Photo courtesy of Eden Kittever

Love, Rage, Art, Activism: Introducing Punk Icon CJ Miller

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As the nation grapples with unjust systems of oppression — on top of the coronavirus pandemic — this performer and poet calls on us to be more compassionate.

Quarantine Coping is our series about how local creatives are filling their time — and shelves — in the wake of COVID-19 isolation.

CJ Miller is the riot grrrl L.A. — and our country — desperately needs right now. The Southern California native is a musician, songwriter, poet and performer. At the center of her work is a call for igniting empathy and socio-political awareness. In her punk band dimber, which she describes as “upbeat music for downbeat people,” Miller aims for her music to push back on white supremacy, rampant widespread transphobia and global capitalism. “Our songs are about the ways in which we can all do better to uncover the ways we support these oppressive systems,” she says. “We make happy sounding songs about supremely upsetting topics.”

“Sons and Daughters” dimber music video directed by Elizabeth Weiberg.

Miller, who identifies as a trans femme, is no stranger to putting up a fight for just treatment. To that end, she recently worked with her creative partner Emily Twombly to create a bridge between cisgender and trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming individuals by producing a simple free- to-download pamphlet called “So You Think You’ve Met Your First Trans Person?”  “It’s a resource to help people expand their understanding of gender and aims to educate individuals on simple ways we can all support trans people,” she says. “It’s an attempt to ease the burden of labor many trans people experience in our day to day lives.” It can be found at, and is meant to be widely distributed to anyone who seeks more information or can benefit from it.

Along with dimber and the project, Miller is currently completing her collection of cover art for her newest poetry collection “Lips Tick Volume 2,” which is slated to be published by Arts ‘n’ Crass zines. She’s also working on a new aerobics program, inspired by her work as an instructor with Pony Sweat dance classes, which are rooted in the philosophy “come as you are” and have a devoted local following.

Clearly, Miller is a creative force. We recently caught up with the punk icon to ask her more about her music and how she’s coping in the wake of the pandemic.

What’s the latest with dimber? Are you still able to work on your music?

Things with dimber are rolling along quite splendidly despite the limitations of social isolation. We’re still working on finishing our debut full-length album and in the meantime, all of our members are writing tons of new songs. There’s sadly no shortage of things occurring in this world to be upset about. The people being disproportionately affected and harmed by this pandemic, and the way in which it is being handled on a global level is greatly impacting the people that were already being disproportionately affected by previous systems of oppression and white supremacist colonial imperialism.

Do you miss performing?

Yes. A profound yes. Connecting with community and playing live shows is one of my great joys. I don’t know when the next time we will be playing our songs in a sweaty basement, packed with bodies writhing and dancing and holding protective space for each other together. It absolutely breaks my heart as DIY spaces and independent clubs were already facing such challenges to remain open against the tide of corporate-owned venues and show promoters moving to swallow them up.

It’s a time of great struggle, especially for the people and businesses who were already struggling. We really have to work hard to provide aid to the people and entities who are facing the most during this time. People who are still employed and haven’t been so adversely economically affected by the pandemic or people who are not facing financial hardship should be donating large chunks of money to community aid organizations, undocumented families, indigenous communities and organizations that work to support houseless communities.

Our isolation cannot lead to disconnection from the world and I believe people need to really look to where they can step up their aid and lend a hand or mass of money.

Our isolation cannot lead to disconnection from the world and I believe people need to really look to where they can step up their aid and lend a hand or mass of money.

CJ MIller

What have been some of your biggest challenges during this time?

I’m in the middle of a breakup of sorts right now actually and it takes so much day-to-day to not fall into complete despair or self-harm. Or just sleep my life away in grief. That said, I do think rest and reflection are important healing and coping mechanisms. We’re collectively going through a painful process right now and I think rest is extremely valuable in making it through this… I see a lot of people struggling with productivity and I don’t believe this is the time to be productive. I think that’s a capitalist directive and inclination slash manipulation that could do a great deal of extra damage.

I think this is an important time for evaluation and to take stock of the systems that have been failing us. A time to dream of the future we want to see and sow literal and figurative seeds for the things we want to see grow when we come out of this… Historically, big social and artistic movements and revolutions have come just after moments of tremendous loss and periods of time in which we’ve been forced to hunker down and attempt to weather strife or go inward.

CJ Miller is the front woman for the punk band dimber. Photo courtesy of Gena Tuso.

What films, music or books have you been turning to during quarantine?

I just recently watched “Knife + Heart “and was really enamored. Queer, moody, neon-lit, synth-pop saturated, sexy, scary, leather-clad Giallo worship featuring a cast of characters who are all queer or trans.

I also just finished Viv Albertine’s first autobiographical book “Clothes, Music, Boys” and thought it was fantastic. I’ve been a fan of hers in regards to fashion and her work in The Slits but I find her writing to be deeply engaging and thoughtfully personal. I also found out she was a dance aerobics instructor in addition to being a punk guitarist/social agitator just like me! There’s not that many of us so I was really excited to learn that.

And now I’m re-reading Ilya Kaminsky’s “Deaf Republic,” which is not only an incredible work of poetry but one of the best things I’ve ever read.

Any tips or insights for how other creatives might be able to spend their time while many of us are sheltered at home?

I think I would strongly recommend people undertake things only if they feel nourishing or healing of self and community right now. If you want to learn a new recipe or learn a new skill, do it when the impetus is a true desire or yearning urge, not because it’s an internet fad to learn how to bake or you feel some social pressure that those things would be a “valuable” use of your time.

I feel and see a lot widespread pressure to use this pandemic as an opportunity to finish things you’ve been putting off or get a new project off the ground. Like, if you don’t do something to remain relevant or in people’s field of focus you’re going to be forgotten or left at the wayside… Like I mentioned earlier, I think it’s a valuable time to rest and take stock. Evaluate and turn inward. And look to the ways that moving out of this thing we can be better for each other. Provide more support and community resilience.

How do we shake and reform the systems that have been harming us for so long? How can we all individually be better human beings with more compassion and empathy and understanding of the complexities of our societies?

CJ Miller will be performing at an upcoming Los Angeleno Friday Night Showcase. Check our Instagram @wearelosangeleno for updates and more details.

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