Transformed by Heartbreak, Miss Benny Has Arrived

MÚSICABy 2023-09-22T22:34:27-04:00September 11th, 2023|
  • Credit: Aaron Holliday

Miss Benny was meant to play the gender nonconforming character Marco Mejía in the Netflix series Glamorous, a role tailor-made for her: an ex-beauty Youtuber starring as a beauty influencer. The part changed as she changed, each simultaneously discovering their gender identity. The role helped liberate Miss Benny — she did not conform to the character but grew with it, stating in an interview with The New York Times, “I was met with the encouragement to be myself and let my full femininity shine.” Considering the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strikes, we were unable to directly talk about Glamorous. Instead, interviewing Miss Benny, we encountered a raw artist, a pop star who uses music to understand themself in all of their dizzying complexity.

Her recent EP Swelter was released alongside Glamorous in what can only be described as a personal paradigm shift — career success coinciding with publicly coming out as a transgender woman. In both ways, a return to the public eye, undergoing essentially “a second puberty” through hormone replacement therapy, she privately transitioned for a few years, eventually overcoming her fears to live in her truth for all to see.

Listening to Swelter, this sense of becoming is unavoidable. Far from, as Them put it, the “teenage, edgy, sex-kitten party” animal that defined her previous work, Miss Benny finds herself in the throes of heartbreak. The lightheartedness is replaced by something deeper than despair, a sadness that can only be expressed through heavy guitars and drum breakdowns, an unexpected veering into pop-punk.

This newfound style is most apparent in the track “My Ex Just Fell in Love,” where, over a kinetic and straightforward drum beat, she captures intimate nostalgia, singing, “Do you still recall the way we used to smell? / If you came across it would you know it well? / ‘Cause I still remember, of course, I remember / Do you still remember? How could you forget us?” As you probe into Swelter one only finds rawness, a shocking vulnerability, unsurprising considering Miss Benny approached this album as a therapeutic practice, a way to process the overwhelming torment of a lost love. Furthermore, beginning the album in quarantine, unable to have her “party-girl moments,” she was forced into a state of introspective creation, a “hermit” who wrote, produced, and recorded every track, scorning her previous persona and giving her fans “a behind-the-scenes view.” Swelter is Miss Benny as she is.

This description, however, needlessly paints a gloomy picture of Miss Benny — outside of this severe heartbreak, she has found community and reconciled with a past that once scorned her. Moving out from a “religious and macho” Texan household at fourteen, I was shocked to hear that her mother is now a supportive friend, between them what Miss Benny called a “hard-earned relationship.”

Miss Benny opened up about a difficult yet rewarding conversation with her mother, where she described dysphoria as “having your nose plugged,” claiming, “You don’t realize you are experiencing gender dysphoria until you realize that what you have always experienced is gender dysphoria.” She remembers the shock of her mother listening to her, not rejecting this analogy but seeking to understand, and Miss Benny feeling the joy of receiving acceptance and curiosity.

Credit: Aaron Holliday

Miss Benny notes that parents today, not just her mom, are becoming more supportive of their queer children, mentioning, “I used to get messages from my peers [looking for support], but now it is their parents.” While gender-affirming care and trans safety are still under constant threat in this country, Miss Benny notes this shifting impetus by some parents to understand and to “learn about their kids as individuals.”

During her adolescence, Miss Benny remembers isolation, only finding vestiges of community online and moments of queer joy on Youtube. Then, as now, Miss Benny created music to understand herself, to process the un-processable. Reminiscing on her first viral hit, “Little Game,” its music video defined through a strict gender binary, a world of pink and blue, with Miss Benny peering at the other side, feeling too constrained by the masculine, she said, “You know yourself better than you think you do.” At the time, discovering her own queerness, unaware of her trans-ness, Miss Benny revealed, “It was so clear that I was crying out to be recognized for the fact I was experiencing something that was not connected to what I was told to experience.”

Miss Benny sees “Little Game” as an “earnest, sweet, and pure depiction of where [she] was at 14,” and Swelter finds her a decade later, grappling with her emotions. Each song is a delicate portrait. There are no inhibitions, no considerations of what others think, just a process of self-discovery. This impetus towards authenticity has been central to Miss Benny’s becoming, finally harmonizing her public and private identities. Growing up, one of her chief revelations — attempting to settle away from home, estranged from her past — was that “the more I was authentically myself, the more I found people in my life who were special to me.”

Throughout her career, Miss Benny was told by managers to avoid authenticity, that is, to “be as ambiguous as possible,” hiding her identity to maximize the roles she can play — and yet, here she is, unabashedly herself, coming into her own. Miss Benny not only owns her identity as a transgender Latina artist, she has arrived.

Narciso Novogratz is a freelance writer currently living in New York.