An Interview with Randi Elise B.

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #096, Winter 2001.

by Larissa Glasser

Simply put, not many of us associate heavy metal music with transgenderism. Its cultural roots trace to a popularly perceived heterosexism from the male perspective. Surprised?

Despite the genre?s blatant avowal of androgyny, rebellion and empowerment, the average fan of heavy metal music is about as far from the definition of queer as you can get?at least from the queer side of the fence. Despite its outlaw characteristics, metal just ain?t a queer place to be.

Having started with popular bands such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath in the late sixties/early seventies, metal came into full flourish during the eighties?the dawn of Reagan, AIDS, and music censorship by the Parents Music Resource Center. It was under these oppressive circumstances that in the United States heavy metal music began to gain ground in the music collections of predominantly male youths (Beavis and Butthead wear AC/DC and Metallica T-shirts). However, a closer examination indicates an appeal across the gender spectrum. Although heavy metal is still perceived in many circles as misogynist and homophobic, there is a power in this music and outlaw identity that harnesses a commonality with queer and trans culture. Occasionally, you may even run into someone who embodies that.
When you first meet Randi Elise B., you know you?ve got someone with stories. I was aghast to find that someone in the community was once a roadie for Black Sabbath, Motorhead, and The Ramones. These were seminal bands I grew up with, sitting in my room alone and wondering what the fuck was going on with my body?the music provided the extremity of expression I was seeking. Slayer had just as much influence on me as did The Bangles.

Britt?s story goes even deeper than the experiences she had on the road touring with metal bands; her process of coming out, the traumatic experience of betrayal by seeming allies, her healing through the unflagging pursuit of her art are inspiring to anyone who is looking for a place in the community but is not sure where they fit in.

Apart from helping other bands, Britt is a queen of her own scene: her previous band, Briar Rose, did an arena tour in the U.K., while her current band has unleashed a full-length CD. She is also active within the community: she edits and produces Rosebuds, the newsletter of The Tiffany Club of New England, along with her own online ?zine. She also runs her own record label. Somehow, she found a few minutes to talk with us.


Larissa Glasser: Your band just released a CD. Did you put it on your own label?

Randi Elise B.: Yes I did, but I didn?t have to. I had gone to some of the connections I had before and I knew I could avoid the shopping around part of getting a record out, but I was also in the process of opening my own label, so I dropped it on our test label. This affords an extremely low overhead and eliminates the middleman. We were successful previously with a sampler of other bands from round the world, so we knew it would work.

L.G.: You?re the singer of the band. Soon after the release of the CD, you fired the rest of the band. How did that come about? I?ve listened to a lot of metal, and your band seemed well-rehearsed and powerful. How did this decision come about?

R.E.B.: The tracks on the CD were in a demo format for a long time prior to the actual formation of this band. I had put them together as songs with my old band Briar Rose. I write, produce, arrange, promote, and market just about everything I do in one way or another. When it came time to release and re-record the CD to try to get a piece of the New Metal Underground, which does exist and is VERY strong, it was right about the time I decided to bring my transgendered side out of the crypt and allow Britt to start to live and breathe. The four other members of the band were excited about the concept of playing metal as an?in their perception?Drag Witch band. In fact, the drummer, Gretchen Longo, started showing up at rehearsals with shaved legs and skirts and confided to me that she was really a closeted crossdresser! I figured, great, I?ve got someone in the band who really has an idea as to what I was experiencing. Everything was going really well in rehearsal, and the recording was a snap, as I had most of it a demo format to begin with. The CD was released and we started getting some response in Europe and Scandinavia, so it was now time to get some live time under our frocks. I had booked three shows in Connecticut, but it seems the idea of a drag band was a good idea as long as no one could see it. The band got ultra cold feet and did not want to go on stage in dresses. Keep in mind that we were not like most of the other transbands in the respect that we looked less like amazon lipstick lesbians and more like black and gothic over-vamps from the very depth of darkness, so I tried to convince them to look at it from the theatrical aspect?but they were having none of it. It was OK if I wanted to do it, but not them. I figured that if I was going to run into problems at that stage of the band, I could just imagine what was down the road. So I sacked them.

L.G.: Who are your main influences?

R.E.B.: Musically, I am influenced by music itself. There are only two kinds of music, good and bad, and both are preferential. Count Basie said that, and I fully agree. The main influences for the CD are really two CDs that haunted the shit out of me for a long time: ?Soul Destruction? by The Almighty and ?Countdown To Extinction? By Megadeth, but I run the whole spectrum, from Elvis Costello & The Attractions to T. Rex to The Ramones, Venom, Motorhead, Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, Devo. It?s not the singer per se with me; it is the song. I also pull influences from my Celtic heritage, films, lots of things. If you don?t at least look at everything, you eventually become ignorant to something. I do my best not to do that.

L.G.: Can you describe your first experience dressing?

R.E.B.: I don?t think you can really count this, but I actually took a permanent Flair-type marker when I was five and did my eyes in black ink because I saw my sister doing her makeup and I thought I was really supposed to have it on as well! Needless to say, my mother went wild when she saw it, because it was so fine and dark and close to my eyes that she couldn?t get it out?so I walked about for a while as a five-year-old Alice Cooper! The real dressing was about the same age, as I was watching one of my other sisters?I am the last of ten, by the way?trying on her long First Communion dress. My mother saw I was bothered by something, and afterward asked me what I was upset about. I knew I wanted a frock of my own, just like the one my sister had, so I tried to explain how I felt?but at that age, I suppose I must have sounded pretty naff. Later, when my father went to work and no one was around, my mother brought me to my sister?s room and let me wear the frock, but something was still wrong, as I had it on over my boy trousers. I asked if I could try everything, which just stopped my mother in her tracks, but she let me try the underthings and petticoat as well, and I think she got the idea that Randy just might really be Randi. Years and years later, she told me she agreed to the name Randy because she could perceive me as a girl, because that is what she was hoping for at birth. She wanted a girl. It became a situation of her dressing me whenever we got the chance until I started getting older.

L.G.: Did you let the world know right away? Did you go to any concerts en femme?

R.E.B.: No. There was really no reason at the time, and I suppose I had the usual ?Don?t let anybody find out this thing in me head,? so I said nothing?but I also had a fantastic outlet to dress and crossdress and be over the top as well. I was in the UK and the music scene was really crazy in the early seventies. We had glam rock, so I could tart myself up as much as I pleased and really cross the lines between genders on a regular basis. I was at the old Rainbow Theater in London, watching T. Rex and Bowie and Sweet and all the Glam bands with enough glitter on my eyes to choke a horse, and military jackets and long frock skirts with stack heels and a leather T. Rex ?The Slider? top hat that was actually too big for me, and because of the musical counter-culture it was accepted as the norm. When I went home I had to change, but if I stayed with my friends, I usually stayed dressed, and no problems were had at all, unless you count trying to remove day-old applied eye glitter!!

L.G.: Did you develop your onstage persona over time, or has it been relatively consistent since you first began to perform?

R.E.B.: It might be hard to grasp, especially if you know me in person, but I am actually quiet and reserved. My early music heroes were stylish glam stars. Marc Bolan of T. Rex, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury from Queen. What I learned from them is the art of performance?Make your shows something different and memorable?but I was still missing something, and that was the ferocity of a real rocker. I got that from Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols. Here is a guy who may not have had the best voice in the world, but when he was on stage, you couldn?t take your eyes off him for fear that he might come out there and smack you one! He MADE people pay attention to him by just being brutally honest and throwing everything he had into his performance. I took that right into the Metal 80?s, and, drawing from Motorhead, Plasmatics, Venom, W.A.S.P. and others, I evolved into this kind of dark, uncompromising nightmare on stage. I have made people back up from the front of the stage with some of the things I?ve done.

L.G.: I understand once you did a stint as a stand-up comedienne. Did you incorporate your trans persona into that?

R.E.B.: I started doing stand-up while I was attending U.S. High School in Massachusetts. I was part of the theater company at school, and I had a different sense of humor than the other kids. I was heavily Monty Pythonized, and I actually had to teach the company how to sound English for their plays because they were doing this god-awful embarrassing pseudo-cockney accents that if I was from West London I think I?d have beaten them up out of insult. I performed stand-up at a place called Periwinkles in the old Arcade building in Rhode Island. I had a different routine every week, and was doing very well. I performed at the Massachusetts State Drama Competition and got a standing ovation from over a thousand people. I had the chance for an audition for David Letterman, but the band was starting to attract attention, and I went into music instead. If the shows were going well, I would drop in some weird jokes and the rest of the band would know I was happy with the night because I was in lounge act mode. The only joke they hated was the penguin joke?which happens to be my favorite!

L.G.: Have you ever encountered transphobia when your band performed?

R.E.B.: Not yet, but then again, I had to postpone playing live until I found people that are not afraid of being seen in a frock on stage! I don?t think you can call it transphobia if it?s the band members themselves that are afraid of the trans band they play in. Weird, huh? Ever wish you were a sea otter?

L.G.: Did you find it hard to taken seriously as a transwoman in a male-dominated field?

R.E.B.: I honestly think I?m going to have more of a problem with that in the U.S. than I will in Europe and Japan. If your product sucks, then the U.K. will let you know it. If it?s good, they could care less what you look like as long as you can continue being entertaining. The U.S. is not like that. You fought against the British for your freedoms and the rights to express them, but it seems like a lot of people are in self-imposed restraint from doing that for fear that their ?friends? might be shocked, or something. I often refer to the song ?Know Your Rights? By The Clash because it pretty much outlines exactly what I mean when I say that America for all its freedoms tends to deny itself most of them. If you put some conviction behind your right to be who you are and enjoy what you enjoy without compromise to the dismal opinions of frightened idiots, then maybe there wouldn?t be so many phobia-related deaths in the U.S. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS and USE THEM!

As for the heavy metal part, it was said that a gay person couldn?t survive in the community?which is utter rubbish. Freddie Mercury was accepted right out of the box. Last year, the openly gay former vocalist for Judas Preist, Rob Halford, made a huge comeback. Everybody knew he was gay, and could have cared less. Transphobia in rock ?n? roll is a ridiculous proposition when you take into account that from Little Richard?s androgyny in the 50s through the hippies of the 60s and the Glam of the 70s and Annie Lennox?s female-to-male drag of the Eurythmics and Boy George of Culture Club and Pete Burns of Dead Or Alive doing the male-to-female part, it has always been around and always will be.

It?s the talent aspect that truly decides life or death in the business. Trans in the metal world? Look at the Overdrag of the Gothic bands.

L.G.: You?ve been editor of Rosebuds for some time now. When did you first begin visiting the Tiffany Club? What do they think of your band?

R.E.B.: I almost didn?t become a member of Tiffany Club Of New England because I had always heard it was too posh and nose-in-the-air, but I didn?t see that when I was there, and I became a member. It?s really a great place with some incredible people, and I think it serves its purpose as a haven and a way out to many in the community who may not know there are places to be trans and not feel like an object, freak, or disgrace. Their First Event function at the beginning of each year is one of the most informative and entertaining I?ve seen. I?d like to throw a bit of flash to it, but?I did the poster for it last year. You really have to attend to get the proper feel for it. When I became the editor of Rosebuds, I thought the newsletter was dire at best. It was two steps away from publishing recipes! The first thing I did was literally destroy the format. I was publishing the thing sideways. I made things look like old Marvel comics and loaded it with fonts from planet weirdo. Initially, the upper levels of the club were horrified, but they did start to see it settling into its new image slowly, so they let me run with it. It was starting to be talked about by the members again, and there was some anticipation as to what the next issue would be like. I then started writing articles based on the community, from the entertainment aspect to the dark issues that plague us?the stuff no one wants to look at because their trans world extends no further than their mirrors or the accepting restaurant they frequent. They delude themselves with the idea that nothing really wrong is being done to the community. I wrote about trans girls having to prostitute themselves to make a living and survive and the dangers of the in-community pecking order of transsexualism and the corrupt tabloid media that paints and promotes us as monsters that deserve to die the deaths we do because our lifestyle asks for it. This got me some praise from other editors in the community, and some surprise acknowledgment from activists that I really treasure, but it got me some very angry heat from Tiffany Club?s upper levels as well. They felt the newsletter should cover the stories submitted from its membership, which I DO try to publish when and IF I get them, and promote the Club?s upcoming events only; to that, I couldn?t disagree more. Unless you make people aware of injustice and clearly and defiantly stand up against it and make the unknowing aware, then you will continue to be victimized by it. It?s not all First Event or Southern Comfort?and I mean no disrespect to either. What I?m saying is people attend these things, dress up, go to a seminar or two, attend a fancy dress ball, and remain oblivious to the fact that there is a world around them that harbors those who would think nothing of eliminating them. It?s not all fashion and safe functions. To quote a great lady who I respect with all my heart, Ms. Holly V. Ryan [one of four recipients of IFGE?s 2001 Trinity Award, also featured in OUT AND PROUD, Tapestry #89?L.G.] ?Take your head out of the mirror every once in a while and see what the real community is going through.? I see all the newsletters that come to the club and every newsletter including Rosebuds as of late reports or should I say reprints acts of violence when they occur. They never print any awareness articles that could have saved somebody or unite transpeople against an injustice. It?s all swept under the frock and the happy trannys go on, oblivious to the hatred and discrimination of society?until they are killed by it.

I was, without going into detail, asked to take apart a major Boston tabloid by way of a parody issue. It scared the Club?s establishment to the point it was never published and restrictions were imposed on me as editor.

Everything I put in Rosebuds has to be approved before going to print. I request to do the front cover and my editorial page as I wish and was given that, provided it was approved. I no longer write anything for the newsletter. I print what I?m given. The real issues in the community do not have a voice there. Rosebuds is the victim of a journalistic orchidectomy. As for my band, a few people know about, it but I don?t bring it up much. I don?t think they much care about it either way.

L.G.: So what happens with your band now? Are you looking for a new backup band?

R.E.B.: The CD is out and getting some attention in Scandinavia, so I?ll just have to wait and see how it goes. I would like to assemble another version of my band that would not be afraid to play in public in a dress. I have songs waiting to record?like ?Black Carousel,? which is based of one of my favorite stories, ?Something Wicked This Way Comes.? I?d also like to update some stuff from the first Briar Rose CD, like the song ?Morbid Angel,? which is a VERY sick song and quite theatrical. I also have my first trans-based song in ?Wall Of Death,? about Gwen Smith?s transgender memorial on the internet. Not giving anything away, E-Mail me, Gwen!

L.G.: And you?ll also be concentrating on your label? Which bands have you signed so far? Can you tell us more about your magazine?

R.E.B.: The magazine is the on-line Artist & Repertoire Department. I started it because I was tired of all the gutless rock ?n? roll that came out of the nineties. We picked up some really great bands in Fairytale Abuse from Scandinavia, Cryptameria and Wings of Mercy from Virginia, Umbrae from Mexico, and Acetylene from Rhode Island. I?m not sure we'll re-release on the label. I?d like to record the newer material. I might also tighten up some more mainstream rock stuff I did to release as The Hitchcock Blondes. Other than that, I?ll continue to go on upsetting the Status Quo as often as I can.