exude: Trans Art & Care in Berlin

Sound and Vision
Mel + Hanna of Exude // photo by Madeline Ziemer

This piece, by Sharlese, originally aired on KEXP's Sound & Vision on Saturday, June 29th, 2024. You can listen to the segment on the player above or read a transcript below.

exude is a project that I found out about while spending time in Berlin and getting to know the members of the music community. This new project was created to platform music + art by our trans* community. They are trans and produce raves that include trans DJs, mutual aid fundraisers for trans-related issues such as gender-affirming care and awareness resources that include our current political state and they also have a mix series that features trans and queer DJs.

They are queer trans artists that are communing to shape experiences of art + music in an atmosphere of care and exude their love letter to raves and connection through sharing with others around the world.

KEXP: I think it's appropriate to just start out by saying who you all are. And how did you get started? 

Mel: I'm Mel. My pronouns are they/them, and I'm also Hanna's partner. We've been together for four years, and now we live together in Great Sprague, Berlin with our two dogs.

And Hanna, did you want to quickly introduce yourself? 

Hanna: Yeah, my name is Hanna. My pronouns are she/her. I got also bi mixed pinky as an artist. DJ and producer. Yeah. Maybe you continue with, birth, fake suit. 

Mel: We met when Hanna and I had both kind of started to realize that we were trans, and it's been really beautiful. We've been together through our whole transition socially, mentally, physically. And the concept of exude actually was birthed when Hanna had her facial-feminization surgery about a year ago, and we had both been feeling a frustration with Berlin's nightlife scene for a lot of reasons. One of the main ones being that as trans people, it can be very alienating and uncomfortable to be out in club spaces. Even though Berlin is kind of known for its queer nightlife, we've both felt very othered or discriminated against or just like, treated differently, in these spaces. So when we were in Hanna's recovery period, we had this kind of almost like an unplanned residency because we were out of the city and isolated with just us, and we started to dream and, explore the possibilities of what it would look like if we produced an event that was centering trans people, not only, on the line up as artists, but also in the production of the event. And it wasn't until December of last year that we had our first event in Berlin at studio DDB, and it was like a little club night, but earlier in the evening where we offered like food and visual art as well as DJs performing, it's, you know, goes late at night. It goes from usually around 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and yeah, we're we're planning club nights every few months here. 

Hanna: Like we always say, we want to like kind of escape from reality for a little bit when we go clubbing. And I feel sometimes that translates to like, you know, taking drugs and disassociate and actually, like, escape. Not in a very good way. I'd like to escape in a very, like, fantasy world way where I can actually really feel I'm not there for a second and I can recharge my batteries to then go back into the world where I have to face different struggles. And yeah, I feel that's that's kind of the level that our party tries to achieve. 

So, what are your current successes with exude? 

Mel: To me, some of our most important work is the mutual aid that we're trying to do with our parties, which is raising funds for community members. For example, we raised almost €1,400 for, trans Palestinian artist, who's a friend of ours here in Berlin to help them with, like, living expenses. And, with the event that we did this weekend, we were raising funds for a family that's in Gaza. And so for us doing mutual aid, also as trans people is like a very important thing because oftentimes, most of the time the system that we live in doesn't provide that financial support or support from the healthcare system for things like gender affirming care. Hanna and I are both supporting people going through bureaucratic processes here. Whether it's like with visa or, accessing surgeries, for example. To me, that's one of the most important things we're doing. 

Hanna: Yeah, I think literally every time we just hold space for trans people to be able to dance freely and enjoy each other's company, each other's love, each other's sex, it's as emotions, with loud music, surrounded by lights and by good people is a success. And we can be, oh how we want to be without feeling the potential of judgment or harassment. And that's for me like a major success as well. And it sounds like it sounds like, oh, you just like to party, you know? But it's like it's it's so much more. It's like building bonds between people. 

How can people support the trans community? Are there any organizations that people can? Go to any resources that people can look up. You know anything. 

Hanna: Yes. I think there's two things. One is listen to us. Like, I think a big issue and a big challenge that we face is often that we're simply not listened to. We are like people are making choices over us that have theorized assumptions about how our lives looked like and how how we walk in our shoes or in our heels on the street. And they just simply don't listen to us. Because on a mainstream level, trans people, but specifically transsexuals like trans people who undergo surgeries to actually transition into a different, like, I want to say sex because it's like so like biological or whatever. Like we just vibrated, like literally we just literally change our gender in terms of appearance. Like me as a trans woman, I want to be a woman. So I do a lot to be perceived as a as a as a woman. But we are like under the medical system. We are treated as mentally ill, like, you know, born in the wrong body and all of these kind of like narratives. And that's just simply not true. And but often this is just like simply being ignored and to like, really break through that bias that also assist people. Just that we all grew up and I mean, we had to we had to break through that bias ourselves. We had to I had to deprogram so much internalized transphobia to be able to even get to the point to transition that is just like it needs to be normalized, that everybody is transphobic, like we're all transphobic, and we all need to deprogram these biases that have been in like pumped into us through media, through TV, through our parents, through our friends and school. And a good way to start is also not only to listen and ask us, because sometimes it can be quite traumatic to explain ourselves.

There's books out there. One book is, for example, The Transgender Issue by Shon Fay. She wrote an amazing book on the transgender issue, which basically covers like a broad range of transgender experiences and how we navigate the world and what we face. And I think it's a wonderful read for anybody who wants to get to know trans people better, and to be actually the friends that we are looking for, that understand us and that don't understand us based on assumptions and biases. 

Mel: Yeah, I think that there's the sort of obvious things like respecting people's pronouns. Also, asking people's for people's pronouns are offering up your own. When you're meeting someone new. We should not be assuming who people are. We should let them tell us. And I think that's also, though quite surface level, and that if people really want to support trans folks, then like Hanna was saying, they need to read about us or get to know actual trans people. And it doesn't stop there. I think that like actually, the most helpful thing that says people can do for trans people is like, speak up when you hear transphobia around you right now, there's a real fight happening. Like especially we're speaking to in the US where we're seeing this insane rise in anti-trans legislation. I think it's something like 500 bills in the past few years have, been proposed to whether it's like, bathroom bans or the don't say a thing like, these are all attacks on trans people. And what these things do is, is kill hope for people, which can directly lead to people feeling suicidal and not wanting to exist in a world that cheats us with such hatred. And so trans people deserve to feel loved and supported in the face of this oppression. So I hope that, people listening can do a little bit of extra labor to be there for us and, support us as a community.