This week it was announced that Danica Roem made history as she was the first openly transgender person elected to public office in Virginia, unseating the long-standing, self-proclaiming homophobe and architect of the “bathroom bill”, Bob Marshall. But Twitter, in its inimitable style, swiftly both congratulated Roem and corrected the narrative that the near-universally cis news media had propagated. Althea Garrison was elected to public office in 1992 as a Republican in Massachusetts.
A similar sort of tale has come to the surface recently. Jackie Shane had a hit in Toronto in the mid sixties, then seemed to disappear entirely. Any Other Way, a repackaging of her excellent work, containing studio recordings as well as tracks from live sets, is bringing 2017 to a close in style. Forty-something years on from her spotlight in the public arena, Shane has confirmed that she is transgender. This shouldn’t be the apex of her story, as it's remarkable for so many reasons, but, now being such a crucial time in the transgender rights movement, it’s hard to say that her resurgence in popularity isn’t motivated by this one aspect of her identity.
The narrative of trans artists so often falls on their transitioning, their otherness to the rest of cis society. This isn’t to say that no trans artist shouldn’t use their platform to express themes of their gender identity - here’s looking at you, Laura Jane Grace, and the superb Gender Dysphoria Blues - but it’s refreshing to see one story at least that doesn’t hinge on a trans person being a trans person and nothing more. It is reductive to consider Shane as solely a trans recording artist, especially from me in my cis-ness, and I am sad and more than a little ashamed that this is the main reason behind how I discovered her.
However, I am nevertheless fascinated by the contrast in how marginalized groups throughout history have always existed and yet they are still framed today as something ‘new’, ‘radical’, essentially of-this-time-and-place. It’s such nonsense. For example, Munroe Bergdorf‘s controversial dismissal has echoes of Tracey Norman’s experience in the 70s. Is it the hyper-connectedness and thirst for content of our age that means these current stories get more coverage but very little context in the wider frame of history? Or is it a desperate scramble to protect a meta narrative that we live in a more progressive time today?
I’m getting ahead of myself. And off the point. Shane has a glorious voice, full of smoke and dripping with jewels. The singe of Nina Simone, the softness of Sam Cooke. The covers of well-known numbers such as Knock On Wood and Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag help a novice listener like myself better compare and contrast, understanding how unique a talent Shane is - or rather, was. She’s still alive and kicking but I’m unsure of whether she’s planning to release anything new.
But it’s another mighty shame to just consider her against other recording artists of the time, playing the house numbers. I would much rather leave you to listen to her and for her to speak for herself.
So, without further ado...