Cher Strauberry and Twompsax on validation, trans joy and refusing to be tired
Cher Strauberry refuses to be tired.
Every night Strauberry says the exact same thing as she takes the stage: “We’re Twompsax from Oakland, California! You are valid and loved and not alone and we really f—ing care about you!” Twompsax has hardly had a night off on their relentless tour schedule, playing back-to-back shows at punk houses, barns, and half pipes across the U.S. since October.
“I’m not tired,” she says, remembering a powerful and tearful Trans Day of Remembrance vigil she witnessed in Asheville, N.C., last week. “The people who want us dead and won’t give us basic human rights — those people aren’t tired. We’re out here, regardless of all the f—ing walls, and we will continue to be out here doing it.”
Beyond the stage, Strauberry has become a respected force in the skateboarding world, known for jumping over walls in style. Once a teenage runaway, she learned to skate by grinding caskets in the parking lot of a Bay Area funeral home. At 28, she’s made waves as one of the first transgender skateboarders to go pro. One of her boards is even in the National Museum of American History. Most people think of Strauberry primarily as a skateboarder and she is an incredible and iconic one, but she’s much more than that. She’s a musician with a full catalog of solo and band records under her belt, a zinester (with a bound collection being released by Seth Bogart next year) and an advocate for the trans community.
While cisgender heterosexual narratives of transness keep the specter of death close behind discussions of trans identity, Strauberry uses her skateboarding and punk music to resist this narrative, insisting instead on trans joy, rage, possibility and life.
Twompsax are an Oakland based crew of friends turned bandmates. It was after a Limpwrist and Younger Lovers gig at 924 Gilman Street that Strauberry became unafraid to be herself. In true punk fashion, her bandmates only go by their first names — Ian plays the drums, Izzy plays guitar, Tris plays bass, Strauberry sings, and for the duration of this tour Chris, a.k.a. “Scootch,” is their bodyguard, documenter and driver.
While there has been a lot to love about touring, it hasn’t all been “peaches and cream,” Strauberry says, joking about living off a diet of nicotine and coffee while navigating a “sea of anarchy,” referencing the Sheryl Crow songs she and her Twompsax bandmates can’t get enough of. She even had to fight a man on stage in upstate New York after he refused to stop pushing girls in the pit after multiple warnings.
Music is central, but the driving force of this tour is community. “I’ve never met so many kids that have their s— figured out way more than I did when I was a teen!” Tris says, laughing and commenting on the beautiful cycle of trans validation between the band and the crowd every night.
After every show the band takes pictures for hours with fans, and even has received letters of thanks and support. Strauberry brought 20 skateboards with her on tour to hand out to kids, hoping to inspire more trans skaters in small towns. The last skateboard she gave away was her own complete deck to a 16 year-old trans girl in St. Louis whose mother brought her to the show. Lots of parents have been coming with their trans kids to see Twompsax, and Strauberry has spent a number of nights crying along with those parents and kids out of joy and hope.
In the vein of bands like Blatz and Limpwrist, Twompsax trades in aggressive, fast, short and catchy songs that make you want to dance and scream. Some songs directly tackle trans issues like “Trap,” a driving freak punk anthem about taking transphobic and homophobic slurs and turning them into something powerful. “Chelsea Hair” is a sweet and bouncy 30-second pop banger that traverses punk hair politics, feeling cute, and experiencing the cisgender gaze in public. Twompsax’s latest cassette “Disgusting Me Out,” was recorded by the band in a Texas bedroom- turned-studio.
An entire U.S. punk rock van tour is grueling. There’s a lot of lore and fetishization of “the van” from white men’s perspectives. Die-hard punk fans are very familiar with the get-in-the-van-and-share-one-duffel-bag-of-clothes aesthetic, rocking and rolling across the plains with a borderline Protestant emphasis on work ethic, sacrifice and brutality as an ironic cornerstone of punk.
“Touring with a trans and queer band is a lot different than touring with a bunch of stupid guys,” Ian says, “touring is really tense for a band like us, but we have each others’ backs.” Billboards, yard signs and public bathrooms on the road serve as constant reminders of the dangers and potential harm for trans and queer people.
The gigs are safe, but during the in-between time Strauberry notes that she feels like they are a “moving target.” It’s not just a feeling, 2021 has seen the introduction of the most anti-trans bills filed in the U.S. as well as the most reported homicides of trans people on record. Fortunately Ian and Chris take extra responsibility, checking out gas station bathrooms to ensure they’re safe for Strauberry, Izzy and Tris to use. And to settle the score, the band tags up trans symbols on highways and rest stops whenever they can.
The definition of punk is something that is constantly debated within the subculture, which has been both a safe haven and a site of violence for queer and trans people as well as women and people of color. Twompsax is propelled by something new in the classic spirit of confrontation and DIY that the genre was built on. If Black Flag was all about damage, Twompsax is all about aggressive repair.
For Cher, Twompsax is one outlet to inspire trans kids “to be whatever the f— they want to be” she says. Whether it be “writing a book, going to college, [or] playing a sport,” punk is the only way she knows how to spread the message.
“What we’re doing is punk,” Strauberry says, laughing about how the word “poser” has been hurled at queer people by men with self-imposed punk authority. “We do it 10 times harder. I hate proving myself and I don’t have anything to prove. But I will show these kids what they’re capable of. And that is important to me.”
Twompsax is playing Dec. 4 in San Diego at Fear of Noise Fest at Queen Bee’s Art and Cultural Center and Dec. 5 at a secret show in Los Angeles — if you want to go, you’re gonna have to ask a punk for the address.
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