TransEthics: Your band, Destroyed for Comfort, has a very unique sound. To those who have yet to experience it, how would you describe it?
Rani Baker: The music I perform is typically very sample-heavy, intentionally retro, low-fi, and abrasive, with heavily distorted vocals. The sound (especially live) has frequently been compared to Skinny Puppy, Alec Empire and Crystal Castles, but doesn’t really sound exclusively like any of those acts. Occasionally more melodic and/or experimentally structured work is composed, but I tend to take the stompier, more anthemic tracks live.
TE: How did you come up with your band’s name?
RB: I actually didn’t; the name was decided on by a former bandmate back in 2003. The phrase seemed so evocative that I’ve held onto it ever since.
TE: Has your transition been a factor in booking events at all?
RB: I think relocating cross-country honestly had more effect on slowing down my booking schedule than my transition, although it did have an effect. When I went down to Texas to visit back in October, I managed to book performances at two of my favorite venues in a week, which was exciting and exhausting. I think if I was still in Texas I would have more steady performances, but only because even now I still have a phone full of booking agents, venues, and other bands. I’m kinda old now and reluctant to go out every night and network like I would/should to get the contacts and face-time it takes for venues out here to take one seriously as a regular performer.
On the other hand, I can recall a few booking agents for major events that seem to have taken me and my project less seriously due to transition. Which is a shame, five years or so was probably the peak for this project as a live act as far as the tier of bands I was considered ready to open for (My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Otto Von Schirach, cEvin Key, Martin Rev, Vince Clarke, etc). I’m not gonna say that era is over, but I’m still working out what sort of trajectory I would need to take this project to get back there.
TE: You’ve recently written an article about transitioning on while on MedicAid. Do you suspect that this will become irrelevant under the new Administration given their general stand on Trans Rights?
RB: We’re gonna have to see, unfortunately. Here in Oregon, the Oregon Health Plan dictates what Medicaid will and will not cover and it predates the Affordable Care Act. So there’s nothing that can be done on a federal level to take away Oregon’s coverage of transition medical care and surgery. However, on a federal level they can reduce the amount of Medicare allotments, which would reduce the amount of surgeries they can afford to approve. They can absolutely nuke possibilities of other states without state-level protections from covering it tho.
Also, transition can be considered a “pre-existing condition” which could nullify one’s ability to even get insurance post-Affordable Care Act. But on the other hand, they can’t literally throw you off your insurance, so if you are on Medicaid maybe step up your game and see what you have access to while you still can. Some folks, depending on when they register, could potentially hold onto their benefits as late as January 2018. Mine runs out in July tho. Thankfully I got most of my stuff taken care of, but no idea what I’m doing for insurance next. Freelance writing doesn’t come with a benefit plan.
TE: What publications other than TransAdvocate have you written for?
RB: Right now I have a regular gig writing for Grunge and Looper, but I have pitches floating around all over the place. Had a piece recently published at Fry Havoc, which is a site created by the former owner of Harlot Media (who I also used to regularly write for last year). I was also published in an actual physical book by research publisher ABL-CLIO, and am on contract to be published in one this year as well. Waiting to hear back from some other places.
TE: Shifting gears a bit, I’ve followed your Twitter feed for quite some time and have seen you targeted by trolls from several different groups. While you seem to disarm many with sarcasm and grace, how do you manage the abuse that trolls fling your way?
RB: It’s a matter of knowing when to turn down the volume. You have to respond in a way that reverses their intent; reveals that ultimately they are the ones with a burr up their ass and their tactics are a projection of their own insecurity, not yours. If you just acknowledge that they are being hurtful for no reason, or react in a way that betrays your pain, they consider that a victory. They have cultivated an environment where believing in or caring about things is seen as a failure. When you make the things they care about sound stupid, then they have no recourse but to retreat lest they be seen as caring about things. It’s all ugly and sad and I honestly wish I wasn’t good at it.
I feel like participating in that sort of dialog, even seemingly coming out on top with a perfectly barbed retort or whatever, ultimately nurtures an ugly side of me that I’d rather not have. Verbal abuse from adults was really common in my childhood, humiliation and shaming tactics to tear me and my brother down. Make things we cared about sound trite and worthless. I don’t like that I learned to pick that weapon up myself.
I don’t like being angry, I don’t like tearing other people down. One of the goals I had with transition was leaving behind what a miserable person I used to be. Just reinventing those sort of behaviors as some sort of sardonic clever “counter-trolling” technique is not a victory to me ultimately.
TE: Since the Election, a lot of trans people have mentioned considering detransition, or have decided not to come out at all. What advice would you give to trans people in these dark and uncertain times?
RB: I detransitioned during the Bush years out of a lack of support network and concerns of political climate and it was the worst mistake I ever made in my life. I became so bitter about the whole thing I developed an alcohol habit that still plagues me today. I would say to look at things holistically. What do you hope to learn about yourself from going back into the closet, and what will you use that safety barrier you will gain from transphobic politics for to help those of us that can’t or won’t go back?
TE: Do you think people active in the LGB community will use Trans Rights as a bargaining chip like they have in the past?
RB: I can’t imagine what they will think they will gain. The Religious Right has changed the dialog to where it’s all about “Religious Freedom” to discriminate so there’s nothing really to bargain for anymore. Like, “ok you can have bathroom bills but you still have to bake gay wedding cakes” isn’t exactly gonna be a compelling counter-argument. We’re in an all-or-nothing situation here.
TE: One more question: If you could address Congress on the anti-trans legislations that have popped up in various States, what would you say to them?
RB: I mean, I’m not sure this is what I would say to Congress but I’ve seen a disconcerting amount of right-wing politicians and pundits (including the office of Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick) attempting to “reassure” trans folks that despite these bills they should be fine using the restrooms they always have. “It’s ok, go ahead and break the law if you think you can get away with it” is terrible advice, and casts doubt on why the law should exist in the first place. I wouldn’t be surprised if in some places, like Texas, bathroom bills (and the “this isn’t an attack on the LGBT community, just perverts” argument) could be the canary in the coal mine for the return of Sodomy Laws, which have only been off the books for less than 15 years.
I mean, I was 25 or so when the Texas Sodomy Laws were struck down, and they defined a lot of my formative sexual experience. Even though very few people were actually arrested for them, they were used as justification to marginalize LGBT folks because they were considered a “criminal element” on some level. Bathroom bills will do the same, cast all trans folks as potential criminals, which will lead to the dismantling of our rights, public accommodations and ability to exist safely.
TE: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.