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| Oct 11, 2010
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This month, Transvocalizers and TGForum would like to introduce Shawna Virago to our readers. She’s new to us, but is something of a one-woman force of nature in San Francisco’s underground transgender music scene. Her debut project, Objectified, is a collection of 12 original tunes, ranging from folk-punk to acoustic glam. We plan to bring you a review of this album in next month’s column.

Ms. Virago is more than a singer/songwriter/musician however. She is a street level activist, involved in anti-violence work for over 15 years. She is also Artistic Director for Tranny Fest, the nation’s first transgender film festival, with some of her own films being screened in the U.S. Canada, and Europe. She is featured in a new documentary entitled Diagnosing Difference, and is also in Femmes Of Power: Exploding Queer Feminities.

She is a published author, with her newest work to be published soon in Gendered Hearts, an anthology of transgender/variant writers’ work. Along with all of this, Virago also conducts workshops on trans issues.
This is Shawna Virago’s first interview with TGForum, and we believe you’ll find her as entertaining and insightful as we do.

TGForum: Where are you from originally?

Shawna Virago: I grew up primarily in Southern California and the Southeastern part of the country.

TGF: Any formal musical or theatrical education? What were your musical influences growing up, and what do you listen to now?

SV: I haven’t had any formal training. I’ve always been drawn to strong lyricists. So when I was starting out as a musician, I listened to lots of Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, and Hank Williams, and The Clash. I was also drawn to the manic energy of early rock n’ roll artists like Little Richard and Elvis. I think Little Richard is the original gender queer. I found Debbie Harry to be an aspiring figure. I went through a Tammy Wynette phase. I listened to lots of glam rock. A very big influence on me was the Los Angeles punk band X, who combined rockabilly and roots influences into their sound. Their front woman, Exene Cervenka, was one of my idols as a teenager. These were some of my decisive musical influences. I also went out of my way to see as many original blues, r&b, and rock people as I could, so I saw Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddly, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Big Joe Turner, and John Lee Hooker.

Now I’m drawn to people on an Americana spectrum, from Lucinda Williams, to the Handsome Family, James Hand, Hank Williams III, Elizabeth Cook, Merle Haggard, and lots of dust bowl singer/songwriter types.

TGF: From your web site, I found a couple statements I like : “…once a punk boy, now a sexy blonde…”, and this excellent one, “…If Keith Richards was a tranny that got together with Merle Haggard, Shawna Virago would be their love child.” Care to comment on either of these?

SV: I love those quotes! I don’t have a problem holding the various contradictions in myself. I try not to box myself into any corners of gender expression that don’t feel authentic and I think sometimes when non-transgender writers have reviewed me, they wonder about my music which is a bit rough around the edges and my presentation which is more feminine. As a transwoman, I feel I have to elbow my way into a lot of music scenes. It’s not very ladylike, but it’s the only way to be taken seriously.

TGF: You’re very involved with street activism. Here’s another quote from your site: “Virago is too busy and defiant to go stealth.” This brings up the thought, do you feel there’s a certain amount of apathy that’s entered the gender community? Perhaps another way of saying that would be, is the community sometimes guilty of the “entitlement mentality?”

SV: I have done a lot of police accountability and anti-violence activism. I think we’re living in a very exciting time, a time of profound changes in gender expression and making space for an abundance of gender expressions to coexist. Gender liberation is vital to social justice movements My music is now where I focus my activism.

TGF: Your site also mentions the training seminars and training sessions you conduct. Care to discuss these a bit?

SV: I’ve done a variety of trainings: anti-oppression trainings; anti-violence trainings, and a training called Everything You’ve Wanted to Ask A Transsexual But Were Afraid To Ask. I started them a bout 15 years ago and do them less and less. I focus more on my music now.

TGF: Over the last few years, there seems to be a more visible, pronounced presence of trans people in movies, TV (especially reality TV), theater, and music. This brings up a two part question: a) Is all this exposure beneficial to the community as a whole?, and b) Overall, how do you feel the community has been represented in all this media exposure?

SV: I curate the Tranny Fest film festival in San Francisco, which tries to give alternatives to the degrading stereotypes of transgender and genderqueer individuals found in much mainstream media. I’m very excited by the plethora of transgender and gender non-conforming people making music and writing and all kinds of art that speaks to our experiences.

TGF: You’ve been involved in some interesting “side” projects. The documentary Diagnosing Difference and you also provided music for Uncovered: The Diary Project, a dance theater work. Were these projects one shot things, or is this the type of creative endeavor you’d like to expand into, given the chance?

SV: I try to stay busy and when I’m not playing music I do other types of art. Work while the day is long! I have an essay in the new anthology Gender Outlaws Next Generation. I think everyone should see Diagnosing Difference, it’s an important film. I’ve also made a few short films. My film Hustle was shown in festivals around the world and I’m currently working on another film. I hope to work with choreographer Sean Dorsey again.

TGF: Musically your material has been described as covering a range from folk-punk, to acoustic glam twang, to rockabilly, to laid back material. Do you have any one style you’re wanting to emphasize or work in as a writer? Any new material or upcoming projects you can talk about?

SV: I take my songwriting seriously. It’s the core activity of my life. I find myself mostly drawn to that big swamp where early rock n’ roll and Americana co-exist, with a little more glamor and urban life thrown in. I love that idea of the crossroads in the American music mythos, where you have encounters with the Trickster figure. That fuels my imagination a lot and I hope that shows up in my lyrics. Right now, I’m working on a music video and promoting my album Objectified.

TGF: What advice would you offer to any musician, singer/songwriter (trans or not) who is just starting out?

SV: Drink lots of coffee and stay up late on school nights.

TGF: In closing, any final thoughts?

SV: I appreciate being interviewed. Thank you.

Check out Shawna Virago’s web site at to order Objectified and for further information. Contact Shawna via email.


This from Coco Peru: “What better way to celebrate Halloween than by coming to my latest ‘Conversations With Coco’, with my special guest Karen Black?” (October 23rd, 8 p.m. at The Renberg Theatre at the Los Angeles GLBT Center, 1125 N. McCadden Place, L.A., CA 90038 323-860-7300
And on Monday, Oct. 18th, see Coco in a cameo appearance on the CBS show “How I Met Your Mother”. (She says it’s a one line performance…she plays a hooker.)

On Wed., Oct 27, Coco will be at An Evening Of Hope, 6 p.m., Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701, Mission Street, San Francisco, CA

Coco also invites everyone to check out her web site for her take on the rash of suicides we’ve all heard about.

Beth Isbell is now hosting a new open mic night on Tuesdays (5-8:30 p.m.), and Friday Happy Hour (5-8:30 p.m.) at Absinthe Lounge, 1407 S. Lamar in Dallas, TX

On Friday, Nov. 5, she will be at the Winedale Tavern on Lower Greenville Avenue. Beth also has new recordings of her covers of The Thrill Is Gone and Let The good Times Roll. For more information on Beth Isbell, check out her MySpace page.

Selena Gomez & The Scene A Year Without Rain

Selena Gomez’s Kiss & Tell (along with the remix CD of Naturally from that album) was reviewed here previously. She has just released A Year Without Rain, along with a CD of 10 dance remixes of Round & Round, the first single from that project.

While the new album is of course mostly dance material, her voice does show a bit more maturity and power. This is most evident in the title track, and Rock God, her most powerful vocal.

The album did have a few surprises. Summer’s Not Hot is a feel-good dance track-like if the Beach Boys did dance tracks. Ghost Of You stretches the envelop a bit, and is the closest thing to a laid back tune on the project. The last cut, Live Like There’s No Tomorrow, is my personal favorite, and next to the title cut, is a real stand out. Very well produced, almost an arena rock anthem. This should be the next single, which would probably draw in a different audience, but it’s worth a chance. It’s a great, positive way to end an album.

The only real week point on the album is Spotlight. The song is over produced for what it is, and the use of a vocoder is no longer amusing — it’s getting annoying.

Check out the album insert for production and musician credits, which are too numerous to list here. Visit her website.

I also recently received two remix CDs. One is The Ting Tings Hands, and the other is La Roux’s In For The Kill. The Ting Tings (Katie White and Jules De Martino), spent all winter of 2009 producing the album Kunst, from which the current single Hands is from. The remix CD contains eight mixes, none of which stray far from the true intention of the song-good club tracks.

We’ve featured La Roux before. Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid have released a 9 track remix CD of In For The Kill from the group’s 2009 self titled debut. Once again, very good club material. La Roux is currently on tour in the U.S. For tour dates and more information, please check out the website.

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Category: Music

Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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