For nearly 15 years, March 31 has been recognized as the Transgender Day of Visibility. But Evan Greer, a singer/songwriter and organizer of a Friday night benefit at the Rockwell in Somerville, muses that “perhaps visibility is not what the trans community needs more of.”
“We’re very visible right now — in fact we’re in the crosshairs with the unprecedented intensity of attacks and anti-trans legislation and violence,” she says. “So instead of just visibility, we need action and solidarity and engagement.”
That’s why the show isn’t just a showcase for five queer artists, including drag star Candace Persuasion, rapper Trap Beat Tranny, and poet Levi Cain. It’s also a fund-raiser for Harbor Camps, a New Hampshire summer program for trans and gender-nonconforming youth — the very population that, as Greer points out, “are on the front lines of the attacks that we’re facing.”
Greer is referring to the hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills that have been introduced in state legislatures around the country. They include bans on gender-affirming health care for trans youth, the use of students’ preferred pronouns, or trans kids joining the sports team that reflects their identity. Such efforts have been seen in New England, with New Hampshire’s House nearly passing a bill that would force teachers to “out” trans students. Employees at Boston Children’s Hospital have faced death threats for months for providing medical treatment for trans youth.
“Trans kids growing up right now deserve to just be able to live their lives and have fun like every other kid,” says Greer. “They’re experiencing having their identities politicized. The camp has a talent show, so we’re raising money to purchase a new sound system. With all these forces trying to silence them, here’s an opportunity to literally hand them a microphone and make their voices and experiences louder.”
La Neve, a Providence-based nonbinary drag artist, will be playing their politically charged synth-dance music at Friday’s show. Just a few blocks from La Neve’s recent set during South by Southwest in Austin, Texas legislators debated enacting a drag ban similar to the one that recently became law in Tennessee. “It certainly made for a heightened intensity,” says La Neve. “My show is technically illegal in Tennessee right now. With all of these legal attacks, as well as the violence directed at trans people right now, this kind of performance is really important right now.”
La Neve, who also performs as Joey DeFrancesco, guitarist for the Providence punk band Downtown Boys, has a history of mixing advocacy with art. After leading a union campaign at a Providence hotel where they worked, they quit the job with the What Cheer? Brigade brass band in tow, resulting in a viral video.
Their debut recording came out in 2019. “Instead of getting into more conventional drag with lip-syncing I wanted to do my own original music,” La Neve says. “There’s not a ton of people doing a drag punk performance with original dance music, so I think it can be exciting and fun, although the vision is the same as my other art.”
At the Rockwell, La Neve will be accompanied by drummer Karna Ray of the Kominas, the Boston-based Muslim punk band that is also unafraid to address social and identity issues. “I come from a background of playing and writing for live instruments,” La Neve says. “As much as I love electronic and dance music, I love the added energy and chaos of having live percussion layered on top of it. It sounds more punk and more exciting.”
Greer, no stranger to fusing music with social commentary herself, will play a short set as well as hosting the event. Greer went a decade between releases before 2019′s “she/her/they/them,” but quickly followed up with the pandemic-made “Spotify is Surveillance.”
“Recording at home was a breakthrough for me,” she says. “It always took me so long to record because I used to tour a lot and now I have a full-time job as a director of a nonprofit [Fight for the Future], so it was hard to find the time and money to get into the studio. I spent so much money hiring bro-ey dudes because I assumed they knew stuff that I didn’t. Recording myself was so empowering.”
At the Rockwell, Greer will perform at least one song that is spot-on for the event’s theme: “I have a song I never thought about playing solo, because it’s a screamy punk song, but I’ve figured out an acoustic version. It’s about the current assault on trans kids. It’s called ‘Leave Them Alone.’ ”
TRANS DAY OF VISIBILITY BENEFIT
With La Neve, Candace Persuasion, Trap Beat Tranny, Levi Cain, and Evan Greer. Presented by ONCE at the Rockwell, 255 Elm St., Somerville. March 31 at 9 p.m. $15-$30. therockwell.org
Noah Schaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.