ABSTRACT I am constructing an album featuring my own musical talents, and possibly other submissions from trans artists on campus to celebrate trans voices, in order to combat poor representation of trans people in the media. I am also going to gather myself along with other trans artists in the area to perform at a charity event in order to raise funds for a trans specific scholarship through the Equity Center. While there are LGBT scholarships within the state of Maryland, there are no scholarships even at UMD that are specifically for trans people. In order to create the album, I will be contextualizing existing songs to fit an accurate trans narrative, as a means of empowerment for trans listeners, and as an educational tool for cisgender people. The event will also serve the public in the same contexts for the album, as well as create a resource for a historically poor group.
Name a single trans musician. Name just a trans person in popular media besides Laverne Cox or Caitlyn Jenner. Chances are, if you aren’t actively involved in the LGBT community or haven’t studied LGBT history, then you probably struggled to name one. In a lot of the projects that I’ve done for a plethora of my classes, I have focused on trans visibility and representation, and its vitality to my community. It is crucial to our survival, and crucial to combat all of the hate that we face on a daily basis. As Laverne Cox says “any systematic change must begin with visibility,” (Rodriguez). That is why, I am creating an album featuring my own musical talents and possibly other trans artists on campus as well. I’m also going to use the music I’ve featured on my album, as well as gather other trans people in the surrounding area, to perform at a charity event in order to help raise money for a trans scholarship at UMD. I believe that representation is key for equality. I think these are good steps that I can take to help educate my surrounding community on trans people, as well as provide a resource for trans students to utilize in their times of need.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION Specifically, during the course of this project, I will be creating an album showcasing my own musical talent and, response pending, other trans artists around campus. In addition to the creation of this album, I will also be creating a charity event that will celebrate trans culture and artistry in the surrounding area, as well as raise funds specifically for trans students at UMD.
For the album, I will be using songs such as “Death of a Bachelor” by Panic at the Disco, and “You Don’t Own Me” by Leslie Gore, and contextualizing them towards a trans experience. Instead of “Death of a Bachelor” being about a man who finds comfort in his marriage, it’ll instead be about a trans woman celebrating that she has shed her male alter-ego, and is able to live comfortably in her own skin. Instead of “You Don’t Own Me” being about a woman talking to her borderline abusive partner about how she wants her freedom, it’ll instead portray a trans woman giving an impassioned speech towards her parents and society, telling them that this is who she is and no one will get in her way.
For the charity event, I will be hosting it at the Alumni Center at UMD. This is the simply because after research of venues on campus, this seems like the cheapest option that will provide the most amount of space. I don’t want this event to be small scale: I want to make this event look appealing enough to UMD students for them to want to attend for fun while at the same time letting them being exposed to trans culture. I want this event to be both a celebration of trans people, as well as serve as an educational tool for the cisgender people who show up. To show to the UMD community that we are people too, and that we have value.
It is obvious that there is mass discrimination against transgender people, what with the passage of bills like HB2 in North Carolina and so called religious freedom bills in Indiana, which essentially make discrimination legal. In the first ever survey of transgender people in the United States, it was determined that 19% of respondents “reported having been refused a home or apartment…experience homelessness…and the majority of those trying to access a homeless shelter were harassed by shelter workers or residents,” (Grant et. al). Also, transgender individuals aren’t even safe at a doctor’s office or hospital, because over “19% of our sample reported being refused care due to their transgender…status…28% of respondents were subjected to harassments in medical settings…,” (Grant et. al) .
But it’s important to know that this discrimination is not by any means modern. In fact, the United States even at its inception discriminated against intersex and transgender individuals:
“Unable to establish Hall’s “true” gender, despite repeated physical
examinations, and unsure of whether to punish him/her for wearing men’s or
women’s apparel, local citizens asked the court at Jamestown to resolve the
issue… the court ordered Hall in 1629 to wear both a man’s breeches and a
woman’s apron and cap,” (Beemyn 1).
Fast forward to cinema from the 1960’s to now, we see crossdressing as a gag in a lot of media. The “man in dress trope” became frequently common in cinema, in movies ranging from Toostie to Mrs. Doubtfire (Abbot). This normalized the idea that any person assigned male at birth caught wearing feminine clothing is insanely hilarious. That sort of normalization is quite a dangerous thing for trans people, both internally and externally. I know from experience that watching this trope play out in TV led to a lot of internalized transphobia and eventual self-hatred.
Now, there are several ways of combatting bad representation. One is by petitioning Hollywood to stop with these hateful tropes and miscasting in Hollywood (specifically referencing Dallas Buyers Club and The Danish Girl). This has been attempted before with the future release of the movie, Anything starring Matt Bomber as a trans sex worker. However, this attempt and others like it have been proven to be unproductive, because as Hollywood has made it clear time and time again, they do not care about transgender lives, only making money off of our stories. When the problematic nature of representing trans women through cisgender male actors has been brought up before, producers have given the trans community the typical response of “I’m glad we are learning from this,” without actually doing anything about it (Bui).
That’s why some people have taken to more subcultural routes of representation. For example, Brit Fryer combatted the stereotypical Hollywood trans narratives by creating his own work, Trans-ience to detail an accurate portrayal of trans people through independent filming (Talusan). We have artists like Anna Anthropy creating games about her own experience being trans, and putting them out to play for all to be inspired and to be educated by them. Finally, in the realm of music, we have trans people like Angel Haze and Laura Jane Grace actively creating their own tunes and contextualizing other works to help promote trans positivity and provide anthems to the community (Savage). An example of Angel Haze taking an existing song and forming it to their own experiences as an agender person is their cover of Macklemore’s “Same Love”, that is a message of love to her community, and a revolutionary anthem against their oppressors.
SIGNIFICANCE AND DISTINCTION
As stated earlier, many people are unaware of trans artists, and this project is a means to change that, and to introduce a mainstream audience to the works of trans people. Also, in regards to the charity event, the trans community is historically poor. Many of us not only have to pay for every day expenses, but also have the added challenge of mainstream discrimination that allows us to be denied housing and employment in over 28 states (Grant et. al). In addition, on top of the above average poverty line, some trans people also have to pay for medical transition to help curb gender dysphoria, which is also not often times covered by insurance. In my own personal experience, paying out of pocket is quite expensive, and can lead up to hundreds in dollars of charges within the first few appointments.
However, while my community suffers financially, especially my trans sisters of color, I come from an upper middle class family who is paying for my education. I have the privilege to get an event like this off the ground and actually help create some good for my community. I feel that it is my responsibility to do this and create a lasting support system for trans people at UMD.
Now, while there are a plethora of trans activism groups and charities out there, such as the National Center for Transgender Equality, Trans Lifeline, and Gender Spectrum, we can always do more on the local level. Also, in terms of scholarships, in the state of Maryland, there are no current trans specific scholarships. So with this event I am creating, the impact will be relatively significant on the trans community, at least at this school.
Also, there are a lot of trans artists out there, from Ezra Furman to Angel Haze and Laura Jane Grace. However, this is something I want to do for myself, and to display my own talent. I feel that the idea of putting out my own work is in itself distinct, but at the same time, I’m giving people at UMD a chance to be exposed to a trans musician right here at their school. I want my voice to be out there, both for myself and for other trans girls out there who feel ashamed of their voices.
Finally, on a separate but related note, I’m sick of how we as trans people are treated in this nation, especially my trans sisters of color. I’m tired of us always being portrayed as the horrifically depressed creatures in trans narratives, and as punchlines to cruel jokes. All I want for us is one night of fun, to raise money for our community and leave a long lasting impact.
EXPERTISE AND SKILLS
In terms of skills required, for the album portion I am already a singer and an amateur ukulele/piano player, so I could easily create my own back tracking for songs. The only skills I would need to pick up is mixing on Garage Band and basic drum kit skills, which I already have some experience in.
For the fundraising portion, I have all of the skills necessary to complete this task. I have networked before, I have created and hosted several of my own charity events, and I have the resourcefulness and the means to secure a venue to get this accomplished.
APPROACH In terms of research, over winter break I plan on identifying songs that have the potential to be contextualized towards the trans experience, and reworking them specifically to my voice and musical abilities. In that, I will study other trans artists who work covers and see if I can garner any strategies from them.
In terms of releasing the album, I’m thinking about utilizing Soundcloud and putting out my work free for all to listen to. Due to the expense of copyright claims, I will not be able to sell my work, however I will pass out free copies of the CD for free to those who want it at the event.
In terms of the event research, I have already selected a venue. I will also begin to research different catering options around College Park, and see if any restaurants would be willing to donate or offer food at a reduced cost. Also, I will see if any local businesses would be interested in donating prizes for a raffle for the night, in an effort to make more money for the scholarship. Finally, I will be partnering with the Equity Center on this project in terms of creating the scholarship and distributing its money. I personally do not want to hold on to funds, for security reasons, and also because I would have to count that as income on my yearly taxes.
In terms of getting the word out and making sure this is a successful event, I will be utilizing an aggressive social media campaign. I will make an official Facebook page for the event and the scholarship, and post regular updates. I will make available Soundcloud links as I finish songs and distribute it via this page. I will also advertise heavily in the DCC community, as the people inside of it have provided me with a plethora of support, and I am sure they will be happy to attend. Finally, I will post fliers around campus in order to spread the word more broadly.
WORK PLAN AND TIMELINE February 5th:: Finalize list of songs to contextualize specifically towards a trans experience
February 12th-Ongoing: Finish rehearsing songs and instrumentation for said songs
I want to have at least two songs ready to record by this date, and will continue practicing as I am able to record
February 16th : Finished recording a song/Begin the social media campaign once song is ready
Must be done at the studio. I will use the class time available to go work on my song at the sound studio.
February 28th: Have venue secured, finish at least three songs.
Songs must be completed at the sound studio, venue securing can be done via phone and fax.
March 15th: Have food secured, begin advertising and asking local businesses about prizes. Ask various departments for AV equipment, starting with DCC.
March 16th: Begin reaching out to Trans artists in the area and on campus to gather people for the event.
Will be completed online via social media outreach and emailing. Also I will advertise in the
March 30th: Have at least 6 songs completed.
Possibly more if I go ahead of schedule, although 6 is the bare minimum I want completed. After this point I will focus my efforts on the event, and what is done will go on the album for distribution.
April 15th – 30th: Window for charity event, also window for album completion to align with the night of said charity event.
This audience should be for everyone at UMD, because my goal is to normalize trans voice on campus, and to provide an educational tool for cis people. But the majority of people will probably ignore my work, whether it be from a lack of interest, lack of exposure, or simply because that this album was created by a trans person. So that’s why I also want it to serve as a tool of empowerment for trans people. I want to create an outlet for the voiceless and for the under and often misrepresented.
Album: Free of cost, only will cost time
Venue: Stamp (Location Pending Availability: 50-150 Dollars) (If money becomes an issue, I will see about renting the multipurpose room in Prince Frederick Hall) Again this depends on availability of the rooms, I will meet with a Stamp correspondent for details, with sound and seating it will not be any more than $150 dollars, a liberal estimate. I will see if the Equity Center would be willing to pitch in to help reserve a room, or perhaps point me to a more cost effective solution.
Catering = 120 dollars maximum, catering is pending response of different restaurants in the College Park area.
Total: 170-270 Dollars.
My future is convoluted at this point. As I have just gotten a job with the Human Rights Campaign, I now potentially have a solidified future in activism. So now I have the choice between a life of activism or a life of schooling and psychology. To be honest a project like this would definitely pair nicely with an activist role, simply because art, in my opinion, is a form of activism when it comes from the marginalized. And I don’t want this work to stop after I’m finished capstone. I want to keep exploring music, as well as keep doing this event pending its level of success. I think its important work, and I think that this is something I am good at and enjoy doing. I have a large amount of privilege, as discussed earlier. I am in a position where I can keep doing projects like these without a major disruption to my life, so I feel that it’s my duty to keep doing this event, building trans awareness and helping to support my community.
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