Cid Bullens “Trans Electric: My Life as a Cosmic Rock Star”

Singer-songwriter and Transgender author Cidny Bullens
Singer-songwriter and Transgender author Cidny Bullens

Singer and musician Cidny Bullens has never shied away from the challenge of being his own advocate and living his best life. This is highlighted in the many amazing stories that make up his remarkable existence thus far in his new book, Trans Electric: My Life as a Cosmic Rock Star.

In September 1975, the singer formerly known as Cindy crashed a party where she knew Elton John would be and “two days later I was rehearsing with him to go on the road,” he recounts.

After fully transitioning to Cidny, for over a decade he needed to share his remarkable life stories with others. The main title Trans Electric came to him immediately, but the subtitle was something he had to fully embrace once his wife, Tanya, suggested it. “I hadn’t actually become the rock star I had always thought I was going to be back in those days. But my life has been extraordinary, and looking through my life, my journals, stories I’d almost forgotten, all my brushes with famous people, my experiences with famous people, what I had done and with who, I went, ‘Oh my God, I have had that life! I’ve lived that rock star life!’ But the operative word is ‘cosmic,’ which is other worldly, meaning I may not have been a rock star on this earth, but in the cosmos, somewhere I am.”

Your memoir, Trans Electric, is based on your one-person show Little Pieces. How did you decide to write a book about your life as a transgender musician and activist?

Cidny Bullens: Well, I knew after I transitioned that I had to write something, and I started with my one-person show in 2016. And then that became the template for the book, which I started during the pandemic, even though I already had material from my journals that I’ve been keeping for 50 years and from the show itself. I already had the story’s arc, so it was now about getting down to and writing it. Of course, then I was like, “Yikes. How do I do that?”

Luckily, my wife is a memoir coach, so though she didn’t coach me directly in my memoir, obviously her expertise in how to tell the story with just the important things and living with her and witnessing her work with her clients and so on helped me. She also was the director of my one-person show, which is how we met. So, she is an expert in getting to the meat of the story.

It’s such a different thing, I mean, writing songs are like little stories, little bits of stories, right? But writing a book must have felt like a lot to take on.

CB: Well, yeah, I think being a songwriter helped me in one big respect. It helped me write the show, which of course is a series of stories. Two things had to happen: I had to expand my stories, and I had to dig deep and get into the details and the emotion of more than just a four — or five-minute song and use my talents as a songwriter, which helped me to cut to the chase. My whole thing as a songwriter is to get as much, whether it’s emotion or information or a feeling, into the story in as few words as possible. But I also want to make sure that it’s a visceral experience for the reader, the listener, or the person who’s watching me do my one-person show. Whatever that experience is and whether it’s a momentary experience or a life experience, I want you to get that in as few words as possible, or at least be conveyed in a way where you get the most impact from the words.

You’ve gotten amazing reviews both on Little Pieces and on Trans Electric. Some of those reviewers are asking, when’s the movie coming out?

CB: (Laughs) You know I was just thinking about that this morning because I’ve had a couple of inquiries and honestly, I don’t know. It would have to be a legitimate person or entity that approaches me about it, but I would listen and see if their intentions meet mine. My daughter already has someone in mind to play me. An Irish actor, though her name escapes me now.

Why did you title your new album Little Pieces?

Singer-songwriter and Transgender author Cidny Bullens
Singer-songwriter and Transgender author Cidny Bullens

CB: “Little Pieces,” the title track, was the first song I wrote after I started transitioning. So, we’re talking 10 years ago. It’s an important track. I wrote the song and made the demo of the song but the final cut, the final master of that song just came out so great. I call it “ear candy.” The whole record is ear candy, if you put on headphones and listen to it, not just the songs, but the way the album is put together.

That song, individually, was the first song I wrote when I wasn’t writing for anyone. The process of transitioning is all-consuming and it certainly was for me. I was older, I had lived a full life as Cindy Bullens. My whole career, life, children, and experience were all as Cindy Bullens. I never expected to transition, so when I did, I couldn’t think about anything else, so my creative process wasn’t like, now I’m going to write songs about my transition. “Little Pieces” just kind of came out in the first year or so and I sat on it and had little bits and pieces of those other songs. I didn’t really write complete songs for a while because I was consumed by creating Cid. I wasn’t even creating Cid; I was emerging from Cindy. I didn’t know who that person was going to be.

Of course, I’m the same person I’ve always been, but I didn’t know how my life was going to be affected. I mean, when you transition, it affects you physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, culturally, socially, every aspect of life internally and externally is affected.

But for me, because I was older, and had lived several lifetimes already by the time I was 60 years old. I had experienced getting married, bearing children as a mother, having a full career, losing a child to cancer at a young age and having to go through the death of a child, which was all-consuming. So “Little Pieces” was that first creative experience of looking at myself in various stages of my life. Where has that person gone? Is that person gone? Who am I going to be in my new persona? It is something to watch little pieces of yourself fall away without knowing what is replacing it. It’s a mystery. Am I going to like this person I think I will be? It’s a full-on experience.

When you were growing up, did you think, “I must be a lesbian?”

Transgender Singer-songwriter Cidny Bullens new album cover
Transgender Singer-songwriter Cidny Bullens new album cover

CB: Yeah, I did. I mean, I knew or felt like I was a boy from the moment of cognition. I had no recognition with the female sex. I had an older sister and an old older brother by the time I came along and then I had two younger sisters come after me. I didn’t relate to anything female, nothing, zero.

I know there is a spectrum of gender and there are spectrums of what we all feel and think as queer people, but for me, I say I was flat on this end of the spectrum in terms of being transgender. There was nothing in my experience, and never even when I was nine months pregnant with both of my children, did I ever feel female. Ever. So, I know I’m on the flat end of the spectrum. But there was no framework. What did I know? I thought, I must be gay.

At an early age, 14 or 15, I started gravitating toward the hidden gay literature. I read James Baldwin and started becoming interested in the societies of gay writers and gay artists. But there weren’t that many musicians out at the time in the ‘60s. I had my first girlfriend at 15, and we’re not talking about sexuality here. We’re talking about, attraction and finding your way forward as a teenager just like anybody else. I always knew, even surrounded by gay people, that there was something different about me. I have many, many gay friends who are people all over the spectrum. I knew I was not a lesbian, even though I had a long-term relationship with a woman after my marriage. My husband was a gay man. It’s not black and white. It’s not binary. Life is not binary. It’s just not.

You were 61 when you transitioned. Did you think that was just the right time or had you wanted to do it sooner?

I don’t expect the world to understand an experience that they don’t live. Just like you can’t know what it’s like to lose a child unless you’ve lost a child.

CB: Yes, but I had an experience. If you had told me an hour before a friend of mine left me a message that I was going to transition, I would have told you you were crazy. A good friend of mine said, call me, I need to talk to you. This was a person who was younger than me, but who I had mentored in some other capacities, and had moved away and I hadn’t seen “her” in two years.

I’m using that pronoun. I knew she had changed her name and that’s all I knew. I didn’t know she had started transitioning the year before and was now living as a man. It blew my mind. It blew me apart. It was like an atom bomb went off in my brain. I had already read Chaz Bono’s book, and I’d kept my eye on things, trends that had to do with being trans, but I really thought that time for me had gone by and that wasn’t happening. Obviously, I had children and now I had grandchildren, it just wasn’t on my radar at all at all. In fact, just three days prior to this call, I wrote in my journal, “Well, OK, I guess I can be at peace with myself.” I had just kind of come to the point where I was OK. I was 61 years old. I had grandchildren. Now, you know, I’m living alone. I was single. I’m doing what I want musically. I’m just going to live out my life as who I am.

Then I got this message and had this conversation, and it blew everything to hell. I fell to my knees after getting off the phone with him and sobbed for the life I had never had. From that moment on, with the blessing from my daughter, Reed, who is my surviving daughter, I started looking into transitioning. I started going to a gender therapist right away and within six weeks I had my first shot of testosterone. I started transitioning kind of in secret, with only a few people knowing because I really didn’t know if I would go through with the whole thing. There was a lot at stake for me and so I wrote the piece in The Daily Beast and came out publicly in June of 2012. I had my top surgery the month before and still was only taking low doses of testosterone because I wanted to reverse if I needed to. All that said, I knew I had to go through with the full transition because I couldn’t have lived with myself without experiencing what I have experienced, and what I am still am here to experience, not just personally, but as an advocate, as an elder, and as an example of the humanness of being transgender.

Binary just means labels, lines, and boundaries. It means I’m going to cut you off because you are not like me.

I don’t expect the world to understand an experience that they don’t live. Just like you can’t know what it’s like to lose a child unless you’ve lost a child. I don’t expect people to understand. But if I can be a little bit of a part of creating acceptance or at least accepting that we deserve to exist as people then that’s part of my reason for being at this point. This is a human story. I’m a human being, and if I’m a human being, as a transgender person, if you can’t have empathy for me and my life, then there’s something wrong with you.

If we are the most advanced species on earth, then wouldn’t we, by nature, be the most diverse?

It goes back to the binary thing. Binary just means labels, lines, and boundaries. It means I’m going to cut you off because you are not like me but none of my life is binary. Not one thing!