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She Writes the Songs: Trans Composer Anessa Marie

Anessa Marie went from sleeping in Central Park to composing musical theater in the city that doesn’t sleep

Anessa Marie went from sleeping in Central Park to composing musical theater in the city that doesn't sleep.

Finding one's calling requires a spirit strong enough to withstand the journey in a world that often pressures us to hide. For transgender composer Anessa Marie, it also required realizing it's OK to demand unconditional love.

It's been five years since Marie left her proselytizing family (her dad and grandfather are both pastors) in West Virginia and relocated to New York City, where she's been making the rounds as a musical director for both off-Broadway and regional theater. She started transitioning immediately after the move, but it came with painful sacrifices. "Throughout my transition, I lost some friends," she recalls now. "I completely lost contact with my family." She also found herself homeless and sleeping on the grounds of Central Park for several weeks -- during the winter.

But music saved her, the way it's done many times in her life. Indeed, Marie found solace in the piano at an early age when her great-grandfather, a piano player himself, encouraged her to compete as a classical pianist. She would later gravitate to music to escape familial conflicts over her gender presentation. "It was in those times I would sit down at my piano and write whatever would come out," she says.

Marie's talent has made her a familiar face in NYC, often as the only queer musician in the orchestra pit (or one of a very few) -- something she says is changing. "It's been a male-dominated world for so long," she says of the composition scene. "But there are now groups on Facebook [just for] women musicians and composers. And there are groups of transgender musicians, and we're starting to come together and say, 'We're here!'"

Last summer, Marie performed sold-out shows at the Green Room 42, featuring all-queer orchestras. She debuted never-before-heard songs, including one she wrote while homeless, sitting on a rock in the park, called "A Life That Makes Sense to Me."

"When we were getting ready for the show, I found the ['Life'] lyrics and decided to put it to music," she remembers. "It was a very emotional moment for me. It wasn't that I was back in that moment, it was really just looking at how far I'd come from there." She muses, "I never thought I was going to get myself out of [homelessness]. I've been able to do that and so much more."

Finding strengh was a daily mantra. "Every single day, I would look in the mirror and find something beautiful about myself," she says. "I would try to remind myself that that's one good thing. I would try to remind myself I wasn't alone. Even when I felt like I was."

She adds, "It's still a battle I struggle with every day and I think I always will. But it's OK to struggle, as long as it doesn't take over."

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