Pentatonix taught me to be visible and proud of my trans identity

the voice and vision of a new generation
Image credit: Pentatonix

Pentatonix taught me to be visible and proud of my trans identity

March 31, 2020

I never thought that five self-proclaimed choir nerds would end up playing such an important role in my life and my journey towards finding the confidence and support to celebrate my trans identity. The five choir nerds I’m referring to are the members of Pentatonix, a three-time Grammy Award winning a cappella group. 

The first time that I saw Pentatonix was in 2016, just weeks after I realized I was transgender.  Since then, their music has been a regular part of my daily routine and has been the soundtrack behind some of the most important moments of my life. Their cover and accompanying music video of the song, “Imagine”, set an incredible example for me on the power of visibility – of seeing LGBTQ+ folks share their identities with the world, side by side with the people who support them, while succeeding at what they love. The video is set in a dark soundstage as each member holds up a card with an identity that they hold or have in common. The card is passed on to each of the members until it concludes with a reminder of our humanity—that although the identities we hold can be vastly different, the one thing that everyone has in common is that we are all human.

In 2017, Scott Hoying and Mitch Grassi, two of Pentatonix’s band members, released their debut album as Superfruit titled Future Friends. This album and the tour that followed would be one of my first opportunities to become immersed in the LGBTQ+ community. From my first pride–the oversold LA Pride that brought tens of thousands of people together, to their own shows the following two days, that summer felt like a confidence-building milestone as I found my place within a community. I witnessed people dancing and singing along to music that told queer stories and was backed by music videos that defied gender barriers and showcased a diverse group of performers. And for the first time, I felt confident enough to join in.

While this community and environment that Superfruit had created contributed significantly to this newfound confidence, another important aspect was the explicit inclusion of trans people by Mitch Grassi on his social media platforms. Mitch regularly speaks out against transphobia and other harmful behavior on Twitter while also offering words of encouragement to fans who are in different stages of their journey. 

During a meet and greet opportunity I told him Mitch that he (and the rest of the band) had helped me find the confidence to come out. Telling my role model how much he had helped me was a terrifying experience but he was incredibly supportive and expressed how proud he was of me. That moment helped me understand the significance of positive role models and altered my understanding of my own role as an advocate and storyteller. 

Mitch’s regular support of trans folks is crucial to normalizing informed and consistent allyship that recognizes the lives that trans people lead year round–not just on visibility days or during pride month. Something that has always stood out to me about the band as a whole, is their genuine commitment to lift others up and amplify their voices. Even from the very start of their careers when they were competing on The Sing-Off–despite complete censorship of the word “LGBTQ”–the charity they chose to support on the show was The Trevor Project and their work supporting crisis intervention and suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth. This visibility was, and continues to be, so incredibly important for people like me who were struggling to find our voice and become comfortable in our identities. 

The comfort in finding and exploring who we are can lead to our own visibility and even to leadership and advocacy that empowers us to reach the next group of queer folks in need. Allies who don’t speak on behalf of a community but rather use their platform to amplify the voices of a community enable and teach people how to use their voice to advocate for change and to tell their own story. In my case, this is what Pentatonix and each of their members taught me to do. I learned to take risks and venture out of my comfort zone, to dream big and work hard to achieve them, and to know that there would always be people waiting and willing to support me.

Trey Shimizu is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and senior at SUNY Stony Brook University studying biology and studio art. Trey is a part of the EBoard for Stony Brook's Trans* Alliance and has worked at the university's LGBTQ* Center since its opening in March 2018.

the voice and vision of a new generation