FEATURE: Lost in Translation: Is the Contemporary Music Scene Truly Accepting of Trans Artists?




Lost in Translation


IMAGE CREDIT: Sunshine Art

Is the Contemporary Music Scene Truly Accepting of Trans Artists?


ONE of the reasons why I am interested in the rights of trans artists…

is because there is discussion online regarding greater equality - there are many other reasons why I want to explore this subject and look in more depth (musicians are often overlooked when it comes to talk about trans people). The hashtag #ComeOutForTransEquality has been trending and getting people talking. If you are not aware of what has been happening and why such discussion has been sparked; here is some background from DIVA:

In just two days, 108 organisations signed up to a full page advertisement in today’s Metro newspaper, promoting the hashtag #ComeOutForTransEquality – and now that hashtag has gone viral, trending on Twitter across the UK.

"I’m extremely proud that DIVA, together with Stonewall, has taken the lead on this,” Linda Riley, publisher of DIVA magazine said earlier this afternoon.

Since launching the campaign this morning, thousands of people – including well known public figures and celebrities – have taken to social media to share photographs of the ad page, comments, and messages of support – drowning out the small minority of people still attacking the trans community.

The campaign comes just days before a government consultation on reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 close (read more about that here)”.

The deadline to respond to the Government’s GRA consultation has been extended to midday on Monday. There are many reasons to add your voice and have your say. Stonewall have added some information and you would be advised to visit their website to find out more:

The UK Government is consulting on vital new rights for trans (including non-binary) and intersex people. This could be a huge step forward for trans equality. It is crucial that the Government sees trans people and allies coming out in support…

Failure to secure these reforms would not just hold back trans people's rights, it would represent a major setback in our collective efforts to secure LGBT rights and equality.

That's why we need you to come out in support, get your friends, family and networks involved, and show that people across Britain support trans people’s right to be accepted and live free from hate”.

Before I go on, and if you need definitions and more clarification regarding transgederism, transsexualism and providing some background - so my words and the debates going on hold weight - here is some clarification:

“1. Transgenderism is an umbrella term for the state or condition of identifying or expressing a gender identity that does not match a person's physical/genetic sex. Transgender is independent of sexual orientation, and those who self-identify as transgender may consider themselves to be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, or asexual. Approximately 700,000 individuals in the U.S. identify as transgender.

2. Transgenderism differs from intersex, a variation in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, or genitals that do not allow an individual to be distinctly identified as male or female. Intersex is a physical condition while transgender is a psychological condition. The vast majority of people with intersex conditions identify as male or female rather than transgender or transsexual. (The term “hermaphrodite” is now considered outdated, inaccurate, and offensive as a reference to people who are intersex.)…


IMAGE CREDIT: Stonewall/Getty Images

3. The terms transgender, transsexual, and transvestite are not synonymous. Transsexual is a narrower term used to refer to people who identify as the opposite of their birth gender designation, regardless of whether they have undergone or intend to undergo hormone replacement therapy and/or sex reassignment surgery. A transvestite is a person who cross-dresses, or dresses in clothes of the opposite sex, though they may not identify with, or want to be the opposite gender. All transsexuals are transgender, but transvestites do not necessarily fall into either of the other categories.

If you feel like trans people - transsexual and transgender - in this country, and around the world, have the same rights as everyone else – and are treated fairly – then you need to do some research. I have been reading this article that gives some revelation, statistics and eye-opening realities:

If you picked up a copy of Metro on Tuesday, you may have seen an advert featuring over 100 organisations voicing their support for transgender rights. After Fair Play For Women placed an advertisement in the newspaper last week which for many felt like an attack on the transgender community, charities and publications across the UK have decided to take a stand ahead of an important consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act.
If you picked up a copy of Metro on Tuesday, you may have seen an advert featuring over 100 organisations voicing their support for transgender rights. After Fair Play For Women placed an advertisement in the newspaper last week which for many felt like an attack on the transgender community, charities and publications across the UK have decided to take a stand ahead of an important consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act….

Woefully out of date When the Gender Recognition Act became law in 2004, it gave trans people the right to have their gender identity legally recognised. But that Act, as transgender people and campaigners have pointed out, is woefully out of date. In order to legally change their birth certificate, trans people have to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria and endure a series of intrusive assessments over a two-year period where a panel of legal and medical experts determines their gender. They can only do this at the age of eighteen, and it costs £140 to do so. If we voice our support for a reformation of the Act through the Government’s consultation, which is being carried out until 19 October, transgender people will no longer have to undergo a time-consuming process that can take years in order to prove their gender…


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

This could also help non-binary and intersex people be treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve. Yet in spite of these common-sense reformations, this consultation has evoked a toxic and harmful debate. The trans community are frequently attacked online, while their identities are questioned in the press, whether that’s pieces suggesting that there has been a trans “explosion”, or that trans teenagers are taking part in “an experiment”. Attacks on trans people can have a devastating impact. Roughly 45 per cent of trans teens in the UK attempt suicide, and hate crimes against the community have risen by a third in the past year alone”.

There is a lot more awareness when it comes to the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community and what many people have to ensure. There are Pride flags proudly adorned and yearly Pride festivals raise awareness and create unity. I know a few artists from the community and, whilst things are improving and conversation is happening; they are not afforded the same rights and privileges as other musicians. Sexuality and sexual identity should not dictate how people are treated – the same way race and gender should never be an issue. That sounds rather naïve but there are fantastic trans artists out there who are not as visible as one would hope. It is not their fault at all.

Look at the mainstream and industry as a whole and how many L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. members does one hear on the radio and see adorning the cover of magazines?! There are great articles out there that highlight trans artists carving out their own niche and showing their colours. I will bring in a great study that asks whether trans artists have visibility and rights and, as I end this piece with a selection of songs from trans artists,  there is no real difference in sound. One gets this rather false impression that trans and L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists will always sing about their sexuality or they’ll be camp; it is all going to be rather atonal, unusual and inaccessible. If you have the mindset (that trans artists) will be second-rate cabaret performers who cannot rank alongside other musicians then you would be wrong. From ANOHNI to Ezra Furman (who, to be fair, identifies as gender-fluid) through to Mina Caputo and Laura Jane Grace – the songs being performed as are ordinary, striking and popular as any others out there. Perhaps there are trans artists talking about their struggle and fight but most of the trans artists I have heard are singing about the same sort of thing as their non-trans peers. This raises a couple of points. One wonders whether there are trans artists in the underground who are not being let through and are expected to blend in with others.


 IN THIS PHOTO: ANOHNI/PHOTO CREDIT: Ryan Pfluger for The New York Times

Maybe trans artists who we all know are reserved about projecting a true message because they feel it will be detrimental and damage their careers. I also wonder whether the scene is not accommodating of trans (and L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists) performers who want to document their sexuality, changes and souls. I would like to see more trans artists promoted and highlighted – not in a pandering way but to celebrate what they do and ensure there is greater awareness and acceptance.  There are articles and think-pieces out in the press, such as this from The Independent, that highlights realities and how now, after so long, we are starting to make changes and offer equality for trans people:

People suffer when their gender is not recognised by law, or when the government sets boundaries that define their gender. When something is in law it is “normalised”. It’s a reassurance that equal rights will be given and prejudice is the abnormality.

That’s why same sex marriage and every other fight for equality was crucial. The law must see us and recognise us as the people we are. Concerns can still be raised – equality doesn’t mean silence, but our laws should protect people who for too long have been forced to remain invisible. Let people be who they are. Today”.

I understand there are artists out there who identify as trans and are happy in their skin but there are a lot who are changing their style and holding back because they want to fit into the music industry – and not risk being judged our outcast. It is rare we see openly gay artists being acclaimed and revered and, although there are many L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists in music as a whole; there are relatively few in the mainstream and, if there are more, I wonder whether, again, they are hiding their true desires – talking about sex and their struggles without disguising it – and allowed to freely express. I wonder whether we still have a long way to go with regards L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists and whether we are aware of the fact there are trans artists out there who are being overlooked. In an industry where women still are being ignored and having to struggle for equality; is this discrimination and sexism a reason why trans artists are less visible and assimilated as one would like?! This essay, from Sarah Bartolome, published earlier this month, gives fascinating insight into the music industry and trans artists:

Of the nearly 900 artists nominated for Grammy awards since 2013, only 9.3 percent were women. Only two percent of music producers were women. Since the award’s launch in 1974, only six women have been nominated for a Grammy Award Producer of the Year. No woman has ever won the award


IN THIS PHOTO: Laura Jane Grace/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Yet while the underrepresentation of women in the music industry is startling, the conversation regarding gender disparity in mainstream popular music completely overlooks one particular group of missing musicians: those who identify as transgender or non-binary.

It is true the individuals in the transgender community have increased visibility in many public arenas. In politics, Danica Roem made history in November, becoming the first openly transgender individual elected to the U.S. State Legislature.

In sports, transgender athletes such as Harvard University swimmer Schuyler Bailar, U.S. duathlete Chris Mosier, American cyclist Jillian Bearden, and MMA fighter Fallon Fox have public profiles.

In Hollywood, Jaime Clayton (Netflix’s Sens8) and Candace Cayne (ABC’s Dirty Sexy Money) have joined Emmy Nominee Laverne Cox (Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black) as successful transgender actors who portrayed recurring characters on popular television shows”.


PHOTO CREDIT: @mrs80z/Unsplash 

It is rare to see an L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artist win an award or being represented the same way as anyone else in the mainstream and, for trans artists, there is that similar lack of visibility. Maybe it is unfair to say they are deliberately and systematically marginalised but I feel there is a bit of an ignorance and lack of understanding. Might we ever see trans musicians being acknowledged fairly and given the freedom to integrate into the scene naturally and without barriers?

“…And yet, we have seen little mainstream success for transgender popular musicians. To date, no openly transgender musician has ever debuted on the Billboard Charts or won a Grammy Award as a popular music artist.

Some may attribute a lack of visible trans musicians to a dearth of performers competing in the industry. In reality, there is a large community of trans musicians actively creating and performing music, highlighted by Billboard and PBS in recent features on trans and non-binary musicians.

Another explanation for the absence from mainstream recognition may be that it is difficult for trans and non-binary musicians to find a place in the male-dominated industry. Research has shown that males have more negative attitudes towards transgender individualsdemonstrate more anti-transgender prejudice, and are more concerned with transgender women in female bathrooms than their female counterparts”.

There is, despite the comparative lack of trans artists in music, hope there is improvement and discussion. Although trans musicians do not suffer the same bullying and violence as trans people in other areas of society; I feel many are unafraid to discuss what they want in their lyrics and discuss their lives in a very unabashed and unedited fashion. Whether transsexual or transvestites; these are artists who have a critical voice and have a lot of value. Their voice and stories can act as guidance and inspiration to those in other parts of the world; people who are being ignored and assaulted; those who are afraid to come forward and feel like they will be judged. Some artists, like Laura Jane Grace, have sparked discussion and have not faced an immense amount of backlash:

Punk rock band Against Me!’s lead singer Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender in Rolling Stone in 2012 and continues to be a vocal trans advocate, openly discussing her difficult journey.

Fans did not abandon the band following Grace’s public transition: In 2014, the band found its way back to the Billboard charts with the critically acclaimed album Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Their 2016 album Shape Shift with Me also peaked at number 6 on the Billboard charts

D. Smith, who earned a Grammy Award credit for producing the track “Shoot Me Down” on Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III, Rap Album of the Year (2009), came out as transgender in 2016. She did a short stint on Season 5 of VH1’s series, Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta, using the opportunity to educate the public about the trans community. She released her first solo single, “I’m That Bitch,” in 2016”.


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

I feel the music industry, as it is, is not as open and borderless as it could be. I know there are trans artists out there but the lack of voice at the top of the industry is not surprising. Consider how hard it is for women in music and how many L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists feel like they are not afforded the same oxygen and rights as others. Visibility, great discussion and social media campaigns like #ComeOutForTransEquality are assisting in raising awareness and helping change come about. I hope the Government does more to protect trans people and they are allowed to go through life with the same rights as everyone else. The violence, hatred and discrimination many (trans people) face is alarming and I feel music has a role to play. There are trans actors who are active and vocal but we have fairly few musicians who are being given the platform on which to speak and have their say. The essay I have been quoting does raise a good point regarding recent changes and how equality might be in sight:

 “The recent rise in visibility of transitioning musicians may pave the way for openly transgender and non-binary musicians to enter mainstream popular music. Further evidence shows that trans voices are emerging from the margins and stepping into the spotlight….


 IN THIS IMAGE: Shea Diamond/IMAGE CREDIT: Billboard

North Carolina’s Moogfest announced its 2018 lineup which will feature exclusively female, trans, and non-binary musicians. One Voice Mixed Chorus in St. Paul will host the Transgender Voices Festival in April, a gathering designed to “offer a space for transgender and gender nonconforming (GNC) singers across musical genres and cultures to explore our voices and identities, grow as artists, and learn techniques for voice care”.

I hope changes come in fast and here, in the U.K., the Government will offer greater rights and protection for trans people. We should not feel like we have to normalise and integrate trans people as they are part of our society and there is nothing different about them. By this; I mean they are like you and me and it is ridiculous and insulting they should suffer any abuse. In music, I am aware of some trans artists emerging and having their say but there is a way to go. I would like to see more discussion and interviews; greater awareness and highlight of these artists. Not so they are made special and isolated but show how important their voices are and allow them to write and perform as they feel natural. There is a way to go, sure, but I think change can happen and we can, in years to come, see an industry that is open and accommodating of trans and L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists. We need, in general, to see greater equality in the music industry and we all know what needs to be fixed. I feel many trans artists are being held back and fighting hard because women are being ignored; because things are too rigid or maybe it is something else. These changes will not happen right away but the activation, discussion and unity we have seen surrounding #ComeOutForTransEquality leads me to believe rights for trans people/musicians will come…


PHOTO CREDIT: Stonewall/Getty Images 

BEFORE too long.