I first heard Antony Hegarty–now known as ANOHNI–during my short-lived indie pop phase, around the time of her 2005 album I am a Bird Now. At the time, due to a combination of youthful ignorance and Anohni’s policy not to mandate the use of “she/her” pronouns, I was unaware that she was a transgender woman. All I knew was that her voice was so beautiful, it transcended not only gender but also species: as far as I’m concerned, the person singing on that record might as well be some kind of gorgeous, siren-like alien or angel, not bound to any kind of human body at all.
I don’t listen to much music that would be described as “indie” anything these days, but I still love I am a Bird Now. It, like Anohni herself, is transcendent: it’s beautiful, melancholy baroque pop that can’t be bound to any particular trend or scene. And its closing track, “Bird Gerhl,” is still damn near capable of moving me to tears–even if, as a cisgendered man, I can’t fully relate to its lyrical themes of blissful freedom through transformation.
But then, maybe I’m selling myself–and Anohni–short. The desire to transcend the confines of the human body is, after all, something we all share: it’s basically the emotional core of gospel music, a genre to which “Bird Gerhl” owes no small debt. This is not, by any means, to take away from the particular desire being articulated by Anohni; but the beauty of music is its ability to make the particular universal, and vice versa. “Bird Gerhl” is a trans song, and a profoundly human one: like Anohni herself, it doesn’t mandate any particular pronouns. But the beautiful sense of empathy it invokes is such that you’ll probably end up using the correct ones anyway.