Music is a deep expression of the soul. But like every other creative field, the music industry can push minority voices into the background.
We’ve compiled a list of 9 trans musicians we’re obsessed with—including new faces and veteran performers—and some tracks of theirs you should listen to.
Whether singing solo, fronting Antony and the Johnsons or lending her vocals to Björk and Hercules & Love Affair, Anohni’s fragile vibrato is enchanting as she sings about love, alienation and gender fluidity.
Where to start: “Fistful of Love”
Amid a chorus of soulful horns and electric guitars, Hegarty makes an abusive relationship feel like a triumphant love story.
Justin Vivian Bond
Mx. Vivian exploded onto the New York cabaret scene as Kiki DuRane, a boozy lounge singer whose monologues could frame her husky singing voice as comedy, tragedy or a brutal history lesson. Bond’s solo recording career has brought that sense of drama and nostalgia to re-imagined cover songs by both popular and forgotten songwriters.
Where to start: “The Golden Age of Hustlers”
A cover of trans songwriter Bambi Lake’s intimate illustration of the queens and rent boys of San Francisco, this is the perfect showcase for Bond’s gritty-beautiful style of musical storytelling.
Canadian singer-songwriter Spoon mixes their earthy notes of country and folk with layered electronic beats and gorgeous harmonies. In addition to their musical talents, Spoon has been outspoken about the difficulty they’ve faced fitting into either side of the gender binary – prompting them to choose gender-neutral pronouns “after years of fighting to be called ‘he.’”
Where to start: “I Will Be a Wall”
Featured in My Prairie Home, a 2013 musical-documentary about Spoon’s troubled childhood, Spoon sings about protecting a child with musical notes, wrapping the song in horns and background vocals that feel like a warm hug.
Jayne County’s life is a wild collection of post-Vietnam, pre-AIDS alternative histories: a pioneer of the early New York punk scene, a survivor of the Stonewall riots and a star of Andy Warhol’s Factory. Although she is rarely given her due, the influence of County’s music and outsized stage persona can be seen everywhere from David Bowie to Divine to Joan Jett.
Where to start: “Rock N Roll Cleopatra”
Like her own refusal to confine her identity to norms of female propriety, County pays tribute to ancient history’s most tantalizing rebel and declares her unquestionably punk.
Katastrophe (aka Rocco Kayiatos) is more than just a rapper. He is a poet, a motivational speaker, co-creator of the world’s first magazine for trans men (Original Plumbing) and, last but not least, a total babe. His lyrics speak to living not only as a gender outlaw but as an outsider to sex, wealth and education.
Where to start: “I’m Sucha”
Katastrophe is a poet first. His words are meant to be heard and digested, not drowned out by a beat. This track off his most recent album shows off his skills as a concise wordsmith and his passion as a political firebrand.
Vaginal Creme Davis
Through her writing, music, painting and performance art, Vaginal Davis found a voice in the 1980s punk scene of Southern California similar to Jayne County’s on the East coast. Davis rejects both conventional masculinity and femininity, bringing a sense of high art intellectualism to both the punk and drag circles in which she performs.
Where to start: “Queens (Make the World Go Round)”
This track is a great example of the influence of ska on the West Coast’s punk sound and the influence of Davis’ ideas about gender on a scene that rarely made space for the feminine power of a queen.
Hailing from Harlem, New York City, rapper/radio host Splash-T (a.k.a. Jocelyn Boyd) has a loose flow and ear for slick samples reminiscent of La Bella Mafia-era Lil’ Kim. In addition to finding time to shut down some Caitlyn Jenner haters, Splash-T dropped two mixtapes on BandCamp and the occasional fire freestyle on her YouTube channel.
Where to start: “Street Life”
One of several Splash-T tracks that reference the iconic soundtracks of Quentin Tarantino, “Street Life” weaves in and out of a hook from the theme from Jackie Brown.
Classical composer and instrumentalist Wendy Carlos has probably achieved the most “legitimate” musical success of anyone on our list. Carlos rose to fame in 1968 with Switched-On Bach, an album of Bach compositions performed phrase-by-phrase on a Moog synthesizer. She is perhaps best known, however, for her film scores for A Clockwork Orange, The Shining and the original Tron film.
Where to start: “Dies Irae (Theme from The Shining)”
Carlos’ score in the opening credits to The Shining sets the tone and captures the essence of the entire film: deceptive, eery and incredibly unsettling.
YouTube star, political activist and singer-songwriter, Cassata made waves this year after calling out American Idol for inviting him to compete on the show (after rejecting him previously) so that they could boost ratings with a transgender narrative.
Where to start: “American Idol: Turn Down 4 What?”
Although not technically an example of his musical talents, Cassata’s response to the reality show’s invitation to exploit him as a token trans identity is a bold and brilliant takedown that must be watched.