Friday, November 2, 2018

Garbage: You Should Always Meet Your Heroes

Me in the lower right - utterly enraptured. 
Whoever said "you should never meet your heroes" clearly never met Shirley Manson. Or Butch Vig, Steve Marker, and Duke Erikson (aka the band Garbage). In the past I've written about how important an example Shirley Manson was for me. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to go to a soundcheck, to attend a Q&A, and to get a photo with the band. It was an absolutely amazing experience. 

During the Q&A, the first question was a question someone asked about how Garbage feels about their large number of queer fans. It's true, they really do. And I was reminded of the last Diet Cig concert that I went to. I was in the crowd, rocking out, and looking around at the other attendees. "Why does every band I like always seem to have a huge queer following?" I thought to myself. Then it hit me. "Oh, oh. It's because I've always been queer!" Garbage has been an amazing ally for the LGBTQ+ community and has always been outspoken in their support. Heck, Shirley once even said that her favorite fans were the transgender fans

At that point I was bursting at the seams. I raised my hand and instead of asking a question, I simply gushed about how amazing the band was, and how their music had got me through so many tough spots, and how I would have never found the courage to explore my femininity or transition without Garbage. I said this whole thing through a stream of tears. Shirley and the band were so encouraging and wonderful in their response. "You accomplished this yourself. That was you."

"I had a good soundtrack," I interjected. I did have a damn good soundtrack growing up. And songs like "Queer," "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)," "Candy Says," and "Bleed Like Me" helped me find my way through gender dysphoria, self doubt, bullying, shame, and fear.  

I've felt transgender my whole life. But there was something about Shirley Manson that made me feel bold and powerful enough to get out and explore my female side. Suddenly I wasn't ashamed of these feelings any more, they didn't need to be buried. I could express them. Shirley was bold, powerful, fearless and still incredibly feminine. She gave me the strength to come out a little bit, to embrace my own femininity and let me understand that femininity didn't mean weakness or submission. Being a woman could be awesome and empowering and you also got to rock some seriously cool clothes.

After the Q&A Shirley came right over to me. Everyone else was shuffling over to the photos, but Shirley came by to see me (well, me and the two people right next to me who had cried through their own similar comments - Shirley affectionately called us "the weepy corner"). She knew who I was from a letter and copy of American Transgirl (with all the Garbage references tagged) I had sent her, and also from Instagram. She told me she loved my skirt. You told me that I was strong and amazing. It was all I could to stop myself crying as I thanked her profusely for everything, for just being her. Shirley gave me a warm hug and I nearly cried again.

I was in high school in the 90s when I discovered Garbage. Back there, in the Georgia suburbs, I was stuck in an evangelical Christian school, a conservative town, and a family that was Republican and military. It was not a good place for a young queer transgirl to be. Most of the music I listened to was grunge, metal, or industrial. It was loud, angry, and masculine. I was frustrated by life, deeply lonely, and worried I was going to hell for being queer. But then I found Garbage's music.

That first pink, feathered album cover seemed so different. I absorbed every song of that album like the little baby queer sponge I was. I listened to it on repeat so many time. I would tape Garbage's music videos when they were shown on MTV. I clipped every Garbage article or picture from every magazine I could find.

And because of Shirley Manson I started to see that femininity wasn't weak. There was power and strength in femininity. If someone as cool as Shirley could be feminine than maybe I could start to accept my own feminine side. The first women's I every purchased for myself was a pink feather boa. The next was fishnets and eyeliner. I first started letting myself come out to other people. I first started presenting female and going out. I started to become slightly more comfortable with myself and my queerness for the first time in my life.

After the Q&A we went to get our pictures taken. When I came up Shirley said to me "We're gonna have to do a glam pose." She mentioned my skirt again, quite emphatically telling me how much she liked it. And grabbed onto me for the picture. I don't think my pose was too glam. I was nervous and I only had one chance. I would have loved to have taken a few more, a few hundred more. But I think it came okay all things considered. Truth is no matter what I'd probably find something about myself in the picture that I didn't like. That's just how I am.

For me Garbage is the more than a favorite band. Shirley Manson is more than just my favorite singer. She was someone who empowered me in a way I didn't even think was possible, and she empowered me when I needed it the absolute most. And for her and the band to still be awesome and to understand it and to get it. It's just so immeasurably valuable. 

In fact, two days after the concert I was sitting at my desk at work and listening to Garbage. I just kept thinking about how amazing it was to go from this place of utter shame and doubt and fear and loneliness. In that place I was in high school I thought that my transgender thoughts meant that I was a terrible person, that no one would ever love me, that I was unworthy of love, unworthy of friendship, and a horrible person. Being able to have Shirley Manson and the other members of Garbage accept me as no different from anyone, accept me as a person with value, and to be so awesome in their support for trans people means the world to me. 

I broke down crying at my desk. And the whole time I was crying I had a smile on my face. They were tears of joy. I hurried to the bathroom to cry and sob in a stall. Then came out and fixed my makeup. And in that moment I realized that the validation from Garbage had allowed me to let go of something that I had been holding onto for twenty years or more, something I didn't even realize I was carrying with me. I was able to let go of a lot of the pain and fear and shame that sixteen year old me had to endure.

And so I printed out my picture with a little Version 2.0 style graphic. "Not Your Kind of People" is Garbage's anthem for their fans. Garbage fans tend to be the misfits, the weirdos, and the freaks. But the band gets that because that's who they are too. So I put this up at my desk. When I'm feeling like the only weirdo or freak at my normie-centric office, I can look at that picture and know that, while I might not fit in at work, I do fit in with heroes.

And now I can't wait to see Garbage again! But then again I always want to see Garbage play live. 


  1. Wow you are so lucky. Met a few celebs over time but never a hero. Garbage that's incredible. Sadly not been able to catch them live any time played locally either a) too broke ( hungry mortgage 2) too far away from me 3) too broke & playing with some one I detested.

  2. I just kept thinking about how amazing it was to go from this place of utter shame and doubt and fear and loneliness. garbage bin