Updated: Jul 6, 2021
By Virginia Fu
You might not know the following figures—but you should. In Campus Characters, The Blue & White introduces you to a handful of Columbians who are up to interesting and extraordinary things and whose stories beg to be shared. If you’d like to suggest a Campus Character, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before I met Hari Nef, CC ’15, in real life I met her on the internet, where she is famous.
Googling Hari Nef yields the following: numerous interviews and profiles; a Tumblr page where her 6,800 followers anonymously and daily ask exacting questions of her (anon: lol where r ur eyebrows? Hari: in a swiss bank bitch!! hA); a 2000- word close reading of one of her performances (“I am reminded of Spiral Dance, a foundational text of contemporary goddess worship by feminist-pagan activist and organizer Starhawk”); and a short film entitled She Told Me She Was Dead, in which Hari plays a celebrity who attempts to escape the adoring, improbably hip paparazzi on her tail. The film ends with a close up of Hari’s blood and glitter-splattered face as she convulses and dies in a darkened stairwell.
In short, it was an intimidating interview.
I spoke to Hari in June, over Skype. During the interview I asked if Hari is pronounced “Hah-ri” or “Hayr-ri,” (Hari paused a moment, as if in deliberation, before answering, “The first one,”) and what pronouns she uses—Hari previously identified as non-binary but has since come out as a trans woman and is undergoing hormone replacement therapy. The answers to these questions can also be found on Tumblr, along with answers to key questions such as how tall she is and what love has taught her.
When Hari arrived at Columbia, she initially thought she was “just going to focus on school.” This changed, however, when she followed her friend out one night and encountered the “amazing environment,” of New York City queer nightlife. “It was something that I didn’t feel or get at Columbia,” she says.
Hari’s off campus exploits are wide-ranging. Hari’s sex column routinely causes her editor at Adult Magazine to cry. Last August, Hari donned football shoulder pads, earrings, a long black skirt and red gloves to perform her now legendary first solo piece “i am your girlfriend,” an ethereal and intricately conceived “transfeminine odyssey” of voices ranging from Galadriel in The Fellowship of the Rings, to Margaret Cho, in the car, (“I have to shit… RIGHT NOW!”) to Lady Macbeth.
“Hari really brings a singular aesthetic and talent to the table,” reports Alexis Penney, who co-founded and performs with Hari in Chez Deep (pronounced Che Deep), a performance collective whose provenance is drag but whose performers, two of whom have come out as trans since the group’s inception, have never let the drag form restrict them. Their performances, deemed “hyper-intellectual” by New York Magazine, reportedly include ritual exorcisms to Nine Inch Nails and (repeated) group interpretive dance to Kate Bush.
Uptown, Hari can be seen on the stage in more traditional roles (she is a drama and performing arts major) and in Ferris, where she frequents the salad bar.
Alison Herman, CC ’15, recalls meeting Hari in Ferris during their freshman year. They ended up talking for an hour and a half and have been close friends ever since. “It’s one of the things I admire most about Hari,” says Alison, “she’s open and inviting and friendly in a way that makes connecting with her remarkably easy.”
Hari appreciates the resources, challenges and especially the people she’s encountered at Columbia, where she’s found that “Everyone’s a rockstar, either secretly or like not secretly…”
“I gained a lot of confidence at that school,” she says, “Because it’s really hard and traumatizing but then you survive it, and do really well. Sometimes. And when you do you feel really good.”