“Our Promised Land”: A Pride Month Essay by Mya Byrne

Mya Byrne © Lauren Tabak
Mya Byrne © Lauren Tabak
In honor of Pride Month, Atwood Magazine has invited artists to participate in a series of essays reflecting on identity, music, culture, inclusion, and more.
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Today, Brooklyn-based trans roots artist Mya Byrne shares her essay, “Our Promised Land,” about the power of coming out – both to yourself, and the world – as a part of Atwood Magazine’s Pride Month series!
As an out and proud queer trans woman playing Americana and country music, Mya is an important voice at the forefront of a movement propelled by a much needed burst of fresh air. She’s also an incredible folk storyteller and she absolutely shreds on guitar. Her recently released sophomore album ‘Rhinestone Tomboy’ (April 28 via Kill Rock Stars Nashville) is a 12-song journey into redemption and a masterclass at world building.
Mya is exactly the kind of outsider the foundation of this genre was built upon, and as NPR Music recently said, she is “emerging as the warrior this crisis requires.”
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by Mya Byrne

As a songwriter and a Jewish queer trans woman, I’ve found myself consistently drawn to the concept of “Mitzrayim,” the Hebrew name for the biblical Egypt of bondage, “the narrow place.” I think of all the narrow places we as queer and trans people have had to walk through.

We talk of Pride and we talk of change, of history, of revolution. In June 1969, our queer and trans kin came from the narrowness of mafia-owned bars where they could only be queer behind closed doors into a world where queer people were seen. So, when I began to write my Pride song “Where the Lavender Grows”, I thought of this as I penned the opening line, “I was told freedom comes/from going through the narrowest place.” The song imagines a safe space for us to come to when the hard journey is done, the promised land after diaspora where all is abundance, where we can be free. Some of us take longer to get there than others, but if we go through, we find the joy and grace we call Pride.

Mya Byrne © Tui Jordan
Mya Byrne © Tui Jordan

This Pride marks 11 years since I came out to myself, alone in my late aunt’s New York apartment.

A beam of sunlight hit my eyes and I suddenly saw myself on stage, as I am now, transitioned and smiling. I dropped to my knees sobbing to God, “I understand.” I knew in that moment that I must transition, that I must come out, that I must help other trans women to do the same through being out in music.

Later, I wondered what my name should be, and on some whisper floating through the kitchen I heard the name, “Adriene”, now my middle name. I later found out that my aunt’s apartment building was a safe house for trans sex workers in the mid-’70s.

Perhaps you, too, have heard a voice calling to you. Calling you a name familiar, in a whisper that feels like coming home. Listen.

When we accept ourselves, we are liberated. When we demonstrate that liberation for other people, they see the path to their own. Our homes and our hearts must be open, not just to those escaping injustice in other places but for our own children and for ourselves. As queer artists, we have a responsibility to our fans and to ourselves to keep loving and living and making a world we can live in. We must be out.

Recently, a dear friend of mine happened to be at my home when she took hormones for the first time. My partner and I hugged her, said a prayer. Two days later she came out to her parents—who embraced her. She later told me how much my example helped her find the strength to do so. She’s not the first person to say those words to me, and it’s humbling to be in a position to help others simply by being myself on and off stage.

Mya Byrne © Niki Pretti
Mya Byrne © Niki Pretti

I hope for all of those struggling to shatter their closet walls to find this grace.

And I challenge those of you who are still “in the closet professionally” to come out, right now. Feel what I feel when young people tell me I helped them feel safe to affirm themselves simply because I was there, out, alive, playing music. You are worth it.

To go through the narrow place, you must make a choice. Not of being trans or queer – that’s innate. It’s to come out, to live, to affirm your truth. I chose life, because I finally had a safe place to do so and a world waiting for me after 25 years of not. There have been hard times and hurt since, but mostly a light that finds me whenever I’m in those hard moments. I can’t quite describe it, but it keeps me going. Maybe it’s God. Maybe it’s the ancestors speaking.

But perhaps, as Lennon and McCartney wrote, the word is love. And within that light, that love, is your own promised land. – Mya Byrne

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