When I first heard Sertraline Gang, my first thought was yes, this captures the exact combination of unhinged restlessness and abject depression I feel during lockdown. It was an exhilarating listen, its relentless and strangely uplifting rhythm combined with heartbreaking lyrics like “I can’t yet confess the duress of being a homeless gay kid/ I’ve got no one to love and nowhere to live/ I’ve got nothing to eat, I’ve got nothing to give”. It left me a bit dizzy. I was energised, jumping around my living room, and hyper-aware of suffering, all at once. Though Trannieboi places his black, mentally ill, trans identity first and foremost in the song, something about its emotional messiness makes it escape the easy cliches of identity politics. There is no place here for a sugary born this way vibe, no space for a kind voice saying, ‘Be proud of who you are, you’re special.’ It’s a lot more like: this is who I am, it’s absolute chaos, I’m having a panic attack and dancing at the same time, and also I’m really hot. No wonder he describes his music as unhinged trans pop for discerning defectives.
The carefully layered chaos of his music allows him to claim coolness in his oppressed identity without objectifying it. In his first single, Sertraline Gang, the chorus goes: We’re on road sertraline gang, we so delicious/ got the T in the needle, transition avaricious. It declares clinical depression an in-group: all the depressed trans kids are walking into the club, sunglasses on, cute but edgy fluffy hats and nobody has eyes for anyone else. Trannieboi does this with every identity that society pushes to the margins: being trans, being black, being disabled. He takes all of this and declares it to be the coolest, the best thing you can be. That’s what gives so much lightness and joy, so much dancing vibes, to his music. But without the complexity of his lyrics and sound, framing marginalised identity as ‘cool’ would be a burden.
Coolness is often connected to what is marginalised. Back in school, posh white boys who do their homework diligently were not cool, black and brown kids getting detention was always a lot cooler. But of course, the coolness only could last so far as your troubles can be aestheticised, only as long as there was no real engagement with the messiness. Being sad and having pills was cool Tumblr-girl energy, leaving the parties because you are too anxious to be there was not cool. The moment your selfhood emerges and you make your oppressor uncomfortable, the coolness you carry disappears. It is an aesthetic that can be appropriated and used by whoever, and which you can only last so long as you stifle your humanity. Trannieboi’s music does not allow such a simplification. His songs are too human, too messy, too political, to be easily aestheticised.
A series of lyrics from his second single, Lipitor, encapsulates all of this. After a series of bars detailing the violence of racism in graphic detail, he sings:
With a limp wrist and a big fist / to the fascist factions of political action. I’ve asked em nicely / But no one want to be my wifey.
In the first two lines, he ties in his queerness with resistance. He reminds the listener that celebrating who we are cannot happen without a political struggle. It is no surprise that political messaging makes its way through his work, as Trannieboi is a vocal abolitionist, he has recorded a radio show discussing BLM, and he is involved in the revolutionary trans struggle. His voice is a sharp reminder that there can be no celebration of marginalised selves without hatred for fascism. And then he jumps back into an intimate line about love and rejection, no one wants to be my wifey, why doesn’t anybody like me? As usual in his music, he is running through topics. The political and the personal are fusing together, they come in the same wave of thinking. This is a perfect lead up to the hook lines about being in a psychiatric ward (as a half cast Quasimodo, limp wristed homo): the racial violence of political systems he is describing affects his emotional world and connects directly to his mental health suffering.
Both Lipitor and Sertraline Gang – the two singles he has released so far – focus on mental health issues. He has said that Lipitor is based on his experience of psychosis. And both constantly refer to a politicised identity and to the hostile environment it has to exist in. This means rejecting any easy romanticisation of mental illness. He is not painting it as a tragedy, nor as a glamorous condition. He is showing it as a result of oppression: he mentions the waiting lists at the gender clinic and racists running after him in Somerset. We can only relieve our suffering if we lift our limp wrists.