An interview with trans advocate—and hit songwriter—Gretchen Peters

Gretchen Peters is about as big a songwriter in this town as you can find. After moving here in the late 1980’s, she quickly scored her first #1 with George Strait's “The Chill of an Early Fall.” She subsequently penned songs for Patty Loveless, Bryan Adams, Shania Twain and many more. Her most iconic hit, “Independence Day,” landed her a Grammy nomination and won the CMA Song of the Year.

Lately Peters has been making the political rounds as a fierce advocate for the trans community. She’s also come up in my Twitter feed on more than a couple occasions for tweeting about how to persist and resist the sitting President. Her feed reads like something out of Kellyanne Conway’s worst nightmares.

I was curious to know what had turned this cis-gender white Nashville singer songwriter so ferociously politically active, and especially on behalf of the trans community? Well, like many allies, she loved one of us.

“My son is trans. The activism comes from having a deep understanding of him and a deep of understanding of being the parent of a trans person,” Peters explained. “It’s one of those things that happens when you’re a parent and you realize your child is now going to be your teacher. I really needed him to tell me who he was and how to love him, support him. I also feel for trans parents who, like me, were just blindsided by it. I grew up, the first forty years of my life, I never knew that it was possible to even be transgender. It was never on my radar.”

Her now 33-year-old son, James, came out in 2010. Her life has been completely and forever changed.

“When he came out, it was earth shattering to me at first,” she admitted, “and it turned out to be the most beautiful journey I could have ever taken... He’s the bravest, most beautiful soul I know. I’m so moved by his courage and being so true to himself. Just damn the consequences. Just the whole thing was so profoundly moving to me. It made us much closer.”

Then she added, “And I’m a f**king mama bear. Do not mess with my son, or any trans people. I know what they’ve gone through to come out. I don’t know that I would have had the courage to come out. I’m very protective and feel that way about all trans people. ‘Let me mother you!’” she concluded, giving an air hug to the trans community.

In any journey like this, you have a learning curve. But Peters learned fast that none of this was about her—it was about her son.

“My son was fantastic. He kind of took my hand and led me through everything I needed to know. One of the reasons we’re so close is I really see him as a man. He is a man,” she affirmed. “I think a lot of people think acceptance means your child wants to be another gender or whatever, but the thing is, what people really need to understand about trans people is, that’s who they are. That’s who they’ve always been.”

Peters also told me how excited she was to see not just her genre, but so much of the country try and move forward, but also expressed her deep anger for where we are as a country now.

“I tell my son, when he gets down, to look how far we’ve come in a short time. Obviously, the setbacks really hurt… On the whole, I feel really encouraged. But since November, I’ve been really depressed and angry, anywhere on that scale, somewhere in between the two. I’m more outraged than angry, but I’m fighting.”

I interrupted her, asked “How are you fighting?”

“God… How am I not fighting? I’m donating a lot of money to ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Transgender Law Center, Southern Poverty Law Center… you name it. I’m also focused on certain political races. I think we have to focus on small elections. I use my Twitter platform… I think being silent would be morally questionable at this point. My Twitter kind of went from 90% music and 10% politics to completely the opposite. I hope to be able to get back to music at some point, but right now, this is just too important. This is a real moment of truth.”

I asked her what was the one thing she wanted to tell the transgender community during this time.

“I’ve got your back. There are people out there, allies like me, and I want to be of service. I know firsthand how difficult and scary this is. I think in one way, witnessing is a really powerful act…I think I can reach out to parents,” she explained. “If a transkid comes out and his or her parents can see a way to supporting them, they stand a hell of a lot better chance... The suicide rate is already ridiculously high, but if there’s not a supportive family there, it becomes a dangerous situation.”

“If I can reach other parents, I feel like that give the trans kid a little better chance of making it... That’s why I wrote for HuffPost,” she added. “I’m just a cis-gender straight white woman who’s not threatening to anyone, not lashing out. I am empathetic to those parents. It is hard, but you have to get on board. This is about your kid, it’s not about you. That’s something I know how to do.”

You can learn more about Peters, her music and upcoming shows at Follow her on Twitter 




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