It's easy to see why Lucas Silveira gets hit on by women and gay men alike. The handsome vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter for the Toronto-based pop-rock quartet the Cliks exudes an edgy yet easygoing masculine charm, punctuated by sexy tattoos, which he's happy to discuss. For example, a dragon and a sparrow — symbolizing protection and guidance, respectively — pay tribute to Silveira's deceased dog Ripley. But if there's a centerpiece to the colorful collection, it's a winged pair of guns inked on his upper arm, which represents his coming-out as a transgender male in 2005. "Trans people have a really high suicide rate," he explains. "I went to a place when I first realized that I was trans that was very close to that, so I just wanted to commemorate the fact that I survived."
Had he ever gotten a tattoo of his ex-girlfriend's name, Silveira swears he would have had it removed by now, even though the "very nasty" end to their 6 1/2-year relationship actually inspired what he calls "a big awakening." Says Silveira: "I'd known I was trans since the first day I can remember, but I just thought, Well, this is impossible. I was born female, so I guess I should just stick this out." Because he was attracted to women, Silveira lived — unhappily — as a lesbian for many years, always cognizant that something wasn't right. "When I had this breakup, this whole side of me that had been set in stone shattered. I kind of went, Holy shit! So it was a good thing at the end because I found out who I was."
This epiphany also affected Silveira's band, which includes lesbians Jen Benton and Nina Martinez, and Morgan Doctor, a biological female who identifies as queer. "When I was identifying as female and as a lesbian, people had this perception of me being a lot softer," he recalls. "I used to play a lot of folkie music, and I remember when I picked my electric guitar up and started heading more into what was really my roots, rock 'n' roll, I found a lot of people going, 'Why are you so angry?' I think I was trying so hard to identify with what I thought was feminine that I was pushing away this other part of myself. When I finally came out as being trans, I found myself freer to explore that darker, more hard-core side, and my songwriting started getting heavier and heavier. So it really changed the intensity of my music."
The Cliks' biting U.S. debut, Snakehouse, out April 24 on Tommy Boy Entertainment's LGBT imprint Silver Label, features a particularly intense, rather unexpected cover of Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River." "I could tell in the lyrics that he's a little more pissed off than he's letting on, so I decided to go more into the anger and exploit that," says Silveira, who identified with the song's theme of "losing trust in somebody whom you'd essentially devoted your life to." Britney-esque parallels aside, Silveira is a big fan of Timberlake's: "If I ever hear that he listened to that song, I think I might pee my pants just a little."
Though one of the Cliks' heaviest tracks, "Complicated," appears on the compilation L Tunes: Music From and Inspired by The L Word, Silveira isn't entirely thrilled with that show's portrayal of the trans male character, Max. "I don't think they're fully getting it," he says. "I know it's television and it's entertainment, but because it is such a new issue, it's a little bit touchy to a lot of trans guys that I've talked to. For example, Max takes one shot of testosterone and a week later he has a beard, starts having 'T rage,' and hits his girlfriend. It's just like, C'mon, guys!"
Even so, Silveira applauds any transgender presence in the media. "When I was growing up there was nothing," he says. "I remember watching a talk show and seeing the first trans guy that I'd ever seen in my life. All of a sudden I was like, Oh, I think that's me." His next significant exposure to transgender life came via Hilary Swank's Oscar-winning turn as Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry, which he considers another drastic representation. "It's a brilliant movie," he says, "but it was scary. It's scary to any trans guy to think that is something that could happen."
Silveira has endured his share of personal struggles, but his coming-out experience was relatively smooth, which he attributes to the public becoming increasingly educated on transgender issues. "Out of every single friend that I came out to, maybe one had a negative reaction and essentially compared me to being ano rexic, as though it was a mental illness," he says. "I was just like, Well, one out of 30 ain't so bad." His parents weren't quite as accepting as they were when he came out as a lesbian at age 17, but they remain supportive. "I think they've just kind of gone, OK, we don't totally get it, but we love you."
Silveira, who exercises patience with those who still refer to him as "her," has become accustomed to the confusion that so often accompanies his gender disclosure. "You pick and choose your battles," he says. "If people come at me respectfully, then Ill take the time to explain where I'm coming from, who I am, and what being transgendered means. But it can be a little bit of a chore. And for me it's a little bit more difficult because I don't necessarily look the part. People look at me going, She's a dude?"
Noting that the U.S. social climate is more vocally repressive than Canada's, Silveira isn't sure how the Cliks, who just played the South by Southwest music festival in Austin for the first time, will be received in the United States. "What I'm hoping for is that people will just see me as a human being, that this is who I am, get past it, and then go, Oh, yeah, here's the music, and that's what they'll focus on," he says.
While much of his music is dark and deeply personal — "I find that I don't write very much when I'm happy" — Silveira says Snakehouse is about more than heartbreak and transgender turmoil. "It's about hope," he says. "It's about knowing that sometimes life sucks and you're down at the lowest place you've ever been in your life, but that there's something on the other side. You just have to push through it until you get there."
The Advocate, April 2007 issue.