Talia Johnson’s story is one hell of an inspirational read. A trans-woman working as a “sensitivity editor” primarily around queer, trans, and autism related issues, Talia wrote a poem documenting her experience training to be a Kohenet Jewish Priestess that is part of an anthology that has been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award.
Talia is autistic and navigates living with chronic pain and is an advocate for defining a life that fits the needs of your body, mind, and soul. She shares her story with us below.
by Annisha Lashand
What identities do you inhabit?
Over the years I have embodied many identities. The ones that are current are: A woman, trans/transgender, queer, lesbian, autistic, spoonie/disabled (using social model), Jewish, feminist, and shit disturber.
What is your work in the world?
At its core, I bridge three primary areas, faith/religion/spirituality, mental health, and queer/trans/LGBTTQIA+. I am a writer, poet, sensitivity editor, public speaker, blogger, activist, educator, workshop facilitator, ritual leader, service leader, mentor, coach, and more.
My sensitivity editing is primarily around queer and trans issues, as well as from an autistic perspective. I’m only one person, and don’t represent all trans, queer, and/or autistic people. I offer these services to writers, publishers, and anyone with content that talks about these issues, perspectives, and/or has characters that fall into one or more of these groups.
Workshop facilitation, public speaking, and education tend to fall into one category. When I provide these services what I present, how I present it, and the discussions that I facilitate are all based on the needs of the group I am working with. Going over basic level information with a group that has already done that work is not helpful. At the same time, not doing the basic work and jumping to advanced topics does not help those who have not done the initial basic work and education.
Ritual leadership and service leadership encompasses a wide range of practices and services. I have led services for larger groups, such as a Friday evening Kaballat Shabatt service, to a ritual for someone about to go for Gender Congruency/Confirmation Surgery (GCS). Again, the service or ritual is designed with the needs of the community or individual in mind. Rituals to mark important points in one’s life are deeply meaningful for many people. When planning rituals for a person or small group, the planning and writing of the ritual is made in full discussion with them. These rituals focus on the beliefs and needs of the individual or group.
My writing and poetry is an offshoot of my work and is informed by my own lived experiences, as well as what I have witnessed through my work and ongoing reading. My current large poetry project is to write poems based on the Netivot, or Archetypes, that are part of the studies and learning in the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute program.
The Novel I am writing is an SF novel that takes place in the mid twenty-first century and explores what a theocracy based on conservative evangelical Christian theology would look like. My non-fiction project is a sort of memoir using my blog posts over the past nine years as its base. It discusses wider queer, trans, and autistic issues using my own experience as the focal point.
Tell us about the “WHY” that drives your business.
Any work I do has to have meaning for myself and others. I have never fit in with corporate culture, to a point where I’ve never had a traditional full-time job. In order for me to work best my brain needs to be engaged, and have multiple things to be working on. At the core of what I do is the idea that I can help make the world a slightly better place and help people with their struggles.
So many of us learn from each other’s processes, can you share a little about the steps you took to get started?
In the past, I have tried to use “self-help” books and guides to starting a business, managing work, etc. For me, they were all mostly useless. They don’t work the way my brain works. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People sent me running in the opposite direction. After finishing my undergraduate work and moving back to Toronto I needed time to work on my health. I took the time I needed, but had to get back to doing things. To get started I examined where I was at physically, mentally, and spiritually. With this baseline I gave myself permission to do what I can do and redefined what “success” means for me.
If work is a journey of the soul, what is the most important way your soul has developed through your work?
I would say that my soul informs the work I do, and is thus further shaped by interactions with people and meaningful work. Getting out of IT was probably the single healthiest decision I made for my soul when it comes to my work in the world.
What does being a feminist entrepreneur mean to you?
Being a feminist is part of my core being. I was raised as a feminist, something unusual in the late 70s and 80s. My mum was, and still is, a grassroots feminist and has more academic understandings of it as well. In my work this expresses itself through how I approach the work. I examine things, and act through a mindset of being aware of the nuances and complexities of issues. This means being constantly aware of my own perspectives, biases, and internalized crap. I am white, I know that systemic racism shaped my perspectives. To me part of being feminist is consistently challenging myself to do better, to be aware when I screw up, and do better. Everybody fucks up, some people make it a lifestyle choice. Don’t make it a lifestyle choice. Acknowledging when one messes up is difficult, I try to be honest with myself and others when I do, and take appropriate actions to avoid it in future.
Tell us about a collaboration, connection or experience Shecosystem has facilitated for you.
With most of my work being independent, and having chronic pain, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and not leave the house. Working at Shecosystem allows me to more easily connect with others and gets me out of the house. For me, at the moment, this is critical for my own work and well-being.
What mindset, mantra, or truth about business/entrepreneurship has helped you along the way?
There’s no one right way to do it. To set my own definitions for success, and to allow myself to do what I can do, and not beat myself up if I have to turn something down because my health won’t allow it, or if it doesn’t align with my values. I am constantly working to not overthink, and not overthink my overthinking.
We’re all about celebrating each other at Shecosystem, care to share an accomplishment with us?
Does getting out of bed count? Seriously, though, sometimes that is an achievement in and of itself when one has chronic health problems/chronic illness, and/or mental health struggles. All of which get intertwined.
Being still alive counts as an achievement as well. The suicide rate for trans people is almost 50% with serious ideation higher than 80%.
My big point of brag and accomplishment at the moment is that my poem, “Holy Love” is part of the anthology, Resilience: surviving in the face of everything, that has been nominated as a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.
Connect with Talia at taliacjohnson.ca or on facebook.
Check out Talia’s online course starting later this month, Writing Trans Topics & Characters
Read “Holy Love” in The Resilience Anthology
CREATRIX is a blog from Shecosystem highlighting the people in our community who are giving life to new ideas and innovative businesses. We are the authors of our own identity. Each of us draws from deep, generative wellsprings of inspiration, and we have wisdom to share.