Steve Raimo: Not a case of mistaken identity

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Steve Raimo for web.jpg

The Nashville LGBT community was shocked to learn on Friday, March 22, 1996 that Christian Paige, a 24-year-old transperson, was found murdered in her apartment in Chicago. “She had recently moved there intending to work and save money for her surgery,” Steve Raimo explained to me. “Christian is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, but there is no marker on her grave.” If Steve Raimo’s fundraising effort with the Music City Sisters is successful, that will change.

“I chose this as my novice project for the Music City Sisters,” Steve said. “It’s not just important to the drag community, it’s also important to the transgender community.”

That’s not a connection that is often made. Most drag queens don’t identify as transgender. And the transgendered do not often identify as drag queens. But Steve doesn’t make a hard and fast distinction between the two. “For some transgender individuals, the drag route was the only avenue open to them. They found drag as a way to express their inner-self. It was more than just a performance for them, while on the other hand, there are gay men for whom drag was a performance venue. It was a unique fixture of gay life.“

“So,” I asked, “how do we know the difference?”

“It’s a matter of identity,” Steve explains. “If the drag persona has not been with her from her earliest memory, she is probably not transgender. A drag queen can tell you exactly when she was ‘born,’ but a transgender person will tell you she was born trans.”

That answers one of my big questions and before I can ask another, Steve adds “And drag queens have children. They can be mothers and they adopt their drag daughters and take them under their wing. I don’t know think that is something that trans people do.”

Steve came to Nashville from New York City (Staten Island), where he grew up, to attend Trevecca Nazarene University. While in high school he worked part-time for Madonna’s record label. He is known in the drag world as Veronika Electronika and admits to ‘borrowing’ his stage name from the diva while she prepared to release her Ray of Light album.

Steve Raimo.jpgDrag hadn’t been part of his plan until one evening a friend commented that he wouldn’t make a very attractive drag queen and Steve set out to prove them wrong. The response he got at his first appearance cemented the bond between Steve and Veronika. “But we don’t share wardrobes,” Steve says, “although my acting career usually vacillates between the two. And frankly, Veronika is often used because celebrity sells tickets, you know.”

Steve identifies as a pansexual Christian cisgender male, meaning his sexual orientation is fluid, but his gender identity and faith are not. While at Trevecca, a conflict arose over a presentation he made for a speech class. “I presented Veronika and talked about her experience, but was told that such a presentation was unacceptable,” he explained. Unless the presentation was redone on a different topic, the “unacceptable” would mean no grade would be given for it.

“I’m an out gay Christian,” Steve told them. “I want to be here, but if you don't want me here, just let me know.” That didn’t sit well with some faculty, so he left, but recently, he applied for readmission so he could finish his degree. That meant appearing before a committee which included the professor who had deemed his presentation unacceptable.

“Would you redo the presentation?” the professor asked

“If I were asked to today,” Steve told her, “I might. But then…at that time? No. It was the right decision at the time.”

He was readmitted and was told by the professor that she respected his decision to continue his education.

In his years in Nashville, Steve, as well as Veronika, have become well-known figures in the LGBT community, serving on the boards of the Tennessee VALS and OutCentral. Sometimes his views aren’t popular with everyone. “I feel that the biggest detriment to the transgender community has being their association with the LGB one. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing. They should not be lumped into a single category.”

“But transgender folk don’t have the numbers they need to have a political impact,” I explain.

Steve nods. “They would if more of them spoke up,” he says. “And I certainly agree that gays, lesbians and bisexuals should be allies of the trans community, but it muddies the water surrounding a lot of issues when they’re seen as having the same agenda.”

I have to agree. So I return to our opening subject. “What will the headstone say?” I asked. “How would Christian Paige be identified?”

There’s a pause, then Steve smiles: “Christian Paige,” he said, chiseling the name in the air. “Maybe just Christian Paige.”

Donations to the Christian Paige headstone fund can be made at the Remembering Christian Paige Facebook page: http://www.musiccitysisters.org/product/donation-2/