I always felt uneasy about having to be a ‘girl’ in the male dominated areas I gravitated towards. Even tho I knew this and tried to ignore it, tending to believe the lies I was told that being a girl would be OK or even an advantage in our ‘progressive society’, I wanted to see women creating and succeeding or even just existing in the worlds I wanted to be successful in. Because of this, I tried to see women where there were none, by imagining that some if the more feminine coded men were like me.
I think this was some kind of coping mechanism for me, as really I was so disappointed, and knew that the world that I loved and which inspired me, did not love me, and certainly did not want me. I was frustrated at being read as female, and hoped that nobody would notice. But people are not like that. It is the very first thing people notice, by your small hands, squeaky voice and big boobs. There was no escape.
Being interested in progressive rock, it was easy for me to imagine that any of the androgynous, long haired guys were women. I used to try to imagine myself as Jon Anderson or Peter Gabriel. When I watched Top of the Pops, it was easy for me to insert my fantasy women into the program. Beck became Becky. Duran Duran were a girl band. I wanted to look like Nick Rhodes. I wanted to look like David Bowie.
It disappointed me more than anything the way women, who I suppose were human beings like me, or like I was supposed to be were belittled and sexualised. They were dumb dollies and bits of ass. I wanted to love the movie where Mary Stewart Masterson played a boyish drummer, that movie ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’, but I felt betrayed by the ending. I wanted her to be trans, not just have to conform to a romantic ideal.
So all I had were my fantasies of a more egalitarian society. And I still find myself doing this, especially if I see a vaguely androgynous figure, who really and truly hope is female. Here I am tonight watching Robot Wars on BBC iPlayer, and I just caught myself imagining that one of the roboteers to be a woman. But they aren’t. And even if they were they would lose because that’s the way the world works. There is nothing here for the likes of me.
Rock and / or roll!!
When I was growing up, I heard this term a lot. Mostly it was from my mother, but it also came in many forms from other women in my life, from church to school. I guess it could be interpreted as that they just wanted me to be happy, and had fond memories of being 16 year olds courting back in the 1950’s, or simply that they wanted me to conform to cis-het norms and were worried that maybe I was gay. Whatever the reason, I rather naively believed them and that ‘hormones and human nature’ would somehow shape my destiny.
I had great faith in the idea of hormones. I really believed that once you got into your twenties and your body clock started ticking, nature would take its course. I strongly believed I’d get ‘the urge’ as they called it, some kind of unbridled sexual desire to get pregnant. I was assured this was normal and was a wonderful experience. I was told how amazing it was having the ‘earth move’ and what a miracle it was to feel the first stirrings of life kicking in your womb. Being pregnant was wonderful and if I didn’t agree there must be something wrong with me.
The trouble was, even tho I had convinced myself that I wanted this to happen, I was having trouble with feeling sexual desire towards men. I was having trouble feeling sexual desire towards anyone to be honest, but the sheer idea of seeing men as sexual conquests made me uneasy. I had known from when I was a child that I was trans, but I didn’t really have the correct language to fully articulate how I felt, all I knew was that I felt as if I should be one of the boys, not one of the girls.
I finally plucked up enough courage to try to talk to my doctor about this. He looked at me over his glasses and told me that I was ‘a pretty girl, and that I should just go away and get on with my life, and not talk such rubbish’. He was an old school family doctor who voted Tory and played golf at the weekend with the local councillors so I should not have been surprised at his reaction. However, I was not very politically educated and was a member of the ‘Section 28’ generation, so medical practitioners and educators were strongly against the promotion of LGBT lifestyles. My school councillor also held these beliefs, and refused to talk to me on this subject, damning me with the response that I’d have a baby in a few years and I’d forget I’d ever said such a thing.
For years I tried to be ‘normal’. I was assured by those that I respected that it was because I ‘hadn’t met the right man yet’. But I had met dozens of men, all wrong apparently. I felt odd because I really felt as if I should be a man, so trying to see them as other was difficult. Within the Brethren, men practiced what is now known as the Billy Graham rule, which means that they treat all women as ‘stumbling blocks’ who will lead them into sin. At college I felt terrible as the only ‘female’ student on my electronics course, just wanting to blend in, but knowing I was inherently different and therefore wrong. I did not want to view my classmates as potential mates, and this idea that they could be made me deeply uneasy.
Nonetheless, I still chose not to see myself as queer. I was just waiting to get my ‘urge’, and feel my body clock ticking away, just like it was illustrated by the ‘dancing baby’ on TV’s ‘Ally McBeale’. I felt as if I should be writing myself a diary of romantic failures like Bridget Jones. But for me this didn’t feel right. Years later, when I was living and studying on the mainland I tried going to the doctor because I had no libido, therefore I must be sick. He put me in for counselling sessions and suggested I take Ginkgo Biloba supplements but never did he suggest that I was probably asexual.
Asexuality is something that is rarely talked about even amongst the queer community. Among religious communities it is misread as ‘celibacy’, and even fetishised. But it differs from celibacy in that it is an absence of sexual desire not abstinence from. Asexuals are read as being afraid of sex, bitter virgins or cold. They are also at great risk of being raped or subject to sexual violence when they try to negotiate relationships with ‘allosexuals’, or people with ‘normal’ sexual drives. They get called ‘cock tease’ or accused of leading people on. They get blamed for letting their families down when they fail to produce children. They get accused of ‘rincing’ if a guy buys them dinner and they don’t put out.
Being asexual is hard because most of society is geared into the pursuit of sex. This does not mean that asexual people cannot have relationships or even have sex, but it is not their driving force. I spent most of my life waiting for something to happen which was never going to happen. I tried to imagine being pregnant and his great it would be, even tho it made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want something growing inside me. I didn’t want a proud virile man patting my bump in anticipation, whilst his mates bought him cigars and told him ‘well done’. I couldn’t do it. I am glad that I didn’t even tho I was told by all and sundry that I’d regret not having kids.
Experiencing gender dysphoria I think is a big part of why I am asexual. I doubt I would have been asexual had I been born male as I would not have felt forced into a gender role that I found uncomfortable. I could have had relationships with women without having to feel as if I was jealous of them, which unfortunately was what I felt about men. I wanted to swap places, be the man in the relationship and not take the passive, domestic child-rearing role which I was unsuitable for. I wanted to be a record producer and work in music tech and be appreciated for my skills without my gender getting in the way. As a woman, I found it impossible to do that.
I know I wasted several men’s time having forced cis-het relationships which couldn’t go anywhere. Because of this, I even got sexually assaulted and accused of ‘leading them on’. In truth, they couldn’t take no for an answer. I also pursued a relationship with a disabled guy because I thought we could have a more equal, less sexual relationship. Instead I got accused of leading him astray and trying to corrupt him. I tried to get drunk and have sex just to please them, despite feeling awful about it myself.
My mum, for years believed me to be some kind of ‘man hater’, when I’m actual fact, I did not hate men at all. I was actually envious of them, it it was hard for her to explain that some of my ‘heroes’, such as David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and even Jason Donovan were not men who I was attracted to sexually, but were role models who I wished I looked like. She put my failures with the ‘opposite sex’ down to the false idea that most of the men I knew were ‘braggarts’ and that I didn’t know any ‘nice men’, but this was never the case. I knew loads of ‘nice men’, but I wanted them as my friends, not to complicate matters by making them sex objects.
Despite these liaisons, the ‘right man’ who was going to sweep me off my feet like a Disney Prince, never came along. And now I have faced up to the truth that there is not something wrong with me for not wanting to get pregnant and not experiencing sexual desire, I can get on with my life safe in the knowledge that the only thing wrong were the people forcing me to conform when there was no need to force anyone to conform to anything which went against their nature.
I have a lot of young students come to me for singing lessons, many of them young girls. They seem enthusiastic at first, but they always come with baggage, preconceived ideas of being like whatever pop star is in favour at the time. A couple of years back it was Taylor Swift and Little Mix, now it’s Billie Eilish and similar pouting young ingenues which have grabbed their interest.
I do not follow the pop charts and have not bothered to follow the pop charts since I was a teen and we had ‘Top of the Pops’. Even then, rather than following the artists, I followed the work of the production team Stock, Aitken and Waterman who were my heroes. The singers, Rick Astley, Sonia, Kylie etc were just the interpreters of the songs S/A/W had written and produced, and I was under no illusion that it was any other way.
For most of the young kids, especially the young girls entering music, they have a naive idea that they can walk off the street and become an overnight success. I blame a lot of this on the media aimed at children. Even when I was little we had TV shows like Roland Rat, for whom fame was the highest form of success. The whole concept of the show was based around somebody famous for being famous. The whole TV Talent show craze has pushed this idea, although it is rarely true.
Most people who become famous, do so one of two ways. The first way is by having family, especially parents in the industry. I do not mean just ‘pushy parents’, even tho there is a lot of that sort of thing around, but parents with the kind of leverage that money can’t buy, real industry contacts. It’s no surprise that almost all young stars are the result of nepotism, from the obvious, such as Miley Cyrus being the child of Billy Ray, to the not so obvious, ie Jess Glynne’s mother being in A&R for a major record label.
The other, more problematic way is turning to ‘sugar daddies’ or ‘mentors’ who promise fame and fortune at a cost. It’s come out in the open now, that the long known about, but never talked about industry ‘open secret’ of the ‘casting couch’ is real. If you do not have loads of money, pushy parents or family with real insider contacts, it’s easy to be led astray by someone who promises to make you a star for the cost of a blow-job, but even if they do, your success will be brief and you will gain no respect.
For female artists, and I am saying female artists even tho I am well aware of situations such as Anthony Rapp’s, who was molested as a teenager by an adult Kevin Spacey, and that the situation can very well apply to boys. Even in the recent BBC series ‘Dark Money’ the focus is on an underage male actor seduced by a Hollywood film producer. The difference is that, with girls and young women, it is very much ‘normalised’ and that the girl will just get the blame for being a mercenary ‘groupie’ or ‘star-fucker’, and will not be seen as the victim, it’s just par for the course.
In either case, I have identified a window of opportunity for female artists as being between the ages of 15 and 21. At 15, you are young and naive enough to do whatever it takes without question, and a singer/actress/model signed up at this age will be a blank slate for the producers to stamp a new identity on. That gives you basically 6 years to be groomed, trained and marketed before you are ‘old hat’ and no longer wanted. That’s a very short period of time in the real world, but the world of media is not the real world.
This girl, after a couple of years of ‘investment’ in her ‘training’ will be able to be launched as a product at around 17, think of Billie Piper, or Billie Eilish. Even Adele, who is lionised as some kind of ‘songwriter’ was groomed at the Brit Academy before they released her first album ‘19’, when she was, ehem, 19. Jessie J is another example, lauded as a child ‘prodigy’ and West End stage school kid, before going on to star in the 2012 Olympic Games closing ceremony before she’d even had a hit single, and guess what? She went to the BRIT School too, class of 2006 along with X-Factor ‘winner’ Leona Lewis and the aforementioned Adele.
It’s so hard and so frustrating when you realise that most wide-eyed young ingenues have no hope, and it isn’t because of them not being good enough, or not putting in enough effort. I am constantly reminded of Dory the fish with dementia from Finding Nemo’s constant mantra of ‘keep on swimming, keep on swimming!’. Too many people tell their kids that hard work and talent will pay off, when it doesn’t. It’s having a leg up from an insider, getting special favours and yes, even ‘secret society’ membership.
How do you tell a 15 year old that they have already missed the boat? You need to be born into it to succeed in it. Much was made in the 2000’s of Lily Allen being a ‘My Space’ star, but nothing was said about her being the daughter of a very influential showbiz family. It gives kids the wrong impression that this is something anybody could do, but is simply isn’t true.
To master anything, be it singing, acting or whatever it takes time, it takes baby steps. These kids thrown into the stage are not masters of anything. They have just been lucky. Someone who had spent years studying, if they are a woman, will not find success as a repayment for their hard work. Even at 25, the music industry will consider this woman to be old, unmarketable, and they simply will not be interested.
If you are 35, 40, 45, you might be a better artist, or a more accomplished performer, but that is not what they want. They want a nubile, sexually attractive (to predatory older men that is) young gamine who will pout and do as she’s told, won’t ask questions, and make her ‘manager’ and her ‘agent’ a lot of money in the process. And that, my dears, is why you’ll never be a pop star.
Someone I passed in the street the other day told me how much they enjoyed my singing, and how they haven’t heard me sing for ages. I was a bit embarrassed being put on the spot like that, but I had to explain myself, somehow. I’ve not been performing much lately, feeling as I do in a netherworld between still presenting as cis, but actually being trans in denial, but there was no need to tell her that. Instead, I tried to explain my complicated relationship with Opera, which, as you read earlier, I gave up quite unceremoniously last year.
This was for several reasons, firstly, even tho I had enjoyed the technical aspect of it, and pushing myself to master it, I realised I didn’t enjoy it. I could appreciate it for its artistry, but I did not like the trappings of it, the elitism, the snobbery, the focus on glamour and status which had nothing to do with the actual music.
The other reason, had become rather more personal but had forced me to really look at opera for what it is, instead of being uncritical of it because of its history and culture. A friend of mine had recently taken his own life in his early 40’s. This was a big shock, and should not have happened, but these things are happening all the time, to people who have slipped through the net of mental health provision due to cut backs and austerity.
Since quitting opera, I have been able to be rather more critical of it as an art form. One of the things I find deeply uncomfortable other than the misogyny and dodgy gender politics is the way suicide is presented as an option and a way out of any tricky situation. Opera glamourises suicide as a passionate and romantic act, to be encouraged rather than prevented. The greatest heroines of opera are remembered for their on stage deaths, their swan songs and their dramatic overacting.
It’s easy to criticise modern genres such as ‘emo’ for being preoccupied by death and encouraging depressed teenagers to self-harm, but compared with the noble and romanticised suicides in opera, they are really rather passé. Any opera worth it’s salt has at least one attempted suicide, several characters expressing suicidal thoughts, some guy falling on their own sword, or the grand finale where the prima donna drinks poison or jumps off a roof or whatever. It’s the nature of the beast. Even the perennial favourite ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’, or ‘Oh My Beloved Father’ by Puccini has the heroine lamenting for her love, contemplating throwing herself into the river Arno, and ends with the lyrics, ‘Oh God! I want to die!’
A friend of mine surprised me recently when he said that he doesn’t listen to lyrics, and just hears the voice as an instrument. We were discussing the most non-PC songs and the racist and misogynistic lyrics of the Rolling Stones song ‘Brown Sugar’, which for all the hundreds of times he had listened to the song, had not twigged that it was about slavery. For me, lyrics are poetry and give songs meaning, but now a realise that for a lot of people this is not the case. In English speaking countries it’s easy to view opera that way, as the voice, on top of being highly stylised, will be singing in Italian, or maybe French. This means that you can enjoy an aria for it’s melody without knowing what it’s about, which in my opinion is a very two dimensional and blinkered approach. For me, knowing I am listening to a song about a rape or murder cannot be ignored.
I tried to tell this person that I did not feel comfortable performing opera any more, because of these and other reasons. She looked at me for a second before answering,
‘Oh, you just have to forget all that and let your voice out, because your voice is beautiful.’
I wasn’t wholly surprised by her answer, but to be honest, to my mind, it’s far too late for that. I put a heck of a lot of effort into developing my voice so I could effectively interpret opera, for zero returns. It makes no difference to me if somebody considers my voice ‘beautiful’, because there is no reason to continue doing something you don’t enjoy unless you are being well paid for it.
Yes, I know how cynical that sounds. There is such a thing as the ‘sunk cost fallacy’ which means that people will keep on plugging on at a fruitless pursuit they have invested in, always hoping that something will be ‘around the corner’. I used to believe that I was just a hair’s breadth away from that talent scout, and that I shouldn’t be a quitter, because quitting is bad and shows a weak character. Now I am more likely to agree with Einstein that there is no greater stupidity that to keep doing the same damn thing but expecting different results.
I thought that opera was going to be better to me, and that investment in it would pay off. Instead, I found myself uncomfortable with both the elitism and the questionable content. I think that it’s perfectly acceptable now to be critical of what passes as ‘culture’ especially now we are aware of mental heath conditions, suicide and the ‘me too’ movement. Opera should be put under the magnifying glass and seen for what it is, which is a patriarchalist and elitist art form which glorifies suicide and makes tragic heroines of mentally ill women. Opera made me into someone I did not like and made expectations of me to be someone I wasn’t and to turn a blind eye to things I didn’t like. Maybe if I was being paid I could have done this, but it was fruitless and gained me nothing, so it was easy in the end to say goodbye to it, and not to do it anymore, despite how ‘good’ I was at it.
In the music business, film, modelling and other creative arts, by far the most dangerous people are the self-styled moguls and svengalis who appear to wield the power to grant success or even fame just by waving their magic wands. Of course, a lot of these people, nay, men – as they are men 99.9 times out of 100, do not haven any such power, the only power they have is the power of very naive people, usually young girls who believe them to have this power and influence.
(I have actually met one woman who played this game, she was a high class Madam from Portsmouth who claimed to be an entertainments agent and drove a shabby 1980’s Ferrari, which was a part of her pretentious persona)
People with supportive or even ‘pushy’ parents will never really understand this concept, as they always have someone to turn to for advice, emotional support and financial support, and even a ‘leg up’ if those parents are nepotists who already have contacts in the industry. Those of us who have to fend for ourselves have to navigate the minefield of these self-styled moguls who might be able to get us a bit of inside information and the industry contacts we need, but in exchange for what exactly?
Having to go it alone, it’s easy to make strange alliances with very dubious individuals if you think there’s a chance they might throw you a bone. They will pretend to be your friend and pretend to take an interest in your career but it’s all fake. They are most likely giving exactly the same spiel to a dozen other young ingenues the same time they are bullshitting you and giving you false hope.
When you are in a rut and despite putting in a lot of work your career isn’t getting off the ground, you want to see things which aren’t there, and will jump at any opportunity even if it’s ‘too good to be true’. You might not even like these individuals but if they appear to hold the key and somehow be the ‘gatekeepers’ common sense goes out of the window.
One of the first ones I met was a guy in his 70’s who was a master’s student at my university. He was one of the kinds of student who did maybe one module a year, and had been there for so long he was treated basically as if he was a member of staff, which of course he wasn’t. He had been a professional musician and was well connected in the business, so when he put himself up as a ‘mentor’, a lot of students fell for it. It turned out that he was a particularly manipulative sexual predator, but nobody called him out on it, because as far as the faculty was concerned what he was doing was ‘charitable’.
Another guy was well known locally as an ‘agent’, who ran what he called an ‘international entertainment agency’. I reality he was a manipulative shyster who had a history of booking completely inappropriate acts for clients, ie duos when they wanted bands, getting artists on his roster to pretend to be famous people they weren’t, and hiring out female singers as ‘escorts’. One shocking case was when a footballer he was representing released an autobiography and he needed some ‘arm candy’ so he was rigged up with a singer for the night. Why should someone be expected to do that unless they were really desperate?
I made ‘friends’ with a guitar and voice teacher who was well known on the local folk scene who I believed was genuinely interested in helping me with my career. Maybe he was, but his kind of help was something I didn’t need. He encouraged me to put together a modelling portfolio which he thought would help me get gigs, but in hindsight it was just an excuse for him to make me take my top off.
I finally drew the line at going up to the midlands to meet with a musical director who had worked with the ‘Go Compare’ man Wynne Evans and Katherine Jenkins, who had offered to let me record in his studio. I had put together the money to go up on the train, but in the end, I didn’t go as it didn’t feel right. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and had become so tired of being manipulated and having to ‘people please’ in return for favours I’d never get. I thought I would regret this, but I don’t. This was the only person who I think had genuine influence in the music industry, so maybe this was a lost opportunity.
I had already become tired and jaded working as a magician’s assistant for a guy who was narcissistic, controlling and usually drunk, and who dictated to me what I should wear and who I should talk to and to be honest, I was not in the mood for any more of that kind of thing. He had even got me to pretend to be his wife, which was just to make him look good in public.
(This magician, oddly enough at one point in his career did some work for the Ferrari lady, tho whether this was as an entertainer or a gigalo I will never know.)
Another point to consider is the environment this all takes place in. From concert halls, to holiday camps and nightclubs, there is a culture of alcohol and drugs which means that boundaries easily get crossed, and what can begin as ‘good natured humour’ a few pats on the butt etc can end up being full on grouping and actual sexual assault, and for the fear of being seen as prudish and a party pooper, you just giggle and let them get on with it, even tho once you get home you feel dirty and violated.
When you have nobody to turn to, despite your better judgement you will turn to anybody. I saw other students getting bought expensive instruments and dresses etc from their families and tried to compete. I knew that in buying stuff from dress agencies I was always running the risk of being outed as a fraud. I had the best collection of fake Burberry and Louis Vuitton heels and handbags, and as far as I knew, people were none the wiser. It made me look as if I was successful.
I think in my case, I was looking for a father figure as I had been badly let down by my own father as well as the strange boyfriend my mum had after he died who insisted I called him ‘daddy’, but I was still very naive and failed to see that they were actually scoping me out as a potential sexual conquest. I think I might have known that in the back of my mind, but I didn’t want to believe it.
I recently watched a BBC documentary about Sugar Baby dating, and it was interesting to observe that most of the ‘Sugar Daddies’ also use similar language and put themselves up as ‘mentors’ who are helping the girls with their tuition fees and with their careers when in actuality all they are doing is facilitating prostitution and exploiting the vulnerable. The kind of girls who turn to sugar dating are those who don’t have wealthy parents and privileged backgrounds and have turned to older men as a substitute.
In music and the creative arts, especially modelling and acting you need to put on a lot of bravado and a lot of front, and it gets extremely tiring having to live a lie all the time and maintain a ‘professional’ persona. When you have to do it by yourself and there is no support from your home and family it is all the more difficult as there is nobody to be an intermediary for you, you just have to take risks and find alliances with people when and where you can. It’s rare that these people actually have your best interests at heart, at best they will just want to exploit you financially, but at worst it will end in coercive sexual exploitation.
The industry has always allowed media gatekeepers like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, R. Kelly and Jimmy Savile to abuse their power and influence to manipulate young women by offering them a taste of fame. It’s always the most deprived and isolated victims who fall for this kind of thing as they have had to fend for themselves without any handouts or favours from their families, and nobody looking out for them.
I just really pissed off a parent who was really proud that their kid got 100% in a music theory exam, because they wanted me to go ‘woo hoo’. Well, I didn’t, and here’s why.
This is the reason why I hold music theory exams in such low regard. It’s not because it isn’t some kind of ‘achievement’ getting 100% in a music theory exam, because it is, and big kudos to you if you’ve achieved it, but in the final analysis, the sad thing is, that it really doesn’t matter.
Music theory is very much like maths. Unlike performance, it is objective rather than subjective and can be quantified as either right or wrong. Performance on the contrary is subjective, and down to the personal taste of the adjudicator. To put this in perspective, imagine if Bob Dylan had to perform within the exacting standards of an ABRSM adjudication in vocals. Would he pass? I very much doubt it.
Having a top grade score in music theory has absolutely zero effect on whether or not you will make it as a performer. In fact, it might have the opposite effect, causing you to obsess over trivialities instead of being natural and intuitive. Most success music artists are not well versed in theory, they are instinctive and intuitive artists. Contrarily, most of the theoretical and mathematical musicians do not make good music, they are good at theory but little else, lacking poetry, intuition and ‘feel’.
Being good at theory is a bit like being good at domestic science but unable to bake a cake, all the formulas and maths are in place but without intuition and talent that is all it is. It’s like a robot trying to figure out human emotions, going through the motions but feeling nothing, just a fake and a facsimile trying to substitute theory for pure, raw talent, and nobody can do that.
I have written on this blog several times already how as a young teenager I enthralled with the idea of being a record producer. I loved music technology, everything from primitive mono tape recorders, microphones through to the cheap Amstrad and Tascam multitracks which recorded on standard compact cassettes and the rudimentary sequencers like Music X for the Commodore Amiga and the legendary Steinberg Cubase for the Atari ST. I wanted to be like my heroes, Stock, Aitken and Waterman, and at that time, believing that we lived in a progressive society and being a girl would be no obstacle, (and may even be a bonus) I saw no reason not to pursue that dream.
It was not until I got to university that I realised that this belief was untrue. I had had a lot of knock backs before which were mostly due to people misattributing what was my hobby and my passion as being my father’s. In reality, he had little to no interest in music production but had worked in electronic assembly and industrial photography. What I had chosen as a career path had nothing to do with him, but it was perceived as so unusual for a girl to want to pursue that career, it couldn’t possibly be my choice alone. It had to be someone else’s idea.
At university, I became very disillusioned with my choice. I started out very secure in my abilities, but after a year I was afraid to do anything for fear that I was going to confirm my status as a silly girl, a clueless dilettante who even my ‘personal tutor’ couldn’t be bothered to personally tutor. I became all too aware that as the only ‘female’ student on the course I was not taken seriously and my abilities were underestimated which led to to such extreme self-doubt that I had to leave the course and take the ‘path of least resistance’, the path that I saw girls actually gain respect and success at, and so I switched to singing.
One of the main things I had to conquer here was the sudden importance of image and appearance. Although this is also important for male singers, there is a lot of pressure on female singers to be sexually attractive. This is also reflected in most of the material female singers are expected to perform, especially in operatic and musical theatre roles. Women are expected to sing about relationships and their relationship to the men in their life – be it about abuse, adultery or seduction and even suicide. Opera has a reputation for being a particularly misogynistic art form because of the way that it portrays its heroines, because most are either ‘fallen women’, seductresses, victims, terminally ill or insane.
Even when singing ‘popular music’, I felt a great pressure to be perfectly presented, in a manner with was glamorous and sexualised, which was not something which I had every associated with my music making before. Now it seemed that this expectation was on me, if I wanted to make a success of it, a success as much about being a ‘woman’ as it was being a musician. In fact, more so. I came to neglect the things I thought I was good at, guitar, bass, music tech, electronica etc, in favour of what was considered socially acceptable for a student of my gender.
Sometimes I felt good, dressed up to the nines in stilettos and hair extensions, but it got me the wrong kind of attention. I doubt that I would have been ‘groomed’ had I not chosen to present myself on this manner. I would also have been trusted more for my competence with technical subjects, instead of being overlooked. There is nothing worse than being the kind of ‘Cassandra’ figure who has knowledge and expertise in a subject, but nobody will ever ask you for your input, instead turning to people who are less qualified and have less experience because they better fit the stereotype of an ‘expert’ in that field.
When I was dedicated to making this work, it wasn’t for lack of effort that I failed at it. It was fake and unsuited to me, like I was having to live somebody else’s idealised life not mine, because in mine I was a guy and a successful record producer. I got a lot of compliments for my looks and even put together a modelling portfolio which I hoped would get me more work. I was careful to watch my weight and maintain a svelte figure so I could wear the slinkiest dresses. It really should have worked had it not been that for me, this was a compromise, which took me down a path I originally had no desire to follow.
I would like to warn, as best I can, girls who wish to make it in the music industry. Nowadays, more than ever, ‘sexiness’ is prized above skill and talent. Even if you are talented and have unique skills, you will be shoehorned into presenting a certain image, dictated by the male media execs who rule this industry. I always cringe a bit when I see a promo on Facebook or in the local paper for some up and coming ingenue who thinks that pouting will somehow help them sell records when it won’t. They never seem to do anything original, and are in deep denial thinking that they are making their own creative choices when all they are doing is conforming to the role the male dominated industry requires them to.
By doing this, instead of developing themselves as artists they have inadvertently crippled themselves, and if not kept in check, it’s a slippery slope towards becoming nothing more than a sex-object. For a while, I tried promoting myself as a hotel/nightclub singer. I was in a duo with a male keyboard player for a while, and that was mostly OK, but then I started using backing tracks and going solo, which is when I got the worst experiences of misogyny. I was asked almost every gig by drunk elderly men if I wanted to drink with them and come to their room. I just shrugged this off, jaded as I was by then as ‘normal’. Well, as the #metoo movement has proved this kind of thing has been normalised for far to long. It is not normal, it’s sexual harassment.
It’s been a cliche for a long time in the music industry that for a female singer to become successful she does not need talent, or even be a good singer as long as they are prepared to get their ass and tits out and grind against a pole in a music video. Sadly this is true. There are a lot of quality singer songwriters who will never achieve fame or even notoriety because they do not want to do this. Success is easy for people with no scruples and no artistic integrity, but it’s a dark path to go down. I could mention a few singers who were particularly mercenary in their clamour for fame, which even extends to the classical / opera scene, but I won’t. I’ll leave it for you to guess.
In cases such as this, however, the singer has achieved nothing on their own terms, but by pandering to the patriarchal system hoping to be thrown a bone. It’s a bit like saying to a ‘suitor’, why are you buying me lingerie? Because you want me to have sex with you? Well, gee, that’s nice. I was informed that using this kind of sexuality was ‘empowering’, but it is not. It’s just a way of getting very little from someone who holds all the power, whilst you have no power at all. Trinkets and trivialities are all you will get, and you’ll just be a throwaway ‘girl of the week’. You are supposed to be jealous of other girls who get attention from these creeps. Doesn’t sound much like ‘success’ to me.
I was told when very young about the power of ‘feminine wiles’, and how, as a girl I had the potential to just bat my eyelids at a man to wrap him around my little finger and get him to do my bidding. I think this idea was prevalent in the magazines of the era, which ran photo stories of girls getting one up on men, or getting them to do there homework for them etc. It’s only recently that people, educators and feminists alike have begun to realise how negative this is and how it can impact on young girls sense of self worth. If you are inclined to use your physical attributes to manipulate men, isn’t that a form of prostitution? Where does it leave girls who are not photoshop beautiful and unable to play this game? The truth is, nobody should be playing this game as there are no winners, and you gain nothing except advertising yourself as sexually available in return for ‘favours’.
It’s ironic that this ‘self-objectification’ is presented as empowering, and that most girls believe it to be their own choice to present that way, when of course it isn’t, it’s just decades of media representation and a male dominated industry which has ‘rewarded’ women for being good little girls and doing as ‘daddy’ says. When you consider how short and fleeting many of these women’s careers are, it’s obvious that they are only considered desirable as long as they are obedient, sexy and above all, young. For men, it’s a different story, they are valued for their experience and age makes them even more desirable and employable, they are considered ‘distinguished elder statesmen’, not washed up old bags. They are allowed to be ugly, fat, scruffy or rude with no fear that it will damage their reputation.
In the years where I was coerced into believing that being seductive and glamorous would help my career, I did things I am now deeply ashamed of. I did topless photos and allowed myself to be groomed by an industry professional who I should have reported, not only to the Student’s Union, but to the police. I believed that I was presenting myself as a professional and took care to always be well groomed. I did not realise I was only advertising myself as a sexual object, and had actually shot myself in the foot in the same way as many, many girls in the music industry have, in pandering to a patriarchal system run by men, for men, and if this persists, you will never be taken seriously as an artist of even a human being, you are simply a piece of meat to be manipulated and ogled at by the same people you hope in vain will throw you a bone.