While perceptions of LGBT musicians have evolved dramatically over the past few decades, the subject matter has been the stuff of some truly iconic songs (such as “Walk On The Wild Side,” a notable exclusion from this list due to its sheerly self-explanatory status). November 20th marks annual Transgender Remembrance Day, dedicated to raising awareness and memorializing those killed due to anti-transgender discrimination across the world. In honor of the occasion, AudioFemme has collected a list of songs that deal with the topic, or were created by artists identifying as transgender.
1. The Cliks – Dark Passenger: Canadian rock band The Cliks, who take their name from an amalgamation of the words “clit” and “dick,” were the first band with an openly transgendered lead singer to be signed to a major label. Energetic, hard-hitting soul rock dominate The Cliks’ sound. “Dark Passenger was released in May of this year, on the band’s album Black Tie Elevator.
2. JD Samson & MEN – Who Am I To Feel So Free:This track is fun, plain and simple. Former Le Tigre member JD Samson has extensively commented on her sexual minority status as a lesbian, but this single is—as you’d expect from the name—liberated and giddy.
3. Antony and the Johnsons – You Are My Sister: Antony Hegarty’s voice holds a reverberating, haunting appeal, backed here by soft strings and quietly building harmonies. “When I heard him,” Lou Reed has said of Hegarty, “I knew I was in the presence of an angel.” Hegarty, who never anatomically transitioned from male to female, embraces ambiguity and dissonance in his songwriting as well–refusing to shy away from contradictions, he lends his music and organic, somewhat mysterious slant, always leaving just a few spaces in his songs blank.
4. David Bowie – Rebel Rebel: Bowie’s 1974 classic, apparently the most covered track on Diamond Dogs, is noisy, rife with slapstick distortion, and filthy with the glam mode that he popularized in the early seventies. The song, due to its massive popularity, was revitalized and re-released in 1999 . After “Rebel Rebel” was written, Bowie moved almost instantly away from the glam movement that had been his brain child—the following single was “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.”
5. Geo Wyeth – I Am Chasing An Alien Light: Wyeth, a transgendered, NYC-based artist, makes wistful, exciting folk music that’s minimalist in style and radiates breathless optimism. Many of his tracks, including the one below, bear an alien theme, representative of his experience not only as a transgendered person, but as a musician whose songs don’t bear any direct relation to most of the other music going on around him.
6. Styx – I’m O.K.: “I’m O.K.” was released on the band’s 1978 Pieces Of Eight album. Beginning with a chorus of “heys” and a round of bouncing synthesizers, this track is one of the standout feel-good tracks on this list: Styx’s theatricality lends itself to a rousing, epic-sounding anthem.
7. Our Lady J – Hurt: Breathy, delicate synthesizers, close harmonies, both electronically engineered and non, and a sleek production finish dominate Our Lady J’s rendition of this song, originally performed by Nine Inch Nails (or Johnny Cash, depending on how you look at it). Our Lady J, a singer and pianist known for live performers and a masterful singing style, offers an entirely new take on the growling, stripped down original.
8. Against Me! – True Trans Soul Rebel: In 1997, Laura Jane Grace, then known as Thomas James Gabel, founded punk rock outfit Against Me! as a solo project, and quickly grew the band to a quartet. Fourteen years after Against Me! Was created, Grace publicly addressed her gender dysphoria and assumed a female name, continuing to perform with the band. In January of next year, Against Me! will release the first album to come out since Grace publicly announced herself to be transgendered. This summer, “True Trans Soul Rebel” was released as a single off the forthcoming album, displaying a more introspective, acoustic tendency that any we’ve seen in any Against Me! release thus far.
9. The Kinks – Lola: Released in 1970, The Kinks’ iconic single “Lola” is perhaps the best known song about a transgender experience in the world. Detailing a meeting between a young boy and the more experienced Lola, who is either a transvestite or is transgendered. Hard-rocking, story-telling and intensely singable, the song has spawned a bounty of live versions, a German version, a Greek version, a Dutch version, a Spanish version, and a Weird Al parody called “Yoda,” among many, many others.
10. Garbage – Queer: Garbage has performed an array of songs dealing with queer-oriented subject matter, and this is one of the best. Snarling harmonies combine with lead singer Shirley Manson’s angelic vocals and disenchanted lyrics.
11. Bitch and Animal – Boy Girl Wonder: Steeped in the queercore scene, Bitch and Animal apply an insightful, often improvisatory, take to the genre. “Boy Girl Wonder” favors the story-telling aspect of the song, accompanied by an extremely minimalistic acoustic guitar for the first two minutes and twenty seconds of the song, before sharp, embittered electric guitar cuts into the track.“The boy girl wonder from Queens,” Bitch screams over reverberating chords, proving she can escalate to a howl—or drop down to a purr—on a dime.
12. Wayne County and the Electric Chair – Fuck Off: Wayne County, now known as Jayne County, holds the title of rock’s first transsexual singer. County moved to London as the punk scene there was burgeoning, in 1977, and formed a group, releasing “Fuck Off” shortly thereafter. Jayne County never received critical acclaim, despite several releases, a tour, and even a book entitled Man Enough To Be A Woman. “Fuck Off” is a song whose time, perhaps, has come.
13. The Velvet Underground – Candy Says: With lyrics like “Candy says ‘I’ve come to hate my body/and all that it requires in this world,’” The Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says” represents one of rock’s most tender and intricate portraits of a transgendered woman. This soft, sorrowful song portrays Candy so vividly because she was, in fact, a real person (that would be Candy Darling, who starred in multiple Warhol films and died of lymphoma while still very young). Candy appears in other Velvet Underground songs as well, notably “Walk On The Wild Side,” but appears here in a fuller, much more poignant capacity.
Why not celebrate Transgender Remembrance Day with a donation to a worthy cause? The Sylvia Rivera Law Project, or SRLP, works to protect freedom in gender identification by providing legal services to fight against harassment. Go here to donate. And post your additions to our playlist in the comments!
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