When T. Thomason got in trouble as a young child, his parents would send him to his room for a time out, and would then sit on the other side of the door, suppressing their laughter, as he made up sad songs about his situation. “They would listen to me sing about how sad I was about being bad,” he laughs, recounting the tale. “I was always writing stories, and always making up songs, before I could write them down.”
Now 23, Thomason has never stopped using songwriting as a way of understanding himself and his world. Growing up in Nova Scotia, he put out his first album, 2009’s Through the Static, at 14 and began travelling around the province to play shows with driving support from his mother, actress and writer Shelley Thompson, best known for playing Barb Lahey on Trailer Park Boys.
The album, which generated two Music Nova Scotia award nominations, set Thomason on course for a career in music, his upwards trajectory continuing as his songs crept up the charts and were used in television shows like Degrassi: The Next Generation. His subsequent albums, Beauty Queen (2011) and Columbus Field (2014) won him many accolades and awards, including Young Performer of the Year at the 2011 Canadian Folk Music Awards.
“Every time I picked up a guitar, I would write a complete song in one sitting, just one or two hours,” Thomason says, recalling his early songwriting style. “And I wouldn’t edit. They just came. Every single time I picked up the guitar.”
But as Thomason grew up and began grappling with the world around him, the songwriting slowed. Then working at a crisis-counseling centre for homeless youth, Thomason moved into what he has describes as “a period of self-reflection,” began undergoing testosterone hormone therapy, and moved away from the gender he had been assigned at birth.
“I wasn’t writing, and I was feeling guilty,” he recalls. “I felt so disconnected from my music career. I wouldn’t even look at my guitars because I felt so guilty.”
Most critically, he was concerned about his voice changing because of the testosterone he was taking. “Once you started testosterone, you could never sing again – or that’s the belief. It’s taken as gospel,” he says, explaining that at the time, he could find few resources to support his research.
“I felt like it I was going to have to choose between the two things, and I knew I needed both of them to continue to survive… but I felt like I could only have one,” he recalls. “It was not fun.”
“Everyone is trying to figure out how to take their inner life and have it match… whatever outer version of yourself you have to present to the world.”
He connected with Lucas Silveira of The Cliks, who had gone through a similar transition, and also engaged vocal coach Ali Garrison, with whom he worked several times a week through the transition.
Finally, in April 2015, Thomason shared his new identity and name with his fans in a candid Facebook post, and began making sense of it all through his music.
“There are quite a few songs that come from different points during that time,” he says. “It’s an attempt to make sense of something that happened. That’s the only way I knew how to try to do that. You can feel very out of control of yourself and your future in that situation… Uncertain about what’s going to happen to you, and what it’s going to mean for your career.”
He released Sweet Baby, his first EP under his new name, independently in 2016 – and again in 2017, through Rae Spoon’s label, Coax Records. Thomason is currently working on a full-length album he expects to release in early 2019. The first single, “Bliss,” dropped earlier this month
Thomason, who counts everyone from Joan Jett and Bob Dylan to Carly Rae Jepsen among his musical influences, worked with producer Dave Henriques at Toronto’s Coalition Music on the album, describing the process as “collaborative in a way that my stuff hasn’t been in the past.” He credits Henriques, who also gets co-writing credits, for pushing him out of his comfort zone and into unknown territory, as he finds a new musical identity.
“We didn’t sit down and write the songs together, but Dave helped me explode them and re-arrange them,” says Thomason. “I learned so much from him about relaxing, and letting things go where they’re going to take you. It was amazing to learn those lessons, both personally and musically. There have been a lot of crossovers.”
Thomason says that his experiences in the last few years have given him an enhanced appreciation for the pursuit of honesty, both in life and music.
“I want to be part of a group of musicians who brings an indie attitude of ‘we still have to be honest here,’” he says. “We aren’t going to package and sell a consumable, easily digestible product. We are challenging our audiences to face themselves when they hear our music.”
At the same time, Thomason is quick to add that, while he’s proud to be part of the LGBTQ community, he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as making music for any one sort of audience: “I don’t want to alienate anyone who might take something from my music, even if they don’t have a queer or trans experience.”
Instead, he stresses how much his own journey – to find himself and his voice as a musician – has helped him to realize that everyone is searching to find their place in the world in a similar way.
“Everyone is trying to figure out how to take their inner life and have it match… whatever outer version of yourself you have to present to the world,” he says. “Everybody struggles with that.”