Transmedia Transgender Storytelling as Radical Action: A Conversation Between Cat Blackard and Theresa Jean Tanenbaum (Hybrid Event)

by Illuminations: The Chancellor's Arts & Culture Initiative

Cultural Activism Diversity LGBTQ

Mon, Feb 27, 2023

5:30 PM – 7 PM PST (GMT-8)

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In this Illuminations event, we explore the power of digital narrative and autobiography to provide insight into the lived experiences of vulnerable people by centering the voices of two transgender, transmedia storytellers.

Cat Blackard and Theresa "Tess" Tanenbaum are both transgender women whose careers are focused on creating digital media art and narratives that challenge existing stereotypes about trans people. The content they produce introduces audiences to aspects of the trans experience seldom seen or portrayed in popular media. In their public conversation, they will discuss their backgrounds and experiences in media and storytelling, their current projects and research, the role that autobiography plays in their work, and how the very act of sharing their stories is a form of radical activism. We term this kind of testimonial work “radical” because it takes place within a historical and political context of intense transphobia.

When these two dynamic storytellers collide, the only thing certain is that the conversation will be fun, illuminating, and unpredictable. Join Cat and Tess as they explore the intersections of media, music, narrative, magic, activism, identity, fantasy, gender and sexuality, role-playing games, and autobiography.

Speaker Bios:

Catherine Blackard

Catherine Blackard (“Cat”) is an award-winning multidisciplinary artist and multimedia storyteller specializing in writing, illustration, and podcasting. She is the showrunner and lead writer of The Call of Cthulhu Mystery Program, a horror-comedy audio drama set in the 1920s. She's been podcasting since 2009, when she co-created and hosted the longest running games and hobbies podcast, the Nerdy Show. As an interviewer and journalist, Cat has made a career of personable and in-depth discussions with notable personalities on-camera, on-stage, and in the studio. She's spoken with the likes of Phil Collins, Janelle Monáe, Chelsea Manning, David Byrne, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Dan Aykroyd, Reggie Watts, and Eric Andre, as well as scientists, composers, cyborgs, and artists of every discipline. During her time as a media journalist at Consequence of Sound she ran their podcast network, pioneering improvisational audio dramas and producing series such as Sony's The Opus. She is the head of Omniverse, her media company focused on genre-bending storytelling. She is a non-binary trans woman dedicated to filling the world with uplifting and transformative stories that go to strange places and ask big questions.

She is currently working on a new, autobiographical podcast called TRANScend, a project she describes as “ a genre-bending chronicle of my trans life; combining interviews, archival sound, and audio drama, where I speak with friends and family, scientists, activists, and other fascinating figures.” Cat is also the executive producer for Theresa Jean Tanenbaum’s upcoming autobiographical audio-drama musical The Transition Diary.

Theresa Jean Tanenbaum

Dr. Theresa Jean Tanenbaum (“Tess”) is a game designer, artist, activist, composer, and Associate Professor in the Department of Informatics at UC Irvine where she is a founding member of the Transformative Play Lab. Dr. Tanenbaum’s work is playful, provocative, and interdisciplinary, frequently straddling the line between art, design, and research. She makes experiences across a wide variety of platforms including installation art, wearable computing, augmented and virtual reality, video games, mobile devices, and theatrical performances. Her work seeks to create possibilities for social and individual change, using participatory narrative to highlight how the identities that we inhabit in the world are contingent and negotiated. These experiences of transformative theatrical play create imaginative models that are emancipatory, allowing oppressed and marginalized people to inhabit new identities that create possibilities where there were none before and reclaim power and agency denied to them.

Tess is a transgender woman who has been using the relative privilege of her position at UC Irvine to advocate for institutional change around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. She has been instrumental in helping create new, more inclusive, policies within the academic publishing world that make it possible for people to correct their names on previously published scholarship. She has worked with COPE, the ACM, SAGE, Springer, Taylor & Francis, Elsevier, and many other publishers to develop identity practices in publishing that safeguard the privacy of transgender authors seeking to update their scholarly records to reflect their correct names. In 2021 she was honored by the UCI Womxn’s Hub as the faculty awardee for Outstanding Social Justice Activism for this work. She is the founder of the Name Change Policy Working Group, and serves on the board of the Association for Research Into Digital Interactive Narratives (ARDIN) as the director of EDI initiatives as well as the Association for Computing Machinery’s Committee on Updates to Published Work.

Her current project, The Transition Diary, is an autobiographical audio-drama musical about her journey through gender transition during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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