MUSIC | "This is who I am": Heidi Barton Stink spits truth about being a trans-identifying MC

In December, Heidi Barton Stink released a free EP, The Familiar Pattern. Her work as a queer- and trans-identifying MC certainly breaks the pattern of hypermasculine—and often grossly homophobic—hip-hop. Featuring production and guest appearances by Soce the Elemental Wizard, Skullbuster, and others, The Familiar Pattern goes far beyond the catchphrases of most so-called "conscious rap," targeting audiences and injustices with lyrical dexterity and focused rage.

What is it about hip-hop that makes it a good vehicle for your thoughts, beliefs, and calls to action?
I was trying to rap long before I was ready to come out as trans or even queer, so it's the skill I know how to do. Had I learned to play the guitar I would probably be writing punk or folk songs about trans rights, but hip-hop is great because it has a strong emphasis on lyrics, which offers the ability to say directly what you are trying to convey.

What were some of your experiences in hip-hop as a male artist?
Back when i was still "straightish" male identified—in the closet—I had a lot of "holy shit, if these guys knew about who really am..." moments, where I may have had to worry about my physical well-being. There were a few times where as the amount of liquor consumed escalated, the mildly homophobic talk turned into full-blown gay-bashing.

How important is it for you to combat gender norms, heteronormativity, and homophobia in hip-hop?
Extremely. For me, hip-hop should be a platform for all different kinds of voices to be heard. With that said, a lot of homophobia and transphobia have roots in traditional sexism. For example, from the chauvinist perspective queers are like women and therefore weaker, and their opinions and perspectives are less valid. In the microcosm that is the land of 10,000 MCs, I can only think of a handful of ladies who rap, and about two queers. Do these people not exist, or are they just being dismissed?

A lot of your top MySpace friends are prominent queer and trans MCs, like Soce the Elemental Wizard and Tori Fixx. What role did their music play in helping you create your own?
Well, Soce the Elemental Wizard produced the beat for "Direct Action," so that is the most direct influence a queer MC has had on my sound. I found out about Tori Fixx when I read a City Pages article about him and I was like, "maybe i can make songs about this stuff." Also seeing Scream Club perform live—I opened for them at Camp Trans this past summer in Michigan—was really inspiring. It made me really see the importance of putting on a good show.

Are you worried that you might be pigeonholed, and therefore more easily dismissed, by folks as solely a "trans MC" or "queer MC," rather than just an MC, period, without those kinds of special tags?
Not really. I can, and do, write and perform songs that are not about queer/trans issues, but this is who I am: queer and trans rights are my life. My quality of life as well as most of my friends' lives are dependent on queer and trans activism. There are a lot of homeless queer youth, addiction runs rampant in queer communities, the number of murders of trans people is staggering. From my point of view, if you are queer [and you] have a mic and a roomful of people, you would be committing a grave injustice not to talk about this stuff. Honestly, I would really like to see more straight MCs come out as allies—Guante as well as the whole Tru Ruts crew have been really great about this—before I would worry about what people label me as.

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Justin Schell's picture
Justin Schell

Justin Schell (612to651 [at] gmail [dot] com) is a freelance writer and grad student in Minneapolis.