The Profane, Funny Politician. A Trans Woman, Stand-up Comedian Helping Run Wisconsin’s Capitol City: Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford

Brad Shreve [00:00:00]:

In my preteens, I grew up in a town in Michigan with a population of 12,000 people. And for occasional outings and before school shopping, we would drive to the big city of South Bend, Indiana. Never did I imagine one day a gay man, Pete Buttigieg, would be South Bend’s mayor, and he was reelected, no less. I find it no less surprising that Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford would be on a city council of a Midwestern city. When the trans flag was raised for the first time over the Madison, Wisconsin City Hall, the mayor said to the trans community, “We are here for you,” and said, it was in honor of Dina Nina. That’s something you’d never expect to happen to a foul-mouthed trans woman. Standup comedia n from Los Angeles. On Queer We Are, I interview LGBTQ, plus people who share positive stories. They’ve had their struggles, but they held on, kept hope alive, and I hope to give you inspiration to do the same. We need some good news, don’t we? Dina Nina is not only striving to make her city a better place, she’s a hell of a lot of fun to talk with, too. I’m Brad Shreve, and as I said, my guest is Dina Nina Martinez Rutherford. That’s a mouthful. And you don’t have to go anywhere to hear our conversation, because Queer We Are. Dina Nina Martinez Rutherford. And I gotta say, goodness, your name is a mouthful.

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:01:42]:


Brad Shreve [00:01:44]:

And I’ve been debating whether to call you Dina or Dina Nina, and I like Dina Nina, so I’m going to stick with that one.

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:01:51]:

I love it.

Brad Shreve [00:01:53]:

This year has been a big deal for you. You are the first elected official in Madison, Wisconsin, who is trans. And for you future people, this is 2023, and we’re going to talk about that. But first, I want to discuss a more recent event. And just as Pride Month was rolling out, just before your city raised the trans flag for the first time over the Municipal building, and during that event, mayor satya Rhodes Conway said, I want everybody to know that the city of Madison is a place where everyone, but particularly trans folk and particularly trans kids are welcome and supported and affirmed. And as I understand, she also said, it was raised in your honor. Talk about that day.

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:02:43]:

Well, to talk about that day, we’ll have to talk about before. I ran for office, and I say this all the like, I’ve lost so many pageants that I did not expect to win an office, but then I also did at the same. But and one of the things that obviously, as a transgender woman living in the Midwest, I wanted to do was find a way to advocate for my community in a way that hasn’t been done here before. And so running for office was perfect for that. And I got elected and started cultivating a relationship with the mayor. And I was like, is there any chance you’d be willing to raise the trans flag during pride month? And she was like, yeah, let’s do it. And I was like, holy cow. So the raising of the flag for me was and the mayor articulated it perfectly. We value people. We value trans people in this city. We love you. You’re part of the community, and the contributions that we make to society are being recognized finally. And it’s a beautiful thing, and it makes me so proud of living here and staying here and it makes me proud of the people of Madison. And I’m just overjoyed what a moment.

Brad Shreve [00:04:14]:

I imagine it was pretty emotional.

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:04:16]:

Yeah, I was feeling a lot more gratitude and excitement. Know, I started transitioning in los Angeles in the late aughts, and during that time, it was hard for me to find a job in know, it was hard for me to find a community that really understood who I was. And so I just kind of fumbled along while I was there. And as a comedian, my friends and I would talk and everybody would be like, there’s no way we’re going to be on anything other than LOGO, which is a great thing. LOGO is wonderful. Especially all the programming that MTV is putting out and VH one are putting out has been really wonderful and empowering to our community. But I never expected to see us on mainstream television and mainstream shows, so we made so many strides. And then to see what’s happening around our country was so disheartening, and I think that really energized me. After the pulse nightclub shooting and everything else that is happening, I was just like, I have to do something. And 2022, I woke up and I was like, well, I guess I’m going to have to be the most trans person ever. Let me be obnoxiously trans.

Brad Shreve [00:05:41]:

Now, I think you just answered the question because you were born and raised in an evangelical home in Texas, of all things.

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:05:48]:


Brad Shreve [00:05:49]:

And you’ve been a showgirl, you’ve been a sex worker, you were a stand up comedian for over a decade in Los Angeles, and you still do comedic routines, correct?

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:05:57]:

Yeah, I still do comedy. I teach standup and acting and sketch comedy here in Madison and perform when I can and when I have time and do storytelling as writing storytelling. You know, all the you were you’ve.

Brad Shreve [00:06:14]:

Done lots of Pride events and you were on PBS, and you did The Late Late Show with James Gordon, who called you very funny.

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:06:22]:

And he kissed my cheek and nuzzled my neck, and I was like, OOH.

Brad Shreve [00:06:28]:

So you kind of answered it. But out of all of that, did you ever think you would be in politics and on the city council in a midwestern city?

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:06:37]:

No. I have often thought of running for office and as somebody who has had a checkered past, who has had to dive into sex, work for survival, and to still, even now, have moments where I struggle with economic insecurity because I’m a creative. You are told so often and so many times that your voice doesn’t matter either by action or by words that you don’t expect as much. And so I was just like, I don’t know if I could run for office. And I guess this pressure cooker environment that we’re in made me realize that if some of these people who have done far worse things for money or not for money are elected and actually moving forward with their political careers, I was like, Well, I guess if they can do it, I can do it. And so I tried and I succeeded. And that’s not to like I’ve got so many things I want to accomplish in Madison, and learning how to move within the established structures is challenging. Knowing what you can do and what you can’t do is challenging. But I now have hope that we can at least protect trans kids as much as possible in Madison and that I can be a part of that solution. Yeah.

Brad Shreve [00:08:21]:

And Dane County Board of Supervisors madison is in Dane County, introduced the proposal to make the county a sanctuary for people who are transgender non binary, which is pretty amazing. What does that mean, though? I presume it can’t supersede state law. So what does that mean?

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:08:39]:

Yeah, it’s mostly symbolic, but symbols mean a lot to us. When people say the words and have action behind it, that makes a difference. When people know that there are people in their corner, they feel empowered, they feel stronger. So having a resolution for the county that says, hey, we will not tolerate this, this is amazing, and we’re looking at other to do things like that on the city level as well and to bolster it with other protective measures as we move forward and see what we can do and what we can accomplish together. So, yeah, it means a lot.

Brad Shreve [00:09:24]:

And I’m fascinated by Madison because Wisconsin is a swing state, as they say, which I think it’s overused, but I’ve looked at your election results, and you definitely are a swing state. I mean, Trump won in 2016, I think by 22,000 votes out of the whole state, and Biden won by 20,000 votes. Those are very narrow margins. Yet in Madison, one quarter of all your districts are represented by people who are LGBTQ. Your twice elected mayor, Rose Conway, is the first out lesbian elected as mayor in Wisconsin. What is in the water in your city that’s creating queer leaders in your city?

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:10:05]:

I don’t know, but I’m drinking more of it. I think it’s just the right time. All of us see the need for voices at the table now, I think more than ever, especially, we are a swing state. Our numbers as a whole state are pretty close to 50 50, right down the middle. And I have felt nothing but welcomed in this state. And I love living here. I love the people. The humans here are just incredible. And I think that we just were at the right space at the right time, where everybody was like, It’s time for me to step. Luckily, you know, I think it’s the most diverse, most LGBTQ plus representation in the city council in the country. I know that Chicago tried to come in and say, we have the most LGBTQ people, and I was like, but you all have 18%, and we have 25% and a trans elected alder. So come on now, Chicago. And so it’s a really exciting time. Even those that aren’t part of the community on our council, I feel, have the best needs of the community at heart, and I’m looking forward to doing great work and hopefully make an impact for working class people in this city.

Brad Shreve [00:11:42]:

If you’d like others to enjoy interviews with great guests like Dina Nina, how about letting them know you can do it while listening to this episode by leaving a review on Apple podcasts, itunes, or wherever you listen to this show, you don’t want to forget, so go for it and do it now. LGBTQ equality as well as housing were part of your platform when you ran, and I know you’re just getting into the job, but you’ve already said you’re finding limitations. How frustrating is it when you have something you really believe in and you run into those roadblocks? Because, unfortunately, we have to work with.

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:12:22]:

Different people, finding solutions to make it better for people that experience poverty is hard because we are hardwired to favor privilege as a society, and stepping up and challenging those things is definitely going to be difficult. But also, like, I got in to try to make things better for people who are struggling and to be a voice for people who aren’t represented at the table.

Brad Shreve [00:12:53]:

And I joked about Madison’s water, but you’re right, the state of Wisconsin is 50 50, but Dade County biden won by 75% of the vote. What is it that makes Madison different?

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:13:07]:

I think it’s in any state that tends to be a little more rural and conservative, people flock to where they feel comfortable, and Madison feels a lot like Austin did back in the day. It’s still small enough that you can have a wonderful experience and know everyone. But it’s getting bigger and bigger, and I think that just we flock to each we’re when we’re trying to find hope, when we’re trying to find acceptance, when we’re trying to find our gang, so to speak, we go where they are, where we feel welcomed, where we find connection. And I think Madison is at for a lot of people. When I moved here in 2012, I was like, I’m either going to get murdered or married, and I don’t know which one it’s going to be. And luckily, neither one has happened. I started working at this restaurant and I’m like, am I going to get hate from just serving people? And what I found was this incredible acceptance and I just connected with people on a way that I had never done so. So luckily I created a lot of social capital because I served half of the town of Madison is what it felt like. And I think that I landed in Madison because there are people that are a little more progressive and my district is 70% Democrat, so we had two Democrats running against each other and that kind of happens all over this city and then you get one or two that are a little less so. But we work together to accomplish things because that’s our know.

Brad Shreve [00:15:03]:

And it really seems like small and medium sized cities are the ones that are making a difference. I mean, like your city, South Bend, had Mayor Pete, Palm Springs is about as gay as it gets, but that’s only because everybody’s left San Francisco. But when you think of New York, New York has 700,000 gay people estimated, or at least surveyed, and that’s more than the population of your city. But statistically, New York is 27th in the highest gay population. So, it does seem like the smaller cities and states, or smaller cities are really the ones that are pulling us forward. Yeah, and the reason I bring it up is maybe this isn’t true anymore since we’ve had number 45 and his gang that tried to do a coup. But as a general rule, it’s been our local politics that really affects our day to day living more than anything.

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:16:01]:

It’s so important.

Brad Shreve [00:16:03]:

Yet unfortunately, when there’s non national election, as you know, not many people show up. What do you think we can do to get more people active in local elections that affect, if nothing else, potholes in the street?

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:16:18]:

I think that’s happening. I think when the right wing started running for school board elections and started running for council and started running for county supervisors in the way that they did the extremists, I think that activated the population more than anything. And had we not had 45, we would have taken democracy for granted longer. So I believe we’re turning out voters even in off elections a lot more than we used to. And I think that has to do with really reaching out to the younger people and getting them engaged, getting them engaged on campus, getting them talking about politics and getting them running for office. As know we have Alder MGR, who is our student representative, he’s a very young man and very capable. So we’ve got people who are joining the political discourse that either one never have or they’re getting into it early. And I think there’s hope in that.

Brad Shreve [00:17:39]:

And I was going to ask you about hope because you’re angry. I’ve seen some of your posts and I’ve seen some of the things you’ve said. You’ve raised concerns about Pride and Black Lives Matter signs being taken down, and we know the incredible spread of anti LGBT legislation and especially anti trans and the poor kids across this country, yet you chose to run for public office, which tells me you don’t believe all hope is lost. And I will tell you, I talked to a lot of people that think it is, but you obviously don’t. Why? What is that that you’re holding on to?

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:18:12]:

I have no idea. I think I’m just a Pollyanna

Brad Shreve [00:18:22]:

We need more Pollyannas.

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:18:32]:

I know there are so many ways to look at the world, and I’ve looked at the bad side over and over and over again, and I will still look at it and I will say something about it. But I also see that the majority of Americans believe that people should have choice over their body, believe that trans people should be able to get medical care and take care of their families, and believe that LGBTQ people should have the right to marry and have the right to exist. The majority of Americans believe that that should be a right. It is a loud last gasp of patriarchy and white supremacy that is trying to hold on to what they have. And I’m not saying that they can’t do more damage, but what I’m saying is that there are people here that will stand up and pick up those bricks and put them back one at a time. There are people here who will stand up for you and your right to get access to health care. And when I see all the people that are actually doing the work that are showing up every day to our state houses, to our council chambers, to county board meetings, to school board meetings, when I’m seeing people engage, in the political process. And that gives me hope, because I could not have gotten elected without everybody who voted for me and all of the people who came out and supported me. And all those people believe that I have the right to show up in this job and do what I can for people. And that’s where I find hope. Like, people are out there doing the work and people care. And as long as someone cares and will show up to do the work, there is hope. So there’s hope. There’s hope. And Gen Z is part of that hope. And Gen Xers who know, like, we were silent for so long, but by golly, we’re not going to be anymore. And, yeah, I really believe that people are here and they know what’s at stake because they’re seeing their freedoms being ripped away here and there.

Brad Shreve [00:21:00]:

What do you have to say to trans kids out there today?

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:21:04]:

You’re loved. And there are people who care about you. And if you feel like you want to stay where you are and make a difference, there and you have the energy and motivation to do it, then do it. If you don’t, feel free and free from guilt. If you decide to leave where you live to go to someplace that’ll just be easier, wherever you go, there will be somebody there to envelop you in their arms and hold you and care for you. And if you come to Madison, I will be that one. If you don’t, then just be yourself. Be okay. If you need to feel safe, find a place to feel safe. And if you feel like you want to fight, then stay and fight. And there will be people that will come alongside you and do that with you.

Brad Shreve [00:21:57]:

You and I talked earlier, and you said that sex work did not come up as part of your election, but obviously it was out that you’re trans. I mean, that’s very obvious. It was all over the papers. But what I’m more curious about that I would think actually would have been a bigger issue on your behalf than being trans is your comedy routines. They’re risque, to say the least, and I’ll flat out say they were raunchy or are raunchy. I don’t know yet still. And I mean that in the kindest of ways. Did that come up at all?

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:22:32]:

It didn’t, trust me. Every scenario went through my head before I even entered the race. I was like, y’all have heard my comedy. Y’all know what’s happening, over, nervous, you know, and I think that I built such wonderful relationships in Madison, and I’ve been a staple of Madison comedy for the last know. The vast majority of my district have probably seen me here or there, and they usually go like, oh, my God, I saw you at blah, blah, blah, we go to every show, you know? So, yes, I’m raunchy, surprisingly, because I’ve turned into a nun. The last six years have been celibacy, celebrating celibacy. But when I started comedy in Los Angeles in 2007, who would have thought I would be doing this? But I think that the reason it hasn’t been. And don’t get me wrong, if I go to another level of political service, those things will come up. Those things will come up, and I get it. But also, I show up as who I am every chance I get. There’s very little that I hide from people, and that’s good and bad. But I hope that people found the way I show up refreshing, because I just show up as me. I can’t be anyone else. And a lot of us have gone through so many decades of hiding who we are that now you can’t put Pandora back in that box. You talk about sex work, and really, when I did that interview, that was one interview. I talked about it once years ago. I’m surprised you found it. But when we talk about sex work, like I said, I did it out of survival. I had no other option at the time. I was living in LA. And I tried it, and I got the HR was like girl, no. And like I said, we do things that we have to do to make ends meet, and sex work has been stigmatized. But let’s be clear. Sex work is work. There’s customer service involved. There are entrepreneurial talents that you have to have to do it well. Sex work is work. And not only trans and queer people have to participate in it to survive, but CIS women do it all the time. CIS men, straight men do it all the time. Because when it comes down to it, if you’re disempowered and the only thing you have is your sexuality, then that’s a way to empower yourself and getting to a place where you can be comfortable with who you are and be able to take care of your bills. There should be no shame in doing what you have to do to get what you needed to get done. So everybody has sex, and if they don’t, I’m sorry. Sex work does not define who I am. It was, like, a handful of times when I tried, but it doesn’t define who I am. What it defines is I’m a scrappy entrepreneur who got done what she had to get done to get where she needed to go. It’s a job. It’s a customer service job.

Brad Shreve [00:26:10]:

Well, sex work makes me both angry and disgusted, and I’ll explain why.

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:26:30]:


Brad Shreve [00:26:33]:

The late 18 hundreds, early 19 hundreds, brothels were normal. I mean, even Omaha, Nebraska, had its its district. They were open, and it was a regulated industry, and that’s changed. And if somebody wants to do sex work, where I’m angry is I don’t understand why it’s illegal for somebody to choose to do sex work. It just doesn’t make sense. What disgusts me is the number of kids that are tossed into the street where it’s not even a choice. It’s one thing to choose it as, this is my job or this is my career. It’s another thing to say, I need to eat.

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:26:57]:

Yeah. And not even children, like, even adults that are being sex traded, if it is consensual, you enter that workplace and you are advocating for yourself and able to take care of yourself and you’re protected by the law, then it’s awesome, right? And sex work should be protected. Sex workers should have the opportunity to have a regulated workforce that is OSHA compliant.

Brad Shreve [00:27:00]:


Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:27:03]:

And what it is, is people are just for the most part, people are trying to get what they need to get done so that they can accomplish the goals that they have in their lives.

Brad Shreve [00:27:38]:

I like to justify it that maybe they’re on their way to the quickest fast food restaurant to go to the bathroom.

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:27:44]:

That could be a great possibility.

Brad Shreve [00:27:49]:

Well, Dina, Nina Martinez Rutherford, it has been a pleasure to talk to you it’s been so much fun.

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:27:54]:

Oh, thank you.

Brad Shreve [00:27:56]:

And I’m going to have links and more info in the show notes as well as on the website. And I also have a list of your social media outlets. Where is the best place to find you?

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:28:09]:

You know, Instagram is probably the best place. And it’s Dinanxo. D-I-N-A-N-I-N-A-X-O or my campaign instagram at Dinanina for Madison.

Brad Shreve [00:28:21]:

Okay. And I’ll have them where people can just click right on them.

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:28:23]:

Yep, those are probably the best places to find me.

Brad Shreve [00:28:28]:

Well, thank you for getting into politics and doing what you’re doing, because we need more folks doing it. And it’s been a lot of fun talking with you.

Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford [00:28:35]:

Thank you. Likewise. Have a wonderful day.

Brad Shreve [00:28:40]:

Do you enjoy this show? If so, tell a friend, because the number one way podcasts grow is word of mouth. So pass it on so others can enjoy queer. We are.

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