Commanding, captivating and confronting, Brisbane-born hip-hop artist Miss Blanks is shaking things up in the Australian music industry as a highly visible, unapologetic trans woman of colour. As she sits down to chat with Michael James, her confidence is immediate and infectious.
Hailing from Brisbane’s southside, Miss Blanks’ unique Dutch and Samoan heritage creates a rich intersectionality in her life.
“Being raised by my mum, it was exciting and interesting being able to experience life through her, and being able to connect with my Samoan culture and heritage later in life was an exciting experience,” she said.
“It shapes me, who I am and the way I navigate life. But because of my intersectionality already being so heavily politicised from the moment I was born it was never a conversation, we didn’t really have to discuss culture too much with me growing up.”
Being transgender intersects with her culture and heritage in a completely different context to western culture in Australia.
“I think growing up I never identified as transgender. Even now it’s such an interesting label to apply to myself because I am a Fa’afafine woman,” she said.
“In Samoa, it has a completely different meaning and its own spirituality that ‘transgender’ doesn’t have. In Samoa, Fa’afafine is basically an individual that typically doesn’t identify with the gender assigned to them at birth.
“It’s also someone that is two spirited and has the connection to the Samoan ways. It’s definitely more widely accepted in Samoa, I guess being transgender would be the closest equivalent.”
Miss Blanks’ mother inspired her love of music, with a diet of hip-hop, R&B, soul, smooth jazz and the likes of Etta James and Nina Simone.
“She got me onto those kinds of sounds and language and got me familiar with them and the storytelling being done through music. I found the way that especially black and brown women in those genres would reclaim space and power through their music and their artistry to be inspiring and powerful.
“But a different kind of powerful because for me power isn’t always assertion, dominance and strength. Power is also vulnerability.”
After being signed in May 2017, Miss Blanks dropped her first single. Her music is loud, fierce and bold – she embraces a space in hip-hop that needs a louder voice.
“I feel like it brings a sense of feminism to hip-hop that hasn’t really been done. I think the way black female artists have weaponised their music sometimes as a way of reclaiming space and power and their narrative is quite inspiring and exciting.
“Most people will look at songs and just look at the surface of it and just consume that.”
But Miss Blanks is giving a voice and a face to trans women of colour in an industry where there are not enough.
“I’m the only highly visible trans woman of colour [in Australia] occupying hip-hop in music, but also music in general,” she said.
“I do not believe there is another highly visible trans woman of colour in Australian music.”
Described as “a force tearing down the walls of popular misconceptions, racism, transphobia and misogyny that extend through music and society as a whole,” Miss Blanks definitely has things to say that people may not want to hear.
“No-one wants to have the conversation and that’s a huge part of the problem. I think a lot of people, especially white Australia don’t want to sit in any type of discomfort,” she said.
“There’s so many layers to this that the main majority of Australia and mainstream music consumers get to capitalise off everyday and I think it’s important to actively decolonize and dismantle these kind of structures.
“The importance of that is to ensure that there’s greater space open for minority groups to take up and occupy and be at the forefront and lead their own narrative and take control and reclaim their identity, their body, their sexuality, their everything. It’s something that most minorities have never had the opportunity to do in the past and even in the present.”
As she continues to deliver her unique brand of activism in and outside her music, Miss Blanks remains a voice that resonates with her community. But activist is not a role she ever actively sought to take on.
“People are reaching out with love and support and it’s so greatly appreciated. But I don’t really do it for that. When I got into it, it was never a matter of applying that title ‘activist’ upon me,” she said.
“It was more of a ‘I don’t like what’s going on, I don’t like how it’s affecting me so I’m going to do something about it or say something.’ It was only later that I saw how much community was involved in that, because I belong to all these communities. To be honest it started off quite selfishly.”
Her latest single “Good Good D” delivers the same powerful dominance that Miss Blanks has become known for. The track takes the traditional male dominated sexuality of hip-hop and turns it on its head. Its provocative video explores the world of kink and BDSM.
“I know a couple of friends in the kink world and had many months of conversation about that culture,” she said.
“I thought this would be an awesome opportunity to do a great music video that’s completely on brand and makes sense to the song without compromising its true essence and culture.”