Sunday, February 11, 2018

Community, Music, and Trans Roots

It has now been a little over 2 months since I revealed my true self to the world. What I have discovered is that Everything is different now that I am out. Experiences of emotion are not constantly being checked, decisions are rarely second guessed, empathy is easy and genuine. Self confidence and empowerment is definitely here!

Now I think back on my life with new eyes: the series of decisions I made, how I got to here. I got to thinking about how many children are told they can grow up to be whatever they want to be. This advice is difficult enough to sell to girls. In my own case, as a closeted transwoman, I never felt this to be true. I already felt a bit restricted from expressing everything I truly liked and associating with other girls without fear of physical retribution and ostracism. Being trans was considered being a freak. So, I denied myself many opportunities for community and future career occupations because of my self imposed stricture that I just did not think they would be open to me. I tried to tough it out pretending to be a man, but could never connect authentically. There was a time I aspired to be a n ELCA Lutheran Pastor, but as with most of society at the time, many religious institutions mistakenly viewed Transgender identities as a "behavior" -- and a sinful one at that - far worse than killing someone out of anger or in war. If it slipped I were trans or became openly trans - that would scare away the flock, the church board would fire me because I wasn't bringing in revenue. I thought it would be great to go to officer training school and becoming either a Navy pilot or intelligence officer, or better yet Become a career diplomat in the foreign service, that is really where my passion lay. My year as a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol really solidified a few things for me: 1) I could never be openly trans, 2) I was reprimanded far too many times for insubordination (apparently our CO didn't like to have her nonsensical orders questioned.- I just asked her to give me the big picture / reason why behind the order. Its impossible to follow otherwise.)

I wanted to be a teacher. Again who in the early 90s would want a transsexual teaching their kids? (if you remember the hell that was raised by parents back in the 90s here in the Twin Cities with an openly trans school Librarian and shortly after an openly trans band-director who taught lessons through Schmitt Music Edina (I managed Maplewood at the time - and then hearing fellow managers unknowing of my own identity make the usual sexually disparaging jokes (everything from new gender "tests" for all employees, to remedying her surgery aspirations using a belt sander-- seriously guys get over your f'ng selves!!). So much for any possibility of being an openly trans store and sales manager at a family oriented music store either that or no more sales awards for me. 

Aspiring prog-metal bassist Xenia with Krista in 1991
a few months before Nirvana
Throughout it all, I needed a career where I could always feel myself and be free. I have always wanted to be a professional bassist / lead singer and composer of high art music. In High School in the 1980s, I was drawn to becoming a metal musician, not because I liked the music, but because it provided for me an option to feminize my appearance without drawing suspicion - and if you are a good musician people tend to give you a pass - "He's an artist" - The thing is, I was always more into underground Progressive metal, not the popular glam metal / Hair Band artists of the 80s. - But even here I would never really be able to be openly trans. I was rereading my journal from 1990-91, There is an entry in which I am clearly drunk and in despair that how the fk am I ever going to make it as a musician if people really knew I was trans - the dilemma, I created for myself - I can either be openly trans and live a secluded isolated life rejected by everyone or I can become a bassist -- MAYBE if I move to Northern California, I can find life as both. 

Throughout all of this, Krista was with me. There was a heckuva lot she however did not understand. Yet she did encourage me to find community. I rarely took her up on this, but she understood that because she was not trans and didn't have my experiences and did not know what it is like to be trans, to be closeted, that I needed others who did have that understanding. Before the Internet came into full swing in the late 1990s, finding community as a trans woman was a nearly impossible task. In the years before her tragic death, she further suggested that I seek care through the Gender and Sexual Health Clinic at HCMC (where she worked as a Director of Organization Development and Learning) because it is important for anyone's health to have open truthful communication with their healthcare provider without worry of stigma.

In the months after Krista's death and especially since coming out, I have made references to a group of friends whom I referred to as my "Inner Circle." Not that this is an official group and not even that they are very close to me, but these are the friends on whom I have always been able to call; who have always been willing to listen to me as I vent, cry, laugh whenever I needed to gather my wits in my closeted life. (of course my characteristic guilt gnaws at me, as it probably always will, in that I do not feel I reciprocate the same emotional care in return - though now I am finding opportunities to pay it forward and offer my shoulder). 

Dinner with Shoop! (at least 6 of us) 
This weekend I finally stepped out in public as a professional musician -- now openly trans, now Xenia Sandstrom-McGuire. - Black dress, necklace heeled boots and make-up.  It began Friday night, by me playing bass with my 11 piece vocal jazz band, Shoop! at the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce Awards Ceremony Gala. Yes I did notice a few double takes, some apparent whispers, but who cares. My band has my back and they did the best thing for me: No over the top congratulatory remarks on my appearance (though I did get some great compliments on my boots-- (I got to take the last open seat at the table as Karen remarked to John and Jim, "Heels trump Shoes") But it was music making as usual. I even walked confidently from the stage ordered my 2nd drink - no hassles - but a few friendly exchanges. So nice. - I will say however that I felt compelled to play bass better than I ever have as I don't want to embarrass transwomen everywhere. Actually, playing bass felt effortless, and my musical choices felt confident and creative. Maybe it was my imagination or maybe it was because I myself felt open and free - worth exploring.

Then yesterday afternoon, I, now open, experienced the wonderful intensity of having a community - a group of trans women from my generation (though I am the youngest ;) ), as Venus de Mars, having arrived from the funeral of one of her dear friends and former bandmates who died unexpectedly of the flu, to give her scheduled presentation on the "Trans Roots of Punk.", acoustic performance, and reading from her upcoming memoir.  
Presentation "Trans Roots of Punk"
Performance and Reading here:
silly faces with Lynette
A Little background: I first met Venus and her wife Lynette (English Professor, Poet, Radio Host) at a house party 20 years ago. Along with my Green Pyramids band mates, they were among the few people outside of Krista with whom I shared more about the depths of my trans identity. Their open hearts, patience to listen was of immense help to me in finding the safe place to express my true being.
quick selfie with Venus
Over the years, our bands shared the stage, gathered at Scott's epic house parties. Occasionally, Venus and I would grab a coffee at a cafĂ© above her art studio. She was always willing to listen, provide hugs and understanding that really no one else could understand. Heck, I even auditioned for her band All The Pretty Horses for an upcoming tour they planned (it was really fun to groove with Venus and Jendeen - terrific fluid rhythmic vibe) I don't know if I was ever seriously considered, but I could not justify joining for a tour when Krista and I were in the midst of adding on to our house, me in graduate school, et al. 

Then in 2003 Krista and I decided to have children. And I love my children. They are my world! With me as primary caregiver, I cut down on my social life and ended up letting so many of my friendships and sense of community drop. From time to time we would exchange emails, they always extended an invitation to their pre-Thanksgiving party. But now as I am once again venturing out with people my own age, I realized last night it has been far too long since we have been in the same room together. For me it was a good thing, kinda tearing up just by being there and being me.

with my beer enabler Susanna 
Anyway, I don't know what kind of impact Venus' presentation on the Trans Roots of Punk will have on non-trans people, But for me, what she provided was an intense visceral pricking of my knowing heart; recalling my own memories, feelings, fears; our devaluation of our own self-worth when not only did society at large make us feel unsafe, we were not welcome with the gay and lesbian community either. How things have shifted in just 25 years! With every sentence she expressed, describing, recounting her experiences, through songs, excerpts from her upcoming memoir, and trans music history - so many emotions, meanings, simultaneously running through my being that I often found myself in tears - holding it together so as not to distract - It was an incredibly moving experience for me. I found myself welling up with tears and wanting to shout out "Amen Sister!" (though that wouldn't be very Lutheran of me).

I was living a closeted life while she lived the experiences as an openly trans trailblazing artist. The transwoman who was once asked by rep if she would consider "Not being Trans" so that he could sell her art to a major record label, has made it possible for an artist like Laura Jane Grace to find major label success - The time was never right - until now. As a transgender musician and real human being, I am indebted to Venus and Lynette for setting the stage to make my life today possible. Thank you!
With my heart -- Jill

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