STAND OUT - June 12, 2016

It’s my third day on the road in North Carolina. I’m writing from the van, someplace between Raleigh and Asheville. I’ve only done two out of eight performances so far, and already this trip has been life-changing.

As soon as we crossed the state line, late Friday night, we pulled off into the North Carolina Visitors Center so I could use the restroom. The men’s restroom. What started as a cheeky stunt to point out the ridiculous nature of this law suddenly became weighted and unnerving. I have the privilege of sweeping into this state for ten days to make a point, but for transgender North Carolinians the bathroom issue isn’t a joke, or a choice.

It was my first time in a men’s room in three years. My stomach sank, I felt like a clown, I worried about people staring, saying something, or worse, getting violent. I felt the civil rights struggle in my body, the stress and tension that comes from risking personal safety to fight for your rights. All this, “for the privilege to pee.”

Our first show was at The Rock Shop in Fayetteville, a big industrial warehouse on the corner of an otherwise empty block. Inside it smelled like beer, body odor and cigarettes. The makeshift green room was curtained off behind a caged-in skateboard ramp, where two dudes from the band playing after us practiced their ollies through our soundcheck. The stage itself was perched on rickety risers, a few rows of weathered chairs placed in front.

Before the show, a young guy in typical rock ‘n’ roll gear was standing out front smoking a cig. He asked if I had any music on Spotify or iTunes yet (I don’t).

“My Dad is going through the same situation, I wanted to send him some of your stuff.”

“Oh, is your dad transitioning?” I asked

“No he did it, the whole thing, operation and everything.”

“Oh wow! Congrats!” I replied, admittedly taken off guard, “That’s so great she has such a supportive son,” I added, hoping my encouragement would validate both of their processes.

There were only 12-15 people at this first show, but they were so on board. Afterwards, the young rocker from out front came up to me with tears in his eyes.

“Thank you,” he said softly, “You really helped me understand my dad. I wish he could see your show.”

I ignored the pronoun slip, clearly this guy was doing his best.

“Thank you for doing what you’re doing,” he added, and reached out his hand to shake mine.

Rob, a young army veteran who was stationed at Fort Bragg, bought the band a round of drinks after the show. “I volunteered to fight for freedom,” he told me, “all types of freedom.”

Also at the show were a few queer women who are organizing an Artists Against HB2 event to take place at The Rock Shop July 2. The local Target is sponsoring, along with the newly formed nonprofit Equality NC. They invited us all to Fayettevilles local gay bar, Jack’s Tap.

Situated in a rundown strip mall that’s home to two other equally divey bars, Jack’s Tap has the flavor and flare of any small town gay bar, different genders, ages, ethnicities, all sorts of people unified under one rainbow flag. I met a young man named Matt who’s husband died fighting in Iraq before their marriage was federally recognized. Now Matt’s dating a Transman, and while they may look like a “normal gay couple,” one of them has to use the women’s restroom when they go out together. Thanks, HB2.

We raised a glass with the local queers of Fayetteville, having no idea that at the same moment our LGBT bothers and sisters were being gunned down in Orlando.

I woke up on Sunday morning, like most of America, to the news of the Pulse nightclub shootings. My heart stopped, my breath was ripped from my chest. I sat and watched the news, checking my social media feeds over and over, fielding emails and text messages from friends and family asking if I was going to continue with the tour, imploring me to step up security. I called my producer and asked her to touch base with the police departments in every city left on our route. I watched President Obama address the nation:

“This is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American—regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation—is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country.”

I remarked to myself how our President, who I love, failed to include gender identity in his statement; the same exclusion, along with sexual orientation, enacted by HB2 in its redefinition of North Carolina’s non-discrimination policy.

As long as a state can legislate discrimination, we will perpetuate and encourage the hatred of LGBT people.

Sunday evening the LGBT center of Raleigh hosted a vigil for the victims of the Pulse shootings. It was held in the parking lot of Legends, a gay night club just down the block from The Pour House, where I was set to play. After soundcheck we went over to the vigil, lit candles, cried and tried to make sense of the senseless act that had brought us all together. One of the employees of Legends used to work for Pulse until he moved up to Raleigh from Orlando last year. He ran the lighting for Latin night on Saturdays. “I may not have known everyone by name,” he said through anguished tears, “but I know all of their faces; they were my family.”

I refused to cry. I was furious and devastated, but I wanted to save it for the stage. That night, before the show started, I got up and said to The Pour House crowd, “If hatred silences us, then hatred wins. In moments like this it’s important for us all to come together as a community to say ‘We will not live our lives in fear, we will honor those living and dead with our stories and the force of our spirits.’“

After the show, I added an encore dedicated to the victims of the Pulse shootings, “Stand Out” by my friend and Manifest Pussy collaborator Zoe Sarnak. Watch the video below, and keep following Manifest Pussy on Playbill.

Shakina performs "Stand Out" by Zoe Sarnak at The Pour House in Raleigh in honor of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando. Part of the Manifest Pussy North Carolina Rebel Tour against HB2. June 12, 2016. Jacob Yates on keys. Filmed by Bek Ward.