Transgenderism in the Music Community:
IN THIS PHOTO: Aye Nako
The Final Taboo
THERE has not been any major story where a transgender musician…
IN THIS PHOTO: Rita Ora (one of the artists involved in the video, Celebrities Speak Out Against Donald Trump's Transgender Military Ban)
has rocked the charts: nor has there been a howling execration of the transgender community by anyone. Well, hang on a second…back that up. The most powerful man in the world – God help us all – has imposed a military ban in the U.S. President Trump has banned transgender people joining the armed forces: this was met by a wave of discontent, disagreement and opposition. Singers like Sia, Rita Ora and The Chainsmokers have teamed up to send a message of support to the transgender community – Lady Gaga slammed Trump as did Mia Farrow and Laverne Cox. Of the 150,000 transgender Americas, all of whom are loyal and patriotic, that incongruence and foolhardy declaration is, whilst typical of Trump, against the desires of the American people. In a weird way, it has put the issue of transgenderism under the microscope. This piece is not propelled and stocked by interviews with transgender musicians. In the past, I have reviewed transgender artists – but not as many as I would like. I have featured gay and bi-sexual artists but, again, not quite as many as I would want. The Office for National Statistics does not, at present, hold figures regarding the number of transgender people living in the U.K. It makes a sense of invisibility and prejudice heightened. It might be difficult cataloguing those undergoing gender reassignment and consultation. Roughly, however, around one-percent of the British public identifies themselves as gender non-specific. Pansexual-ism is a new phenomenon but one that acknowledged the fluidity and multifarious rainbow of modern sexual identification. In broad terms; pansexual people do not limit their preference in terms of gender and sexual identity. If the country is starting to open to the fact so many people are identifying themselves as gay, pansexual or bi-sexual: how much tolerance and discussion is taking place regarding transsexual people? The reason I want to raise this corner of modern society is because of music and how there is still prejudice. In many ways, the industry is more open-minded than society as a whole.
In other ways, one feels there are struggles for new artists coming through – those who identify themselves as transgender. Anohni – formerly Anthony Hegarty – is an artist very open about her decision and identity. Sexuality is, not any more, a binary choice. It was the time, not long ago, one had to choose between gay and straight. Now, there is an encyclopaedic variation to sexuality that has a great number of configurations than there has ever been. If one looks to the music industry and there are some fantastic humans who are either transgender or non-binary. Ezra Furman is an artist I have great respect for. Perpetual Motion People, Furman’s current album, boasts raspy vocals and a fearlessness that is not confined to the mainstream and convention. One wonders whether his sexual freedom and lack of confinement influences and infuses his musical direction. Little Waist are a Queercore/Transcore band from Brooklyn, N.Y. whose lead – multi-instrumentalist, Audrey Zee Whitesides – is one of the most impressive and eye-catching artists one can discover in Brooklyn. Maybe cities and areas like that embrace openness and frank sensibilities of liberation. A lot of musicians evolve and move from towns where, in so much as there are fewer opportunities, there is a small-town mentality. I am not suggesting population size is inversely tied to discrimination and tolerance but there is a link. Cities allow one to, whether they like it or not, discover humans in every walk of life and persuasion. One takes a trip through Brighton by night and is aware of a colour and vivacity few cities can project during the hottest summer day. It is an area of the world synonymous with its thriving L.G.B.T.Q. community but its people, inherently, have a greater acceptance than most. The same can be said for London who, alongside Brighton, holds an annual Pride festival/celebration. We have just commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act.
IN THIS PHOTO: Ezra Furman
In 1967, it was still illegal for two men to express their love in public – not sure whether women were excluded too. It is developments and milestones like this that means there is less stigma attached to sexuality and lifestyle choices than generations-past. I still worry whether artists like Aye Nako – the band address racial fetishisation and sexual identity through their music – and Mel Blum (a New York singer-songwriter whose self-deprecating and honest music has captivated critics) have had to fight harder to enter music. Whether they are afforded the same opportunities as their peers – in terms of gigs and media spotlight – I am not sure. I am cribbing from the hallowed electronic pages of WhatCulture and a piece they put out on the subject of transgender artists. They bring a few other examples together:
“Tunde Olaniran, who identifies as genderqueer, has been putting out his playful electronic music for a couple of years now and shows no signs of getting any less theatrical. Every song constantly bounces around between quirky R&B and beats bearing the bawdiness of a buzzsaw. This desire to never settle in a singular musical aesthetic keeps his albums endlessly interesting. There is an allegiance to club music as well as a desire to dismantle it…Against Me! is a punk band from Florida fronted by Laura Jane Grace. Their albums are short bursts of ridiculously anthemic songs that contain darkly humorous lyrics referencing both the personal and the political. The accessibility of the band's anger harkens back to some of the most iconic names in punk. After a public coming out in 2012, followed by the resignation of several of her bandmates (for unrelated reasons), Laura Jane Grace became something of a poster child for the trans* movement (albeit not its spokesperson, to heave the entirety of a movement on a single person or several people is ignorant as all heck). Her deeply personal songs about gender identity on 2014's Transgender Dysphoria Blues provided for the band's most impassioned effort to date”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Tunde Olaniran
What one gleams from the list from WhatCulture is the fact the majority of these artists are American. Also, it seems all of these artists have to justify themselves in a way – proclaim how unafraid and determined they are. That is a courageous and inspiring attitude but, in 2017, should they have to shout so loud and frequently?! I know there are some fantastic underground transgender artists in the U.K. – many seem resigned to the underground through fear they would not be able to assimilate into the mainstream. There are many other frames of reference one can ascribe to the debate but, ironically, their struggle is binary – having to choose between being who they are, and enjoying minor attention and acclaim, or having to compromise. Maybe this is not the case for the artists I have mentioned but, as we know, there is a lot of prejudice and discrimination still rife in music. Is transgenderism still the only taboo in the music industry?! Despite the fact we have Pride celebrations and join together once a year – what is the reality for a gay musician in the modern world? Artists like Billy Tipton, Pete Burns and Wendy Carlos – composer on films like Clockwork Orange and Tron but, unbeknown to many, she is sort of the mother of modern Electronic music. They, in many ways, have helped normalise transgenderism and take away the exotification aspect of it – seeing it as rather fruity and strange. In society, there is taboo attached to coming out: those who decide to choose another gender have to go through so much anxiety and fear. If a musician has had to overcome that: how accepted are they likely to be when it comes to the mass media and charts? I write with authority because I know there are fantastic transgender musician who yearn to assimilate and align with those in the mainstream. Sexuality and gender should not be an issue with regards music. If, in 2017, we are seeing sexism and racism; where on the list of priorities is sexuality and transgenderism?! Whilst those in the music industry crunch numbers and toil over algorithms: how much consideration is being lent to the human beings behind the music.
IN THIS PHOTO: Against Me!
It is dastardly and deplorable seeing such rampant inequality in any sector of society: the fact it is extends to music is quite alarming. Transgender artists, in addition to homosexual musicians, should be allowed to play with unexpurgated relief and freedom. I feel there are alleyways of the music industry that needs to tackled and addressed. There should be no fear in the music industry. It should be an open forum where artists of every sexuality, gender and race should be able to perform and succeed on equal terms. That may sound awfully naïve but it is merely a case of taking action. I am concerned those musicians who are transgender – or non-binary – have enough anxiety in their heart without having to deal with spiked tongues and appalling looks. I know artists here – and around the world – who are exceptional musicians and transgender. They do not want to play to certain clubs and create a particular brand of music. They want to be accepted and have the same platforms as every other musician. If Trump is determined to prohibit transgender people entreating the armed forces: the passionate protest from musicians in the U.S. and U.K. is heartening to see. The focus should turn to music and, as we tackle sexism and racism – and try to affect real change – we need to look at sexuality and transgenderism. These kinds of issues are quiet heavy and, in regards musicians who face discrimination, there is a great weight for them to bear. Because of that, it is incumbent on the rest of us to create dialogue, positive exposure and raise our…
IN THIS PHOTO: Anohni
ARMS to help support them.