wears his heart on his tattoo sleeve.
The front man of
Toronto rock band the Cliks bares a turbulent tapestry
on his arm: a dragon leaping through flames and waves, two
guns bearing wide wings, and the word ''Survivor.''
''This is all to
commemorate what I went through,'' says Silveira, who is
transgender. ''Fifty percent of trans people commit suicide.
I went to that place, and I know where that comes
from. I felt so lucky that I got through it that this
was to commemorate the entire ordeal.''
Silveira is the
first out transgender artist to be signed to a high
profile label, Tommy Boy's gay-friendly imprint Silver
Label. These days he is trying to build a career as he
rebuilds his life as a biological female who
identifies as male.
The Cliks were
featured on the recent gay-oriented True Colors Tour,
playing alongside Cyndi Lauper, Erasure, and Debbie Harry.
This spring they released Snakehouse, an
emotional, guitar-driven album. Their single ''Oh
Yeah'' spent several weeks atop a musical countdown on
Logo, the gay-themed cable network.
defy the status quo face a challenge: how to live up to
the hype on an artistic level that their identities
generate. Sometimes these acts rely on novelty alone
for sales and popularity. Conversely, Silveira hopes
his artistry will eventually outshine a gender identity
considered edgy in the pop mainstream.
At first glance
the singer, who declines to give his age, looks like a
petite tomboy with stylish, cropped locks and thick, lush
eyelashes. While shopping for sneakers in downtown
Manhattan (''I love shoes, man,'' he gushes), salesmen
offer him women's sizes even though he asks for men's.
Silveira knows he looks more female than male; on his
records he sounds like it too. He sacrificed the male
attributes hormones offer to maintain his singing
voice. Instead, he underwent a double mastectomy to
feel more comfortable in his skin.
like, 'How opportunistic of you. Is this a gimmick? Do you
think it's stylish to be this way?''' he says of skeptics.
''And I am like, 'Yeah, I am really, really into
having a double mastectomy for fashion.'''
In recent months
transgender people have gotten a surge of exposure on
television (All My Children, Ugly Betty) and in
film (2005's award-winning Transamerica and
documentaries like Alexis Arquette: She's My
Brother). These works have banked on the characters'
transgender experience to draw audiences. However, the
Cliks' work is less specific. They deliver the
standard rock fare of emotional songs that express
trials that are not transgender so much as they are human.
''I think that
authenticity is reflected in their particular single, and
I can only theorize that is why it has caught on,'' says
Brian Graden, president of Logo and of entertainment
at MTV Networks Music Group. ''I don't think it's
because of any hook of being transgendered.''
Graden adds that
being transgender is ''one of the last frontiers of
nonunderstanding in our culture.'' But of late, more people
''exploring that subject refused to be coded or
Born in Toronto
as Lillia, Silveira spent much of his childhood on the
small Portuguese island Pico. He moved back to Toronto's
suburbs when he was 10, thriving on pop and then heavy
metal. With paper-route funds he bought an electric
guitar. Struggling with male inclinations, Silveira
entered what he dubs his ''uberfeminine'' phase,
donning heels, nylons, and skirts in an attempt to fit
By his early 20s
he was a singer-songwriter, doing open-mike
nights and solo acoustic gigs and identifying as a
lesbian. Back in Toronto, he named his band Lillia and
supported his art with government grants and dog
walking. Then two years ago, a six-year relationship
ended, Silveira's grandmother died, his father had a stroke,
and a friend was rediagnosed with cancer. Then his
band members quit.
''I fell apart
and I started looking in,'' remembers Silveira. And what
he found was his true gender identity. ''It started coming
in dreams and one day I just woke up horrified because
I just saw the answer. I had known since I was a kid,
but sometimes when the truth is there it's too scary
to deal with and you suppress it. I was like, 'Oh, my God,
it's sink or swim.'''
right in--and his music flourished. He formed the Cliks
with drummer Morgan Doctor and bassist Jordan B. Wright. The
songs he wrote became harder, louder, and to Silveria,
''I just felt I
didn't have to suppress another part of who I was,'' says
the self-taught musician. ''My identity as a female hinged
on the fact that I would be tame and feminine and
subdued. Coming to terms with the fact that I was
trans made me feel more liberated to go to the core of my
songwriting and what I loved about music.''
Rosie Lopez, then
head of A&R at Tommy Boy Entertainment, heard the
shift. An earlier Lillia album left her unmoved, but when
the Cliks' record--which includes a cover of Justin
Timberlake's ''Cry Me A River''--arrived, she signed
them. Since the April release of Snakehouse,
Lopez, now vice president, estimates they have shipped
5,000 albums and scanned about 1,200 copies. The label keeps
the band touring to connect them with fans. It's the
music, Lopez insists, not Silveira's gender, that will
draw in the most dedicated listeners.
''No one is going
to run out and buy this album because of that. That's
the reaction audience. If we try to make this a marketing
angle, then that is all it is ever going to be,'' she
says of Silveira's transgender status.
some of the band's biggest supporters aren't even aware of
Silveira's identity. Willobee, the operations manager and
program director of alternative rock station WEQX in
Albany, N.Y., saw the band perform at the SXSW
festival in Austin this spring. He then began playing
them on the radio and added them to the lineup of the
station's upcoming concert.
''When I saw them
I was like, 'Wow, they got something here,''' says
Willobee. ''I didn't know about the transgendered thing
until two weeks ago! I don't know if the whole gender
identity is going to help or hurt them.... For me, it
doesn't matter. We are a radio station, and all people
can hear is the music.''
understands that he is a pioneer, and that eventually the
novelty of his gender will wear off.
''As a human
being I feel a responsibility to myself to be who I am,'' he
says. ''I can't take on this 'You are the poster child for
trans men or trans people' thing because people in the
trans world are totally different. To me, it's just
about acceptance, about things that are different, and
being able to normalize that. If I can be out in the world
and have people treat me like everybody else, that would be