Open Mic Night Featuring Transgender Comedian Ian Harvie

Nora Xue/TBL Photography

Claire Breen

Transgender comedian Ian Harvie filled The Hub with laughter on Wednesday, April 6 as part of Pride Week at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Harvie is best known for co-starring on two-time Golden Globe-winning TV series Transparent on Amazon and for appearing on Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. The event consisted of five open-mic performers before Harvie’s stand-up and was organized by A.S. Queer Commission.

Harvie interspersed punch lines with personal stories about his sexuality and gender with wit and ease, proving that comedy can be both entertaining and educational. He joked about the joy of coming out to his parents twice, once as lesbian at 19, and for a second time as transgender in his thirties. He discussed undergoing hormone treatment to transition to male, which Harvie described as going through puberty for the second time as a 39 year old.

Before Harvie took the stage, community member Heather Aschemeyer performed a song she wrote titled “The Beautiful Strength of Transgender Women” for the first time in front of an audience. New to the Santa Barbara area and looking for trans support groups, Aschemeyer said that she heard about the event through a friend and decided to participate.

“When I was a student at UC [Riverside], I was the only out transfeminine student on campus,” Aschemeyer said. “It was a very isolating experience. I think that by honoring more trans and non-binary gendered voices on college campuses, it sends a message that our existence has value. And that’s an extremely important message given that the trans community, and especially trans women of color, experiences an extreme financial and social devaluation.”

Harvie experienced similar feelings of isolation growing up in rural Maine, sharing that he didn’t know an openly transgender person until he was 27. At one point in the show, he asked how many people in the audience were transgender or gender non-conforming, receiving cheers and claps from numerous audience members in response.

After asking one transgender audience member how they chose their name, Harvie shared the story of how he chose the name Ian, which surprisingly took place in T.J. Maxx with an ex-girlfriend.

“Do me a favor, I’m gonna be in the guys section, will you holler out to me one of the names? Like you’re calling to me to come look at something?” Harvie asked his girlfriend at the time. “I just want to see how it feels out in public if it resonates with me.” The names Justin and Ethan didn’t feel quite right, but while moseying through the aisles, hearing the name Ian called felt right.

“So thanks T.J. Maxx,” laughed Harvie, “It’s the stupidest story ever.”

Near the end of his performance, Harvie commented that after his shows, people often come up to him and tell him that they couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be him. He questions, “Really? You can’t imagine. You can’t shed your shell for just a second and imagine the discomfort that someone is having in their body in direct relationship to their gender?” He argued that people have plastic surgery to modify their bodies to be more masculine or more feminine every day.

“We all have shared discomfort, and we may not all call it dysphoria, we may not all have trouble with the restrooms, but on the core level of being human and struggling with how we are feeling, if you feel 100 percent okay about your body in direct relationship to your gender, then you’re the fucking weirdo.”