“I know it’s a step in the right direction/But this homo scene now we got us a system,” Katz raps on “Metrosexual Threw Off My Gaydar,” a humorous ditty about the contemporary complexities of sexual identity. “And you know it ain’t working too keen/If you can’t tell that frat boy from the neighborhood queen.”
Featuring sampled twangy guitar strums, a phat beat, and percussive electronic clatter, the track mixes country, hip-hop and new wave in the same way straight and gay cultures often blend across America’s metropolitan landscape. It’s one of several humorous raps — including “EZ Heeb” and “Jazz Hands” — interspersed with spoken word tracks on Katz's new Athens Boys Choir CD, Bar Mitzvah Superhits of the ’80s, ’90s, and Today.
His third release since switching from duo to solo act in 2005, the transgender artist continues to broaden his palette. He’s added music to his spoken word repertoire, along with video segments to flesh out several of his songs onstage. “I tend to find myself performing with musicians a lot, so I wanted to put together a performance that would be better in a club scene,” Katz says from a tour stop in Washington, D.C.
Like the metrosexuals Katz lampoons, the transgender rapper/poet also defies easy categorization. “There are very non-masculine men in my family,” says Katz, who was born Beth Katz, but identifies as a man. “Not that [being a metrosexual is] in any way emasculating. At a time it was, and now it’s seen as this fabulous new masculine thing. I think that’s great. It’s what I was waiting for. But they do throw off the gaydar. They’re tricky.”
At times, Katz has experienced his own sense of confusion navigating his transgender reality. Nowhere is that better expressed than on the track “Pecs of Steel” off 2004’s Rhapsody in T, on which Katz ponders the body politics he confronts every time he enters a public bathroom: “Cover blown/Real face shown.”
Nowadays, Katz feels less anxious about which door to enter. “It’s a point of vulnerability in an extremely gendered place, but I don’t think about it that much anymore because it turns out guys don’t really give a shit. Even if they do now, you’re like, ‘I’m not here to get in a relationship,’” he jokes.
But he admits addressing his own gender confusion took time. “When what you feel you are yourself and what everyone else sees you as is so different, you lose your magnetic north. You don’t know where you are and how people see you or how you see yourself.”
He recalls the time when he’d strategically position himself between the African-American studies and multicultural sections in Borders bookstores. That way, he could alternately grab Richard Wright if someone he wanted to hide from walked by, or he could pull Rubyfruit Jungle from the shelf and solicit a hug if someone queer walked up. But just as metrosexuals have become a cultural glyph, Katz has grown more comfortable — both in his skin and society — citing supportive transgender communities in Athens and Atlanta.
He’s even been able to find doctors sympathetic to his plight and willing to help him with hormone therapy.
“One of the reasons I went on testosterone was because, except for my friends, the whole world saw me as a 14-year-old boy,” says the 25-year-old. “Living in this constant Peter Pan state, I was just like, ‘I have to grow up.’ It worked quick; I aged 10 years in three years.”
While his music teems with such self-deprecation, many of Katz’s spoken word pieces are more serious, like the solemn “Mourner’s Prayer,” in which he discovers how to love himself, or the gospel-cued strains of “Day Breaks,” an ode to his mom’s passing. But humor plays an important part in his performance, just as it does in his life.
“I tend to be a sarcastic person,” he says. “I’m not a down-and-outer, so when crappy stuff occurs I tend to say, ‘Guess how much stronger I’ll be at the end of this.’”
While Katz’s conclusions concerning both gender and sexuality abound in his music, he still faces the occasional query, oftentimes when he chooses to participate in workshops or speak to LGBT alliances at schools across the country. “People ask you, ‘How do you know you’re this?’ And in the end it’s a really difficult question to answer,” says Katz, who feels less angst about it than he used to.
“I think most of it was feeling inadequate because I didn’t have a good answer to give people. And now I just think, well, whatever, I am the way I am; that’s how I know I’m that."
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