As news broke that Trump was rescinding Department of Justice guidelines to protect transgender students, I was immediately swept back in time, to the 1970’s and 80’s, when I was a terrified kid, walking the halls of a school in suburban Cleveland, terrified of going to the bathroom. There was no term “transgender” or even “non-binary” that I could cling to. There was no Internet where I could see if I was the only person on Earth who felt the way I did. I was all alone.
Going to the bathroom was just one issue. When your body and mind don’t align, it is totally unfathomable to whip out your penis and pee on command while shoulder to shoulder with other boys in an aisle of urinals. I wanted to pee sitting down. That felt natural. But the sole toilet stall was always occupied by kids sneaking smokes. Even when an empty one was available, the seat and floor were usually covered in urine, the basin backed up with crap, toilet paper and anything else boys could think of throwing in there. Boys will be boys you know.
On TV and in the movies, from Bosom Buddies to Tootsie, gender nonconformity was played for yucks. In music, from ‘Lola’ by The Kinks to ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ by Lou Reed, the gender blending characters on the streets of New York seemed a few planets away from Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
There’s a reason why the suicide rate is so damn high for trans youth. It sure beats getting picked on, laughed at, beat up and brutally murdered. When someone attacks the most precious part of your soul with laughs, words, knives or fists — they all hurt equally.
I have only been out of that closet, and into a more stylish one, for ten years. I have only been public for two years (once you post it to facebook, it’s kinda out there forever). This year, my eight year marriage ended and I walk alone into a very uncertain future. I began my 40’s as a single man; will I end my 40’s as a single woman? If I live my truth, will someone kill me to silence their fear and shame?
When headlines like the Trump ruling hit, and trans-shaming and discrimination get more and more legitimized in Mainstream America, I begin to feel trapped once again, totally alone, walking through those hallways at school.
Bathroom Bills are not about protecting the children. The real threat to your daughter isn’t a trans woman who wants to urinate safely in the ladies’ room, it’s the man who’s already in the men’s room with your little boys. I am not talking about gay men, I am talking about damaged men, many of whom were trespassed upon themselves and now act out as violent sexual predators. They look straight and act straight in public, but are filled with shame about desires they think they can’t control. I am not your problem. The threat is more likely to be your priest. Your coach. Your close relative. And the threat is more likely to be in a place more secluded than a public bathroom, coming from someone who already has access to your children, and their trust.
But despite the countless arrests and headlines, from Church scandals to Penn State, trans people like me are still easier targets, because the real predators look and act just like the evangelical men and women whose kids they violate. A man in a dress, on the other hand, scares and arouses the average Conservative — it’s why they are so obsessed with stripping trans and gay people of their rights. If Conservatives aren’t allowed to have fun and live authentically, nobody should.
Before I could talk to anyone about my gender identity, rock stars talked to me about theirs. From the songs, the videos and the album covers, Rock and Roll did a better job than literature back in the day to show me a world way beyond the borders of my town. Bowie, Prince, The New York Dolls, Dead or Alive — they didn’t dress the way I wanted to, but they dressed the way they wanted to — and the inclusion of makeup, fishnets, dresses, and bikini briefs at least comforted me that they were legitimate ways of expression beyond polo shirts and Sears Tuff Skins jeans.
When the 90’s hit, the ice caps began to melt. While the gender blending New Wave, New Romantic and Glam Metal looks gave way to grunge, gender blending lyrics gave me further hope that not only was I not a pariah, I actually might be desirable and perhaps someday I would fit in.
As a fond fuck you to Trump, Jeff Sessions anyone trying to take away my rights to self express, here are the songs that saved my life then and will keep me strong today.
Hole • Beautiful Son / Nirvana • In Bloom
“He had ribbons in his hair, and lipstick was everywhere, you look good in my dress…”
Nirvana was the biggest band on the planet. Kurt Cobain wore a dress in the video for ‘In Bloom’ to shake off the Jock Assholes in the crowd at his concerts. And then Courtney revealed there was even more to the picture…
The Wonder Stuff • Welcome to the Cheap Seats
“Oh in another world, yeah, he could wear a dress…”
The Wonder Stuff were already one of my favorite bands two albums before this single kicked off their third album. That line became my lifeline…
Dead or Alive • Far Too Hard
“Hey there take a look at me, no I couldn’t look no better…”
Dead or Alive never sang about gender non conformity, but their look totally celebrated it. The late Pete Burns was the flamboyant lead singer but drummer Steve Coy had the red locks I’ll Do Anything, Anything to have…
The Pierces • Lights On
“Here’s my dress to try on baby, let me be your man. I will call you pretty darlin’, tell me what I am.”
The Pierces were also one of my favorite acts before this lyric slyly emerged from a deep cut on their breakthrough album Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge. This song gave me hope, that perhaps there is a woman out there who would embrace a man with a vibrant feminine side. I will keep this one playing in my heart as I re-enter the dating world.
The Bogmen • Suddenly
“I cling to clothes, she used to wear, then I tried them on and styled my hair.”
I’ll admit, I have “reverse paranoia” or the “fear of following someone”. When walking behind a woman on the sidewalk, I will often switch paths or move in front of her out of fear of startling or frightening her. So a comedic tale about a man who really can’t let a relationship go should be out of my wheelhouse, but this one is truly spectacular on every level.
Blur • Girls and Boys
“Girls who are boys, who like boys to be girls, who do boys like they’re girls, who do girls like they’re boys…”
This monster hit helped tear down the walls between the genders — this anything goes world was one I longed to live in.
Against Me! • Because of the Shame
“Because of the shame, associated with intimacy, I am numbing myself completely…”
Everyone always cites ‘The Ocean’ as THE quintessential ‘trans anthem’ in the Against Me! catalog before Laura Jane Grace took her private journey public in the pages of Rolling Stone. But this track, Springsteen-esque on purpose because the ill-fated real life subject was a Boss fan, struck me for how brutally honest it was about human emotions and what we do to push them down. No man in punk rock ever sang so honestly. And now we know why…
I share these songs because they kept me going, comforted and alive when I felt all alone. I share them for every gender non binary person who might find this blog someday. I share these songs for EVERYONE who finds this to embrace and support anyone they see who expresses themselves at a different point along the gender spectrum.
Not everyone on the gender spectrum is transgender.
It does not matter if they are gender queer, a cross dresser, a drag queen or someone letting loose for Burning Man — let’s celebrate our differences. Live and let live.
And when it comes to the bathroom — pee and let pee — in privacy.
Learn more about GLAAD Trans Youth Family Allies.
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