Jackson Bird and the Voice of Honesty

We’re really excited to be speaking with Jackson, someone who has used their voice to educate and enlighten people in the queer community and more. Now more than ever, it is important for us to be comfortable in our skin and authentically ourselves. With added elements of Harry Potter, pumpkins, MCU action, Jackson conveys the best ways on how to use your voice. 

What can you tell us about yourself? 

I am a YouTuber, writer and podcaster. I live in New York City but I grew up in Texas. Most of my work is about my experience being trans but also more broadly, I try to kinda myth-bust some things that I think people think about trans people. Breaking down stereotypes and showing as many examples as I can, of all the different ways there are to be trans because there are so many different people who are trans.

But beyond that, I do a lot of work on other things that I find interesting. I had a series called “Will It Waffle” for a while where I put random things on a waffle iron and to see what would happen. As well as waffles, I am a big Harry Potter Fan, my background is in the Harry Potter Fandom so anything nerdy I love. I’m a big fan of the MCU – Captain America is my favourite character for sure.  

And, if that wasn’t enough, I’m also the host of a daily podcast called Kottke Ride Home. It’s about anything cool or interesting from the news each day. Sometimes it’s more general stuff or weird history things too – which is a lot of fun.

Your YouTube channel is very personal and you like to give lots of tips and advice. What inspired you to use your voice online? 

I started posting videos back in 2007. Those were just of me and my friends messing around. We’d make short films, music videos and funny things.

I didn’t start posting intentionally until I was volunteering with the Harry Potter Alliance. The organisation always had close ties to the YouTube community and partnered a lot with John and Hank Green and Five Awesome Girls, plus a lot of the OG YouTubers. I started vlogging on topics that were important to the HPA. Some of those were LGBTQIA+ issues, immigration reform, economic, inequality and economic justice. 

When I gained an audience of people who cared about what I had to say, then that led me to start my own YouTube channel. I never really had at that time any aspirations of it being a full-time thing, but it was something that I wanted to get better at. I felt like I had some important things that I wanted to say.

This was years and years before I had come out as trans, but I knew I was trans. I wanted to educate other people on what it meant to be trans, asexual, intersex and some of these other identities from the LGBTQIA+ umbrella that weren’t being talked about a lot back in the early 2010s. 

Now we have so many out and proud trans creators, especially on YouTube and other social platforms. I’ve always wanted to share and contribute my own experiences and stories. I wanted to be amongst the pile of people to choose from because it’s important to show representation within the community

What kind of comments have you received on your YouTube videos, do you find they’re more from trans people going through similar things as you or cis people who are curious to know more?

It’s a mixture of both which I think is great and it’s always been my goal. YouTube is probably my most trans heavy audience. I make content geared the most towards a trans audience, and I would even say a trans-masculine audience. I talk to them about topics such as “here is what transition is like”, “here is what things you need to know” and “here are some resources for you”. 

But I also speak to a lot of cis people. It’s to share “this is what it’s like, this is what some of our experiences are like” or “here are some ways to look at things”. Sometimes it’s about sharing some of the issues that you might not have even thought were relevant. 

So, some areas of my work are specifically targeted at cis people – to help them understand and raise awareness of community issues. I also am happy to be a little more niche on YouTube. Talking specifically to fellow trans people (and hopefully some cis people will also tune in).  

That seems to resonate, I get a lot of comments from cis people just being like “oh I never knew this” or like “thank you for sharing your perspective on this, it’s really opened my mind”.

It’s validating to hear from cis people who resonate with my content. That’s always a really good feeling because I’m like “Cool, we’re making some breakthroughs here”. 

Another topic you spoke about in your videos is biphobia. You had a specific video entitled “Why I don’t talk about being bi”. Do you the response to bisexual people within the LGBTQIA+ community has changed or do you think attitudes remain the same?

I do think there is still a long way to go for us. But I do think attitudes have changed, even in the two years since I uploaded that video, I feel the push for more recognition within the bi community that has grown even more. Events such as Bisexual Awareness Week and other similiar events have grown in popularity a lot  

I think bisexual people are the ones least likely of the LGBT+ community to be out in their families. They tend to be the ones who face the highest rates of loneliness and substance abuse, and it’s just because of the way we are treated in society and the media.

There is still a lot of work to be done, but I am starting to feel more hopeful as the bisexual community are pushing for better representation and discussing the prejudices we face. So it’s cool to finally see that. 

As we’ve mentioned before, you talk very openly and honestly on YouTube about all aspects of your life. What’s something that your fans don’t know about you?

One thing I have mentioned a little, but I imagine most people who just watch my YouTube videos won’t know is that … I love pumpkins!

I love gardening in general. I really want a farm someday with a pumpkin patch. I did try to grow them on my NYC patio as I don’t have a garden. I am also really into the history of certain crops, holidays and cultures too.

My close friends are very much aware of this, but not necessarily people who follow me online. 

Now I am very curious, are pumpkins hard to grow?

They’re very easy to grow if you don’t mean to grow them. They seem to thrive if left unattended. If you don’t clear them out properly on Halloween, you end up with an unexpected pumpkin in your yard. 

They’re the easiest squash to grow. 

I’m now too intrigued to know, what else would you grow on your dream farm?

The dream would be to have a large property in upstate New York. I’d have my pumpkin patch, apple orchard and an area for berries. I’d also have a Christmas tree farm too!

And I would call the farm ‘The Jack of all Seasons’!

You also did a TedTalk on how to talk and listen to transgender people. How was that experience?

a picture of Jackson Bird on the TedTalk Stage. He stands in front of a crowd, wearing a blue and green flannel top and jeans.
Jackson Bird speaks at TED Resident’s Salon, June 6, 2017, New York, NY. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

Even now I still can’t believe that actually happened. You know, I have this distinct memory of not being concerned about giving the TedTalk where I was outing myself as trans, until the day though I had to give it. 

When the audience was filtering in, the other 15 speakers and I sat in the front row to support each other, but as I was waiting for my turn, I got more nervous. There were a couple of people that I saw, like older men, and I thought “Oh no, what have I done. I can’t give this talk now”.

I got so scared at that moment, but I kept thinking about how most of the audience were friends of mine and people with whom I was comfortable. But I put it out of my head, I had done a tone of practice. 

There was one person in the audience, I later found out she was my friend’s wife, but she looked like an old teacher of mine. The memory of her made me feel so comfortable that I looked at her for most of the talk and felt so at ease. 

I was still so nervous, I kinda blacked it all out after. I don’t really remember much of being on the stage. Mostly though, I was just glad it was done. 

Let’s talk about your book Sorted. How did this book come to be?

The front cover of Jackson Bird’s book Sorted. The cover is a pale gray with the title Sorted in bold letters above. Below it is a check box for Male and Female. The Male is ticked, with Female also ticked but the tick has been rubbed out. Below is the line “Growing up, Coming out and Finding my Place” below that is the line “A transgender memoir - Jackson Bird”

It started as a zine that I offered as a perk as a crowdfund I did for £2000 that I needed for my top surgery. I felt I had to offer people something. It was initially going to be just a few pages, but it turned out I had a lot to say. Once it got to 75 pages long I felt “maybe I should do something more with this, clearly there is something here”. 

After I sent the zine to donors, I was selling it at conferences I attended. It was getting really good responses from cis and trans people, and that encouraged me to want to do something more with it. I always wanted to be a writer since I was little, so I thought this zine was a good first start. I had a good chunk of the manuscript already done, so I thought to start from that and expand on it.

An opportunity came up with Simon and Schuster, a press company looking for content. They asked me if I knew anyone and I pitched my own manuscript – thankfully they ended up liking it!

I wanted to develop the manuscript more as it was important to me to tell my story. Even though I share a lot on YouTube, a lot of it isn’t personal. This was my chance to tell my story, my way.

How do you manage to keep your voice authentic?

My teachers growing up would always tell me I had a strong sense of my voice in writing. It’s not a voice for everyone, it’s very conversational. 

People read my book so fast, it’s almost embarrassing. It’s great that it is a page-turner, but also funny when people finish it in like 5 hours. I feel I should use bigger words or something!

My writing has always been conversational, I think being on YouTube and public speaking has influenced that. I speak as I write, even as a whisper. I actually often use a technique when  I’m writing and hit a stump, I open a voice memo on my phone and speak into it and transcribe it later. That way it helps me write with my genuine rhythm of how I speak and the word choices that I use.

No matter what I’m writing for, whether it’s a novel, essay or speech, the edit is where I can be more formal and create imagery. This is different compared to YouTube, where it’s very conversational. However, in the end it’s still me and my voice.

I see it as changing an outfit for a different setting, you’re still you, even when you’re going to a black-tie event versus a soccer game. 

Do you ever think you would write a follow up to Sorted?

I dunno to be honest. Maybe I’d write a collection of essays on a certain topic or experience, more so than “here are the next several chapters of my life”. But I think that may come when I reach my 40s perhaps?  I don’t think I want to do anything super memoir-esq anytime soon.  

I do want to dive into a novel, I have some picture books I am working on. I want to focus more on creative non-fiction. 

You have made a lot of references in your books regarding Harry Potter, how has JK Rowling’s recent controversial comments towards the transgender community affected you? Does it change the effect her work has had on you growing up?

It was massively disappointing seeing those comments come from JK Rowling. It’s worrying to see someone with such a huge level of influence like she has, align herself in ways that deny the realities of so many trans people – it’s just giving a lot of fuel to that movement. 

It’s concerning for so many reasons. From a personal level as a trans person, to see my various rights being debated. But also for the many trans people who are at more risk, who have fewer privileges than I do, and how they are read in society. This is just going to get harder and harder for them as people like this try to take away some of our rights and protections. So seeing JK  be a part of that is not a great feeling for someone who grew up reading Harry Potter.

Harry Potter has always been a big part of my life but I will say, I have always been more of a fan of the fan community surrounding Harry Potter, than the actual books. I remain a fan of the fan community and fan creations of the Wizarding World. 

Even today I was part of a Harry Potter-themed podcast called ‘Wizard Team’. It’s a production of ‘Black Girls Create’. They’re doing a very inspired series called ‘The Time Room’ – where guests debate ‘If we change one thing from the books, how does everything else play out?’. 

I find this so brilliant because with fans like this and with these fun discussions, you are still able to engage with the Harry Potter series purely within the universe. That’s without having to think about JK Rowling and what her intentions may or may not have been. I am grateful for that because before this, I had not been able to re-read the books. I found it painful and also annoying like I could hear JK’s voice and her opinions about trans people in the back of my mind as I was trying to read them.

But after being on the podcast and going through the fun exercise, I was able to pick up the books again and enjoy them for what they are. I know though, for a lot of people, her comments were the final straw. They were not her first offence and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of people, and I think that’s valid.  

Following the last question, what can you tell us about the Albus Dumbledore quote on the back of your book? 

a picture of the back of Jackson Bird’s book Sorted. At the top reads the quote “I sometimes think we sort too soon” with JK Rowling’s name crossed out and Albus Dumbledore written instead.

It didn’t used to be on the back of the book, it was on the front of the book- but that was before she made her offensive tweets. 

I wanted to use the quote and have her name crossed out because to get the real impact of the quote, you need to know it’s from Albus Dumbledore. Throughout my book, there are doodles and notes so stylistically, crossing out JK’s name and writing “Albus Dumbledore” instead made sense. That was all that it meant. But then when we were doing the paperback edition and that was after JK’s tweeted in support of the anti-trans activist, my editor suggested that we move the quote to the back of the book. 

And I thought “Yes that feels right”.

It helped me in the end, even though it was not the initial intent. Some people look at my book and see its ties to Harry Potter and some people don’t want to touch it because of that. But with her name crossed out at the back like that it encourages them a little more to take a look.

On a lighter topic relating to Harry Potter- what house are you in?

Gryffindor all the way! 

With all the different ways you’ve spoken online, YouTube and Podcasts, do they blend into one or do you find yourself separating what you speak about?

I think I have a good way that I compartmentalise the content per platform in my head. On YouTube, I make more for a trans audience with some other general things in there. The daily podcast is all about the random good stuff. Within my LGBTQ+ work, it’s funny because I have ideas that I am immediately thinking “oh this should be an article or this should be a novel I want to write or a video to shoot or even just an Instagram post”. 

I usually have an idea of what platform content should go on. That’s because I have slightly different audiences per platform.

Do you prefer any platform specifically?

It varies. I do like to write a lot but I don’t have as much time as I would like because of daily podcasts and YouTube. I also like performing and speaking. YouTube is sometimes my fall back,  it’s where I’ve done the most, so I feel the most comfortable. But sometimes it’s also the one that takes the longest. It’s also the one most temperamental with the algorithm. I’m careful what I put on there. 

How important is it for the trans and the bi community to have a voice in the mainstream media?

I think it’s hugely important. We don’t get taught about LGBTQ+ people in history or sex ed in schools much. So short of that, the way most people mostly get taught about LGBTQ+ people is through the media. 

So, representation through the media is literally our education about ourselves and people different from us. I think it’s so important for us to get more LGBTQ+ representation, both for people in the LGBTQ+ community – especially young people needing to see someone like them to know that there are people like them. But it’s also very important for other people who are not in the LGBTAQ+ community, for them to get more familiar with all the diverse identities of the LGBTQ+ community.  

We need more LGBTQ+ people in writer’s rooms and directorial positions. We need more to be in the decision making roles and more powerful positions to be telling our stories authentically, earnestly and accurately. In this day and age, the media is our education.

Who was the first person you saw who you could relate to in the media?

Well, I grew up in the 90s. So my family watched The Bird Cage a lot with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. It’s about a gay couple who own a cabaret bar and Nathan Lane’s character mostly presents as a woman. That was probably the movie that taught me what it meant to be gay – even if it was not in a great way. 

But it was more on YouTube that I was able to see trans people who looked like I wanted to look, who told stories that resonated with me. I am glad kids nowadays have some more recently portrayed characters that they can relate to.

If you could pass on one message for our readers, what message would that be and why?

Remember that you are not alone, even if your lived experience is literally alone. Even if you don’t know anyone else like you in your physical community, there are others of us out there. How you feel is valid and your feelings are real. There is a whole world of us ready to meet you, support you and we can’t wait to have you be a part of us. 

Just keep looking for what you need to find. If you don’t have the words yet for how you’re feeling and you just want to try something, that’s fine. It’s ok to not know. You don’t need to have yourself figured out yet. 

I think those are some very kind and optimistic words to end this interview with. Thank you so much Jackson for your honesty and words of wisdom. I look forward to reading more of your writing, but in the meantime, I am going to binge your YouTube videos non-stop! 

Jackson Bird

He / Him | Website

a picture of Jackson Bird. He is wearing a red flannel top and grey t-shirt underneath. He has short brown hair and wears glasses

Interviewed by Prishant K Jutlla

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