This interview was conducted on the 17th of September, 2020.
On a sunny Thursday afternoon, Feathers Wise appears on my screen for our interview.
I met her at the Poetry Brothel in Brooklyn earlier this year, a time that now, in the wake of Covid-19, feels like a strange, alternate reality of boundless freedom. I remember standing on the balcony with Feathers, feeling the waves of her warm, fae-esque compassion and energy, and immersing myself in the troves of her wisdom.
When I ask Feathers how she is doing, she says, “My brother is doing pretty well and so am I,” she pauses, smiles, then frowns and says, “What kind of demon am I that I’m thriving in this hellscape?”
Otherworldly, powerful, and always perceptive, Feathers Wise is a transgender singer-songwriter. Hailing from California, she has found and made her home in Brooklyn.
Feathers demonstrated talent at an early age. “I started writing music very young. It felt natural. I took piano lessons early on, and wrote hundreds of songs growing up,” she says.
She has released two alluring, painfully political, and viscerally raw albums: “Let the Chaos Feed My Evolution” and “I am not Afraid.” Her latest single and music video, “Your Love is Giving Me Life,” has a futuristic, energy-cannibalistic vibes.
“I wanted to take a combination approach and meld science fiction and fantasy. I was influenced by David Bowie and Alison Goldfrapp’s “Alive,” she says, her green eyeshadow sparkling.
“I’ve been in sex work for a long time, and I do feel like there is an energy exchange that happens. Ideally, it is feeding both people but when it doesn’t, it trips into horror. I think that it is fun to talk about in terms of science fiction and in terms of draining toxic masculinity — specifically targeting these archetypes that traumatized us as queer people in our youth. Things like Letterman and Jock dudes. We wanted to take that ideal/aesthetic and satirize it.”
I say to Feathers, “I’ve noticed that much of your music has a defiant and electric element to it. There is definitely an anger to her music but an evolutionary kind — it feels like music for internal empowerment as well as a new political birth.”
“That song is really a kind of rage…it was almost like a magic spell I was casting in my head. I wanted to say something about how I felt about the current moment. I was feeling all this rage about the world, this zeitgeist bullshit bubbling up in me.
As trans women, we put estrogen pills underneath our tongue and let them dissolve. I suppose it’s a summation of femme torture, which we all do to ourselves at various levels.
Everything I’m doing to look a certain way is really painful. It ties into transition too because there is a body-hacking trans-humanism element to transitioning into whatever you want to be. I’m trying to talk about this in a way that doesn’t bring in tropes of male to female or stereotypes of trans women and detach myself from the binary language system.
The second verse of the song is about the world — ‘I see the sharks circling the boats. I see the rats are coming’ — is a cathartic swarm. I feel like we are watching the old world burn down.”
Her words feel particularly relevant right now, considering Black Lives Matter and the pandemic. We talk about upheaval and the terror we’ve been facing lately, and the current divisiveness of human consciousness in this country.
“I think recognizing sameness in the people around us is a critical life skill. I don’t want to talk too much shit about small town America because I love it. However, you could say that the urban-rural divide is based on different ways of seeing reality. It’s not the difference itself, it’s our inability to face each other’s differences and some people’s individual inability to believe in growth and change. These factors are all contributing to the culture wars.”
We begin talking about racism and transphobia and Feathers grows emotional.
“Trans panic is when people get involved with us, then later claim to not know we are trans, go to court and use the gay panic defense. “Call Her Ganda” is a documentary about a killing in the Philippines. An American officer was convicted over there and recently pardoned to please Trump.
Trans people are frequently rejected by their families, which conflates all these issues. Everything I talk about is doubled for trans women of color. Being a person of color negatively impacts how much money they make as sex workers. Trans women of color are the most endangered community in the country. Walking the streets with a Black trans woman is eye opening. They are harassed all the time.
Practically every week this summer, a new POC trans woman is killed. It is important to protect them.
One way to do this is to cover gender-affirming surgeries and treatments. It is life-changing for us in terms of lessening our day-to-day physical experience of dysphoria. It needs to be recognized as a medical connection as not just dismissed as an aesthetic thing.
Think about when you catch an ugly glance on a reflective surface. It lasts momentarily but being trans is feeling that way all the time. It’s a crippling, existential, physical nausea.”
In every conversation I’ve had lately, the election looms, this one stranger, with inconceivably higher stakes. This conversation is no exception.
“There is a claiming of the land and people taking place here and not only is it not a legitimate claim, it’s a highly individualistic strain,” says Feathers.
“Yeah, I’ve noticed that. The weird aspect of individualism is that it asserts the right to freedom but also invalidates the freedom and needs of others. It’s ultimately illusory — we cannot escape the fact that we are linked and our actions do impact one another as a society. This is such a strange moment for us collectively. A detached but simultaneously painful one,” I say.
“It feels like the eye of the storm,” says Feathers.
“Terrifying stillness,” I say.
Luckily, Feathers keeps her blend of astute observation and wit coming.
“I am hopeful that we will turn around some kind of corner and some kind of earthy point of view shift. Planet gets hit with the empathy gun in the movie version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Scenario of my dreams.”
I tell her it’s my dream too. I wonder aloud why we talk about empathy so frequently and yet are unable to muster it. It occurs to us both of us that change requires a crisis.
“I actually feel like the crisis points in my life have actually been some of the strongest and beautiful times of growth,” says Feathers.
“I went through a divorce a few years ago. I ran away from my ex-husband and into the welcoming arms of Brooklyn and that was one of the best things that happened to me. Coming from a lot of other rural places, I felt like the diversity was one of the most awesome things about it. It was magical. It seemed like home,” she says.
We talk about our shared love of Brooklyn and reminisce about the Poetry Brothel. Feathers mentions she was at a poetry camp in the Catskills with the poetry brothel crowd. As a keen writer of poetry herself, Feathers is deeply attuned to the craft — unsurprisingly, our talk turns spiritual.
“I have a brother who will dream entire days and wake up and realize he was dreaming. He is very intellectual and skeptical but then he will have these dreams where he sees his entire life in a spectrum of the time scale.”
I say, “At the risk of mentioning quantum physics too many times, I think they’ve proven that reality is a concept. If so, what is to say that dreaming is any less real?”
“Yeah. That was a revelation for me via quantum physics, this idea that past, present and future exist simultaneously.”
“There is no linear time.”
Feathers begins to talk about Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, particularly the comic “Promethea.”
“Promethea” is the story of a poet woman who transforms into a magical goddess by writing poems about her. The book posits that if you have an experience of the divine, it doesn’t matter if it is real or not because the effect it has on you is real.”
I begin thinking about spirit guides and our interior lives. I ask Feathers what David Bowie means to her. I can feel the magnitude of her reverence and joy upon his mention.
“David Bowie is my father. Bowie and Prince were the first people I saw challenging gender. And Grace Jones.”
Feather mentions that Bowie means so much to her that she has viscerally felt his presence from time to time. Conversing in the terrifying stillness, we have somehow begun speaking about the divine. This, to me, feels like a spontaneous confirmation of our collective oneness. I think of Rilke’s iconic words and say to Feathers, “It’s the beauty and the terror.”
Feathers laughs. I move through the day, emergent from the sleep of my self into our collective consciousness.
This interview is in our current Lil Wayne 420 print edition. Buy here!