River Runs (Lipstick) Red: Marissa Martinez on the Path Keith-Mina Caputo Need Not Walk Alone

So after managing to squeeze out only one record since reuniting nine years ago — the massively underrated Broken Valley — Life of Agony is apparently disbanding, sadly, and Keith Caputo has seized upon the opportunity of the band’s farewell tour to brashly announce her most controversial transition since briefly morphing into Whitfield Crane during the late Nineties: A gender reassignment from Keith to Mina. This is probably not as surprising to those of us who have followed Caputo’s (mostly terrific) solo output as it may be to those diehard LoA fans still crossing their fingers for a two disc deluxe anniversary set of “Through and Through” dub remixes, but with the metal press abuzz this seemed as good a time as any to catch up with Cretin‘s eloquent transgender grinder Marissa Martinez who blazed the trail Caputo now walks, a la “Underground”: “Unwilling to change for society/We’ll be who we wanna be.”
Keith-Mina is already being referred to as the first heavy metal person to transition into living as a woman. I presume you are not jealous?

Not at all! The same thing was said about me even though Marcie Free of King Cobra and Jackie Enx of Rhino Bucket came before us, and I’m sure there were others. I don’t really care who’s referred to as “first,” just so long as we’re referred to…

You were a bit cautious about participating in this interview initially, yes?

Totally! I wouldn’t begin to presume Keith-Mina doesn’t know how to handle her own transition. Every transgender person is a person, first and foremost, and we all have different experiences and concerns that are important to our lives. Every journey through transition is equally as unique as our lives, and we all have different needs and goals to ensure we remain happy throughout the process. What I needed to feel complete and confident as a woman is not necessarily what she needs, and neither is more valid than the other.

I’m just afraid of contributing to something that could be perceived as condescending to her. I’m all about showing support for transgender people, and helping to demystify the condition for the larger population…

Right. But at the same time when you heard the news about Keith-Mina did you feel a certain natural kinship with her having come out of (very) roughly the same musical scene? It seems to me even setting aside gender transitioning you would have more to speak to her about than the average person off the street. And you did ask the “Cretanic Creeps”—i.e. fans of Cretin—to show “Ms. Caputo the same respect you’ve shown me.”

When I first saw the headlines that another metal musician was coming out as a transsexual, I definitely got excited. Especially when I saw that she was from a much bigger band than mine, because it meant that a larger audience had the potential to be exposed to the transgender community.

It’s fair to say that I feel a certain kinship with her due to being trans, and coming out to a public audience. But, if you set gender transition aside, I can’t say I’d have anything in common with her because I’ve never met her. Honestly, I had never even heard an Life of Agony song — although I had heard of the band — before she came out. So her fans most likely have a better chance of carrying on a conversation with her than I do. But, who knows really…The Facebook post was basically a request [for] a small gesture of anti-transphobic activism.

Are you any more likely to listen to Decibel Hall of Fame record River Runs Red now than you were two weeks ago?

Yeah. I listened to it about a week ago, for the first time.

Is your concern about being perceived as condescending based on experience? Is this the sort of situation that elicits unsolicited, perhaps occasionally unhelpful advice?

Well… I’ve certainly had unsolicited advice showered on me from drag queens, trannies, and genetic girls alike. Sometimes it’s helpful and other times not. But, no matter what the circumstances — simply on a human level — nobody appreciates advice from people they don’t know. It can come off as pretentious and obtuse. I have no idea what Keith-Mina has been through, or what her life is like. And I certainly don’t have all the answers regarding transition and how someone should go about it. But, I figured that if nothing else, I could at least show her my support through this article, and hope it would inspire support from others as well.

I gather Keith-Mina has decided to share her story first with Jose from Liquid Metal/Headbanger’s Ball. All due respect to Jose, shouldn’t Caputo have come to Decibel?

How much will I get paid in advertising to say, “Yes!”?

Honestly, I can’t wait for that interview. It will be nice to get her story from her own point of view, and hopefully put to rest some of the speculation that’s buzzing around the Internet…

Seriously, though, how have things changed in the years since you first shared your story with Decibel?

When I first did the article with Decibel I was only seven months into hormone replacement therapy. Changes had started to happen, but I was still very early in my transition and there was a lot to adjust to. I sold my house and moved into an apartment in downtown San Francisco. I went nuts sexually. I was boy crazy one minute, a submissive in the underground BDSM scene the next. Then the surgeries started.

The first thing on my agenda was my face because I figured it would have a greater impact on people regarding me as a woman. People can’t see what’s under my clothes, but they can easily see a monkey-brow or a prominent nose. I spent a ton of money correcting my face, and when all the swelling went down and everything healed up, it went a long way to boosting my confidence. I got my boobs done a few months after that, and then on Aug. 24th, 2009 I got my va-jay-jay.

Around that time, I went through a hard-lined lesbian stage, and would get really upset if men hit on me. It was a crazy time, where I had three months of healing to go through, plus about a year and a half of dilation — physical therapy with dildo — to ensure that my vaginal canal wouldn’t heal closed. It was exhausting, and I think it made me feel more vulnerable than usual. I harbored a lot of fear toward the patriarchy as it was, and I think the extra vulnerability turned that fear into resentment. I felt really safe and empowered in the lesbian scene.

A few months later, I ended up meeting my boyfriend. He happened to be up in San Francisco for his birthday, and we knew each other from the reeelapse webforum. So we met innocently for dinner. I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend at all, but he ended up charming me.

At this point life is a lot more calm. Everything has evened out and “normalized.” I think the biggest struggles of transition are more or less behind me…

Keith-Mina has come out of the gate pretty defiant, encouraging other transsexuals to “threaten the patriarchy” and warning detractors “No matter how hard you try, you will never eat me alive!” With the caveat that everyone’s experience is different, is there something about going public with something as fundamentally personal as this that inspires a sort of boldness?

Sure! But, I think that comes with the territory of being a musician/performer in a rock band. I mean, defiance has always been an ideal of rock and metal. Don’t you think? But, in our current society there is also a shock factor that is associated with being transgender, and I know for myself, I occasionally have fun exploiting it…

She’s also complained about people who are “neither medical professionals nor trans themselves feel they have the right to ask about the state of my genitals.” [Caputo herself has cleared this up, Tweeting, “FYI, I’m keeping my penis!” — ed.] You’ve been extraordinarily open, but have you found people assume the right to maybe speak a little more intimately with you than is polite?

Umm…I’m really open and honest and typically give way too much information. So, it doesn’t tend to bother me when people ask me questions, especially if they’re sincerely curious. The whole transgender paradigm has a tendency to be genitally focused—even though it has more to do with the brain than sexual organs! So, I think you just kind of have to expect that when you come out to the world, the general population translate that as a statement against what’s between your legs. That’s not necessarily the case, but personally I’d much rather people know I have a vagina than assume I have a penis.

Cretin has devoted fans. Caputo has a passionate fanbase from both Life of Agony and her solo records. On the one hand you immediately have a spotlight on you, but on the other you have people invested in you as an artist. Not that it’s on the same level or the same thing, but it was probably easier for Elton John to come out in ‘76 than it is for a seventeen year-old kid to do the same thing in 2011 Indiana.

I can’t imagine coming out is ever easy for anyone. It’s terrifying because you just don’t know how people will react. You prepare yourself for the worst and hope that things will just turn out OK. But all of that concern is mostly centered around those closest to you. Family, friends, co-workers, the people you interact with everyday. They’re your main support system. So, as long as a person can retain those relationships I think they’ll have an easy-enough transition.

Does it help the transition to already be somewhat publicly known/appreciated for something you do? As a musician did you feel like you had a built in support base?

The fact that I have the support of fans is amazing! It’s a huge honor that is really touching, and means a lot to me. But, you know… I didn’t know I was going to have that support when I came out. So, I can’t say that I felt the support was “built in.” But, maybe it was for some fans, and maybe I’ve earned other’s support by being so forthright with my transition…

Obviously this is a challenging transition no matter the circumstances, but you’ve talked in the past about the extraordinarily warm support you’ve received at, say, Maryland Deathfest. Keith-Mina’s Twitter has been lit up with supportive messages. “Misogyny” and “homophobia” are words tossed around quite a bit whenever heavy metal comes up in the mainstream press — sometimes, like everywhere else, for good reason, of course! — but is it a more accepting scene overall than it’s given credit for?

It’s hard to say really… I mean… I’m not a part of any other scenes, and I don’t face any harassment in my day-to-day life. So I don’t really have anything to compare and contrast. I will say that I think metalheads typically take interest in themes that would be seen as shocking and unacceptable to the mainstream. That interest and exposure more than likely desensitizes us to a lot of things, which translates into us being more tolerant… Or at the very least…indifferent.

On the flip side of that, do you think it helps people without those sorts of support structures to be able to see someone from a band they love or an artist they look up to deal with the same transition they feel a need to make?

Most certainly! It’s one of the reasons I’ve been such an open book. I remember when I was first getting ready to transition I was so frustrated because there was so little information out there about how to do it, and what the experience was like for those who had. So, I resolved to share every step of my own transition, in the hopes that it would help those who are facing the same frustration I was.

I’ve been contacted by a number of trans-girls from around the world who have told me that I was a big inspiration to them accepting their own transsexuality. Everybody knows the stereotypes associated with being a “tranny,” and that image isn’t typically associated with being a guitar playing, death metal grunting metalhead. So when they saw that there was another t-girl out there like them, it gave them some confidence within themselves. I can’t tell you how heartwarming it feels to be given the opportunity to act as a positive role model like that.

In a Facebook post about Caputo you close with the line “We are everywhere!” Do you believe this kind of news is going to become more common and less shocking in heavy metal and elsewhere in the near future?

“We are everywhere!” is a slogan that Cretin uses. It is inside of our CD booklet, as well as on the back of the Freakery t-shirt. I used it in that Facebook post to mean two things: First as a way of encouraging Cretin fans to address Keith-Mina with female pronouns publicly, and stating the possibility that we could have a positive influence on how she is respected. And, second, to state that transsexuals are everywhere, and that a little support here could go a long way for someone else you may not yet know is trans even though they’re close to you. Up until recently, it was largely believed by the medical community that the occurrence of transsexuals was rare. But a more recent study has shown that the occurrence is a lot more common. And that only covers a segment of transsexuals, not the entire transgender community. So, yeah… I think it’s likely that we’ll see more trannies in metal.

Do you hear from many transgender metalheads?

Yeah! I’ve heard from quite a few. I can’t say their concerns are any different from those of cisgendered metalheads, except maybe that they want to see more trannies in metal?

Finally, what’s up with Cretin? You getting ready to grind out any new jams?

Cretin is in writing and rehearsing mode again. After playing Maryland Deathfest, we decided that what we really need, before playing any more shows, is new material. So, I’ve been writing in my free time, as well as re-learning some of the songs I had written at the beginning of my transition; four years ago.