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Queer Ears


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Trans and non-binary SCOPERs share some of their favorite genderqueer artists.

From the songs we like to the stories behind them, four trans and non-binary SCOPERs are here to discuss some of our favorite genderqueer artists. To hear even more of our favorites, check out this playlist put together by all four of us.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2K9RS9KDNGCYVpTZBQlt4U?si=wHreH_vkTeqMNYM-4Kj1Qg

Mandy Archer (they/them)

Artist: Claud (they/them)

Songs: Soft Spot, Sideline Star

When talking about Super Monster Claud themselves, I would be remiss not to mention Claud’s extremely queer anthem, “Wish You Were Gay,” the too relatable song that highlights Claud’s feelings on unrequited LGBTQ+ love. When listening, even though I am already gay myself, I felt that I was compelled to want to be gay because of the inclusive club that the artist has set up for their fans. Although I love this song, I wanted to highlight two songs that reminded me more of my own experience as queer and non-binary. I feel a close connection to the song “Soft Spot,” especially when reading interviews with Claud and their take on love. Claud loves hard and is still able to be vulnerable throughout their lyrics, even when talking about rougher experiences like breakups and the past. When it comes to my own non-binary identity, it was confusing at first for me to understand how to keep the things I liked about myself that people deemed feminine without completely losing my non-binary status. Part of that came from trying to be less of a romantic or pushing down on my voice to make it lower, when in reality I adore the sound of artists with soft, sweet voices. Claud’s tender voice and warm tone remind me that showing that I do have soft spots, even after I have come out, does not change who I am.

The biggest struggle I experience in regards to my gender identity as an AFAB (assigned-female-at-birth) person is the feeling of being othered by cis people or my female friends who do not immediately recognize my identity. Claud’s song, “Sideline Star,” could be seen as a relationship where Claud is putting more work into a relationship and being led on, just to still be their crush’s biggest fan. I connected the lyrics to the feeling of being the odd man out and knowing I was different while seeing more worth in others before I accepted myself for who I was. Before I could put a name to my gender, it was obvious to me that I was not like the other girls around me, which was enforced by adults around me. “For a bit I thought I hated / Everybody here they’re jaded / They’re just a little scared / Can’t help but say that’s fair,” from the second verse of “Sideline Star” is one of my favorite Claud lines. Claud has said that they have dealt with being misgendered plenty and have been getting better at correcting others and standing up for themselves. This is helpful to someone who is freshly non-binary like myself and reminds me that it takes time to be yourself and that can include confronting people when they misgender you. I could talk on and on about Claud and how their confidence to be exactly who they are inspires me. Claud makes music for every Mr. Bitch, ally Mr. Bitch, or questioning Mr. Bitch out there to enjoy.

On Friday, May 7, there will be an opportunity to support Claud and hear them play. SCOPE will be hosting a virtual show that night with Claud and Beach Bunny at 8 p.m. The show is free for anyone to attend on Twitch and will be followed by a Q&A with Beach Bunny. Claud will be SCOPE’s second non-binary artist that we have hosted this year along with 99 Neighbors. So show up for Claud and SCOPE and continue to help us lift up LGBTQ+ voices!

 

Joey O’Kelly (he/him)

Artist: Cavetown (he/they)

Songs: This is Home, Boys are Bugs, Was it Something I Said (by MyKey, feat. Cavetown)

When I discovered indie/bedroom pop artist Robbie Skinner (he/they), better known under the moniker “Cavetown,” I genuinely had no idea he was trans. I heard his song “Boys are Bugs” while listening to a Spotify Indie Mix playlist, and fell in love immediately. It wasn’t until I heard “This is Home” that I started to put the pieces together. Hearing lyrics like “I’ll cut my hair/ to make you stare/ I’ll hide my chest/ and I’ll figure out a way to get us out of here,” and “get a load of this trainwreck/ his hair’s a mess and he doesn’t know who he is yet/ but little do we know/ the stars welcome him with open arms,” raised every queer flag in my brain. 

To be truthful, “This is Home” rarely fails to bring tears to my eyes. Putting the experience of growing into your gender identity into words is so difficult. For a song to be able to bring up the feelings I felt when I was discovering my gender identity as a 14-year-old kid was remarkable to me. Cavetown’s use of a simplistic sound, using just a ukulele and vocals at the beginning, slowly incorporating more elements like a piano, guitar, light percussion, and strings - arguably one of the most emotion-inducing instruments - creates a soundscape that accurately reflects the journey described in the lyrics. Lyrics that capture such indescribable - and often suppressed - emotions and instrumentation that matches the mood flawlessly, making this a tune that breaks my heart and warms it in less than four minutes, is why this will always be my favorite Cavetown song.

Artist: Rainbow Kitten Surprise (Charlie Holt, they/them)

Songs: Hide, Goodnight Chicago, Seven

Likely my favorite of all of the artists I’ve written about, Rainbow Kitten Surprise, a five-piece indie rock band out of North Carolina, features two queer members: Sam Melo (he/him), the frontman singer who identifies as gay, and Charlie Holt, bassist and backing vocalist who identifies as trans. The group has been one of my favorites since I was 16 years old, and I’ve been lucky enough to see them live on three occasions. 

As decent human beings, as musicians, as performers, the list of good things I could say about this band is endless. One highly noteworthy praise I have is for the way the band uses their platform. North Carolina - home to Rainbow Kitten Surprise, the 2016 anti-trans bathroom bill that became the blueprint for countless others, and very few anti-discrimination protections - was a… less than ideal place for queer kids to grow up. In recognition of this, the band has frequently teamed up with Equality NC, a North Carolina queer rights organization, by donating proceeds from shows and merch to the group. Having firsthand knowledge of the difficulties of growing up queer in a place like North Carolina and choosing to do something about it immediately garnered my respect. 

These stories of queerness are mostly explored on their 2018 album “How to: Friend, Love, Freefall,” as this was the first release after Melo came out. “Hide,” released as a single from the album, was Melo’s declaration of his sexuality. A prideful declaration with lyrics like “he’s a better kisser than you think, mom/ He’s a better listener than most,” balanced with lyrics chronicling the struggles of growing up queer in North Carolina, “running from a place where they don’t make people like me,” the emotions encompassed in 3 minutes and 12 seconds can only properly be expressed by screaming the song at the top of your lungs in your car as you’re exiting your high school’s parking lot (I’m speaking from personal experience).

When a band backs up their phenomenal music with well-informed actions, they’ve automatically put themselves very high up on my list, and that’s exactly what Rainbow Kitten Surprise has done. Especially advocating for an issue personal to me, this band will always have a special place in my heart.

Artist: Tash Sultana (they/them)

Songs: Notion, Sweet & Dandy, Jungle

I have an extremely vivid memory of the first time I heard Tash Sultana. It was 2016, my dad sent me a link to a video about them. The video started with clips of Sultana showing off their bedroom studio set up and giving a demonstration of their array of effects pedals, which I was wildly excited about. But what really pulled me in was when Sultana opened up about their experience with drug addiction and the role that music played in helping them get through. I listened to Sultana describe their seven-month-long drug induced psychosis at just the age of 17, and the effects this had on their mental health. To be truthful, I cried as they described how music was what finally pulled them out of this psychosis, that it was the only thing able to bring them peace of mind, that they would lock themselves away and play guitar until the pain was gone. 

Sultana, who came out as genderfluid since the release of this video, has a musical style that I struggle to define. They describe their most recent album “Terra Firma,” released in February 2021, as “Erykah Badu meets Bon Iver, meets John Mayer, meets whatever,” which is such an incredibly broad categorization. Either way, their intricate guitar loops, one-of-a-kind vocal style, and funky fresh drum beats create tunes unlike anything I’ve heard before. Their 2016 song “Notion” carried the title of my favorite Tash Sultana song for years, but “Sweet & Dandy'' off their new album is quickly racing to the top. The lyrics in the song are incredibly well-written, but Sultana sneaks in two lines about gender that I simply adore. In a well-placed jab at those who are unable to understand that sex-characteristics have nothing to do with gender-identity, Sultana sings “and I don’t have to define by the sexes, oh/ and I don’t have to get down with none of that bullshit XY’s and x’s, no.” You tell ‘em, Tash! You sure don’t! 

Whether it's the consistently flawless guitar tone, the library of lyrical symbolism, or the experiences and emotions that drive their work, Tash Sultana’s unapologetic authenticity has miraculously managed to keep my historically short attention span for five years now, and I don’t see myself looking away any time soon.

 

Myles Evangelista (he/they)

Artist: atlas (they/them)

Songs: valentine (prod. flavors), they/them

atlas is a non-binary rapper who uses they/them pronouns, which they make explicitly clear in their song of the same name. Their clever wordplay in slice-of-life lyrics are often laid over lo-fi-esque beats and speak pointedly of very human emotions: love, heartbreak, and frustration at the state of the world. I’d consider myself a casual listener of theirs, having first been exposed to their song “valentine” while in the middle of my first queer high school relationship. I hung onto the lines “When heat is blistering, you’re the ice that’s glistening / Inside my cup of tea, which is also you. Interesting,” and “Basically, I love you, and that’s kinda gay” so tightly with my baby gay hands that the song naturally became a staple in any playlists I made for romantic interests.

Although their song “they/them” was released in 2018, it wasn’t until early 2020 that I discovered it, shortly after coming out as non-binary myself. Here, atlas expresses their comfort and confidence in being non-binary, and also brings to light societal and political issues that threaten their identity, such as North Carolina’s bathroom bill: “Yes, I did use the gender-neutral bathroom / What is your concern with what I’ve got going on? / You can fight me in this Walmart if you really want to / But when you get your ass beat, don’t pull out your AR.” Overall, if you want non-binary representation in the style of Peachy!, khai dreams, and Limbo, atlas is the way to go.

Artist: Aeris (they/them)

Song: Cottagecore

I’m under the impression that my penchant for late-2000s All Time Low and rising punk stars Meet Me @ The Altar is what caused the TikTok algorithm to drop Aeris Stewart, known musically as Aeris, onto my for you page about a month ago. Within the first two seconds of showing up on my screen, Aeris explained through text that the backbeat coming through my headphones was the intro to their first studio single “Cottagecore,” a pop-punk anthem about wanting to escape daily life in favor of living in the country with their lesbian lover. I had to drop a follow and save it to my Spotify immediately.

From my perspective, it’s rare to see POC representation in both the punk music scene and in cottagecore as an aesthetic, let alone non-binary POC representation. But Aeris brings it to the table in a perfect balance of soft lyrics and hard guitars: “Nothing you could do would ever change / (And I will tell you as many times as you need to hear it) / I will always love you just the same / (It’s me and you against the world, bunny. Let’s go!)”

Artist: Cami Proctor (they/she)

Songs: You Remind Me of the Movies (by The Blank Stairs), Vanilla Days, living room (production)

I can talk quite a bit about the non-binary bombshell that is Cami Proctor, mostly because I’m lucky to have been a collaborator of theirs in my hometown’s music scene. They’re very self-aware in the sense that they actively use their identity as a sense of comfort for new artists, whether through their work in their band The Blank Stairs, their solo projects, or their sound mixing/arranging projects. As they told me at our last gig, “I feel like a lot of sound engineers and sound guys have this kind of superiority complex, but I don’t want to do that. I just want to be the friendly non-binary sound engineer that everyone can trust and teach people how to wrap cords.”

Cami’s own music falls heavily into indie rock, weaving unique chord changes on electric guitar into soaring vocals (bird mode, as they call it) and clever words that run the whole gamut of human emotion. In their 2019 single “Vanilla Days,” frustration at stagnancy is a common theme that shows up in metaphors of record players and vanilla ice cream. In contrast, their song “You Remind Me of the Movies,” from their band The Blank Stairs’ debut album Face Paint, deals with all the facets of what teenage crushing feels like: the pining “I get the impression that we’re playing for the same team,” the hesitation in making it known, “I feel just fine as I am toeing the line / I’ll take an inch because you won’t give me a mile,” the aftermath once it’s all out in the open “The sugar is coating my throat but it feels like I’m choking, feels like I’m choking / If you broke all of my bones it’d be better than nothing, at least I said something,” and the lasers during the bridge (which I’m not sure connects to having a crush at all, but it’s my favorite part of the song).

If you’ve listened to all of their music and want to hear more of their creativity and artistry, fear not - you can hear their musical arrangements in fellow Peoria-based non-binary artist emily’s debut EP living room, where they add extra spice to the ukulele tracks with guitars, hand claps, yelling, and most importantly, melodica.

 

Jace Baker (he/him)

Artist: NOAHFINNCE (he/him)

Song: Asthma Attack

NOAHFINNCE (Noah Adams) is a pop punk musician and influencer on platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. A trans man from the UK, Noah uses his platform to create a welcoming community for transmasc individuals and allies. I started watching Noah about 4 years ago after a video of his—Transgender Passing Tips (FTM)—showed up in my recommendations. Noah’s unfiltered honesty and golden retriever energy immediately made me a fan. While a large portion of his content creation is centered around discussing transgender topics, his most popular videos feature him covering songs and singing his own. 

My favorite song of his, “Asthma Attack”, features extremely relatable lyrics, like “You think I know myself, well you’d be mostly wrong/ It’s taken way too long/ For me to sing my song/ Old me is dead/ and gone/ If lying was a crime then I’d be doing time/ I don’t mean to whine but just imagine having to lie to/ Friends, foes, all of those people that should matter most/ Living a double life is just as obvious as Pinocchio.” Noah wrote this song in 2015, released it in 2018, and re-recorded it in 2020, but the only version available on streaming platforms is the 2018 single. Noah has said that he recorded the song before he started Testosterone because “the high voice matches the mindset of writing that song. (...) It was the high voice that wrote that song and it would be weird if a lower voice was singing it.” From my experience, when you start hormone therapy your voice fluctuates a lot and songs that you were able to sing a couple months ago become impossible to perform in a short span of time. I really appreciate him capturing his transition in a way that is very relatable.

Artist: Mal Blum (they/them)

Song: Watercolors

Mal Blum is a non-binary transgender musician and writer from New York. They first signed with a label in 2014 and have since gone on to release five albums, write a song for the Netflix show “Trinkets,” and produce a number of articles for magazines like The Huffington Post and The Fader. I was introduced to Mal’s music through their partner’s podcast back in 2019. After listening to one song, I fell in love immediately. Their music is deeply personal and almost every song tells a story littered with words that just latch on to your heart and throw it off a cliff with no remorse. There’s no other way to describe the feeling Mal’s music evokes for me. 

The song “Watercolors,” from the 2010 album, “Every Time You Go Somewhere”  tells the story of a non-binary transgender person that is crushing on a cisgender person who has no regard for their feelings. The lyrics from the first verse describe the singer waiting in their crushes room while they’re on a date. The lyrics “And you’re out with a woman/ At exhibits about people like me” and “All my friends and the issues that we face/ You wanna stick us in a box/ You wanna put us in our place/ Or maybe hang us on a wall/ Then leave me out to dry/ Was I a joke, was I a freak/ Was I just too much alive” pack quite a punch to the gut. They perfectly describe the melancholia related to trusting someone with your identity, only for them to dehumanize you and use you as a token.



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