Theyfriend: shining a spotlight on nonbinary performers

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday November 7, 2023
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The 2022 Theyfriend KQED-hosted event featuring (L-R) Tyler Holmes, Edgar Fabián Frías, Vin Seaman, Lotus Boy and Sharmi Basu (aka Beast Nest). (photo: Diamond Wave)
The 2022 Theyfriend KQED-hosted event featuring (L-R) Tyler Holmes, Edgar Fabián Frías, Vin Seaman, Lotus Boy and Sharmi Basu (aka Beast Nest). (photo: Diamond Wave)

Nonbinary performers will be celebrated from November 14-18 when Diamond Wave, a San Francisco-based queer arts organization, presents the third annual Theyfriend performance festival. Events take place during Transgender Awareness Week and will feature 40 local, national and international performers presenting live and video performances at a variety of venues around the city.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a nonbinary person is someone who does not identify as male or female, but instead fits somewhere in between.

"To me, nonbinary gender defines anything outside of traditional male and female gender identity and expression," said Theyfriend director Vin Seaman in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "I like to think of male and female as two well-known points on a grid, with a dizzying expanse of other gender options that fall under a nonbinary umbrella."

Like many nonbinary people, Seaman uses they/them pronouns.

"They/them pronouns have become synonymous with nonbinary gender, but again, are only an option amongst a myriad of pronouns and neo-pronouns," Seaman said. "Like ze/zir, fae/faer, etc, that people use to identify themselves."

Theyfriend 2023 participants Lotus Boy, Given Q Davis, and Xtra.dae (photos: courtesy the artists)  

Seaman wants the general public to know that nonbinary people are everywhere. They might be friends, family members or neighbors. You might even find nonbinary people on line at the grocery store.

"Some of us may be visibly gender non-conforming and some of us may be more stealth," they said. "But that doesn't make us any more or less nonbinary."

According to Seaman, Theyfriend began as a virtual showcase of five national nonbinary artists in October 2020, and has continued to grow since then. With funding from local and regional foundations and government organizations, Diamond Wave has been able to grow their investment into a platform that aims to uplift, center, and celebrate nonbinary identity. Diamond Wave partners with local arts presenters, agencies, and community-based organizations to create a space focusing on nonbinary gender, regardless of sex assigned at birth.

This year's festival will open with an introductory conversation titled "What is Nonbinary?" between local performer SNJV and Sam Favela of the Transgender Cultural District.

"We heard that many folks wanted a stronger foundation to understand nonbinary identity before diving into personal experience and performance, and we're hoping this conversation will provide a warm space to better understand nonbinary identity," Seaman said.

There will also be a night of drag performance and music at Oasis. Diamond Wave's Lotus Boy will host with Austin-based drag sensation Gothess Jasmine. Also on hand will be Los Angeles vaporwave artist Theyfriend (strictly a coincidence, Seaman noted) who will play songs from their album "The Secret is Out."

Theyfriend 2023 participants Sanjeev, Saira Barbaric, and Janpi Star (photos: courtesy the artists)  

The festival will close with two line-ups of performers in the cabaret space at Brava Theater Center. Seaman will also co-host with New York stand-up comic Poppy J. Snacks. Also on hand will be music acts Criibaby and Xtra.dae.

"Our purpose is to create dynamic high-quality performances that reflect the experiences and creativity of local, national and international nonbinary performers," said Seaman. "And to create warm spaces for those curious about nonbinary gender to learn more about supporting this segment of the transgender community."

Their hope is that Theyfriend will help nonbinary people and allies better understand the perspectives and struggles of nonbinary people of all races, ages and gender expressions.

"Overall, Diamond Wave's mission is to produce diverse, queer-centric artistic and cultural events that bring together disparate segments of the LGBTQIA2S+ community and our allies," said Seaman. "I hope Theyfriend audiences will leave with a deepened understanding of how nonbinary comes in a multitude of shapes and colors and experiences. And that our audiences feel empowered to support nonbinary people in their everyday life."

Theyfriend non binary performance festival schedule:
Opening showcase and panel, Nov. 14, 6pm, Koret Auditorium, San Francisco Public Library, 100 Larkin St. Free (donations encouraged).

Drag and music showcase, Nov. 15, 7pm, Oasis, 298 11 Street, $20-25.

Virtual Video Showcase, Nov. 16, 6pm, 5pm pre-show on YouTube, sliding scale, $5-$25.

Poetry and Music Showcase, Nov. 17, 7pm, Brava Theater Center's Cabaret, 2773 24th St. $20-25.

Closing Performance Showcase, Nov. 18, 7pm, Brava Theater Center's Cabaret, 2773 24th St. $20-$25, limited pay what you can tickets.

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