FORUM -Transgender Rocker Mina Caputo Reveals the Woman Inside
Subject: "From Life of Agony to Happy Life"
Contributor: Chris Gonzales
TRANSGENDER ROCKER MINA CAPUTO REVEALS THE WOMAN INSIDE
To live in a prison of one's self, unable to break free, fearing ridicule, disappointment, and even violence doesn't even begin to describe the hell a transgender individual experiences in a world struggling with change, fearing anything different, and withholding not only tolerance, but acceptance and love. Add to that the loss of drug addicted parents, and you can only just start to build a mental picture of the early life of rocker Mina Caputo. Mina began in this world as Keith Caputo, front man to the mega-successful band Life of Agony, but always felt she was in the wrong body. Through her own musical success, she managed to 'grow the balls' (figuratively speaking, of course) to set her feminine spirit free, and boldly step forth in a far more comfortable skin; becoming someone entirely new; entirely without physical definition; her very own truth.
FE: At what age did you realize that you felt more comfortable as "Mina"?
Mina: Probably around ten years old. I've known since I was very young that I wasn't male and I didn't exactly feel female because I'm not a genetic woman so I felt different; I felt like an alien, you know? As a child, I started to cross dress and express myself in a very feminine way definitely before my teens, before puberty. I just knew I was different. I so desperately wanted to tell my grandma to stop dressing me as a boy. I wanted to wear little dresses and look pretty and I definitely didn't identify with being male, and the way that males are supposed to be and behave especially in my family.
FE: Did you feel a lot of pressure from your friends and family to keep this a secret?
Mina: I was too afraid of my grandfather. I come from a very strict Sicilian household and I didn't grow up with my real parents. I grew up with my grandparents so there was a big generation gap to begin with. I was experiencing other forms of that generation gap like I knew that I would literally get the shit kicked out of me if I told my grandfather that I didn't feel like a boy and I felt like a girl so I pretty much grew up in fear which is a very unhealthy environment. I paid for it dearly in my adolescent years and my 20's were a very difficult time for me. I was very much in fear. When I was growing up the words transsexual and transgender were very foreign. It isn't like today where you see a lot more men transitioning into females and a lot of females transitioning into males. Back then there weren't any computers or Wikipedia or Google at your fingertips. There was no way for me to search out information. I had no idea that a gender therapist existed. I didn't think to put the whole gender thing into perspective. I had no idea what an endocrinologist was. I had no idea what hormones were. We didn't even have cell phones back then. I had no way of finding out exactly what the hell was going on with me. Not what was wrong with me, but why I was feeling so different?
I thought maybe I was homosexual, so I went ahead and unleashed the demons and experienced some things and realized that that wasn't really it, but gave me a sensation that felt closer to the woman that was inside of me. I've always felt that there was another soul inside of me that was more powerful than the soul that I believed to be mine. I grew up and my grandfather told me I had to get a job, get a trade, gotta be a plumber; blah blah blah. I grew up playing classical music. I wanted to be a classical pianist. All the signs were there and it was difficult. I grew up in a crazy environment. My mom passed away when she was 20, she overdosed on heroin. My dad was a heroin addict his entire life; pretty much the 30 years that I'd known him I grew up pulling needles out of his arm, pulling him out of the street. So, I've had a very disjointed upbringing. I've experienced things as a child that most children don't experience. It was a very distracting childhood for me and on top of that I was feeling like "oh my God", this body that I'm inside doesn't feel 100 percent. I felt like I should have breasts, and the curves were very different. It was very confusing for me. I had no one to talk to and I can't stress enough how I grew up in fear of my family and even today, men aren't supposed to show their emotions, they aren't supposed to show how vulnerable men really are.
I think men are really more vulnerable than women, and I was completely different. I wanted to express myself. I wanted to tell the world. I wanted to share this diversity with my loved ones and my friends, but it was a difficult thing to do. Then when I got older I would go to different clubs and meet different friends. I would go to gay bars and transsexual friendly bars. Making that step allowed me to gain the knowledge I needed just by seeing different people and how this man became this beautiful woman. I made many friends along the way that I'm still friends with and I had many pioneers in my life, but back in the late 80's/early 90's, a lot of hormones that the girls were getting were from the black market. I really didn't want to do that because of watching my father suffer from drugs from the street and doing hormones from the black market wasn't the smartest thing to do. I waited.
I knew there was a better way, but I just didn't know when that day would come when I would find out a more professional, more intelligent way of acquiring hormones to help me get my transition started. Then at the same time that I was discovering this side of myself and stepping into my fears, I was going to college. I was finishing up "River Runs Red," the first album with Life of Agony. and after we released that album, that album pretty much blew up. We were on the top of our game. We were one of the biggest bands in New York City, Doing the Roseland 3 nights in a row; we were just massive. We pretty much dominated the entire European continent.
FE: How old were you when "River Runs Red" came out?
Mina: I think I was around 20 or 21 years old and this massive amount of success and all of our collective dreams of being in a band pretty much came to life. We were experiencing things that we weren't even dreaming of yet. Life of Agony was originally a garage band that was doing high school battle of the bands and we didn't think that we would be like this tremendous act, and we would influence the world, and we would influence thousands of bands; and I would influence thousands of vocalists, and we would give birth to so many high profile bands like Slipknot, and so many more. Still, to this day, even though we don't actively engage musically or pretty much personally and emotionally anymore, people still can't get enough of us and our fans pretty much follow everyone's different paths. I've had a very successful solo career since 2000 when I released my first solo album "Died Laughing". I've played with the greatest musical acts in the world from Coldplay, The Pixies, Travis, Nine Inch Nails, Bush, Arrested Development. You name it, I've done it; from Bowie to Placebo.
FE: Have you started hormone therapy?
Mina: Of course. February will be four years since I've been medically transitioning.
FE: What are your future plans to continue the medical transition? Are you looking at any enhancements to help you with the transition?
Mina: I'm very tiny. I have a very tiny frame. I'm 5' 2" and the hormones after four years have given me close to a B cup, and the curves of my body -- I can't complain. I think I'm looking gorgeous. Here's the thing. Each girl, and I'm speaking male to female, each Trans woman has and lives a different experience. Everyone makes their own choices. You go online and you see all these transsexual guidelines and how you're supposed to do it. I don't follow that. I'm experiencing my own thing. Some girls feel they need to get facial feminization therapy for whatever reasons. I don't. Some girls feel the need to get bottom surgery. I don't. I am not there. I love my penis, it works fine. It doesn't bother me.
When I speak to my endocrinologist he's told me some stories that there are girls that when they get an erection, they start cutting themselves down there. So, there are varying degrees on what the individual will experience. To me, there are no guidelines. You have to be happy with the choices that you make. That's what it's all about. If I did any surgery, it might be a little bit of breast augmentation, but nothing so big because I'm a tiny girl and I don't want to have 700cc breasts and look ridiculous. I was always more natural so I pretty much want to take it that way. I don't know how I'll feel in ten years. I love sleeping with women. I love being with men. I love being with transsexuals so I love beautiful people. I don't discriminate. I don't have a particular gender that I like to be with. I love beautiful people. If you're a beautiful man and you know how to treat me then it's on.
People think different things. It's a very competitive field and it's kind of ridiculous in some respects. Some girls need the bottom surgery and some girls will put down other girls for not getting the bottom surgery and claim these transgender women not to be real 'cause they're not getting bottom surgery. I know a lot of girls that have had the bottom surgery and are very unhappy that they had it done at a very early age and they can't take that decision back. There are a lot of girls that aren't as happy now as before they had the surgery, and there are girls who are extremely happy. It depends on the individual. My advice to Trans, men or women, is to go slowly and not be in a rush, and to really take their time with the decision and to not believe everything that they read. There is no set curriculum. There is no real guideline to being a real transsexual. Honestly, I don't consider myself male, and I don't consider myself female. I do identify being more in the female spectrum of things, but I'm just me. I'm different. I'm both genders and I'm neither gender so I fall in between which may sound confusing but welcome to my mind. I do identify as being more female and my heart opens up when I present myself as a woman in society and our culture. To me this is an issue of humanity. The way society is structured is a very old world way of thinking and I do not agree with it. Genetic males that transition into Trans women and genetic women who transition into Trans men are pretty much pushing the boundaries of what gender means. They paint this picture of male/female, but the mind is more powerful than that. The mind is bigger than that. Look at what humanity has created. Everything is based on institutions. The transgender will never be accepted into these institutionalized mediums like the church and the Christian world. We are considered witches...'burn them at the stake!" We're a threat to their "natural order". I am the natural order. I am all and I am nothing. When people realize that the mind defies the law of gravity and defies every thing you hear and read about; the Neanderthal and the Homo erectus, that species of human being is dying down. If you really look at society and humanity as a whole, you can see that there is a major shift. There are major waves in the currency of the way that people are living and I'm happy to be in that shift.
I am happy to open people's eyes to what's real. I'm a real human being, I have feelings. I'm not Keith Caputo, the singer and front man of this band. My life doesn't just begin and end with that. Music is my life, yes, but people have had this image of me. Even if they support me still, but don't understand what I'm doing it's because they don't have the mind, they don't have the heart, the soul to understand the openness of what it means to be human. This is a humanity issue; this isn't a transgender category issue. To me that's all bullshit. It's a humanity issue. It's breaking the barriers of what it means, and people either live with this new awareness or they're dying in the old world. I love ancient cultures like the Mayans and the native American Indians, and to me that was purity. I don't believe that the end of 2012 is going to be this apocalyptic devastation to the planet. I'm looking at it in a positive light and I do believe a new awareness of humanity will surface. I am part of that new way.
FE: You led the charge in coming out and telling the world how you felt. Recently a few other artists have taken your lead such as Tom Gabel, now known as Laura Jane Grace of the band Against Me. Do you feel that you opened the door for other artists or people in general to walk through?
Mina: I feel that my life is completely blessed. I'm very grateful and my life keeps getting better and better, but I am an underdog and I've always been an underdog. I am really happy that someone like Laura at least acknowledged my presence and told a publication like Rolling Stone that someone like Mina Caputo has been my inspiration and has laid down the gravel of road to make it easier. It's not easy for anyone 'cause there are so many judgmental people, but to answer your question, I feel great and am honored. I feel empowered; it makes me really happy to see the change that you want to see. You only become the change that you want to see and I am experiencing that quote that's been said many times by many great leaders. Laura is a perfect example but we're not the first. Rolling Stone needs to wake the fuck up and get their shit together 'cause they're calling Laura Grace the first and she isn't. There are many before us that were in the 60's and the 70's. It's the typical media bullshit that jumps on something that's hot or not, and, you know, misinforming the readers.
FE: Did anybody in particular inspire you to tell the world or did you just feel it was time?
Mina: All of my girlfriends, all of my girls in New York City! I have many transsexual friends. They've been pioneers for many years. They defiantly paved the way for me. They gave me the strength to come out and not be afraid to hide my feelings, but I think for me, no one individual in particular pushed me. I think I pushed myself and did it myself because I was at the point where I wanted to shoot myself in the head. I wanted to die, and I couldn't take my pain anymore. It just got to the point where I felt like a fool. I felt that I was lying to my family, my friends, my fans. I felt like my life was one big lie and it got to the point where I remember (before I decided to go to a gender therapist and acquire the hormones and to start my journey four years ago), I suffered from a manic depression. I couldn't leave my house. I couldn't even put on a pair of jeans; anything reminiscent of my maleness. At this point I was like an American refugee; I was living in Amsterdam, I outstayed my visa, I couldn't leave, I got in trouble with customs and they threw me out of the country when they caught me. I couldn't leave my apartment, and I wanted to jump off my roof every night. I don't know what stopped me, but something stopped me every night. If I was getting back from a rehearsal or recording or whatever I was doing, at night time, smoking my joint just wondering, what is stopping me from just throwing myself off the roof because I can't deal with this pain anymore? The torture was just unbearable. That's when I decided to go on my journey, and go to a gender therapist and take some time off from the industry.
I pretty much wanted to save lives because I, too, have life. Even when I was living as a boy, I had a great male life. I've had the prettiest girlfriend; I had a male life that most males would kill to have. I slept with the prettiest women. I had the prettiest girlfriends. I made thousands and thousands of dollars. I've lived in Miami, Berlin, Amsterdam, Sweden, Los Angeles. I did the boat parties, was being escorted around in a Lamborghini for two years. I lived the life. Deep down inside this crazy boy wanted to wear this gorgeous dress. I had this whole double life. I was living in the whole rock stardom and debauchery, and limitlessness and fame, but deep down inside none of that mattered to me. All I wanted to do was let her out, let her surface. It was very tough for me. I think if I was a regular person that wasn't in the public eye I think it would have come out a long time ago but because I was so famous and because I was in the public eye, not to mention I was loved by thousands of alpha males, male driven testosterone, 90 percent of our crowd were these big muscle bound tattooed old men overflowing with masculinity. I'm thinking, oh my God, how the fuck can I come out to the world? I'm gonna get killed. God rest his soul, but I didn't want to be Dimebag Darrell, you know what I mean? I was deathly afraid until I had the gun to my own fucking head and I'm like ok, if I'm gonna die, I'd rather do it myself. That's where I was at and that was the breaking point for me. I wanted to just put a revolver to my fucking head and just be a Cobain, I just didn't have his guts.
FE: What does it do for you when you're able to dress the way you want and wear the skirts and dresses in public now?
Mina: It's an overwhelming sense of peace, a big breath of fresh air. It sounds so silly and simple, but it's so true. It confuses me. It's a peace and a freedom. It's not really what you wear, you know. It's way deeper than that. It does allow you to come closer to your soul in a way. It's a strange thing. I dress however I feel like. If I feel like wearing a dress today, I will, and if I feel like wearing jeans and a ripped t-shirt, I will. I'm out and I'm free and I don't have to hide who I am, and my body is changing into more feminine features and that's the biggest joy out of this whole process. Psychologically, the hormones have done wonders for me. Those are the biggest changes. I used to be such a self destructive male. I was always on the brink of madness. My level of creativity hasn't changed; I've become more focused. The things that I was interested in when I was a boy have completely changed. I'm staying home more now and am in full throttle practicing all the instruments that I play. I'm constantly writing, recording. I'm cooking, spending more time decorating the inside of my home. When I was a boy and living as a boy, I was crazy. I was on crazy drugs. I didn't care about my life, but now it's all turned around and psychologically I feel really healed, and to see that I have the body I always wanted, both male and female parts really brings me so much joy. I'm digesting and tasting life in a way that I have never before. I've lost a couple of close people, but my truth is weeding out the opportunists in my life which is great cause I constantly had these people who were riding on my coattails.
FE: So you pretty much weeded out all the people who were there with the wrong intentions...
Mina: I have my own personal friends who love my solo music and can't stand Life of Agony and vice versa, and I have people that love both L.O.A. and my solo stuff; and I have to say -- the funny fucking thing is I get so many men mailing me now telling me how beautiful they think I am and how gorgeous, and oh my God, they want to take me on a date and view the city; and (they tell me) oh my God, I don't know how to tell my wife, but I think I'm bisexual. "I go through my wives clothing drawer and I'm cross dressing, what does this mean?" "Oh my God you're so gorgeous, can I take you on a date?" They want to have sex with me. I'm getting all of these men that would never show their true colors to the world, but I have so much mail from men in general who are expressing now, a more vulnerable side of themselves with me and to me that's a beautiful gift from the universe. By me being honest with myself and the universe and everything that's part of being in my life, now the universe is giving back and giving me more stories from more strangers, from more people that are going through the same thing as me, but much further. I have a lot of transsexual girls who are reaching out to me now saying "oh my God girl, I love your music, you're an icon for us, you're so strong, and how the hell did you do it?" I've met so many great people.
FE: I understand you're working on a new album. Where are you in the process?
Mina: It's almost done. It's probably the most controversial work I've done. It's probably the most creative. The last album I'd done, I've had Bowie's band; I've had Kravitz's band playing with me. I had Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) playing trumpet. I had Martyn LeNoble produce it and Martyn plays bass for David Gahan. He's played with Scott Weiland, with Perry Ferrell and Jane's Addiction, and Porno for Pyros. I've played with many great people but this time around I played pretty much all the instruments myself. I did all my own recording, and I'm working with this one guy, his name is Andy Kravitz who was part of the "Soul Searching Sun" era. He is pretty much mixing everything and playing drums and adding extra instruments and stuff like that for the most part. Were doing everything through analog gear and were using his collection of Beatles microphones. We're using the outboard gear from the "Dark Side of the Moon" sessions from Pink Floyd and the outboard gear from David Bowie's "Space Oddity" sessions. I love all the old school analog gear so this album is gonna be a very organic, very John Lennon, very Plastic Ono band, very Woody Guthrie-esque lyrical content. I've defiantly written a lot about my own identity and just the understanding and mis-understanding of the world, and I think I got politically esoteric with this record. I'm revealing a creative side of myself that I haven't expressed, and I feel like with this album I've grown tremendously. I know I have a lot of growing to do. You don't stop growing as a musician. You don't stop learning, and I feel that my contribution to music this time is going to be super-massive big and I'm really looking forward to...upon its release, I don't have a release date yet. Some of the names of the songs are "Identity"; "Cracks in the mirror", "The secret that she knew"; "Unshaken"; to name a few. I'm gonna keep it to around ten songs, a 45 minute album. I'm very pleased and excited about it. Its' gonna be remarkable. It already is remarkable, I'm very pleased.
FE: Do you have any plans on touring for the new album?
Mina: Absolutely! I love to tour. I don't have anything lined up, but I will tell you when I do. For now, it's still being mixed and I'm pretty much recreating my entire life. It's all kind of up in the air. I'll never stop making music. That's never in the air. Music is my life; its what I do.
Fe: Was there any particular artist that you've worked with that stood out to you whether in the studio or that you've shared the stage with?
Mina: I can name a ton more people.
FE: Was there anyone that you just really looked up to?
Mina: I mean, you know, I played with The Pixies and David Bowie with Life of Agony and it was definitely a highlight in Life of Agony's career. The list of bands that I've played with just...I've shared stages with Chris Cornell. I've played with Bjork. I've played a festival with Neil Young.
FE: What part of your career are you most proud of?
Mina: You know, living life is the toughest, and I could answer this question traditionally, but I'm not a traditional person so, living life...what I do is not who I am. It is and it isn't. I don't measure my success or what I'm proud or I'm not proud of. I'm just really proud to be an honest person. I'm proud that I had the strength and the ability to overcome all sorts of challenges and obstacles that came my way. I'm very grateful and thankful for the gifts that have been given to me by the universe. I'm proud that, you know, I still have a great "career" and life in that respect. I don't know that I've lived my proudest moment yet, to be honest.
I am very grateful for all the amazing things that I've experienced, but I do feel like the best times of my life haven't been lived yet and it does start now. I'm more proud and more happy now than I ever was in my life. I can smile now and I don't have to be afraid. I am fearless now, and my music is fearless and my psychological, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual self is fearless so whatever I do from this moment on musically will be an exact reflection of how my soul is screaming the joys that, you know, I am just...you know I have my bad days, but we all do. I think now more than ever, it's not like okay, I'm so proud of the moment when Coldplay was opening up for me in Europe in 2001. I don't measure my success that way. I measure my success by waking up in the morning and wanting to live and wanting to go do things for the world. For my friends, family, for people who know me; for people who don't. I feel like my job and my days as being a messenger and being a healer are just beginning. I may have had a long, exciting career to many people, but to me my work is just beginning right now.
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Some Popular Life of Agony Albums...
"This album never grows old or tired. Where River Runs Red was like a panther that had sprung from it's cage to maul you unmercifully, Ugly was the other panther that knew when to wait and gauge it's prey before going in for the kill. In short, they're both effective and brutal, but of the two, Ugly is the more measured and thoughtful album."
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