Jackson Stoner: Transvestia, Judaism, and the Bay
Interview with Jackson Stoner
Jackson Stoner is a leading youth advocate, transgender/nonbinary activist, committed feminist, and all around social justice promoter in the Bay Area. Ze also runs a revival of the 1960s underground zine, Transvestia. Using both ze/hir/hirs pronouns, as well as he/him/his pronouns, ze is happy to share with you why ze uses neo-pronouns and gives an option of two pronouns for folks to use. Jackson is trans, queer, and Jewish. We spoke with hir about his work in the Bay Area, Jewishness, and using art to communicate with the LGBTQIA teen community. You can learn more about him on his site: and check out his revival of Transvestia.
Tell me about your background–what are a few things you want readers to know about you, who you are, where you come from, and what you do?
Jackson: I am from Berkeley, so I’m a Bay Native. I am Jewish by blood, but was raised secular and slightly Catholic. My neighbors were Jews from Israel and had a big part in my Jewish identity. I am an artist in painting with gouache and printmaking, reductive prints, and Zines! And pocket zines as well. I do presentations in classroom environments to staff and students around marginalized populations.
How did you decide to start Transvestia?
When researching trans historical figures for Trans Day of Remembrance with Jane Davis (JCCSF) last year, I came across Virginia Prince, the original creator of the Transvestia Zine, from 1960 to 1980. Despite there being some issues with it, the core idea was really good–it was reader/submission-based, and provided info for a lot of people, with a variety of representation.
I wanted to keep most of the magazine as a template, and really bring the vintage part to life. I wanted to take the skeleton and refresh it and recreate it to be even more inclusive, and more trans-centered.
What does art mean to you? Is it a medium for life, part of life, or a broader message?
Art to me is a little bit of everything. Transvestia is used more as a tool to get information out there, as a statement, whereas personal art for me is about representing many different bodies and increasing different kinds of representation. My personal art is an extension of the self, being created for oneself, so the message depends on what is being made, who is making it, and why–that’s what defines it. You can have doodles or a historic figure, you can make it a call to action.
In terms of influence, I don’t have a lot of really formal ones. But Andy Warhol is a definite influence, just in connecting with a pop art style, especially when it comes to prints. He did a lot of graphic pop art. I’m also inspired by tattoo artists in general, and the tattoo nouveau style. Also art nouveau. Just the bold lines and engraving style, and all the segmented colors. The movement as a whole is an influence rather than any one artist. Jewish influences in tattoo art itself is another. Of course my partner and their whole family are artists, which is another, more personal influence on my style.
How can community experiences bring marginalized people together?
In so many ways–an infinite amount of ways! Making art with a partner, sharing styles, bonding visually, all that. But also just having support working on a shared piece, or even in a shared workspace, can build community. Especially when the workspace is made for certain people, like queer art spaces, finding safe spaces to make things becomes an experience on its own.
There is a sense of community internally when people are making art around you; you have something in common beyond identity, but including your identity.
Art definitely builds community. Some experiences are more mechanical, but overall, being able to share something physical or visual is huge in bringing people together. It’s like eating dinner together. Making dinner and sitting down, the idea of sharing a meal, it bonds people. Sharing art is the same. It’s sharing a creation, and an interpretation, and a discussion.
What message(s) do you have for marginalized teens–especially those struggling with gender identity?
All my advice comes from my experience, so I have to recognize that there is a bias there. But for me, I had issues in high school with bullying, harassment, etc., and finally I got fed up. More trans people are coming up and coming out and that bullying is not okay. What spurred me to action was this thought that OK, I can handle it, but other people may not be able to. It was a call to action, and I thought, “I need to make this better for people coming after me. I need to print policies and talk to the school administration, I need to report incidences.” Many people told me not to report things or stand up for myself, that I wouldn’t do well in school if I did.
Regardless of if it is a teacher or whomever likes you, it shouldn’t be a judgment of who you are or how well you’ll do. Despite the warnings I still spoke out, and am glad I did. I don’t regret it because now a light has been shed on sexual assault at my old high school. Others now feel safer coming out and telling administration they’ve been hurt. You have to do what you need to do; others may feel safe coming out and telling admin they were hurt, others may not. People may warn you, and they may be worried for you or your safety. They may just be worried for you.
For those that are questioning your gender or sexuality, know that it’s not something that has to be finalized or decided, and that’s OK! It can be hard, but it is also an important place to be. You can learn and explore and see what you like, what you don’t like, and learn about yourself. It isn’t something to have an end conclusion. I have a questioning sexuality now and that’s OK! It can change! The same with gender. It’s not necessary to label it at any stage. I went from cis girl to trans man to gender fluid, and people may say, “Oh you’re going back to this or that”, but I am only moving forward. No matter how I identify on a day, I am moving forward, and that’s the most important thing. Never feel shut in boxes and be afraid to change because of that.
What are some easy acts of self care that marginalized teens can do?
Spa days are always nice and all, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Especially for trans masculine people, it can be dysphoric, because society genders spa days as feminine. Self care can look really different. It took a lot of learning for me to know that I do not have to respond to social media comments all the time, or even read all the comments on an article. I can just straight up stop and not worry about it. Also, the block button is amazing and I love it. That is a huge thing for me. Don’t go totally nuts with it, but if you’re fed up, know that you do not owe it to anyone to educate them or stay following them, or vice versa. Even if they were a close friend at age five, if they cannot listen or change now, you do not have to talk to them. It isn’t a responsibility, and you do not have to be an educator 24/7. That took me ages to learn.
Self care can also just be saying no. Whether it’s with Jewishness or gender or anything else. I started wearing a yarmulke, but while my dad’s is Jewish, his father was estranged, and it created a tension with Jewishness. My stepmom is from a family of Christian missionaries, so when I wore my yarmulke everyone would go, “Oh, that’s such a cute little hat!” I was yelled at for wearing it on a Saturday, so now I wear it every day. People may not know what a yarmulke is, but you aren’t required to educate everyone if it’s draining you. They don’t own you, and you don’t have to feel guilty about that. You can come back to it and discuss it later, or not at all.
Those that aren’t cis-men are socialized to say yes, and that pressure can be a lot to handle. Even cis men are told to say yes, but to certain things that support toxic masculinity–things like stunts or dares that can feel scary or dangerous, but are considered “manly”. You can say no!
Any last thoughts on self care and empowerment?
I focus a lot on creating media and strongly believe in the power of young people. There is power in creating your own media. If you create, and only three people see it, they get empowered to create too. It’s a domino effect of creation, which results in more representation in the world. I don’t see many Jewish characters in TV or zines or many Jewish books, and what I do see tends to be very textual and intellectual, not cultural or growing up being a Jew. But anyone can do a pocket zine about your experience, your thoughts on Judaism; you can make it whatever you want.
There are ways to get your media out there. There are zine fairs, books, paintings, every little thing you can create makes a big difference–especially if everyone does it! It’s like the story of the kid with the starfish — there’s thousands of starfish and he throws them back in the water, and someone asks, “What’s the point?” And the kid says, “Maybe it doesn’t make a difference for all of them, but it does for that one starfish that is back in the water.” One creation may not see many people, but it could make the difference for one person. And they can make something that makes a difference for someone else, and it becomes a tidal wave.