How Beastie Boys paid for a trans rock-n-roll pioneer's gender-affirming surgery

Prior to her transition, Donna Lee Parsons signed the Beastie Boys and worked closely with the band on their first two EPs.

Beastie Boys members Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond posing in front of a graffiti mural that spells out 'Beastie'.
Image: @beastieboys on Instagram

While Beastie Boys might not be the biggest name in music today, in the 1990s, the American hip-hop trio became the best-selling rap group in Billboard history – a title that they still hold. What many fans of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees might not know, however, is how the group, comprised of Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horovitz, Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch, and Michael ‘Mike D’ Diamond, once paid for a fellow rocker’s gender-affirming surgery.

Prior to her transition, Donna Lee Parsons, founder of Rat Cage Records, worked closely with Beastie Boys on their first two EPs. Twenty years after signing the hip-hop trio to her record label, Parsons came out as a trans woman. In order to support her, Beastie Boys, rocketed to fame by Parsons, quietly funded her gender-affirming surgery in 2002.

In the Beastie Boys Book, penned by group member Adam Horovitz, it is explained that the trio actually gave the money to Parsons claiming that they owed her royalties from their EP Polly Wog Stew, as they knew she’d never accept if she saw the money as charity. 

While the surgery was a success, Donna’s colon cancer, which had been in remission, returned the following year, and the rocker passed away in September 2003. Thanks to Beastie Boys’ generosity, however, Parsons was able to live the last year of her life in her authentic truth as the woman she was. 

“My understanding was that she was pretty much dying and that she wanted to live out the rest of the little time she had left in the body of her choosing,” Horovitz wrote in the Beastie Boys Book.

“So (Adam) Yauch took care of it. He organized it so we gave her the money for the (gender-affirming) operation, but it was under the guise of reimbursement and unpaid back royalties for the Polly Wog Stew record from 1982. Donna got the operation and then, within a year, passed away,” he explained.


Long before coming out as trans, Parsons was accepted as an eccentric figure in the punk/rock-and-roll scene, often taking to dressing in women’s clothing, even when she still identified as a man publicly.

In the year before her passing, Parsons wrote on her blog: “I was deliberately trying to look like a woman in public, although I still clung to the ‘shock’ element of punk as a protective buffer. I had a very long way to go.”

Parsons similarly reported that, upon first hearing the term “transgender” she immediately identified with it. 

“I saw the light at the end of a very dark tunnel and I ran straight for it,” she wrote. 

In a tribute to Parsons after her passing, Texas Is the Reason singer Norman Brannon wrote: “There seems to be a temptation among many of the people who have shared memories about ‘Dave Ratcage’ to speak about Donna as if she isn’t actually the person in those stories—as if, somehow, her pre-transition accomplishments and innovations do not belong to her. But it was, in fact, Donna who founded Rat Cage Records.”

He added: “So if you’ve ever worn a ‘lightning bolt’ t-shirt or listened to Victim in Pain or found yourself fondly recalling a Beastie Boys show you went to, you have a transgender woman to thank for that. And we should know her story. If you call yourself a hardcore kid, Donna Lee Parsons touched your life.”

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