Agony and Ecstasy
BY Diane Anderson-Minshall
October 19 2011 3:00 AM ET
There may be other transgender heavy metal musicians — Cretin singer Marissa Martinez in the U.S., From Metal to Maternal stage star Jade Starr in Australia — but none as high profile as Mina Caputo. Once known as Keith Caputo, the front-person for the popular rock band Life of Agony, Mina Caputo shocked heavy metal fans when bloggers and magazines around the globe picked up on her transition this summer. Many (with the exception of Kerrang!) got the facts wrong and they were, says Caputo, a little late.
“I came out technically three years ago. I kind of thought it was funny,” she says of the flood of attention she got this summer, especially “in the metal world, which I came from when I was like 19. I was in a very hard-edged, male pseudo angry kind of punk rock metal kind of band. We were very different at the time. Most people know me from that I guess, but I’ve also been doing solo albums for 10 years.”
The irony of being the first high profile heavy metal musician to come out isn’t lost on Caputo, who has been making very non-metal music in the last decade. Her latest video, for “Got Monsters,” is Niko Bikialo’s 11-minute docu-opus in which Caputo and an alter-ego struggling with identity. “We didn’t want to make it a cliché coming out story,” she says. “I really didn’t want to be all dolled up and give the wrong impression or put transsexuals in the wrong light… because its really not about style of dress or how much makeup you’re wearing. It’s state of spirit and being, I believe.”
The actress in “Got Monsters,” who represents Caputo’s subconscious sex (female) is unlike traditional metal music video vixens: “We loved her because she was really natural and there was pretty much nothing really girly about her. That’s what we like and that’s why we picked her.”
Caputo herself is non-traditional. She’s a transgender lesbian (her girlfriend is a makeup artist who lives in Vienna), who isn’t having bottom surgery and doesn’t mind when fans flub and call her Keith. “I’m not really big on titles. I don’t like to box anything [in].”
Growing up in Coney Island, Caputo’s life was anything but storybook. Her dad overdosed on heroin in 2002; her mother OD’d when she was still an infant. “Even though they were never around, they literally they showed me how to live my life and to create bliss out of any tragic situation which is pretty much my way.”
She knew she was different before she even hit puberty. “When I was like 8 or 9 years old I started cross dressing. I used to go through my aunt’s drawers when nobody was home and I used to steal her lingerie.” Raised by strict grandparents (“If I came home with dyed red hair, I’d get the shit kicked out of me, literally, so me coming out to my grandparents — it was never happening.”), Caputo first thought she was a gay man, experimenting with men and hanging out at transsexual bars
“I really didn’t even know the word transgender back then. I just though, OK I’m a transvestite or I’m a gay male but I love presenting myself as a woman.” Since her parents died of drug overdoses she was skittish of taking black market hormones as her other trans friends were doing at the time.
“The last thing I was going to do was starting shooting herself with something, I didn’t know what it was. So I didn’t go that route, even though I thought, ‘Oh my god, I want to be there, how do I do that, turn this male self into my true female self?’”
Becoming a rock star, says Caputo, delayed her transition. Caputo, and Life of Agony (which disbanded years ago but reunited last year for shows) have long been huge acts in Europe. In 2001, when Agony went on hiatus and Caputo launched a solo career—long before her transition—Coldplay opened for her. Even today, tickets to her sold-out shows in Copenhagen, Budapest, and London are selling for $250 each.
“I was very boxed in that metal thing,” she admits. She was going to college when the first Life of Agony album came out. “The first album I’ve ever done was released and then it pretty much exploded in Europe and I kind of had no choice but to leave school. I didn’t want to sing in a band. That wasn’t really what I set out to do. I wanted to go to Julliard. I wanted to play the classics, get good grades… and I pictured myself living more of a feminine life then at 19 when this whole alpha male world just pretty much took over. I was in hell for years.”
She says the pressure didn’t come from her bandmates, though. “Yeah it was more of a sense of responsibility and not getting labels down… the management, the band, and the fans. And I mean, we were a really, really really, really big band. We were doing concerts in Europe where 60 to 100 thousand people were showing up.”
Caputo finally quit. “I couldn’t deal anymore. Actually I quit because we came too big. Band members were becoming the cliché rock and roll, sleeping with women every night, the drugs, everything and it was just like, ‘Argh, I can’t deal, gotta go.’” She quit Life of Agony at “the pinnacle and height of our success, and yeah I needed a break. I needed a break from the label, I needed a break from everything and everyone.”
Four years later, Caputo’s first solo album came out in 2000 and as the years went on she says her true self came out. “I couldn’t hold her down anymore. I became really, very eccentric.” That led to a turbulent 2008 and a series of failed relationships with women who didn’t want a male-bodied partner who wanted mani-pedis and Brazilian waxes. Until she met her current girlfriend, Caputo says women expected her to be Keith Caputo, the rock star.
“Maybe I was some sort of status thing to them and they felt really safe… hey were with this beautiful boy and he’s famous and he writes beautiful music and he’s generous. There were a couple of girls that understood but my feminine feelings weren’t genuine [to them]… to most it was just like maybe a bed thing, a sexual fantasy kind of thing in their own mind.”