There's a lot of talk about the Olympia, WA band Girls Living Outside Society's Shit (better known as G.L.O.S.S.), and—musically—it's very well-deserved, as their five-song demo freakin' rips; but a handful are talking about them more because of their transgendered singer, Sadie Switchblade. A small handful can't seem to accept that there are some who don't feel connected to the traditional binary system of gender, let alone those whose identity perceptions flow freeform.
With the rise of "alternative music" in the media spotlight throughout the '90s, many a frat boy entered the fray, and the underground scene was almost wiped clean of everything Riot Grrrls fought for. It's as if punk politics never made any progress, with a growing slew of transphobic twits in the underground who forgot all about what bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Huggy Bear sang about: equality, fellowship, and liberation for all.
Now, I'm here to help remind many that there were always the epicene in the music scene—as fans, but also as musicians.
Billy Tipton began his career in jazz in 1936 as the bandleader of KFXR's house act. In 1938, he joined Louvenie's Western Swingbillies on KTOK, and during live sets at Kansas City's Brown's Tavern. In the 1940s, Tipton was touring the Midwest with Scott Cameron's band, and after a stint in Santa Barbara, CA, a talent scout from Tops Records heard him and signed him—as the Billy Tipton Trio—in 1957 for two albums of jazz standards—Sweet Georgia Brown and Billy Tipton Plays Hi-Fi on Piano.
The Billy Tipton Trio became the house band at the Holiday Hotel in Reno, NV, and though Tops Records invited the trio to record four more albums, Tipton declined the offers. After moving to Spokane, WA, he split his time between working as a talent broker and performing weekly at Allen's Tin Pan Alley, where he would often imitate Liberace and Elvis Presley. Billy retired in the 1970s due to arthritis, but what very few were aware of (and was not discovered until his death in 1989), was that William Lee Tipton was born Dorothy Lucille Tipton. As Tipton's music career expanded, he began binding his breasts and padding his pants to pass as male, later adopting his father's nickname of "Billy."
Christine Jorgensen was the first person in the United States to be known for undergoing sex reassignment surgery. A Bronx native, George William Jorgensen, Jr. was drafted into the US Army during World War II, but—after hearing of transition surgery in 1951—began her conversion into who she truly was. Upon travelling to Copenhagen, Denmark for the operation, she became the subject of a New York Daily News story in December of 1952, giving her instant celebrity.
Though mostly known for her off-Broadway roles (such as the 1962 play Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad), she released one 7" single in 1957; as well as one LP, Reveal, the following year. Jorgensen was the inspiration for Ed Wood's biopic Glen or Glenda, but was also the butt of the joke track by calypso singer The Charmer (a.k.a. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan), "Is She is or is She Ain't" (a play on Louis Jordan's "Is You is or is You Ain't My Baby").
Club singer Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy, who entertained under the name Coccinelle (French for "Ladybug"), was Europe's first publicized sexual reassignment case.
Born Jacques Charles Dufresnoy in Paris, she debuted at Chez Madame Arthur as a transgendered showgirl in 1953. After her 1958 trip to Morocco for vaginoplasty, she returned to France as a star, and appeared in Alessandro Blasetti's Europa di Note (1959); Los Viciosos, by Enrique Carreras (1964); and Pedro Olea's Días de Viejo Color (1968). While releasing a few 7"s and one album, she was also the subject of Italian singer Ghigo Agosti's hit, "Coccinelle."
The 1970s were a more accepting time, and many artists began to revolutionize gender politics and openly play with the gender spectrum.
One of the first to do this in rock 'n' roll was Wayne County, who later became Jayne County.
In 1972, County formed Queen Elizabeth, an early NYC proto-punk band, which was signed to Mainman Artistes (David Bowie's management firm), though nothing was ever recorded. County has claimed those Queen Elizabeth shows were the inspiration for Bowie's Diamond Dogs tour, and has often stated—with the support of many rock critics—that the song "Queenage Baby" was the model for Bowie's song "Rebel Rebel."
In 1974, Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys recorded a live set at one of the infamous "Wayne at the Trucks" shows, which included costume changes and lyrics that would one day influence GG Allin. In 1977, while living in London, he formed Wayne County and the Electric Chairs, who recorded a self-titled LP and the Blatantly Offensive EP, which contained the two tracks they are best known for: "Fuck Off" and "Toilet Love." It wasn't until living in Berlin in 1979 that Wayne became Jayne, and began publicly identifying as a woman. County returned to NYC in 1983, and is still playing the rock circuit today, though she calls Atlanta her current home.
Another '70s icon is disco queen Amanda Lear, and though she has never admitted to being a transsexual, she has been outed by many who were once close to her, including Salvador Dalí.
Though the year of her birth has been repeatedly disputed (often set at 1939, 1946, or 1950), her career began in the 1960s as a fashion model for trend luminaries such as Paco Rabanne, and she was the cover girl for Roxy Music's 1973 album For Your Pleasure. By 1977, she delved into her own music and released her debut LP, I am a Photograph. Staying in the dance music spotlight since, she also became a TV host in Italy and France.
Though always a champion for Gay Rights, she has denied the rumors that she was a transgendered male-to-female. Early on she claimed she began those rumors to gain attention for her records, but she was later quoted in Interview magazine stating that it was David Bowie who began to spread those lies. Famous transsexual entertainer, April Ashley, claims that she and Lear (whose birth name is Alain Tapp) were working together in transvestite shows in Paris' Madame Arthur and Le Carrousel. These stories have been corroborated by transsexual artists Romy Haag and Bibiana Fernández, though the truth is presently anyone's guess.
Rock and disco are not the only genres to house the unisexual.
There is Jordana LeSesne, who—in the world of drum 'n' bass—DJed and produced tracks under the pseudonym 1.8.7, and was listed as one of "20 Women Who Shaped the History of Dance Music" in Mixmag magazine.
Sadly, she was attacked and beaten in a transphobic hate crime by a group of men outside of Kent, OH's Robin Hood nightclub in February of 2000. Not to let anything get her down, she has since produced many more tracks from her new Seattle home under the name Jordana.
In the darkwave scene, there is Anna-Varney Cantodea, who fronts Sopor Æternus & The Ensemble of Shadows.
The outfit fluctuated from gothic neoclassical to symphonic metal, and the band kept pushing the envelope for dark music by even covering Judeo-Spanish traditional Sephardic music on their last LP, Mitternacht (2014). Though Anna identifies as female, she has not gone through sex reassignment surgery, and does not plan to.
The world of Celtic music has Alexander James Adams. He performed for 25 years under his birth name, Heather Alexander, with the last performance as Heather at Portland, OR's OryCon in 2006.
In 2007, after a transition to male, he released his first LP, Cat and the Fiddle, and has continued performing with Uffington Horse; as well as his new band, Tricky Pixie, with female singer-songwriter S.J. Tucker.
In hip-hop there is rapper Rocco Kayiatos, better known by his stage name Katastrophe.
He started out in 1997, competing in San Francisco poetry slams and later winning the 1998 Youth Speaks competition. He started creating beats in 2002, and began to rap over them, releasing Let's Fuck, Then Talk About My Problems and Fault, Lies, and Faultlines—on Sugartruck Recordings (2004) and Cherchez la Femme (2005), respectively. Like most rap stars, he has prospected other markets, such as founding Original Plumbing—the first magazine for and by trans men—with Amos Mac in 2009.
Of course, many reading this may be familiar with metalhead Keith Caputo, of Life of Agony, who became Mina Caputo in 2011.
While the band has not released a new album since 2005's Broken Valley (on Epic Records), they still reunite and tour once every few years. However, Mina continues to front and write music for The Neptune Darlings (which released Chestnuts & Fireflies in 2011), as well as having delivered a ton of solo albums since 1999.
Others not listed here, but worth a brief mention, are Baby Dee, Marie France, Cidny Bullens, Laura Jane Grace, Wendy Carlos, Barbra Amesbury, and Genesis P-Orridge.
The list goes on and on, but I hope this small sample is enough to convince you that music is something which goes way beyond gender, as well as an article that will help enlighten those that desperately need it.
Keep making music, ladies and gentlemen, whether you were born that way or not.