Trans trailblazers in music who paved the way ahead of Kim Petras’ historic Grammy win

Three-time Grammy winner Wendy Carlos is among the LGBTQ+ legends who paved the way for trans visibility in the music industry.

Split screen of Kim Petras, SOPHIE and Wendy Carlos.

During the 65th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, February 5, Kim Petras made history by becoming the first openly trans woman to win a Grammy.

Alongside Sam Smith who came out as non-binary after winning four Grammys in 2015, Petras won in the category of Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for the hit song ‘Unholy’. Upon receiving the prestigious honour on Sunday, Smith stepped back and invited Kim to accept the award, acknowledging the groundbreaking moment.


In her Grammy acceptance speech, Kim Petras said, “I just wanted to thank all the incredible transgender legends before me who kicked these doors open for me so I could be here tonight”.

She then went on to name a few LGBTQ+ icons including renowned musician SOPHIE, saying “…especially, my friend who passed away two years ago who told me this would happen and always believed in me. Thank you so much for your inspiration, SOPHIE. I adore you, and your inspiration will forever be in my music.”

Sophie Xeon, better known as SOPHIE, was an incredibly gifted Scottish-born producer who came out as a trans woman in 2018 after releasing the record Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides. She made Grammy history the same year when she was nominated for Best Dance/Electronic Album.

She collaborated with icons like Madonna and Lady Gaga, and was recognised as a pop and experimental music legend. Sadly she passed away in 2021, and many queer icons paid tribute to her life and career.

Another trans legend who deserves recognition for paving the way for future trans musicians is three-time Grammy winner, Wendy Carlos.

Carlos was the first trans woman to win a Grammy in 1969 for her album Switched-On Bach. She was privately transitioning at the time of her win, and the album’s success helped fund her gender-affirming surgery.

For years, she continued to perform under her given name, even wearing fake sideburns to disguise her appearance during her live shows. She came out publicly as a trans woman in the 1970s and then her earlier albums were re-released under her chosen name, Wendy Carlos.

She is most famous for composing the soundtrack for The Shining and A Clockwork Orange and she earned another Grammy nomination in a 1988 collaboration with Weird Al. 

In 2005, she was honoured with the SEAMUS Lifetime Achievement Award “in recognition of lifetime achievement and contribution to the art and craft of electro-acoustic music,” and in 2020, The Guardian named her “…the most important living figure in the history of electronic music”.

Carlos is now 83 years old and her website includes her biography as well as an array of photos and personal anecdotes. Her story and contributions are especially relevant now while politicians like Donald Trump discriminate against LGBTQ+ people and attempt to dismiss trans identities as a new concept.

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