Singer/Songwriter Brody Ray shares an intimate conversation with Pride Journey’s reporter Steven Binko about life as a transgender artist before performing at Milwaukee Pridefest.
From his segment on TLC, to competing on America’s Got Talent, Nashville recording artist Brody Ray is making waves and taking names. In an industry oversaturated with “look-alikes”, this Nebraska native is challenging the status quo while he fights to build a brand unlike anything you’ve seen or heard before.
Prior to rocking the stage at Milwaukee Pridefest, my cousin Haley and I were invited to join Brody at his hotel while he took a breather from the crowds. Walking in, we’re surrounded by overflowing suitcases, gas-station snacks, and to-do lists. Brody apologizes for the mess, but the reality is he’s living out of a suitcase. Behind the glamor was a man running on two hours of sleep after flying in from a performance, preparing for another tonight, and flying out to do it again tomorrow - something he’s become all too familiar with.
Plopping into his chair with an exhaustive sigh, I stumble around with my recorder and fight a case of the butterflies. Free from distraction, there’s no façade – just a good ol’ country boy in a fitted camo shirt, hypnotizing me with his golden caramel eyes. There’s a moment of silence and my cousin clears her throat as if to say “snap out of it, be professional”. Brody radiates authenticity, so I abandon my list of questions, trusting the potential for a more organic conversation. I dive right in.
Steven Binko: Obviously, you know this Pridefest is a special one as we celebrate 50 years since Stonewall. How does it feel being part of something so historic?
Brody Ray: I feel like I’m doing something important. I continue learning about the history of where we’ve come from, I hear stories about how much people have gone through, and I realize the importance of honoring things like Stonewall. In many ways, that’s kind of where everything started. We’ve got a lot of work to do and I feel like we’re just brushing the surface at this point.
SB: Representation is a big part of that, and you’re doing it! As a transgender artist, is that something that’s been an asset to your career, or has it made things more challenging?
BR: I feel like it’s both. I’m helping the community and saving people’s lives (helping family members accept their loved ones). Sometimes it puts me in a box when it comes to the country music genre, but I know most artists, producers and labels don’t personally have a problem with it – there’s just listeners who call the stations and complain. It’s one of those things where they can love you, but will they play you on the radio? I don’t know.
SB: What about the queer community? Do you face those same challenges amongst your peers?
BR: I do. At first, I got a lot of backlash when I was on the TLC show “Strange Sex” in 2011. They did an episode that showcased my life, family, getting surgeries, and starting hormones.
SB: I’m going to interrupt for a second. The episode focused on your transition and they used it for something called Strange Sex? Does that bother you?
BR: If you watch the show, there’s nothing strange about it, but it helped get the story out there as an advocate, and they featured my music. So, I think it was a good boost.
SB: You’ve got a spotlight on the most intimate aspects of your life. How do you navigate the pressure in a generation that’s often divided, hypersensitive, and opinionated?
BR: At first, I was excited to represent the trans community, but when the episode came out, they were kind of like “Fuck you. You need to pay attention to how you say things”. A lot of people attacked me for categorizing them because not every trans person needs surgery or hormones - that doesn’t mean they’re not transgendered. It’s a broad term for a wide spectrum of people. That criticism has made me more conscious. When I started speaking at law reviews and conferences, I started saying “this is my story, and it only represents me as a person”, which I think people feel better about because I’m no longer telling THEIR story.
SB: It’s rare someone in your position expresses themselves so freely. With the platform you have, do you feel a responsibility to speak up and be a voice for the issues we’re faced with?
BR: Yes and no. I try to stay out of politics, but there are certain things I’m passionate about. For example, whenever someone is like “I just like their chicken”, I’m like “you’re not hearing me”. There are companies giving millions of dollars to anti LGBT organizations. You are literally funding someone who is trying to make your life harder. I think most women would be upset if I gave business to a place that was fighting to take away their right to healthcare or equality in the workplace.
SB: What impact does your identity have on the material you create?
BR: I like to put out stuff that’s inspirational in general, but I don’t target it - it’s just empowering. Most of the stuff I write is relationship crap just like everyone else (heartbreak, and first loves).
SB: Do you consider yourself an LGBT artist, or is your goal to be more mainstream?
BR: I am, but I’m not just trans – I’m Brody. There’s a lot of artists back in Nashville, so there’s this pressure like “you gotta have a hit, you gotta have a hit”. I’ve spent too much time trying to do a little bit of everything (country, rock, and pop), but it’s time to focus on one thing and work on crafting it. The industry is very commercial and cookie cutter, so I’m trying to break free from that.
SB: I think your unconventional background might be an advantage. It lets you set the standard moving forward. You choose how to convey the message of your music. Do what you love, do what works for you!
BR: I don’t think I’ve ever been pressured into writing or recording anything that I’m not vibing on, and I’ve had lots of people send me stuff. If I don’t like something, I can’t do it. Sometimes, I’ll change something to make it fit (so I give things a chance), but I can’t put myself out there in a way that’s not authentic to me.
SB: What’s your next move?
BR: Right now, I’m just building up this band with all the festivals. We’re working hard to put on a professional and powerful performance. I’d love to keep getting bigger gigs and keep our name out there. But mostly, I want to keep writing - like, I need to be writing all the time. It goes back to the music. This is what I wanted to do long before I knew I was transgendered. I was dancing around in my diapers and cowboy boots screaming while my mom was banging around on the piano.
SB: I’d pay to see that.
BR: Oh, there’s videos. Someday I’ll show you!
SB: Any final thoughts for your LGBTQ fans?
BR: I know there’s a lot of people who aren’t struggling in the community, but I also know there’s a lot of people who are. There were times I didn’t know why I was alive, but it gets better – especially for trans people. Whether it’s clothes, binders, shots, or whatever… when you get access to the resources, you start to feel more like yourself.
SB: What about a message for the general public or people who haven’t heard your music?
BR: To the heterosexual community? Don’t be so closed off. We’re all trying to live the same life, and we’re all seeking the same thing (happiness) – we’re all just doing it a little differently.
Truthfully, I didn’t expect to dig into LGBTQ culture as deeply as we did, but it wasn’t all serious! From stories about his mother’s instrumental abilities (which inspired his journey through music), to an off the record story about meeting his fiancé for the first time, I genuinely felt like I was leaving a lifelong friend at the end of our interview. I’ve had endless encounters with public figures where the conversation left something to be desired – almost comparable to that of what you’d expect from a grocery cashier. Brody, on the other hand, is about as real as it gets.
Shortly after our interview, Brody returned to the festival grounds and delivered my favorite performance of Pridefest, 2019. From original songs to Lady Gaga, I watched as he captivated the interest of crowd-goers passing by. What started as a small group of hardcore fans quickly turned into a massive collection of people pushing to get closer. Likely overlooked by the average attendee, my favorite part was experiencing Brody’s confidence grow as the show went on. For the first song or two, I saw a small-town guy hiding behind his black baseball cap, keeping eye contact mostly on the band. As people cheered, his vocals grew stronger, and engaging with the crowd evolved into commanding it.
I wish each of you could see the side of Brody that gave me butterflies at the start of our interview, but you don’t need a meet-and-greet for that. Research his story, listen to his music, and follow his Instagram/Facebook stories and you’ll find the same authenticity. This man’s art is his heart. Each song is a glimpse into the fiber of his being. Listen close enough, and you just might uncover the treasure that is Brody Ray.