Hi! This is my first post on this subReddit! I’m F/38/late bloomer lesbian.
I just thought you might like to know that there’s a really good album (in my opinion!) by quite a prominent (& gorgeous!) butch musician/London-based ‘Butch Please’ club-night organiser/activist here in the UK, named TABS (Tabitha Benjamin). I downloaded it today and I love it.
I thought you might be interested in hearing her work/knowing it exists.
It’s a series of short 5-10 page vignettes about love and desire between different people in Montreal neighborhoods. The vignettes are connected by theme and location only. The book is packed with representation–there are queer people, straight people, polyamorous people, people of color, people with disabilities, trans people, and people of all ages. The variety of the characters and situations present images of all forms of love, from healthy long-term relationships to unhealthy long-term relationships, fuck buddies to polyamory to missed connections. Sometimes sexy, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, these stories reflect that there is no singular experience of love. One person confesses their romantic feelings to their partners, a mother and a son reminisce about her dead husband, two lesbians run into a straight man with a fetish, a couple relives their first meeting at a gay bar, among others.
For a series of themed vignettes, each is unique. The writing and art style shift each chapter, enough that it doesn’t feel like there were any repeats. I feel like ‘balance’ is the keyword for this book, which uses text and image in such a way that neither feels overbearing. Moments where one fails or suffers are counteracted by an abundance of the other. Simpler stories were augmented by engaging visuals and layouts. In moments where the art didn’t have as strong a grasp on me as a reader, a poetic monologue drew me back in.
Like many collections of short stories, there are some hits and there are some misses. Sometimes the vignettes are too short to do anything other than provide a second long snapshot, which can be unsatisfying. Because there is so little context to each story, it can take a couple of pages for the reader to understand what is going on. However, these are the minority. Most stories are either engaging or poignant, and I appreciated the balance between the two.
Not every chapter has something miraculous or revealing to say, which made the chapters that did hit that much harder. One vignette about a man waiting impatiently for his partner to come back from a dinner with his ex is simply funny and entertaining. Then, two chapters later, Maroh describes the effect a terminal illness has on a relationship. It communicates both the monotony and the sacredness of our everyday lives and loves. I feel like a lot of romances or books on love tend to veer toward one or the other, so having a space where love was portrayed as both casual and revered was refreshing.
In their foreword, Maroh writes “The image of the heterosexual, monogamous, white, handsome couple, with their toothpaste smiles for all eternity, stands in the collective unconscious as the ideal portrait of love. But where are the other realities? And where is mine?” This book is incredibly important to me as a younger queer person. Mainstream media doesn’t have very nuanced depictions of both casual and serious queer love, and I haven’t gotten to a point in my life where I am having a lot of those experiences myself.
This is actually my second or third time reading this book. I first read it when I was about 17, and now, at 19, different chapters resonate with me more. When I was younger, it gave me hope for my future. Now, it’s fulfilling to recognize a few of my own varied experiences within the pages.
I tend to give away books pretty soon after I finish them, but this one has a permanent place on my shelf. It doesn’t even get loaned out. Body Music is a dynamic graphic novel with great representation and high re-read value, and it is an experience I recommend to everyone.
A new multi-artist, multi-genre music album coming out this month will offer transgender and nonbinary children and youth songs that reflect and support who they are. It’s the brainchild of Julie Lipson, one half of children’s music duo Ants on a Log, who spoke with me recently about the project and shared this sneak peek of the cover art.
Detail from cover of “Trans and Nonbinary Kids Mix.” Art by Wriply M. Bennet.
Lipson, who is also a co-founder of Camp Aranu’tiq, a summer camp for transgender and nonbinary children and youth, told me, “I have always been astounded by the role that music plays” for the campers. “Gender overlaps so much with music and the voice.”
This summer, however, the camp had to cancel in-person sessions because of COVID-19. “This just seemed like the moment where kids need this music,” they said. “We needed some way to keep everybody connected.”
Lipson, who is nonbinary themselves, reached out to their networks in both the children’s music and the transgender and nonbinary music world, and the response was “amazing.” The result, the Trans and Nonbinary Kids Mix album, will contain 20 songs from musicians representing hip-hop, pop, folk, country, and other genres. While some of the songs have appeared on other albums, several are new for this one—and it’s empowering to see them all brought together in one place.
About two-thirds of the musicians are transgender or nonbinary; the rest are allies, some of whom have trans or nonbinary friends or family members. About half are people of color.
I wanted to be a part of this project because trans and nonbinary folks deserve to be at the center of stories, songs, narratives.
The project is personal for many of them. Be Steadwell, a self-described “a black queer artist storyteller witch,” said, “I never saw much of myself in the music I listened to. I never heard my story. I wanted to be a part of this project because trans and nonbinary folks deserve to be at the center of stories, songs, narratives. We deserve to see ourselves in art. To feel affirmed rather than ignored by the music we listen to.”
Storm Miguel Florez, a “trans queer, Xicanx filmmaker and musician,” wanted to participate because “As a teen in the 80s, music saved my life. I was especially lucky to have access to music by older LGBTQ people. It meant everything to know there were older queer people making art and getting to live full and interesting lives. I’m excited for an opportunity to be a part of that for younger people now.”
And Grammy-nominated Alastair Moock, a “cis, white, hetero male,” shared, “I have long worked to be an active and vocal straight ally. That commitment only deepened when one of my twins came out as gay and then non-binary.”
Some of the trans and nonbinary musicians don’t write “kids’ music” per se, but Lipson hopes their contributed songs nevertheless speak to kids. One example is “Weaknees,” by transgender singer and writer Vivek Shraya. “It’s just such a great message: ‘I want to know everything about you, I think you’re so cool,’” Lipson paraphrased. And Lipson also wants kids to think of these musicians and say, “Oh, that’s a role model.”
Every kid of every age is going to interpret these songs differently.
With this broad approach, Lipson hopes that “Five-year-olds and 15-year-olds could listen to this mix and find that they like most of the songs.” Some “are definitely for little children,” but with others, “a five-year-old might like the beat but have no idea what the lyrics mean.” Lipson added, “Every kid of every age is going to interpret these songs differently.” That’s part of the album’s appeal.
The nonbinary musician Totally Knuts’ contribution, “The Trans Wizard’s Song” comes from the genre of “Wizard Rock,” inspired by the world of Harry Potter. Lipson notes that the song was written before author J.K. Rowling’s recent anti-trans statements, but it is (appropriately) a “critique song” about being trans and nonbinary at Hogwarts (Harry’s wizard school) that looks at some of the problems underlying the wizards’ world.
Other musicians on the album include two-time Grammy Award-winner Cathy Fink; Grammy nominees the Alphabet Rockers; Beppie; Be Steadwell; Chana Rothman; Emily Joy; Jennifer Angelina Petro; the Okee Dokee Brothers; Queer Kid Stuff; Ryan Cassata; Shawnee; Star Amerasu; and Two of a Kind.
Notably, the album will be free to all, to make it accessible to “any trans or nonbinary kid who’s sitting at home alone and isolated,” Lipson said. “I did not want cost to get in the way of that.” People are welcome to make donations, however, all of which will go to Camp Aranu’tiq, which is offering free virtual sessions this year but has lost the income from its in-person camps.
Separately, Lipson is also fundraising to provide many of the musicians—all of whom donated their songs—with stipends. Many musicians and artists are unemployed right now because of the pandemic—and the Black Lives Matter movement has reminded Lipson of the importance of supporting musicians of color.
“I’m pretty privileged. I’m a White person who’s doing okay,” they asserted. But they know that not everyone is. “We need to dream into existence the world that we actually want, which is that anybody who doesn’t have the resources that I have can rely on society valuing artists.”
You can contribute here to the fund for the musicians. Lipson will divide the money among them, although they’ve asked that those “who do not identify in a marginalized community or identity give that money back into the pot.” Some will also be used to pay Wriply M. Bennet, the Black trans woman who created the cover art.
The album itself will be available from antsonalog.bandcamp.com later in July. (Right now, that page shows only the Ants’ album You Could Draw the Album Art!, which is great, but isn’t the Trans and Nonbinary Kids’ Mix.) Follow Ants on a Log on Facebook or Instagram for the latest updates.
To begin Glitter Up the Dark: How Pop Music Broke the Binary, author Sasha Geffen offers a slight corrective: “The gender binary cannot really be broken because the gender binary has never been whole.”
Twelve chapters trace 20th century U.S. and European music history from the queer Black blueswomen of the 1920s like Ma Rainey through the internet-driven, gender-fucking pop phenomenons of the 2010s like Janelle Monàe and Perfume Genius. Geffen drags a shimmering thread that connects transgressive music histories that have defined not just queer culture but all of pop culture for decades.
Glitter Up the Dark, which came out in April on University of Texas Press, is Geffen’s first book. They’ve made their mark as a music critic, with work appearing in Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and elsewhere. The book is extensively researched but not overly academic, with accessible language and a driving passion that swept me away along with from beloved touchstones like Prince and punk into other genres, like industrial and disco, that I’ve never spent meaningful time with. The chapters are organized by genre and chronologically, and Geffen does most of the work for you to make it abundantly clear how these disparate characters, movements, and sounds relate to each other. They seamlessly mix history, music critique, and narrative essay styles to help connect artists, technological developments, and moments of impact to illustrate their thesis: the collision between gender, rebellion, and technology has made pop and rock music a vehicle for gender disruption for their entire existence.
Geffen’s book is not a history of trans musicians, though plenty of them are represented — for example, the wide-reaching influence of Wendy Carlos, who revolutionized electronic music, and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! is clear in the text. Primarily, it’s an exploration of music as a mechanism for expressing and expanding complex ideas of gender that find their way into society as a whole and threaten patriarchal, capitalist norms. Throughout, Geffen pushes back against the whitewashing of narratives around genres like disco and electronic music to reveal the layers of queer Black influence on 20th century music. Queer Black artists had a much more significant and authoritative role in US music history across genres than mainstream music histories tend to acknowledge. Take the Beatles, whose “few extra inches of hair appeared [to mid-1960s America] not just as a social lapse but as a biological anomaly.” The overt influences of Black girl groups like the Marvelettes and queer male artists like Little Richard on the musical and vocal stylings of the Beatles made these non-normative expressions palatable to mainstream audiences, but they still carried some hint of the counter-cultural resonance onto the Ed Sullivan Show.
The book reveals the extent to which critics, fans, and time have flattened our readings of some artists. From the overtly queer origins of hip hop to the trans-inclusive beginnings of Riot Grrrl and Women’s Music, Geffen flips over moss-covered rocks to fill in oft-ignored details. The chapter “God is Gay: The Grunge Eruption” is a must-read for its analysis of how Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love flipped gendered scripts in their relationship and their respective bands, Nirvana and Hole. Though Cobain was known for wearing dresses and told RollingStone that he experienced attraction to people regardless of gender, he’s remembered as an ally rather than as a queer icon (note to self: make Kurt Cobain a queer icon).
Geffen deftly brings in first-person accounts and the writings of other critics and historians to fill in the details, then jumps in to convey why it matters. This pattern makes the book feel conversational and dynamic, especially when it digs into the stories of individual artists and moments. A rumination on Patti Smith mixes factual nuggets (Allen Ginsberg once tried to cruise her), highlights her inspirations (Jackie Curtis, Iggy Pop, Robert Mapplethorpe) and includes notes from her own diaries and writings where she reflects on gender and relationships (“I never wanted to be Wendy—I was more like Peter Pan. This was confusing stuff”) before tying it all together and pointing the way toward Smith’s indelible influence on punk.
Smith’s androgynous otherness manifested in her voice, which swung from deep, guttural grunts to piercing staccato shrieks…It’s a voice between genders, high enough in pitch to register as a woman’s voice but irreverent, arrogant, and blunt like a man’s. The burgeoning genre that would come to be known as punk dispersed this voice. (The word “punk” meant “bottom” at the time, lending the genre’s name an air of queer deviance from the start). Both Iggy and Patti echoed in acts that would typify punk, such as the Ramones, the Buzzcocks, and the Clash, whose singers found a grunt to work as well as a wail.
Tech is one of the book’s most salient themes, both in terms of music and gender. Technological innovations, from the creation of vinyl records to the popularization of the Moog synthesizer, the advent of music videos to the internet as a means of distribution, have each given musicians more ways to articulate and obfuscate gendered expressions. These developments created more possibilities for music and for trans people, and that has never felt more clear than in this book. Queer temporality, capitalism, the family, and racism and appropriation in the music industry all thread through the text. Of house music’s endless parties, Geffen writes, “In the now of the dance floor, gender and sexuality have no eventualities…the timekeeping of a normative life—birth, puberty, marriage, childbearing, death—falls away to the glow of the infinite moment.” Numerous such insights elevate Glitter Up The Dark from beautifully researched history to insightful cultural commentary.
If I had one complaint about this book, it would be that it’s so short! As each vignette rolled into the next, I found myself wanting more. Early 2000s emo, whose boys in eyeliner that made me extremely confused as a sad suburban teen, gets the slightest of mentions. Clocking in at an approachable 221 pages, Geffen’s book feels like the most fabulous tasting menu that will inspire readers to fall down the rabbit holes of so many of these stories. Fortunately, they made a playlist to go along with the journey.