Monday, August 8, 2016

My Favorite Songs about Transgender Topics

Of all the songs I've ever listened to some of my favorites address transgender or gender rebel issues and I thought it would be fun to share some of them. And to also share some that I've just given my own transgender interpretation to. I didn't want to make a list of every song with a transgender-related lyric. For one that'd be a lot and two, not all of them have positive or meaningful lyrics. These are my favorites .Also, this will pretty much show you what my taste in music is.

Post your own favorites below in the comments!

"Bleed like me"- Garbage
Garbage first directly addressed transgender topics in their 2002 song "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)," but that was less about actual trans people and more about literary hoax J.T. Leroy, who not only didn't exist and also wasn't at all transgender. It's hard to be transgender when you don't actually exist.

In "Bleed Like Me" Garbage explores the pain of gender confusion, in a lyric that I think all gender rebels (be they transgender, queer, questioning, crossdressers or non-conforming). "Chrissy's all dressed up and looking coy / painted like a brand new Christmas toy / She's trying to figure out if she's a girl or she's a boy..."

"Candy Says" -Lou Reed
While I don't think "Walk on the Wild Side" has aged particularly well, "Candy Says" is fantastic song. In its slow, mournful telling it examines the pain of  transgender woman Candy Darling's struggle in life. The lyric "I've come to hate my body / all that it requires / in this world" is particularly poignant for me as I know exactly how that feels, being forced into a male role that has never felt right and always felt a bit like a prison or a handicap.

Of course I chose the Garbage version, you know, just 'cause.

"As Girls Go" -Susanne Vega
While I was never a big Suzanne Vega fan (though I think I own all her albums - because I own lots of albums). "As Girls Go" tells the story of a cis person meeting a transgender woman and wondering what their life is like. Sometimes I find myself wishing people thought that of me "You make a really good girl / as girls go"

"What it Feels Like for a Girl" -Madonna
Okay, this one is sort of just obvious. While I'm not a big Madonna fan, there was that brief period in the late 90s when she decided to briefly foray into electronic or trip-pop and I did like a few songs. This one is about a guy secretly wishing he knew what it felt like to be a girl. Then it morphs (such a 90s word, right?) into Madonna signing about how great it is to be a girl. Now, as someone who's always been jealous of girls, I can relate.  

"One of the Guys" -Jenny Lewis
Now, I don't think this one was ever intended to thought of as having a transgender theme, I've always given it that meaning when I've listened to it. I mean, there is crossdressing in the video after all! Really, it's a song about gender roles and the frustration that comes when we we don't quite fit in with what's expected of us. For me the lyric "No matter how hard I try / to be just one of the guys / there's a little something inside that won't let me" reminds me of my own inability to be happy in the male role society assigned me at birth.

"The Longer I Wait" -All Girl Summer Fun Band
This is another one that the artist, a pretty fun female pop-punk band, All Girl Summer Fun Band, probably never intended to have anything to do with any remotely transgender related. But every time I hear "If you could see me now / the girl that I've become," I can't help but smile.

"Too Little Too Late" -Metric
Metric is one of my favorite bands and they've danced around queer subjects before, using sly kinda gender-fluid language to tell a sexy story. "Too Little Too Late" probably doesn't have anything to do with gender roles or being transgender, but I enjoy the lyric "Sure for the first time you're wearing the right clothes." I'm not entirely sure what Emily Haines may have intended, but to me that's how it always felt becoming a girl. Sure that I was finally wearing the right clothes, in the right role. Sure that I was who I was meant to be.

"Firewalker" - Liz Phair
A song that dates back to her early, almost Girly Sound days, "Firewalker" was once part of my collection as a really low quality live song. Honestly, I was surpised to hear a full studio version of it on her self 2003 self-titled album. At its core it's a song about defiance. While the lyrics may be a jilted lover castigating the one who hurt her, every time I hear it I always take that defiance to heart. To me it's all about being transgender, being unafraid and standing up to those who hurt you in the past or tried to keep you down. "My hopes are like embers / Lying around inside a fire bed / And your mind is a firewalker / It steps on them like they are dead but / I, I can grow in spite of all you know / You might not recognize me tomorrow / Yes I can change in spite of all they say / Become something strange and beautiful /Like joy, like joy." It almost makes me cry just type it here. It's like everything I could ever say to the hateful people back in Georgia.

Maybe I'll post some more when I find those songs that really move me, that make me sad or make me smile or make me feel alright. 

And beyond that, I just wanted to share some thoughts on music and why it's such an important part of my life.

Back when I was an awkward, unpopular, introverted teenager, Rock & Roll saved my life. It absolutely did. There were a couple times in junior high when I seriously thought about suicide. Those years were a terrible, horrible time in my life. I'd be terrorized and bullied at school, had no real friends, a generally unhappy home life and a whole heaping helping of gender confusion on top of that. Life was bad.

But, then I discovered music. Honestly, I'm not even sure how it really happened, but I think it started with a friend of mine trading me a copy of Stabbing Westward's 1993 album Ungod for a Warhammer 40K Imperial terminator figurine. Though I'd never heard the album, the concept of owning a CD of my own, especially one so blasphemous, was exhilarating.

Dorky past.

Cool, Rock & Roll future. 

Back in 1993 the only way I could play a CD was by borrowing headphones from my parents and playing it in the CD-ROM drive of our Windows 93 PC. Rock music was considered one of the worst of all sins. At my Southern Evangelical Christian school we were literally told that rock music derived from ancient African tribal music that was intended to summon demons. If you listened to rock music you would become possessed. And certainly you'd go to hell. Music could also lead to dancing, which somehow also led to pregnancy. Rock music was Satanic. Even so-called Christian-rock was looked upon with a wary eye. It didn't matter. I listened to my new CD anyway.

Ungod was an industrial album full of emotion; anger, sorrow, loss, pain, fury. I soaked it up like the lonely, sad, frustrated sponge of teenager I was. I hid the CD from my parents and started listening the the local radio stations when I could. There was RXR, a rock station and Chanel Z, which played alternative. Alternative struck more of a chord with me than rock, though I still liked some industrial and a bit of heavy metal too.

All that summer I saved up my cash, did extra chores and eventually, after a few months I purchased my very own Sony Discman. It was black and shiny and I loved the sound. It so crisp and clear. Plus it came with its own headphone so I could listen to my music any time. Slowly but surely, I started buying CDs of the songs I liked on the radio. Eventually, I stopped hiding them from my parents. My early collection included grunge like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, some more alternative stuff like Greenday, Cracker or R.E.M., and some punk bands too like Dead Kennedy's, The Ramones and Operation Ivy. Eventually, I found Garbage and fell in love. But I've told that story before.

The 90s was a good time for music. There weren't hair bands. Disco was dead. Pop music was easy enough to ignore. Hip hop hadn't quite yet become mainstream. And alternative rock was great for the weird, awkward and geeky kids to feel, for the first time in their lives, that they belonged. Our rock stars weren't gods. They were geeky kids just like us, with jeans and cheap sneakers and bad hair and glasses. All you had to do to be a rock star was just be yourself. Unlike hip hop, which felt like it was all just bragging, or R&B which was all just about fucking, alternative rock could be about anything. It was just about life and being okay with who you were. It was fun. I loved it.

Pictured: 90s rock stars.
And for the first time I had an escape. I had something that was just mine. It wasn't forced on me by my parents, it wasn't something I was dragged to, it was something that only I understood. And it made me cool. Cool kids were into music. Lame kids were into academics or sports or after school activities. I was into music. My days were spent pouring over song lyrics, album artwork and listening to the radio. I wrote letters to every address that was listed in my CDs and got cool postcards and stickers from bands. Eventually, I even made friends with other music-obsessed kids and at last I wasn't alone. I had friends, I had a tribe, I had a life, I met girls, I met other freaks and it was beautiful. I made it out of my teens okay.

You know, my live was saved by Rock & Roll.


  1. Most interesting post Faith. So pleased that music got you through. I find it chilling that someone near me could be going through a personal hell of any sort and I may not know. Even worse if they were going through a gender breakdown and didn't realise my gender position as I'm not out to more than immediate family.

    1. Thanks, Geraldine. Most people, I think, find something they can focus on that gets them through the rough times. Maybe it's gardening for some people or philatelics, or books. What was yours?

  2. Most interesting post Faith. So pleased that music got you through. I find it chilling that someone near me could be going through a personal hell of any sort and I may not know. Even worse if they were going through a gender breakdown and didn't realise my gender position as I'm not out to more than immediate family.