Lucas Silveira has always been different.
Growing up as Lillia Silveira, she always felt as though she were a man trapped in a woman's body. Now, as the lead singer for rock band the Cliks, Lucas Silveira is one of the first transgender artists to sign with a high-profile record label.
Although born in Canada, Lucas Silveira spent much of his childhood in the Azores Islands of Portugal. The village she lived in as Lillia Silveira not only had a population of 600 but was also conservative and Roman Catholic. The idea of being transgender was inconceivable.
"It was a very patriarchal society," said Silveira. "Women conformed to certain roles, and so did the men."
Settling in Toronto eight years ago, Silveira began to perform around the city, identifying as a lesbian. The mixture of blues and folk Silveira played was partly a response to the pressure he felt to fit in.
"Unfortunately, women tend to impose these ideals on themselves of being meek and subdued," said Silveira. "When you look at Sarah McLachlan and Courtney Love, who's referred to as a bitch?"
The end of a six-year relationship and the death of Silveira's grandmother brought on a deep depression. Two and a half years ago, Silveira broke down and finally accepted that he was a transgender male. Silveira was content with the thought that this would mean the end of his music career.
"I made a clear decision that this is how I had to live, or else I would perish," said Silveira. "I thought I would get a day job and play music on the weekends, but that I was never going to make it big as a musician."
The decision not only improved Silveira's quality of life but also his craft. He ditched the mellow folk music he had been writing and switched to the rock and roll sound that he'd always loved. The music became stronger and more personal.
Rosie Lopez, vice president of Tommy Boy Entertainment, passed on the Cliks' initial album. She received its second album after Silveira had undergone the transgender change and promptly signed the group after hearing his reggae-rock inspired rendition of Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River."
"When we got the second album, I had no idea about the change," said Lopez. "The music blew my mind though. Everything was so raw and so honest."
Lopez said that Silveira became a stronger songwriter and musician after coming to terms with himself.
"Pain deepens your emotions and opens you up," said Lopez. "It released anger and frustration, and he ultimately arrived at self-love."
Critics and fans began to take notice of the Cliks' new sound and embraced it with open arms. The lead single on its latest album, "Snakehouse," titled "Oh Yeah," was featured on the Top 10 countdown of the LOGO network. This summer, the group played on the True Colors Tour alongside Cyndi Lauper and is scheduled to appear on the "Late Show With Craig Ferguson" next month.
Its newfound success has not been met without backlash. HX magazine ran an unflattering article about the band. Some critics accuse Silveira of identifying as transgender for publicity.
"People who say things like that ultimately make themselves look like fools," said Silveira. "For them to say I got a double mastectomy for publicity is insane."
Openly gay entertainers have frequently been subject to snide comments and even physical harm. Kevin Aviance, a transgender artist with several No. 1 singles on the Billboard dance chart, was attacked by several men outside a bar in New York last year. He suffered a broken jaw and damaged an already injured knee.
It was eight months before he would perform again. Only now does he feel comfortable playing a full show.
"What I love is people applauding me as a performer," said Aviance. "After the attack, people were applauding me for being a survivor, and it messed with my psyche." Aviance said he refuses to be haunted by the attacks and has returned a stronger performer than ever.
Despite any obstacles that Silveira and the Cliks might face, he remains fiercely positive. The band is scheduled to hit the road again this weekend. Some of its shows are even scheduled for traditionally conservative places, such as Kansas City, Mo., and Omaha, Neb.
"We've had great experiences touring so far, and it's important to go to those areas," said Silveira. "I don't want to assume anything about anyone in the same way I don't want them assuming anything about me."