Cidny Bullens to Explore Grief, Transgender Self in One Wo/Man Show
by Skip Anderson
Cidny Bullens, a successful singer/songwriter formerly based in Nashville, sits at Bongo Java with his hands folded in his lap. He smiles patiently while listening to the next question. Short, blondish hair frames his head. Bullens has been known as “Cid” since 2011. But that doesn’t change the fact that he spent nearly 60 years of his life as a woman named Cindy Bullens, the birth mother to two children.
Cindy Bullens first made a name for herself in the music industry touring with Elton John during the 70s. She got the dream gig after crashing an A-list party at Hollywood’s famed Cherokee Studios amidst the Brit’s white-hot ascent toward musical stardom. Soon thereafter, she would sing backup vocals on Sir Elton’s No. 1 duet with Kiki Dee, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” Even as she sang and danced on stages around the world, she continued to suppress her long-held belief that she was a male born into the body of a female.
“There’s an ‘M’ on my driver’s license now. But I still spent more than 50 years as a woman—I bore two babies,” Bullens says. “I still am a mother, and I will always be a mother, but I hated my breasts; they were foreign objects on my body, except for the year I breastfed each of my children. Being transgender is part of my life and part of who I am, but it does not define me.”
Despite undergoing “top surgery” four years ago and outwardly identifying as a man ever since, he identifies more closely as a bereaved parent. His younger daughter, Jessie, died in 1996 at the age of 11 while undergoing treatment for cancer. In the years that followed, much of Bullens’s songwriting reflected profound grief. After she had written several songs about her daughter’s death—this was prior to Bullens outwardly identifying as a man—she then went to Nashville songwriting icon Rodney Crowell, who encouraged the former Green Hills resident to make an album exclusively about her daughter. From that, the powerful album Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth came into being. It was a collaborative effort that notably included the talents of Bryan Adams, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Crowell, Bonnie Raitt, and Lucinda Williams, among others. Bullens performed a private concert for parents who lost children
during the unthinkable Columbine shooting in 1999 and soon thereafter began speaking regularly around the country to groups of bereaved parents.
“I didn’t seek it out, but I found myself doing concerts for bereaved parents and doing hospice and palliative care conferences and workshops on death and dying all over the country,” Bullens says. “I didn’t ask for that; it just kind of happened. Being a bereaved parent probably defines me more than does being transgender. I don’t think I’ve ever said that in my life. But it has more emotional impact to me than being transgender.”
She initially backed out of a scheduled “top surgery” in 2011, then eventually went through with it in 2012. “I had it done in Florida by a doctor who only does female-to-male top surgery,” Bullens says. “It’s the best thing I have ever done.”
Bullens says it’s the only surgical step he’ll take to facilitate the transition. Prior to doing so, she spoke with Elton John, with whom she has maintained a close personal friendship.
“Elton has a place in my heart that belongs only to him,” Bullens says. “He said to me, ‘You need to be happy, whatever that is you need to do.’ I [recently] saw him in Las Vegas, and we spent some time alone. I think he may have been a little nervous about seeing me because he hadn’t seen me since I transitioned. But Elton being Elton, he asked me every question in the book. He wanted to know how I was doing and what it was like.”
In early 2016, Bullens returned to Nashville for the first time since publicly identifying as a man and plans to reconnect over time with many of the songwriters and artists with whom she previously worked prior to transitioning, including Matraca Berg, Radney Foster, Emmylou Harris, John Hiatt, Ray Kennedy, Bill Lloyd, Delbert McClinton, and Gary Nicholson. The purpose of his mid-January visit was to see the space at Bongo Java After Hours Theatre where he will stage a four-performance run of his autobiographical multi-media musical production, Somewhere Between: A One Wo/Man Show, in March. The show is produced by Ken Bernstein, the venue’s founder and artistic director, and directed by Tanya Taylor Rubinstein.
“It’s not a show about being transgender; it’s a show about my life,” Bullens says. “Being transgender is part of my life and part of who I am, and it’s a part of the story, but it doesn’t define me. My world is expanding, and that’s what this show is about. So much love has come back to me. This is a story about humanity, and I want to tell it for the story’s sake.”
Cidny Bullens will perform Somewhere Between: A One Wo/Man Show at 7:30 p.m. March 18, 19, 25, 26, April 1 and 2 at Bongo Java After Hours Theatre at 2007 Belmont Boulevard. For more information, please visit www.bongoafterhourstheatre.com or www.cidnybullens.com.