As a folk musician and transgender activist, Mya Byrne paved the way for queer artists in Nashville. The singer-songwriter recently spoke with the lawyer on the progress of LGBTQ+ people on the American stage and how coming out completely changed his career.
Byrne recently became the first transgender woman to star in land of rolling stones. Although she raved about the feeling of being “above the fold”, she admitted that she “didn’t expect to take the lead”.
As an active country musician since 2003, Byrne is no stranger to discrimination against queer people in America.
“It’s still a hard place to exist,” she says. “Trans women – we have a glass ceiling too, but it’s safety glass. I feel like [the Rolling Stone Country piece] really put a crack in the armor.
Byrne entered the professional music scene in 2003, where she became familiar with queer folk, rock and even country artists. Although LGBTQ+ creators have historical influences in the genres, the reinforcement of heteronormativity and cisnormativity in the scene made him “scared” of being queer.
“I didn’t know what it really meant to be queer,” she shares. “I wouldn’t allow myself to be queer.”
Culture toxicity delayed Byrne’s acceptance of herself as transgender. She says that at the time, being queer in the country scene was “like the kiss of death.”
“A lot of queer people I knew in music were typecast to do queer shows or showcases and they were trying to break through,” she explains. “People I knew who were gay in the music scene weren’t excluded. It was threatening and I didn’t feel like there was a place for me.
Byrne didn’t come out publicly as a trans woman until 2014, though she shares that she came out in 2012, a move that completely changed her artistic journey nearly a decade after she started. his career.
She remembers always looking for “something” in her previous songs. When Byrne came out, the piece of her that was anxious disappeared and life went from “fuzzy to technicolor”. Finally, she was able to fully develop her writing.
Byrne explains: “When people come out, it’s not just a political act, it’s also an example for others of what they can be. So, for me, what really changed in my music was the fact that I was no longer looking for something that I didn’t know. I started to become a more observational songwriter. It made me a better songwriter.
Throughout his career, Byrne has never backed down from his country roots. She grew up with musical genres ranging from punk rock to Memphis soul, eventually blending into her Americana sound.
“I think Americana is kind of a catch-all for things that don’t fit into those [country and folk] categories,” she says. “Kind of like the transgender umbrella. It’s who I am.
Unfortunately, the country music scene is often steeped in conservative voices. Byrne explains that while the genre originally developed in the early 20th century as a voice for rural communities and beyond, rooted in Appalachian music, the country aesthetic changed during the 1950s in response to rock ‘n’ roll, which was widely considered the progressive movement of the time. This change has carried over to the contemporary scene.
“Modern country music, and that kind of ‘being poor is good enough’ and ‘root where you’re planted’ attitude, it’s all based on this idea that we need to ‘preserve our heritage,'” Byrne explains. “Where have we heard that before?”
According to Byrne, the country was never meant to reflect a movement for moral purity, but the struggles of the working class, which she thinks queer people can identify with.
“Real country music is a revolution,” she says.
Despite her leftist roots, transgender artists are alarmingly unwelcome on the American stage. Last month, Brittany Aldean, wife of prominent country musician Jason Aldean, made headlines for a transphobic Instagram post.
Although Byrne is disappointed by the rhetoric, she doesn’t think Aldean is the voice of the genre. She says that Maren Morris, the singer-songwriter who called Aldean fanaticism and subsequently garnering thousands of people for Transgender Lifeline, is the real success. However, it is “unfortunate” that Aldean’s transphobic bigotry has been widely described as a “feud” between her and Morris, whom Byrne praises as a “true ally”.
“What are people like Brittney Aldean afraid of? Byrne asks. “They’re afraid of losing the status quo, and that’s long been the story of ‘mainstream’ country music, which is ‘don’t come here and try to steal our stuff.’ And that’s a shame. “
Byrne is one of the first transgender artists to perform at AmericanaFest in Nashville, although she never received an official invitation to perform. Instead, other musicians featured her at official AmericanaFest events after Byrne was explicitly rejected from performing at the festival as a featured performer.
“They said in their rejection letter, ‘We don’t have room for you,'” she shares. “They used those words.”
Byrne says that since states began adopting policies that clamp down on transgender visibility and health care, finding work is nearly impossible for trans performers. She shares that the hardest part for her is just “making ends meet.”
Transgender people can’t constantly stand up for themselves, says Byrne — they need support. Not just from the public, but from other artists.
“What’s really going to take is one of these high-status artists to put a trans woman on stage as an equal. As a peer. And defend them,” she said. “That’s really what needs to happen right now. If we don’t put trans people front and center and say, “I support this person,” we don’t have that visibility. »