With raw and honest narratives, Joss Barton’s work zooms in on the life living as a trans* woman of color in a world that is at times hostile and at times loving toward her. She’s a writer, an artist, a vintage lover, a south city girl, a news junkie, an activist, and a beautiful human who understands–or seeks to understand–the complexity of human nature, the darkness and lightness within each of us.

Growing up in a small, rural Missouri town, the first story Barton wrote was about picking strawberries and blackberries in the fields of her family’s 40-acre farmland. It’s a picturesque image of living the simple life, and although Barton speaks fondly of her childhood, she grew up in a life speckled with existential questions of her own identity.

“As a child, I was acutely aware that I was different,” Barton says. “I definitely have vivid memories of feeling that I was a girl. But as I got older, those went to the backburner. I was trying to ignore them, and I was kind of trying to ignore my soul in a way.”

joss_polaroid_threeThrough it all, Barton always wrote. She was writing as soon and she knew how to, from her diary to comic strips. Her mother constantly read to her, and Barton’s love of reading catalyzed her love of writing. After high school, Barton decided to make that passion into a career and pursued a journalism degree at Mizzou.

“College was the first time I was able to understand what trans* was and meet trans* people,” she explains. “I had never considered that–what a transition was–but I just started grappling with that, going back and forth, ‘am I trans* woman? Or am I a gay man?’”

Barton began actively transitioning in 2013, starting off slowly at first until she eventually living full time as a transgender woman. Since then, Barton believes that her writing has become much more concise, even using her own experiences in her writing. Always drawn to creative writing, Barton is currently working on a book of poetry, fictional prose and short stories.

“People around me give me inspiration,” she explains. “A lot of my work is utilizing memory and the past to craft a new form of narrative that people can grasp.”

joss_polaroid_oneShe also gets inspiration from fashion. “Having a character visually represented is a lot of what the character is. I like incorporating tiny little bits of fashion nuggets.”

A huge vintage girl, Barton especially loves styles from the 70s and 80s. Retro 101/Cherry Bomb Vintage is her go-to store for clothing–they have unique pieces all the way back to the 20s.

“What I love about older stuff is that no one else is going to be wearing it. I love having something very unique and knowing a piece used to be in someone else’s life.”

Barton’s current wardrobe has been a few years in the making; her style is self-described as chic-acid femme. She has some of everything–remnants of very masculine clothing to dresses and maxi skirts. Barton loves combining masculine fits with feminine pieces.

“Why not wear whatever you want? Switch it up, playing with androgyny is perfect in fashion.”

Sifting through her closet, Barton gushes over some of the pieces she’s gathered throughout the years, lighting up with excitement as she describes what she’d pair it with.

One of her favorite pieces is a vintage, Charles James jacket. It’s cut for a man, has a great iridescent shell and felt, pattern lining, and is a bit utilitarian. Barton wears it baggy over a dress effortlessly. Barton also adores her men’s Levi jean jacket that she got in college. It has a classic 80s look–not really acid wash but light wash–and looks great with a high-waisted pant and heel.

joss_polaroid_two“I love the juxtaposition of clothing,” Barton says. “I love going from nice and classy, very five star restaurant to very raw and edgy, a little slutty, hanging out with my girls on a street corner, smoking a cigarette.”

Jewelry, Barton says, is kept simple. A bangle or statement necklace are added touches to pieces. She prefers casual, good pieces that can be mixed with any outfit. Barton admits she goes through shoes quickly, but loves combat boots, a nude heel or flats, and a nice pattern wedge or platform.

Like fashion, Barton sees her writing as a form of expression and art. She explores real truths in her work, and touches on powerful subjects and topics relevant to our country today.

“I center on the contradictions that we live in,” she explains. “They say ‘love your neighbors’ and ‘we’re all Americans,’ but 50 percent of people are welcoming and 50 percent of people don’t want you a part of their civil life. Not in schools, bathrooms, ‘their’ country. To them–to those people–your pure existence is a threat.”

Barton, of course, loves to get published, but writes primarily as a path to self-discovery. “I write about my experiences in a very visceral way. I write about a very real reality living under the label of ‘other.’”

She describes writing as an almost psychological need, a way to find out things about herself that she didn’t know existed. She writes to find her purpose in the world, and she writes to dissect the joy, darkness and liberation she sees around her.

“We all have the capacity for uncompromising empathy and love for other people. We also have capacity for benevolent, dark behavior to others and ourselves. No one is perfect–we’re just trying to do the best we can. But we can’t change the narrative of society and culture until we look into ourselves. And that’s what I’m trying to do with my writing.” V

by Kaleigh Jurgensmeyer