Local Current Blog

The O.K. Show, Episode 20: Natalie Grace McKay on creating space for transgender artists in the hardcore scene

Natalie Grace McKay (Portraits by Nate Ryan/MPR)

For this episode of the O.K. Show, it’s going to get loud. We’re talking to Natalie Grace McKay, the ferocious frontwoman of Twin Cities hardcore band Naive Sense.

I’ll be honest: hardcore is not an area of expertise for me, but it’s something I’ve always been fascinated by. There is something so raw, so primal, so guttural about this music; the perfect antidote to the compressed tones and predictable melodies of the pop music world.

One of the reasons I suspect I never investigated hardcore music in depth is that to an outsider, it does not seem like a welcoming space for anyone who isn’t an aggressive white, cisgender, heterosexual man. Which is why I find Natalie Grace McKay’s story to be so intriguing; as a transgender woman who is a vocal advocate for trans rights, she is blazing her own trail right down the center of the local hardcore scene. I had to know more.

Natalie and I talked extensively about her introduction to the hardcore scene, her experiences as a transgender performer, her journey to sobriety, and more. Without further ado, here is episode 20 of the O.K. Show: a conversation with Natalie Grace McKay.

  1. Listen The O.K. Show, Episode 20: Natalie Grace McKay

Find the full episode of the O.K. Show in the audio above, download it on iTunes, or find the O.K. Show podcast through Feedburner.

Andrea Swensson: For those who are unfamiliar with your story, can you get us up to speed on the past couple of years of your life, and your entrance into the music scene here?

Natalie Grace McKay: I’ve always had some involvement in the music scene, however minimal. I’ve always been going to shows. It’s been my safe, comfortable space, because I could just sort of disappear and get lost in the music and really enjoy something. That kind of all changed when I started transitioning almost two years ago – well, over two years ago now is when I came out. For me, when I came out as transgender it was very, like, I am not going to be private about this. I’m just going to be public about this. I’m not going to try to hide who I am from anybody else. I felt so tired of being that wallflower and feeling like I was off to the corner by myself. I was like, I want to be seen for me. I want to stand up for myself. I don’t want to be this timid, scared person anymore.

And that was my decision. That’s not a rule for everybody. I have a lot of trans friends who would just rather not talk about it. For me, well, I like talking about myself, I’m a bit of a narcissist, and I’m my favorite subject. [laughs] So I decided to start talking about it. And I found that I got a lot of support from the music scene. Yeah, there’s a lot of problems I still face, but I got a lot of support from the music scene, and I found myself getting more and more involved.

Transitioning for me was an act of standing up for myself and not trying to hide anymore. So then, when that comes to music, I had never played in a band before, and I was starting to get more and more emotions. And that’s just a very brief synopsis; I transitioned a few years ago and I’ve never been happier — it was the best decision of my entire life — but the farther along I go, the more and more issues I face from the rest of the world, internally; my body is currently a piece of legislation. These are big things going on. So with my backstory, the best I can say is that I was unhappy at one point, and I was really struggling. I was suicidal, depressed, I was struggling very deeply with chemical dependency. I’ve been sober for a year and a half now, and that was kind of just the tip of the iceburg. There’s so much more going on in my life now that is important. And for me, music is the outlet for that. That’s what gives me a voice.

I’m interested in how you describe being a wallflower, and having this experience help you to open up and share your own experiences with the world. Tell me more about that journey toward finding yourself and being able to speak openly about what you’re going through.

For me, when I came out, it was November of 2013, I think. I came out and I have a very religious family. We didn’t talk about religion or politics; we’d have much shallower conversations. As far as I was concerned, there was always this barrier. I didn’t want to touch any sort of deeper issues that might cause conflict, because we’re Minnesotan and that’s just how we roll. I don’t know why. So when I came out, and I was like, well, I can’t really hide this from my family — there’s going to be some very obvious physical changes, and I can’t just not talk about this. So coming out to the rest of my family was the catalyst to do that. It was time to say, ok, here’s all the things I think that you’re doing that are very destructive to a lot of people, and harmful, and I’m not going to take that, because they’re not just destructive to my friends, they’re harmul to me, too. So that gave me this huge, sudden boost of confidence to stand up to myself and advocate for things that I care about.

As soon as I got that piece of confidence — like, hey, I survived my family rejecting me! — I can survive just about anything. After coming out to my family and having them reject me, I felt like I was on top of the world in a way. Which is kind of a strange way to phrase that. But I survived it. And it gave me this push to keep going through the rest of my life, knowing that I could stand on my own two feet, and that I had a community of support around me, and people who loved me for me. And a lot of that was people in music. So I just started standing up for myself, like, I just want to be the best person possible. I can go my own way and do my own thing. So throughout that whole process, something kept slowly building: I made it through today. I survived today. I mean, trans women are being murdered in the streets right now, and I managed to survive to this moment, despite massive hostility, both verbal and physical, in a very real way on the streets. I think if I can make it through today, I can do anything.

Find more of my conversation with Natalie in the audio above, or find the O.K. Show in your favorite podcasting app.