Trans TMBG Songs
Sometime ago I started this list of They Might Be Giants songs that can be interpreted as to having a transgender theme. It started with just four songs: Impossible, The Secret Life of Six, Sally Boy Candy Bar, and Doctor Worm. I went to the Miscellaneous T facebook group to ask for suggestions to add to the list. What I forgot to write in my original post was to ask people to explain their choices, but I took the time to figure out why they chose that song with the help of others and I quite enjoyed trying to figure out how this certain song can relate to the trans experience or has some trans vibes. Below is the entire list with explanations in chronological order of when the songs were released or it's at least close to it. If you have any songs you would like to add to this list or want to expand upon the meanings of some songs already listed, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear your thoughts. Also, if you know of any interviews where they talk about these songs or anything trans related, please send them to me.
Sally Boy Candy Bar - 1983
This one was added to the list by a friend of mine. This suggestion kinda breaks my brain because I don't really get it, but that's how They Might Be Giants songs are like anyways. My friend said that it just sounds angry and transgender, in love with someone transgender, or both especially with the lyrics "I've been told that a boy is a girl/This isn't true anywhere in the world" and "Never mind the clothes you wear/Nevermind the cross you bear/None of these things can compare when the circle gets the square." There is some commentary on gender roles in this song, but I just can't figure it out. This song is starting to bother me. Feels rather anti-trans. There's something up with that first lyric. I need Flans to clarify the meaning of this song. My friend came back to explain his thoughts about this song better. Here is what he said: an interpretation of this song is someone getting over the transphobia in their life to fall in love with a trans person and maybe even come out as trans themselves. At first, they're confused and scared because "I've been told that a boy is a girl/This isn't true anywhere in the world" and accuse them of letting their feelings override facts. At the lyric, "You got a heart for a head," they start to realize that they relate. With "And it illustrates the way we are," the narrator decides that "Never mind the clothes you wear/Never mind the cross you bear" because none of that compares to how beautiful it is when two things that they were told don't fit together do after all. This also fits with "Circle gets the square" like a square peg in a round hole. The second verse references "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bike" and advises that you choose your own relationships with the lyric "the fish can walk or take a hike." Also, the repeated parts aren't repeated exactly: "with breakfast in bed, heart for a head" isn't accusatory anymore, and it's "the clothes WE wear" and "the cross WE bear". The song ends angry in solidarity with gender nonconformity. The "making me mad" part in the lyric "It's making me mad because it illustrates the way we are" might also be a word play on "being mad about someone" as in being in love.
Mrs. Train - 1994
This suggestion is something I am not so sure about. I think Mrs. Train is transgender, but I can't get anywhere past that.
S-E-X-X-Y - 1996
One interpretation of this song is that the person the narrator is talking about has klinefelter syndrome since there is an extra x in the title and because of the chorus being "X because it's extra baby/Y because it's extra baby/Unnoticed by few/Very very few/And that includes you." Since this only happens in "males" there could be a possibility that the person the narrator is talking about is a trans woman since the narrator does use she/her pronouns for her (although, this doesn't mean much since pronouns aren't inheretly gendered and anyone can use any pronouns of their choosing). I always thought the song was about fucking which is rather obvious, but who the narrator is fucking seems quite important. I recently had that thought that maybe the person with klinefelter syndrome is the narrator. Linnell got asked about S-E-X-X-Y and How Can I Sing Like a Girl? in this interview
. It starts around 32 minutes in. Of course he wouldn't know the meanings behind the songs because he didn't write them, but it's interesting to hear his take on them.
Till My Head Falls Off - 1996
This song was added to the list by my good friend Eddie. They said that the song is about some sort of depersonalization on seeing what you look like rather than what you feel or what you want to look like. You can see this the most where the narrator says "Clearing his throat and smiling with his hands on the bathroom sink" since it suddenly changed to third person. I assume the narrator is looking at themselves in the mirror and this is where the depersonalization comes in. The narrator now sees themselves as someone else than as their actual self. This can tie into how some trans people feel so disconnected from the visual aspect of their bodies because it doesn't fit exactly what they need it to be. The two lyrics "And when I lean my head against the frosted shower stall/I see stuff through the glass that I don't recognize at all" and "And when I lean my head against the frosted shower stall/I see a broken figure silhouetted on the wall" also ties into the idea of feeling so disconnected from your physical body that it just doesn't look right to you or is what you need it to be.
How Can I Sing Like a Girl? - 1996
This one I was very hesitant to add to the list because I really hate the part where he says "freak flag," but I feel like I must add it. The main theme to this song seems to be about wanting to do feminine things without being perceived as a woman or without being objectified like a woman. I think some trans men and nonbinary people can relate to this since so many would like to do feminine things without other people thinking they are a woman. I can really relate to this because I don't really mind wearing feminine clothing or wearing makeup, but these things are always associated with women which makes me hesitate ever touching such things because then people will think I am a woman when I'm not. There's this shitty part about being trans where you want to do certain things and wear certain articles of clothing, but there is a possibility you're going to get misgendered and you don't want to deal with that at all. It's like you have to perform femininity or masculinity to its highest to pass or to be "accepted" by cis people, but people still misgender you because somehow they know. They know how hard you're trying to make it seem like you're a man or a woman and they just want to destroy your life as much as possible. What was I saying about this song? Flans got asked a question about this song on tumblr
in 2017. I really don't like his answer because it just seems like he's dodging the question and is ignoring exactly how trans people can relate to this song. I'm sure anyone can relate to this song, but it would be nice if he said something else like "yeah, this song can totally be interpreted that way" instead of being like "it's about ALL humans." It just sounds very dumb to me.
Doctor Worm - 1998
Despite whatever bullshit Linnell said in that one interview that's quoted on the Doctor Worm page on the wiki, this song is on the list! This is a popular fan interpretation of Doctor Worm being trans since they want people to call them by a certain name. The lyrics "I am a real worm/I am an actual worm/I live like a worm" can also have somewhat of a trans interpretation of it since Doctor Worm really wants people to know that they are an actual worm. It's kinda like how trans people need others to know that they are the gender that they say they are and nothing else. The lyrics "Someday, somebody else besides me/Will call me by my stage name" sound so sad. I'm so sorry, Doctor Worm, that people have been using the wrong name for you. Maybe someday others will call you by your stage name. I hope you're still playing the drums. Fuck it! Trans Doctor Worm!
Bangs - 2001
This is one of the songs that was suggested to me by someone in Miscellaneous T and I don't get it. It's another one of the suggested songs that just seems like the person the narrator is talking about is trans, but there's nothing else to it. What this trans woman said about Bangs on tumblr
is so cute. I wonder if she still has bangs.
Impossible - 2003
This was the first song I thought of and it's what started the list. I always related it to the trans experience as seeming like you're not something that can happen (i.e. transitioning whether it be through surgery, hormones, socially, or something else), but being trans is something that is possible and not something that is just a far off idea that no one would think to touch. One lyric that can fit into this is "Yes, they say it is impossible/It's a thing that I can never be." It can be about how cis people say that the idea of a trans person or the idea of changing your sex is something that should never exist and can't exist. I also interepreted the lyrics "You can change your shape and you can grow/Out of nothing into something new/Something made up into something true" as being about transitioning. It could also be about growing up since it is a kids song and growing up is something that kids often do. The part where Flans says "Or just want to be more like you are" plays into needing to become the you that you need to be and being the real you. This part can be quite vague and fit with anyone, not just trans people, but whatever. Also, this song is about changing your shape which can fit with transitioning.
The Secret Life of Six - 2008
This one isn't very specific. The only trans part I got from it is Six pretending to be Nine and Nine pretending to be Six. They also do this in secret so maybe they're not ready to come out yet or they know people aren't going to be accepting of them so they have to keep it a secret. Maybe I'm thinking too far into this and the two just like to pretend to be each other and there's nothing more to it. It's just a kids song, but these characters can still be trans since I said they are.
Even Numbers - 2008
This one isn't very specific either. The only lyric that's giving off trans vibes is "You're a girl, but you're a boy/Girl, boy, girl." It's obvious that Linnell is just mentioning opposites since he's talking about even numbers and odd numbers.
Let Your Hair Hang Down - 2011
This is another one I'm confused about and was suggested by someone on Miscellaneous T. I would assume that the person the narrator is talking to is transgender. I would guess that the narrator is saying to the person that they should just be themselves despite the hate that they will face. I also assume that the person the narrator is talking to is a trans woman hence the long hair, but they could be any gender. There is an interpretation
like this on the intereprations section for this song on the wiki which is quite interesting.
Too Tall Girl - 2013
All I can think of with this suggestion is that the too tall girl in mention is a trans woman because sometimes trans women are tall. I don't know, all I wanna say is that Flans said "manlet rights!" with this song.
Let Me Tell You About My Operation - 2015
How obvious! I wonder what kind of operation they had! The operation mentioned sounds like it sucks butt! Okay, so the obvious thing is that the title of the song was taken from "an album by stand-up comedian and female impersonator Rae Bourbon, whose adults-only, under-the-counter records became a sensation in the 50s after Bourbon claimed to have just returned from having gender correction surgery in Mexico (although it's believed this was a publicity stunt and untrue)." The thing is that this song also has a trans theme to it. The lyric "Doctors removed your memory" is like the narrator had their sex change surgery and the surgery also removed their former memories of themselves so now they are only aware of their current self and not their old self. You can also take "your" as someone else instead of the narrator just boasting about how the operation can also remove your own memories. The memories that someone else had of the narrator are gone now since they've changed. Also with the lyric "How could you be so mean?" could be about a relationship that the narrator has with someone where that person has been objecting the idea of the narrator having this operation. The lyrics "Our liaison—oh, it was poison, baby!/Our liaison—it was a drag" can also tie into that relationship that the narrator had with that other person that was bad and that person was being utterly transphobic towards them. This relationship doesn't have to be with someone entirely different, but also could be interpreted as the relationship that the narrator has with themselves. It's like the pre-op them was terrible and bad for them, but the post-op them is great and makes their life better.
Underwater Woman - 2015
This is another suggested song that I don't quite understand besides just saying that underwater woman is transgender and that's it, but I'm going to try to get out a solid interpretation. Maybe the lyric "No one on the shore will ever know what's in her heart" can do with something trans related. It's like no one knows that she's trans ... maybe. The lyrics "Fiercely alive, will to survive/Able to thrive on her own" could be going somewhere, but I don't know where. I need help.
What Did I Do To You? - 2015
I was also confused on this one at first, but I think I got it. I think the whole song itself could be about how cis people could be mean to you only because you're trans and you don't truly understand why because you did nothing to wrong them. I also had the idea with the first lyric being "Whatever happened to chopped off/Unloved, resentful appendages?" about genetalia or other things since those could be unloved by some trans people. This interpretation
has nothing to do with trans people, but I like it a lot. I guess it could tie into some trans thing like wondering in the middle of the night if the surgery you've gone through was worth it or if you've made a mistake (this is not about detransitioning, it's just about doubting yourself and thinking too much). It could also be about your past self haunting you in a way like with the lyrics "Though my pounding heart nearly drowns it out/What is that scampering sound?" which could mean that the narrator is fearful that their history that they want to get rid of is coming back and they're terrified.
Long White Beard - 2015
Another kids song! What I got from this song is that the narrator is changing into things that they don't want to change into. It's like going through a puberty that you don't want to go through or having a body part that you don't want to have, but your agab is in the way.
Shape Shifter - 2015
I don't like listening to this song. I always thought it was about trans people in a way and sometimes I forget that the narrator is not always the person singing so I just thought Linnell was being transphobic for three minutes straight. That first thought I had about it with Linnell being transphobic always comes back to me whenever I listen to it and that sucks butt. I don't want to say that Linnell isn't transphobic since he is cis and cis people are inherently transphobic, but I'm not saying that he is transphobic. I do not hate this man. But I think the narrator is just so annoyed that things are changing and refuses to adapt to this change. You can tell throughout the entire song, but especially with the verse "Shape shifter, shape shifter/You gotta quit that/Shifting of shapes/I accepted what you were and then/Everything changed/And I don't want to live in any/place where the people are/shifting their shapes."
I Left My Body - 2017
Another suggestion that I was confused about and needed a friend to help me with. He said that leaving your body is like having severe dysphoria so you stop relating to your physical self. Leaving your body and going on a journey is like deciding to take matters into your own hands and starting self-discovery and to transition. Waiting endlessly on the receptionist at the desk is like getting stuck in the medical system waiting for surguries and hormones and the things that will help alleviate dysphoria. The lyrics "I left my body/And right away I knew I made/A mistake" is like how you could want to completely leave your body, but you can't. No matter how bad your dysphoria is you have to keep feeding and washing and loving your body because afterall you can't leave it behind. It's the only one you have and will ever have.
Unctuous Robot - 2018
The person who suggested this one said it has major dysphoria vibes. One lyric that stands out to me is "All my works are forgeries/Impressive, yes, but worthless forgeries/Impressive, yes, until you learn they're forgeries" because it's like how sometimes you feel rather fake and aren't actually a man or woman and feel like no one is believing you in that silly get-up. I often feel that way whenever I'm wearing men's clothing even though 99% of my wardrobe is men's clothing (more like boy's clothing with some men's clothing mixed in if we're getting technical). I don't know, it's like trying to perform to the greatest amount of masculinity or femininity, but you feel terrible about it. You feel like you're doing the most just to blend in. There's something up with the verse "I know you are but what am I/Is what I say when I'm admiring my reflection/While dressing in the clothes/I found in your room" and I'm not so sure what it is. As I'm rereading these lyrics, I think the narrator is talking to themselves. They're not so sure what they are or they feel disconnected from their own body. They feel like they're putting on some performance like they're a robot.