Touring the UK as lead singer of spoof rock band, saved Jordan Raskopoulos life

It was just after the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe that Jordan Raskopoulos made the decision she believes saved her life. Touring the UK as the lead singer of spoof rock band Axis of Awesome, the Australian comic read an academic paper with first-hand accounts from transgender people.

Jordan Raskopoulous (centre) in the comedy trio Axis of Awesome
Jordan Raskopoulous (centre) in the comedy trio Axis of Awesome

The 34-year-old couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t wished she was born a girl. But as the trio’s bearded, barrelling frontman, she’d hidden herself in plain sight for the better part of a decade.

Featuring a case study that approximated Raskopoulos’ own life, the paper outlined the fate of those who hadn’t transitioned before middle-age, “and it was a pretty dark glimpse into a potential future. I realised my story wasn’t my own, that they were transgender and I probably was too. I also felt like I need to do something or I might not make it to 50. It wasn’t a choice between male or female. It was change or die basically.”

Blogging on junkee.com as “Nicola Fierce”, she clarified her thoughts on trans issues while keeping her identity secret until she was ready to go public. Telling friends, bandmates Lee Naimo and Benny Davis, and loved ones in late 2014 that she intended to medically transition to a woman, “blindsided” her family. She won’t say any more. But blogging last year, she shared that her parents were “supportive” but “struggling to understand why I’m making what they see as a choice”.

Jordan Raskopoulous from comedy trio Axis of Awesome

Responding to fans’ queries about where her beard was, Raskopoulos came out publicly in a video released in February, before stating in an interview that because of Australia’s anti-gay marriage laws, she would need to divorce her wife in order to legally become a woman.

She’d worried that her career was over. But as well as attracting “a whole new contingent of queer fans, a lot of the old fans are still coming,” she affirms. “There’s a sense of relief from them, where they’re like ‘you’re still Axis of Awesome and you’re still singing funny songs!’”

Even so, the band feel they have to address some of the changes to their make-up since they last played Edinburgh with opening number Elephant in the Room. “We wrote that song before I came out,” Raskopoulos explains. “There were a lot of question marks over how people would react. And it was national news here. We were wary that I could have walked out on stage in a dress and everyone might have thought it was a joke. But equally, it needed to be funny and not too heavy-handed.”

Her speaking voice might have a higher pitch. But the singer has resisted surgery because she doesn’t want to impair her powerful rock vocal. “I could choose not to sing half the notes I’m able to sing to try and sound more feminine,” she laughs. “But at the end of the day, I’m a woman, this is my voice and I should be able to use it to its full range and capacity.”

However, she acknowledges that the Axis’ dynamic had to pivot. At a corporate gig, shortly after she came out, “we were doing old routines and realised that the whole bickering, making fun of one another act didn’t quite work any more as we were trying to preach tolerance and understanding in our day-to-day lives. As in real life, we band together and our differences dissolve away. There’s a sense of support there now rather than the three bickering brothers it used to be.”

With hindsight, the band’s treatment of gender, not least Raskopoulos’ championing of peacocks and leotard-wearing in their 2012 show, Cry Yourself A River, has taken on new dimensions. The singer suggests that “it’s hard to say because a lot of my feelings were repressed. Nothing was consciously over-compensating or actively a cry for help. But reflecting, there were definitely a few things that were like, ‘oh yeah, that’s where that’s going …’”

Sung from a peacock’s perspective, Context “was me saying you can have feminine qualities and still be a man. It’s hard not to look back on that and not see me trying to convince myself that I was a man.”

Dismissing the abuse that she’s received since transitioning, Raskopoulos reasons that “most of the negative comments are things that I’ve said to myself for years. A lot of people tell me I’m mentally ill. And I try to engage with that because mental illness is not a thing to be ashamed of.

Jordan Raskopoulous from comedy trio Axis of Awesome

“And I did get help. If you have gender dysphoria, whether you classify that as mental illness, the treatment is to transition. You can try whatever therapy helps to get you past the despair of being unable to express your gender identity. It’s a physical problem essentially, not a mental one.”

Meanwhile, she’s adjusting to “a massive shift in privilege” since changing from a heterosexual man to a lesbian transgender woman.

“A lot of the shift isn’t really to do with being trans, it’s just dealing with everyday misogyny,” she explains. “I was completely confident in my own safety before but as I stand on a busy street now, I’m worried someone is going to sneak up behind me. There’s been some harassment and sexism, I’ve had my arse and boobs grabbed a number of times. Of course, I shouldn’t have to get used to it but I’m much more aware of it now.”

Axis covered punk band Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues on their latest album. And Raskopoulos cites trans singer Laura Jane Grace as inspiring her with “the confidence to say I can persist as a performer, I can exist as myself and define the way I feel without gender norms or expectations to embarrass me in the future”.

Creatively freer, more honest and vulnerable on stage, as a previously established act, she’s recognising that she’s now a role model too.

“When I came out I got a lot of messages of support from the queer community but also people who are trans that have kept it secret. Or people whose kids are trans and they didn’t know how to help them.

“When I first became aware of these feelings, I didn’t have anyone to talk to and there was no representation in the media. I hid them and grew ashamed of them. So I feel responsible for 15-year-old girls out there who think they have to be boys.”