Austin's p1nkstar spotlights the beauty of transgender artists with 'Girls Like Us'
In the beginning, p1nkstar was a legend in her own mind.
Before she became an ATX queer nightlife sensation, before she released her fantastic 2020 debut EP, before she produced and starred in “Girls Like Us” — the sizzling new video showcase of transgender Texas talent that premieres Thursday night — the 26-year-old singer, promoter and performance artist decided she would become “a hyperqueer pop superstar,” because (obviously) the world needed one.
“That is something that I hadn't seen growing up in Mexico,” she said during a recent episode of Austin360’s streaming show, the Monday Music Mashup. As a fine arts student at the University of Texas, she was captivated by the idea of a pop icon portrayed in a light where it was “celebrated to be queer, celebrated to be gender nonconforming,” she said.
She created a persona around the idea as a school project. It was centered in part on her obsession with American pop culture, but also poking fun at the entire celebrity machine and the way pop stars are “regarded in this superhuman way, but also are super disposable,” she said. She appeared in character at galleries and events, creating a splash on the scene. For her final exhibition, she threw a party where she performed, embodying with her full being the sparkling goddess of futuristic pop and gender-fluid freedom she had created.
And then a funny thing happened. Life chased art. The queer social scene that had nurtured her was not ready to let p1nkstar take her final bow. She started getting booked for parties and events. She began throwing her own fabulous bashes and packing the house. She was tapped to dance onstage for a 2019 Charli XCX concert at Emo’s.
“Somehow, in the process of telling people that I was a pop star — even though everyone knew that it wasn't true — I just became one,” she said.
Life wasn’t always so magical for the budding starlet. She grew up in Tampico, a small coastal city on the Gulf of Mexico about six hours south of the Texas border. Though surrounded by beautiful nature, it was a very “machista environment” she said, referring to the chauvinism she encountered.
She was part of the first group in her social circle to come out of the closet, and it wasn’t an easy road.
“For as long as I lived there, which was almost 20 years, it was very conservative, very tied to its family values and the Catholic church,” she said. “That entire world of religion dictated, kind of, how society felt about queerness, about transness, about anything that was different or deviant.”
She knew she was queer, and she knew she didn’t identify as a man, but she “didn't even have the language or the notion of what could be,” she said.
She was obsessed with American pop culture, specifically the 2012-14 era of pop music “where everyone was doing super theatrical stuff,” she said. Lady Gaga had “changed the landscape” of pop music and unlocked a “transformative power” in the medium.
“I kind of realized how much potential there was to build and propose worlds through the world of pop music. And I think that's something that is really special and important to me,” she said. “Being able to see worlds that were emerging from pop artists was super eye-opening for me as a teenager.”
As she began to seek a life for herself as an artist, she dreamed of moving to America’s cosmopolitan cultural centers like New York or Chicago, but for financial reasons settled on Austin. Her apprehensions about a Texan conservative cowboy mythology fell away when she arrived. She enrolled in the fine arts program at UT, working toward a degree in performance art. She also began taking queer studies courses, which became a gateway into Austin’s LGBTQ nightlife scene.
“Discovering those spaces that were so foreign and beautiful to me,” opened a door, she said. Through it, she saw a world “I never even imagined."
As she came into herself as p1nkstar, she rapidly became a fixture in the scene.
“I was doing all the art show rounds, and I was going to all the parties,” she said.
P1nkstar was out all the time looking hot, and feeling hot, and talking to people. In retrospect, what she was doing could be considered networking. “I go out to events that I think are cool and just talk to other people that I think are really interesting,” she said.
“Seeing so many beautiful people and wanting to connect with them” led her to work, along with her partner, Artie Moreno (also known as Y2K), to “build spaces where we can keep seeing each other,” she said.
As they worked to create “queer spaces and nightlife that amplify trans and queer talent,” they grew from a DIY shop to a professional production company. Annoyed by promoters who ask artists to perform for exposure or drink tickets, they decided to be very deliberate about making sure talent gets paid. They learned to apply for grants and sponsorship to support their projects.
“I feel like we're very committed to our community. We want to have enough money to make beautiful things, while at the same time being able to pay all the trans and the queer artists that we've showcased,” she said.
As her promotion work amped up, p1nkstar’s pop princess identity was evolving.
“When I first suddenly became a pop superstar, I was very interested in subverting masculinity and exploring fashion as it relates to gender and sexuality,” she said.
She juxtaposed “hypermasc and hyperfemme” by wearing a pink, furry vest over her “then-hairy chest,” she said. Several times, she wore “a cutesie outfit with a pink tiara but accessorized it with a ball gag and pink bondage handcuffs as bracelets.” In early portraits, she often appears in full glam hair and makeup, but with a mustache.
She considered the mustache, which remained a part of her signature look for several months after she began to pursue medical transition, as “a statement to gender nonconformity and a visual cue that invokes queerness,” she said.
She retired the mustache in late spring of last year, shortly after she released her debut EP, called "Number 1 Hits!" It's a glittery explosion of futuristic dance floor bangers that is by turns tender, defiant and magnificently epic. She’s not sure if the mustache will return.
“It honestly makes it a lot easier and safer to not have it and (to) assimilate to standards of femininity,” she said.
In fall of 2020, her friend Sabrina Ellis, lead singer of A Giant Dog, Sweet Spirit and Heart Bones, was doing a residency as part of the initial launch of Hotel Vegas’ Hotel Free TV series. Ellis wanted p1nkstar to guest on an episode. When the timing didn’t work out, the series' curators, Mvf Mars and Jordan Kovach, reached out to see if p1nkstar would like to take over programming the series for January.
Most of the early Hotel Free TV productions had a public access television aesthetic, but as p1nkstar and Y2K began brainstorming ideas for their showcase, they realized they wanted something with high production value that matched the glossy pop productions they loved. Their goal was to create not a concert video, but an engrossing hourlong cinematic presentation that begged for multiple viewings. Y2K created a sculptural installation for the production’s set. They hired a camera crew to film and dancers to add pizazz.
Recognizing how difficult and expensive it is for artists to create visuals for their work, they wanted to make something the performers would be able to share with pride, something that would put them “on a pedestal,” p1nkstar said.
Putting together the production — which includes four featured artists and several guest appearances from national trans celebrities — has been “like a dream come true, honestly,” p1nkstar said.
Austin’s music scene in general and Hotel Vegas specifically is “dominated by white cis men playing guitars,” she said. She hopes that through this production people will realize Austin has more to offer and that there’s beauty in our city’s unsung scenes. She wants people to recognize that Austin’s queer and trans artists “can make amazing things and they can be super elevated,” she said.
P1nkstar also hopes younger audiences will see the production and be inspired. She would love to hear from teenagers who are struggling with their identity or being bullied in school. She wants the production to open their worlds and show them what is possible.
That’s "something that Texas did for me and I would love to do for other people,” she said.
Watch 'Girls Like Us'
You can tune into the premiere of the special at 8 p.m. on Thursday at hotelfreetv.com/girlslikeus. The special will be available to stream on-demand at no charge for three months.