By David Goldberg
You may not suspect it from her fluttering stare and calm demeanor, but Isley Reust is blowing up. The 30-year-old musician just released Blur, the debut album for her all-woman band, Spectacular Spectacular. And while the band blazes around the country on their first tour, Reust’s online stardom rises with her popular YouTube channel, where the trans rock star shares her ongoing experience with gender transition, celebrity, and young life. Last year, she was featured on trans musician Laura Jane Grace’s AOL documentary series True Trans, and appeared on an episode of Glee during its final season.
Even though Reust’s videos remain as consistently intimate as ever, she has to admit that her situation is changing. “It’s kind of surreal in a way,” Reust says in an interview with OutSmart. Not that she isn’t excited about life on the stage. “Rock & roll is all I want to do. I feel passionate about that. I feel excited about the future.”
With the release of Blur last month, Reust has been popping up all over the Internet, with sites like Rookie and Advocate giving special shout-outs to Spectacular Spectacular. And while Reust’s story of transition figures into most coverage of the band, the members don’t view Spectacular Spectacular as anything more than “just three girls making music.” Reust co-writes the songs with bandmates Millie Chan and Jessica De Grasse, provides backup vocals, and plays keyboards and guitar.
The group’s dreamy, dark rock has proven to be a hit across multiple demographics—which isn’t to say that Spectacular Spectacular isn’t very conscious of its LGBT fan base. “We have a huge following of fans from the LGBT community,” Reust says. “And we also have a huge following of ordinary fans that any other band would have. They’re all nice, passionate people, and very supportive and loving, and I’m so thankful for them because we would not be where we are, doing what we’re doing, [without them]. What we’re about is for everybody; it’s not just for one group or one genre or person.”
Reust’s broad appeal has made her a familiar and kind presence for many on the Internet who question their own gender identity. Her bedroom video diaries, which she began three years ago, have tracked her journey from the beginning of her hormone treatment through her name change, treatment, and beyond. Shot in selfie style with casual titles like “SRS IN 14 DAYS & NEW HAIR!!!!,” Reust’s vlogs normalize difficult and abstract gender-identity issues that many in our culture still don’t understand.
Most updates rocket up past 8,000 views, but Reust’s timeline montages—which show her complete transformation over five years from male to female—have proven to be the most popular, with hundreds of thousands of hits from a wide range of viewers. The comments on her videos reflect a sense of communal gratitude.
Earlier this summer, Caitlyn Jenner made her transition a public spectacle, changing how the public perceives gender and trans identity. “Caitlyn Jenner is amazing for what she is doing,” Reust says. “In a couple years, she’ll be knowledgeable and a better role model for the community.” But Reust was sharing every step of her metamorphosis on a smaller scale before trans identity became a popular matter of public discourse.
For the first two years of her transition, Reust released her videos under an alias, so no one she knew could find her. “In a sense, I did go through my transition in private and in public at the same time,” Reust says. When she did come out as trans, Laura Jane Grace reached out to her, sharing that Reust’s videos helped her through her own transition, and asked her to be a part of the groundbreaking True Trans series, which aired in May 2014 on AOL On Originals. “People in my everyday life didn’t know I was trans at the time,” Reust says. With the release of True Trans, Reust changed her video channel to her own name, “and since then it’s been fine. Everyone’s been so supportive.”
Reust admits that her willingness to share may not be best for everyone who is exploring or transitioning their gender identity. “It just depends on the person. There’s nothing wrong with being private and keeping it to yourself forever. As long as you’re happy and doing what you want to do, that’s great.”
But Reust couldn’t be happier to have shared her story, and is grateful to be part of a widening mosaic of trans public figures like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock. “I know I’m helping people, which is what I want to do. As long as I can inspire someone to be their true self, even if it is someone who is not in the community, it’s worth it. There’s nothing better than knowing you can help someone or save someone’s life, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
David Goldberg is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.