District Fray Feature: TRANS AM

TRANS AM by Lisa Stephen Friday, featuring the music of Lisa Jackson & Girl Friday, directed by Fred Berman. Photo: Cameron Whitman Photography
All Hail Queen Lisa: A Keegan Theatre Story About Being Badass + Unapologetically Trans

You Call Yourself a Real Punk?
If you think you know punk rock, let me be the first to say you don’t know shit until you know who Lisa Stephen Friday is.

Sure, some of us in the District think we’re pretty cool when we wear our Bad Brains tees and “go the extra mile” by namedropping femme rockers like G.L.O.S.S. or Kathleen Hanna.

But if you don’t know the loud debauchery of our queen Lisa, take off your Doc Martens and hand me your stick-and-poke kit. You’ll get these back when you earn them.

Lisa Stephen Friday is without a doubt the most important name to know when you want to be a real punk. Having made her mark as the transfemme singer of NYC glam rockers Lisa Jackson & Girl Friday, the presence that Miss Friday exudes is one that‘s iconic and worthy of your time and attention.

She’s played Homocorp with the Psychedelic Furs. She’s been onstage with Jayne County. And most importantly, she’s the writer and performer of the one-woman show “TRANS AM” at the faith-restoring Keegan Theatre.

Why We Love Keegan
And yes, I did say faith-restoring.

For someone who studied all things performing arts, Keegan is what I mean when I say I love theatre.

At Keegan, there are no fluff pieces. With one of their Dupont performances, you get artistic direction that has a message, actors who don’t kid their audiences and original works from exceptional minds like Lisa.

If you like to be dazzled with spectacle, I hope you find it. But at Keegan, all you’ll find are beautifully-crafted performances that lift the community and diversify art.

And maybe some spectacle too. But meaningful spectacle like the jumpsuited, queer badassery of “TRANS AM.”

My First Impression
Coming into the Keegan lobby, I wanted to see how they would set the mood for a performance like “TRANS AM.”

With the focus being on a punk rock trans woman, I desired authenticity. I wouldn’t tolerate any performative LGBT gestures or any surface-level punk aesthetic. For a genderqueer punk like me, everything had to be real.

Right off the bat, the punk decor of Keegan’s normally slick lobby had caught my eye. On a wall of polished wooden slabs, there was an abundance of wrinkled flyers that served as the tapestry for Lisa Jackson & Girl Friday’s legacy.

With imagery ranging from pop art Princess Leia to Amazon Women comics, I felt that the story told was real.

And if I wasn’t impressed that these flyers told a story, I was impressed by what I heard when I arrived at the opening.

Never in my life did it benefit me to be the early bird, but coming into Keegan, I heard the sweetest sound as I was preparing my notepad.

“I try to laugh about it. Cover it all up with lies. I try to laugh about it. Hiding my tears in my eyes because boys … don’t cry.”

This was it. Before I even set foot in the theatre, I knew I was in love because “Boys Don’t Cry” has always been my song.

Whether I’m singing it on a drive to the beach or in dysphoric tears after an emotional day, The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry” has always been my song to scream and shout and butcher. And to hear it so beautifully sung by Lisa Jackson across some plain doors was like nirvana for me.

If this song meant to Lisa what it meant to me, I was going to adore whoever was afoot on that stage.

The Performance Space
Coming into the theatre, the decorum remained consistent. To my sides, posters of Bowie, Che, and Angela Davis in technicolor pop art. And onstage, a monstrously beautiful display of brick wall graffiti interrupted by cathode TV’s playing some 80’s mania.

Reagan, AIDS, MTV. It was playing on this endless loop until suddenly the lights went out. And in an instance, those TV’s counted down from ten and while I gripped onto my notebook, I saw a shadowy figure step forth and reveal herself.

It was goddamn Lisa Friday.

Let’s Get The Show On The Road
Despite the apocalypse-chic countdown, Lisa didn’t immediately get into the audience’s face with her opener. Sure, it was extravagant when we heard echoes of her song “AOK” booming closer and closer as she stood in rock god formation.

But as soon as the theatrics were done, the show was a conversation.

As Lisa touched upon memories of trans euphoria and how NYC opened up a world that her native Georgia couldn’t offer, I immediately picked up that this wasn’t a show, but a trans woman finally getting to speak.

Because for a good chunk of the opener, Lisa was simply geeking out.

Whether she was freaking out over the unabashed sexuality of Madonna or the transgender witticisms of Kurt Cobain, I didn’t see Lisa being conformed. She was a genuine trans life who’s a bit nerdy and comes out in awkward spoonfuls and has sexual encounters in drag that totally change the meaning of shacking up.

And there was a lot of anger.

You don’t know how long I’ve waited for this, but it’s here and Lisa was the brave soul to bring it.

Trans Anger.

For too long the trans community has had to be palatable to the cisgender world. But by no means does Lisa do that.

Because when she vents shit, she really vents. From discussing alcoholic loneliness in a city of millions or screaming “My gender is not up for negotiation” in the midst of a guitar smash, Miss Friday holds no punches.

Nor should she.

If anger is the emotion being felt, anger is the emotion to express. Sure, we shouldn’t always get pissed, but trans women have always been told to keep quiet when they have grievances.

Give me more trans-feminine autonomy. Give me art where someone trans gets mad and it doesn’t end in a witch-hunt.

Putting my adoration for Lisa’s anger aside, I also loved how tender-hearted she was and how it really felt like a one-on-one conversation in that room.

With Lisa and me, I felt a divine quality similar to her Cheese Whiz Drag Bar. She spoke to me. And I spoke to her.

As she closed out the show talking about the beautiful trans woman she once judged behind a wall of insecurities, I felt like the one she was calling beautiful.

My long hair being the hair she remembers. My poetic walk being the same one she adores. I never felt unfamiliar when I was watching “TRANS AM.”

And although it was a show filled with pains and lows, I felt an unrelenting beauty within how this journey was expressed.

I loved the punk rock. And I loved the glam. But there’s nothing I loved more than Lisa blessing me with her truth.

All Hail Queen Lisa.