a smelly cunt and a mission from God

Yesterday I received a firm reminder of why I write this blog, and why I write the songs I do:

The message came from Drew Arriola-Sands, the fabulous singer of Trap Girl. But that is beside the point. The important thing is how she referred to me in the birthday greeting.

“Smelly Cunt” is a song I wrote about MtF transgender issues that I’ve promoted among the trans community. Drew knows my work through that promotion effort and knows the song. She knows about my efforts to bring together southern California transgender/non-binary musicians for mutual support (although she is doing a much better job of that than me as the founder of Transgress Fest).

But it’s funny that she identified me by the song. I now may never move beyond that in the punk community! Here is the tune, from my debut album “City of God”:

The lyrics respond to the declaration by some feminists that transgender women are not “real” women because we never have experienced the discomfort of a smelly vagina. I assert that we experience the same oppression under the patriarchy that cisgender women do—rape, unequal pay, etc; and therefore are in essence real woman.

But being the punk-ass I am, I use the rudest possible lyrics to express my anger and my point.

But I’m on a mission here: My music and my prose seeks to uplift our community and explore the transgender experience, at least my slice of it. Please see my post “this is transgender music”, and my introduction to this blog “about this blog and my forthcoming book” for more details of this effort.

Moreover, I see this activity as a mission from God. Last March I took a week off from work, and expressed big plans to start writing music booking software; intending to change that industry. Then I promptly injured my foot and found myself painfully bedridden for a day. While laying there bored the thought of writing this blog/book entered my mind and consumed me—as if the Universe knocked me off my feet to get my attention—to redirect my focus. Next day I started the blog and the physical pain immediately went away.

At a later date I drafted “prophet with a lowercase ‘p’”, where I outline my philosophy that activists like Gandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. express a far more prophetic role than, for example, the ancient patriarchs of the Old Testament. I argue that anyone who works for the liberation and advancement of a community lives a similarly prophetic experience.

But yesterday I found myself generally discouraged. I’m unemployed, and an employer just turned me down (after a lengthy initial interview) simply for my lack of a PhD., despite the fact that I’m beyond qualified for the job and no legal requirement mandated I hold one for the position. So Drew’s blunt birthday greeting cheered me up—reminding me what I’m really doing with my life—reminding me of my mission.

Postscript

I’m performing “Smelly Cunt” on the first night of Transgress Fest 2017 next month, along with my transgender anthem “Stand”. If you are in Southern California, please come to the show!

perhaps my stage presence is too masculine… (part 2)

In my recent post “perhaps my stage presence is too masculine… (part 1)”, I ask whether I move too much like a guy while performing, and ask whether I care.

I worked out my answers to both questions: Yes, and yes.

The video posted below shows the problem: My movement to the music flows from my chest on up (masculine), rather than from my hips (feminine). I want to drive my motion from the hips to produce more feminine fluidity and curve.

And now that I’ve observed this, I feel deeply uncomfortable that I’m not achieving the more feminine display. It just doesn’t “feel right”.

What I really need to do is watch other female musicians play guitar while simultaneously singing, to see what they do with their bodies.

Also, in all the music videos I’ve posted on this blog so far, I wear flats. This was so I could jump around for the performance of “Voice in the Distance”. I should see what I can do wearing platform heels (I won’t jump around, that’s for sure).

Here is a video featuring my arrangements of “Enjoy the Silence” and “La Isla Bonita”. The second song is a samba, so the call for significant hip motion proves especially pronounced:

vocal frequency response

I now can speak consistently for an hour in a feminine voice—decent pitch, resonance, and inflection—before needing to rest. Moreover, my voice now passes on the phone.

So my voice therapist and I decided to tackle my singing range, to feminize that as well. (Followers of Axis Evil know I sing with a masculine voice despite functioning in all other parts of my life using a feminine one).

I needed data to see where I stand currently:

Starting at D3 (146.832 Hz), which lies in the gender-neutral pitch range, I recorded myself singing the words “I am Emily” up the scale in half-step intervals until D5 (587.330 Hz). (But I couldn’t make it that far in practice). I used a synthesizer to provide the pitch at each interval.

I then cut the synthesizer track and ran the vocal track through a frequency analysis algorithm to get a frequency response (Bode) plot:

As you can see from the plot, I can hold it up to about middle C, but can’t currently sustain volume beyond that.

Good baseline information.

the one song I kept (artistic synthesis)

I’ve released two rock albums since transitioning. Moreover, these are the only albums I’ve ever released. I wrote all the songs for these albums post-transition… except one. Here I talk about that one and why I kept it.

The song is called “Voice in the Distance” and it appears on my debut album “City of God”.

First, it makes more sense to look at the songs I left behind, rather than the one I kept. I wanted a musical reset since the emotional upheaval that accompanied my transition drove the construction of “City of God”. I developed a new sound at that time and wanted to leave my old sound behind, just like I was developing a new (public) identity and leaving my old one behind.

ASIDE: The intersection of my transgender experience and several songs on both my albums “City of God” and “Light Me Up and Love the Bomb” is explored in the post “this is transgender music” if you are interested.

So that explains why I did not keep most of my old songs. But what about “Voice in the Distance”? Why did I retain and promote it?

First and foremost, I thought it was the best song I had written pre-transition and worth preserving in an artistic sense. Moreover, it anticipated the sound I was to develop post-transition. So musically it belonged with my newer material.

Second, I did not have any subconscious association between that song and masculinity. My other pre-transition songs were written for all guy bands.

Finally, “Voice in the Distance” is a spiritual song—but not “in your face” about it—that really transcends gender. I relied on every ounce of spirituality I held to survive my transition, and so spirituality belonged on the debut album. Even the debut album’s name “City of God” is spiritual. So in that way “Voice in the Distance” looked forward in time, even though I wrote it about nine years prior to writing “Talk”, my first post-transition song.

Transition requires a life trajectory of constant evolution. This provides a wellspring of artistic material and artistic synthesis.

BTW: “Voice in the Distance” is one of my favorite pieces to perform live. First and foremost, I’m good at performing it, as I’ve played it often and had it for so many years. Also, people like it! More importantly, I enjoy playing it. The tune is complicated enough to satisfy my intellect and simple enough (for my guitar/voice skill) to perform effortlessly.

new album!

Just released a new album today:

The cover photo was taken of graffiti in Kashmir. Three of the songs explore my evolving feminine sexuality. The other two are sitar instrumentals.

Three of the songs on this album are described in my post “this is transgender music” if you are interested.

 

nice girl

A friendly punk song about a woman whom I think is fabulous. She knows who she is!

Recording

Lyrics

I’m not in love, but I like the idea
Not infatuated, but I’ve got that feeling
Just enough to keep me in pursuit
Just enough to keep me in pursuit

I’m not in love, but I like the idea
It’s a relief, and a new anxiety
She’s a nice girl, and I want to find out who she is
She’s a nice girl, and I want to find out who she is

She’s a nice girl, and I want to find out who she is
She’s a nice girl, and I wonder what secrets she keeps
She’s a nice girl, and I want to find out who she is
She’s a nice girl, and I want to find out what’s in it for me

draft lyrics about bipolar disorder and gender dysphoria

I wrote these lyrics a decade ago to explain bipolar disorder to myself. They also are about distraction-seeking behavior with regard to the stress of gender dysphoria:

I was a kid driving blind when I wanted distraction
Looking for God or a new manic high
Looking for privilege or a new discontentment
Looking for someone to blame

I, I had the best of intentions
I, I had the best laid plans
I had the best of intentions
I had the best laid plans

Checked in ecstatic…
…and checked out of mind
Checked back in, for a quick look around

using video to help feminize my walk, posture, voice, and body language (part 1)

I bought a video camera today so that I may film myself walking to see how better I can feminize how I carry myself. I’m looking to project poise and feminine power, of course, and to deliver a sexy strut!

Using the camera will also help me work on posture, correct sitting, and giving presentations (voice and body language).

Furthermore, I’ll film my punk shows and my practice sessions so that I can learn from them. (Unlike the rest of my life, the stage presence I’m crafting here is NOT meant to be ladylike).

Finally, I’ll likely make a GoFundMe video to solicit money for this book I am writing. Therefore I’ll need the camera for that.

Here an example of filming my walk as I develop it:

As you can see, it needs work but I’m making progress. You can also see from the video that this is a really good camera, available from Amazon.

draft lyrics: “Pipe Bomb”

Lyrics

I’m a terrorist and a provocateur
A pipe bomb to your image of God
To your image of state
To your image of man
‘Cause it’s all about men isn’t it?

I walk in heels because I damn well please
Carry revolution in my poise
A moving target…
…I carry transition in my poise

I’m a scientist and a provocateur
A pipe bomb to your comfort
To your narrow vision of peace
To your vision of stability
‘Cause it’s all about your stable god isn’t it?

I walk in heels because I damn well please
Carry revolution in my poise
A moving target…
…I carry transition in my poise

There is only one way out of this
Deconstruction and personal revolt
Love and full acceptance



Explanation

I like to tell folks what my lyrics are about:  I read an article on the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/from-the-bomb-to-isil-or-duck-and-cover-here-come_us_58af453fe4b0e5fdf6196f8d) discussing how the reaction to Christine Jorgensen’s transition in her time was really a reaction to a world changed by the emergence of “the bomb”. The article then makes a similar connection between the emergence of ISIS and present modern hostility and fear of transgender people.

ISIS is breaking down the social order of the nation-state, rather, it is a symptom of the breakdown of the nation-state. Similarly, the bomb broke down the social order of a world at the mercy of only God with regard to our species’ annihilation. The bomb allowed us to do it ourselves. In each case we had to face a stark change in worldview.

Transgender breaks down the social order of gender that has existed at least since the Industrial Revolution, and much longer in one form or another. I accept my role then as a sabatour of this social order and wear my expression with pride. But I state at the end of these lyrics how the real need is love and acceptance, not one social order or another.

I refer to God a lot in an implied negative way in many of my songs. Do the same here. However, I’m not actually referring to God (my friend and true guide in life), but to the narrow image of God that conservatives of most faiths cling to. “Stability” is their god, not God. While I believe there are a few absolutes in terms of right and wrong, we should not create God in “our own image”. God is seen as masculine in popular imagery and in the use of the pronoun “He”. So by walking away from being “he”, I am walking away from a popular image of God. But this should not be taken for walking away from God.

this is “transgender” music

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:

“Stand”

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.

“Smelly Cunt”

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

Hormones

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.

Sexuality

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)”.

Romance

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:

Complexity

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.

Unstable Harmonies

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!