Les Fleur Du Mal (Music Review)

Cover artwork for the standard edition CD.

Cover artwork for the standard edition CD.

One of the few things that kept me going through the lonely years of my early twenties was the music of the German musician Anna-Varney Cantodea, best known as the sole participant in Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows. Her music appealed to me for several reasons. The music, image, and lyrical content all appealed to me in a manner I had not yet found in any other band or musician. Much of this appeal to attribute the content of her lyrics, which are not only quite imaginative and clever but always intensely emotional and sincere. It might all seem rather melodramatic to other but, as a passionate person myself, it complemented my own personality perfectly.

Although I can relate to many of the experiences and sentiments Varney expresses in her albums, Les Fleurs Du Mal struck a particularly intimate note. It tells a bittersweet story about a complicated love affair with a man who cannot accept Cantodea’s queer status. Despite all her efforts to comfort and love him, the album ends rather sadly, with Contodea renouncing sex and love in The Virgin Queen, but despite this and other undeniably sad elements in the album, the tone is not despairing. In fact, it’s frequently playful, humorously ironic, and confident.

“Hänsel, call your soldiers back, this witch sticks to her gingerbread.
Girlfriends, wives or fiancées will save your sacred straightness from disgrace.”

“Some men are like chocolate,
but most of them are like shit
and if you don’t have the experience
to spot that tiny difference
you’re likely to fall for all of it.”

“Quickly erasing your lust, all we inspire is disgust
But then, of course, you can never be sure
and that’s the face that’s frightening you!”

The music is rather difficult to describe, apart from it being a complex interplay of numerous instruments and sounds. Overall, it tends to be more upbeat and funky than most of her album tend to me. To make things even more unusual, Cantodea hired a boy’s and men’s choir to performed some of the vocals. Not all Sopor fans enjoy this element–a friend one mine even deemed it “too gay”–but in my estimation the choir vocals really compliment the sound and tone of the album.

The album was originally released in both a limited edition box-set and vinyl. In 2007, when they were first released, these were the only copies available commercially. I actually both the album after only hearing the song La Morte D’Arthur but, a risk I only take on bands I like a lot. I wasn’t disappointed. The artwork imitates an Avon cosmetics catalogue, advertising products promises to hide the signs of sexual attraction and mock romance. Fortunately, the album has also been released both digitally and on a standard edition CD.

Whether you enjoy goth music or not, Les Fleurs Du Mal deserves your attention. It tells a unique story, one we seldom see in music generally, and does so with such sincerity, imagination, and power.


Often a Mistress but Never a Bride

When I look back on my love life prior to meeting my husband I cannot help feeling uneasy about discussing it. My love life was almost void of physical interactions yet it was filled with emotionally intense interactions that shaped how I perceived and evaluated myself. My first boyfriend lived many miles away and over the seven months of our relationship (and the year of strained friendship that followed) we only spent three weeks within touching distance. A friend of mine at the time dismissed it, insisting that the distance did not make it a real relationship, but despite my friend’s objection, it felt very real to me. We were emotionally involved and committed to a relationship, even if it was primarily long distance and dramatically shortened by mutual discontent. It may not seem like much to other people but these experiences have had a significant impact on my life. Strangely, it was the lack of activity in my love life was a part of a more complex and personally painful problem.

I got off to a slow start. I wanted to date more than anything after I came out but I was rather shy about. The internet helped to compensate for my social anxiety and connected me to many people I would never have known without it. However, even as I was making friends, I wasn’t having much luck meeting guys and it was largely due to my purposefully androgynous appearance. I did not fit the masculine type these men wanted. That I preferred to wear skirts instead of pants was enough of a reason to reject me outright. This kind of rejection is always painful to me and has frequently intensified my gender dysphoria. On a number of occasions, I was bluntly told, “If I wanted to date a woman, I wouldn’t be gay.” The fact that I was and intend to remain physically male did not make a difference to them.

My first boyfriend was not exception. He liked me at first and flattered me with many compliments but all throughout our short relationship he frequently tried to turn me into the kind of man he actually wanted. He openly told me that he thought I wasn’t cute enough and discouraged me from wearing women’s clothing. f course, he wasn’t always as mean as this and we had our good times but our problems never went away. It became increasing clear to me that he would never accepted for for what I am and this hurt me considerably because I sincerely believed there would be no one else for me. The pain became so bad that I started cutting myself, punishing myself for not being the person he wanted me to be, and even spent two nights under psychiatric observation after I stabbed myself with an X-Acto knife.

The only men (apart from my ex) who expressed an earnest desire for me were what are colorfully known as “tranny chasers.” These are men who are specifically attracted to transgender women or crossdessing men. At the time, I thought little of it. I was young, inexperienced, and eager to make a connection. Their attention gratified my need to feel attractive and wanted by men but interacting with these men quickly became unsatisfying and even humiliating.

Our interactions were pretty simple. They would send me a message, complementing my appearance and bluntly asking for pictures or for an exchange erotic emails. I was young and assumed this was typical for gay men. After a while, it became clear to me that the exchange was unequal, tilted forever in their favor because I was eager to gratify their desires for the mere promise of reciprocity. Many of these men became hostile when I refused to continue with these types of communications and several harassed me online for months afterward. (That’s in addition to the daily onslaught of harassing messages I got at the time from perfect strangers on social networking sites.) One man, in particular, pursued me for more than year. Of all the men I interacted with online, he was the only man I ever met in person or slept with. I took his consistent interest as a positive sign and, fortunately for me, he turned out to be very nice. Even when I broke promises to meet him again, he never became hostile or angry. However, as nice as he was, his interests were still exclusively sexual and was, to me, just one of many reminders of my undesirability. I was the mistress and nothing more to these men, without much hope of ever becoming the bride.

When I talked to a few of my friends about these experiences, they encouraged me to take it as a compliment. To be honest, I dearly wanted to take it as a compliment. To some extent it was nice, as sex often is for many people, but at the end of the day, it was all that I had or felt that I could expect. The inevitable disappointment this type of sexual contact entailed haunted me every day but I could not entirely draw myself away from it because my loneliness always returned. Although I stopped interacting with “tranny chasers,” I still sought out casual sexual encounters. Since I lived with my family at the tome, could’t drive, and had little money, I rarely ever met any of men with whom I made plans. When I look back now, I’m glad my circumstances had prevented me from taking on easy hookups. At the time it frustrated me but I do not doubt that the alternative would have been much worse.

Memories of my sexual past still evoke some pain but the wounds I once carried with me have healed. Time can heal some wounds but love is by far the stronger remedy and I found that with me husband. He gave me all the things I had always wanted but could never get from other men—romance! He took me to restaurant and bars, gave me gifts and introduced me to his friends. He wasn’t embarrassed to be seen with me. For the first time, I felt genuinely and completely appreciated and loved. He did not make me feel ashamed of my appearance as my first boyfriend had but embraced it. Before I met him I did not think I would ever find such a person, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have him in my life. With him by my side, I can finally close an unhappy chapter in my life and live as I always wanted to, a valid person worthy of love.

Mistaken Identity: Reconciling my Gender

Every now and then, a stranger asks me why I wear womens clothing. If I were biologically female, there would be no curiosity, but because I am male my appearance is perceived rather differently. Some people are surprisingly understanding and accept my answer. Whether I am being addressed by a child or an adult, I respond with the same answer: “Because I like to.” It is the simplest but not necessarily the most comprehensive or accurate way to describe what is for me a complex matter. Over the last eight years I have been on a journey of self-discovery, fraught with much pain and confusion; what follows is the result of my journey and is the best answer I can formulate at this point in time.

Well, they say confession is good for the soul. Let’s see if it’s good for one’s gender identity.

Like many transgender and gender-nonconforming people, I can trace aspects of my current gender identity back into childhood. Though I was raised as a boy, my parents allowed me a lot more freedom than many of my peers did, though I had several childhood friends who never made my effeminacy a problem. I have vivid memories of playing dress-up at an early age, perhaps before I entered kindergarten. I also remember my mother talking to me about what I was doing, telling me I had to stop because other people wouldn’t understand. I did as she asked but I secretly despair over the this demand. At the time I did not understand that my parents were trying to protect me. Despite this prohibition, they still allowed me some slack. I could wear anything I could pass off as boys clothing and I was allowed to play with whatever toys I wanted. (Later on, when I came out, both of my parents were very supportive. My mother even said I was the daughter she never haid. Of course, my sister wasn’t too happy to hear it.) Barbie dolls became a means for living out my repressed desires. Through them I lived a second life; they wore everything I wanted to wear, and for much of my childhood this worked. When I became comfortable with my homosexuality and came out during my senior year of high school, these desires resurfaced.

By that time I was already aware of some aspects of gender non-conformity but my knowledge was limited to transsexuals, transvestites, and drag queens. None of these categories, as I knew them then, represented how I felt about myself. It wasn’t until I discovered androgyny, though singer Pete Burns of Dead Or Alive, that I found a category that fit. His androgynous appearance quickly became my own ideal and still represents represents, to a great extent, what I find so beautiful about androgyny. To see what I mean, watch this.

Though I tend to use masculine pronouns and have chosen a masculine name, I am comfortable being addressed as either ‘he‘ or ‘she.’ My self-perception shifts between ‘he‘ and ‘she.’ They are the two halves that comprise ‘me.’ Even so, I tend to think of myself in feminine terminology (pretty rather than handsome, etc.) and generally feel more feminine than masculine. How I dress often coincides with my femininity and yet, even when I feel masculine, I still wear womens clothing. It can sometimes feel like a matter of taste in clothing, not entirely different from how women can choose to wear pants, but more frequently it feels like an integral party of my being. I must dress as I do; otherwise, I cannot bear to look at myself. Pronouns present a peculiar problem for me, for I am just as unsatisfied with feminine pronouns as I am with masculine pronouns. (I’m even more unsatisfied with the various neutral terms.) I feel impelled by society to be consistent, so I have chosen the masculine pronouns, but I would be happier never having to make this chose definitely. (Perhaps I don’t. I don’t even correct most people who refer to me as a woman.) Alas, it just doesn’t seem that simple.

It was initially very difficult for me to reconcile desire with the traditional values I knew would be used to throw an ugly light upon my appearance. As such, I perceived myself as fundamentally incongruent, as a “coal miner in a dress,” but as I have gotten older I have grown increasingly more comfortable in my skin. Still, I periodically experience the same dypshoria I felt when I was a teenager. I purposefully wear clothing that accentuates my hips to offset the broad shape of my shoulders and I go to great effort to keep my face free of stubble. These insecurities are as much a social problem as they are personal. My self perception is shaped not only through my own peculiar valuations but through those I attribute to society. Whether it is due to the inconsistency of self-perception and the values through which we evaluate ourselves or something more fundamental in my being is difficult for me to determine. However, it is certainly true that the demands of others increases my dysphoria but I am reluctant to say that it is the sole determinant. On the other hand, having a meaningful context within which I can be myself, makes a great difference in how happy I feel about myself.

Warning! Those who might not want to know about my sexual fantasies are advised to skip the next paragraph.

For longer than I can recall, I have had fantasies of experiencing sex as a female. Though I do not regard my penis with any ill feeling, I have never been able to resolve this fantasy. I can’t explain why it exists or what it means in relation to my gender identity. This problem surfaces every once in a while but it doesn’t feel like a major motivating force. It may just be a peripheral problem, born of the wish to be found desirable by the heterosexual men I once loved, but whatever the cause or substance might be, I cannot doubt just how painful this has been for me. Even the memory of these moments bring me to tears. Such was the case when I first heard the Sopor Aeturnus song Cornflowers. It was the first time another person articulated perfectly my own desires.

Despite it all, I feel fairly confident about the security of my future happiness. I not only have my own personal strength and fortitude but the companionship of many sympathetic people who accept my gender identity; I have a loving husband who appreciates my androgynous appearance, even to those aspects I am not always comfortable with (I’m looking at you, facial hair!); and most of the people I meet treat me with kindness and respect. These conditions give me reason to be hopeful. They also help to relieve the dysphoria I have felt throughout much of my life.