A new music album coming out this month will offer transgender and nonbinary children songs that reflect and support who they are. It’s the brainchild of Julie Lipson, one half of Philadelphia-based children’s music duo Ants on a Log, who spoke with me recently about the project.
Lipson, who is also a co-founder of Camp Aranu’tiq, a summer camp for transgender and nonbinary children and youth, said “I have always been astounded by the role that music plays” for the campers. “Gender overlaps so much with music and the voice.”
This summer, however, the camp had to cancel in-person sessions because of COVID-19.
“This just seemed like the moment where kids need this music,” they said. “We needed some way to keep everybody connected.”
Lipson, who is nonbinary themselves, reached out to their networks in both the children’s music and the transgender and nonbinary music world. The response was “amazing.”
The result, the “Trans and Nonbinary Kids Mix” album, will contain 20 songs from musicians representing hip-hop, pop, folk, country, and other genres. While some of the songs have appeared on other albums, several are new for this one, and it’s empowering to see them all brought together in one place.
About two-thirds of the musicians are transgender or nonbinary; the rest are allies, some of whom have trans or nonbinary friends or family members. About half are people of color. The project is personal for many of them, including Be Steadwell, a self-described “Black queer artist storyteller witch.”
“I never saw much of myself in the music I listened to,” Steadwell said. “I never heard my story. I wanted to be a part of this project because trans and nonbinary folks deserve to be at the center of stories, songs, narratives. We deserve to see ourselves in art, to feel affirmed rather than ignored by the music we listen to.”
StormMiguel Florez, a “trans queer, Xicanx filmmaker and musician,” also wanted to participate.
“As a teen in the 80s, music saved my life. I was especially lucky to have access to music by older LGBTQ people. It meant everything to know there were older queer people making art and getting to live full and interesting lives. I’m excited for an opportunity to be a part of that for younger people now.”
Grammy-nominated Alastair Moock, a “cis, white, hetero male,” shared, “I have long worked to be an active and vocal straight ally. That commitment only deepened when one of my twins came out as gay and then nonbinary.”
Some of the trans and nonbinary musicians don’t write “kids’ music” per se, but Lipson hopes their contributed songs nevertheless speak to kids. One example is “Weaknees,” by transgender singer and writer Vivek Shraya, of which Lipson said “It’s just such a great message: ‘I want to know everything about you, I think you’re so cool.’”
Lipson hopes the kids listening to the album think of the musicians and see role models.
With this broad approach, Lipson hopes that “5-year-olds and 15-year-olds could listen to this mix and find that they like most of the songs.” While little children might everything about some of the songs, with others they will hopefully still find aspects to enjoy.
“Every kid of every age is going to interpret these songs differently,” Lipson said. That’s part of the album’s appeal.
The nonbinary musician Totally Knuts’ contribution, “The Trans Wizard’s Song” comes from the genre of “Wizard Rock,” inspired by the world of Harry Potter. Lipson notes that the song was written before author J.K. Rowling’s recent anti-trans statements, but it is (appropriately) a “critique song” about being trans and nonbinary at Hogwarts (Harry Potter’s wizard school) that looks at some of the problems underlying the wizards’ world.
Other musicians on the album include two-time Grammy Award-winner Cathy Fink; Grammy nominees the Alphabet Rockers; Beppie; Be Steadwell; Chana Rothman; Emily Joy; Jennifer Angelina Petro; the Okee Dokee Brothers; Queer Kid Stuff; Ryan Cassata; Shawnee; Star Amerasu; and Two of a Kind.
Notably, the album will be free to all, to make it accessible to “any trans or nonbinary kid who’s sitting at home alone and isolated,” Lipson said. “I did not want cost to get in the way of that.”
People are welcome to make donations, however, all of which will go to Camp Aranu’tiq, which is offering free virtual sessions this year but has lost the income from its in-person camps.
Separately, Lipson is also fundraising to provide many of the musicians — all of whom donated their songs — with stipends. Many musicians and artists are unemployed right now because of the pandemic, and the Black Lives Matter movement has reminded Lipson of the importance of supporting musicians of color.
“I’m pretty privileged. I’m a White person who’s doing okay,” they asserted. But they know that not everyone is. “We need to dream into existence the world that we actually want, which is that anybody who doesn’t have the resources that I have can rely on society valuing artists.”
You can contribute to the fund for the musicians at their Go Fund Me page. Lipson will divide the money among them, although they’ve asked that those “who do not identify in a marginalized community or identity give that money back into the pot.” Some will also be used to pay Wriply M. Bennet, the Black trans woman who created the cover art.
The album itself will be available from antsonalog.bandcamp.com later in July. Follow Ants on a Log on Facebook or Instagram for the latest updates.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.