Proud Peacocks: Ten Questions with Luna Merbruja & Lexi Adisit

Sometimes you meet an activist who is so dang cool you want to tell the whole world about it.

We're lucky to have two such folks who agreed to a Scarleteen interview: Luna Merbruja and Lexi Adist! Luna is the author of Trauma Queen, a member of the 2014 Trans 100 List, international performance artist, and community healer. Lexi is a "fierce and femme TransLatina woman, trouble maker, and pioneer" who has written for Salon and Autostraddle, as well as organized the Queer Yo Mind Conference (among many other projects). Together, the two created the International Trans Women of Color Network Gathering, and both work with Peacock Rebellion, a San Francisco Bay Area based "queer + trans people of color crew of artist-activist-healers." Now you see why we just had to shout them out!

1) Can you tell us a little about how Peacock Rebellion came to be, and how you each came to be involved in it?

Lexi: Peacock Rebellion was started in 2010, founded by Manish Vaidya, with the creation of a musical comedy on the nonprofit industrial complex. Peacock Rebellion was born out of the QTPOC legacies and work of Mangos with Chili, Sins Invalid, and Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project, who have continued to support us through their own growth or closure. I was roped in by Luna, who had been brought on to be a Trainer for our Brouhaha: Trans Women of Color Comedy-Based Storytelling Event, and she had requested that I be the Producer for the show. We successfully sold over 750 tickets for 2 shows and trained a cohort of 7 trans women of color to write and perform comedy-based stories. About 4 months after Brouhaha, I was brought on to my current role as the Managing Director.

Luna: I became involved with Peacock Rebellion when Manish decided to organize an all trans women of color Brouhaha. He invited me on as a comedic trainer, and though I had no prior experience with being a comedian or trainer, he had total faith I could do it. Sure enough, we sold out two shows to 700 audience members and it was a huge success!

2) What has been the response to Peacock Rebellion's work? Any reactions that came as a surprise?

Lexi: The overwhelming response has been that our work is important and memorable. I think what came as a surprise, is that I would meet people months after the show and they remember me from the show and congratulate me on how amazing or important it was for them to witness the event.

Luna: Most of the people I met after the TWOC Comedic Storytelling show absolutely loved it and expressed a desire to have more QTPOC comedy shows. I think that's probably the most surprising reaction, given that I've been in many different art spaces and performances, but very few have had a universal appeal to be re-created in different cities, states, and countries.

3) You've both been involved with some incredible events this past year (the trans Brouhaha comes to mind). Are there any projects or events that you're hoping to do in 2016?

Lexi: Yeah, in 2016 Peacock Rebellion is currently planning a couple of shows, as well as one in L.A. and we’re hoping to produce a tour in the Fall/Winter, so we might be coming to a college or community center near you! On a personal level I’m also hoping to attend a few conferences and find more time to travel for pleasure.

Luna: As of right now, Lexi & I don't have any projects we're working on together. However, I have some other creative pursuits in video game making and vlogging. By the end of this year, I hope to have two books published and a video game for download.

4) Peacock Rebellion seems to be a hybrid of art and activism. How did the idea of communicating queer experiences through channels like cabaret and stand-up arise?

Lexi: As I mentioned earlier, some of our biggest influences and partners have been Mangos With Chili, Sins Invalid, and the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project. Some of those organizations have been producing shows much longer than Peacock has, and it’s a part of our mission and values to continue this legacy through our work. This work isn’t new and definitely was born out of difference in Black and Queer communities historically.

Luna: When Peacock Rebellion initially pitched an all-TWOC Brouhaha show to me, it was supposed to be in a stand-up comedy fashion. However, after discussing it with Manish and Lexi, we realized that storytelling is oftentimes hilarious and engaging. The distinction from "making jokes" to "telling stories" helped many of the Brouhaha performers feel more comfortable taking to the stage to share their experiences. Since we were storytelling from a comedic perspective, we had a ton of fun putting the show together and performing on stage. For nearly all of the performers, it was their first time doing comedy, and they all had a magnificent time doing so. That was truly a treasure - to have a platform to share personal stories to a few hundred people laughing along with you, not at you.

5) We've seen increased discussions about trans folks (and particularly trans women) in the media. What, if anything, do you feel is missing from these stories and conversations?

Lexi: I think something that’s missing is that many trans women, and trans women of color specifically, continue to struggle to survive daily. What this looks like can be having trouble finding employment, finding safe housing or being able to stay in an apartment because someone finds out your gender status, inability to access services or access to incompetent services, or lack of support to break the cycles of poverty or addiction. Many of the voices we’ve seen rise this past year, such as Caitlyn Jenner, don’t represent the reality of many trans people’s lives and at times it can be really frustrating and exhausting to watch how the media portrays our lives.
One of my favorite things to happen so far in 2016 has been the creation of Her Story created by Jen Richards and Angelica Ross.

Luna: I feel that authenticity and realness is often lacking from mainstream stories about trans women. Culturally, cis people are still obsessed with our gender transition journeys instead of our personhood. For instance, I want to know what television shows trans women like to watch, or how they find healthy loving partnerships, or what their aspirations are in life. I wish for an abundance of content like Janet Mock's SoPOPular and The Kitty Bella Show that feature trans women talking about various topics from pop culture to activism.

6) You've both been involved in a variety of queer spaces. Have you found that certain spaces tend to be more open and welcoming of queer people of color?

Lexi: Absolutely. Especially as a trans latina woman, at times I’ve had a really hard time navigating queer community because I was the only trans woman in a space or the only person of color. Being a queer or trans person of color really comes out in these intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. Our communities, unfortunately, are not liberated from White Supremacy or Patriarchy just yet and that plays out in interpersonal relationships and community relations. There is a growing amount of spaces driven by community which are meant for queer and trans people of color specifically or even trans women of color, but that still doesn’t necessarily mean they’re safe.

Luna: Yes, absolutely. I find that spaces run by queer people of color are often the most welcoming to queer people of color. When I see someone who shares multiple identities with me in a leadership position, it creates a sense of safety. I feel that certain microaggressions or oppressive behavior won't be tolerated because the QPOC in leadership know what it's like to be excluded from white LGBT spaces.

7) Going along with that, if you could snap your fingers and change one thing about queer spaces, what would it be?

Lexi: I think I would make femmephobia disappear. Everyday Feminism just put out an amazing article about how femmephobia negatively impacts the queer community.  The article strongly resonated with my experience as a trans latina woman who often works, dates, and builds in queer communities of all kinds.

Luna: I would love to eliminate the rampant disposability within queer spaces. Meaning, I wish that queer spaces invested more in building stronger relationships with their community members so that when conflict arises, people aren't exiled or shamed from queer spaces. I truly believe we need to practice transformative justice in ways that are healthier to better support survivors, and change a harmful person's behaviors so they don't continue doing that in the future.

8) Since we're a sex ed resource, I know I'm certainly curious to hear what you think are ways the sex ed and sexual health resources could be better, either in terms of how they serve people of color or how they serve queer folks?

Lexi: This is excites me, as a public health nerd, I think there’s been a number of really successful practices in the San Francisco service sector that have worked to shift their services and build cultural competence for populations of color and queer populations served. Some of these examples look like, promoting PReP, a daily regimen which can significantly help decrease the risk of transmission of HIV. Also build a non-judgemental testing program which promotes full slates of HIV/STI testing for all communities regardless of their “risk” level. I’ve heard a lot of stories from friends who have practiced “low risk” sex and then get turned away for not being “risky” enough.

Luna: First, I think more diverse exposure of people of color's bodies within sex ed resources is necessary. Meaning, we need to see nude photos of people of color with stretch marks, dark spots, foreskin, various breast sizes & shapes, nipples, and genitals.

I think this will help POC feel more comfortable with their body, thus leading to healthier boundaries in sexuality. Oftentimes, I hear from QPOC how undesirable they feel because of their queerness and brownness. But if we normalized our own nude beauty, that undesirability could shift and hopefully we could have a healthier self-esteem. I know too well that I felt undesirable to the point where I slept with anyone because they were nice to me, not necessarily because I liked them. Now that I like my body and myself, I am much less giving of myself to people who haven't earned that honor.

9) Who inspires you, be that in your creative pursuits or your activism?

Lexi: In my creative pursuits, Luna is one of my biggest inspirations. She has, at an extremely young age, grown to become this amazing and explosive artist whose work is succinct and groundbreaking. Luna has written a book, done countless keynotes and performances, and still finds time to look amazing all the time.

In terms of activism, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Sylvia Rivera, and Marsha P. Johnson have continued to instill confidence, values, and perspective of trans woman of color liberation deep within me. All of them were 1969 Stonewall Riot veterans and did some of the most amazing activism work throughout their lives. Unfortunately, Marsha passed away in 1992 and Sylvia in 2002. However, you can learn about all of them through these video documentaries:

Luna: My future five children are my hugest source of inspiration. Everything I do, from self-love & self-care to activism & art, is to someday birth five brilliant beautiful brown babies into the world. They inspire me to keep true to my morals, to do what will make them proud, and to be the nurturing, loving mother they deserve to have. I owe them all my success.

10) What would you say to your 16 year-old self?

Lexi: I would say that the habits you build as a young adult often stick with you throughout the years. Also, don’t feel pressured to identify or try to fit in to any one box. You may think it makes sense now in terms of gender or sexuality but as you grow older, I’ve found it just gets more confusing in a good way. Also, you have so much life to live and so much more to learn so if you’re having trouble don’t be afraid to let someone in or reach out, getting that help if or when you need it can make a huge difference in your resiliency. The world is hard but you’re strong, powerful, brilliant, and amazing whether you realize it or not. Okay, I’m done with my clichés. But seriously, you matter and I strongly believe in the power and brilliance of youth.

Luna: 16 year-old self,

You are the most brilliant, talented, special, blessed & beloved teen in the world. Continue following your heart no matter how risky it seems, and always trust yourself before anyone else. I promise you life will unfold in unpredictable and shocking ways, but you will have many loving people along the way to take care of you throughout it all. You're fucking amazing and the best you I could ever hope for.

I'll always be proud of you.

If you want to learn more about Peacock Rebellion and their work, you can visit their website!