Transcending boundaries: SOPHIE’s legacy

TRANSCENDING BOUNDARIES: SOPHIE’S LEGACY

By Christopher Meadowcroft

On the 30th January 2021, the news came in that Sophie Xeon (simply SOPHIE as she was better known) had passed away after falling from a building in Athens, where she was attempting to take a photo of the moon.

The Scottish musician and producer was only 34 when she passed, having released two albums and worked with the likes of Charli XCX and Madonna. Whilst her death is devastating, the impact of her life is profound, especially within the trans community.

SOPHIE at the start of her career remained anonymous, she was assumed to be a man and even accused of ‘feminine appropriation’. It wasn’t until 2017 that she released her own voice and image in the music video, ‘It’s Okay to Cry’. In further interviews, SOPHIE confirmed that she was a trans woman. Since then, she has spoken extensively about her identity in interviews, and quickly became a trans icon.

The music which SOPHIE released was often experimental, crossing boundaries of electronic, PC music and hyperpop. This received positive critical engagement, and, her album, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides was nominated for a Grammy for best dance/ electronic album. SOPHIE’s hyperkinetic sounds pushed boundaries, primarily using a monomachine to create her music, without any recognisable classic instruments. Not only is this a stylistic musical choice, this transgression of boundaries is one thing which makes SOPHIE stand out, and fitted perfectly with her philosophy on identity and gender.

“Transness is taking control to bring your body more in line with your soul and spirit.” – SOPHIE

How SOPHIE’s music is a liberating force for trans bodies

Unlike many of the discourses surrounding trans identities, which often focus on the pain of transphobia in society, or the struggle of dealing with gender dysphoria, SOPHIE presented something new. She defines transness as ‘taking control’ of your own life and your future. Within her discussion of transness, there is an overwhelming sense of freedom, that to be a trans person is to transgress the gender binary and is a liberating force.

Whilst many trans-exclusionary radical feminists such as J.K. Rowling see gender transition as furthering gender roles, particularly misogyny – SOPHIE rewrites this. Transness is seen as alleviating and abandoning the ‘societal pressures of having to fulfill certain tradition roles based on gender’. SOPHIE simultaneously questions ideas of both genre and gender, creating a new space where boundaries are things of the past.

A celebration of the fake

Even in SOPHIE’s lyrics, we see this sense of freedom and liberation. In ‘Faceshopping’ from the 2018 album Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, SOPHIE explores the real and the fake: “My shop is the face I front / I’m real when I shop my face / Artificial Bloom”.

SOPHIE’s music celebrates the artifice, there is no shyness in fakeness, but instead joy and euphoria in it. In a typical camp fashion, SOPHIE delights in excess. This idea of falsehood speaks again to transness, many of us medically transition, with synthetic hormones and surgery, and are still called ‘fake’ – SOPHIE rewrites this. She is instead the most real, the most natural when she “shop[s] her face”.

Honouring SOPHIE’s legacy

SOPHIE’s music was one that found its home in queer spaces. In the gay clubs in town, at your best friend’s house party, in relishing your own trans body on the dancefloor. The COVID-19 pandemic has separated communities massively, and this feels especially true for queer people, who often do not have the privilege of having families or societies which respect us.

SOPHIE’s music was able to create a freeing space for trans and gender diverse people, which celebrated transness instead of damning it. It feels difficult to honour SOPHIE’s legacy when we cannot access the spaces we would usually appreciate her music. Many are feeling alone and isolated in their grief of her. However SOPHIE’s influence was bigger than just her music playing in clubs. In her own words ‘GOD IS TRANS’; transness is a powerful and beautiful force which is all around us, and whilst SOPHIE represented this, it is not lost with her passing.

Continuing the music

SOPHIE’s death is a heartbreaking loss for the music world and particularly trans fans. It often feels as though trans people are rarely celebrated in their life, and it is only after a tragedy has struck that they are rightfully recognised. We need to love trans artists loudly, whilst they are still here to appreciate it.

Here is a list of trans musicians you should definitely be listening to; ARCA, Dorian Electra, Laura Jane Grace, Kim Petras, Against me!, ANONHI, Dog Park Dissidents, GLOSS, backwash, Ezra Furman, She/Her/Hers, Shea Diamond, itoldyouiwouldeatyou.