of 1934 and 1938 as reasons for her fascination.