Gender frequently plays a role in creating an image with music. Whether a song is dripping with the feminine empowerment of a two-bit pop act like the Spice Girls or throbbing with the stuffed trousers of any of the cock rock metal bands satirized by Spinal Tap, femininity and masculinity are frequently used to delineate artists and give them traits with which their target audiences can relate. However, the attribution of gynocentric and androcentric themes is just as contrived as the use of exploitative sexual imagery in order to sell any product; music transcends gender association, and the rest is just marketing. In order to illustrate this point, the Weekly is proud to present the following list of five groundbreaking transgender musicians. Generally speaking, these are important modern artists who neither demonstrate a gender bias in their music nor do they hold to the gender roles that society assigned them at birth.
We'll begin our showcase with a rather obvious choice. While Richard O'Brien is well known to the cult musical and theatrical world as the writer of the infamous stage show cum movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show, in which he played the character Riff Raff, he describes himself as being transgendered. Specifically, O'Brien has said in interviews that he has difficulty reconciling gender roles and considers himself 70% male and 30% female. One of the central themes of his grand opus, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, is the breakdown of traditional gender roles and the embracing of transcendent ecstasy.
Laura Jane Grace
Laura Jane Grace was born Thomas James Gabel. In her early 30's, Grace came out as a transgender woman and changed her name. Grace had dealt with gender dysphoria since childhood; she discovered and felt validated by the confrontational and nihilistic aspects of punk rock music in junior high school and eventually formed the punk band Against Me! While the band's popularity increased, Grace struggled with the record label's adversity to her cross-dressing desire. Eventually, she embraced her femininity, came out about it, and has been undergoing various treatments in order to complete her transformation. As far as the music, she continues to perform with Against Me!, has done a side project, and founded both a recording studio and record label called Total Treble Music. The latest album by Against Me! is called Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014), which suggests the struggle that a transgender individual faces in a world which so firmly embraces the assignment of traditional gender roles. [
Wendy Carlos is probably the most brilliant electronic musician in history. Born Walter Carlos, Wendy used early Moog synthesizers to electronically render the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and while Switched-On Bach and its follow up albums of synth renderings are equally brilliant, Carlos is probably best known for some of her soundtrack work. After the success of Switched-On Bach, Carlos underwent gender reassignment surgery and was henceforth credited as Wendy. This began on the 1972 soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick's film, A Clockwork Orange. Carlos subsequently scored Kubrick's horror film The Shining, and later scored the film Tron.
Antony Hegarty is a singer, composer, and visual artist. While she was born in England, her family moved to the United States when she was 9 or 10. Growing up in San Francisco, some of her musical and performance art influences included cross-dressing singer Boy George, drag queen actor Divine, and singer / civil rights activist Nina Simone. Apart from simply identifying herself with the female gender and expecting everyone else to honor that identity, Antony has not revealed a great deal about her personal politics; however, she does say that in the future, society will abandon a patriarchal structure in favor of a matriarchal one. Hegarty has collaborated with an impressive cross-section of artists, including: Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright, Bryan Ferry, Björk, Laurie Anderson, and many others. She is most popularly known as the lead singer of the band Antony and the Johnsons.
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
Probably the most unusual entry in our list is the English artist Genesis P-Orridge. A musician, poet, performance artist, and occultist, P-Orridge is widely regarded as the godfather of industrial music. Prior to the formations of his pioneering industrial band, Throbbing Gristle, and Psychic TV, Genesis and fellow members of his music / performance art collective COUM Transmissions caused quite a stir in Parliament, where they were deemed "wreckers of civilisation." In 1993, Genesis married artist Lady Jaye Breyer, with whom he undertook the Pandrogeny Project. The idea was that he and his wife would abandon their individual identities and collectively become a pandrogyne. With the use of surgical body modification, the two would become altered to physical resemble a hybrid of their two identities.