The Moon Is SOPHIE’s Now
My phone buzzed relentlessly in the hours after Sophie Xeon’s death. Trans girls from Brooklyn to London, Stockholm to Los Angeles registering our collective shock that our very own Immaterial Girl had gotten free of her body too soon. As we traded earnest sorrows edged with the razor barbs that are the girls’ primary language, it wasn’t lost on any of us that our collective urge to mourn together was hampered not just by the stretch of geography but now by a global pandemic that prevents the world from marking the passing of Sophie, stylized as SOPHIE, in the only way appropriate. Trans theater maker Travis Alabanza reminded us all that “the clubs would be playing SOPHIE all night long tonight.” The pandemic may have closed the clubs, but Sophie’s death is truly the night their lights went out.
It was bouncing up against the sweaty bodies of my sisters of all genders inside boutique queer bars and trans strip clubs that, like so many of us, I first heard the wet plastic sounds of Sophie slide down me when the first singles dropped in 2013. The world’s tragic loss is compounded by the small but poignant heartbreak of a hundred thousand trans girls around the world impossibly longing to grieve together in darkened venues how we know best. Many of the younger girls among us had been gifted the perfect soundtrack to their own transitions in Sophie’s Grammy-nominated Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides—a 2017 debut album chronicling the enigmatic hyper-pop producer’s uncanny takes on sex, bodily plasticity, and the promise of a whole new world heralded by her “transnation” aesthetic. Sophie, in a rare moment of unmodulated vulnerability, whispered to us, “There’s a world inside you / I want to know what it feels like / I wanna go there with you.”
The pandemic may have closed the clubs, but Sophie’s death is truly the night their lights went out.
Now, we can only look up at the moon and wish that some part of us, the part she’d so delicately held and draped in high-gloss PVC, could connect with her there. A statement from the producer’s record label disclosed that “true to her spirituality,” Sophie had accidentally fallen to her death while trying to view the first full moon of the year at home in Athens. Across my timeline, that very same moon rose blood orange from behind the Parthenon in a striking photo shot by Yiannis Liakos, retweeted tens of thousands of times the day we heard the news about Sophie. The moon is Sophie’s now, a base for a spirit no longer constrained by the flesh she’d spent so much time rebelling against and remaking in her own image. Asked by then girlfriend, trans model Tzef Montana, in PAPER magazine if she believed in God, Sophie put it plainly, “Yes, God is trans.”
Sophie was not just the producer behind some of the most unusual hits of the 2010s—from Madonna and Rihanna to Kanye West and Charli XCX—she was part of the vanguard of the trans girl vocoder revolution. Alongside underground darlings Arca, Tami T, and 100 gecs, Sophie pushed overprocessed pop beyond its limits. Vocal cords irrevocably thickened by unwanted puberty are no longer barriers as music embraces a future in which there is less and less meaningful difference between what is natural and what is constructed. Listening to Sophie, it’s often impossible to distinguish between which are her own electronically manipulated vocals and which are those of her many proxies, like Cecile Believe and Shygirl. Trans people of all genders heard ourselves in her call, “You could be me and I could be you / Always the same and never the same / Day by day, life after life.” We are the Immaterial Girls, the Immaterial Boys; we can be anything we want, Sophie promised us, and it felt something akin to liberation.
We can be anything we want, Sophie promised us, and it felt something akin to liberation.
Electronic music has always been the primary musical domain in which trans women and femmes find our voices. Synthesizer pioneer Wendy Carlos worked on the soundtracks to A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Tron, revolutionizing the sound of the second half of the 20th century, while undergoing her own gender transition in the 1960s and ’70s. Near the tail end of the century, Terre Thaemlitz introduced politics to ambient music through albums like Tranquilizer and G.R.R.L. This connection only grew in the first two decades of the 21st century as groups like Jessica 6, Ah-Mer-Ah-Su, and Anohni took the stage alongside the growth of transmasculine producers like Fifty Grand. For many of us, technology holds the promise of new ways to remake bodies and lives that feel claustrophobically prescribed—whether that technology be hormonal, surgical, or electronic. These prostheses allow us to express our interior worlds, an act of love through which we reclaim our lives in a culture that often seems to want to extinguish us. As one of Sophie’s stand-ins sang on her behalf in a Heav3n set released last year, “Everybody’s got to own their body / Everybody’s got to hold somebody / Everybody’s got to own their story.”
Sophie’s story is one of singular uncanny beauty and a shock of brilliance—a brilliance that turned pop inside out, exposing all its wet circuitry. We grieve both together and apart for the woman whose silicone musical perspective was so fresh it felt like being in the future. One day, when the nightclubs reopen in a post-pandemic world, I know we will come together—all of us sisters, brothers, siblings, lovers—and, our bodies united in the sounds of Sophie’s euphoria, we’ll be “holding hands and running / And it makes me feel, makes me feel / Oh, just like we never said goodbye.”
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