And The Next Thing You Know podcast
Episode 015: Shawna Virago
This is my conversation with Shawna Virago. Shawna is an indie punk/roots/folk musician and singer-songwriter, and the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival.
In this episode, we talk about coming up in the eclectic L.A. music scene in the 70s and 80s, seeing artists like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Bo Diddley, and gay punk rocker Tom Robinson live, and what it was like gigging at frat parties while trans.
We also talk about Shawna’s move to San Francisco, and Shawna’s surprising and nourishing meet-cute with longtime partner, the choreographer and Fresh Meat Productions Artistic Director, Sean Dorsey. Since the 1990s, Shawna and Sean have done some heavy lifting in the queer and trans communities in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond to create vibrant trans visibility, community, and culture.
Read a lovely piece about Shawna and Sean in the Advocate.
Musical interludes in this episode are from Shawna Virago’s “Eternity Street,” used with permission. Find Shawna at shawnavirago.com and support Shawna on Bandcamp.
Shawna Virago Metaphorically Punches Lou Reed in the Face: The Spotify Playlist
I made a playlist to accompany this episode! It’s got original songs from Shawna, along with a bunch of the artists we talk about in the episode, including Bo Diddley, the Chiffons, X, Bowie, T. Rex, Amanda Lear, Jayne County, and many more!
The Spotify Playlist Is Here
Queer history, activists, authors, and institutions referenced in the episode
CUAV – Community United Against Violence – founded in 1979, and still going strong, building LGBTQ power to dismantle interpersonal and institutional violence.
The White Night Riots – a good primer at the World Queerstory blog. Queers fight back after Dan White gets a slap on the wrist for murdering SF Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1978.
Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera: Amazing archival recordings with these two trans activists of color in New York. Johnson was a Stonewall veteran, and together, they founded STAR, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, providing housing to houseless trans girls and women. These recordings are from 1970.
Leslie Feinberg and the legacy of Stone Butch Blues
ETVC – The Emergency Transvestite Channel history at the amazing Louise Lawrence Transgender Archive
The GLBT Historical Society
The Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis archival photos at the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project
Jordy Jones in the GLBT Historical Society archive – Jordy was the curator of the fateful Trans Art show in 2001, where Shawna met Sean for the first time. <3
Charlie Jane Anders, Lambda Literary, Nebula, and Hugo award-winning author, podcaster, and creator of the legendary San Francisco literary night, Writers With Drinks
Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in 1966 – a video talk by Susan Stryker on resistance to police violence and carceral power, curated by the Tenderloin Museum in San Francisco
An intro to the Stonewall Riots at the Library of Congress
Shawna and I discussed the need to take care of LGBTQIA elders and veterans of Stonewall and Compton’s, and the organization I keep getting pointed to is SAGE: the National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging. Let me know if you are connected to other good resources, and I’ll link them here!
Felicia Flames Elizondo
Kate Bornstein – the author of the influential 1995 book about trans identities, Gender Outlaw: on men, women, and the rest of us
Judith Butler’s work at UC Berkeley
Music and culture we talked about
Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, David Bowie, T. Rex, New York Dolls, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Bo Diddley, Johnny Cash, The Supremes, Eddie Cochran, Mike Ness/Social Distortion, Question Mark and the Mysterians, The Chiffons, Martha and the Vandellas, The Ramones, The Seeds – Can’t Seem to Make You Mine from 1965, and, as an aside, Alex Chilton’s great cover, Count Five – Psychotic Reaction from 1966, Tom Robinson, Buzzcocks, Justin Vivian Bond – Kiki & Herb.
Get a taste for these artists and then some at the Spotify playlist for this episode!
Creem and Circus rock magazines
Christine Jorgensen at the New York Historical Society
Amanda Lear – In Salvador Dali’s circle, and Roxy Music cover model
Romy Haag – performer, club proprietor, intimate partner of David Bowie (content correction: Haag isn’t German. She’s Dutch)
Candy Darling profile at TransasCity dot Org
Holly Woodlawn – NYT Obituary from 2015
Terry Toy Warhol’s “girl of the year” with artist Keith Haring
Carol Burnett – Shawna mentioned she’s a big influence for Sean!
A critical Vice article on Lou Reed’s relationship with his trans partner, Rachel Humphreys by journalist Harron Walker
A Dangerous Minds article from 2013 about Rachel and Lou, overall less critical, but respectful about Rachel’s gender, with lots of photos. Two content warnings: 1. The article refers to a particularly awful, racist, transphobic commentary by Lester Bangs about Rachel. 2. The comment thread became a noteworthy document, because some people who directly knew Rachel and Lou chimed in on the discussion, but there is a lot of outdated terminology for trans peoples’ lives being used. Some of it appropriately reflects the time that’s being talked about in the mid-70s, but there is also some antagonistic misgendering in the comments.
American Graffiti, Happy Days, Grease, Sha Na Na
“The Bakersfield Sound” and the Birth of Country Rock – article by Tim Moore on Medium
Slam Dancing, Pogo, Mosh
Kenneth Anger’s 1963 film Scorpio Rising
Different Fur Studios – where Shawna records, has had an impressive roster, including Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock
Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr.
Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet
Moby-Dick at the Big Read podcast: an example Shawna gave of old timey culture that shouldn’t be compulsory. But if you’re curious…I very much recommend this audio podcast presentation of the novel, in which each chapter is read by a noteworthy narrator, including Tilda Swinton, Sir David Attenborough, John Waters, Mary Oliver, and about a hundred more. 🙂
Silas Howard’s short film from 2015 about Bambi Lake, Sticks and Stones
Jayne County’s music legacy and visual art in the Brooklyn Rail, 2018
Derek Jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee
Bygone bars and public spaces referenced in the episode
The Starwood in Hollywood
The Queen Mary bar in Studio City
The Motherlode bar page at Louise Lawrence Transgender Archive
Foxy Lady on Mission Street – 2012 Mission Local article on the store closing
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The banana peel is by Max Ronnersjö.
The theme and interstitial music is by Jon Schwartz.
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