Ryan Cassata & Izzy Heltai Discuss Transgender Identity In Songwriting

Importance of representation in songwriting can not be understated. Folk singer-songwriter Izzy Heltai, who came out as transgender in his teens, stares down the more complicated aspects of his journey across his debut record, Father. “They are these songs that were written at the beginning of me figuring out that I want to do this with my life,” the musician says on the newest episode of Proud Radio with Hunter Kelly.

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“There’s a little more severity in the songs and the subject matter themselves,” he continues, adding how he was still figuring out exactly what the songs would sound like. “I got to talk about being trans in a really organic way, in a way that made it not feel like my music was all about that. Now it’s out there, and people can be really open to asking me whatever they want. But it’s not really going to be in my songs going forward, probably. At this point in my life, gender identity really isn’t something I think about.”

Another musician named Ryan Cassata has also been honest and direct in his songwriting. With “Daughter,” a foot-stomping ditty around his own coming-out, Cassata writes from a super personal, emotional place, and it’s no surprise it’s become a streaming hit (1.2 million streams and counting). “I honestly did not think that this song was going to be popular at all. I actually thought that the trans community was going to hate it. In the lyrics, I said things that a lot of trans people are often uncomfortable to say out loud, or they don’t relate to it,” Cassata tells radio host Hunter Kelly. “And that’s totally okay.

“I was writing from my personal experience about my dad and somehow that connected with so many other trans people all around the world. It was incredible. I mean, I still, every single day, receive messages about the impact of the song on trans people. Also, I’ve had parents come up to me at shows and be crying like, ‘That song is what made me accept my child.'”

When he was 15, Cassata famously appeared on Larry King Live in 2009, an appearance that changed everything. “I have no regrets that I went on [the show]. I became an adult and things were drastically different. The way people treated me in school was different. Not just because now I’m out as trans, but because people want to know someone, quote famous unquote,” he reflects. “There’s violence that comes along with it. And there’s a fear and a hyper vigilance and all that stuff of being out so young at a time when trans stuff was not accepted like it is right now.”

In the conversation, Heltai and Cassata discuss coming out, transitioning, spirituality, and pressures in being a role model. Listen to the episode on demand here.

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