Geiger, who was marketed as a teen heartthrob in the mid-2000s, presents differently these days. It has been a little over a year since she revealed to her fans that she was transgender, which she announced with a post on Instagram. She did so while co-writing chart-topping hits with Shawn Mendes, including “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” and “In My Blood,” as well as landing placements on the Billboard Hot 100 for One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer.
Seemingly overnight, the 30-year-old artist may have become the most influential person in music production who also happens to be openly trans. But she’s still trying to figure out what exactly that means. “When people tell me that, I feel like Cuba [Gooding Jr.]’s character in Jerry Maguire, who says, ‘I just want to play football!’ I’m like, ‘I just want to make songs!’”
On Nov. 9, Geiger will release LillyAnna, an album named after a pseudonym she used on the internet during her teenage years. It’s her third album and first as an out transgender woman -- an eclectic, experimental pop record that explores topics like cults and using drugs to find a more authentic self. She began recording the album before transitioning, but Geiger is still hesitant to ascribe the sound to a specific state of mind -- it was more like a “cloudy” feeling, she says, of being close to knowing what she needed to do for herself to feel at home in her body, but not sure how she would get there. “It feels like a lifetime ago,” she says now.
Geiger explains that the timing seemed right, particularly in an era when pop culture’s idea of gender identity and expression is evolving. She has long wrestled with her own gender identity. Before becoming a behind-the-scenes hitmaker, she was packaged as a teenage sex symbol. Her 2006 debut, Underage Thinking, reached No. 8 on the Billboard 200, and she dabbled in acting with a supporting role in the 2008 film The Rocker. But fame was a straitjacket. Geiger chafed at wearing Ed Hardy and other boys’ clothes that she found ugly, as well as the expectation that she would maintain a wholesome image.
“It made me look at myself from the outside in, if that makes sense,” she recalls. “That image of who I was publicly was so solidified. You’re that person. And it wasn’t even close to a true representation of where I was in my life.”
Meanwhile, her body was changing -- a process she “wasn’t loving.” (In her younger years, Geiger would sometimes be mistaken for a girl at sleepovers.) As she began dating, she found it even harder to be her authentic self. Whenever she had a new girlfriend, she was always acutely aware of that one drawer with all of her most comfortable, feminine clothing, and what might happen if it was discovered.
It took until very recently for Geiger to find the confidence to share her true identity with family and friends, and even leading up to LillyAnna she was being treated for anxiety. “I was really scared at first,” she says. “I kept things vague, like, ‘So, I’ve been thinking about... if maybe someday... I would... transition.’ But as soon as I realized how supportive everyone was, I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do this as soon as possible, please, thanks.’”
Falling in love with Schitt’s Creek star Emily Hampshire helped nudge the door open further. (They announced their relationship in an Instagram post in August.) Still, says Geiger, identity is a “weird” thing, particularly when you have to constantly meet with doctors to actualize your gender, or train your vocal chords to rest effortlessly in your ideal octave. Above all, it’s difficult to be confronted, over and over again, by the gulf between the self you want to project and the one you think you’re currently projecting.
“I realized the other day, like, ‘Shoot, I’ve been working super hard on transitioning,’” she says. “Which is great, but I’m also excited for a day when it’s not something that I have to actively think about.” Geiger is optimistic about taking on this process in public, and today, feels a spark of hope: “There’s just so much more freedom now.”
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 3 issue of Billboard.