When The Kinks released ‘Lola’ in 1970, the inaugural Christopher Street Liberation Day march took place in New York City just two weeks later. It was an event that kick-started Pride, but the world was not the same tolerant place it is today.
Even over 50 years since the release of the track, in June 1970, there is still constant hardship that transgender people face daily. The fact that The Kinks’ track even dared to mention the existence of a transgender woman was enough for people to be up in arms. The furore even resulted in the song being banned from radio. Society attempted to pretend that the transgender community didn’t exist, but they do, and The Kinks helped spread this message with ‘Lola’.
“‘Lola’ was a love song, and the person they fall in love with is a transvestite,” Ray Davies once explained. “It’s not their fault – they didn’t know – but you know it’s not going to last. It was based on a story about my manager.”
However, speaking to Q in 2016, Davies revealed that it wasn’t about his manager and was about an experience that he’d had. Davies noted: “The song came out of an experience in a club in Paris. I was dancing with this beautiful blonde, then we went out into the daylight and I saw her stubble. So I drew on that but coloured it in, made it more interesting lyrically.”
In 2021, the lyric, “I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man, and so is Lola”, would be potentially deemed transphobic, but context is key, and that isn’t the message Davies was trying to send when he penned it all those years ago. Reflecting on the track in 2020 with iNews, Davies clarified the meaning behind the song and explained that it was written out of “admiration more than anything else.”
Davies even went as far as to throw his support behind trans rights, adding: “The album, Lola Versus Powerman, is a celebration of artistic freedom (including my own) and the right for anyone to be gender-free if one wishes.”
Famed transgender rights activist Mara Keisling instantly connected with the song when she first heard it. At the time, Keisling was living as an 11-year-old boy in Pennsylvania, and after hearing ‘Lola’, she felt less alone in the world. “It was pretty clear that ‘Lola’ was like me,” Keisling said to NBC. “It made me realise I wasn’t absolutely the only person in the world living with what was then a shameful secret.”
“His song was one of the things that got me through,” Keisling added. “That sounds odd, but when you’re a kid and that alone, and you have that kind of thing weighing on you, and you can’t talk to anybody about it, a song like ‘Lola’ becomes so important.”
“Somebody,” she added, “Was talking to me — to me — about this. It was lifesaving.”
The song broke ground and allowed gender fluidity to be something that the masses were aware existed. Although the story of the track was lost by many, for those like Keisling, it wasn’t, and the representation meant everything.
‘Lola’ became The Kinks’ first hit in years and climbed its way into the US top ten. However, Australia isn’t known for being the most accepting and liberal country in the world, even in 2021, with a large majority of their national radio stations taking the decision to ban the track because of its “controversial subject matter”.
Not only did ‘Lola’ revive The Kinks’ career after spending a few years in relative obscurity, but they also made a minority feel important when the rest of the world acted like they didn’t even exist. The track helped break ground, and soon enough, figures such as Lou Reed and David Bowie were also discussing gender fluidity in their work which helped bring this important matter into public consciousness.