By Logan Lowrey-Rasmussen
As the country tries to find a sense of normalcy within the pandemic, the struggle for the rights of transgendered individuals trudges on, rain or shine. Even with the social strides the LGBTQA+ community achieved in the last decade, many issues of inclusion, visibility, safety, and respect are left unanswered for our trans brethren, especially those within societally-disenfranchised minority groups.
In honor of the 2020 International Transgender Day of Visibility, we have compiled a showcase of transgendered-identifying individuals who have made an impact in their local community, alongside their opinions on the state of trans activism and identity:
Whether you’re a Tempe local or involved in the Arizona DIY arts and culture scene, you could have come across a dainty blonde femme and her gaggle of well-dressed confidantes at warehouse parties, house shows, and their own house venue tied to radical queer activism, titled Scum Haus. In the last year, the fiery, young femme socialist named Alex Vanguard (with the help of her fellow queer roommates) has cultivated a space in the heart of Tempe's Maple-Ash-Farmer neighborhood which caters to charity work targeted toward disenfranchised queer and transgendered individuals. Originally envisioned as a house venue for concerts with help from The Coven and Mutiny Phoenix, Alex Vanguard later repurposed the space to focus primarily on daytime events while directly serving her local area.
“I want to be a catalyst and a space maker; I see myself with knowledge from my studies with wisdom from various people who've guided me, and I wish to meet so many people [as I] continue to learn, spread this needed information, [and] also leverage the resources I have,” says Alex Vanguard on her work with Scum Haus.
Since then, she’s not only given a venue to locals like Andrew Webster who organized a tag sale benefitting charity Food Not Bombs, but also a home to the Red Cat Collective reading group, hosted by Seth Warna.
Alex Vanguard additionally says Scum Haus is a collaborative effort to “organize with others to create spaces which reflect a culture of radical queerness.” She says her goal is to become a community organizer and event planner, but also “an adjustable playset:”
“I suppose I want to create the foundation or infrastructure [which] allow for queer possibilities to exist, which means creating a space for parties, political organizing, and healing,” Alex Vanguard continued.
Although Scum Haus opens itself to all ages, a quick peek will reveal its core audience to be younger queer and trans individuals, aged from late teens to late 20s. When Echo asked Vanguard on the cultural differences between younger and older queer folk, Alex was quick to argue the fallacy of the age binary, but highlight the ways we have moved forward with the changing conditions. Alex says she does recognize the strides the queer community has made to combat the violence and dis-inclusivity of trans folk, but much of the general societal improvements like technology and other resources assume transgendered individuals can access them without issue.
“As we queer/trans folk tend to be most marginalized, many [disenfranchised minorities] don’t have the ability to without experiencing violence, microaggressions or a lack of work and housing,” says Vanguard.
“When we look at age or even technology, we can see [many transgendered people of color] have always been in a position where they've had to come to terms with survival, regardless of age, whereas younger white trans folk have more privilege in accessing knowledge about themselves and their bodies.”
For young queer folk who wish to connect intergenerationally, Alex says the concept of understanding the other person’s multitude of experiences unique to the social circumstance is essential to affirming another’s intersectional identities: “It’s not only a case of learning wisdom but also learning survival.”
“We must be humble to each other and not necessarily see that one generation can learn more from another; rather, we can learn survival from each other.”
Regina Gazelle Wells
If there’s anything 2007's Echo Woman of the Year Regina Gazelle-Wells doesn’t have to prove, it’s her consistent track record and contributions toward the visibility and inclusion of trans and queer individuals of color within the drag scene and around Phoenix. Whether it’s performing in Cruisin' 7th’s Cotton Club Revue or helping young trans folk transition into sober living, Ms. Wells has been keeping herself busy and diversifying her avenues. Last month, Wells performed in “Culture Shock;” a bi-monthly venture hosted at The Trunk Space which promotes Phoenix drag and the budding DIY music scene simultaneously. Wells gave multiple performances and met young trans and queer youth, reminding Regina of her youth and remarking we “were young enough to be her grandchildren.”
Regina recalled to the crowd how much the area around Third Street and Roosevelt evolved, and how not too far away, she was once a young, homeless trans woman trying to survive. Even in that dire position, Regina says she remembers “people walking up to me and telling me how pretty I was.”
Seeing the young queer and trans folk listening to her words at this event, she briefly recalled how the person who once utilized the space before The Trunk Space came to fruition imagined performances and the arts going on in that exact room.
When Echo asked Regina Gazelle Wells what advice she would give to the transgendered youth of today, she kept it curt and said individuals should “wait and see” in terms of personal growth and affirming their identity.
“There are many different identities and names than we had in the past, and when you’re young, you’re still getting to know yourself,” said Regina.
“Before you make any major life changes, wait and see how you feel in the future,” saying that ten years in a person’s life make a difference.
Cameron Foley AKA Blake Riley
Outside of drag, the 2018 inaugural Mister Stacy’s and the Forever Mister RipplePHX 2019 can be disarmingly calm and quiet when he isn’t donning a sharp two-piece suit while lip-syncing to the greatest hits of the 20th century.
The former host of The Blake Riley Revue at Stacy’s @ Melrose can frequently be found checking out drag shows around the valley with drag-beau Lola VanHorn in tow, as they mix with the young and old of Phoenix drag royalty. Known outside of his drag career as Cameron Foley, the busy king spends in and out of costume rallying support for the burgeoning drag king community, which has struggled with visibility issues of its own within the past decade.
Cameron, who identifies and performs as a male, told Echo one of the biggest issues facing trans male drag performers like him are the lack of affirmation one can receive without being seen as authentically male.
“Some people may still either consciously or unconsciously see us as female since we are AFAB (a female at birth) but performing as men, like a female were to perform as a drag king,” said Cameron Foley.
“I am as much a male performer as my cis counterparts, and am fully male at the end of the day.”
Foley advises young trans male performers who want to get into the drag scene to also have a personal life outside of their profession:
“It is possible to have a successful drag career and [personal life] outside of drag [simultaneously], without it having to be a huge part of everything you do,” Foley continued.
He said most people outside of the community who find out he does drag say they are more intrigued or supportive of the idea of “knowing an entertainer.”
“Most of them are sometimes confused on what exactly I do, but I’ve made a few new drag fans out of curious coworkers.”
Inside the aforementioned DIY music scene lie a plethora of genres, but none which are more audibly polarizing than the music known as harsh noise. While music scene regulars might claim punk and metal as the most popular umbrella genres in Arizona, it would be a glaring omission to exclude individuals like Scott Mitting, Briannin Gross (of Mutiny Phoenix and The Coven) who have helped curate a safe space within Phoenix’s own Cardiff Giant Tattoo for queer noise artists and fans like Xayla Doll.
Quick to the trigger with her beliefs and passionate about the noise and visual art she creates, Xayla says her project titled “Doll” is about “love, sex, vanity and autonomy over your body.”
“I have never intended for my project to directly address my identity, but it comes up in various ways for obvious reasons: Doll is a reflection of myself,” said Xayla. “Nothing is off-limits, I am not satisfied putting something out if it doesn’t make me feel naked.”
Her advice to other young trans women seeking out the life of a noise artist is to “always experiment.”
“Make stuff you would want to listen to, [and] do as much as you can with whatever you can get your hands on,” Xayla continued. “Piss on people’s expectations [and] make something that will tear into people, burn them, and make them remember they are human.”
In terms of her identity, Xayla said she feels accepted by the Noise community “for the most part,” and cites the work of collective Mutiny Phoenix and The Coven for their ability to organize events which are all-inclusive and in-tune with the queer community:
“[Both groups] have played an integral part in putting on great queer noise acts and [are] always supporting and assisting my ideas,” said Xayla. “I am lucky to have a great DIY family.”
When Echo asked Xayla Doll what self-proclaimed allies of the transgendered community could do better in their individual interactions, she says “we don’t owe allies shit.”
“If you care [for transgendered individuals], put yourself second and speak the fuck up when it matters.”
Elijah Palles AKA Eddie Broadway
Within the passionate voices of activism within Phoenix’s LGTQA+ community, few are louder and distinct as Elijah Palles, AKA Eddie Broadway, who currently serves as 2020 Mr. Trans USA. Holding past titles such as Emperor Reign XIII of The Imperial Court of Arizona and Mister USofA MI 2017, Eddie focuses on bettering the local community on stage through charity and performance while working by day as a therapist and helping others as Elijah.
Affirming his identity in 2014 and witnessing the last decade’s changes in queer rights, Eddie says the next important step for the LGBTQA+ community regarding the affirmation of trans individuals is to listen more closely to our trans comrades.
“The rest of the community can support us, but listen to us [better],” said Palles. “Sometimes, it’s okay to not know the answers, but [asking appropriate and engaging questions] can go a long way; let us converse with you about our experiences.”
In regards to the new generation of young trans individuals, Eddie Broadway says he wants them to know they “genuinely have a chance to live a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life.”
“When times get tough, there is a community behind them they can lean on, [and] sometimes, all it takes is reaching out for help and not being afraid to ask questions,” Eddie Broadway continued.
“It truly can, and does get better, [and] they can be their authentic self no-matter-what that looks like — gender norms are a fallacy and there is no ‘right way’ to be trans.”
Not far from downtown Tempe live a threesome of creatives dedicated to their multiple pursuits which dotted the local Phoenix music and art scene in the last few years. Briefly known as Stoked Haus, the collective energy of Sam Etling (of Sore Eyes), Matt Slusser (of podcast Getting Stoked), and his partner, artist, and musician Lou Cruz, have formed a solid friendship transcending the gender binary. In August of 2019, Lou Cruz would come out as trans, affirming their identity as male and never looking back.
Lou Cruz would go on to collaborate with Etling and Slusser on a hardcore punk project, fronted by Cruz, appropriately titled Femboy, “a project deeply concerned with queer issues, painful self-examination, and brute force honesty” and branded by “confrontational and personal lyrics matched by their punchy, confrontational music.” The success of Femboy’s debut single “Don’t Bother Me,” would bring Lou Cruz’s identity front-and-center of the local music scene.
“Coming out to everyone is exhausting, but I am lucky enough to have an extremely supportive group of friends who made it super comfortable for me to express myself,” said Lou Cruz.
“The biggest struggle for me [in the scene] is having to come out to everyone I meet, and/or correcting people who have known me for a long time.”
Cruz says gaining friends based on mutual interests and finding other queer or trans people in the scene has been the most rewarding.
“Luckily, because of the people I surround myself with, [finding queer and trans people with similar interests] have been easy, but extending that trust to people outside of my group [can be hard], and is something I’m working on,” Lou Cruz continued.
In regards to the affirmation of his own identity and others, the biggest thing Lou Cruz says individuals should consider is personal safety:
“I am still early on in my transition and I try to have a conversation with friends on when to affirm my pronouns, [and when not to]," Lou says if he is in a potentially dangerous situation with new people, he asks his friends to use their best judgment whether to correct the other party on their use of pronouns.
“I think the best way to affirm someone’s gender is to make sure they’re in safe situations, able to express their gender freely,” says the Femboy frontman. “Not everyone is in a place in their lives where they can enforce it.”
“Have a conversation with your trans friends and make sure you know what is going to be best on an individualistic level!”