Life Is Proud: Life Of Agony’s Mina Caputo: “I don’t like being called transgender or transsexual… I’m a beautiful human being”
“You’re setting off landmines inside of me!” says Mina Caputo. We’re 35 minutes into a filmed interview which we are conducting as part of Kerrang!’s Life Is Proud campaign in celebration of Pride Month.
Our conversation thus far has embraced everything from the work of psychologist Carl Jung and his study of the dark side of the mind through to the disinformation of modern media, and on to the liberating impact of artists such as Robert Plant and Freddie Mercury.
The “landmines”, though, consist of a few questions about Mina’s remarkable career and her own journey to find herself. They do, indeed, trigger explosions – delivered with her customary frankness and forays into deeply emotional territory.
Mina’s story starts in Brooklyn where she was born in December 1973. At the age of one, she lost her mother to an overdose. Her father was also an addict – “I grew up pulling dope needles out of my dad’s arm,” she told Kerrang! last year – and when he OD’d she had to identify his body. Both moments, she says, armed her to face the real world, providing her with “spiritual juice” as she also began to seek solace in music.
Raised by her Italian-American grandparents in a brutally traditional atmosphere, Mina experienced a sense of gender dysphoria from a young age – something she carried with her when she formed alternative metal band, Life Of Agony, in her teens. Her sense of alienation increased as the band’s popularity grew and she continued to feel at odds with the bristling machismo, muscle-flexing and sheer violence within the East Coast scene.
“Life Of Agony were a very different band from the jump,” she says. “But that time taught me to protect my neck. It taught me how to be afraid of my own unique authenticity. The first five or 10 years of my career, we were abused. There were lots of comments, like I’m a gay junkie, because I looked differently and I sang differently. We were left out of scenes and we were left off bills. But I knew why: because were bad-ass and we rose to the top really, really fast. People didn’t like that. Other bands didn’t like that.”
For Mina, her quest to find herself had become a key issue which she had to address. In a conservative scene, her experimentation with her image and sense of sexual exploration came at a price.
“I started painting my fingernails and toenails with Jonathan [Davis] on a tour with Ozzy Osbourne and Korn [in 1996], and that was seen as rebellious!” she smiles. “And I started going onstage wearing a big women’s fur coat and getting so much shit for just being different – and for being someone unlike the scene had ever really seen. I was a trendsetter, a physical trendsetter. And being in that scene, it was horrifying.”
Things came to a head following the release of Soul Searching Sun, Life Of Agony’s third album, in 1997, when Mina finally decided her only option was to leave the band. Against all odds, LOA would reform in 2003 and continue to release a string of acclaimed albums, their story documented in the no-holds barred documentary The Sound Of Scars.
“I felt afraid, I felt like dying,” reflects Mina on the struggles she endured as she quit the band. “I felt like my cellular structure was continuously dying and I wasn’t alive or living, I wasn’t sharing my true self. I was definitely afraid. It took me to quit the band because I wasn’t being true to myself. I had to get away from my band, the label, everyone I worked with.”
A hugely varied solo career spanning over 10 albums and endless collaborations followed, but Mina still feels that history weighs heavily on her.
“No-one wants to let go of my past story. Every lame rock journalist starts of the article in the same way because there’s no more creative writing anymore. Everyone’s cutting and pasting. ‘Mina Caputo – once Keith Caputo’,” she snorts.
“Everyone has to keep reintroducing the fact that I’m a freak, born anatomically a boy. No shit! I’m a different creature. I’m not trying to be a boy, or trying to fit into your dickhead masculine world! Nor am I trying to fit into the genetic female world. I don’t give a fuck! I don’t give a fuck about fitting into your marginalised soulless, fear-based spiritually bankrupt world. I’ve gone my own world, my own internal world. I’ve got my music. I’ve got small selection of friends. I’ve got my money. I’ve got my divine protection. I’ve got my studies. I’m not a stupid motherfucker! I study quantum physics! I study Hopi American prophecies! I study philosophy. I’m well-equipped for this fucking world!”
Mina’s bravery in the face of adversity remains inspirational. Experiencing the distrust of ‘otherness’ during her childhood, she has battled against prejudice most of her adult life. And, yet, she admits that her decision to come out as transgender in 2011 was far from easy.
“It was very, very scary,” she reflects. “I didn’t tell a lot of people until my body started to change and I couldn’t hide it anymore. For the first year of hormone therapy, I kept it hidden.”
Photo: Gino Depinto
She is also honest enough to admit that, even a decade on, she still suffers from moments of self-doubt.
“It’s not like, ‘I’ve arrived! I’m fucking whole!’” Mina says, triggering another explosion. “I battle with things every day. Some days I think about going back to living as a guy. The pressure of the world, of politics, of the garbage surrounding me – if I let it get to me, I can get sick. My immunity will collapse if I let the world fuck with my power and who I am. And it’s a good thing that I’ve been doing yoga for 30 years. I’ve been meditating for just as long. Thank the ancient gods and that I’ve downloaded the wisdom codes to give me the strength to carry on.”
Mina’s self-preservation and spirituality is evident in most of her interviews, and yet her quest has also contributed to her ongoing sense of frustration with the world she sees around her.
“I think I am a gentle and considerate human being and I believe in true equality. I want everyone to be in love with their lives and the planet itself,” she nods. “That’s what life is about, but there are people and organisations that try and get in the way of that so I get frustrated and angry about that.
“Society, the political paradigm, all of it – it’s one big farce, one big façade! It’s very inorganic and anti-life. I don’t care if you’re Democratic or Republican, nobody is leading with love. Nobody!” she continues. “Even in Britain. Your policies around trans people – and it’s the same in America – they’re trying so very fucking hard to continuously disempower the human species!”
The idea of codification is something that Mina frowns upon, so how does she view the Pride movement as a whole?
“Pride is a very ego-driven ideology and I work really hard to cut the strings of my ego,” she explains. “Pride means different things to different people. The LGBTQ community wants love from the outside world, but I think the LGBTQ community needs to start loving on one another. We’re never going to get respect from the rest of the world if you don’t do that. You have gay guys constantly coming down on trans girls, you’ve got trans girls coming down on trans girls, you’ve got a new fucking word every day and you can’t say this or you can’t say that.
“If Pride gives people a feeling of wholeness, then it’s a good thing. I know it makes a lot of people happy. But you’ve got to create your own circle in a sense rather than be defined by someone else’s narrative.”
Describing herself as “a lone wolf”, Mina concludes our conversation by pointing out her issues with the labels ascribed to individuals by society.
“I don’t like being called transgender, or transsexual, or trans-this or trans-that. I’m a beautiful human being. I’m a gender-creative child. I’m very different. I don’t subscribe to these one-dimensional ideas. My mind is too vast, my mind is like the Dao, you know? I wear my heart on my sleeve all the time and that’s what being genuine and authentic is all about,” she offers as one of her parting shots. “But if you’re asking me how I am? I’m full of love, full of harmony and thankfulness. What else do you want?”
Check out more no-holds barred opinions and advice from Mina when her Life Is Proud film airs at 5pm tomorrow, Thursday, June 17, on Kerrang!’s Facebook page and IGTV.
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