Fmr FBI Agent Turned Surf Guitarist Using Her Voice To Advocate For The LGBTQ Community

While the news media is furiously churning out coverage about the Trump Russia investigation, waiting on more indictments from special counselor & former FBI director Robert Mueller, we’re taking interest in another former FBI employee who you should know about. Her name is Susan Surftone and she seriously has one of the most interested career journeys we have come across in a long time.

There’s probably not a single person who wouldn’t be inspired by the story of Susan Surftone. She went from a career working in an government agency that is reputed to be very macho, to another profession known to be heavily male-dominated, namely “surf” music, as a guitarist. Yet while the gender ratio wasn’t in her favor, she thrived in both fields.

In the early ’80s, Susan (real name: Susan Yasinski) was an FBI agent in New York, chosen to monitor KGB agents assigned to UN headquarters. The Soviets weren’t allowed to travel more than 25 miles outside New York City, so she would run surveillance and occasionally go undercover to sniff out their motives and next moves.

But she soon became worried about her future within the bureau. For a lesbian, upward mobility was not going to come easily. Plenty of Hoover men were still in place at the FBI, and “don’t ask, don’t tell” was the prevailing attitude. It grew increasingly more difficult to make excuses for not dating, and she knew the rumors eventually would prevent a promotion, anyway. Something other than the challenge of hiding her sexual orientation ultimately led to her resignation from the FBI.

Leaving the FBI pushed Susan to form bands of her own, Susan and the Surftones went on to record more than 10 albums, became breakout stars in Europe and even had a couple of their songs featured on a season of ‘The Real World’.

With Russian espionage in the news lately, Susan’s found herself reflecting back on her FBI days with unexpected frequency. “It’s crazy, it’s like I’m reliving my life when I was younger,” she said. Her message is particularly important at this moment in American history, and for those feeling demoralized by recent politics that seem to prioritize men’s contributions over women’s. Susan’s endured more than her fair share of misogyny, discrimination, even physical assault; but throughout it, she’s stuck steadfast to her goals and refused to be intimidated. And although her musical genre tends to be straight-male-dominated, she’s done hiding in the closet.

Whether engaging in espionage or breaking into music, this queer musician has always been fearless and lives out loud. She is a fascinating woman who has continuously been breaking barriers. Now the sixty-something year-old artist has just released her new music video for her single “Out of my Dreams” on the “Love Is” compilation, available now from Bongo Boy Records. We had an opportunity to speak with Susan about her music and her thoughts on the current political landscape right now.

First up, let’s talk about your previous career, as you’ve had such a fascinating journey! You have worked for the FBI and was also an attorney for the NYPD Tactical Narcotics Team. Can you tell us a bit more about your time in those jobs and what you experienced?

I was a Special Agent for the FBI. I worked bank robberies in Boston, Ma and Soviet counterintelligence in New York City. For the NYPD I was an attorney who evicted drug dealers from housing projects. Both jobs were challenging  and interesting. Fewer dull moments than most jobs.

What made you want to change career paths eventually?

I was in the FBI when I started my first band. There were several factors for the career switch and my quitting the FBI. I wanted to play in rock clubs and the Bureau said no. I was a bit tired of concealing the fact that I am gay and believed I would soon be found out. I never really felt I would stay at the Bureaus for my entire career. The NYPD didn’t have a problem with me being in a band and my gay life style was not a fire-able offense. As my musical career became more successful I was able to leave the law behind.

Given the state of our political situation with the ongoing Trump admin Russia investigation and the FBI’s involvement, what is your perspective on what everyday people should be aware of?

People should keep an open mind and realize that what they are hearing about Trump and his campaign is not the stuff of fiction. It is very real. Putin is out to undermine western democracy and common sense tells you he’d want Trump in the Oval Office and not Hillary Clinton. If we allow this farce in the White House and Congress to continue much longer we allow democracy to be weaken to the point of no return. Do you want democracy to be lost on your watch? A lot of people have died for it.

How does it make you feel to see so much regression in our current politics in a number of areas, especially people’s rights?

I feel it is time to stand up for what real American ideals are. We are indeed stronger together and it’s time to stand together against the direction Trump is taking us. We are not a nation driven by fear. We never have been and we never will be. Trump’s base is the minority in this country and the majority must push back.

While you were in the FBI and working for the NYPD you experienced your fair share of sexism, discrimination and even physical assault. How did you deal with this, and how would you encourage others who are dealing with it right now?

Win by being the best at what you do and never give up. No matter what never give up because that is what your detractors want you to do. Women who speak out against physical assault must be heard and never dismissed.

Cut to: today. You are now a singer/songwriter and have just released a new music video for your single ‘Out of my Dreams’. Can you tell us what the song is about?

The song is about two people who cannot connect because one is afraid of developing the relationship. She comes close but then retreats to the frustration of the other. Neither ‘wins’.

You also talk about not wanting to hide in the closet anymore and be open about your sexuality. Why was this important to you, especially now in the political landscape?

I want to be myself. No one should ever be forced to deny themselves. It is idiotic that in the 21st century we are still facing this nonsense about being “other”…any type of “other”.

You are an inspiring example of someone who has fearlessly lived her life out loud, despite a number of barriers. Where do you draw strength from to overcome them?

I like myself. I always have. I will not change to please another person. I sacrificed my relationship with my mother because of this. If I wouldn’t give in to her I will give in to no one.

How do you hope your music and advocacy will benefit the LGBTQ community, especially queer women?

Find dignity and purpose in who you are. Once you do give a hand to the next generation. I learned from queer women who came before me. Pass the torch and never let it go out.

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You can hear more of Susan’s music by going to her website.

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