For Champaign newbie Carmine Shannon, finding a trans community where they live is not just nice; it is necessary. Bringing trans people together for the sake of visibility, solidarity, and support has been the driving force behind their work as Trans Musician Showcase organizer with the Independent Media Center (IMC) in Urbana.
As soon as Shannon heard about plans for the showcase, they jumped at the opportunity to get involved. Before they knew it, they were the person in charge of putting the show together. The mission of the project has since been infused with a passion fueled by Shannon’s own experiences, as both a trans person and new Champaign resident, to find and strengthen a sense of togetherness in the local trans community. I recently had a chance to sit down with Shannon to discuss the details of the event and how their unique perspective has influenced the planning process.
Smile Politely: Can you tell me about the specifics of this event?
Carmine Shannon: It’s a benefit concert. 90% of it’s going to go to uniting pride. Darya from Uniting Pride helped me a lot with connecting me to artists and record labels and stuff like that. 10% of it’s going to go to the IMC. I really want to be involved in the IMC if I come back here… I’ve been contacting people from their late teens to their 50s and I think it would be really interesting to have a lot of representation, at least in age and sound. There are noise musicians, ambient synth-pop [musicians]… basically I just want to get a whole bunch of different music and different people to come, because it’s a showcase!
SP: How did you get involved with this event?
Shannon: I actually do not work at the IMC… I live in a co-op with a couple of other trans people who are actually from the area. I’m on a leave of absence from Wellesley [College], near Boston. Someone in my house was like, “I really want to do a showcase through the IMC, and it should be for trans musicians and a benefit concert and all this.” And she was like, “Do you want to help me find musicians?” And I know she did this because I’m also a musician. And I was really excited to do that, and then ended up doing the whole thing!
SP: What brought you here this year?
Shannon: I followed someone who was also taking time off because of corona- a very good friend of mine who’s also nonbinary, who’s from Illinois. I was not wanting to live with my parents during the school shutdown. I was like, “Can’t do that.” And then they moved to a co-op and I was like, “Oh, I’m really into intentional communities.” And I was only going to be here for six months, and then I was like, ‘Damn, I really like Urbana!” And then I ended up staying here, and I will be here for a full year (and maybe longer).
SP: What would you say is the biggest difference between what you’ve experienced here and what you’ve experienced back home?
Shannon: So I live in Indiana. And I live in an incredibly small town, so.. It’s not very good. Wellesley is a historically women’s college so I can really surround myself with a really insular community of trans people. And I do, and I did…. As far as that community goes versus the one here, going here has put me into a gender crisis of not knowing if I am just getting more in touch with femininity… or am I being force-femmed by how much I get misgendered and how much I hear my deadname because of being tested for corona? … Because as you’re moving through this spectrum of gender, wherever you happen to be [changes] how you are expressing.
SP: So as the organizer of this event, what is your goal? What do you want to communicate to people?
Shannon: I think part of it is like, I know some trans women, and the trans women I know in my age group are like,” I don’t know anyone who’s transfemme. And it makes me feel terrible to go to classes every day and be the only trans woman of color that I have ever seen there…” So the core centering around myself and my group of friends is like to meet people and see the community. A lot of people I talk to about it and who go to the college are like, “Yeah, there is a trans group that’s like a support group.” So a lot of people are needing support for things, and needing that kind of community, and then there are people who are no longer needing emotional support as the core of their groupings. And then they leave, and I’m like, “Oh well, where do they go?” And… it would be nice to have a more cohesive vision of what the trans community in Urbana looks like, especially during COVID, because that’s where I’m working from.
SP: Is there anything else you would like people to know?
Shannon: It’s from 7-8:30 p.m., it’ll be a live stream… and other [artists] might be streaming remotely. It’s also being broadcast/simulcast on 104.5.