Regarding Two Trans Musicians
Despite being a music lover, I have never enjoyed techno or electronic music. Consequently I was unaware that Sophie Xeon, known as Sophie, the music producer who died accidentally at age 34, was a trans woman. When I read an excerpt from the book Glitter Up the Dark, by Sasha Geffen that was especially complimentary of her work, I thought I should see (or rather hear) what she’d been up to.
The excerpt from the book that intrigued me referred to the track “Is it cold in the water?”: “It’s not hard to read the album’s middle section as a transition narrative: Is it cold in the water? Should I jump? Should I unmake myself, not knowing what I’ll be on the other side?” When I watched the video for this track, I didn’t get as much from it as the author did, but as I mentioned, I’m not attuned to electronica.
“Is it cold in the water?” is included in The Guardian‘s list of ten best Sophie tracks so you can judge for yourself. Track 10 on their list, “It’s Okay to Cry”, moved me the most, as it’s a more conventional piece of music. Sophie was widely admired and undeniably creative. It’s sad she died so young. We’ll never know what direction her music may have gone and how she may yet have expressed the trans experience in her art.
At the end of the The Guardian piece about Sophie, there was a link entitled “Glenn Copeland: the trans musical visionary finding an audience at age 74.” Why is that name familiar to me, I wondered.
Although Beverly Glenn-Copeland didn’t sell many records 40 odd years ago, my sister was one of the few people in the world to buy one. It was a folk singer type album (see photo) with a few jazz flourishes which I liked well enough, but never grew familiar with. He was performing as a she at the time, but found his identity as a trans man in 1995 before coming out to the world at large around 2003. The Guardian article identifies him as Glenn Copeland, although he still uses Beverly Glenn-Copeland as a stage name.
Although he represented Canada at Expo 67 in Montreal, he never found musical fame and the lack of record sales spun his career toward kids shows like Mr. Dressup and Sesame Street, where he performed songs as a secondary character. He has a wise perspective on his career as an artist: “It ain’t for fame that we do stuff. I’m going to die relatively soon, from a statistical point of view. If I’m going to base how I’ve gone about my life on whether or not I’m going to get famous, it’s not going to be very satisfying in the end.”
About his transition, he is similarly philosophical: “If I had become better known when I was younger, I would not have been able to fulfil a part of what I’m here to do, which is to be able to say: ‘Yeah, this is a reality for me.’ In the 1970s, it was a burden. And even in 2005 it felt burdensome, because I was not yet totally comfortable just being. Now I am very comfortable being who I am, whatever that is, and however that changes. So the timing is right.” (These quotes are lifted from the 2018 Guardian article.)
Glenn Copeland’s music now is a fusion of new age, jazz, world, and classical influences. I’ve heard it called electronic music too, although it’s a world away from Sophie’s brand. And yet, in their own way there’s a spiritual element to both of them. I’m not sure whether Sophie would see herself that way, but in her art she appeared to be striving to capture the ephemeral.
A good sample of Glenn Copeland’s music is available on Bandcamp.