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Scoffice Series: Transgender Day of Visibility


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Today, March 31st, is Transgender Day Of Visibility. Some of our SCOPERs, Myles Evangelista, Joey O'Kelly, Olivia Manaligod, and Lg Kanioka met over zoom to discuss Transgender existence, music, and what Transgender Day of Visibility means to them! Read, watch, laugh, and learn from these four and check out two brand new 'Scoffice Series' videos featuring both Joey and Myles as they sing their songs Pinocchio and Dirty Little Secret

SCOPE Presents: Scoffice Series - Myles Evangelista and Joey O'Kelly

Video by Cat Dooley, Cooper Harrison, Katie Polaschek

 

Video by Cat Dooley, Cooper Harrison, Katie Polaschek

 

 

TDoV Panel Transcript:

Myles: Thanks for checking out the Scoffice Series. I’m Myles Evangelista, he/they pronouns.

Joey: Joey, he/they pronouns as well.

Olivia: Hi, I’m Olivia, she/her pronouns. I’m a part of SCOPE and I also work at the Pride House.

LG: Hi! I’m LG, they/she pronouns, your local Gen Comm member.

Olivia: Nice! So let’s just get right into the interview. My first question is for Myles specifically - how did you come up with the metaphor of Pinocchio in your song?

Myles: It was a pretty easy connection to draw, I think, especially in use as a trans allegory specifically. And I worried it was a little bit too on the nose because Pinocchio’s whole story is I’m a real boy and all of that, but I did imagine that the poor guy was probably also exhausted of constantly needing to prove to the folks he interacted with in his fable “I am real, I am real and I do deserve to be here”. I looked at that and I went, “oh, I shouldn’t find this relatable” but it makes an easy front to put my words and feelings to, and it’s a concept I figured most folks would also be familiar with. The proving of his own existence shouldn’t go without noting that his existence is, by nature, kind of a target for him - because he is real, but the way that he’s built might make folks who have ill intent or a lack of understanding more likely to harm him.

Olivia: Great, thank you!

LG: I’ve got the next question for you. This is for Joey and Myles - who are you addressing in your song?

Joey: I think in my song I’m addressing a few different audiences. One of them is romantic partnership in general - I wrote this song in November of 2020, so it’s been a little while since I wrote it - part of it is addressing romantic partnership, the dichotomy between people who are attracted to men but with the caveat of trans men, sometimes feeling like an inconvenience or that discomfort. I think I’m a little bit addressing people who don’t understand transness and some of its caveats. There are lyrics in there about being a man even before I started any forms of transitioning, talking about dysphoria. And I think one of the bigger groups of people I’m addressing is other trans people. I’d like to think this could serve as something that resonates with other trans people, so that might be one of my bigger but more vague audiences. What about you?

Myles: I think the biggest audience I was hoping to address in my song was the environment I grew up in as a whole. I grew up religious, and although this isn’t the case for a good number of religions, the one that I happened to grow up in didn’t necessarily allow much room for exploration of identity, especially gender or sexual orientation - things that would be considered unconventional. In the bridge, I talk about how “I know I’m not what you hoped that your daughter would grow up to be” - that’s not necessarily a callout for my personal home life, it was more of the environment that raised me, essentially. The way that I’ve turned out now certainly isn’t the standard for folks who grew up in the same atmosphere that I did. And I talk about it in the song as well, it comes with time. The way that I knew I felt about myself when I was that young was always correct. It just took me some time to get there. I also hope that this resonates with the trans community because I talk about the general struggle with not only the speaker’s acceptance of themself in the song but also acceptance from the folks around them - sometimes even the shutting out of the narrator. That’s reality for a lot of trans folks out there, and I’ve found a lot of catharsis in writing this song so I hope that for folks who have it as bad as the narrator or who have ever experienced some kind of struggle with their trans identity and the process of finding themselves and other people finding them the same way that they can also find some release in this song.

Olivia: What lyric of yours, in both of your songs, is your favorite?

Joey: That’s an easy one for me. And before I say this, I must admit, I cannot take credit - Myles wrote this lyric. He wrote two lines for this song but they are my favorite, and it’s the beginning of the chorus: “Could you ever love this body the way you love the thought of me?” I had some loose ideas for the song before then, but then you gave me that lyric suggestion and suddenly the entire song just came out in one go. It was the little piece of inspiration that I needed, and I think it hits on a lot of topics I’ve already talked about and other lyrics in the song - “you might love me for my heart” - heart and mind and soul and body are both separate and intertwined, so I think that’s my favorite lyric because it really hits on some things I’ve been working with for awhile now.

Myles: I’m currently forgetting all of the words I put into my own song, but I know my favorite lyric from “Dirty Little Secret” is probably in the bridge when you say, “My body is a prison / I’m stuck in here for life / So I’ll learn to love it tonight.” I wasn’t 100% set in my identity the way I know it now when I was watching Joey write this song and hearing the process of it all come together. I think it’s a cool little parallel for me to draw that as Joey has written this song, it was a big part in me finding where I stand with my gender, and now - how long has it been since you’ve written this? Probably like- 

Joey: About a year and a half - 

Myles: -about a year and a half later, I’m still working on it, but it’s getting easier to love myself for the way I am. I think it’s really powerful for you to capture that in a transgender perspective.

Joey: I didn’t know I had that effect on you, thanks buddy.

Myles: My favorite one from mine? I have to brag a little bit, this is probably the strongest song I’ve written lyrically ever so it’s hard for me to choose.

Joey: It’s a great song.

Myles: Thank you! I wrote it. I think “I will not beg to be seen” is one that I always love yelling when I perform it. That’s an emotional release line; also just the truth. There is no reason for me or any trans people to beg people who don’t want to understand us for the bare minimum of understanding us, or seeing us, or acknowledging we exist.

LG: Those responses gave me goosebumps! I think you guys do a great job at reaching your desired audience, but I think you go way past that, too. I remember hearing them and I was like, “Holy sh–, why do I relate to this? I don’t like this.”

Myles: Hm. I may have some news for you in the future - nah I’m kidding, I’m kidding.

LG: I think it’s hard already as individuals, especially at our age group and with all this societal pressure to feel like you have people who understand what you’re going through when it comes to gender identity and how you feel in your own body. So I think you two do a more amazing job with reaching a wider audience than you think. That brings us to our next question - in the past year, there have been several efforts by legislators to harm and police the trans community. How has this harmed you and the community? Obviously, I know you can’t speak for the trans community as a whole, so how specifically has this harmed you and is there anything you want to say in response to this? What do you want to see from cis people in support of the trans community?

Joey: I feel like we can take this one together. I think the first thing that’s important to note is that yes, all trans people are under attack, but certain identities within the trans identity are more under attack than others.

Myles: It’s really important to understand intersectionality in matters like this. If we take the governor’s letter in Texas, for example, where he talks about allowing children and young adults to medically or visibly transition - he compares it to child abuse, he compares it to mental illness. That’s dangerous in and of itself for everyone in the trans community, but not only does a statement like this enable the enforcement of laws and ideas that have no basis in fact or science the way they claim to - in invoking this enforcement, that automatically endangers trans kids of color specifically. I remember the news breaking about that case and getting so frustrated that people who have the power to make or break livelihoods and act as pillars for the communities they run are endangering so many lives. It hurts to know that they’re so ill-informed. And the bare minimum is speaking up, whether you’re cisgender or transgender or somewhere in-between.

Joey: Something I was gonna mention is that here at the University I’m a social justice major. Most of my classes revolve around queer studies and whatnot, and one fact I’ve kind of been fixating on lately is that children have a sense of their gender identity developed by the time they turn three years old. They may not have figured out how to go about expressing that, but in their minds they have a sense of their gender identity developed by the time they are three. In places like Texas and Florida where they just passed the Don’t Say Gay bill -

Myles: - even here in Iowa, the trans athlete ban -

Joey: that too - can’t talk about gender identity, sexual orientation, et cetera. They want to protect children when in reality these ideas are already there, and by suppressing them, it’s only gonna harm them even more. They’re gonna have to go to different places to get the information they need. I think Myles touched a lot on the community as a whole and how that’s harming everyone, the specific parts of the community that are facing it the worst, children and trans children of color and those coming from impoverished communities are facing the real brunt of this, but along with that comes the spreading of this mentality to other people. While we might not be in a place like Texas or Florida, we still have our own really bad stuff happening in Iowa. People are seeing this transphobic rhetoric and thinking that’s okay and continuing to spread that even further. That really affects everyone in the community. Did we already hit on what we wanna see from cis counterparts?

Myles: Not quite yet. It’s really hard to feel like you can help when all of these issues are so overarching. It’s scary when you’re here on the ground and looking up at the people in power who are doing something they may not realize - or maybe they do - is incredibly harmful. Ultimately, I would say to seek out the trans community at home and provide whatever resources you can. If you have a few spare dollars, you could donate to a mutual aid fund. I was researching some places to donate in Texas when the governor’s letter was made public and a quick search - or, I don’t know, everyone has social media, you can look up accounts that deal in social justice and see what or who they promote, as long as you can make sure the account’s run by the right person - I found the Black Trans Coalition in Texas to donate to. Consume trans media, support trans, creators, and get educated…that’s easier said than done.

Joey: When you are getting educated, make sure you’re getting educated from trans people. The only people who can really explain the trans experience are trans people. That’s how you’re gonna get the truest information.

Olivia: Thank you, I learned a lot from that. How has being trans shaped your experiences as a musician?

Myles: Well…I guess when it comes to songwriting as a whole, it’s easiest for me to create things and write whole poems, lyrics, pieces about it when I’m having real big feelings and boy oh boy, when the trans struggle hits, those are some really big feelings if you couldn’t tell by the song I just wrote and played. Having music as an outlet has been really helpful because sometimes it’s hard to speak feelings into words and make sure everyone’s listening and understanding. If I dress it up a little bit, play it with some funky guitar in the background, and yell the words a little bit, it catches people’s attention. Makes them wonder, “Oh, wow what prompted this? Oh, that’s devastating, what can I do?”

Joey: This is a pretty simple one but I’ve been taking testosterone for about five years now so it’s interesting - I’ll write a song and be real happy with it, then I’ll come back to it four months later and I need to change the key because my voice has dropped and I can no longer sing in that key anymore.

Myles: Oh, my god, literally.

Joey: Yeah, I know you felt that one. We’ve played some shows together and we play in different keys all the time because our voices keep dropping - which is great, it’s great.

Myles: The key that I play “pinocchio” in has changed four times. I’ve only been on testosterone for just shy of six months, but even in that time, it’s like “Wow, I liked it where it was.” I’m not gonna complain, of course, but -

Olivia: Is it hard to memorize new guitar finger positions and everything?

Joey: It’s not always necessarily changing how we play it. I know for at least “Dirty Little Secret” and most of my songs - “pinocchio” is in a super weird tuning - most of my songs are in standard tuning. I just add a capo, move it up or down, no capo, whatever, but I don’t know about “pinocchio.”

Myles: In this case it’s not so much changing the chords as it is changing the strings or where you play on the guitar. With my guitar, because it’s tuned differently than standard guitar tuning, I’m twisting every single knob just to make sure everything sits comfy.

Joey: I think the only other thing I wanted to mention about being trans as a musician is trying to decide, “I have this trans song, and I’m really proud of it. I really hope that people like it when I play it.” But it turns into a question of “Am I going to be an artist who is trans or am I going to be a Trans Artist?” How much of my identity as an artist do I want to dedicate to being trans? It’s not something I try to hide, it’s a part of who I am, and I play that song hoping that it resonates with people but I don’t know if I necessarily know if I want to be The Trans Artist. Because I write about other things, too! I’ve written some real sad songs about things that have nothing to do with gender! It’s the question of how much of my artist identity has to do with my gender identity.

Myles: I’m there with you. And if you consider playing live shows and performing, I can’t be sure that if I play a song like “pinocchio,” I can’t be sure that everybody in the audience is going to be friendly when I do that. I can’t be super certain that everybody is going to be receptive, although I try to seek out venues that I or other musicians who have played there know is a safe space. Which is another thing - a lot of times, as a trans musician, I need to check and make sure that venues are safe and ethical, and are going to treat me kindly. It’s tough playing trans-specific songs because, at least for me, I feel like there needs to be a time and place for it and that’s not always the case for every show I play.

LG: I’m glad you guys touched base on that because I was gonna ask, but you answered, how you separate your individual identities and your identity as being trans people. I think people totally forget that you guys are still just people, still just musicians, still just putting your craft out there.

Myles: Yeah, like I’m literally just some guy.

LG: Yeah! And I feel like that line just gets so blurred out with artists and when it comes to sexuality and gender. Like girl in red - there is no way anybody knows her as anything other than “that one lesbian artist”.

Myles: Or like Hayley Kiyoko -

LG: Right -

Myles: Or Cavetown, even, as a trans artist.

LG: Exactly. So I really do appreciate that you guys touched base on that. I think that’s something that really does need to be addressed. At the end of the day, you might have however many songs that address you as trans individuals but you’re still artists. So the next question is - on AMPLIFY, you've highlighted trans artists in the past such as Claud - how do you view trans representation in the music world right now?

Joey: I mean, it definitely is getting better over time. I’m not saying “We did it guys! Equality? Done! We did it!”

Myles: “No more effort needed!”

Joey: We’re definitely getting better over time. The thing about transness and nonbinary gender identities and any gender diverse individuals is that you’re not always gonna know. That’s not always something they want to share, and that’s okay. They don’t have to share that with us. For all we know, there’s a ton of artists we listen to that are somewhat gender diverse in some way. It’s definitely been nice to watch Claud, Cavetown, Tash Sultana, other miscellaneous artists - there are a ton out there. It’s nice to see them get to some mainstream, forefront reception.

Myles: I get that, and it’s nice to see it crosses genres as well. I know for a while, Cavetown had been introduced to me as “THIS is the trans guy staple!” Not that I don’t enjoy acoustic, laid back indie, I just like that there’s artists across all genres who are comfortable enough to express their gender identity and be able to talk about it as artists and as people - you mentions Tash Sultana, and Claud, and also, Kim Petras -

Joey: I remember when SOPHIE died how heartbroken so many people in the trans community were because she was such and iconic figure for trans people, and especially trans artists -

Myles: -trans producers, especially. I know Katie Polaschek just wrote an article about how there’s a vast underrepresentation of women producers and women-owned record labels. I imagine there’s even more of a lack of representation for trans women as well.

Joey: To sum it up, I suppose. Getting better. Not there yet. I think it’s one of those things where it’s out there and people just need to seek it out and make that effort.

Myles: Every once in awhile it will find me on its own and I’ll be like, “Oh, wow!”

Joey: [mocking] “Oh, wow!”

Myles: “They’re just like me!”

Olivia: We’ve talked about this a lot throughout our interview, so if you feel like we can skip this question that’s fine, but I’ll say it anyway. It seems like both of your songs discuss a sort of dissonance between your body and your heart, or your mind, and express a desire to accept and balance both aspects of yourself. Can you go deeper into the meaning of this?

Joey: I did talk a little about it earlier, but the lyrics you mentioned really liking about learning to love the body that you’re in was really important for me. I’ve been out for seven years now - the song says “six”, but I wrote it a little while ago and “seven” doesn’t fit as well into it, so we’re just gonna leave it - even before I officially came out, these feelings were there. I was learning how to identify them and understand what they were, and it’s been awhile of trying to keep the connection. It’s so easy and so often it happens for trans people that you pretend you don’t have the body you have. It’s easier to ignore it because if you think about it, it can be triggering, especially for trans people who are interested in transitioning (which is important to note is not all trans people). I think recognizing that dysphoria and learning how to deal with that, remembering that being in this body doesn’t make me any less and learning to be okay with it. That whole process connects brain, heart, body.

Myles: I think the way I view that body-mind disconnect in “pinocchio”, I try to approach it in the sense that the narrator has already made peace with it. They recognize the differences and have already done the work on themselves, but just because that happens doesn’t mean that everybody else is going to believe the narrator when they say that - which is frustrating, but it is a reality. The lines talking about “I have known no other existence, only to please you” alludes to feeling the need to pander your appearance to a primarily cisgender-centric society with a cisgender-centric worldview. We call it “passing” - your appearance could make other people think you’re a cisgender man or woman - feeling the need to pass, not just for approval but also for safety reasons. That was a big thing with the bathroom ban, automatically makes it more dangerous for folks who have a harder time passing. A lot of it is the frustration of having to consider that at all, and needing to prove, “I know where my mind is, where my body is. Believe me when I say that.”

LG: I completely forgot where my mute button was -

Myles: - I wasn’t gonna say anything -

LG: - but thank you for addressing that. You guys are making some very educational points, and I really do appreciate it. As someone who has started navigating this world, it’s hard when this really is the only body you’ve had. I’ve gone years of my life acknowledging myself as a woman, and even crossing that line of what gender means to me, of “am I nonbinary?”, it’s scary and terrifying and I have these moments where I completely blank out and am like, “I’m really in this body that does not feel like it was made for me.” I really do appreciate that we have people like you guys out there that can help give more insight to how that feels.

Myles: I hear you there, and I just wanna say that even though a lot of what Joey and I talk about is finding our gender identity and being comfortable with that being different than the standards set for us when we were little and growing up in our own bodies, I feel like anybody can benefit from exploring their gender, whether that’s expression or just-

Joey: Yep.

Myles: -Because to test that out and to really think about it ensures an understanding, even if you find out you’re not transgender or you do a deeper dive and think “I feel like the nonbinary label really fits me,” having that knowledge or having touched on it…having a deeper understanding of gender is a green flag. I don’t know how else to say it.

Joey: It’s important though.

Myles: Not just for folks in the trans community. It’s good for personal growth, too.

Joey: If I could just say one other thing as well real quick, as I mentioned before, a lot of my classes revolve around queer theory and whatnot. I learned this thing once about Judith Butler and her theories of gender identity and gender identity as a performance, and I thought about it in terms of COVID, for example. We were all in quarantine by ourselves, and so long in our lives up until that point, we had always been around people at home, at work, at school, what be it, and suddenly we were not around people anymore. People will talk about how there was this giant explosion of people coming out left and right as trans, nonbinary, changing their pronouns to she/they - people noticed that and were referring to this Judith Butler theory saying gender expression is performative, and suddenly we were locked alone in our rooms and didn’t have an audience to perform for anymore. The lack of that audience made so many people start really thinking about their own gender identities. And if you didn’t do that during those first few months in quarantine there, if I can make one suggestion, it’s just think about your gender identity. You may come out the other end saying, “Yeah, I’m good where I’m at,” but just consider it.

Myles: What’s that one tweet that’s like “Gender is a performance and I’m getting booed offstage?” Gender is a performance and the front row is passing rotten tomatoes to the back to see who has the best arm -

Joey: Boo! Booooo!

LG: Throwing bricks bro, like booooo!

Myles: Really throwing it back to Stonewall, huh?

LG: No, right, right, right.

Joey: That was a fun little tangent there.

Myles: I hope Cat keeps that, that was funny.

LG: But yeah, thank you guys! That’s very truthful. I feel like we were all set to our own devices and locked to our houses for longer than we’ve had to have been, and that really got us thinking. For me, it wasn’t just in terms of sexuality but gender identity. I dove deeper into that more than I was ever comfortable doing. But that brings us to my next question: I don’t like to friend-ship…

Myles: What an intro -

Olivia: Edit that out, edit that out -

Myles: What is the next question? Hang on, lemme -

LG: I wanna continue with it. Cat, cut that last part out -

Myles: - cut the cameras -

LG: But that brings us to my next question: I don’t like to friend-ship, but you two seem like some pretty close friends, and … that made it sound like y’all were in a relationship. The Emilys, if you’re watching this, I’m kidding!

Myles: Oh, my god, wait, wait, wait, oh my god -

LG: …so how do you influence each other musically?

Joey: Like I said earlier, Myles literally wrote my favorite lyrics in the song. At the beginning of fall semester in 2020, our sophomore year, we’d hang out almost every single day, and a lot of that involved you bringing your guitar over to my place and, “Hey Myles, wrote this new song,” I’d be playing it and you’d strum little notes along with it. We’d find songs together to end up covering at shows and whatnot -

Myles: I’ve stolen a lot of songs from Joey’s playlists, especially back then.

Joey: This is true. I don’t know, what do you think?

Myles: I will say, Joey is definitely a more skilled guitarist than I am. He’s been playing for a lot longer than I have, and if you listen to the songs he writes, a lot of them have really intricate guitar parts and picking patterns. That’s something I haven’t been able to replicate, but since we’ve been friends and making music together, by god I will try. I sure am trying. Have we gotten there yet? I can’t say. That’s just something I admire - it’s not necessarily competition, but “Whoa! Show me how to do that!” Like, one of those -

Joey: Yeah, and you know, every time I would even get a verse or chorus of a song written, it would always go straight to Myles. He’s always the first person that I wanted to hear the stuff I was writing. Now we live across the hall from each other, so every once in a while I’ll be sitting in my room and I can hear him strumming and I’ll be like, “Oh, that sounds nice.” Our vocals work really nicely together, we have voices that really resonate with each other. We revert to similar harmony patterns whenever we do perform songs together, so I think influencing each other…you are trying to steal my guitar, and I am trying to mesh our harmonic vocals.

Myles: Also, it is worth coming back to that you are trying to trans my gender - and you have succeeded. Slash-J (/j) - 

Joey: I’m not trying -

Myles: - this is a joke, for legal reasons, this is a joke -

Joey: I’m not trying, I succeeded.

Myles: Mm-hmm. But yeah, “Dirty Little Secret” played no small part in finding my comfort zone in my gender identity, so. Congrats.

Joey: I did it.

Olivia: So it seems like you really grow and learn a lot from each other, which I think is really cool. And my last question of the night is: what does International Transgender Day of Visiblity mean to you, and what do you want it to look like?

Joey: The biggest thing for me is trans joy. Far too often, a lot of the things we see in the media are what we talked about earlier - harmful legislation, the violence against trans people and specifically black and brown trans women - these are important things to cover, sure, but there are trans people across the globe that are doing some really incredible things, and that deserves to be celebrated. I think Trans Day of Visibility should be celebrated year-round, but giving it the biggest platform we can to celebrate what it means to be trans and trans people who are doing incredible things - I think trans joy is really the embodiment of what that day means to me.

Myles: Wholeheartedly agree. Trans identity shouldn’t just be important to the world in obituaries. [cut to 48:24] This coming International Transgender Day of Visibility is going to be the first Day of Visiblity I celebrate fully out, with everybody I know being aware of that. I’m excited to show off my whole identity with no reservations anymore, and that’s also been really nice for me, seeing other trans folks. I just love to know that all my trans siblings are existing and doing phenomenal things.

Joey: You know, we keep talking about trans people who are doing really awesome things, and that does deserve to be celebrated, but trans existence in and of itself deserves to be celebrated. You don’t have to be out here doing world-changing things to be celebrated. It’s a day for all trans people, regardless of what you’re up to. Unless you’re a TERF, that day is not for you.

Myles: J.K. Rowling, if you’re seeing this, it is on sight. Over. Canceled. If I ever see -

Olivia: Sponsored by SCOPE Productions.

Joey: Alright, and that’s all the time we have today -

Myles: Roll credits.

LG: Before we wrap up, I just wanted to say that trans joy and existence are just as important. I think more than not we forget that being a trans individual is genuinely you being a human and it’s not a political statement. It is not a protest, it’s not you trying to make a point, you’re just being a person existing in a very unfair world. In my perfect world, you could just vibe as you vibe, and being trans wouldn’t have to be such a big deal. But trans existence - I love that.

Myles: I love it, too.

Olivia: Thanks so much for talking with us today! I learned a lot about you all and your songs, and I’m so excited to see the full video when it comes out.

Joey: We had fun! Thanks for chit-chatting.

Myles: Yeah, thanks for having us!

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