Joanna Fang: After the Curtain

Joanna Fang is a Foley artist and Foley editor. Based out of New York Foley studio Alchemy Post Sound, Joanna is one of the few openly transgender personnel actively working in the television and film industry having performed and edited Foley and custom sound effects on numerous features films, documentaries, interactive entertainment, and episodic television since 2011.

Graduating with honors from the NYU film program in 2013, Joanna immediately began apprenticing and training under APS lead Foley Artist Leslie Bloome and Foley mixer Ryan Collison.  She continues to grow as a perfectionist at her craft and along with her Foley mixer Nick Seaman, Joanna constantly seeks to improve and refine the art of Foley sound effects for a new generation of entertainment technologies and creative visions.  She is currently the lead Foley artist on Nickelodeon’s Welcome to the Wayne, and second Foley artist on Netflix’s Making a Murderer and AMC’s Feed the Beast. Recently, Joanna became the first openly transgender woman to win a Primetime Emmy.

How did you come out?
My coming out process was somewhat slow.  There was the part of me that was transgender and the part of me that was pansexual.  I keep most of my dating preferences in private, there really wasn't much need to openly address my sexuality unless someone happened to be the object of my affection.  However, coming out as trans* was a much more complicated process which affected the openness of my sexuality.  I didn't fully come out until I graduated from college and got a job, I feel like this has become the norm for a lot of people who are financially dependent on their parents.  I had been out to a few of my closest friends, maybe posted a few cryptic statuses on Facebook, but i didn't go super public with my transition until I accidentally had a Freudian slip at work.  My boss Andrea and I started discussing the possibility of hiring an additional intern.  'Maybe we can train someone to be our first female Foley artist', to which I casually replied 'what are you talking about, I am your female Foley artist'.  Whoops.  From that day forward, I started becoming much more open about my transition.  I made my 25th birthday party into a large scale re-birthday party as a way of getting that info out there. I started live broadcasting glimpses of my hormone therapy to my Facebook friends, family, and followers.  I realized that if someone thinks my trans-ness is abhorrent, they weren't worthy of my friendship in the first place.  I think my 'coming out' phase ended when I went on the red carpet with my mom for the Creative Arts portion of the Primetime Emmy's on September 11th.

When we were in high school, the way you spoke about gender was very liberating for me. You made me realize that 1, the way we speak about gender is in a binary and 2, that binary erases so many folks. You taught me the term pansexual and I realized thats what I identified with. Thank you for that. All said, what prompted this enlightened view of gender at such a young age?

I spent a lot of time in my adolescence attempting to understand these immense feelings of my queerness.  My mom made a very wise decision to purchase an entire Encyclopedia Britannica in the 80's so growing up I always had access to those large brown volumes.  Whenever I had a question I could easily reach over and find a relevant entry addressing my concerns.  However, there were a few questions that couldn't be articulated circa the 1985 edition of the Britannica; namely what the hell am I!?

I really loved femininity, but I knew that deep down inside, even the 4 year old me felt more like a woman.  I'd sit there with the entries for "transgender" and it'd lead me to, "fetish", "crossdressing", "transexual", "homosexual", "queer", and none of them offered any help in understanding who I was. 

Everything changed the day I got access to the Internet. Nowadays, the Internet is somewhat taken for granted but back then, the Net was this amazing shining beacon to so many LGBT people who felt so disconnected.  It was an oxygen supply, it gave us space. It let us know, "hey, you're not alone".  


From that, I began to articulate my own identity and meet others like me:  I'm transgender, I'm a woman, and I'm a pansexual.  The doors sort of opened, I could talk to others like me and communicate with clarity and understanding.   My angst was tempered, and my resolve and vision became clear. 

Is there a moment or time you remember first feeling like you might be transgender?

I'm lucky, I always knew.  One of my earliest memory growing up was having this wonderful dream that became a terrible nightmare.  In that dream, I was a woman, I was myself.  I was driving a red convertible, and as I drove away from my home, my family began to disappear behind me.  I wanted to stay with them, and as I drove around and headed back, I slowly became more and more masculine.  It was terrifying, I woke up crying and it's wild to realize that even at the young age of 3, I had internalized a lot of fear about my identity.

I had internalized the fear that becoming a woman would push away the people I loved, would alienate me from the people I cared about.  All throughout my pre-internet adolescence, I explored and began to understand my identity in secret.  I built up a lot of angst since I didn't realize you could medically transition until I read about Gwen Araujo.  Her murder hit home for me, she was a young beautiful woman and her trial became a huge crux of controversy.  The trans panic defense was utilized and the LA Times ran a story on how the four men were not charged with the hate crime enhancements.  I remember my mom reading that issue and being incredibly sad.  She showed me her picture, and later that night, I snuck into the recycling bin and clipped out the article on Gwen's case.  

Her story was both a beacon of hope and a terrible tragedy.  It informed me that there was hope, people like me exist and there's treatment.  It also informed me that my transgender identity requires me to fight for the right to live an authentic life.  

Did you talk to anyone about that moment?

I never talked to anyone about Gwen. I read that LA Times article every night under cover of darkness for years.  It wasn't until I took a class on oratory and debate that I began to be more open with people on trans advocacy.  

When did you realize you were passionate about the tv and film industry?

My passion for Film and TV came about when I was very young.  The first film I ever saw was Jurassic Park. I was 2 years old, and my mom had to walk me out of the theater since I couldn't stop freaking out over the incredibly horrifying opening involving the unseen (but definitely heard) velociraptor.  I've always loved films and television but that love became a career throughout high school.  I grew up with a very gifted and well funded school district that had a tight affiliation with the local news station. I was able to take classes in digital filmmaking through the school's regional occupation program and film everything from local football games to short documentaries. 

We also had an incredibly strong music and musical theater program which led me to discover music recording as well as performance. Surrounding myself with filmmaking and performing arts naturally gave way to a strong hunger for film and film sound design which in turn led me to NYU Tisch School of the Arts where I majored in Film and Television as well as a minor in Music Technology.  


Has the recent Emmy win changed your life? If so, how?

The Emmy win has affirmed a lot of my confidence and my place in the film industry.  I'm a Foley artist and sound editor, it really means a lot to me to be recognized for great work.  I spend hours every day in a sound proof room figuring out what the perfect chair squeak sounds like, or honing in on footsteps and performing them exactly in sync and with great finesse.  When there's that much attention to detail, it's sometimes easy to beat yourself up over simple things. The Emmy has cleared some impostor syndrome for me: I'm capable of creating something meaningful.  The Emmy has also given me a platform to address trans and queer identities behind the camera.  I'm sure everyone agrees, gender and sexuality really don't matter in film production. 

What matters is getting results, getting performances, and creating art that tells stories, communicates empathy.  It's important to advocate and encourage young people to find their passion and to confront prejudice.  Let your difficulties inform your art, but never stop making art. 

A message to the youth
To the young folk out there, we live in a dangerous but brave new world.  It's never exactly the most convenient or perfect time to come out, but today was yesterday's tomorrow.  Find comfort, find strength, within yourself and within others. Everyone's coming out process is different, but always respect yourself first and foremost.