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SAN DIEGO -- Ian Harvie was a little nervous as he sat in the "green room" at Martinis Above Fourth last night, in advance of his headlining performance as part of the monthly Laugh Out Proud.
But according to the 43-year old trans man, nerves are good.
"If I didn't get nervous I'd think that something is wrong, like I wasn't in it anymore," he told San Diego Gay & Lesbian News. "[That feeling] makes you commit to your art.
"I used to get agro, but my body has learned to manage it. In the past, it was like PMS - however I remember that being - and I'd be agro all day before a show.
"Now I just get nervous like the hour before and then I get excited and pumped just before. It is like the only adrenalin rush I have any more."
Nineteen years of recovery must be what helps to manage those changing temperaments, keeping them close to the surface and distant from all those numbing years prior to his recovery.
This past January, Harvie filmed an hour-long comedy special in his old stomping grounds of Portland, Maine, near where he grew up. The show, with his funny friend Margaret Cho as executive producer, will soon be pitched to Showtime and if selected, will be the first-ever trans comedy cable network special.
The filming, made possible by contributions and favors from life-long friends and acquaintances, went better than he expected, and almost without any glitches. And although he spent a nail-biting, sometimes frantic month raising money through Kickstarter.com for the project, he is pleased with the entire experience.
"It is in final edits now, then it will go to audio edits, and I expect to meet with Showtime next month," Harvie explained.
A queer but very wise comedic soul
President Obama's announcement on Tuesday that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, made Harvie very happy, but he admits to knowing the president felt that way all along, having been told by a trans friend who worked for a congressman.
"It was an exciting moment, but he's had all these agendas all along and he and his staff have had to piece meal them out," he said. "He couldn't do it all at once. Bill Maher said it right yesterday, about how Obama's remarks will rally the bigots which in turn will rally the liberals [in November]."
Although he identifies as transgender, Harvie also holds onto the term "queer" very tightly with both hands, so same-sex rights still very much apply to him.
"I am still legally female and my license still says I am female," he said, pulling it out of his wallet to show proof. "But my license is not part of my identity, it is just a document. I know who I am."
Harvie has three specific reasons he hasn't changed those official documents, and those reasons are ironic and even funny enough to be a part of his stand-up act.
"One, I want a gay - or queer - wedding. I'm definitely queer. Two, I like to f*ck with TSA. Three, if I ever go to jail for any reason - universe forbid - I'm going to the girl jail," he said with a big grin.
"This is about equality for every body," he continued. "North Carolina just also banned civil unions … which also means civil unions between straight couples … I'm not sure they realized that."
Harvie's comedy pokes a lot of fun at his own transition, and the circumstances of his life as a result of his transition, but by doing so, he brings the whole world in just a little bit closer and makes a difficult subject for some, easier to talk about.
A recent gig in an Atlanta comedy club filled with straight white guys proved this point, although he laughingly explained he could see the audience going through the seven stages of grief right before his eyes. It started with disbelief, denial, maybe a little anger, but in the end, there was acceptance.
"I'm not shoving opinions about being trans down their throat, I'm just telling my story, and you can't argue with my story," he said. "If you can make people laugh you can disarm them, and offer them a new framework to work with. It is rare - in fact I don't think I have ever had - or known that I had - a bad reaction to one of my shows.
The conversation then moved to 'passing' - a term where transgender people are invisible or transparent to others in terms of the gender they have transitioned to - i.e., Harvie could "pass" for being a straight man, but he doesn't feel that way.
"I could give a shit about 'passing,' except for safety reasons. I tell everyone my story. It took me a long time to know who I am. It is two-fold - it is an inside job to be okay with people looking at me, and on the outside, other people need to let go of what the binary is about gender. There are more than two ways to be.
"I did not [transition] to 'pass' - I did it to feel better."
As for the haters out there in the world? Harvie used to be one of those haters, but on OUR side.
In the early 80s he ran around with ACT UP and Queer Nation and despite his daily doses of angst and spite-filled rants towards those who recoiled at the notion of LGBT rights, he often felt hopeless.
"I can't believe how far we've come," he said. "Trans rights are on the agenda, but there is a list and it's first things first. Of course we want it all now, but I totally have patience and we'll get it all."
Maybe it was getting sober, maybe it was finally allowing himself to live his true, authentic self, but Harvie is a long way away from that spiteful, young, tormented and hopeless ACT UP teen. Now he only comes from a place of love.
"[The GOP] is taking a step back, but we aren't. They are so negative and hateful, nothing they do or say is based in love whatsoever. I was raised Protestant, but I'm not religious now - I consider myself spiritual.
"I try not to pay attention to all the negative shit. What Obama said [this week] was a love statement, it was not political. We just need to stay on task. They'll keep doing crazy stuff, but don't give them the attention they are starving for.
"If you give them space in your life, they'll have it."
At that moment, he opened up the long-sleeved, zip-up hoodie sweatshirt he was wearing, to expose a tee-shirt underneath that said, "LOVE IS LOUDER."
Point well taken.
About Laugh Out Proud
Local comedians Sarah Burford and Sean Wherley co-produce the Laugh Out Proud event each month at Martinis Above Fourth, a fun and upscale dining and entertainment venue in Hillcrest. The venue, now under new ownership, has not only moved and expanded its stage, but also its menu.
The next Laugh Out Proud will be held June 14, 2012. Admission is just $5.00.
To learn more, follow the Laugh Out Proud Facebook page.
You can also follow Martinis Above Fourth on Facebook to learn more about their other entertainment options.
Photo at left: Laugh Out Proud Line-up for May 10; (l-r) Jen McGlone, Sarah Burford, Ian Harvie, Sean Wherley. Not shown, Allison Gill. Photo by Jim Winsor/SDPIX.