A handful of the world’s most well-known pop gems are about gender identity — and in even more specific ways than Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” or Christina Aguilera’s “Reflection.” Trans, non-binary, and androgynous people and ideas have influenced music for several decades, whether they were writing and performing it themselves or otherwise. Some of it has been riddled with detestable ideology — some arguable, some blatant — and others have been praise-worthy pieces of progress embedded in song.
As many of these songs were written and released from a time when transgender wasn’t yet part of the vernacular, and using correct gender pronouns hadn’t become commonplace, they could be viewed as more problematic through a modern lens. But their existence — especially those from gender-fluid performers, who clearly excel at telling their own stories much better than even the most well-intentioned of allies — can still be counted on a timeline of trans-inclusive and affirming tracks from recent pop culture history.
Here are 25 songs that touch on gender identity — some better than others. Follow the Spotify playlist below.
1. The Kinks – “Lola”
The 1970 song “Lola” has been debated as transphobic, but others see it as a love story between a cis man and the trans woman he unexpectedly falls for. When Kinks singer Ray Davies croons, “Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls. It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world, Except for Lola. Lo lo lo lo Lola,” it’s with affection rather than disdain for his love interest. The band followed this up eight years later with “Out of the Wardrobe,” a homophobic track (even using the word “faggot” in one of its lines), but worth noting for its story about a trans woman who comes out to her wife, that ultimately has a happy ending. “She says it helps their relationship /She says a change is as good as a rest /And their friends finally coming ’round to their way of thinking/She wears the trousers and smokes the pipe /And he washes up/ She helps him wipe/Cause when he puts on that dress/He looks like a princess.”
2. The Replacements – “Androgynous”
Originally released in 1984, this track has been covered by the likes of Crash Test Dummies and Joan Jett who share an affinity for its message. “Here come Dick, he’s wearing a skirt/Here comes Jane, you know she’s sporting a chain/Same hair, revolution/Same build, evolution./Tomorrow who’s gonna fuss/And they love each other so/Androgynous/Closer than you know.” Punk band The Replacements often performed this song on stage donning dresses, and Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace gave it her own spin with Jett and Miley Cyrus for a charity performance in 2015.
3. Ezra Furman – “Body Was Made”
A true anthem of loving oneself, openly queer and gender fluid indie star Ezra Furman’s 2015 single has the vocalist singing “Your body is yours at the end of the day / Don’t let the hateful take it away / We want to be free and we go our own way.” In press, Furman has referred to “Body Was Made” as a “protest song,” and a reclamation of one’s own identity.
4. Jay Boogie – “Precious”
Jay Boogie “got this gown on with a smile on” on this slow groove that has the queer gender-fluid rapper intoning “I’m so precious” over and over for the chorus. It’s part self-love, part letting the haters know: “Trying to figure out my anatomy/You ain’t built for this/Eat your broccoli.”
5. Arcade Fire – “We Exist”
An accompanying video starring Andrew Garfield as a transgender woman was criticized for the band not having cast a trans actress instead, but the message of pride and self-acceptance stands out from this award-winning Canadian band. “They walk in the room/And stare right through you/Talking like/We don’t exist/But we exist.”
6. Garbage – “Cherry Lips”
Shirley Manson was inspired by fictional trans woman writer JT Leroy’s work to write the song “Cherry Lips” about of a “delicate boy” who “could make grown men gasp when you’d go walking past them in your hot pants and high heels.” Despite it being later revealed that Leroy was a literary hoax, the sentiment (“Go baby/ Go go/We’re right behind you”) remained. On that same 2001 album, Beautiful Garbage, Manson sang more to show her support of “boys in the girl’s room/girls in the men’s room” on “Androgyny.”
7. Lou Reed – “Take A Walk On The Wild Side”
A song that has since been debated as transphobic (as well as racist), Lou Reed was known to have had relationships with trans women, and so “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” was also considered a love letter of sorts. He opens the song with lyrics about trans starlet Holly Woodlawn, who praised the song and its writer for making her “immortal.” (Woodlawn passed away in 2015.) Another one of Reed’s tracks, “Candy’s Girl,” was written for and about trans actress Candy Darling — Garbage later performed their own cover.
8. Christine and the Queens – “iT”
The pansexual singer says she wrote this song about penis envy after being subject to sexism in drama school several years ago. “I’ve got it/I’m a man now/And I won’t let you steal it/I bought it for myself/I’m a man now,” she insists, but now claims she’d rather stay a woman and fight the patriarchy while wearing tailored suits on stage.
9. Blur – “Girls & Boys”
Perhaps one of the most catchy and sexy of gender-swapping pop hits, Blur’s “Girls and Boys” was a massive hit for the British band, who were looking for “Girls who are boys/Who like boys to be girls/Who do boys like they’re girls/Who do girls like they’re boys.” Not only was it a chart success, but NME named it Song of the Year in 1994.
10. The Lunachicks – “Mr. Lady”
“I’m more than a woman, more than a man/I feel larger than life, you must understand.” The all-girl punk band wrote this song about a transgender woman becoming her true self after years of suppressing her want to live in “heels,” “hose” and “daytime lingerie” in 1997.
11. Green Day – “King for a Day”
Billie Joe Armstrong penned this speedy ska-esque ditty about a “King for a day, princess by dawn,” detailing how “daddy threw me in therapy/He thinks I’m not a real man.” Happily, the narrator come out on top: “Who put the drag in the drag queen/Don’t knock it until you tried it.” They still play the deep cut from their hit ‘90s album Nimrod while on tour.
12. Pink Floyd – “Arnold Layne”
Founding frontman Syd Barrett reportedly wrote this song about a crossdresser he knew in Cambridge. It’s not a happy song, though—as Arnold’s penchant for stealing women’s panties gets him jail time: “Now he’s caught – a nasty sort of person/They gave him time/Doors bang, chain gang/He hates it….Arnold Layne/Don’t do it again.”
13. Jillette Johnson – “Cameron”
Another song about a young gender-non-conforming person who isn’t accepted by their family or society, “Cameron” is one of Jillette Johnson’s most beloved songs — which might be because it’s directly inspired by a real life Cameron she knew and loved. The soulful singer repeats, over and over, that Cameron isn’t the alien the world thinks they are — “Cameron, you’re a star/A light where there is dark/And you’re a hundred times a woman/A hundred times the man that they are.”
14. Hole – “My Beautiful Son”
Courtney Love was said to have been inspired by then husband Kurt Cobain’s childhood crossdressing for this 1993 track — she even used a photo of him for the single’s cover art. Cobain, of course, continued to thwart gender ideals, wearing dresses on stage and off, which helped give Love some lyrical fodder: “You look good in my dress/I’ll get your friends to clean the mess/You look good in my clothes/I can feel you where the doctor goes.”
15. Suzanne Vega – “As Girls Go”
The singer/songwriter says this song was directly inspired by a flirtatious relationship she had with a trans waitress, which ultimately made her consider her sexuality. “You make a really good girl /As girls go,” Vega sings. “Still kind of look like a guy/I never thought to wonder why.” Like some of these other songs, there are some problematic, cringe-worthy stanzas (“So beautiful/Damsel in distress/Not exactly natural/Stunning none the less”) that were seen as progressive anomalies at the time.
16. David Bowie – “Rebel Rebel”
Androgyny and genderfuckery were David Bowie’s calling cards, so his hit song about a societal rebel who’s maybe a boy, and maybe a girl is part of what made him so beloved amongst the queer community — mostly because he did it in a way that was celebratory rather than sad or sadistic. “Hey babe, your hair’s alright/Hey babe, let’s go out tonight/You like me, and I like it all/We like dancing and we look divine.”
17. Shea Diamond – “I Am Her”
Out trans singer Shea Diamond sings that she’s an outcast in her song “I Am Her,” but by the end, she’s letting listeners know “Don’t care too much what other people see/I get along swell by my goddamn self/Never asked for no one’s philosophy/It’s obvious I’m proud of me.” Diamond uses the “I Am Her” phrase to represent more than just the song, writing on her website: “‘I Am Her’ means that no matter how the world treats me, no matter if I’m rejected, accepted, denied or misunderstood, I will continue to live out my truth as Shea Diamond! It was in losing the world that I found myself and the will to keep living as the woman I am proud to be.”
18. Against Me! – “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”
Out Against Me! front woman Laura Jane Grace just wants the world to ignore her “broad shoulders” and see her dress, as she sings on “Transgender Dysphoia Blues.” But the world hasn’t caught up yet, something she laments on “True Trans Soul Rebel” as well: “You should’ve been a mother/You should’ve been a wife/You should’ve been gone from here years ago/You should be living a different life.”
19. Bad Suns – “Salt”
The pop-punk band’s 2014 single “Salt” was inspired by a friend of theirs who was struggling with their gender identity. “Stuck inside of the wrong frame/I don’t feel attached to this name,” frontman Christo Bowman sings. “My body, I must reclaim/With different eyes and no shame.” The music video, a gorgeously choreographed but dark component from director Daniel Campos, starred dancer Tamara Levinson as she dealt with the traumas of depression, suicidal thoughts, and sexual assault before ultimately deciding to have gender reassignment surgery.
20. Namoli Brennet – “Thorn In Your Side”
Out trans folk musician Namoli Brennet’s “Thorn In Your Side” doesn’t dictate anything specifically related to gender identity, but instead, opts for a more broad addressing of the way the world tends to otherize individuals: “Some people look, some people stare/Some people turn away /Stumbling over words as if their tongue was in the way/Some people act as if their mind was made up anyway.” Brennet proclaims to these naysayers, “I’m not the thorn in your side/I’m not the break in your heart /I’m not the speck in your eye/I’m not the falling apart .”
21. Antony and the Johnsons – “For Today I Am A Boy”
Anohni’s previous band and moniker (inspired by Marsha P. Johnson) put out this song about a trans woman looking to the future, when she can be the “beautiful girl” and eventual “beautiful woman” she knows and feels she is. “One day I’ll grow up, feel it full and pure,” she sings, “But for today I am a child, for today I am a boy.” The song was used in the documentary Trinidad, which chronicled the life of Dr. Stanley Biber, who began conducting sex reassignment therapy in 1969.
22. Goldfrapp – “Annabel”
Queer singer Alison Goldfrapp details the dream world young Annabel lives in, where she can only imagine being herself when she closes her eyes. “When you dream you only dream you’re Annabel/Sleep reminds you takes you there, oh Annabel,” Goldfrapp coos, ending with “Only a boy under that.” The 2013 music video offers a literal interpretation, including a young trans girl blissfully twirling in pearls and a sequin dress.
23. The Waterboys – “A Girl Called Johnny”
One of few songs about a trans man, Irish band The Waterboys’ 1983 bittersweet take on “A girl called Johnny who/Changed her name when she/Discovered her choice was to/Change or to be changed” offered that Johnny hopped a train, left town, and never looked back. The song is said to be a tribute to Patti Smith, a queer male protagonist in Smith’s own music, as inspired by a character from William Burroughs’ The Wild Boys.
24. Mina Caputo – “Identity”
Life of Agony vocalist Mina Caputo came out publicly in 2011, and on her first solo album, she sang about about her earlier struggle with her gender identity: “I am not a man, I am not a woman/All I could taste is my burning heart.” Though somewhat melancholy, the song ends on a hopeful wanting for the listener to “Look at me, all of me/Sew me back together again.”
25. Terrorvision – “Josephine”
The English rock band released this single in 1998, singing about Josephine, who they first knew as Joe. She was always a good friend (“when friends were hard to find”), and, thankfully, her transition was a non-issue. “So we talked all night/And I just can’t pretend/Although I lost old Joe/I got a new girlfriend.”
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