The Return of Mya Byrne

& WFDU-FM’s TRADITIONS playlist for May 31, 2015

Note to self: invite Mya Byrne back to the show more often. This might pose some logistical issues as her appearance on the program was a “last radio visit” before she embarked on a move to San Francisco. Still, she intends to return to the east coast often for performances, and with her talent, I expect we will be seeing Mya frequently.

Ron Olesko and Mya Byrne in the on-air studio of WFDU-FM

Ron Olesko and Mya Byrne in the on-air studio of WFDU-FM

Mya returned to pay a visit to my radio show on May 31, and she brought with her some wonderful new songs that she performed live in our studio, and she updated us on what has happened in her life as well as issues facing a community she has become a voice for. Coincidentally, May 31 was a year to the day that Mya first came out publicly on her Facebook page.

Mya is a powerful songwriter, a instrumentalist who built her first guitar, a performer who has the ability to get the audience on their feet and she has become an activist for the transgender community.

It was just over a year ago when Mya first appeared on my radio show and a lot has happened since. When Mya first visited the show, it was just a few weeks after she came out and announced that she is a transgender woman. The discussion on the program about her transition was one of the most compelling radio shows I ever have been part of. Her eloquence, dignity and frank discussion of her personal story helped put perspective on the issues that the transgender community face on a daily basis – and the stories that mainstream media chooses to ignore.  (Click HERE to read more about Mya’s first appearance on my show, and to hear excerpts from her appearance.)

Over the past year, Mya has become deeply involved in helping others who were struggling with their own transitions and she has become a voice for others. She wrote two articles for the Advocate about trans representation in music. One article was an op-ed piece about the controversy surrounding former B-52’s pop star Kate Pierson and her song “Mister Sister.” Pierson labeled her song as a “trans anthem”, but many people viewed the song as offensive and transphobic. Pierson’s song featured lyrics that focused on images of drag and physical aesthetics – generalized stereotypes of makeup and dress that perpetuate the individuals as impersonators rather than the reality of self-acceptance that is at the heart of the individual experience. While it may not have been Pierson’s intent, the song gives the impression that the trans community is trying to be something they are not instead of giving respect that the individual is being true to who they really are and not some Hollywood image of what transgender life is like. Without dignity and respect, songs like that serve to treat individuals as objects rather than human beings. This only perpetuates the feelings that have led to high suicide rates in the transgender community as well as increased violence towards transgender men and women – issues that are largely ignored by mainsteam media.

In addition to my radio show, Mya has made appearances on many other shows and was also included on MSNBC in a Vocativ piece on transgender lives. This feature appeared on the cable network in advance of Caitlyn Jenner’s television interview discussing her transition. Mya also has given talks about her experiences as a transgender artist, sharing stories about the issues that the transgender community faces – from violence to health care issues and so much more.

She certainly keeps busy, and yet she manages to find time to perform and continue writing songs.  Last fall, she released her second solo record.  She also continues to perform with Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes. I had the honor of presenting Mya last fall at the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance Conference in a special Folk DJ Showcase. This annual showcase features artists that my colleagues in Folk radio choose to introduce to our peers and friends in the folk community who gather at the conference. I felt so proud when Mya shared her songs to a very enthusiastic crowd.

Mya Byrne at WFDU-FM

Mya Byrne at WFDU-FM

Catching up with Mya is always a treat, and trying to discuss all the significant events that she has been involved in over the past year requires more than just an hour on the radio – but once again, she graced the airwaves of my humble radio show with important information that I feel helps people understand the issues on a more personal level. The media, as witnessed by the Caitlyn Jenner story, still struggles with covering what should be the “real” story. I admit, I am learning too and I credit Mya with helping me understand the struggles of a beautiful community. In addition, I have also discovered the amazing art that transgender artists are creating – music, poetry and art. These self expressions teach all of us and expand our views of the world.

In this day and age, we would hope that equal rights and acceptance of all lifestyles would be commonplace, but the truth tells another story. The stereotypes that media has created need to be removed. With people like Mya sharing their stories, let us hope it builds a greater compassion and understanding and that we will stop seeing stories of violence directed at the transgender community and individuals who are struggling with their identity will never again consider suicide as an option.

Mya is now living on the West Coast, but her voice will be heard wherever there is good music to be played and love to be shared.

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About Ron Olesko

For over 40 years, Ron has been a radio programmer with WFDU-FM in Teaneck, New Jersey. He created WFDU-FM’s TRADITIONS in 1980, a show that he continues to host and produce every Sunday afternoon from 3 to 6pm Eastern Time.

He’s the president of and booker for the Hurdy Gurdy Folk Music Club in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, and is a regular contributor to Sing Out! as well as the host of the Folk Music Notebook blog on this site. Ron can also be found emceeing concerts and festivals around the NYC/NJ area.

A lifelong Mets fan and a rabid soccer geek, Ron is a Red Bull season ticket holder since their inception and will most likely be in his seat when not in the studio.

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