5 Incredible Transgender Musicians: Wendy Carlos, Antony, Laura Jane Grace and More
The world has been fixed on Caitlyn Jenner this week, after the former Olympic champion and current Keeping Up With The Kardashians star revealed her new feminine identity on the cover of Vanity Fair this week. News that might have provoked shock in recent years, and even months, was greeted largely with acceptance and praise. Hopefully this will help usher in a new era where transgender individuals will be acknowledged simply as human beings. Music Times hopes to help by saluting musicians such as these, who are far more notable for the music they produce than the gender they represent.
Laura Jane Grace
No trans musician has been in music headlines more over the last few years than Laura Jane Grace, the frontwoman for punk band Against Me! The good news is that her gender identity hasn't been in the news because of prying tabloids but because Grace herself has been one of the most vocal advocates/spokespersons for transgender culture. Punk groups are expected to be politically-charged after all, and Against Me!'s first five albums were certainly not lacking on commentary regarding any number of issues. Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the band's first album since Grace underwent surgery, understandably came from closer to the heart, and critics heaped praise on the record for shedding light on both the science, and more importantly, the emotional aspects of living through such a decision.
Carlos takes a very different approach to her transgender identity: She would rather keep it separate from work, and she'd rather not discuss it at all. And that's fine by us, especially if that work is as great as some of the music she created in her role as one of the godmothers of electronic music and as one of the most under-sung film composers of all time. Carlos was undergoing hormone therapy while working on Switched-On Bach, a work that took the orchestral work of the Baroque composer and converted it for the Moog synthesizer. The experiment was a critical smash, winning three Grammys in 1969. By 1972, Carlos had undergone gender-reassignment surgery, but more people will remember that year for her cult-classic soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange. She would join Stanley Kubrick again for The Shining, perhaps the most effective score in film history, and then secure her place in history again with Tron during 1982.
It's tough for cisgender individuals (ourselves included) to fully grasp the extent of being "transgender." Many mistakenly assume that the term refers to people who have undergone sexual-reassignment surgery, but that just scratches the surface. There are even more people who identify as females despite having the physical attributes of what a birth certificate would define as "male." Antony Hegarty, better known simply as "Antony" as part of her band Antony and The Johnsons, is one of the most prominent examples of this status. Although patient with the press, she has lamented that using the pronoun "he" is a backhanded insult that "negates me." Those themes were prominent on I Am A Bird Now, an album that won the 2005 Mercury Prize on the strength of tracks such as "Today I Am A Bouy" and "Bird Gerhl."
Although the folk scene didn't have quite the same luster as it did 40 years earlier, the revelation that Dave Carter—one of the scene's most acclaimed performers—suffered from gender dysphoria, was a shock, including to his longtime touring and recording partner Tracy Grammer. Although the two weren't linked romantically, she acknowledged that it made their relationship offstage somewhat rocky but they got through it and were preparing for career with a new angle under the new title The Butterfly Conservatory. Unfortunately, Carter would die of a heart attack at the age of 49 during 2002, before he could reveal his true identity to the world. Grammer would reveal his revelations to her following his death.
Willmer Broadnax, Billy Tipton and More
It isn't hard to believe that many musicians and other individuals suffering from gender dysphoria have chosen to hide it versus expose themselves. After all, even now, downright stupid comments (or reposts) from performers such as Timbaland and Drake Bell expose just how ignorant society can be. Homosexuality has only recently come into any degree of true acceptance from society, which led performers to hide their true identities from the public. After all, Elton John didn't openly acknowledge his gay identity until 1988. The two musicians listed above, Willmer Broadnax and Billy Tipton, lived their entire lives as men, only to be revealed as women following their deaths. Broadnax worked with the Blind Boys of Alabama and The Fairfield Four, as well as his own Golden Echoes group, living until the age of 76. Jazz pianist Tipton was actually married several times and was the father of three adopted sons, none of whom knew of his secret prior to bios death at the age of 74. Perhaps if they had come around in the modern day, Broadnax and Tipton wouldn't have feared sharing those details with loved ones.