TQ Nation had the unbelievable opportunity to interview the songwriter and co-music pioneer of Coyote Grace, Joe Stevens. Joe Stevens is an innovative trans musician who started writing songs at the young age of fifteen. His undying love for music inspired his education in college and lead to his unbelievable success with musical partner Ingrid Elizabeth with their “folktastic phenomenon” band Coyote Grace. Joe is known all over the world for his musical talent, smooth voice and inspiration, but when it comes to TQ Nation he is recognized as being one of the most perceptible representatives of the talented FtM (female-to-male) community.
If you haven’t already, I suggest you checkout Coyote Grace on their YouTube channel , Fan them on Facebook and Follow them on Twitter. Of course, you also need to go directly to their website to keep up with Coyote Grace news and events.
Personally, I absolutely love Joe Stevens and his shy but playful partner in life and music, Ingrid Elizabeth. They have a wonderful story and a wonderful spirit that shines through in their songwriting and every time they take the stage together. Their story and early relationship hits home for Tristan and I making us understand, connect and love Coyote Grace that much more. Joe Stevens, himself, opens the eyes of the world to our FtM community with every song he sings, especially “Guy Named Joe“, at every venue he plays, which bestows respect and honorable intrigue from everyone. For that, he is a GBLTQ icon.
Joe Stevens has a very kind heart and an amazing sense of humor despite the dark roads of his past. He has proven to be a very dedicated and determined artist that almost appears indestructible when it comes to getting his music to his fans. This alone is enough reason to consider Joe Stephens as an inspiration, but there’s more… Joe has broken the bridges and erased the fears of so many FtM’s that want to follow in his footsteps as a singer. He has been the one who so many have looked to when they faced concerns over voice changes on Testosterone. He continues to be a mentor and a motivating trans-celebrity that provides hope and guidance purely by his presence.
When TQ Nation was graced with a golden ticket opportunity (*wink*) for an exclusive interview with Joe Stephens, we were ecstatic! We asked 10 questions and received answers that were endearing, thoughtful, and inspirational. Joe Stephens is an extremely talented artist who is highly cherished and admired. Not to mention, he’s a TQ Nation citizen!
TQ: What do you believe has been your biggest role or accomplishment that has benefited the transgendered community?
JS: I think the best thing I have done for the trans community is just being visible. When I began my transition 6 years ago I found little if any trans representation anywhere in the media, let alone in the music scene. I was hell bent on playing music for a living before transition and had no idea how that would affect my career, but I just had to go forward. The first picture I ever saw (knowingly) of an out transperson was Loren Cameron’s book “Body Alchemy” and it affected me in a profound way. It was the first time I really recognized one of my kind. Being out also has the effect of humanizing transfolks to the greater world, which is what will turn the tides, in my opinion. Our audiences tend to bring together a wide array of folks. I am so happy when a show brings the transfolks in a small community together where there aren’t gathering spaces or events often, and it is also awesome to bring together people who would normally never experience each other. My hope is that I have sung a story that needed to be heard, and that may help someone find insight into themselves and the world, trans or not. Stories definitely do that for me.
TQ: What is the craziest thing one of your fans has ever done to get your attention?
JS: I haven’t experienced too much craziness, there are a few Coyote Grace tattoos out in the world, but I see that as a huge honor.
TQ: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
JS: I hope to have a sustainable career traveling and playing music in whatever form, interacting with great folks, being outdoors, and I’d sure love to have a house somewhere beautiful to come home to after touring. And a cat. And maybe some health insurance. That’s the dream, anyway.
TQ: Who is the one person that has played the most significant and positive role in your life? Why?
JS: That would have to be Ingrid, the other half of Coyote Grace. Ingrid came along at a time when I was just getting by in life and trying to be in as little pain as possible in the process. Music kept me afloat, but I was hanging on by a thread. Her employment at Babeland and sex-positive politics broke the ice around my fervently repressed dysphoria, gave me permission to forgive myself for whatever I was, and eventually helped create the conditions where I felt safe enough to say it out loud and finally do something about it. She was the rock in the river. Through all my emotional ups and downs, my seemingly endless battles with drugs and alcohol, my dealings with myself and the world around me, she was there. Nowadays we are as unconventional as always – we live separately and no longer carry the title of romantic partners, but we are the closest of friends, artistic comrades, road dogs, queer as all hell, doing our thing in this crazy life. I am eternally grateful for these days, wherever they lead.
TQ: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement so far in life?
JS: Two things come to mind that make me smile – The first is that Ingrid and I tore out of Seattle in a Craigslist find 1978 Chevy RV that we knew nothing about, and we lived in that damn thing and traveled the whole country for a year. Old Harvey leaked, we had to tarp it every time it rained, empty the janky dump tank, find where to sleep, no AC, propane stove and fridge, rarely went over 55 mph, and there was plenty to do under the hood. And me, with my barely developing male social skills, had to figure out what was wrong, if I could fix it, or how to find someone who could in some strange new part of the country I had never been to. The joy really is in the struggle, although it’s easier to see looking back. The second is that we just opened for the Indigo Girls in March, my all time heroes, which was so amazing it might have been a dream. They are up there in my top three musicians who had the most effect on my songwriting and development as a person, and the ones who showed me it was ok for an unconventional girl to pick up a guitar and rock out. To be seen and encouraged by my all time heroes was truly an honor beyond words. But all worldly things aside, my greatest achievement truly is being the best person I can be in the moment I’m in, that is the greatest contribution any of us can make.
TQ: Being a face in the “limelight”, what types of privacy or safety concerns have you faced? How did you deal with them?
JS: I can’t say I’ve had too many safety concerns (knock on wood), one of the pros in the list of pros and cons of passing. My story is certainly all over the internet, but I haven’t experienced anything scary as of yet. As for privacy, I have certainly had my share of awkward questions from strangers about my transition or my genitals, and the experience of being outed in front of folks where it didn’t seem relative to me to bring it up. My experience though, largely has been that most people mean well, and that most of the rudeness or discomfort comes from folks acting out of fear or temporarily losing sight of social graces in the face of something that is so new to them. I find myself constantly encountering “teachable moments” which can get a little old, but I see those moments as taking one for the team. At the end of the day I am so grateful that I am able to transition, be out, and play music for a living, and that is only possible because someone blazed the trail for me. So from that perspective, it’s truly an honor to give back.
TQ: What’s the biggest piece of advice you would give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
JS: Just keep singing. Whatever kind of art you do, if it is truly your voice and your path, don’t let anything get in your way, specially yourself. Most obstacles turn out to be just that. Listen close to where you are moved to go, and go there. Community is the best and most fulfilling resource you will find. If you are a cloudy individual with a dark past like me, or a young person stuck in an unfriendly environment – hang in there, your people are out there, and there is a place for you.
TQ: What inspired the creation of Coyote Grace?
JS: Coyote Grace is the result of a chemistry experiment between Ingrid Elizabeth and Joe Stevens.. Take one quirky dancing singing bass playing redhead from Ohio who ran away with the circus to Seattle (literally), and mix with one troubled and gender bent choir kid from Sacramento who bounced from school to school till he landed in Seattle, and there you go! The name Coyote Grace came as an ambiguous mixture of our former stage names from the burlesque cabaret days, Amazing Grace and Coyote Joe, and now carries all sorts of connotations and insights. We were ready to leave Seattle, so we quit our day jobs and moved into the van, began performing full time at the Pike’s Place Market, funded “Boxes and Bags” entirely from one dollar bills and donations, and hit the road. We traveled for about two and a half years before putting down roots in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, and here we are today, rarely home, but living the dream.
TQ: TQ Nation is giving you a personal soap box – What do you want to say? (include your spout outs: vents, complaints, thanks or anything you want people to know)
JS: What an opportunity.. Hm. This brings me to my current feelings about transition and my place in the queer community. This is purely my experience, take it as that. What has struck me recently, is that it doesn’t get much further out there than a male-identified male-presenting person who is primarily attracted to women to claim a place in the queer community. It almost defies the very definition. Almost. What I realize here is that history and culture are as important as anything else. And my history in a female body, constantly being seen as queer, tramping around the Castro with my flamingly gay brother in a flock of flipping wrists, frequenting the Seattle dyke/tranny nights and queer burlesque, cabarets, and poetry readings – all of that history is very important to me and inextricably part of who I am. Butch lesbians are my next of kin, I feel far more at home with them than with straight guys. I am as culturally queer as the come, schooled on all sides. And, nowadays, I am a bearded average looking guy in a semi-hetero line of work, who no one stares at on the street. No one even thinks twice, especially when I’m with a girl. What a trip!! On the flip side, many lgbt folks don’t identify with queer culture, many weren’t socialized that way, and some don’t want to claim it, which is also totally valid. Some folks are being seen as queer for the first time, due to transition, partner status, what have you. Some straight folks are more culturally queer than some queers I know. So what I have learned is just another version of the age old – don’t read a book by it’s cover. You really never know. And all of this shifts, with time, with age, with new accumulations of history; identities truly are fluid, for all people.
With that, I want to encourage us to practice what we preach – There is no one way to be trans, no one way to transition, to be a man/woman/both/neither, to be queer, an ally, or whatever you are. We are too few to be divided, and there is so much to be done. As with the greater LGBT community, I have unending respect those that came before and the work they have done to make our lives better, and I can forgive those who do not understand the trans community. We are still family. On our own side of the street, transfolks, if we want to be involved, we need to get involved. If we want people to be educated about us, then we need to educate. No more anger, resentment, and taking our frustrations out on each other, no more bullshit. We are awesome, each kickass and unique, we deserve rights and services, and we have something very important that only we can bring to the world. So keep on with the poetry, the songs, the art, the plays, the cabarets, the drag shows, the films, the workshops, the protests, VOTING, lube wrestling, public speaking, supporting the NCTE and the Transgender Law Center, photography, conferences, online communities, feather boas, and combat boots – whatever is your pleasure and your voice, say it out loud and with respect!
TQ: What upcoming event/tour can your fans look forward to in the future?
JS: We just released our fourth project, “Buck Naked”, which shows the quirkier side of Coyote Grace. An inside hint – the soprano voice on the last track in not Ingrid.. I’ll just leave it at that. Our amazing Indigo Girls Tour just ended and we are settling back into our relatively normal lives, but we look forward to possibly working with them again in the future. Later in May we will do another West Coast run with Girlyman, new buddies of ours, which will also be very exciting!! Summer brings festival season, and we will be out and about the country as usual, so check the website to find out when we will be near you. If you would like Coyote Grace to come to your school to perform or give workshops, let us know! We’d love to. And check out this amazing new documentary – “Riot Acts: Flaunting Gender Deviance in Musical Performance” made by Actor Slash Model, two awesome film makers and musicians from Chicago. It is an inside view of the experiences of trans musicians, and features many of the folks out there pounding the pavement today. See you around!
Written by TQ Nation 1st Lady, Sicily Skye
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