As Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas continues to double down on his anti-transgender rhetoric, including calling on state officials to investigate supportive parents of transgender children for “child abuse,” Billboard is speaking with transgender artists in Texas about the ongoing fallout throughout the state. Below, Austin pop artist p1nkstar shares her story.
For up-and-coming pop singer p1nkstar, moving to America was about setting herself up in a better environment. Born and raised in Tampico, Mexico, p1nkstar (María Rivera Felizardo) faced traumatic experiences long before she had the language to express her gender identity. “Growing up, trans people absolutely did not even exist in my reality,” she tells Billboard. “Like, that was so far beyond what we were dealing with; people treated gay men horribly, but trans people were not even in the picture.”
When Felizardo moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas, she felt that she was finally in a place where she could be herself. While going through what she calls a “murky” transition, she also found a love for music. Working on a project for school performing as a “digital pop superstar,” Felizardo developed an interest in making her own music and throwing parties to perform at. Thus, p1nkstar was born.
“I didn’t have a production background,” she says, laughing. “So I just kind of slapped some stuff together and started performing. From there, that got picked up by queer nightlife in Austin.”
Below, Billboard chats with p1nkstar about her journey as well as her account of the last few weeks in Austin following Gov. Abbott’s transphobic new policies: “Everyone’s still pretty shocked and hurting.”
How did you get started making music in Austin?
It was a happy accident, I think — I had started this performance art project when I was still studying art at the University of Texas, and that got picked up by a local arts organization call Co-Lab Projects. I was performing as a “digital pop superstar” without ever having made music. They pushed me to perform it in real life, so I was going into all of these art openings in the city as p1nkstar, an international star that no one knew about. At the same time, I had made this video — it was a performance video art piece just embracing a lot of queerness, femme-ness, things that seemed prohibited or forbidden for me growing up in a conservative environment in Mexico.
That was the beginning of p1nkstar. They ended up giving me a show and a gallery with Co-Lab Projects, and they wanted me to do a performance at the end of the show. I created a bunch of music with no background in that. I’ve always been musical and learned music growing up, but not actually composing anything. I started performing at a bunch of parties, and it turned out that people really cared about what I was doing, as did I. I wanted to evolve this into a music project, and learn how to make music, how to really care about the sound as well — not only as a performer, but also as a musician.
When did you begin your transition?
My transition is definitely murky – I started HRT about three years ago. I did not grow up being openly trans, I grew up in Tampico, Mexico and was closeted and queer. It was in my early twenties that I really started pushing the boundaries of gender, exploring what that meant for me. As I got older, I started taking HRT, but identified as non-conforming for a long time. So, I’ve been sort of in-between genders for a long time, and now I’m kind of just all the way at the other end of the spectrum.
To anyone out there who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the LGBTQ music scene in Austin as of 2022?
Austin’s going through a big identity change overall, and that reflects in the music industry, specifically in the queer music scene. There’s a growing interest in acts that are not psych-rock bands, which is the stereotypical “white boys with guitars on stage” sound. The city is paying a lot more attention to people that are making pop music, and there are also just more people making pop in Austin. It’s brewing, really, these smaller pop acts that are starting to do more stuff, and everyone’s really excited to be building basically our own scene down here.
Beyond that, there’s a shift into appreciating electronic music more. A lot of spaces that, in the past, would exclusively show bands, are now featuring mostly DJs and a lot more electronic music. Which worked in my favor! It’s really a shift, at least downtown, where instead of putting on shows, it’s more like parties. It has to do, I think, with COVID — when everything started opening up last year, it made more sense to have a DJ — it seemed less risky than a band, so a lot of venues were doing seating only, but they had a DJ and you could drink at your table. That started it, and now a lot has changed since.
Let’s talk about Greg Abbott. What was your initial reaction when he made his announcement a few weeks ago about investigating parents of transgender children?
I mean, I would be lying if I said I was shocked — Greg Abbott has been doing stuff like this for quite a while. Especially, I think, in Texas over the last few years, there has been all of this persecution against trans people and our rights. I think I haven’t even been able to process the fullness of this because it’s such a big thing. Initially, it was a lot of eye-rolling, mixed with some pretty deep sadness. Like, I couldn’t believe it … God, it’s just so bad, you know? I saw so many of my trans friends share the news on their socials, where they then shared their experiences growing up openly trans in Texas and calling out the people who were claiming that this wasn’t going to be enforced. They were giving reality checks, saying, “No, these things get enforced in schools all the time. If you knew half the harassment that I experienced from school staff growing up, you’d get it.” Seeing all of them share their experiences was super heartbreaking.
Since this news came out, what has the atmosphere in Austin been like?
It’s pretty hard at the moment, everyone’s still pretty shocked and hurting from what I can tell. Especially in Austin, we are kind of fortunate to live in a city that’s generally very accepting and forward-thinking — we are still really hurting from this, but there is a level of shelter in a way. But I think that’s also, in part, because of the sense of community here. Like, with queer and trans folks of color in Austin, we are all taking care of each other on a regular basis, so having that feels really special in a moment like this one.
This order from Abbott is just one in an ongoing strain of anti-trans legal maneuvers that have been made over the last year — in your experience, what do you feel is causing this rising tide of transphobic messaging around the country?
I think it comes down to the fact that, in recent years, in pop culture and our general cultural consciousness, there’s a lot more discourse around trans people because there’s a lot more visibility for us. So, it sounds kind of weird to say, but the “rise” of trans people is now a hot topic for people where they suddenly feel like they need to have a stance. And in states like Texas, where these bills are coming out that are “defending family values,” it’s really just them being against this “foreign” idea. It’s just a way for them to respond to our more universal shift in consciousness.
What would you urge people both in and outside of Texas to be doing to combat Abbott’s campaign against trans people?
Well, obviously, donate to nonprofits and initiatives that have been established throughout Austin for years and are actively doing work to undo situations like these. But I actually think a big thing — that I always think is good — is to just talk about these things with family members, with close friends. Bring attention to what’s happening to the people you’re close to and also take a stand with them if you have to. Having those honest, difficult, intentional conversations can actually make a lot of real change in the way the culture thinks of trans people. Like, “Cool, thank you for sharing this on your social media, but have you told your grandma that she shouldn’t be voting for Greg Abbott?”
Especially that last part, honestly — it’s so frustrating talking about voting, because I’m an immigrant and I don’t have voting rights. I can’t go to the polls and vote this man out, and yet these bills affect my day-to-day life as well as my sisters’ and brothers’ lives in the community. If you can vote, why aren’t you? You could make the lives of marginalized folks so much better. Even if you don’t believe in the system, or you don’t think it will make a change, it can. But only if you do it.
Usually when things like this happen, there’s an internal debate some artists have over whether to cancel their shows in protest. Do you think that artists should avoid touring in Texas in solidarity with the community, or do you think it’s more important for them to show up?
I think it’s pretty obvious, at least to me — we need artists to absolutely keep coming. Art provides hope and joy for people in ways that very little else can, and it’s a very powerful vehicle to share ideas and expression and build community. So for me, this is a very simple answer of, “Yes, please come to Texas, spread some love around.” I practice that on the regular — like, I showcase and exhibit queer and trans joy as much as I can. Even with my video performance for “Girls Like Us,” people were like, “I have not seen a live performance in over a year, and I got to see four amazing trans women in Texas performing, and that meant the world to me.” I did that because I thought it was me sharing the spotlight, and to know that it gave people joy gives me so much joy. A lot of us did not get to experience that growing up — being able to be yourself fully and have that rush of euphoria. So, yes, please keep coming and help create that euphoria for other people who are having a hard time.
If you could speak directly to trans kids in Texas and around the country who might be reading this, what would you want to say to them?
We love you. Do not let this stupid man tell you otherwise – we need you in this world, we need you as part of our community. Things are going to get better, I promise.