Audio Rebellion: Trans Delegate Danica Roem on Her Historic Win + Heavy Metal Upbringing
"You hear about the politician that likes metal, but then there’s the politician that’s from metal. I’m from metal. This is my life," says Danica Roem. Roem, 33, the Virginia delegate-elect, is in all likelihood the only political figure who can speak knowledgeably about Hatebeak and Dark Tranquillity. She is like no other politician out there.
Two weeks ago, Roem became the first openly transgender electorate in the 13th District of the Virginia House of Delegates. Despite mischaracterization from right wing outlets that characterized her platform as both lightweight and heavy on social issues, she won on a platform of hyper local issues that would affect every Virginian. In her own words, she wanted to go "back to basics" with her legislation and push government to do its best. These community centric views were formed and stimulated by a real unifier: heavy metal.
Throughout her campaign run, Roem spoke with exuberance of her history in the thrash metal band Cab Ride Home, and her experiences vanning it to shows in her teenage and young adult years. Her campaign felt like something out of a metal song, with epic stakes stacked high in her quest for victory. Her opponent was Republican Robert G. Marshall, who had hoped earlier in 2017 to bring a trans bathroom bill to Virginia, mirroring North Carolina's. He ran his campaign with malice, referring to Roem with male pronouns and refusing to debate her in any kind of public forum. She won the election Nov. 7, and will take office Jan. 10.
We spoke to Roem about her election victory, her start in heavy metal, and how it impacted her on the campaign trail.
What about heavy metal made you think, “this is for me?”
I grew up on back before it was defunct, 105.9 WCXR, which is our local classic rock station, a lot of Black Sabbath, obviously Led Zeppelin. The first cassette tape I got was Quadrophenia by The Who.
I went to my first metal show, Ozzfest in 1999 in Bristow, Va., at the Nissan Pavillion. That was when Black Sabbath headlined, and Rob Zombie were direct support, Deftones right before them. And headlining the side stage was Fear Factory. I couldn’t get out of school in time and just missed Slayer, which sucked, but Fear Factory is the first metal band I ever watched. I was on the top of the hill at the top of Nissan Pavillion, watching this crowd surfer bend into a backwards V, his knee touching the back of his head. [Laughs] That was back when Fear Factory fucking meant something, y’know?
They had this attitude, and pun intended, a real fear factor to them. People just pillaging the hell out of each other, it made for a great gig. [Laughs] Burton Bell is on stage talking to people about flipping over cop cars in the parking lot, Dino Cazares is turning so red his face is turning purple, and Fear Factory was just kicking ass and taking names at that show. I still remember them playing “Replica,” and I’m sure “Demanufacture.” It was my first exposure to them live, after tracing their logo in my health and P.E. class. [Laughs]
Y’know, the funny thing about me being in office, is I will always still be that metal nerd writing “SLAYER” in the corner of a notebook. Here I am, a 33-year-old step mom, newly elected and I’m still writing the Metallica ninja star. That totally doesn’t change when you get elected into office. I’ll probably draw it on a piece of legislation now. [Laughs] When I was in high school, my favorite show to watch was on Saturday nights on the public access channel, and it was fed in from Canada, Much Loud. That’s where I got a lot of exposure to stuff you don’t see in the mainstream: Napalm Death, Nothingface, and I mean early Nothingface. They’d play black metal stuff like Emperor. I love Swedish metal, Finnish metal, but never Noreweigian metal.
Do you feel like playing and meeting people at gigs gave you a unique perspectives on the hopes and needs of Virginia residents?
So this is what’s interesting. My journalism background is where I get the direct qualifications for office, and I understand what the people of the 13th district really want out of their elected representatives, because I was lead reporter of the Gainesville Times for nine years. That said, being in a metal band, especially one that’s been around for eleven years, there’s a lot you learn that's directly transferable to the job of being a delegate and running a campaign. First off, in order to have a successful metal band, word of mouth matters. If people aren’t talking about your band, they’re not going to come out to support you. Same with politics, if people aren’t talking about you as a candidate and are not talking about wanting to go volunteer, they’re not going to show up.
The second part is that nothing beats hard work. I can draw a direct correlation between my band’s 2012 tour of Northern Ireland and Scotland to winning this election. That tour cost $12,000 on. I lost a ton of money on it but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I booked the tour, I managed the tour, and I performed on it. I had to do everything myself. The night before the tour, I told my guitar player , “Don’t tell me why I can’t succeed, tell me what obstacles are in my way that I have to overcome in order to succeed.” That line I’ve repeated on the campaign trail.
What did you learn about the people of Virginia during your campaign?
That it’s time to get back to basics. You hear the shit from metal bands all the time, the first couple of records are awesome, then they kind of do stuff that people just don’t like, then they go, “Alright it’s time to get back to basics.” That’s basically what I’m doing with this campaign. We need to get back to basics of governing.
What are the basic, fundamentals of governing? Making sure you have clean water pipes that go to your house. Taking care of the fact that you have public roadways that are well maintained and are perpetually clogged with traffic. That’s the sort of basic stuff that affects peoples quality of life. This is the core reason why government exists: is to take care of your infrastructure, take care of your public accommodations and public works.
But when you focus on discriminatory social issues that single out and stigmatize your constituents instead of serving them and dealing with their quality of life issues, you start getting away from those core functions of government. And that’s what I’m doing, let’s bring it back to basics. And while we’re doing it, we can make Virginia more inclusive, and work together to make sure no matter what you look like, where you come from, who you love, what you worship, and, how you rock, that you’re welcomed, respected and celebrated.
And that right there? That is the heart and soul of what it means to be metal. Rebellion against those who try to kick you down. Metal is a community. Read the comments from any heavy metal metal site that has a story about me, and it’s just people getting stupidly offended about my gender. The whole thing becomes about gender, and no one talks about the fact I have music taste, or the stuff that’s supposed to unite us in the metal community in the first place. How refreshing would it be if people said, “Yeah I respect trans people, I think everyone should have civil rights, but goddammit how can Danica possibly like any song from Load? That record is awful.” That’s something I totally welcome, because I love “Bleeding Me” and “The Outlaw Torn.” I’m putting myself out there, my approval rating shot down fourteen points. [Laughs]