SOUTHERN REVIVAL - June 19, 2016
We arrived in Charlotte just before the rain. The air was thick and heavy, like it was about to break under its own weight. Seth, our bassist, pulled the van into the parking lot of the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, where we would be meeting with Charlotte Trans Pride, a small but active group of transfolk who have been organizing against HB2 since the moment the law passed.
Inside the church we sat around a conference table, dining on cold pizza and ambrosia salad. We met Lara, a former U.S. Airman who transitioned after she left the service. Now, she builds electric guitars, which is like the most badass thing imaginable. We also met Liam, this charming, punkrock-looking trans dude who was out in the streets protesting HB2 two weeks after his top surgery.
Technically after a double mastectomy you’re not supposed to lift your arms overhead for six weeks, but he was out there holding a sign in the air, bleeding through his shirt from the fresh incisions in his chest. After sharing a meal we made our way to a small lounge area, the Charlotte Pride headquarters (yes, still in the church). Lara played a couple of original tunes for us, and we jammed on a song from Manifest Pussy.
That night was our biggest audience yet. We played at Upstage NoDa, an upstairs cabaret on North Davidson. I explained, as I have been before every performance, how even though my show is a solo performance, it’s actually a love-letter to North Carolina from the entire New York theatre community. I told them how over 200 people had lent their resources to make the tour possible, and while I supported the celebrity boycotts of the state, I felt that removing arts and culture from a community that was already losing their rights felt like adding insult to injury.
After the show, one of the audience members came up to me and said, “It’s a really loving thing you're doing, to bring something in when everyone else is taking things away.”
Another dude told me, “Yours is the perfect show for anyone seeking understanding. I didn't know much about transgender experience, and I'm so glad I came tonight and that you're doing this. When we can just see each other as human, it's like, we're not really that different. We all go through some crazy shit.”
I couldn’t have said it more eloquently myself.
On our way out of town, we stopped at WBT talk radio, where I joined conservative personality, Keith Larson, for an hour of his morning show. We had chatted twice on the air, over the phone, and this was a chance for us to sit together and hash out some of the differences in our opinions. Fundamentally, he doesn’t support HB2 either, but he also couldn’t really wrap his mind around the transgender experience. In a heated moment when we were discussing the idea of transfolk in locker rooms, I suggested that academic institutions need to develop policy to create safe spaces for transgender athletes:
“All this talk about children being protected from women like me in the bathroom, that if I went into a women’s restroom young girls will somehow be morally traumatized for their entire lives. But then I think about what’s going to happen if we send, without any sort of warning, education, or policy—not me, but a young transman, someone who was born female, but is now living as a male—into a locker room at a high school or a college, places where one if four women are subject to sexual assault. That’s where I think, ‘Oh my god, all these dudes are gonna rape this poor person in the shower.’ That’s what I think. I think the safety issue is about the young transman who’s not protected against sexually violent heterosexual males. That’s why I think we need clearer policy.”
With that mic effectively dropped, we took of for Greensboro.
The Carolina Theatre is nearly 100 years old, and just down the block from the Woolworths, where in 1960 four African American college students sat down at the counter and asked for service. In the main stage auditorium of the theatere there is a balcony that used to be “coloreds only.” It was closed after the sit-in and now serves as a platform for a more advanced lighting and sound rig. Still, from the stage looking out, there’s a gap between the curtained trusses where you can see the empty bench seats of the balcony, a haunted reminder of North Carolina’s legacy of segregation.
I performed in The Crown, a new second-stage black box space and concert venue on top of the original theatre. Two local police officers were on hand to ensure my safety. We chatted a bit before the show, and they were game to join me for a photo.
I was warned by Seth, who is from Greensboro originally, that this audience might be more conservative than others. The theatre itself, while excited to present the show, had to drop “Pussy” from the title and just billed the show as the “Anti-HB2 Rebel Tour.” Still, it was impressive to see those words on the marquee! I decided to warm up the crowd by chatting a little bit pre-show. I warned them that I was a potty-mouth and to get ready for a wild time. I also asked if folks had any questions. After the first couple songs someone raised their hand and shouted, “I have a question!”
“You took a picture of your dick before cutting it off. Did you ever think of having it bronzed, like people do with baby shoes?”
“No,” I replied, “but I guess I could get it 3D printed if I found enough dick pics from different angles.”
Clearly this audience was along for the ride.
After the show, I met a woman who worked as a gender therapist, advocating for the transgender community in Greensboro and elsewhere in the state, helping people find treatment and resources. She teared up as she told me about her sister, a transwoman who has taken her own life just before embarking on a post-graduate fellowship at Yale.
“It doesn’t matter how many resources, how educated or apparently successful a person is,” she told me.
“Yeah,” I confirmed, “without harmony in ones own body, life becomes unbearable.”
The next day, our seventh consecutive show in our seventh consecutive city, we performed at Local 506 in Chapel Hill, another rock club with band fliers on the wall and the smell of spilled beer perfuming the air. Before the show I walked through the crowd, introducing myself to folks who showed up early. Two older ladies sitting in the third row informed me that they came to see the show because they had heard me on the radio. After the performance, they came up to me by the bar.
“I’m a minister at Unity Church,” one of the woman said while embracing me. “I appreciate how you wove spirituality into your story so deftly.”
She paused and put her hands on my shoulders, looking me in the eye with heart-melting gratitude. “Thank you for ministering to me tonight.”
Like I say in the show, I’m a Eunuch for the Kingdom of Heaven baby!
Tonight I play my last show of the tour at The Pinhook in Durham, then it’s back to New York for my homecoming show at Joe’s Pub on June 23rd. I’m sure I’ll have more stories to tell...