Finn Menzies is an out transgender teacher in Seattle, WA. His work is his spiritual practice and his activism. He received his MFA from Mills College. He is the creator of FIN Zine, a bi-annual zine dedicated to his emotional journey throughout his transition.
Finn’s debut collection, BRILLIANT ODYSSEY DON’T YEARN came out this summer with FOG MACHINE. His poetry can also be seen in Gigantic Sequins, Quiet Lightning, SUSAN /the journal, , SPORK, HOLD: a journal, The Shallow Ends, Big Lucks, and various other journals. Annually, Finn facilitates UNdoing Ego: a workshop on meditation and generative writing practices. He sat with me on November 21, 2017, to talk about his work, his gender transition and to read some of his poetry.
Paul E Nelson: Thanks for braving the shitty weather to be here.
Finn Menzies: Thank you.
PeN: So, it’s right in the first sentence of your bio. He is an out transgender teacher in Seattle, Washington.
Finn Menzies: Yeah.
PeN: This is what you’re in the middle of? Or, I mean, you’ll always be in the middle of it.
Finn Menzies: Yeah. I’ll always be in the middle of it. I think I wanted to put those words together. Teacher and transgender. I don’t know if a lot of people see that, so I wanted it to be totally in the beginning.
PeN: How come?
Finn Menzies: How come. Because I want to be seen as somebody who has a job that people perceive as noble. And also, as someone who is trans, because I want them to overlay those images together.
Finn Menzies: Yeah. And maybe not even acceptance. Maybe just visibility, first.
PeN: I have to tell you that’s … in my own life, if I use my own life as an example, that’s really necessary, because this issue only came up on my radar about five years ago. You know? And I sat down and met with a … and I forget the exact phrase, and that’s lousy, to forget the exact phrase, but gender queer might have been the situation, and just informed me of things that I had no idea about, you know? And I was born in 1961, and you can imagine the notions that I grew up with. There were two genders, and then we started learning there might be queer people, and then we were worried if we were queer. (Laugher). And then this. So there’s a lot of work to be done. I guess that’s the way to put it.
Finn Menzies: Yeah.
PeN: And there’s a … the very first poem that you sent for consideration for an anthology we’re working on, was this poem. And, obviously this relates. Obviously, discussion about your spiritual practice and activism is worth discussing, but I think starting with this poem might be a good place.
Finn Menzies: All right. That would be great.
when I picture fathers, I picture houses
I dreamt that I was a farmer on the moon
babies grew like pineapples from the silver soil
bright bulbs with embryos inside
veins running through the fruit
like human torches
I dreamt of their hearts
each one had a thousand feathers
their fragrance can make a funeral sing
one heart was a house of nuns
humming in melon afternoon light.
I will never be a biological father
I will never see my face in theirs
I have to dream them to me like a magnet under the grass
PeN: When I see the first line of the last stanza, it just hits you then. I mean, a very intimate look at your own personal mythology, you know?
Finn Menzies: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
PeN: And I think that when poets get into personal myth, that’s when it begins to get interesting. It’s a level of consciousness that’s deeper than what you believe, or who you are, or what you yearn for, but going to a very, very deep level.
Finn Menzies: I think we’re probably going to be soul friends. (Laughter.) Yeah. I’m very much into mythology, and Jungian theory, and the subtle body. What’s inside the inside? That’s, yeah.
PeN: When one reads your book, this book here. This teeny, tiny, little chapbook.
Finn Menzies: This little teeny one, yeah.
PeN: Brilliant Odyssey Don’t Yearn. I mean, that’s part of what was coming to me. It was like, don’t be fooled by the body, because what the body is containing is a lot more interesting, and valid, and connected to you as a fellow human being.
Finn Menzies: Yeah. I feel like that’s particularly true if your gender presentation doesn’t match your gender identity, and I’ve suffered because of that too, but I didn’t have a connection to the body as a form. I had much more of a connection to the inside of the body.
PeN: Can you tell us a little bit about your transition? Your decision to do that? The timing of it?
Finn Menzies: Yeah. It took me a long time. Let me try to do the short version. The short version is, I did a sweat lodge in 2009, and I came out so angry, and I didn’t know why I was so angry. And then, I chopped my hair. I had a breakup, and I was in therapy, and it started to come forth that I had this inside dream of what I was, which was much more like a grown up Huck Finn. But what does that mean as a feminist, to turn your back on being a woman? And so it took me up until 30 to figure that out. I don’t have to take on the history of patriarchy, and I can also be true to that image inside.
PeN: So you said 30?
Finn Menzies: Yeah.
PeN: 2009, and then you turned 30?
Finn Menzies: Yeah, that was okay. So, that wasn’t until 2016. So what is that, five years I was thinking on it.
PeN: Seven years.
Finn Menzies: Seven years?
Finn Menzies: Yeah, seven years.
PeN: Yeah. A sweat lodge?
Finn Menzies: Yeah.
PeN: You know, it’s an interesting thing, is that indigenous people, their take on gender certainly … their take on anything is a lot different than conventional, industry generated culture, but it would seem to me very natural that an experience with a sweat lodge, and with indigenous ceremony would awaken things. Obviously that’s what they’re supposed to do, but also it would awaken things regarding gender because they don’t have … at least some of the indigenous cultures that I’ve studied, have very different notions about gender than industry generated capitalist, post-modern, culture has about gender.
Finn Menzies: Totally, yes. And this one in particular was trying to contact ancestors, and I think I did feel supported to open up some suppression. It came out really ugly for a while.
PeN: How do you mean that?
Finn Menzies: I think I had equated femininity with patience and when I was examining my femininity I was very short-fused and confused, together. So maybe like not the most pleasant company for a while.
PeN: Can you give an example? Tell a story that illustrates what you’re talking about.
Finn Menzies: Yeah, okay. So, I was in a ceramic class, and I was practicing the wheel, and I couldn’t get my bowl to rise. And the woman-me would not have this sense of competition that would get you so rattled, but instead I just slammed the whole clay in the middle of the room in front of a bunch of strangers, and ran out cussing. That was so unlike me. And this sort of like … I needed to master those feelings of zero to 60 in those seven years.
PeN: It seems to me you’re well on your way to becoming a man! (Laughs).
Finn Menzies: Yeah. I know. I actually have a lot more empathy for what men have to go through now.
PeN: It sounds like something that I would do.
Finn Menzies: Yeah?
PeN: Slap it. Yeah, and I mean an incidence of throwing things. Of course, my mom threw things too, so maybe not.
Finn Menzies: Yeah, that’s true.
PeN: That’s fascinating. Were you were raised in Orange County?
Finn Menzies: Yeah.
PeN: Orange County. John Wayne Airport. Conservative place. How have your folks been with this whole situation?
Finn Menzies: They’re okay. They’ve actually handled it very gracefully. I think it was hard because my mom saw that our bond was against men. It was like we were a minority in our house, and the fight together of this small group is what our love was fired with. And so to tell her … I think it felt like a betrayal for a while. She handled it with a lot of gentleness, but she did have to have a lot of bravery to tell friends, because they are not as open minded as my family is.
PeN: Right. Siblings?
Finn Menzies: Yeah. I have a little brother. That was tricky for him too, because he didn’t know which part to play. I think he had hid some of his feral maleness from me, and how was like do I show you now? How much is okay? But we’re finding our way. Yeah.
PeN: The next sentence… It’s actually in the second sentence of your bio. “His work is his spiritual practice, and his activism.” That’s the sentence that I was after. How does that manifest for you, having poetry as a spiritual practice?
Finn Menzies: My goal before I die is for everyone in my intimate circle to know that my one wish is for every individual to wake up from their reactionary state. So, I consider myself a Buddhist, and I don’t subscribe to any certain kind of Buddhism, except that I believe we would be a healthier planet, and a species, if we wake up. So, I use poetry and teaching, and all the mediums in my life to do that.
PeN: I just did an interview a couple of weeks ago with Jason Wirth, who has written a book about Gary Snyder’s Mountains and Rivers, about Snyder’s use of Dōgen, and about our ecological crisis right now on the planet. And he said that our ecological crisis represents the poverty of our practice.
Finn Menzies: Yeah.
PeN: So, one of my spiritual practices is to wake up and journal. To draw a rune every day, do my prayers, divinations, and to then do yoga. That’s how it manifests. And you know the writing part is the largest part of that. Trying to make sense of the previous day. What happened? My reaction to things. How that could have been better, or what was good about that. My loved ones, and what have you. That’s a little bit about how writing also is spiritual practice for me. How is your daily life of writing as a spiritual practice played out?
Finn Menzies: It’s very similar. I write down about five to ten sentences everyday, and I reflect on those. And then, I actually think that for me personally, if I can get the body settled, that I make better choices with my mind. So, I also do a crystal chakra cleanse every evening, that way I wake up as a more calm body, so that my mind can settle into that. And then, for poetry, I always write the thing that’s the most itchy for me.
Finn Menzies: Yeah. When I first started writing poetry, I just wanted to write odes. And then I think when I opened up that suppression is when I became interested in the things that were triggering for me.
PeN: There’s a poem from your book that has a great line that I highlighted. Maybe read the poem. We can discuss the line if you like, and maybe you can talk about the degree of itchiness in this.
Finn Menzies: Yeah, okay.
I know that my body is crooked
I know that I am an immigrant in my body
every time I tell someone who I am
is another moment I feel guilty
because the singular self is a lie
I know I should use and know my body or else
it will hurt
but everything always hurts
PeN: “Singular self is a lie.” That’s something that I picked up on that suggested the Buddhism was probably right on, and the other things we talked about. But, “I’m an immigrant in my body.”
Finn Menzies: Yeah.
PeN: Is that an itchy line?
Finn Menzies: Yeah. Particularly when writing it. It’s the same as meditation, like when you realize that you’re getting caught, or you realize that you’re getting reactionary, but you don’t yet have the tools or the wisdom to make a different choice. So when I was writing this, I could tell that something was misaligned, but I wasn’t yet at the point to have the courage to align them in my world. So, that’s hard.
Also, I didn’t want to get pigeonholed. I think my mom is … my mom and my dad are big roles in the story of my transition, and I didn’t want all the associations that my mom had with men to be on me, and so I was really afraid to tell her I’m a man, because I didn’t want her to forget that I can’t erase my personal history. I still have all that magic and knowing.
PeN: If I could see the book … I bookmarked a few different things to read. And there’s another one, another line here. Another short poem, and as I read these poems, and as I hear what you said about your practice of writing down ten sentences, I can see easily how those sentences may have been the base to something like this.
In part 4 Finn discusses translating science into poetry, the title of his book, the ritual he did for his “she” before the transition started, how relationships are shifting in his life and what it feels like to be seen as a potential predator now that he is male.
In the final segment Finn discusses “catching up” to the role of a male in this culture, talks about how young men are not very good listeners and about living in an era that feels like the apocalypse.
For more interviews see: www.AmericanProphets.org