David Bowie, Steven Tyler, Marilyn Manson, the New York Dolls, glam rock, hair bands — in the annals of rock and roll, androgyny goes with the territory.
But if it’s commonplace to blur gender roles in performance, it’s another matter when a male rocker decides to live as a woman.
Earlier this month Rolling Stone broke the story of Tommy Gabel, the lead singer for the acclaimed Gainesville punk band Against Me! He announced that he’s about to transition to becoming a female, the most prominent rock performer ever to make such an announcement.
But before that news came out, a similar odyssey had already begun to unfold in Tampa. That’s when Matt Turner, 24, of the ska/punk/hardcore band Paranoia Dance Party! took the first steps toward becoming Madison “Maddie” Turner.
Maddie’s not the first local musician to undergo a change of gender. But given the hard-edged macho vibe of the punk fan base, you might have thought there’d be a huge backlash against a male performer in that genre becoming a female. And it’s true that PDP!, which released several records and toured nationally during its four-year career, disbanded right around the same time as the emergence of Maddie.
But band members insist the breakup had nothing to do with that. Maddie Turner agrees, saying that the reaction to her coming out as a transgender woman (except for her father, who doesn’t quite understand it all) has been almost universally positive.
Part of the reason may be the way Matt/Maddie has gone about telling world.
A week after Matt informed the band of his decision, he announced on Facebook, not that he was transgendering, but that he would be cross-dressing. At that point, he wasn’t sure just how much to reveal. But since then, Maddie has blogged about her transition step by step — controlling her own narrative on Facebook and YouTube in a way that reflects changes taking place, not just in rock, but in society as a whole.
Matt Turner grew up in the Carrollwood area, attending Sickles High School. It was there that he discovered punk and ska and hardcore, going to the State Theatre and Skatepark to see bands like Reel Big Fish and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
While at Sickles, he began promoting shows (something he did up to last year) before creating Paranoia Dance Party! in 2008. Guitarist Tyler Rosenberg recalls that one of the band’s ambitions was to become a touring outfit, and tour they did — throughout the Northeast and deep into the Midwest.
The band’s sound, as described in 2009 in tbt by Julie Garisto (now CL’s A&E Editor), was “dance music gone berserk.” In concert, Turner belted out his lyrics aggressively; “screamy,” Maddie calls it now. She says there’s not that much of a contradiction between that public persona and her current delivery, adding that there are plenty of female-fronted bands that sound similar.
Rosenberg remembers the day Turner pulled the band aside after practice to inform them that he was going to begin dressing as a girl. “We were all kind of shocked,” he says, then quickly adds, “Nobody was obviously against that or anything like that.”
The band’s split followed a stressful tour that didn’t turn out as successfully as they’d hoped. Meanwhile, Matt had begun feeling like a hypocrite for singing songs that emphasized, “Just be who you are.”
The urge to change gender was becoming overwhelming.
“I remember being in the back of the tour van wearing gym shorts. They were baggy and I was looking at my hairy legs and just being disgusted. I would close my eyes, and I knew this girl Christina that would tour with other bands, and I would pretend that I looked the exact same as her — it would comfort me.” The masculine body Maddie occupied “wasn’t who I was. This is wrong. This is wrong. This is wrong,” she remembers saying to herself.
At the beginning of February Maddie began taking hormones: estradiol (estrogen), medroxyprogesterone (which helps breast growth), other anti-testosterones. She’s also doing laser hair removal.
But Maddie’s not sure she wants to undergo sex reassignment surgery (which costs an estimated $40,000) or some of the other operations that a male transitioning to a female might undergo, such as tracheal shaves (removing the Adam’s apple) to reduce the cartilage in the throat and make the shape more feminine. Nor is she of the mindset to get breast implants; Gwen Stefani, she points out, is an example of a woman who’s beautiful without being particularly well-endowed.
Maddie says this is how the whole process has worked for her. “I’m just seeing where I’m comfortable about myself.”
Sara Crawley, an associate professor of sociology at USF, understands that sentiment. She says that for transgender people, the primary focus is not so much about “medicalizing” their bodies as it is about how they’re seen in the world. “Once one becomes comfortable with the way one gets to interact in the social world, perhaps one wants to have all kinds of surgeries, and perhaps not.”