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"I Am Her": Shea Diamond Wrote the Trans Anthem While in Prison

"I Am Her": Shea Diamond Wrote the Trans Anthem While in Prison

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The trans singer speaks to Jeffrey Masters about being incarcerated in a men's prison as well as her burgeoning music career.

Shea Diamond's song "I Am Her" has been called a trans anthem. On this week's episode of the podcast LGBTQ&A, Shea talks about writing "I Am Her" while in prison, the sense of disbelief she feels about being signed by a major record label, and turning down labels that wanted her to sing "lighter music".

Check out highlights from the interview here, or listen to the full podcast interview below.

I think your song "American Pie" is so special. I love the framing of living truthfully, being trans in your case, as being part of the American dream. Can you talk about what was going through your mind while you were writing it?
I just think about my life and my experience. We've lost the ability to dream because people have taken that away from us. They've told us because we're queer, because we're black, because we're trans, because we're fat that we can't obtain this dream. And so that's been embedded in our minds and we've been given a visual of it because TV doesn't look like us. Radio doesn't look like us. And so this is what it means to dream.

I'm always looking for ways to sell trans acceptance to the larger population, and when you put it in terms of that, the American dream, that makes it really hard to disagree with.
Well, I feel like we should never have to sell it. Like it's a Sprite and say, "Look, it tastes good."

I think we have to sell it to pass laws.
We do. We need to decriminalize being trans. They look at us as animals, as if we're not civilized. I've never been considered civilized.

And that's been consistent in your life?
That's been consistent in my life. You've got to understand where I come from. What is white privilege? There's no such thing. We've been given that script and we just adhere to it time and time again. Somebody has to be better in order for somebody to be lesser. Somebody has to be poor in order for somebody to be rich. So we can look at trans women or trans people and say "No, that's not us" and "That will never be us."

These are all things you sing about and address in your music. Was there ever a moment where they said, "This is too radical. Can't you sing something else?"
You know, I have to be honest. Justin [Tranter] is a visionary. For a gay man to say, "I stand with you and I support you and I uphold your experience." Nobody was doing it. Another label said they wanted lighter music. Another wanted to sign. They said, "We believe in your story. It's just going to overshadow the music." I had a freaked-up life and I survived that. Through my music, I want to encourage people that you are a survivor too. What's the Beyonce song? "I'm a survivor. I'm not gon' give up." Those are songs that feed our spirit, that keep us fighting.

You signed with a very big record label [Asylum Records]. So they're OK with you singing about more political things.
We finally found people who felt just as strongly about it, who didn't question the vision, who ate the music up and the message up in. I believe in music again because of it. Music is the best tool. We have the right to fight for the airwaves because we have a story to tell.

With you and these other trans women who're making music, like Laura Jane Grace, Kim Petras, and Teddy Geiger, is the industry beginning to expand and accept trans women, or is that just wishful thinking?
Wishful thinking because you just gave me names I had never heard of before. It's not my fault for not knowing. I know who Beyonce is because there is no shame in propelling her music. Nobody feels no type of way about blasting that music because of the world is not objectifying the music or demonizing the people who are making that music. Music is just music. I believe if people really stood for change, a cis woman would say, "Yes, I want to do a duet with one of those trans women." It doesn't have to be Shea Diamond.

At the end of the day, nobody's protecting us. Law enforcement is not protecting us. They're saying blue lives matter. They're not screaming with us that trans lives matter. You don't see them protecting us. They know who we are. After my 10 years in prison, I know how they govern.

Were you openly trans while you were in prison?
I was openly trans.

You were in a men's prison.
Yes.

Was there even a discussion at all about sending you to a women's prison, or is that off the table?
Well, I tried to fight it, but at that point I hadn't had gender reassignment surgery. That' a requirement. We had also had trans women who had the surgery and who went to the female institution and it still wasn't safe for them. So they were sending them back to the men's. There's no safe place for us because, you have to understand, people believe that our bodies belong to them. They believe they're not doing anything wrong because having sex with you, taking your sex, or taking your body, that it's something they have a right to. Our rapes are different than the cis rapes.

There is an experience that comes with being trans. Trans is just ... it doesn't sit comfortably in the spectrum of the LGBT. So my song says, "There's an outcast in everybody's life."

That's from "I Am Her." You wrote that while you were in prison?
Yes. Before I got incarcerated, I was a trans child. Nobody wants a trans child, and this is not to demonize my parents. We don't know the things that we know now, and there's a lot more understanding about the experience we have.

I'm still in a sense of disbelief. Even now we're sitting here. I don't believe it. I should say "Pinch me." No, seriously. That's where I am. I came from the dirt roads of Little Rock, Ark., honey, and I'm walking the red carpets now. That's not something that was meant for me. I'm too dark, too trans, too fat, and too old. All of these things translate to "You're done."

This interview has been edited and condensed. Click here to subscribe and listen to the full podcast interview on LGBTQ&A with Jeffrey Masters.

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Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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