For Gay Pride Month, Billboard asked artists about the reality of being out musicians in hard rock/metal and the state of LGBTQAI acceptance in the genre. Below, Mina Caputo discusses her experiences as frontwoman for Life of Agony.
When Mina Caputo, frontwoman of alternative hard-rock band Life of Agony, revealed on her Twitter feed that she was transgender, she did it because she “needed to save” herself. “It was like, ‘Whatever comes comes,’ she says of going public in approximately 2010. “To be honest, I didn’t expect it to be the way it is now. I thought that I would have to give up music, or at least give up the idea of playing with a band like Life of Agony.”
But the way it is now is far better than Caputo, 43, had dared to hope for — especially after the internal hell she had endured from struggling with her gender identity. Years of hiding her secret had led to alcohol abuse and drug addiction because she was “on a mission to die.” The turning point came in the mid-aughts when she found herself in Amsterdam with a gun in her hand, contemplating ending her life. “I had the gun, but I didn’t have the bullets,” recalls Caputo. “I basically collapsed. Words can’t describe [it]. It was almost as if I saw my deity. I reached such a low point, it gave me clarity.”
When Caputo returned to the United States, she was intent on cleaning up and exiting the closet. She achieved both. The news of her transition created headlines, and the music community, for the most part, rallied behind her. There have been hiccups: Caputo occasionally encounters people who “tolerate” her — as in, do not completely accept her — and “a ton” of promoters stopped booking her solo gigs, “because they had their own idea of who I am and who I’m supposed to be, and who I really am doesn’t fit into their ideas of what makes them comfortable,” she notes. That hasn’t iced her career, though: She has continued recording solo, and Life of Agony reunited in 2014 after being on hiatus for several years.
How accepting would you say the metal genre is now as opposed to ten years ago?
My personal experience has been incredibly enlightening. People have been so accepting and so loving. Very compassionate, very understanding.
…A lot of people have these preconceived notions about the hard rock, hardcore, metal scene. I find it to be, in my experience, very loving. Not this marginalized way of being or [narrow] perceptions. I have a lot of guys hitting on me, from rock bands, hardcore bands.
Are you talking about people in bands that are nationally recognized?
Absolutely. I won’t out these people, because that’s none of my business how other people want to live their lives.
Has anybody in such bands privately come out to you since you’ve transitioned?
Yes. I had a few people, actually. Not just one. I wish I could say it, because these people are part of the problem. Because if these kinds of people, like if nine out of 10 Hollywood male actors would already fucking admit that they love transsexual women, the world would see the ladies like us in a very different light.
Aside from people who have “tolerated” you, what other negative experiences have you had since you transitioned?
I could go to YouTube and read thousands of negative comments about me — that I’m Iggy Pop‘s ugly sister, I’m this, I’m that, but why the fuck would I want to focus on all the bullshit? My life is amazing. I work with amazing musicians from [David] Bowie’s band to [Lenny] Kravitz’s band. I got a great band that has stuck with me through thick and thin for 25 years. I’ve driven them up the fucking wall. These guys love me. They’ll die for me. The guitar player, my cousin, he’s willing to take bullets for me.
I have allies all over. I have gang members writing me letters expressing how punk rock I am and how more punk I am than any motherfucking punker out there or any fucking gang member. I even have Hells Angels going against code that love me, because my dad used to ride with the Hells Angels and used to build Harley-Davidsons for a living and paint murals. I have biker gangs that fucking love me because of the music, and no one gives a fuck. The only people that come across to me are the people that want to see me happy. And guess what? They’re the only people I want to see, and that’s why the universe is giving me of those kinds of people.
When you were closeted, what was the most difficult part of that in relation to being in the hard-rock scene?
Everything was difficult. Basically, I was on a mission to die. I didn’t want to live, so everything I was doing was halfhearted, in a sense. The pain became more and more the more I played this societal role of what it means to be a guy … a lot of it was a blur, because I was addicted to OxyContin, addicted to cocaine, alcohol. I wanted to die. I made several halfhearted attempts with pills and drugs to fucking die. There was nothing fun about my adolescent years, my twenties, till about 35, until I really had the strength to come out and to be free and to allow life to happen to me, regardless of the consequences.
How often do fans tell you they’re struggling with their gender or sexuality?
At least once or twice a month. I’m talking to this fan that had a daughter that swears she’s a boy, and this family, God bless them, is allowing him to live the way he chooses. They’re asking me questions like with hormones and stuff like that … I turn them on to books that I had my entire life, like Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us or The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals … Now you got Laura Jane Grace kicking ass out there. Not everybody that knows me knows of Laura. I turned so many people on to Laura as well. I do what I can. I do what I can as much as I can for whoever I can whenever I can.