Thursday, October 13, 2011

Being a Transgendered Musician

Why would a girl in a low paid undervalued day job want to consider herself a musician?  Good question and one I keep asking myself over and over again. I am after all, a long way from earning my first million, or even my first thousand.  Why bother, it’s such an effort and being a Mom and a Teacher’s Assistant leaves precious little time for anything else apart from coping with life.  ‘Coping’ that’s a word that comes up all the time in my therapy sessions usually in the form of ‘How are you coping?’  I always get asked about whether I’m keeping any time and space for myself.  Music happens to be my coping strategy, confined to that 2% of my time that is ‘coping with life’.

I guess that I have been a musician since the age of 9 when I picked up my first guitar and strummed a ‘G’ chord.  Learning to play was physically painful.  I had bleeding finger pads and mangled nails because like most beginners I fretted too hard (to little effect) and thrashed the **** out of my oversized jumbo guitar in order to make as much noise as I physically could.  I hated guitar picks.  They came between me and my instrument and I spent ages trying to extract them from my guitar when  they disappeared like Alice down the sound hole. I used my fingernails. When strings broke as they inevitably did, the backs of my hands got lacerated.  I also used to self-harm.  Maybe that was the initial attraction.  Playing music hurt and it eased the pain.  Once I’d added a few more chord shapes there didn’t seem much point in just playing if I couldn’t sing as well.  That eased the pain too.

Round about the time I was 11 I started to dress less conventionally too.  I was looking for clothes that didn’t scream ‘boy’ or ‘girl’.  I wore mainly bell bottoms which I flared myself by stitching floral fabric into the outseams, jewellery and kaftans.  Beginning to sew and make my own clothes helped me to cultivate my own individuality wearing off the peg clothes forced me to be someone I wasn’t comfortable with.  I hated being identified as a boy but I was too scared to be open and be identified as a girl.    It was the same with singing other people’s songs, they belonged to other people and they didn’t fit.  I soon started to write my own lyrics and use my newly learned guitar skills to accompany myself singing them. I wanted to grow up and play music but not have a gender.  Gender was too painful to have.

When I began my transition it was just such a relief.  Now I could wear regular girl clothes.  I wish I could say that the great thing was that I didn’t stand out any more.  Sadly, as many of us find, it doesn’t quite work that way.  You don’t spend the best part of 40 years being a guy, however reluctantly without learning how to survive and not be called names.  It hurt like hell as a teen when people laugh and say you walk and talk like a girl.  I ought to have been glad but I took it as the insult it was intended to be.  As I grew up I learned how to cover all that up and survive by trying to deepen my voice and present myself in a way that doesn’t stand out.  The ironic thing is that when I finally transitioned I’ve had to spend the last 7 years unlearning it.  Wearing regular girl clothes became a battle to melt into the background and to be seen as no different to anyone else.  Being a singer became a battle to be identified as a female artist.

Jane on stage

Of late I’ve come to realise that having achieved that, you can start to express yourself, do things your way even though you have to learn how to be like everyone else first.  I write and sing about what I know, about being transgendered, about feeling hurt, about the people who put me down and the experiences I have.  If you were there with me or against me and you’re reading this, then like it or not, you’ll be in my songs.  These days I don’t mind being identified as a transgendered musician even if it means some ridicule or unwanted attention of the wrong sort.  I don’t know how long that will last.  How long will I want to put my head above the parapet and put my issues into my songs?  As long as it’s painful or raw?  Until complete my transition?  Until I meet that dream somebody and decide to ‘settle down’? Whilst ever ‘coping with life’ means ‘coping with being trans’?  I really don’t know.

If that ever happens, maybe I’ll just want to be accepted as a singer/songwriter, period.  Until that time comes, this is me, Transgendered musician, dress, guitar/bass, heels and a deep than expected voice.  I am what I am :)

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