Artist Spotlight: Tenna Mynott-Rudland

Tenna Mynott-Rudland is a local feminist creator who moves between creative spheres with ease and enthusiasm. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down for a cheeky chai and a chat with them to discuss activism in the arts, striving for intersectionality, and expanding the conversation around trans issues.

This interview has been condensed for clarity.

 What pronouns do you use?
My gender identity is non-binary or genderfluid, but I also sometimes use the term genderqueer. My pronouns are they/them, but I do use she/her in some circumstances for certain reasons.

You are one of the cofounders of the online zine Girls Will Be Girls. You’ve spent several years curating space for intersectional feminist discourse. What has Girls Will Be Girls meant for you personally in your development as a feminist and as a person?
Girls Will Be Girls was a place for facilitation of artists and writers and comic-makers. At the very beginning of making it, it was about creating a space for our friends to put words and pictures about things that mattered to them, and it very quickly grew into a space where we could create a community to do that – which was for me the most important thing about it, and the thing I love the most about it. We continued with the zine because I think it’s really important to create a feminist community, and a feminist community that is intersectional and inclusive. I’ve met so many amazing people through doing the online platform.

Did the space give you opportunities to confront questions and take on ideas that you probably wouldn’t have otherwise?
I think definitely. When I first started I was quite freshly out of uni, and my idea of my own personal politics and my own feminism was, compared to now, quite basic. And I was like, ‘okay, these are the things that matter to me’. You know, like, ‘women shouldn’t have to feel obligated to present themselves in a certain way’, and ‘men suck’, and all of this stuff which was quite tongue-in-cheek I guess. Being exposed to all of the ideas and opinions of the people who were writing for us, and the things that mattered to them, gave me a lot of insight into how feminism can vary from person to person, and how you can incorporate feminist politics into your life in really small ways just as much as you can in really big ways. But I think my personal politics evolved so much through that process, and towards the end of it – ‘cause we’re closing down the zine…

It’s sad. The end of an era.
The end of an era! It’s been what, three or four years? But towards the end of that, I started to feel uncomfortable with the way we had set it out as a premise. I would love to do a really similar project, but from the very outset having it be much more intersectional. ‘Cause even though it was intersectional, I think that there was a lot more that we could have done.

You’re also a theatremaker, and you’ve done a lot of work in production and stage management.
I’m currently stage and production managing a stage adaptation of A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf which will be showing at fortyfivedownstairs and across regional Victoria. I’m also in development for a show that’s going to be up next year called The Mermaid, which is kind of a retelling of The Little Mermaid using the verbatim retellings of young teenagers, and it will be a show about socialised gender narratives and how these young people relate to these myths and these stories.

‘Cause The Little Mermaid is quite iconically a big trans head-canon.
Exactly.

So what is it about production and stage management that draws you?
I love being in a creative space around creative people. I have never been much of the person to be in the creative lead – I really fit really well in a facilitative role. And so production management and stage management kind of satisfies all those parts of me because you get to be creative in how you solve your problems, and you get to work with really creative people, but without having all of the responsibility of the final creative product of the show, which is great for me! I also find it just really exciting to see how shows grow and develop and I love working in collaborative environments, because you get to meet amazing people and make art together, and there’s nothing better than that.

You’ve recently come out with a new YouTube channel called Tea Time with Tenna and Theo. And you’ve also recently come out!
I have!

Have you found that your work has evolved since coming out, not just publicly, but since coming out to yourself?
I think it definitely has. I think I’m more likely now to… I’m more careful. I put a lot more thought into what I do, because it’s something that I’m thinking about constantly, whereas before it was something that I was trying not to think about. So now that I’m out and I can think about it and I can openly speak about it, I am much more careful in how I create work and how I start conversations with people, in a way that I wasn’t before. And I think you can see that as well if you look at any of my writing from when I was on Girls Will Be Girls, like I said, it was kind of ‘feminism lite’. Like, it’s all about just women and body hair, and men being feminists and not knowing how to do that in a way that’s helpful, which I think is sadly still true, but now I’m thinking more – the conversations that I’m having on Tea Time with Tenna and Theo are much more broad and they’re not necessarily focused on this one small thing that is what was my identity as a woman. ‘Cause I was clinging to that, I was like, ‘I’m a woman and therefore I have to write about these things.’

From the first videos that have gone up, you’ve got a very interesting look at the ‘Gender Tag’ for the second video, which is very explicitly about gender presentation, gender identity… but the first video is a much broader conversation about separating the art from the artist and ‘cancel culture’, and it doesn’t explicitly discuss trans identity, but that’s the kind of conversation that very rarely is being held by people who are trans.
And I think that’s really important as well, because we exist in the world, and our thoughts and opinions are out there whether or not they’re specifically related to trans issues. And even though a lot of issues need to be addressed, I think the conversation about boycotting is just as important to trans issues. There was a conversation that we had about ‘what do you do if someone comes out and makes transphobic comments?’ which is something a lot of artists, a lot of actors, a lot of directors have done. That conversation didn’t make it in, but in one of the videos we’re talking about toxic masculinity, and we are talking about ‘how does masculinity feed into gender identity?’ which I think is something that doesn’t often get a lot of light shed on it.

Since you have been more openly acknowledging your gender, have you found there is a difference in the way that others are engaging with your work or relating to your work when you talk about feminism and gender issues?
I don’t think it’s shifted in a drastic way, but I think before I would talk really generally about gender identity and trans-exclusionary feminism. Now if I have those conversations they carry a little bit more weight. Before it was like ‘oh, she’s just doing whatever’. And it’s like ‘no, they’re non-binary and they’re coming at it from a specific viewpoint and personal experience’.

You’ve consistently used your various platforms to draw attention to voices and issues that often get side-lined. Do you have any recommendations for aspiring creators on ways in which they can strive to be inclusive and be accessible from the get-go?
I think the most important thing at the start of any creative process is to make yourself a checklist and ask yourself: are you ticking those boxes off? So that checklist is what’s important to you and what’s important to be inclusive, and if you do that from the get-go, if you go ‘am I including trans and non-binary people? Am I including people of colour? Am I having conversations in a way that is accessible to people of different abilities? Am I closed captioning?’ Depending on what your platform is. But if you’re already in the middle of a creative process, it’s never too late to start asking those questions. That’s something that I’m doing a lot more of now. The other thing is just having conversations with people and with your audiences and asking what’s important to them, and trying to incorporate that into your practice, because we all have to evolve at some point.

Do you have any favourite go-to creators and activists and writers that you would recommend readers look at who do that work?
People like Nayuka Gorrie and Celeste Liddle I think are really important to read if you haven’t read them before because they come from a decolonial standpoint that I think is really important to feminism, and to trans rights in general. If you’re interested in YouTube, Tea Time with Tenna and Theo I’ve been trying to cut down my intake of pop culture, I’ve been reading a lot more books.

In so much of your work you are using social media and engaging in online discourse, and there’s a lot of self-care that would be necessary. Do you have any books or anything you turn to to reset?
My reset series has always been Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I think is something that a lot of people in the queer community turn to for that, because allegorically the storyline kind of fits with queer experiences. So that’s my go-to, feel good reset TV show. My book’s always going to be Harry Potter, which again, for the same reasons, allegorically the storylines kind of fit in with the trans experience, the queer experience.

Going forward, what are the kinds of conversations that you’re looking at having, the stories you want to tell and ideas you want to engage?
My focal point in my personal and creative life always comes from an activist perspective. So if I can work on projects that inspire action towards change, that’s my ideal world. The specific context of that activism is not necessarily as important to me. I worked on a show recently about the refugee crisis, and refugees on Nauru, and that was an amazing experience. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf as an adaptation makes a key feminist text accessible to modern audiences. And the next show I’m working on is about socialised gender narratives in the world. And all of those things are equally as important to me.

A huge part of the ‘trans experience’ is that you’re constantly being expected to answer questions for people.
Yes.

Are there any questions that you want to be asked that you don’t get a chance to be asked? Or any questions that you want to have a platform to ask of others?
As a non-binary person, I never get asked enough what my pronouns are. If people could start asking each other their pronouns more often, that would be a great world to be living in! I’m always open to having questions asked. I think the questions I want to ask of people, it’s always like ‘what are you doing to help us?’ And that’s the question I keep on asking other people in my life. ‘What are you doing to help my experience be easier in the world?’ And also, ‘how can I help you do that?’ Because I think people are often a bit scared coming into it. If you’re trying and you come to it from an honest standpoint, and you genuinely want to help, then I’m right there with you.