Venus DeMars is a multidisciplinary artist and musician from Minneapolis, Minnesota, best known as a singer-songwriter, rock star, and leader of the Dark Glam/Punk band “Venus DeMars & All the Pretty Horses”, and she is Transgender.
Venus came out as Trans in 1988, a time when that identity meant being classified as having a mental perversion and having to live as a social outcast. Her refusal to live a shadow existence and instead embrace her uniqueness complicated her musical and artistic career paths.
Venus formed the band “All the Pretty Horses” in 1993 and after a series of national and international tours and the release of four albums (“All the Pretty Horses” (1995), “Queens and Angels” (1998), “Ruin” (2000), and “Creature” (2002)) they developed a large underground audience drawing from both the punk and fetish worlds and were on the verge of major success.
There was interest from a major facilitator in the New York music industry that would have led to a contract with a major label, but only if she was willing to give up “this Trans thing.” Not willing to deny her identity and defiantly determined to succeed she took her career back into her own hands.
Venus, her wife Lynette, and the band were the subject of the award-winning rock documentary, “Venus of Mars” (2004) by filmmaker Emily Goldberg, which follows the band from 1999 through 2003. Due to growing internal artistic differences, the band went on hiatus soon after the film was released.
Venus released a solo album “Trashed and Brokenhearted” in 2006. She reformed the band as “Venus DeMars & All the Pretty Horses” in 2007 and self-released the album “10 Bones” in 2011. She released an acoustic solo album “Flesh and Wire” in 2015. Just before the pandemic, she started to record her upcoming album “I Think the Darkness” which will release just after Pride this year.
In 2014 Venus toured with Laura Jane Grace and Against Me! as their opening act. Laura had broken through the trans ceiling that had denied Venus, in part by coming out after her band was already successful and signed with a label. Venus was introduced to Laura’s younger trans audience and was profoundly affected by their enthusiasm, joy, and the positive impact that seeing successful trans musicians had on young trans kids and their families.
Membership of the band has fluctuated over the years, but its current incarnation includes Venus (Lead Guitar and Vocals), Susanna (Guitar), Danimae (Bass), and T-Rev (Drums), all members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
The reasons Michaela, my partner, and I decided to help bring Venus and All the Pretty Horses to Pittsburgh Pride are deeply interwoven with our own relationship story.
Michaela had a personal relationship with Venus long before we met. The first time she saw Venus was at an outdoor arts event in Loring Park, the heart of the Twin Cities Pride Festival, in the early 1990s. As a fellow artist, she was immediately struck by the power of Venus’s artwork which explored gender with a dark edge and touched her in a way she did not fully understand at the time.
When, several years later, she heard stories of a new punk band fronted by a trans woman rippling through the Minnesota music scene she quickly discovered this was the very same person. She was struggling with her own gender identity at the time and pulled away from anything that publicly challenged gender norms.
As a result, it was not until early 2018 that they reconnected when they met by chance while shopping at the local co-op. They went for coffee and soon became close friends. Venus was the musical director for an orchestra group and invited her to play her shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese bamboo flute, with them. She even asked Michaela to contribute some music to one of the tracks on the upcoming album. When the pandemic began they had been meeting regularly to paint together in Venus’s studio.
Michaela and I met online on the Trans Day of Visibility 2020 when I joined an online community chat group on a whim after weeks of lockdown. We became friends and started our own weekly online chat group a few months later. I first met Venus when we invited her and her wife, Lynette, to host a viewing party and Q&A session for their documentary with our chat group. Their openness, sincerity, and graciousness impressed me.
Over the months Michaela and I had grown closer and expressed feelings for each other, and when I drove 14-hours straight to Minneapolis to meet her that fall I had an opportunity to meet Venus in person. I had decided to extend my stay in Minnesota an extra week and as a result, would not be in Pittsburgh to perform in my song studio’s monthly music night the following week. Michaela suggested we ask Venus for help.
That was how I found myself in Venus’s recording studio singing one of her songs, having quickly learned that afternoon, with Venus accompanying me. We only had time for two takes and Michaela captured it all on video. I was very nervous, but Venus went out of her way to help me, someone she had just met, and this cemented my positive opinion of her.
As the relationship between Michaela and I continued to bloom I got to know Venus through weekly virtual and occasional in-person happy hours that included the two of us, Venus, and her wife Lynette.
When Michaela decided to move to Pittsburgh to be with me in Spring 2021 it was very difficult for her to leave Venus, their painting sessions, and in-person happy hours behind. There was a fear that they would lose their close connection but fortunately, we have managed to continue meeting virtually and when we were both in Minneapolis to collect the last of Michael’s things last September.
Having learned the ups and downs of Venus’s music career both Michaela and I became firmly committed to the idea that Venus deserved better, that her talent and beautiful lyrics deserved to be known far and wide, and to doing everything we could to raise awareness of her talent.
We made the recommendation to members of the Pittsburgh Pride Committee and followed through with funding and promotion once planning for Pittsburgh Pride 2022 began.
In addition to playing at the Pittsburgh Pride Revolution festival in the park on June 4 and at Trace Brewing on June 5, an intimate show will take place at Spirit Lodge in Lawrenceville on Monday, June 6, with proceeds to be donated to multiple local trans-led and LGBTQIA+ non-profits. This will be a great opportunity to meet Venus and the band as well as several local transgender, non-binary, and queer supporting acts.
We hope Pittsburgh will come to love Venus, the band, and her meaningful lyrics and music as much as we do and join us in our mission to continue to raise up and support our trans and gender diverse community.