Celebrity vs. Canadian trans musicians

The headline on the CBC website read “What Demi Lovato’s non-binary revelation means for the LGBTQ community”. It means nothing, I snorted. Nothing at all. Nonetheless, I dutifully clicked on the link and after reading an article entirely devoid of substance, it was clear to me this emphasis on celebrity is an empty hope indeed.

It’s not my intention to demean Demi Lovato by this. They’ve been open about their struggle and have always supported the LGBTQ community, including standing up for trans people by cancelling their concert in North Carolina in 2016 after that state passed its despicable bathroom law. I wish them well.

I must not get celebrity culture, however, because I don’t see why Demi Lovato coming out as non-binary would shift the thinking of the world and make it a better place for all of us.

I get my inspiration from the many working trans and non-binary musicians in this country. That they may not be so famous is no reflection on their talent. That they pursue their passion without making much money is a world more familiar to me than celebrity.

Here then are some Canadian trans and non-binary musicians. I’ve already mentioned Beverly Glenn Copeland in another article, so let’s begin with the elder of the group, Michelle Josef.

Josef (born 1954) established herself as one of Canada’s leading session drummers, playing on albums by Prairie Oyster (from which she was fired), Long John Baldry, Sylvia Tyson, Big Rude Jake and Sharon, Lois and Bram, among others. In 1998, she received a Canadian Country Music Award for drummer of the year, and is a member of Canadian roots super group Hey Stella! (along with Lori Yates, Bazil Donovan and David Baxter).

Michelle Josef with Hey Stella!

Josef issued the following statement in 2006 to the website regarding her firing from Prairie Oyster:

“My identity as a musician is as important to me as my gender identity and I knew that I was putting decades of hard work on the line. All has not been easy since then. When Prairie Oyster fired me they not only rejected me personally but they also created a statement that resounded loud and clear that said ‘It is not cool to be associated with a transsexual.’ They didn’t have to do this.”

Rae Spoon is a non-binary performer, composer, music producer, visual content producer/director and author. Over the course of a 20-year career – Spoon is only 40 – their music has ranged from bluegrass and country to indie and electronic. Spoon is also founder of Coax records, the purpose of which was to use “their experience as a marginalized artist to create more space in the music industry. They aim to build community where artists from lots of backgrounds can share their music on their own terms while learning how to support each other.”

Spoon is currently in recovery from cancer treatment, but has, with illustrator Gem Hall, just published Green Glass Ghosts, their first young adult novel.

LucasBorn in Mississauga, Ontario, Lucas Silveira founded The Cliks, and was their vocalist and guitarist. Before coming out as trans, Silveira played folk music, but shifted to rock after transition explaining that he felt freer to explore the “darker, more hard-core” side to his nature. He found that after his early success The Cliks hit a wall in which the “main focus wasn’t on my music. It was very much on my gender identity.”

Due to Silveira’s hearing loss and complications with tinnitus, The Cliks no longer perform. He is now a co-host on the TV series Shine True, available on OutTV and Fuse. Silveira has also written articles about transgender identity, and appeared in the documentary Sexing the Transman.

Ashanti Mutinta, better known as Backxwash, was the winner of the 2020 Polaris Music Prize for her album God Has Nothing to Do With this Leave Him Out of It. Born in Lusaka, Zambia in 1991, Mutinta moved to British Columbia at age 17 to live with her brother and sister. After moving to Montreal, she released her debut EP F.R.E.A.K.S. and then the follow up Black Sailor Moon. Her music blends elements of rap and metal. Because of uncleared samples from her Polaris prize winning album, it is currently available only as a free download from her Bandcamp page.

In an article on the CBC website updated in December 2020, she said, “I have talked to a few industry types, small and big. I essentially don’t trust a lot of them. I don’t want to be tokenized. I think from a gender perspective our experiences have smartened us up. People use the term ‘street smarts,’ but I think we got trans smart because, as trans people, we can tell when someone is being shifty.”

VileCreatRounding out this little journey through Canadian trans music is the fabulous duo known as Vile Creature. Hailing from Hamilton, Ontario, Vile Creature is an experimental doom metal band with “anti-oppressive and fantastical leanings”. It’s a bit extreme for me, but the vinyl version of their new LP Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm! is desirable if only because it’s pressed with the colours of the Trans Flag “blue with white and pink splatter”. A collector’s item, to be sure!