Spin magazine has published a special report called “Homophobia Haunts Indie Rock” and it’s something you might be interested in if you think any genre of music is devoid of discrimination. The magazine mentions several of our favorite women in music who are out and proud — Beth Ditto, Carrie Brownstein, Ani DiFranco and Tegan and Sara, for example — but also surmises that it’s not a completely safe environment just yet, as Holly Miranda shares something that happened to her at a gig. From the piece:
After Holly Miranda recently played her song “Pelican Rapids,” about Proposition 8, the 2008 California amendment restricting marriage as only between a man and a woman, she was confronted by a “big, burly door guy” who said that “if I got with him, he would make me do a 360,” says the singer-songwriter. “I was like, ‘I think you mean a 180. You’re more right than you know.’”
As a musician, or someone who’s recognizable to the general public, or even to a small group of queers, there’s something really interesting that happens to yourself. All of a sudden, there’s this duality of what is actually you and what people want from you. Creating that persona, keeping that persona, and making sure it doesn’t infect your real life is really difficult. That’s been complicated as a queer person. I feel like I have let people fetishize me. I’ve been okay with it in this way that’s been like, “This is great for my career!” But it really has put me in this uncomfortable place, and it’s really hard to get out of that world. I think that’s homophobia. The fact that I’m afraid that I don’t mean anything else to this world, but being fetishized as a butch lesbian, yeah, that’s pretty depressing.
It’s hard to speak as anything other than a gay woman, because that’s what I am, but I know there are many other fans of JD’s or Holly’s (or any of the other female musicians who happen to be gay) because of their talent, not because they fetishize them or expect them to be upstanding gay citizens. As a lesbian, I appreciate their honesty and celebrate their queerness, and can understand what JD is saying, especially after reading her piece for the Huffington Post on how she will always be a poor artist because she is a queer artist. It’s innate homophobia that exists in American culture and society. Being queer is always going to be threatening and looked down upon in some capacity, and indie music is no exception.
Another commenter is Erin McKeown, who claims AfterEllen.com “outed her” in 2006, though in our interview with her that year, she didn’t discuss her sexuality because she doesn’t speak about her private life (as she says in the Spin piece). Erin says she didn’t want to talk about her sexuality because she feels out artists invite only out fans. From the piece:
“It’s been my experience that the vast majority of mainstream people, when they perceive or know that someone is queer, they think that their art is only for queer people, or they think that only queer people are going to go to that art,” says McKeown. “It excludes or isolates based on a person’s identity.” While she’s quick to point out how much she appreciates her fans, she also feels marginalized as an out artist. Regardless, being out is “less exhausting” than staying closeted.
While there are musicians that may be seen as synonymous with lesbian fans because of their sexuality, I would beg to differ that it marginalizes them if the talent is there. Melissa Etheridge, k.d. lang and Indigo Girls are all out artists who maintain not only huge gay fanbases but all kinds of fans that support their careers. They have a continued longevity and are able to live freely, as they all express their happiness in having been out for more than two decades.
Erin McKeown isn’t the first artist to say she’s felt like being out as queer will make her less successful, but it feels like those who continue to perpetuate and participate in this fear are just keeping it alive — especially when fans are already well aware of the performer’s sexual preference. It’s almost an insult to assume fans are ignorant of something like that, and whether or not an artist is closeted in their personal life, being closeted in their public life might be just as “exhausting.”
For every artist that feels marginalized for their sexuality, there are just as many in 2011 that are able to maintain successful careers while being out. Perhaps it’s a testament to talent more than anything else. At least I hope that’s the case. As Marissa Paternoster of indie it band Screaming Females told The Guardian earlier this year, “At 16, I had no gay peers and a lot of gay shame. Hearing [queer bands] made me realise that there were people out there who were cool and they were queer, and unbeknownst to me, it wasn’t a big deal. That was the most important part for me.” And besides sounding good, isn’t music ultimately about reaching people and finding that connection?
Have you ever felt unsafe at an indie rock show?