A few months ago I stumbled across the comic genius of multidisciplinary artist, Gina Kamensky. After much internet stalking, some deeply flattering emails (from me to her) and one blissed out fan girl blog post, I was able to set up a date to chat with this extremely talented woman.
We met at a little English Pub in Boston not far from the ramshackle industrial area I work out of, Gina rode her bike and I had a friend drop me off. She said she would be the one watching the tennis match inside. Televisions blared from every corner of the room but still I spotted her instantly (she was the only patron in the bar). “Try this!” she said handing me a glass of what looked like champagne. “It’s Pabst Blue Ribbon with 7-Up”. I tried not to wrinkle my nose. I wanted to like what Gina liked. I took a sip. It was actually pretty tasty, and, it did in fact taste like cheap champagne. She ordered me one of these strange concoctions at the bar. “I don’t drink midday too much anymore” she explained. “So this is perfect.”
The television was too loud and I was having a difficult time concentrating on Gina’s words. I smiled sweetly at the bartender and asked her to turn it off. She looked at me incredulously and then complied. The cooks and dishwashers came out of the kitchen yelling and cursing in Spanish at the pretty young bartender. It was the World Cup.
Gina and I sat, chatting about our favorite artists, queer bands and performance spaces, smiling brightly at one another and scrawling notes and exchanging “must read and must see” books, movies and plays in a flirtatious fit of mutual admiration. “You’d be fun to draw,” Gina said.
I was flattered and flashed her a devious smile “I’m a character for sure.” I admitted.
Enter Stage Left: A group of eight seemingly unhappy German business men. It is clear they are here to watch the world cup, it is afterall Germany VS England.
The thing pale barmaid apologized to me multiple times “I have to turn it on… They came here to watch the World Cup.” I waved my hand dismissivly and told her it’s okay. We finished our PBR “cockails” and Gina had to run off to advise an art student. We smiled, hugged and agreed to meet up again next time I was in Boston.
Fast forward four months and Gina Kamensky is relaunching a brand new T-Gina website and sketching new comics. It seems T-Gina is in need of a makeover. Here’s what Gina Kamensky has to say about the resurrection of her hilarious comic T-Gina.
MF: T-Gina was a lot about the adventures of a young & single “Fabulous Transgender Gal On The Search For Validation and A Decent Cup of Coffee” It seems that seven years later you’ve found your validation and almost certainly that elusive cup of coffeee… Now that you’re living the monogamous lesbian with cats lifestyle and are no longer spinning a “transition” narrative, where will the T-Gina adventures go?
GK: Seven years later I’m still looking around with my character’s perspective, T-Gina is like me but a bit more amplified. It’s less focused on personal transition and more focused on issues of queerness and trans identity and how we’re represented in the world at large. I’m also very interested in how the internet works in reinforcing trans/queer identity and how an artist can play with some of the systems to get her ideas out there.
GK: I started things back up on a whim, just thinking it might be a nice break from my animation and sculpture work. In a very short span of time, community started popping up around the comic and this felt REALLY good. I forgot how nice it is to adding something to trans culture and get out of my stealth closet! I’m committing to updates three times a week, interviews and articles on trans/queer comics on the blog and will continue to build community around T-Gina. Also, plans for a book to be released next year with my friend Jean Stine. I plan to get back on the convention circuit and hope to be at APE ( Alternative Press Expo ) next year.
GK: This is in the works, there’s been some interesting shifts since I’ve last done the comic online and I’m very interested in new possibilities for delivering content.
GK: My present goal is to stick to a publishing schedule where I brainstorm ideas, draw the comic and then publish three times a week for the web . One difference from the old comics; T-Gina was originally created as a series of single page stories. I was releasing these in trans print publications, mostly zines and newsletters within the trans community. Around 2001 or so I changed direction and started publishing on the web and print. WIth the new comic, I’m delivering shorter bursts of content as a 3-4 panel strip on the web. I love the fast turn around time and the format keeps everything fresh. Longer stories will develop from this but I want this to happen intuitively and let things develop naturally.
MF: Can you tell us about the difficulties you’ve had getting your comics to women in prison?
GK: The process of sending a publication through the mail can be quite complex when the recipient happens to be a trans person languishing away in our prison system and the publication is a tg comic book. Whenever I receive a letter from someone in prison I’ll try my best to get the copies to her asap. The can be quite complex; send a letter with my publication name and address stating that I’m sending a complimentary copy. Wait for approval, send the actual copies. It can be months before I actually send the comics.
A few months ago I went through this glacial procedure with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice:
Sent pre-mailing letter, sent copies of comic, comic is denied due to explicit images, cut the offensive images out and mailed in a separate “secret” holiday card ( it was New Years ), sent comic with holes. After that I received a final denial letter and I’m not absolutely sure if she received the card.
I’m amazed that the gatekeepers in these prisons spend so much effort keeping a publication which for the most part has PG content out of someone’s hands and that we’re so hung up on sex and nakedness in the first place! In our society people assume that trans-content can only be pornographic. I’d be willing to bet that cisgendered publications such as Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues have no problem getting through the same system.
MF: You seemed to have made such a momentousness effort to get these women your comics, why do you think it’s important to get work like yours to women on “the inside”.
GK: It’s just something which I like to do, it helps me to feel relevant . It’s frustrating though when it doesn’t work out.
GK: Fave thing, I’m never ever bored. The biggest challenge is I tend to split my efforts between many different communities. It’s not always easy to integrate them all and so I spend so much time nurturing each little niche. I would not recommend this approach to an artist wishing to be a success in the marketplace! It’s better to focus on one thing, build an identity tied to that thing and milk it to death.
GK: Yes, I love the community around comic book artists. There are some fantastic people out there, especially gay and queer artists who have been very encouraging. Prisim Comics are a great group and I’m working on some secret projects with Justin Hall right now ( Glamazonia ). It’s wonderful to have the support of peers and a big thrill meeting other artists I admire and building relationships.
GK: This is a problem, there seems to be a big gap here. I have one or two collectors of my sculpture work who have expressed extreme distaste toward comics in any form. This is such a shame.
Much thanks to Gina Kamensky for the fantastic interview.
Here’s a great link to her blog post on the use of tag words that are often considered derogatory. I mention this because I have used many of the same terms “ladyboy, shemale, shemale action” etc. in a similar effort to trick people cruising for porn or dating sites to get a little cultural education.