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Transgender Songs
September 11, 2011 4:07 AM   Subscribe

Patti Smith: "I always enjoyed doing transgender songs. That's something I learnt from Joan Baez..." From a little bio-girl's plea "I'm A Boy", through "Lola" and a "Walk On The Wild Side", to Smith's transstraight take on "Gloria", songwriters dig trans people. Much earlier still, The Charmer took his shot at Christine Jorgensen, who "went abroad, and came back a broad", with "Is She Is Or Is She Ain't". The Charmer, no "Sweet Transvestite" himself, also plays a mean fiddle (Mendelssohn actually). ♫ "And if you want some fun, take Oh Bloody Blotter." ♫

Dude looks like a lady? No way.

Elsewhere, the hate continues.
posted by Ardiril (53 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm A Boy, Sims 2 style
posted by Ardiril at 4:23 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had a friend called Joe, when friends were hard to find.
posted by Lorc at 5:07 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


They're rolling in from my fringe forums. I'm A Boy, again. Stick around for the closing credits.
posted by Ardiril at 5:10 AM on September 11, 2011


I just love Young James Dean. Also Sex Changes (fan video) is kinda neat for playing with the trans narrative but actually being about something else.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:27 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Michfest

Oh yeah, some of the "radical" feminists among the festies have been particularly fragrant this year.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:28 AM on September 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


They pretty much have earned their hate-group status.
posted by Ardiril at 5:38 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's also the majestic My Vagina by NOFX ('and when I wipe my ass / I go from front to back / 'cause I don't want a bladder infection...'), the well-meant-but-full-of-utterly-derp-assumptions As Girls Go by Suzanne Vega, and (dear god) Homemade Sex Change ('I want a cunt and I want it now!') by Rachel Stamp, which the Internet has too much taste to have on YouTube.
posted by emmtee at 5:47 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


dude looks like a lady by aerosmith.
posted by the cuban at 6:03 AM on September 11, 2011


If you're going to talk about transgender music, you really really must include little known spoken word and music band Athens Boys Choir, who will either thrill you or make your hair stand on end, or maybe both.
posted by hippybear at 6:17 AM on September 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


dude looks like a lady by aerosmith. - No way. :)
posted by Ardiril at 6:31 AM on September 11, 2011


No Hedwig love yet?
posted by gingerbeer at 7:06 AM on September 11, 2011


Aside from perhaps Exquisite Corpse or Angry Inch, Hedwig doesn't have that many songs in it which actually deal with transgenderism.

But those two songs are pretty excellent, I do admit. (As are most of the songs in that show. There aren't many plays which would draw me back to doing a theater project, but if I could find the right group to stage Hedwig with, I'd do it tomorrow.)
posted by hippybear at 7:14 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Dukes of Stratosphear - Have You Seen Jackie?
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:21 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dibs on Yitzhak!
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:24 AM on September 11, 2011


Hedwig does not have a very enlightened view of transgendered people, really. I still totally love it (♥ Origin of Love), but I wouldn't really want to include it in a discussion about music dealing with transgender stuff, except as a little caveated aside like this.
posted by byanyothername at 7:25 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I Wish I Were a Boy by Lesley Gore in 1964.
posted by swift at 7:31 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't really describe "Lola" as having a very enlightened view of transgender people... At least Hedwig includes songs from a trans perspective, rather than describing trans women as unknowable, possibly duplicitous, others.

But I also think that there's a difference between an artist taking on a different gender for artistic and expressive purposes, which loads of artists, male and female, have done, either to cover a song that they liked, or to tell a particular narrative, and a song that's about a trans person or some part of the trans experience.

Not that one can't find inspiration or validation in cross-gender songs, whether for same-sex love or transgender acceptance, but I don't see the same intent there.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:38 AM on September 11, 2011


Well, technically, Hedwig isn't a transperson, per se, as far as I understand it.

Hansel underwent his operation in order to be able to flee East Germany, not because he felt he was born a woman in a man's body. His songs about that operation in the show are filled with anger and frustration, not with discover and joy at finally having his gender match his brain.

Even at the end of the show, we don't find Hedwig marching forth as a healthy female. We find a surgically ambiguously sexed person facing the world with his own true face for the first time.

Anyway, I am certainly not an authority on transsexuality. But I agree that Hedwig isn't really a trans story.
posted by hippybear at 7:48 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Agreed not the happiest of stories, but still a transgender story, no? Genderqueer? Not that there are a lot of positive narratives out there in the world, especially in popular culture.

I am also, I think, missing the point of this FPP, may have different understandings of some of the terms deployed here, and confused by the Farrakhan tag, and should perhaps bow out.
posted by gingerbeer at 8:08 AM on September 11, 2011


Psychotic Youth playing "Japanese Boy"
posted by dunkadunc at 9:21 AM on September 11, 2011


From a little bio-girl's plea "I'm A Boy"

Wait, what? The song is sung from the perspective of a cis-gendered biological boy whose parents force him to dress as a girl so he'll match his other siblings, if you want to get technical.
posted by anazgnos at 9:23 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


In one of my favorite pieces of writing of all time, Lester Bangs, calls Van Morrison's denial that "Madame George" has anything to do with a transvestite ("at least, as far as he knows, he is quick to add") "bullshit."

I know this is not the same as transgendered, but think it's a worthwhile mention, and a beautiful song.

He goes on to say "in a way, Van is right when he insists it's not about a drag queen...it's about a person, like all the best songs, all the greatest literature."
posted by butterteeth at 9:58 AM on September 11, 2011


anagnos: The lyrics to I'm A Boy don't make sense if Bill were a bio-boy. (Cis-gendered is the wrong word regardless of gender.)

"My name is Bill and I'm a head case."

If his ma won't admit he is a boy, she would not have named him Bill. Thus, the child named himself Bill. We can imagine that his original birth certificate reads Wilhelmina. After all, a 60s british hospital is not going to mess with a birth certificate no matter crazy the mother is.

As a bio-girl, however, the lyrics make perfect sense.

Also, remember this is Townshend, we're talking about. He would not let a detail like that escape him, nor the irony of pretty Roger Daltrey singing as a bio-girl wishing she were a boy.

I am happy to entertain your counter-argument. RSVP
posted by Ardiril at 11:08 AM on September 11, 2011


I have proudly attended Michigan Womyn's Festival and hope to do so again. To imagine that it has something to do with "hate" is saddening and bizarre. I'm not going to stick around and defend it right now (because it's too wearying), but equating a bunch of XX-chromosomed lesbians camping out and listening to music with murderers of transpeople is utterly disgusting, intellectually lazy and you bet: lesbophobic. And with that, I'm out of here, so carry on.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:09 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


According to Wikipedia: The song was originally intended to be a part of a rock opera called 'Quads' which was to be set in the future where parents can choose the sex of their children. The idea was later scrapped, but this song survived and was later released as a single.The family in the story asked for four girls, but instead got three girls and one boy. This song is the boy's lament at his mother's refusal to acknowledge that he is a boy.
posted by jrossi4r at 11:17 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nothing like showing up, lobbing a grenade into a thread, and then leaving right away so you don't have to address any counterpoint or even have a conversation about it, is there Wordwoman?
posted by hippybear at 11:18 AM on September 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'll give Hedwig and "Origin of Love" the benefit of the doubt. I would give Myra Breckiinridge the benefit of the doubt if she sang. Hell, I would give Chaz the benefit of doubt if he sang "Just Like Jesse James".

And for goodness sake: Yitzhak. (AOK!)

Wordwoman: the usual non-defense. Yawn. The notion of intersectionalism is totally lost on you people. Feminist transphobia goes far beyond words when it refuses aid at cisgender-segregated shelters and sexual assault support centers. If you go that far, why should we doubt you would go further? I'll bet some among you would even wish to exclude the Womyn Of Color.

jrossi4r: Unfortunately that wiki article does not cite that claim. I know it's hard to wrap your mind around but when you dig into the lyrics you will see what I mean.
posted by Ardiril at 11:35 AM on September 11, 2011


Oh, and lesbo-phobic? We wouldn't be accepting the transstraights in that case. Not every trans person is a transfag.
posted by Ardiril at 11:39 AM on September 11, 2011


Alice Donut: My Boyfriends Back.
posted by yesster at 11:49 AM on September 11, 2011


No mention yet of the sublime Antony and the Johnsons?

Have For Today I Am A Boy.

Count me as one of those who sees 'I'm a Boy' as being from the viewpoint of a bio-boy who is being dressed as a girl. I'm sure I've seen an interview with Townsend where he states that.

And I'm not totally sure I get how 'Gloria' is a transgender song. Can someone expand on that?
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:17 PM on September 11, 2011


I am happy to entertain your counter-argument. RSVP

jrossi's cite, which you appear to dismiss, is widely printed in Who biographies and album liner notes. There is an elaborate conceit to the song - that the boy is not allowed to act like a boy because his parents wanted all girls. Your crypto-analysis is fine but there's no reason to privelege it over the widely known background to the song of which you are unaware and seemingly uninterested.

It's not unfair to assume some trans-sympathy on the part of Townshend, who was never at a loss for sexual confusion in his work, but I think he was a lot more interested in servicing his quirky little literary conceit than making a revolutionary statement about gender in that particular song.
posted by anazgnos at 12:25 PM on September 11, 2011


Ardiril: "anagnos: The lyrics to I'm A Boy don't make sense if Bill were a bio-boy. (Cis-gendered is the wrong word regardless of gender.)

"My name is Bill and I'm a head case."

If his ma won't admit he is a boy, she would not have named him Bill. Thus, the child named himself Bill. We can imagine that his original birth certificate reads Wilhelmina. After all, a 60s british hospital is not going to mess with a birth certificate no matter crazy the mother is.

As a bio-girl, however, the lyrics make perfect sense.

Also, remember this is Townshend, we're talking about. He would not let a detail like that escape him, nor the irony of pretty Roger Daltrey singing as a bio-girl wishing she were a boy.

I am happy to entertain your counter-argument. RSVP
"

The thing I think you're missing in interpreting this song is that Forced-fem[inization] or petticoat punishment is a very old trope, a subset of domination and humiliation 'literature', and a genre in which the target is often, but not always, a child. Add to that that first person narrators are almost always imperfect (of course, his mum knows he's a boy; if not where's the humiliation.).

And, yes, this is Townshend we are talking about. I think we can assume he had some knowledge of this kind of fiction even before the internet. Also, he does display a lot of his psyche in his songs, more than most, and I think this song has a lot in common with the theme of "Tommy". It couldn't write it about someone else! (Though that doesn't mean his mum was a total psycho like in the song, just we're venerable when young.)
posted by Webnym at 12:46 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hope that Webnym is typing using autocorrect. Either that, or I completely don't understand how being venerable when we're young has anything to do with the rest of the comment.
posted by hippybear at 12:51 PM on September 11, 2011


hippybear: "I hope that Webnym is typing using autocorrect. Either that, or I completely don't understand how being venerable when we're young has anything to do with the rest of the comment."

Acccckkkk. Yeah, OK, Vulnerable!! (That's not the only typo; even I've found the 'He' that became an 'It', and I can't proof my own writing at all.)

But we are all venerable, even when young, right?
posted by Webnym at 12:56 PM on September 11, 2011


Joe Jackson, Fit.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:01 PM on September 11, 2011


Sup wordwoman. In the unlikely event that you return to this thread I hope you'll note that in my link upthread I was careful not to label all of Michfest as haters. And if you didn't mean it that way, to be clearer: it is a subset of festies that are dangerous, hateful transphobes, and a small subset at that. Most festies, it is my understanding, range from either indifferent to supportive of trans women. (I am a trans lady btw.)

Also, has anyone done Cherry Lips yet? Okay, I'ma mention Cherry Lips. Not only is it a great song based on a great book (which yeah, isn't as real as it was originally purported to be, but still rang giant church bells with me) but it's written by Shirley Manson, who as far as I'm concerned is completely amazing and very possibly invented the whole concept of "sexy", humankind reproducing via asexual budding prior to her adulthood.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:16 PM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ardiril. I just came back to add, I think your interpretation of I'm a Boy would make the song a whole lot more fun, but I don't think it is what Townshend had in mind.
posted by Webnym at 2:02 PM on September 11, 2011


Meanwhile, auntie pixelante addresses the issue through satirical videogame rather than song.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 2:10 PM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jayne County : Man enough to be a woman ; Are you a boy or are you a girl
posted by Abinadab at 4:37 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


"bio-girl"

"bio-boy"

*twitch*
posted by jiawen at 7:47 PM on September 11, 2011


"Six Million Dollar Man"

"Bionic Woman"

*cheesy 70s television sound effect*
posted by hippybear at 7:53 PM on September 11, 2011


Let me just encourage everyone to read Patti Smith's book, JUST KIDS, which is truly amazing.
posted by newdaddy at 8:42 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hansel underwent his operation in order to be able to flee East Germany, not because he felt he was born a woman in a man's body. His songs about that operation in the show are filled with anger and frustration, not with discover and joy at finally having his gender match his brain.

Even at the end of the show, we don't find Hedwig marching forth as a healthy female. We find a surgically ambiguously sexed person facing the world with his own true face for the first time.

Anyway, I am certainly not an authority on transsexuality. But I agree that Hedwig isn't really a trans story.


Interesting, that's not really the way I read it. Hedwig is certainly a complicated and not-straightforward trans story, but it never even occurred to me to think of the character as not transsexual. I mean, would you really think of her as a man? As for the reasoning behind Hansel's sex change, there's a whole lot of unreliable narrator going on, employed for variably hilarious and poignant effect.

But isn't the anger (and the title!) all about the frustrating limitations of "what [Hedwig's] got to work with?" The androgyne who faces the world at the end of the story is perhaps "technically" more genderqueer than female, but hey, people get to call their own shots on where they feel they fit on the gender continuum, regardless of how it fits with traditional presentation, right?
posted by desuetude at 11:20 PM on September 11, 2011


Elsewhere, the hate continues.

On this subject, this extraordinary blog popped up on twitter today. I'm seeing this sort of stuff a lot lately, and the level of personal attacks and "naming and shaming" seems to have stepped up; someone said recently that as mainstream feminism crowds these people out their hate will get more and more extreme, and I have to agree. Feels like it may all end in tears.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:23 PM on September 11, 2011


I recall seeing a MP3 of a recording of Is She Or Is She Ain't made by a younger Malcolm X, back when he was a calypso singer, floating around the thrift-shop exotica MP3 blogs a few years ago.
posted by acb at 2:04 AM on September 12, 2011


Actually, never mind. I misremembered Farrakhan as Malcolm X.
posted by acb at 2:05 AM on September 12, 2011


"On this subject, this extraordinary blog..."
posted by ArmyOfKittens

Extraordinary? you are not fucking kidding, that is fucking horrendous, and the comments are unreal in their nastiness.
posted by marienbad at 3:29 AM on September 12, 2011


Louis Farrakhan: even douchey way back then.
posted by Theta States at 7:22 AM on September 12, 2011


I saw someone link to various blogs on facebook, and it is quite obvious there is a vocal component of Michfest that has now begun public character assassinations of trans women and are encouraging violence and malice towards them.
However much fun you have there, Michfest is long-since tainted and should be avoided by ALL women. Let it smoulder in it's own hatred and die out like a shameful ember of the 20th century feminism wars.
posted by Theta States at 7:43 AM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


"*cheesy 70s television sound effect*"

hippybear, your point is...?
posted by jiawen at 10:58 AM on September 12, 2011


hippybear, your point is...?

That transsexuals are superheroes?
posted by Theta States at 11:41 AM on September 12, 2011


David Bowie's She's Got Medals.
posted by applemeat at 4:57 AM on September 13, 2011


Shit, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival is still hung up in this crap? They were doing this 25 years ago, when I decided not to go to any event where people were so hung up on the technicalities of gender that they were missing the point of any gathering short of Jesus Camp.
posted by QIbHom at 11:02 AM on September 13, 2011


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