Standing six-foot plus in heels, and decked in leather, sequins and feathers, you ’d be forgiven for stealing a second glance at Steven Grandell - better known
to all but closest friends and family as Venus, a transgender artist, singer and guitarist from Minneapolis. But scratch beneath the surface of lycra, lipstick
and suggestive stage persona, and you find a sensitive, softly spoken and immediately likeable person. Often faced with prejudice, hostility, physical abuse and
even occasional death threats, Venus came back from the brink of suicide to front artistic dark glam band All The Pretty Horses. Four albums later, the band
have toured, been the subject of a documentary by renowed filmmaker Emily Goldberg and have even been interviewed in Playboy. Joining the band at one
of their string of sef-financed UK dates, Mark Hoaksey returned to his hometown of York to discover the fascinating story behind this unusual band.

Venus, who couldn't be persuaded to divulge
her age, began with her vision of the band and how it had
all come together. “Once l took the band over and started
working as leader, l wanted to just be myself and bring the
perfomiance out onto the stage. I have been out as trans
for probably ten to twelve years now," she explained, very
matter of factly, “and l like the idea of 'pretty' in the title of a
rock ‘n‘ roll band because it throws everybody: nobody
knows what to expect. So l had the idea, certainly, of being
trans on stage. Nobody else was doing that. The only trans
people that you saw were either androgynous people,
which was a joke, or it wasjust some way for someone to
tag along the side. Nobody was leading it, nobody was
singing, certainly. It was all a one-hitjoke, that’s all it was,
so I wanted to make a difference to that. I started putting it
together and working and touring. We went through a line-
up change, and Jendeen, who is also trans, came on board.
And thatjust happened. l knew Jendeen before and chose
her because she’s a really good drummer. Pandora, on
bass, I knew before as well, and liked her So when the
time came to start touring and my original band couldn’t
tour, we started using the different people to plug the gaps,
and it developed into what it is now. l mainly bring the
performance art onto the rock 'n' roll stage and experiment
with that.” But Venus doesn’t feel that she’s come close to
meeting her objectives yet, as she explained, “You never
meet them; you just keep going. I think l’m on the right
track, but who knows where we'll go? My emphasis right
now is totally on music and performance forthe band.”

Venus explained that she and the band have
changed over the course of those four albums. “When we
started, the music was written very much in the studio, so
it reflects that,” she said. “Then we started working live.
Our second CD, actually, was on Twintone records, a punklabel in Minneapolis, that’s probably known over here as
well. But they were on their last legs and went under right
after we signed with them. You can still buy that album
online though. Then we started working with live sound
after that and we put out “Ruin” and “Dolls With Balls,”


which is completely live. So we have gotten much more
live sounding. We’re still a three-piece, but we’ve
concentrated more on how we sound on stage and
capturing that in the studio.”

Surprisingly, Venus believes that her transgender
status has actually had a negative effect on the amount
and type of media attention that ATPH have received.
“Actually, people are put off by it. It has a negative effect,"
she explained, adding, “People take us as a novelty; they
don't take me seriously as a musician. They think that we just do things visually and that we can’t play worth shit. lt’s
interesting. I mean, we did a Playboy interview, so we’ve
had that kind of interest, but music magazines don't takeus seriously. They're curious, but they don't want to come
and see us. So l'm really glad that you decided to come
and see us because you‘Il see that any preconceptions
you might have had will change.”
Clearly the Playboy interview was a major coup
for Venus and the band, and a much needed boost for
their prohle. Recalling how it came about, Venus said,
“We’ve toured New York quite a lot, and what happened
was that our publicist from Minneapolis went out there to
try and get us into Wlage Voice, one of the writers from
which also writes for Playboy. He contacted her and said
that he didn’t think it would work for Wlage Voice, but he’d
love to do it for Playboy. From that angle, it was a plus; it
worked to catch his attention but of course, he had all of
these preconceptions about who l was. lt was good to be
there, though. You’re in the Playboy offices, and it was
very interesting to look around and see all ofthat. Of course.
all the magazines in the waiting room were Playboy.”

Playboy's interest aside, the band have had a
hard time gamering press interest, Ending venues to play
and generally attracting the level of media attention that


Venus feels they deserve. They found this especially true
when they came to book a UK tour and discovered that
some venues wouldn’t consider their requests to play,
purely because of the transgender issue, a fact that had
been confirmed to Powerplay by the tour’s promotion
company, The Mayfair Mall. Venus, however, played down
the effect that the band’s image had had on the tour
bookings, saying, “I think it’s because we’re not known out
here - we’re an underground band. Minneapolis, New York,
San Francisco - they know who we are, and that works
well for us in the States, but here we have to start from
scratch just like everybody else, and get people to want to
know who we are. We don't have big heads; we just do
what we need to do. We’ve got enough gigs to make it
worth our while, and for the two gigs in London, I took a
trip out here about six months ago and found the two
venues that I thought would work really well for us, which
are kinda underground clubs. l was thrilled when lgot both
of them to go with us."

Not only openly transgender but also bisexual,
Venus was keen to explore the whole subject of fetish. “l'd
actually like to talk about fetish,” she began. “There is the
idea that transgender is fetish, but it’s not. Transgender is
identity; it’s who you are and really has nothing to do with
fetish. What happens is that people aren‘t allowed to be
who they are, so they're stuck in the closet and they can't
come out; they can't develop normally. If you imagine a butterfly in its cocoon that has been put in a jar. When it
comes out and tries to spread its wings, they just harden
and crumple. lf people were allowed to grow up and be
who they are from day one, there wouldn’t be any fetish
around trans. But because people have to suppress who
they are so much and End other outlets, usually ln back
comers or dark rooms, that’s where fetish comes from and
develops. l understand fetish and I love the fashion, and I
respect people who do fetish. Depending on what angle
and where you're going, it takes a lot of courage, but there’s
a preconception there that needs to be cleared up, I think.”

Of course, becoming transgender was no easy
decision for Venus. Having exhausted all the options to maintain what other people considered to be a normal life,

it literally reached the stage of do or die for her. “I was
going to kill myseIf," she divulged. “There was no point in
living. I could not live with the body that I was born with. If you talk to other trans people, they probably all have the
same story; you come to a point where there is no point in
living, and lt’s hard for people to understand that, who aren’t
part of the community. lt’s like, who cares? But it is an
extremely serious issue when you wake up in a moming,
and you look at yourself and hate who you are. When


her trans status and those that are not. It’s a potentially
tricky situation that she has beoome aooustomed to dealing
with. “I have to read them to see if they know who I am - if
I am who they think I am,” she said. “lf they think l'm female,
it can tum violent very quickly because they might feel that
I fooled them or I tricked them for some reason, so I have
to be very careful to make sure they know. If they’re not
gonna ngure it out, then l’m nice to them, but l’m not going
to go anywhere with them or do anything with them - that would be stupid. But I have to always be aware of what‘s
going on around me. Wolence is always around. But some
men are completely thrilled with trans people. They love
trans people and think it’s better if you’re trans. So I ind
them too. And sometimes, men that didn't think they would
be are. You never know. I have to keep an open mind. I
never second-guess anybody, but |’m always prepared for
anything. Sometimes, when l'm on stage, I can get out
amongst the audience and walk around a little bit. One
time, I went into a small town in our home state of
Minnesota, up north. There was a large crowd there, and
as I was walking through, there were three or four
skinheads, just looking for a hght, but the club was packed
and so they didn't have the strength in numbers. I didn't
think too much of it, but when I walked by them, they said
that they were going to kill me. I had to be careful, ooming
out of the dressing room and loading up, because I didn't
know if they were serious. I had another time in Madison,
where three guys wanted to take care of me. The owner
told them that they had to behave, but I had to get people
to come out with me after the show, ‘cos I didn’t know if
they'd be out there.”

Despite Venus' claim that her marriage is a
comfortable and stable one, the thought of violence and
death threats to her husband, not to mention the usual
sexual antics that traditionally accompany bands on the
tour must weigh heavily on Mrs Grandell's mind whilst
Venus is away. "Well, she's lonely,” Venus agreed, “but
she's going to catch up with us in London_ You know, she
misses me. She made it to New York with us and wanted
to come along here. She’s a professor and teaches English
at a college, and she had to go and do some travelling of
her own. She left today for Baltimore. As far a sex goes,
she completely trusts me. She knows that nothing like that
is going to happen and that I would never do anything to
threaten our relationship. So that's not an issue. lt’s mostly
just about missing each other's company.”

Although from Minnesota, ATPH have built a
steady following in New York, as Venus was keen to
confirm. “They have a lot of trans performers in New Yom,
so they already understand that concept,” she explained,
“but they don't have any bands as such. They have the
Toilet Boys, who have a trans aspect- the lead is a kind of
androgynous individual, but his band isn’t really trans. But
they do have an understanding of rock ‘n’ roll. New York
Dolls came from there, so l think it strikes a chord of
familiarity with them, and I think they like what we do; they
like our show, they’re not shy people - they’ll tell you that
you suck if you suck and that you’re wonderful if you’re
wonderful. lt’s really refreshing. We just happened to be
there at the right time, l think.”

The subject of a forthcoming documentary by
Emily Goldberg entitled "Venus Of Mars", Venus has
become used to having a camera constantly in her face.


you’ve been through ten or twenty years of self-hatred,
you’re not going to want to get up the next moming. At that
point, I decided that I had to either got through with that or
do what I had to do so that I was happier with who I was.
You know, I’m never going to be seen as a woman, of
course; I will always be seen as trans person, and that’s
something that’s stricken the trans community because
the doctors and psychologists all want trans people to blend i
n, have surgery, disappear and be hxed. But we're not
gonna get fixed; we're who we are, and I think the
community is beginning to come out and be strong about
who we are as trans people. You know, I didn‘t grow up
female - I grew up male. I didn‘t go through surgery; I have
breasts, but I still have my genitals. So I’m completely in
between; I don't have a sex, or I have a third sex, and I’m
happy with that. Other people should be, too.”

But as she explained, itwasn’tjust a simple matter
of asking the doctor for treatment. “The doctors are scared
to death of us,” she said, “because all they can see are
lawsuits. They do something to us with a knife and all they
can see is us suing because they made a mistake and we
changed our minds. You know, you can go in and get a
nose job, no problem -just pay the money and you got it,
but anybody nicks your genitalia with a knife and lt’s

lawsuits. So it takes a lot of time. I did the underground
way first and got hepatitis from that, from overdosing on
underground homtones, so my health was at risk, and then
I decided to really do it the right way. I didn‘t want to have
to pay hundreds and thousands of dollars to go through
some psychological treatment, so Ijust started calling my
doctor's oflice and telling them what I wanted. Of course,
nobody wanted to talk to me, but I was persistent and I
kept on and kept on, and it took about two or three weeks
before I was able to come in and talk to somebody and
then, when I talked to them, I was able to explain it well
enough for them to believe that I wasn't pulling their leg.
And I was articulate enough and clearheaded enough that
they took me seriously. They decided that I was legitimate,
so they started me on the treatment. My health improved
and I was able to get on the right track. But I do it differently
to what some other trans people do; some people do the
testosterone suppressant, but I don't do that, so I have a
higher dose of oestrogen, which is dangerous, but it's right
for me.”

To others who are feeling the same way a Venus
did before her treatment; she urged them to follow the same
path as her, and to persist in seeking medical help. “They
just have to lind a place that will allow them to continue
doing what they want to do," she implored, “and if it’s not in
their hometown, then they have to pick up and move. And
if they're brave enough to do it, then they should. But not
everybody is lucky. Some people may be in a really small
town thatjust cannot deal with it, so they gotta pick up and
move. But if they are going to live, they have to do it.”


Ideally, Venus would prefer to be called neither a
she ora he. “I would prefer some kind of ambiguous, middle
of the road thing,” she explained, “but there is none. l'm
not female, so ‘she’ is an odd thing, but I’m dehnitely not
male, so 'he' feels very awkward too. I don’t like that. I
don't know what to tell you.” She has also not reached a
decision regarding her legal name, Steven Grandel|_ “That
is something that I haven’t resolved quite yet,” she
confessed. “l am married, and l’ve stayed married. My wife
knows me by my Christian name, and she always will, no
matter what I do. For her, I think it’s just comfortable - she
would lose who she fell in love with and married if I changed
that. But it’s like for travelling over here, it took us a while
to get our work visas because they couldn't figure out that
all the press was about Venus, and she is a ‘her’, and then
they get my passport and it’s got 'male' on there and my
given name, and they couIdn’t put the two together They
couldn't figure it out. And Jandeen had the same problem.
She had to go step by step through it until they finally hgured
out what was going on, and then they approved it. In the
end, it wasn't a big deal," she said, nonplussed, despite
her admission earlier in the day that the arrival of her work
permit only a few hours before the band were due to fly
had caused something ofa panic. “But legally it is an issue,"
she continued, “and I have been oonsidering trying to figure
out maybe just taking Venus and tacking it into my name,
without replacing anything. And then maybe l'll consider
changing my gender legally, on paper, so there isn’t so
much of a probIem.”

The fact that Venus is happily married came as
something of a surprise, but the attitude of her folks is even
more enlightening. "They’re line with it,” she shrugged.
"Actually, my folks are working class liberals who came
over from Sweden, just a couple of generations ago, and
they just want me to be safe. You know, my mom says,
‘Don’t wear so much make-up. You’re going to call too much
attention to yourself] My dad has passed away now, but
they were both line with it, once things had settled down
and they realised that I wasn't going to change. Also, I
was out of the house and was married by then, so they
didn't have to take responsibility for me anymore; it was
easier for them. Kids who are coming out now - and I think
they are coming out earlier because of how things are
going, their parents are still responsible for them, and
they're scared to death of that. Some kids get kicked out
ofthe house or kicked around the street at 16 or 17 because
their mom and dad don’t ever want to see them again.
That’s the normal story, and it’s a shame. I hope that my
being out, being public and being cool as a trans person -
not something to laugh at- can give kids the strength to be
who they are, and their parents the ability to respect what their kids want to do. Maybe in 20 or 30 years, that'lI

inevitably, Venus is sometimes on the receiving
end of male attention, both from guys who are aware of


In fact, the editing of the documentary had almost been
completed when the band announced their UK tour, but
wanting to include the response ofthe UK public and press
to ATPH - Venus in particular- in the documentary, Emily
came over with the band and filmed virtually everything
that Venus did, including this interview. She even followed
Venus with the camera when she went into the toilets -the
ladies toilets, of course. Commenting on the constant
intrusion into her life, Venus said, “Well, it’s good and bad. l’m thrilled to have it done and l‘m also really happy that
Emily wanted to come out to the UK to film this because
its something special, our first time here. Something l’ve
found that is very interesting is that the camera is almost
like a shield. When we were walking around New York
and there was this camera following us, people were really
intrigued and wanted to know who we were, so it was kind
ofa protective shield. When we’re just walking around by
ourselves, we get all kinda shit.”

Looking tothe future, Venus finished our intenriew
by saying, "Well, l’ve pretty much taken the band as far as
l can on my own. We are looking to find somebody who
can take us to another level, if they‘re willing to. l think they
wouldn't be disappointed. lt’s hard to do what we’re doing,
but we’ll keep doing it, of course; we’ll keep doing it the
underground, do it yourself way. But if there were some
way to get some help to get a little bigger audience, we
would love to do that as well. What we really want to do is
to perfomi, be on stage, play our music and write music.
Freedom to do all of that is ultimately all we want.”

lf this inten/iew has piqued your interest, then
check out ATPH’s latest album, "Ruin," or visit the band’s
website at

Reprinted, courtesy of Power Play Magazine U.K. Back to previous Menu