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PERPETUAL CHANGE — Ten Years of Tunes

| May 4, 2009
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With the posting of this installment of Perpetual Change, the column is officially ten years old. And quite honestly, that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. I never believed I could do this for ten years.

Long time readers of Perpetual Change (both of you) will probably note some of the changes that have occurred since May 1999. I’ve always regarded what I do here as featuring what I call “transgender representations in popular music” and when I started I really didn’t know where writing about music in the transgender community would take me.

I did have sort of a plan in the beginning, as evidenced by this statement from the first installment: “In this column for TGForum, I”ll be touching on a lot of music history because each era has unique artists known not only for their music, but also for their ability to bend the rules of gender.”

I decided to call the column Perpetual Change after a song by the band Yes, because music as an art form is always evolving and changing. Music often presents a running commentary on society, but also occasionally has the power to effect change.

Billy TiptonThe first few articles dealt with vaudeville, the 1950s era FtM musician Billy Tipton, early rock icons like Elvis and Little Richard, and Beatles lyrics with trans references. As with most carefully laid plans, it didn’t take long for the idea to go astray. There was only so much history about entertainment and music in particular that made for interesting reading. The focus started to shift gradually to articles about well established acts such as The Rolling Stones, Bowie, Pink Floyd, and GLBT icons such as Boy George. Eventually, enough trans artists started making noise and drawing attention to themselves and their music that I began interviewing anyone who would respond to a press inquiry.

With that focus established, I had to wonder just how long I could keep the column going — how much trans related music was out there to write about? I didn’t think it would last more than a couple years initially, to be honest.

A music column wasn’t my first work for TGForum.com. Indulge me a bit here and let me explain how I came to music journalism.

While living in Nashville, Tennessee, I began dealing with my gender issues when I encountered a transgender support group called The Tennessee Vals, or T-Vals for short. In 1995, I started writing for their newsletter, which published only 100 or so copies each issue, but did have an Internet presence. In 1998, while attending SCC in Atlanta, I was introduced to TGForum’s then editor, Cindy Martin, who invited me to write for the site. I began with a humor column (or at least attempted humor) called The Pamela Principle in January 1999. This lasted until August 2005, with a total of 78 columns posted.

Along with that first column, I continued to write for the T-Vals, as well as other GLBT publications in Nashville, such as GoColors, Xenogeny, and Out And About Nashville, on a very limited basis. I continued to do the T-Vals column until November 2003, and served briefly as editor of the newsletter.

Our current TGForum editor, Angela Gardner, invited me to begin writing for her print publication, Transgender Community News in November 1999. (Editor’s Note: TG Community News was a publication of The Renaissance Transgender Association, Inc..) Between then and January 2003, Angela indulged me by publishing thirty articles of my articles.

What lead to the creation of a music column was simply Cindy Martin and other TGForum writers realizing that there growing interest in transgender musicians and entertainers. For some unknown reason, I was asked if I’d be interested in contributing a music column. And for some darker, even more obtuse reason, I said yes. I have to admit, though, that since I am also a musician, it just seemed like a fun thing to do.

The first Perpetual Change was posted in May 1999. Now, in May 2009, this particular posting marks installment #110. I know that the math doesn’t quite add up for ten years worth of columns. For various reasons, no columns were posted in August, December ‘03; January ‘04; February, June, December ‘05; July, October, December ‘06, and no January column in 2007.

The biggest change for me personally came in 2003. I inherited property back in my hometown in Ohio after my father died. I decided to move back and basically start over. It took more time than I realized to settle family issues and get used to again living in a small town. This was one of the reasons I eventually ended the Pamela Principle articles. Those were mostly based on the weird stuff that would happen to me as a crossdresser venturing out into the world. That just wasn’t an option in a small town where everyone knew who I was and most of the pick-up trucks had gun racks.

Getting settled into a new routine with all that entailed was also part of the reason I didn’t do any Perpetual Change columns for several months in 2003. I sort of had to ease back into writing, but I found that I really did miss it. I missed having a connection with the community, and in the absence of a local support group, I needed some form of involvement.

Besides, I was missing a lot of good music that would come my way in the form of review copies. I know I’m probably going to get in trouble here, but I’d like to briefly mention just a few of the artists I’ve encountered over the years who have made this column fun and entertaining to write. And please know that this is by no means a list of every trans artist ever featured. These are simply artists who caught my attention and left an impression for one reason or another. I’m not trying to slight anyone, so I hope no one reading this feels that way.

Jennifer Leitham, (featured November ’02, March ’06, December ’08) is an incredible jazz upright bass player, whose credits include work with Mel Torme and Doc Severinson; Josie Marie Thane (January ’02, February ’04, June’08), a Renaissance music performer; Julie O. Buse (September ’08), a transgender blue grass musician; and The Shondes, (May ’07), a band from New York City whose members are Jewish and one musician is FtM.

It’s not just the diverse styles that are intriguing either. Since TGForum readers are a world-wide audience, the transgender music community has grown to international proportions as well.

Canadians such as The Cliks (November ’07) and Dana Russo (September ’99) have been featured. From Israel, Dana International (September ’02) and Aderet (featured in our new companion column Transvocalizers September ’08, and mentioned here in January ’09). There’s even been a column featuring a musician from “down under,” Australian Jade Starr, in April 2007.

For some reason, England has several trans musicians and bands who have come to our attention. (Must be something in the Guinness.) Anyway, bands such as Toxic Frock (April ’05), Oestrogenix (October ’05), The Nasty Habits (June ’07), Treacles/Pretty Route (September ’07), and soloist Natalie B. (August ’04), adequately represent the community across the pond.

Some truly unique articles are about the band Chameleon Red, who released a two disc rock opera in three acts called Transposition (February ’08); Robert Urban (January ’06, March ’09) and Donna Austin (March ’08), both extremely talented musicians who are strong supporters of the transgender community, and one of my personal favorite articles to research and write, the August 2007 installment on the 19th century classical/operatic composer Richard Wagner.

While the original idea of presenting a sort of historical overview of transgender music gradually gave way to artist interviews, the need for background research didn’t. Most artists now have some sort of Internet presence or press kit that provides what a journalist needs. When I started this column, though, I did quite a lot of research and have ended up with a bibliography of 39 books and one article that I have referenced throughout the years. The following is a partial list of some of the more intriguing material used.

Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton by Diane Wood Middlebrook
Vested Interests: Cross Dressing And Cultural Anxiety by Marjorie Garber (Note: every tranny should read this or even own a copy. I don’t have a copy yet, but my birthday’s coming up…hint, hint.)
Elvis Culture: Fans, Faith, and Image by Erika Doss
Louie, Louie by Dave Marsh
Crazy Diamond: Syd Barrett And The Dawn Of Pink Floyd by Mike Watkinson and Pete Anderson
Richard Wagner: His Life, His work, His Century by Martin Gregor-Dellin
The Psychopathic God Adolph Hitler by Robert G. L. Waite

…and the article Wagner-public genius with a private passion for bustles, bows, and bodice by Charlotte Higgins.

I have also used both of Pamela Des Barre’s books I’m With The Band and Rock Bottom: Dark Moments In Music Babylon; Gene Simmons’ Kiss And Make-Up; RuPaul’s Letting It All Hang Out; and the Boy George/Spencer Bright book Take It Like A Man.

These are the books that stood out and were the most entertaining/informative to read. I have no doubt that in years to come I’ll be adding to the list.

I know I’ve already said it, but I never thought Perpetual Change would be around for ten years, and I still wonder how long it will last. That’s definitely the way I feel about our new companion column, Transvocalizers. Just how many drag queens who sing in their own, natural voice can there be out there?

Do I have a favorite column in the series? Yes, the June 2001 installment on Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett. Have I encountered an artist who has become a favorite? Yes, but I’m not going to say. Since it’s impossible to list everyone I’ve interviewed, and I know I’m risking offending some people by not naming them, I’m not going to go there. It’s certainly not my intention to offend anyone who has been gracious enough to participate over the years.

In closing, I’d like to say thanks to all the artist, musicians, agents, and technical people who have granted me interviews over the years. I’d like to thank the Tennessee Vals support group from Nashville for letting me start writing for their newsletter back in 1995. I’d like to thank all the editors I’ve worked with over the years, but most notably Cindy Martin and Angela Gardner. Ms Martin got me started with TG Forum, and Ms Gardner has put up with me through the pages of TCN, and now TGForum.com. Thanks, ladies.

Most of all, thanks to you readers and subscribers to the service. There’s no way I can know how many people actually do read the column, but I know that if there hadn’t been enough of you, I wouldn’t have been allowed to continue this long. Thank you — all of you.

Hopefully, the transgender music scene will continue to be interesting, entertaining, and everything else you can expect from talented trannies. And even more hopefully still…we all get the chance to enjoy it together.


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Category: Music

Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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