After a Year of Trump, Transgress Fest is Still Putting Trans Artists on a Punk Pedestal



Arriving just a few days after Donald Trump’s election to office in 2016 and bookending a year long political campaign punctuated by bigotry, Transgress Fest, Southern California’s first Punk and Hardcore festival celebrating exclusively trans artists, was a poignant moment of solidarity for the LGBTQ community. Speaking to the audience in a set of speeches throughout the show, event creator Drew Arriola-Sands had one very clear message: “Whatever happened in the election isn’t something we can’t handle, because being queer and trans people, we’ve dealt with worse. Togetherness is key. As long as we’re together, we’re okay.” 

“I felt like Madame President,” she says with a laugh. 

Despite the political uncertainty surrounding the event, Arriola-Sands was emboldened to follow through with Transgress Fest. The all-ages event taking place at the Brad Brafford LGBT Center on 4th in Santa Ana featured a lineup ranging from local trans artists like Bedroom Witch and Reyna Ripper to queer punk pioneers HIRS who came in all the way from Philadelphia to perform. The amount of people — a “big big mix” of queer, trans, cis-gendered, and differently abled — who showed up to support was a nod to Arriola-Sands that she was on the right track. “It started as putting together a hardcore punk festival and got to be like having a baby shower. It felt like they were celebrating something I was giving birth to,” she says with a laugh. “It was very strange but it was full of love, and I never expected so much love. It reaffirmed that I was on the right track, because so many people came. I didn’t think that many people cared.”

Not only did people care, many approached Arriola-Sands asking about how to be part of Transgress Fest in the future — so many so that this year Drew expanded the event into a second day. 

In 2017, Transgress Fest tacked on a pre-party, an open-mic night for performing poetry, dancing, acoustic music and more for performers who aren’t a part of the scene the show highlights. “Transgress Fest is a festival celebrating hardcore punk music made by trans people, but my people are limitless,” says Arriola-Sands. “I need to be open minded, and I need to allow my people to do whatever they want, because obviously no one else will.” She continues: “I wanted Transgress Fest to open that avenue for expression. In my world, it’s like the School of Rock.

The following day, November 12, features a day full of “hard-rocking” trans artists from across the country, hand picked by Arriola-Sands, from regulars of Downtown LA DIY haven the Smell, West America, to Chicago’s “insane freak goddess” Forced Into Femininity, to queercore icon Lynn Breedlove, current frontman of The Homobiles and former leader of dyke punk pioneers, Tribe 8, who Drew describes as “literally [her] childhood idol.” And, of course, her own punk band, Trap Girl, performing tracks from their recently released EP, The Black Market. 

Writing The Black Market came soon after the loss of Drew’s friend, Kylee Athena, who performed her project Sapien at last year’s Transgress Fest. “We had a mother-daughter type of relationship, she was very young” says Arriola-Sands. “I completely took that energy, because if someone dies, there’s an energy that comes out. It’s not anger, well, there’s a little bit of anger, but there’s a realm of grief that surrounds you as a person. I tried to take that little realm that I was experiencing and put it into the music, because it had no where else to go.’”

Without a doubt, after the insanity of living in Trump’s America for a whole year, every performer is sure to have a lot of intensity of their own to channel. Thanks to Drew and company, Transgress Fest is the perfect platform. “This is our time,” says Arriola-Sands. “This is our stage.”

Listen to The Black Market by Trap Girl below.

Artemis Thomas-Hansard