❝ I was going through a lot of stuff internally and there was a lot of internal struggle I just needed to let out and even perhaps help other people. I made the web comic based on that — the struggle of becoming a new person. ❞
— Lara Nazario

All Lara Nazario wanted was a guitar. A Telecaster or Jazzmaster she says.

“They were just out of my price range,” she says. “So, I decided to just make one.”

She found wood used for a table top, researched guitar-making online, worked the wood and made sure it was the right shape and thickness.

“The result was this amazing guitar, a mix between a Jazzmaster and Telecaster, all out of a table top,” she recounts.

That was two and a half years ago. Nazario has built several since, each coming in handy for when she plays around town and does spoken word.

Nazario, 30, has been in Charlotte for about four years now, landing here after a childhood and lifetime of travel. Born in California, she grew up bouncing from place to place; her father was in the U.S. Marine Corp. But it was on a field trip as a youth when she first visited Charlotte. She was smitten with the city and finally moved here in her 20s.

“I love it so much. Why not just live in Charlotte?” she says. “I haven’t left yet.”

Charlotte has become a home to Nazario after years of struggle and self discovery. She began transitioning two years ago, after becoming comfortable in her new hometown. Her transition marked a significant life change.

“I was 215 pounds and an MMA fighter,” she says. “Obviously, that really wasn’t me.”

Nazario had begun MMA fighting as an outlet for her feelings, similar now to the way she uses her art. Before her transition, Nazario said she felt angry. She had to let it out. MMA fighting was the cure.

“I figured MMA was the only to let out all this aggression,” she relates. “I started doing it and was a natural and got really good at it.”

But the fighting didn’t help her internal struggle. Her partner at the time noticed she was depressed. One day, they asked why.

“Finally, I just admitted it,” Nazario says.

She’s an entirely different person now — a “new body” and “regenerated into a new person,” she says. “Everything looks and smells and tastes differently,” she adds.

And she’s left MMA fighting behind, though she still misses what she calls the “chess match.”

“It’s between you and your opponent,” she explains. “You’re the same size and weight class and have the same skills, but you have to find a way to defeat this person. You have to use more intelligence than muscle.”

That same brain power used to become an MMA champ helped her turn her art into an meaningful personal outlet, helping her through her transition.

In addition to her penchant for music, Nazario’s always had a broad artistic side. As she moved through her transition she turned to drawing — creating a comic series — to help her cope and share her story. The series was called “One Body for a Lifetime,” and told the story of a transitioning character who preferred to be called human instead of any gender.

“It really resonated with me for a while,” she says. “I was going through a lot of stuff internally and there was a lot of internal struggle I just needed to let out and even perhaps help other people. I made the web comic based on that — the struggle of becoming a new person.”

Art, more than just a personal outlet, was also a means to share her newly reconstituted identity with family and friends.

“I would invite family members to visit the web comic and read it,” she says of her coming out experience. “I would let them gather their own opinions about it and hear what they thought. And then I would tell them it was my story. I felt like if they had taken the time to read the comic, then it was worth telling them what was going on. Whoever took the time, I came out to them.”

Nazario, who also identifies as pansexual, says her interest in art stemmed from her childhood.

“When I was younger, I’d grab notebook paper and make comics out of that and pass them along to people,” she says. “That all evolved into watercolor paints and digital paints.”

Nazario has been able to take her art and her music public.

She’s not letting the custom-crafted guitars go unused either. She performs regularly around Charlotte and has begun the process of making her unique instruments for other people. You can also find her teaching guitar lessons at NoDa’s Salvaged Beauty.

Her comic series with the transgender character was online for a while. She says she often heard from fans who found it resonated with them, too. She’s currently planning on putting many of her old comics back online as she’s working on a new series she hopes this time to publish it in book form.

For Nazario, her personal, meaningful art has also helped connect her to a wider world of friends and supporters.

“I still have friends I met through the comics, just because they liked the comics,” she says.

Just as art is supposed to do. : :

— Learn more about Lara Nazario at laraamerico.com.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.