A Perfect Night for Manifest Pussy: The Sudden, Tragic Poignancy of Shakina Nayfack's Trans Song Cycle | Music Feature | Indy Week
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A Perfect Night for Manifest Pussy: The Sudden, Tragic Poignancy of Shakina Nayfack's Trans Song Cycle 

On Sunday, I didn't want to do a single thing.

For weeks, I'd had the date blocked off on my calendar with the proclamation: "Day Off." On Monday, as I pulled images for a rock group's statement regarding HB 2, I told myself, "Sunday's not so far away." Two days later, while spending my third wedding anniversary and ninth consecutive Wednesday with my husband, Grayson, leading an orchestra of air horns outside of the governor's house, I thought, "Sunday, we'll have the whole day to ourselves."

On Thursday, before I gave a talk at a gathering of designers about creativity in social justice, I fantasized, "Maybe I'll go for a swim on Sunday." And on Saturday, after spending the morning with a nonprofit and the rest of the day at a fundraiser for Southerners on New Ground, I decided, "Tomorrow, I'm not going to do anything. I'm just going to sit around and eat ice cream."

Then Sunday arrived. Before my eyes had adjusted to daylight, Grayson asked if I had "heard about Orlando," as though what had happened was so awful I might have intuited it in my sleep. Though I was barely awake, I knew what "hearing about Orlando" meant. I scrolled through social media and again found the cyclic pattern society has adopted for mass tragedy: a bevy of thoughts and prayers, tears and bickering, ISIS and Sandy Hook, slick new profile pictures.

Just hours earlier, I watched musicians donate their time, talent, and energy to repeal HB 2 at the #NotThisBenefit. Organized by metal trio MAKE, the show offered a zippy eight sets in seven hours, including delightful appearances from the quirky pop group Organos and the oh-so-fun, oh-so-loud In the Year of the Pig.

When Kym Register, the owner of The Pinhook and the drummer in righteously loud quartet Bad Friends, reminded us to consider the implications of gender-specific bathrooms at an anti-HB 2 show, it served as a stark reminder of the work left to be done. Band and audience members alike offered to shimmy the male and female markers from the wall with screwdrivers. The entire evening was cathartic and heavy, joyful and angry, wild and weird. It gave me hope that with enough energy, capital, and ire, we could stem the tide of regressive politics that's recently swept North Carolina.

And then we all heard about Orlando.

I swapped swimming for donating blood. I traded ice cream for a pack of raisins in the mobile unit's small canteen. The process—painfully slow due to the unexpected influx of donations—took most of the day. I sat across from a man in a mint-green shirt. His crimson blood poured into the collection bag aggressively, like a physical representation of empathy and enthusiasm. He recorded the entire event on his cell phone.

I saw him again a few hours later in the parking lot of Legends, where a candlelight vigil organized by the LGBT Center of Raleigh gave three speakers—including members of the Muslim and LGBTQ communities—the opportunity to speak of strength, love, and inclusion. Afterward, people milled about the parking lot, some hugging, some kicking at the gravel, not sure where to go next.

Less than a mile away at The Pour House, a piece of musical theater called Manifest Pussy was about to begin. Writer and performer Shakina Nayfack explained that she decided to take the show, which started in New York, on tour throughout North Carolina in response to HB 2.

Nayfack crowdfunded her gender confirmation surgery in 2014, and then created two performances, One Woman Show and Post-Op, about her experience. Combined, those solo shows represent the expansive Manifest Pussy, an hour-and-a-half performance of storytelling, spoken word, and rock 'n' roll. It walks the audience through the personal history preceding her transition and the time she spent in Thailand receiving and recovering from the procedure.

The show started and ended with an energetic sing-along called "B.N.P."—an acronym for "brand new pussy." For the first time ever, I chuckled at a joke about gender confirmation surgery. After a trying day, the sound of my own laughter caught me off-guard, but Nayfack was disarming and engaging. The small, vocal audience was soon clapping along.

On stage, Nayfack beamed in bright red pants and a black tank top, and she was not shy about genital gesticulation. Toying with her cell phone between songs, she told us she still had the last picture she ever took of her penis. Did we want to see it? There it was, a little red glob of flesh. Nayfack curled her bottom lip out, as if to say, "you poor thing." The rest of the evening continued with the same stunning level of openness and honesty, and I found myself laughing and smiling regularly for the first time since I woke up, since I "heard about Orlando."

I can't imagine a life in which I not only embrace but also actively promote a past that doesn't fully represent me for the enlightenment of others. It's brave, bold, and vital work. I have no deep ties to the LGBTQ community, other than believing in the dignity and rights of other human beings. The first time I met a trans man, I was terrified that I might accidentally use the wrong pronoun. But tolerance and acceptance come through exposure to—and honest conversations with—people who look, think, and act differently from us.

That's the power of a performance like Manifest Pussy, which gives the audience permission to explore natural if taboo questions, the kind Nayfack posed: How did you know you were trans? What happens to a penis when it becomes a vagina? What's it like to lose your virginity for a second time, but with the anatomy that matches your heart and your mind?

After the show, I grabbed the pint of ice cream I had promised myself all week. Though it was nearly midnight, I wasn't alone. Inside, a pair of women sporting rainbow-colored duct tape on their chests, relics from the vigil, cruised the candy aisle.

I was joking about eating my feelings when I caught the eye of the man in the mint-green shirt who had donated blood. It was a sudden reminder of a simple truth: At the end of the day, we've all got a little more in common than we think. We've just got to be present to see it.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Giving Sunday"

  • Shakina Nayfack's Manifest Pussy at The Pinhook on Friday at Local 506 and Sunday at the Pinhook

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