It’s the time of the season… You know… finals. So, I will interrupt the depressing monotony of studying and crying with the thing that I am best at: gay things.
A little crash course for those of you that perhaps aren’t up to date on your LGBT+ knowledge, the T stands for transgender. So, a trans person is someone whose gender identity does not match the one that they were assigned at birth. For example: a baby comes shooting out of its mother’s nether-regions; the doctor picks it up, dangles it by its foot, slaps it on the butt and says “it’s a girl!”. Pink balloons, tiny dresses and headbands, etc. However, as this child grows up, they realize that the label “girl” does not necessarily apply to them. Perhaps they feel that they identify more with males and masculinity, perhaps they feel uncomfortable labeling themselves as any gender at all. This person is a trans person.
For many individuals, the first time that they were introduced to the concept of transness, or actually confronted with this in their everyday life, was when Kaitlyn Jenner came out as a woman. There is much to be said about Kaitlyn and her coming out process, her beliefs and so on. But for now, we will just say this: her coming out story is, in some ways, a somewhat stereotypical trans coming out story. The media may portray it as “may realizes that he is a she, changes body to become a woman”. However, this is a very narrow view of transness. Many trans individuals who were born in “the wrong body” (in many cases, these individuals do not feel that they were born in the wrong body, but rather that society deemed it so), do pursue gender reassignment surgery and choose to present as the normative idea of whatever gender they identify with (we’re talking genitals and chestal regions, folks). However, there are many individuals who do not feel the need to pursue this sort of physical alteration, or who choose simply to pursue just hormone replacement, instead of genital reassignment.
Basically, what I’m saying is that Trans looks very different to a lot of people.
Now, on to the point of this whole post: music.
There are tons of trans artists in the music industry. Unfortunately, due to prejudice and cultural roadblocks, many of these individuals are barred from the mainstream music stream. However, there are many LGBT+ (and specifically trans folks) who are doing just find for themselves, carving out their own niche in the music industry, and becoming quite successful. Among these individuals are Ezra Furman, Rae Spoon, Mal Blum, Carseat Headreast and many more.
For time’s sake, I will be focusing on two artists who approach their transness and their music in two slightly different ways: Rae Spoon and Carseat Headrest.
Rae Spoon is a nonbinary (does not identify as either male or female. They coauthored a really good book called Gender Failure that I would recommend for anyone interested) musician who has performed everything from country to electronica. Rae was identified as a female at birth. As they grew older, the feminine descriptors and culture surrounding them didn’t fit them, so they came out as a trans-man and started using masculine pronouns. However, they soon realized that this stereotypical male facade that they were masquerading around in didn’t quite fit either, so they came out as nonbinary. They soon encountered a problem, however. While they identified to the more normative masculine experience and were interested in hormone replacement, they had heard horror stories of the effects that testosterone could inflict on your vocal chords. For a while now, they had been a musician and loved singing. Their identity was at odds with their passions. Though they wanted to pursue hormone replacement, they did not want to lose or in any way impair their singing voice. So they opted to forgo hormone replacement. To Rae, the connection they felt to their music came largely from the control that they had over their voice, the way that they were able to express themself precisely and clearly with their voice.
Will Toledo, lead singer of Carseat Headrest, however, took a slightly different approach to his music. After coming out as trans, Toledo decided that hormone replacement was the right choice for him. Aware of the difficulties that this could potentially impose on his singing, he chose to undergo the treatment because he felt that it would help him achieve his more authentic self. And indeed, his hormone replacement did affect his singing. However, the effects of his hormone replacements are now one of the trademarks of his sound. Hormone replacement, specifically the introduction of testosterone to the system, can lead to a number of physiological changes; one of these being a lowering of the vocal range. However, along with this lowering comes a loss of control over the voice, in many cases. For many singers, control of their voice is extremely important. Being able to sing a note as intended is vital to their sense of expression and communication. However, Will Toledo is able to take this loss of control in his voice and turn it in to something stunning. His songs are characterized by a gravelly and vocally dynamic range of tones and sounds that would have been impossible to produce if not for his hormone replacement. In Toledo’s case, his hormone replacement allowed him to become more expressive and more genuine in his music making.
Although Rae Spoon and Will Toledo took two very different approaches to their music concerning their gender identity, they were both able to find a comfortable and genuine sense of self and expression in their art that has affected countless individuals. This is all to say that no matter what your gender identity, whether it be male, female, or none of the above, there is hope for you. You can be true to yourself and your art, regardless of what society may tell you.