[Written by Kieren Mehta (he/him)]
[Image Credits: Kieren Mehta]
Content Warning: Discussion of transphobia
Speaking to LONELY CARP (Cal Donnelly, she/they)
I met Cal Donnelly (aka Lonely Carp) in Tchai Ovna armed only with a couple of questions and my charm. I left several hours later, warmed by their dynamic conversation and the pot of Dragon’s Breath tea that we’d shared. Alas, we made too charming a duo: this barely scratches the surface of Cal’s brilliance. As well as what follows, we discussed the value of platforms like Patreon for unsigned artists and the importance of trans awareness training in educational institutions.
The theme of this issue is “Something in the Water”; some of your songs use water as a motif. My relationship with water is completely tied to being trans – does that resonate with you?
I think my closest relationship to the ancient elements is fire – I don’t think about water but I guess it’s just as important, it’s my other. Music for me is my water, it’s the way I calm my spirit. Also, being trans is about the liminal nature of all existence, and what is water but liminal: you’re suspended and in this transitional state and yes, that’s almost what it’s like to be trans.
“How much light inside a puddle is forbidden from my sight?”
(this is a lyric from Lonely Carp’s “be the juggler”)
It’s about the visible spectrum: what we can see, the waves outside of that and how each of us also has that energy, so it’s not just about aesthetics, but also the things that we can’t see about ourselves – how much of myself is there that I’m not privy to?
I love that the line is scientific and artistic, you marry the two so well. What would you like to say about trans representation in the scientific community?
What I’ve noticed is that a lot of it happens online. I’ve been very welcomed. For example, at the Roslin Institute [where Cal does their PhD] I lobbied to get gender neutral bathrooms on every floor, and the moment I did, they did it. That might seem small to a cis person, but actually, things like that are a huge deal. That felt great. There’s work to be done, but there always is and will be.
How do you find balancing academics with art?
Uh, atrocious? I am bad at it –
And yet here you are!
Honestly, I’ve had to take a couple of interruptions from my PhD. I’m in the process of being diagnosed with a chronic illness and I think it wouldn’t have progressed so badly if I hadn’t pushed myself so hard – a lot of it comes down to being a trans person trying desperately to prove some kind of worth, trying to claw at power I didn’t have. At school that was academic, intellectual power, and simultaneously playing the piano, a way to express myself.
So, how does music make you feel?
Music is the closest thing to a soulmate that I’ll ever have. Music is the way I relate to the world. Even just walking through life I almost see it as a scene and I can hear that moment. It’s the absolute cause and solution.
Your music is intensely personal: you talk about loneliness, bereavement, sexuality; why do you think those are subjects which are important to discuss?
They’re subjects everyone needs to discuss – the only way that we stop feeling so alone is by sharing our loneliness… If one person is helped by hearing about this horrible experience that I’ve had then that’s it! The beauty of music is the connections that you form.
You’ve advocated “Radical compassion for all. Even the Tories.” Why do you think that attitude is an important one right now?
It’s the only way that I’ve been able to ensure that the toxic comments made towards me don’t cause toxicity within my own body. By “radical compassion” I mean: in that moment remember that they are people, their ignorance is probably coming from a place of pain. You have to think about your own safety and for me it’s much safer to just think of them with love. The moment you start thinking of hateful people with hate is the moment you allow their hatred to make you a hateful person too.
Yeah, absolutely anger is something that you carry, not them.
Although trans representation has been increasing, there’s an enormous amount of vitriolic behaviour towards trans people – arguably also on the rise. Take the LGB Alliance opposing the proposed reforms regarding self-identifying one’s gender, for example. How can people show their support for trans people effectively?
By showing up. That’s the most important thing. Stay connected online and show your allyship: correct people on using the wrong pronouns, ask people their pronouns when you meet them.
You’re in a film! What did it mean to you to be featured in a documentary?
The most amazing achievement was working with Lea Luiz de Oliveira, she only makes films about people she feels connected to and it’s such a catharsis. The whole film is about self-acceptance. I’ve just composed for the trailer and I’m hoping to do an album release alongside the film.
Finally, what would you like to say to the person reading this?
Love yourself! It’s so cheesy but that’s it, that’s everything I’m trying to say in my music; everything is transient, that’s the beauty of it. Don’t worry, everything’s going to pass, & also don’t worry that everything’s going to pass.
You can find Lonely Carp on Patreon & Instagram, @lonely_carp