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Arts & Culture

Cher Strauberry, The First Trans Woman In Pro Skating, Releases Her Debut Punk Album

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Cher Strauberry is accustomed to firsts. She was the first professional skateboarder to come out as a trans woman, and now she's got another first - a solo punk rock album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOWN N OUT")

CHER STRAUBERRY: (Singing) I've been here before, out and loud and proud. I can yell all I want, but it won't change it. I've been sad before. That's nothing new now.

DETROW: Cher Strauberry's new album is called "Chering Is Caring," and she joins me now. Welcome.

STRAUBERRY: Hi.

DETROW: So you've been playing punk about as long as you've been skating, right?

STRAUBERRY: Well, they kind of go hand in hand. I skated from age, like, 7 to 13 - like, I did nothing but that. And then I found punk rock and started going to shows starting when I was 10 or 11 with my older brother. But I went in on it as soon as I turned, like, 13.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOWN N OUT")

STRAUBERRY: (Singing) I've been here before, my world turned upside down. But I don't care anymore. It makes no difference.

DETROW: I read that an embalmer taught you to play the guitar at the funeral home your mom worked at?

STRAUBERRY: Yeah. That is true. Heavy Metal Tom is his name.

DETROW: (Laughter).

STRAUBERRY: Or that's what I called him. And he was the embalmer - complete with the Iron Maiden and Grateful Dead T-shirts and stuff. He always had his drum set set up in there. And he would always say, like, oh, no noise complaints here. And he would just play super crazy all the time. And then one day, there was a guitar and an amp, and yeah, they were mine. And he was awesome. He taught me how to play, like, "Iron Man."

(SOUNDBITE OF BLACK SABBATH SONG, "IRON MAN")

STRAUBERRY: My mom, like, wouldn't let me sing the words, so I had to make up all my own crazy words, like, to these Ozzy songs.

DETROW: So this is the thing I've really been dwelling on and wanted to ask about. This took a few years to record, and it was almost entirely recorded on a microcassette and a Walkman?

STRAUBERRY: Yeah, like, to be honest, I didn't know I was making an album. But my sister, when I was 13 or 14, she used to use this microcassette recorder, and she would record for, like, college lectures with it, and she gave it to me when she graduated. And it is the oldest possession from my childhood. But I kind of have always taken it around with me - like, everywhere - and recorded a bunch of silly junk over the years. Like, me and my friends took it to Disneyland when we were teenagers. And yeah, I've kind of always been, like, playing little silly, like, acoustic songs, but I would record them all on that. And that's kind of how it started.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL BE WAITING")

STRAUBERRY: (Singing) I gotta get away. I gotta stay gone this time around. I gotta be me.

DETROW: You're so well-known in the skateboarding world, one of your boards is even at the Smithsonian. How do you describe the crossover between skateboarding and punk?

STRAUBERRY: You know, music is a huge part of skateboarding and in skateboarding videos. A lot of the first punk, like, misfit songs or whatever, I heard in, like, skate videos when I was a little kid. And once I actually started getting into punk, I kind of found, like, a home and a place to be comfortable around these kids who were, like, really nonjudgmental in the Bay Area. And skateboarding - I think it has a long way to go, honestly, but I think I'm kind of, like, maybe one of the first queer people to, like, infiltrate the boys' world, you know? But honestly, the response is, like, 60/40, you know, like, a lot of positivity and support - but still 40% of people just being upset I exist.

DETROW: I wanted to ask about that. In one of your YouTube videos a couple of years back, you said people kept asking you what it's like to be transgender, and you basically said, I don't know. Ask me in a year. So it's a couple years later. Do you feel like you can answer that question now, especially speaking to kids who might be where you were a few years ago?

STRAUBERRY: Yeah, I definitely have a better perspective on it. And it's wild to think that, you know, people were following me around with cameras and, like, wanting me to be interviewed and wanting me to be, like, a spokesperson for, like, the transgender community, like, so early on in my transition, you know, when I was still just, like, really scared and, like, you know...

DETROW: Yeah.

STRAUBERRY: ...Learning to be the girl that I am now, you know? And my friend - I told them I was transitioning, and they were like, oh, my God, I'm so scared for you. That first year - just, like, get through that first year, and you're going to be good. And, like, that is the exact advice, like, I would give. Go for it. Follow your heart. And just get through that first year - just survive - cause it gets a lot easier as you go.

DETROW: I was struck by the fact that in all these different places - in YouTube videos and interviews and magazine articles - you kept saying the same thing. Like, I'm doing this in front of the whole Internet, and I did not realize I would be doing that.

STRAUBERRY: Oh, yeah. You know, I never - obviously, I'm like - I don't know what any of this stuff is. Like, I never had the Internet, really. I never messed with the Internet. I was a zine kid. I was, like, going to punk shows. Like, I loved writing letters. I have a typewriter. Like, my grandpa - pretty much my grandpa's attic was life-changing. And it had everything that a punk kid could ever want - like, a typewriter and record players and all these tape players and radios. And it was, like, heaven, you know...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STRAUBERRY: OK, let's try it. OK. (Singing) We're sorry, not sorry. We're psychic (ph). Just let it go.

DETROW: Going back to the punk album, I wonder, was there a punk song that you particularly kept coming back to and listening to during this period when things might have been a little tougher mentally?

STRAUBERRY: Well, I definitely listened to Patsy Cline's "Stop The World (And Let Me Off)" many times. When I started putting together the solo record, I was really just listening to Beck's album "One Foot In The Grave." That album goes, like, all over the place to like, the worst recording of - it's, like, feedback, and it sounds like it was recorded on an answering machine or something - to, like, a full rock song to, like, a sweet acoustic song and then just weird in-between, you know? And I love that. I love how it sounded like you're listening to the radio, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STRAUBERRY: Sure. My voice cracked. I just want to say that...

DETROW: And that's kind of what this album is - a lot of different things from, like, five-second tracks to longer stuff and just kind of like a real range of stuff going on at once.

STRAUBERRY: Yeah, totally. That's what it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWISH AND SPIT")

STRAUBERRY: (Singing) You can't find out what I'm thinking, and that kills you.

DETROW: Cher Strauberry's new album is called "Chering Is Caring." She's also a professional skateboarder. Thanks so much for joining us.

STRAUBERRY: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWISH AND SPIT")

STRAUBERRY: (Singing) ...But miss you. Most days, don't wanna play 'cause this game never goes my way. Long drives, and I can't do much about it. Late nights... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.