Her Stepford Wife-esque ‘alien beauties’ are designed to show how society alienates trans people
“I’d say it was humorous,” comments Juno Birch on her artistic approach. “I try not to take art too seriously because humour was a massive thing for me growing up. Taking the piss out of everything was my way of coping with being trans.”
Birch’s work certainly loves to take the piss. You can’t help but smirk at the bizarre and beautiful nature of what she calls her “alien beauties”: Hunky Stepford Wives-on-Acid with hyper-sized, lipstick smeared, Jennifer Coolidge lips, caricature breastplates, and half-spent cigarettes hanging out of their stubble-studded mouths. Birch embraces both the masculine and the feminine in her illustrations, marrying the two in her own zany vision of what it means to be trans.
“My art doesn’t speak on behalf of all trans people because every trans person is completely different”, she assures me when asked about an overarching message in her work, “other transgender people do relate to it, but it’s more of a personal thing of my own experience.”
“When I was younger, being trans was an insecurity. (It came from) the fact I had broad shoulders, an Adam’s apple, and my voice was deep; things like that. I was insecure about being artificial. But as I got rid of a lot of gender dysphoria, I (started to) draw out the things that are quite beautiful about being trans, and embracing the things that I still have. This is why a lot of my characters have really big boobs and overly feminine features, but they still have Adam’s apples, broad shoulders, and stubbly chins.”
“Taking the piss out of everything was my way of coping with being trans” – Juno Birch
Birch started her transition when she was 13, and while she received support from her family and community, transitioning was still a difficult process. On growing up trans she laments: “When I was younger, there wasn’t as much media (highlighting) trans people, so it was more alienating for me. I think that’s why a lot of my artwork (focuses on) alien-esque women; they are aliens dressing up as women and it still sometimes does feel like that with being trans.”
The concept of artificial womanhood is a running theme in Birch’s work as the aliens she depicts often look like defunct 50s housewife Autobots – they play at being women but never getting it quite right. “I think it’s because I’m inspired a lot by 1950s and 60s decor and models,” she explains. “There’s a simplicity in that era but also a lot of artificial beauty. I love Stepford Wives because all the women are robots underneath, and the thing with robots is they are artificial and they’ve built themselves, and that’s how I feel a lot of the time. Like, I’ve built my own body by taking pills and having surgery, so I associate with characters like that.”
A favourite muse of Birch’s is Jennifer Coolidge of Legally Blond and A Cinderella Story fame. “I also love Catherine O’Hara (Beetlejuice, Home Alone) and Meryl Steep and Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her. These actresses always inspire me when they’re really glamorous but really tragic at the same time. I just love how fabulous they are, but they’re also falling to pieces.”
When it comes to the messy nature of her characters – a very true reflection of womanhood, she says – Birch is inspired by Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks. “The aliens disguise themselves as humans or do things to trick humans (but) never in a perfect way (or) correctly,” she says. “With all the studies they do on humans, they never manage to trick the humans.” It’s the same with her alien women, she explains, “They’re putting make-up on but they’re not doing it that well.”
In one piece, aptly titled “Human Groceries”, the stubbled women don stylish hairdos and teeter in a supermarket, bare-chested in six-inch heels. It’s a great example of how Birch simultaneously embraces and pokes fun at what it means to be a woman. She laughs when asked about the message behind the piece: “They’re alien women who are doing their grocery shopping (but) not picking up the vegetables, which are a necessary thing. They’re picking up the boobs and craving more femininity. I spent so many years of my life longing for that femininity in my own body.”
Birch finds success in her work because of her ability to bridge the gap in the gender binary, creating something she describes as “beautiful” rather than “freakish” – though there’s a lot of good to be said about being both. She corrupts the conventional and turns it into confrontational comedy, allowing for a refreshing perspective on the still marginalised queer experience.
Follow Juno Birch, or buy her art, here