Denny: "When a professor wrote 'don’t stop writing' in the back of my essay, I knew there was a deeper calling."

Denny: "When a professor wrote 'don’t stop writing' in the back of my essay, I knew there was a deeper calling."

Denny is a Queens girl through and through. It's the first borough her family first moved to and the one she keeps coming back to, mainly for its food. As an actor, musician, and writer, her work focuses on telling stories from the inner queer and trans circles. Her 2021 essay, "He Made Affection Feel Simple" was published in the New York Times' Modern Love column. She's also co-starred in POSE (FX), New Amsterdam (NBC) and City On Fire (Apple TV).

Denny also conducted the interviews with the girls for this New York issue, so much of these fun questions are her work. Read on to learn more about our NY editor and overall star, Denny.

✩ What borough are you in, and what tethers you to your neighborhood?

I’m in Astoria, Queens! I think maybe the only Queens girl here, which I get—Brooklyn has a reputation for its LGBTQ circles. Honestly, above being trans, being a Southeast Asian, an immigrant, a Muslim, I am absolutely a foodie first. I know that in order to have the array of cuisine of my dreams I’d need to be in Queens, which also happens to be the first borough my family lived in when I was a child and later on when we permanently immigrated from Indonesia.

This is my third time in the borough. My first NYC roommate as an adult and I moved here from Manhattan after a bad experience with a shady landlord and superintendent, and I’ve been in Astoria for five years now.

✩ If you were one of the train lines, which one would you be and why?

I’m partial to the 1, specifically in the Upper West Side, because I spent my post-undergrad early 20s in Morningside Heights and Harlem before moving to Astoria. I lived there for a short amount of time, but there will always be a special place for it in my heart. Additionally, the R train not only takes me to Astoria, but also Elmhurst, which is the neighborhood we immigrated to that has a large Indonesian immigrant community.

✩ What’s your bodega deli order?
Any kind of sandwich, but my bodega deli run is usually a can of Poppi and some sour candy. Extra points if there is a cat I can pet.

Denny posing on a fire escape for The Girls Book issue 03 NEW YORK (photography by MTHR TRSA)

✩ How would you describe the artistic work that you do, and how did you get into it?

Although I consider myself to be an actor and musician, my main bread and butter has been through my writing career. I stumbled into it as a Tumblr blogger documenting her gender exploration at 16, and eventually turned it into an independent study course in college, where I accidentally had a post go viral. I learned then what it meant to have eyes on my work, and when a professor wrote “don’t stop writing” in the back of my essay, I knew there was a deeper calling—one I think I’ve been waiting to find all my life.

✩ What is your cultural background, and how does it shape your art, if at all?

Being an Indonesian native living in the U.S. has opened my eyes to the grim culture of tourism and labor exploitation. From my personal experience, most Americans’ understanding of Indonesia belies in only knowing Bali. For some time, I wished this reality was different, but I’ve come to embrace being a blank slate to people. It gives me agency, especially in my work, to rely on self-determination to let people know who I am and what my work stands for. In a way, coming from a country not many people know outside of a tourist destination has only allowed me to steer the ship of my art.

✩ What’s your relationship to hustling? How do you not get lost?

Hustle culture is dehumanizing. Being able to afford the cost of basic living standards is not a privilege. I remind myself that regardless of my biggest career failures or largest accomplishment, I will never be defined by my career. People aren’t their jobs.

✩ New York City is such a transient transplant town where people come from all over the world, but what’s your relationship to America overall?

Now and then I’ll ask my parents why we ever moved here. But it’s also not lost on me that my career as a writer is beholden to the very language that is dominant in this “country.” It is my duty, then, to expand who gets the opportunity to read my words. Audre Lorde famously said, “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house,” but I’ll sure as hell die trying if it means inching closer towards an equitable life—at least in my lifetime.

✩ The city can be considered a “doll’s paradise,” where not only trans femmes can thrive in their personhood, but also in term of career, from fashion, to modeling, nightlife, etc. How true has that notion been for you, in your experience of working in the City?

As someone who considers herself to have grown up on the internet, I find social media to be another space of congregating with people like myself. One relationship stands out: Gogo Graham, a biracial Japanese and white trans woman designer in Brooklyn. I’ve been a fan of her garments since I was a student. Through Leah (also featured in this issue!), Gogo came into my life, and she has become one of my closest trans girlfriends. I have to pinch myself every time she texts me. I like to think the moves in our careers are sweeter while sticking beside one another.

✩ What’s your ideal get-ready routine for a night out?

I like solitude. I remember getting ready to go out in college and realizing that when I stepped out of my dorm room I had gotten ready in total silence. Maybe I’m just one-track minded, but I find getting ready so cathartic. I am reminded of the times my dad scolded me for how I wanted to present myself in middle and early high school. Not one second of my time getting ready is taken for granted, now; to be able to transform myself into a version I feel aligns with my state of expression at the time can fully move me to tears. Even when I put on music, I prefer using headphones. In other words, when I get ready for a night out, I keep a bubble around myself.

✩ How do you go about finding community?

An open mind can go a long way when it comes to not only finding community, but losing it, too. As I continue to understand myself better, I approach old and new friendships with a newfound acceptance of change. I can lose friends, just as much as I can find more people to be a part of my world.

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