Local singer and activist Natalie Grace Martin to release “third debut album”
words by Devon Anderson; photos by Ashley Kouri
Natalie Grace Martin’s eyes light up and her voice lifts when she tells stories about her children.
“She says things like, ‘May I?’ not ‘Can I?’,” Natalie recalls with a blush across her cheeks. Talking about her children makes Natalie glow. It is clear that motherhood is one of her greatest joys.
She says that “damn near everything” in her life has changed since The Devil Strip’s February 2016 issue, of which she was on the cover. At that time, she had the quintessential nuclear existence: a wife, two adorable and precocious children, a dog, a house in a small town, and a little music career. Everything was as it ought to have been, for all intents and purposes.
However, a change that Natalie had seen coming for roughly two and a half years turned that nuclear existence on its head: her wife came out as straight, and their marriage ended in a no fault separation. Though she had seen it coming, the split still hit Natalie hard. However, she knew she didn’t have the time to go through the traditional trajectory of the grieving process—depression, isolation, slowly returning to life and normalcy—because she had children and a community who needed her.
“A lot was riding on me being okay,” says Natalie. “I didn’t transition and come this far to just give up on happiness. I saw firsthand how being me and doing what I did before transition was showing people that they could be okay and maybe even transition themselves.”
Knowing others were counting on her, she did what any woman in her position would do: “I decided to pursue my happiness with a vengeance.”
It is this pursuit of happiness with a vengeance that seems to steer Natalie’s entire narrative of her life. Within days of her marriage ending, Natalie found herself scrolling through dating apps, where she met guys who were nothing but true gentlemen.
“One guy I had gone out with confessed that he had Googled what not to say to a trans woman because he didn’t want to mess it up,” she laughs. “It was like, it’s not going to work between us, but that was so sweet.”
After dating five men she had met online, she decided to let life take its course and lead her to her current relationship. A simple twist of fate brought them together, a partnership neither of them could have predicted.
Natalie was in her basement and had found a photo album. In that album was the one photo she had of her and Luke at their senior prom.
“We were the only two guys in our class who had worn white tuxedos,” Natalie says. “So, we spotted each other from across the room and said, ‘Hey! You have great taste!’ We got a photo of the two of us shaking hands.”
As she turned the page from that photo, remembering good times shared with a good friend, Luke messaged her out of the blue, offering support for her in the wake of her divorce. Natalie was dumbfounded.
“I showed him what I had just been looking at, and I told him I had just been thinking of him,” Natalie says. “Neither of us could believe it! I couldn’t make this up if I tried! We had lived in the background of each other’s lives. While I was onstage doing drama productions, he was on the audio visual team, directing the filming.”
“He hasn’t changed, and I have changed so much,” she says. “He knew my past, he knew me, and he wanted to be with me anyway.”
It is in this relationship with Luke that she has found a lot of inspiration and a sense of peace being with someone she has trusted immediately.
“He has an integrity of character you can’t fake,” she says. She credits Luke with being her muse, something she had been a long time without.
When discussing her new album, “She/Her/Hers,” Natalie’s energy shifts to one of enthusiasm, yet serenity, a calm readiness for the world to get to really know her.
“When I listen to ‘She/Her/Hers,’ I hear a happy person,” she says. “It has come out of me as an extension of who I am now. There’s nothing I can do to mask myself. Some of the topics I addressed on this album, I knew I’d have to talk about eventually. Lyrically, I feel more pride in this album than anything I have ever written. This album is the best thing I’ve done so far. This album is me.”
One of the topics that she addresses on “She/Her/Hers” (out August 16) is suicide, and she hopes her music touches those who are in dark moments themselves.
“There is a lot of suicide in my community,” Natalie says. “And, I knew if I didn’t touch on that topic, I would be doing a huge disservice to my community. I am in a position where I have a little bit of attention on myself, and that’s my iron to strike. If one person says to themselves, ‘Hey, I need to really stop and try my eyes again in the morning,’ then my job is done.”
As an activist, Natalie knows how dire the statistics are for suicide in her community. About 40% of trans people attempt suicide, and 92% of those attempts happen before age 25. (thetrevorproject.org/pages/facts-about-suicide)
“When things get dark to me, I am still prone to those ideations,” she admits. “But, I’m just really good at beating them back. I have lots of ammunition against them.”
Natalie never set out to be a role model, but she understands her position: “Being a trans woman singing love songs is, by itself, a radical act.”
She knows that when people see her, they see a cisgender woman, “unless they’re looking closely and know what to look for,” so in many ways, she “passes” as a woman.
“I hate that term,” she muses. “I’m not passing for anything. It was never about passing for me when I came out. I thought I’d spend the rest of my life without passing. I didn’t care, but on the way to not caring about it, people told me I was looking more and more like a woman. I realized I needed to take any “in” I could as an activist. As nice as it would be to take these issues and use a sledgehammer to crack them open, sometimes I need to use a scalpel. If it changes a mind, if it opens a heart, if it saves one person, it’s good enough.”
It is apparent that Natalie’s passion is in her activism, and she uses her music as a tool in her fight for advocacy for the rights of those in her community. And it’s working.
Natalie notes that she had very few people to look up to when she transitioned. She cites the late Rachel Bishop as her hormone guru, helping her know what to expect through each stage of her transition. She also mentions the “legend” Samantha Bartilson.
“When I started performing as Natalie, things were going great,” she says. “We were making progress in the trans community. And right now, it’s more important than ever that we have people to look up to. It just goes back to how hard it is to hold onto people who can make a difference in some way. And it illustrates the importance of what it is I am doing to make sure that the inspiration I was given by others does not get squandered. It’s a pay-it-forward life.”
Natalie says she hopes her legacy in the community is of someone who never let life knock her around, someone who was never afraid to take control of her destiny.
“People often forget that a transition is a constant, active state of betterment. I’m no stronger, braver, or smarter than anyone else on this planet,” she laughs. “I just know that I am as entitled to happiness as anyone else on this planet.
“I have a running joke with my boyfriend and roommate,” she smiles. “Everyone asks, ‘Why do you put so much cream and sugar in your coffee?’ I always say, ‘Because I love myself. Don’t you love yourself enough to put cream and sugar in your coffee?’ It’s a good indication of where I am in my life, ya know?”
Natalie Grace Martin performs weekly at the Aqueduct Brewery and will be performing at Akron Pride at Hardesty Park on August 26, 2017. A GoFundMe has been set up to help Natalie offset the cost of producing her album at www.gofundme.com/help-me-make-sheherhers.
Devon Anderson is a writer, mom, and wife whose perfect day would start surrounded by her children and husband and end on her patio with a good book and glass of whatever wine she has an Ibotta for that day.