I identify my music as “transgender” in that it emits from my experience as a transgender person. Sometimes directly—I occasionally write songs specifically about transgender issues—but usually less directly. Here I deconstruct this musical identity in my work, and provide example songs to illustrate.
My primary goal as a musician is to strengthen the transgender community. The target audience is anyone who will listen. We can strengthen our community in two ways: Uplifting each other and telling our stories to the world. Both are required and my music does that. I aim to become a significant voice in the transgender community.
Writing Songs Directly About Transgender Issues
We (all musicians) usually write protest songs about specific issues. In my case I’ve written two that directly respond to a situation our community faces:
I wrote this in response to the passage of North Carolina’s HB2 restricting where my compatriots and I can use the bathroom. The song is livid, and you can hear it in the dissonance I employ in the song’s construction. But it is also about resistance; about standing up and demanding recognition and acceptance for whom one is. This has become my “transgender anthem”; I broadcast it (online) every Coming-Out Day and every Day of Empowerment.
More specific to transgender women: While most feminists support us, there is a vocal subset of feminists that really look down on transgender women. They quip that we can never be “real” women because we have never woken up with a “smelly vagina” (for those of us that do not have vaginas).
But their argument is actually more sophisticated and somewhat reasonable: They argue that anyone raised as a boy is more acculturated to “move among masculine power” than anyone reared as a girl. Given that we live in a patriarchal society, this acculturation is a real advantage they say. It probably is. Moreover, they regard this division as a “caste system” in which boundaries may never be crossed. Less defendable is their assertion that transgender women “just want attention”.
“Smelly Cunt” responds to this. I argue in the song that I experience the same fear of rape, and the same exclusion from equal pay and the “old boy’s network” that all women do. Therefore, I’m a woman because I experience the oppression women face. I also make it clear that the boundaries between sexes and between genders are not biologically and socially rigid; therefore sex/gender is not a “caste”. Finally, I make it clear that I’m not living a feminine life simply to get attention.
Writing Songs that Indirectly Draw From My Transgender Experience
The hormones I take dramatically impact my emotions. Feelings like love, anger, and sadness are more intense than I’ve ever experienced before. Writing music is a good, healthy outlet for expressing and processing these enhanced feelings. Furthermore, the hormones destabilized my already tenuous mood, so there is more emotional “dynamic range” in the music I produce now than in the past.
To my complete surprise, my sexuality evolved post-transition. Prior to that, I spent my whole life chasing women. Now I chase both women and men. I don’t know if this is due to taking estrogen or due to cultural forces, but the cause doesn’t really matter to me because I’m having a good time. Anyway, I’ve used music to explore psychosexual aspects of my life post-transition:
“Fuck Me, Kim Jong-Un”:
This is the first song I assume a first person sexualized feminine identity in—I’m not speaking as Emily but as a feminine sexual object. However, there is a role in the song for my male voice and the fact that I have a penis, making this song distinctly transgender in delivery. Basically, I mockingly adopt the Victorian stereotype of a woman who throws herself sexually toward powerful men—the stereotype of not being able to resist such men. In this case I throw myself in the song at Kim Jong-Un, while making fun of him in much sexualized terms. The fact that I’m biologically male increases the insult since I imagine North Korea is rather homophobic (just an assumption). The mix of speaking as biologically male and as a (Victorian-stereotyped) woman in the song is a uniquely transgender way to operate.
“You Can Drive the World”
Here I experiment with stereotypically feminine power in romantic relationships, about gaining advantage over a partner in the bedroom through submission and poise. But more generally it is about my realization that I’m happy with letting a partner be the (kindly) dominant figure in the relationship as long as I hold some power in the bedroom. So in that way it is about accepting a feminine role in the patriarchy. I detest the patriarchy, but part of my transition from man to woman involved experiencing the power of the patriarchy over me for the first time—and that experience validated my success in becoming a woman.
Despite this connection to the loss of male privilege, the particular partner I envisioned when I wrote this song is a woman, a very brave and strong one. She heads her household with poise against significant obstacles, and I’d join that household in a heartbeat. I fell in love with her; this is a love song.
The final aspect of this song that emerges from my transgender experience is that now that I am “out”, I’ve come out in other ways: I’m not afraid to speak my mind about my sexuality (or most anything for that matter). So I blatantly—and kindly—state in the song that “my agenda is to fuck (her)”.
Dating has been extremely difficult post-transition. A woman I deeply loved turned me down because I became a woman (I’m not sure if that was the only reason). Several guys who expressed interest in me as a transgender woman ended up being too chickenshit to meet me in public, so I didn’t waste my time worrying about them. I’m proud of who I am and will not accept a partner who won’t introduce me to their mother. But this frustration has been intense, and I wrote seven songs to express it:
My harmonies and counterpoint are complicated. I also favor intricate percussion. Some of this is to satisfy my intellect, but mostly it reflects that transgender life is emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually complex. Gender dysphoria of any type is a complicated experience; it is hard to describe and process. So I write music that is harder to process intellectually than standard punk, metal, and hardcore music.
Dissonance and Tension
Gender dysphoria is mental dissonance and extreme tension. So my music is dissonant and tense.
Reflecting on the fact that mental illness rates are high for the transgender community, as demonstrated by my own instability, I choose harmonies that are unstable. A technical example of this is that I rarely use power chords (first and fifth note of the scale played in the low register of a guitar). Instead I use parallel fourths in the same register (first and fourth note of the scale). This is more “gritty” and less harmonically stable, particularly because the root of the scale is unclear: Is the root the lower pitch note, or is it the higher pitch note with the 5th in the bass (an inverted power chord)? This uncertainty reflects how I often feel.
My cover of Rush’s “Animate” demonstrates my decision to reduce the harmonic stability from that in original arrangement. The chorus of the original recording does not use low-register parallel fourths. I do:
I repeat this method during the verse guitar part in my cover of “Poker Face”.
Covering Female-Identified Artists
Despite my masculine voice and masculine vocal range, I make a point to cover female-identified artists to express solidarity and respect. Women must constantly uplift each other in a patriarchal society, so I’m uplifting Madonna and Lady Gaga by covering their songs. This is an assertion of my womanhood, which I constantly feel I must do to survive living in a society that directs me to live as a man.
Punk and Hardcore
As a transgender woman, I’ve found the most support among musicians playing punk rock, metal, and hardcore. I perform and compose other forms of music as well, but “punk” is my community. “Punk” is my home.
Axis Evil featuring Napalm
“Napalm Fatale” is my current stage name, and “Axis Evil” is my previous one. I selected the latter to make fun of George W. Bush, and to mock those who consider transgender an evil thing. Because it is hard to abandon a brand once you’ve established it, I call the whole operation “Axis Evil featuring Napalm Fatale”. Please check out my albums “City of God” and “Light Me Up and Love the Bomb” at napalmfatale.bandcamp.com, and my website at axisevil.com. You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter at @napalmfatale.
The best way you can support the continued production of Gender Punk 360 is to purchase an Axis Evil digital album!