Transgender singer fuses social justice, music

Shea Diamond is a transgender singer who spent most of her upbringing in Memphis, TN, and who considers herself an alternative and indie singer.

Genesis Hansen, Columnist

Shea Diamond’s ‘I Am Her’ peaks interest in music industry.

“My womanhood has always been under attack, it’s always been challenged,” Shea Diamond, transgender alternative and indie singer, said in a phone interview. 

According to Diamond, growing up was difficult because she struggled with her gender expression and presentation. Rebuked by her community, family and friends Diamond said that she faced not only mental and emotional obstacles, but societal ones as well. She has always had to prove herself and maintain strength. 

Shea Diamond is from Little Rock, AK but spent most of her upbringing in Memphis, TN. Leaving home at 14, Diamond bounced around from foster home to home as a ward of the state. Diamond is currently residing in NY. 

With 41,653 views on YouTube, the song “I Am Her” has made ripples in the fabric of the music industry and the trans community. Her music can be found on Spotify and iTunes as well.

Diamond said that she is always writing thoughts, ideas, words and “micro-melodies,” and knows when a song will be a hit when it stays in her head. Excited to unleash some more projects she’s been working on, she stated that she is in a transition period with her music and is constantly creating and experimenting.

The alternative and indie artist released the single “I Am Her” in 2016. Diamond’s first major performance of this anthem was at Harlem Pride June 2017, during Gay Pride Month.  

In the response to Trump’s ban on trans members from joining the military, Diamond, The Chainsmokers, Sia and a variety of other artists submitted videos to Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to send a message to the trans community letting them know that they are loved, supported and that they will be fought for.  

“It was in that moment I understood Pride as trans singer/songwriter. I became a vessel to remind the community that we are not alone and when united we can do anything,” Diamond said in a love letter to the LGBTQ+ community according to Billboard.

During her gender reassignment transition, healthcare providers receded from financially assisting Diamond and withheld the hormones necessary to sustain her transition.

After being emancipated at 17, the singer was sentenced to 10 years in a men’s prison in 1999 for committing an armed robbery.

“There’s no way to house a female in a male institution, so they considered me a male,” Diamond explained in an interview with Michael Harriot from The Root. “They determined my gender.”

She commented on her struggle to achieve respect, security and the medical attention she needed. Although, while in prison, Diamond found a support system that stemmed from the love of music.

“I would have these men singing ‘I Am Her,’ and they loved it!” Diamond said.

Qwo Li Driskill is an associate professor in Women Gender Sexuality Studies program, a director of graduate studies for Women Gender Sexuality Studies, and a course organizer for queer studies. They have been a member of the Oregon State University community for five years.

“You cannot approach these things as separate struggles and if we pretend that they are separate then you neglect the very people you’re trying to help.” Driskill said. Also quoting the late Audre Lorde, she adds, “There’s no such thing as a single issue struggle because we don’t live single issue lives.”

Driskill focuses on addressing the intersections of racism, transphobia, sexism, homophobia, classism, xenophobia and how other forms of power intersect, inform and perpetuate each other.

“Music is storytelling. You use it to tell your story, it’s the life behind the artist,” Diamond said. “Wanting acceptance and the freedom to reclaim power to uplift and inspire people makes you realize that your story can give someone courage in their own life.”

Cari Maes is a associate professor in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and teaches classes like Politics of Motherhood in a Global Context, Feminist Activism and Transnational Sexualities. 

“I think we’re in a moment of receptivity where social media and music can be used to  share their stories. There’s a new opportunity to learn about your fellow human,” Maes said. “It’s easy to invisiblize groups and I think that there is potential to share these experiences in a way that we haven’t seen before.”

Maes makes the statement that she cannot comment on the struggles and needs of marginalized people. But through her work as a professor, her familial relationships and encounters with those who hold different political views, she can advocate for people who need justice, learn about their lives, and use her privilege as a mode of change.

The song “I Am Her” is all about agency, strength and the journey that has unfolded whilst establishing herself as Shea Diamond. 

Diamond opens the song with the phrase and theme, “There is an outcast in everybody’s life and I am her.” Touching on her reality of feeling isolated and rejected by her community, she makes it known that others who feel that way aren’t alone. With people trying to change and preach at her, Diamond makes the statement that who she is is going to stay, and she will not shy away from standing as the woman she is.

“I am her also becomes I am with her, her experience is my experience, we all have to win to be equal,” Diamond said.

With the women’s movement perpetuating the message that this is enough, Diamond’s voice becomes an envoy for trans women, and women of color. Her song is a manifestation of  liberation. We see this moxie in the lyrics,  “Your ignorance leaves a hell of a stench the aroma lingers on generations unknown.” She is empowered and even critical to those who fight so hard against change. 

“This is the year for the underdog; we are reclaiming our existence and we’re going to thrive,” Diamond said.

Disgusted with the way her community and others are being suppressed, she is becoming a beacon of light and a beautiful example of the social change that is developing around us. 

“The recent news about ASOSU’s  representative points to a larger problem, it’s not just one person,” Diamond says. “He should be held accountable yes, but it’s not just about him, he’s part of the bigger movement against marginalized peoples.”

On our campus at OSU, Driskill hopes to see more training and education to all members of the university, and encourages students to keep standing for what is right. 

“I see some really good activism and organization from our students. I hope they continue to make coalitions and invoke the change we want to see in the world,” Driskill said.

Looking forward into the future and visualizing how we can perpetuate Diamond’s message of inclusivity and justice, we can call on members of our community to acknowledge and activate  their power in society. Build relationships with each other, use any privilege you may have and assess what you can do to help. Share your experiences and knowledge with those you meet, gain perspective by meeting new people. We must allow ourselves to be held accountable for the marginalized members of our society, and be creative and consistent in how we can integrate social justice into all areas of our lives.

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