There's something oddly intimate about a person's exercise playlist. If you're like me and hear the same songs every day for 30 minutes to an hour of sweating, the playlist takes on its own life. Memories of pushing, sweating, and endorphins get laid on top of each track like delicious frosting. But these are popular singers, so you may like the music, but you rarely have a personal connection to the performers.
So imagine my surprise when I realized that several of my treasured workout songs are sung by a woman I first met at a meeting to plan a trans visibility action. At first I was disbelieving. I knew that their names are the same, but I told myself that the Sia who sings "Titanium" and the Sia I first met on that grassy hillside must be different people. My daughter finally convinced me that they are one and the same.
My most pronounced reaction was incredulity: She supports us! I already respected her for taking a leadership role in such a beautiful and strong visibility action, but now, knowing the pressures of the heady professional world she travels in only increased my respect tenfold.
Every day, as I ran, swam, or cycled further, it was like I had a friend encouraging me every time a song of hers came on. But when I thought further about the situation, I realized that the other side of the story was the really sad part: My incredulity at Sia being willing to stand up and support trans people showed how much I had internalized the norm that most celebrities would not stand up for my rights. They would not be moved nearly to tears thinking about the daily threats of violence that some trans people endure, or the staggering lack of safety that so many trans youth face as they try to survive. For every Lady Gaga, for every Sia, there are hundreds of celebrities who could use their potential to influence public opinion in our favor, yet they stay quiet. As we always teach in our cultural competency trainings, considering our history of discrimination, until you prove you're a friend, we have no way of knowing you're not an enemy.
Sia's far from an enemy. She's unabashedly one of us, publicly proclaiming her bisexuality. "I've always dated boys and girls and anything in between," she's said. "I don't care what gender you are, it's about people." I know that a few other singers have said similar things, but I also know of many, many more who have worked very hard to hide any LGBT tendencies. Actions send messages, and the negative ones are still much more frequent than the positive ones.
Now I follow Sia stories with particular interest. I was fascinated to read of her efforts to keep her pictures out of the media, in what was a cogent analysis of the false promise of widespread fame. I also heard with concern how her own health issues led her to consider retiring from singing forever.
Every day, as I push myself to become stronger, as I chase the wonderful endorphins that help calm and center me for a world whose winds too often blow cold for trans people, I have a visit from a friend as Sia's songs come on. Sia has inspired me to become a healthier trans person. I'd love to be able to return the favor in person, but until then I can only hope that Sia is taking good care of herself too.