In 2013, transgender woman Aimee Stephens announced to her Detroit funeral home employer she would wear women’s attire to work. Two weeks later, she was fired for it on the grounds of her employer’s religious beliefs.
She went to court. In March 2018, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Stephens, stating religious beliefs cannot justify discrimination per the Civil Rights Act.
Two weeks ago, the Department of Justice filed a brief, siding with the funeral home. The brief was not a recommendation nor a ruling but an encouragement for continued prejudice.
Next week is Transgender Awareness Week. While the DOJ made Americans aware how lacking of human decency their federal administration is, decent humans will remind others that trans people are people, and discrimination against people should not be made legal.
The DOJ brief argued that when the Civil Rights Act was implemented in 1964, “sex” meant “biological sex,” not “gender identity.” So, Stephens’ employer had the right to discriminate according to a 54-year-old law’s outdated wordage approved by mostly old white, cisgender men.
In 1970, English rock band The Kinks released their single “Lola.” Lyricist Ray Davies embraced gender expression and transgender identity in one of lyricism’s most beautiful, potent works.
The lyric’s subject did spark controversy — biographies of The Kinks cite that the song was banned in Australia upon release and cut short on British radio before Lola’s gender identity could be revealed.
People loved it, though. “Lola” reached No. 2 and No. 9 on the U.K. and U.S. singles charts.
Impact of “Lola” lies in love, accessibility
The song’s speaker meets Lola, who is likely black, in a London club where champagne “tastes like just like cherry cola” and the dance floor is under “electric candlelight.” As they dance, the speaker realizes that Lola is transgender.
He pushes her away and falls to his knees in shock. After looking into each others’ eyes, though, he realizes Lola’s gender identity is normal.
The appeal of the song’s social commentary is that it validates a transgender woman through a cis man’s (the speaker’s) discovery and acceptance of his lover’s identity and his own gender expression.
The move may sound socially sketchy now, but like in 2018, most people in 1970 had never met a transgender person. Davies created a naive cis speaker so listeners could find identity in him. Davies could approach the subject of gender expression without cutting off the audience that needed to hear the lyrics.
Davies also uses the speaker’s own gender identity and expression and compares it to Lola’s, normalizing both.
Take these lines: “Well, I’m not the world’s most physical guy / But when she squeezed me tight, she nearly broke my spine.”
The speaker admits that, like Lola, he does not fit expected social norms. He isn’t too strong. Lola is. He later admits that he is not the most masculine man, either. Yet he’s glad he’s a man, and he’s glad Lola, a woman, likes him because he is one.
He later admits, “Well, I’m not the world’s most passionate man, / But when I looked in her eyes, I almost fell for my Lola.”
Lola, who initiates the dance, is clearly passionate. She inspires the speaker, who historically “should” restrain his passion according to masculine norms, to feel the same.
The speaker clearly still has feelings for Lola. Otherwise, a term of endearment like “my Lola” would not be used. “Lola” normalizes the love between a black trans person and a white non-trans person.
Then there is the song’s most powerful lines: “Girls will be boys and boys will be girls. / It’s a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world except for Lola.”
Cisgender identity is broken. The world is called “mixed-up,” and the people historically thought to be “mixed-up” are the only non-jumbled people on it.
Too many rock songs have had tough-guy, high-sex-drive speakers. Next to none give identity to LGBTQ+ folk. “Lola” denies the former and embraces the latter.
The speakers’ admittances are said with such honesty, — I can picture the speaker rubbing his hand on the back of his neck while saying them — it humanizes the situation and challenges the listener.
The speaker admits that he does not fit gender roles. By doing so, he realizes that Lola fits into society just like anyone else. “Lola” reminds us to consider our gender roles as a means to understand ourselves and others, whether in America or in a club down in North Soho.
Those participating in Transgender Awareness Week in 2018 will remind us that the American Academy of Pediatrics found that nearly half of transgender male youth and a third of transgender female youth have attempted suicide in a study this year.
They will remind us that the Human Rights Campaign recorded 29 murders of mostly non-Hispanic white trans folk in 2017, the most ever recorded.
The DOJ’s brief reminds us that the department’s officials need to listen to “Lola” and, more importantly, to the transgender community. Otherwise, continued discrimination will lead to continued death.
Honestly this has been my favorite song since I was really small hearing it on my parents radio, and I have only grown to love it more and more ever since I understood th lyrics fully.
This was really helpful for my project on the 1960s Gay Rights Movement, thanks! Also a great song 🙂