At a time so much in flux, who better to speak to us about the challenges we all face than trans musician Anhoni. Previously known as Antony Hegarty, this artist always used his/her experience of transgender identity to offer fresh perspectives on how we might all live together on this planet. Whether you call that political, social or spiritual barely matters. Now, with a new album environmental-themed album, s/he invites us to confront our own eco-hypocrisy.
Throughout this interview, which I’ve transcribed from Radio 4’s Loose Ends programme last week, Anhoni is breathlessly articulate, the words coming out so clearly articulated and so rapidly that it seems rehearsed. If so, I have no problem with that. S/he has powerful things to say, not just in the promotion of an album. I look forward to a book from this gentle messenger.
The last time you were on the programme I remember you saying that the world needs more female leaders, and as it happens we do seem to getting more. We’re going to have a new prime minister who’s going to be a woman, there may be a woman president in America, there are three women leaders in Scotland…is this the sort of thing you had in mind? Do you think it’s going to improve the world?
When I say we need more feminine governance its that we need a collective representation of femininity, which of course is a massive array of points of view. It’s not that any one female leader is going to burst the bubble, its more that if there more than 30% women at the table, the culture changes…what would it look like if we had 70% of women at the table? What kinds of untapped wisdom and unique perspectives, born of the specific experiences of womanhood might we capitalise upon, in order that a less heirarchical conversation can happen?
Do you think though, that in 50 or 100 years’ time in our queer/trans utopia that we’ll still be talking about these gender binaries? Will there still be such a thing as womanness or maleness?
Honestly I think in 50 or 100 yeas time we’re gonna be so preocupied with catastrophic environmental changes that I can’t imagine we’ll have much time to dally in identity politics. Right now is the time we have deal with this wall of impending and imprecendented events that are on the horizon…massive chunks of the biosphere are collapsing and the conversaton about identity politics is really important but its not the endgame. The reason to do it is because unrepresented voices might offer a new pearl of wisdom that might spark a new trajectory.
Hearing you sing, there seems to be this emotion there at the forefront. Would you say you’re upset or angry about these things?
I’m a singer so my currency is my emotion and intuition – that’s my medium in a way. And I’m a human being so i’m a feeling creature. But to me emotion, thinking, intuition, intellect – to me they’re much more intergrated process than they might generally be identified as.
You’ve called your album ‘Hopelessness’. Are you feeling hopeless?
Yes, I’ve felt a lot of that under the current state of affairs, but also I’m not alone in that. I think a lot of people are feeling very hopeless but it was on the basis of that that I’ve sought to address and excavate that emotional place.
Essentially what you’ve made is a protest album. Is there a record company executive in your mind saying ‘No, we want songs about love and loss and human emotion’?
To go back to your question about why I named the album ‘Hopelessness’, how are we going to take effective action when we’re not even allowed to acknowledge the place of despair that most people are sitting in today. I think there’s actually something quite productive about processing hopelessness in the same way that it’s productive to process grief and that if you process the feeling you reach a clearer vista to reach clearer decisions.
In fact, not processing hopelessness might be stilting us; I mean we all come from 2000 years of sky-God religions prophesising apocalypse as a climax to our experience here on earth. We were born into hopelessness. A lot of the mythology that’s at the root of our cultures looked forward to this day and has insidiously collaborated with neo-liberal capitalism to create a perfect storm of conditions, that will finally realise a transcendental apocalypse, so that we can all piss off to heaven, do you know what I mean?
I’m thinking of the potential of dreaming that we can move beyond those models of thinking, to concieve of entirely new ways of walking upon the earth. At this point we’ve got nothing to lose! Now every greengrocer knows…that the world as we know it is coming to an end, the question now is about what kind of radical thought we can engage that’s actually useful.
What’s happened to Antony and The Johnsons?
I feel like I’d exhausted this pastoral aesthetic and it was beginning to feel a bit toothless, to be honest, that’s why I reached for a harder, more euphoric, galvanising sound because I wanted to express the affairs of my heart very plainly, and to mark the time, and I didn’t really want to hide behind some gossamer curtain of ornamental violin twiddles. I just wanted it to be very direct.
Why the change of name?
“I’ve always talked about being transgender in the media, but I was beginning to feel it was time for me to take a feminine name just to honour my specific experience, and also because I’m getting older and I feel like I’ve got nothing to lose. It’s one thing to tell people that you’re transgender, but then why humour them with the idea that you’re comfortable with a male pronoun or a male name?
Was it difficult to make that transition because you’re known as Anthony with a male pronoun?
It’s like a tipping point. You get to a point where it’s like there’s no going back and you’re ready for the next thing. It’s developmental; you get to a point where its like: ‘This is who I am and this is how I want to move through the world today and you dont really care about the consequences.
In the song “4 Degrees” (about the projected rise of 4 degrees in the earth’s temperature) you take the guise of someone who says ‘Never mind’.
My intention with the record was not just an exercise in finger pointing but to start to examine my complicity in these virulent systems and to give voice not to my intention but to the reality of my footprint. It’s all very well for me to say I want the best for the world but flying here to do this concert, the narrative of the song was sublimated in the reality of my action, my behaviour.
I’ve become very interested in this giant disparity between my sense of myself and the reality of who I am. I feel like somehwere in that massive system of denial is the potential for change. Like, if I could learn to be honest about who I am so that I really understood the effect of my footprint and I could stop living in this delusional, half-sleeping state of virulence, all the while thinking I’m doing the best that I can and justifying myself…
It’s a given that I’m a hypocrite, in the same way that it’s a given that I’m a mysogenist, it’s a given that I’m a racist, it’s a given that I’m homophobic, do you what what I mean? All of those things are enmbedded in me, in many ways I think of my body as a microcosm of the brokenness of the world. It’s not like I’m immune. I’m a porous creature. I’m a part of this world and so the things that are wrong inside me are very likely a tiny photograph of the things that are wrong in the world.
The programme on which this is based can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07jwj19