Soundtracking the Resistance - Laura Burhenn of The Mynabirds on Transgender Rights

Be Here Now Due Out August 25 via Saddle Creek

Aug 04, 2017 Web Exclusive By Laura Burhenn Photography by Protest portrait by David Studarus (for Under the Radar) Bookmark and Share


Singer/songwriter Laura Burhenn, who has recorded under the name The Mynabirds since 2010, has never shied from the world around her. Over the course of three albums, she's demonstrated a high degree of political engagement blended with subtly catchy indie pop. All that's stepping up a notch for her fourth album, Be Here Now, out on August 25 from Saddle Creek (incidentally, the label is donating profits through Bandcamp sales today to the Transgender Law Center, part of the overall move by Bandcamp to donate profits today to the same cause.)

Written over the course of two weeks following the inauguration of Donald Trump, Burhenn is out to document turbulent events and the way people have reacted to them. Among the many things worrying Burhenn is Trump's regressive approach to transgender rights. For that reason we've handed the column over to her this week! - Stephen Mayne

Laura Burhenn - Shouting At the Dark 

It's overwhelming these days, every morning a new war.

 

Following the inauguration, I thought the headlines would quiet. But as I sat in a studio in Nashville in January, writing and recording what would become my new album, they didn't. And now, six months later, they still haven't. The noise keeps pitching up, every @POTUS tweet decree more shrill and hateful than the last.

 

Have you read the list lately? Have you stopped to remember everything that's changed (or threatened to change) in just six months? The last stand at Standing Rock. The Muslim travel ban. The withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The attempted ACA repeal and transgender military ban. The latest proposals to get rid of Affirmative Action in college admissions and require that immigrants know how to speak English before they can immigrate to the U.S.

 

And let's also not forget all of the people who have been threatened and intimidated by the President of the U.S. on Twitter (Twitter!): fired FBI director James Comey, fired Attorney General Sally Yates, Civil Rights hero John Lewis, the entire cast of Hamilton, Barbara Mikulski and Susan Collins (two women senators from Trump's own party who opposed the ACA repeal), all of the news mediaa.k.a. "the enemy of the American people." Six months... It's unreal.

 

At first I was grateful for the silver lining: At least now we can see the racism/homophobia/hate among us. But we need to move past that. How can we get rid of it altogether?

 

I've always considered myself a very political person. I marched in DC against George Bush and the second Iraq war; I went door-to-door to support Barack's campaigns and sang onstage with Bernie Sanders twice; I've signed petitions and emailed my senators and worked with a coalition in Omaha, Nebraska, to enact a bill protecting LGBTQ folks from getting fired from their jobs simply for being who they are. I started a portrait project of revolutionary American women and gave a TED talk on what it means to be revolutionary in the modern age. I marched in LA after the inauguration in solidarity with women around the world. And I've written two albums that are fiercely political: Generals (2012) and Be Here Now, which comes out August 25th.

 

But when someone like Donald Trump gets elected and seems to be undoing everything we've fought so hard for, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. I know I do.

 

For months I've had a hard time with the news. I mean, I have kept up. But my era of refreshing the page every hour is over. Too much anxiety in the collective consciousness that I can't have creeping into my own. Tune out. Turn off. Drop into the arms of someone you love and hold tight. That feels like the counterculture motto updated for the modern age, for desperate, disenfranchised youth: The New Summer of Love, 2017. And I've been humming it on repeat, quietly to myself, as Twitter and the rest of the world burn.

 

The morning Trump announced his transgender military ban last week, I broke. I cried in the kitchen and texted my trans friend, Caleb. I wanted her to know that no matter who was in power, I had her back. I was slated to release a video for a new song, "Shouting at the Dark," the next day, one that she had danced in alongside me and a host of other women, many LGBTQ, all of us fed up with the state of the union and ready to tear down the death-rattle patriarchy with our bare hands.

 

Some people yelled, "It's a distraction! He just wants us to ignore the Russia investigation!" But "distraction" is a word cis white folks can use while they go about their comfortable lives. Hateful words embolden hateful actionsthat's the most dangerous thing about Trump, and we've seen it become reality. Hate crimes have been on the rise across the U.S. since he began his run for the presidency. Even in the liberal bastion of California, hate crimes are up by the double digits, particularly racially and religiously motivated crimes (against blacks, Jews, Muslims particularly), and against trans people.

 

These are my friends. These are people who are suffering and even dying because one asshole at the top thinks his "freedom of speech" is more valuable than other people's lives. When one person's words physically endanger another man or woman or trans person, it's not freedom of speech; it's a hate crime.

 

People have been critical of my political voice since I've used it. It's a criticism every musician or entertainer or person in a position of influence who is not a politician has faced. But not being vocal about the suffering other people endure while I go about my comfortable, cis white life, is the definition of privilege. And I refuse to be that person.

 

For years I thought I was a pacifist; I do believe in peace. But this latest election has taught me that as much as I'm a peace-maker, I'm a peace-fighter. "My heart's full of love, and all kinds of peace, but I think even I could punch a Nazi in the face," I sing in "Golden Age" on my new record. It's a lyric that made at least one fan uncomfortable. To be honest, it makes me a little uncomfortable, too, but I love that that truth rose to the surfaceI've felt that same fight rising up in other people, and I'm glad to know the it's in me, too. And I won't apologize for it. There are things in the world that are wrong and need to be stopped. Full stop. I want to be part of the army of the greats spanning history who have fought to right wrongs, to bring justice and equality to the disadvantaged. I want to be someone who stands up.

 

Right now the most important things we can do are strengthen our communities, protect each other, find our people and hold them closer than we ever have before. Because that can be the most revolutionary act: turning off the news, turning in towards one another and choosing love, even as we are surrounded by hate.

 

Speaking with Caleb the morning of the trans ban, she told me why she uses her voice and privilege to stand up for others, which I realized is exactly why I speak out and will continue on forever til I die. I want to leave you with her voice, which is my voice, which is our voice, if we use it:

 

"We live in a place which affords us the opportunity to be loud and to be visible and not fear entirely the immediate violent reprisal from those that would preserve a system of oppression-a system steeped in racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia. There are far more who are not afforded the privilege to live in cities with access to communities that would support them as queer or trans or a visible and vocal person of color. We need to be louder and more visible for the countless other less fortunate, who live in places where they feel far more alone and disenfranchised. In challenging the roles of our social system, with as much flagrancy as our individual position and privilege would afford, perhaps a shift can be made which makes it easier for others more alienated to strike out with pride and cultivate a safer life as those who are oppressed." - Caleb Miller

 

I'd rather have cuts on my knees
Than blood in my mouth
From biting my tongue
And keeping it down

While you were sleeping
I was wide awake screaming
 
Shouting at the dark
Shouting at the dark
Til our voices blow out
Tearing at the sky
Tearing at the lies
With both hands
 
I wouldn't want to be another way
I couldn't ever be another way

Song of the week: The Mynabirds - "Shouting At the Dark" 

Given Burhenn penned the piece above, her latest track is something of a no-brainer for song of the week. "Shouting At the Dark" is a defiant call to arms in the ongoing battle against the backwards forces Trump and his ilk represent, and it includes Burhenn dancing alongside trans and queer friends in the video. Trump may stand as a potent and oppressive force, but he doesn't stand unopposed.

 

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