An Open Letter to NPR Music
I’ll never forget what happened on the evening of July 25th, 2017. I was laying in bed, unable to sleep, texting my friends, and dreading work the next morning. You know, the usual life of a 28-year-old single gay guy living in Brooklyn.
I can’t remember who shared it on Facebook, but your piece “The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women” made its way to me. It looked like the perfect length for that night’s reading, and definitely inspired a few listen-alongs on the way.
I got mad quite quickly. How dare you let Body Talk linger at 143? Don’t you know what that album means to me?
Of course you don't. But that’s the point of these lists. When done well, they get us to critically examine our own internal ranking criteria and help us to determine what qualities we ourselves find valuable.
You won me over by placing Lucinda Williams’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road at number 18. I’m a native of Arkansas and used to play that album obsessively at the sleepy little used bookstore I worked at.
And then, two choices later, there it was at number 16:
“But 60% of Fleetwood Mac is male!” I protested. I quickly realized that that was exactly the point. Including one of the greatest albums of all time on this list is a way of recognizing that the contributions of Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie are just as important as those of the three men who played Guitar, Bass, and Drums.
Of course, I can’t critically engage with Rumours and not want to immediately listen to it.
Somewhere in the middle of “Songbird,” I had a thought that I’ve had too many times to count:
“I wish I were a woman”
This time, something magical happened. Because the next thought I had was:
“What if I am?”
In retrospect, I was waiting for that answer for my entire life. I was waiting for someone to give me permission to be a woman. It turns out the only person whose permission I needed was my own.
I've been trying to critically engage with femininity for years; far too frequently my own internalized transmisogyny has prevented me. I'm not sure I would finally be able to start had I not been primed by this piece. Trans representation in the media is still in its nascence, and the inclusion of Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues at number 109 was a quietly radical moment for me.
For the first time, it casually showed me that a transwoman’s voice is a valid feminine voice.
I’ve been a Canon-obsessed twee indie kid for as long as I can remember, and Transgender Dysphoria Blues had never entered my life. Putting it on this list gave me the excuse I needed to listen to it. I could use the "But NPR endorsed it!" excuse if my self-hatred tried to get in the way.
It’s the album I needed to hear my entire life.
Five of the most crazy days of my life later, I came out to my family. A day after that, to my entire office. A day after that, to Facebook—and by extension, the world.
I started hormone replacement therapy on August 30th. I legally changed my name on January 12th, 2018.
I’m still in a very awkward place in my transition. But when I look at myself in the mirror, I’m beginning to see, consistently, myself. I used to see everything I hated and nothing else. Now I see a woman who I recognize and love. It's not an easy journey, but learning to let go of my self-hatred is changing my life.
I'm incredibly fortunate and grateful to have access to trans-affirming healthcare, supportive friends, a great family, and a job with a wonderfully inclusive company. But none of this would have come to fruition, at least in the way that it has, if I hadn’t found “The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women” on a sleepless summer night.
I cannot thank you enough. I'm happier than I have ever been in my adult life. And you played a part in that.
P.S. I'd like to personally thank Sarah Handel, for suggesting Transgender Dysphoria Blues, and Laura Jane Grace, for living her life in a way that has empowered me to live mine.