The Indie Rock Fag: Suppressing My Gaga Reflex
I’d never though I’d say this, but I also saw Beth Ditto’s boobs the other day so I guess anything is possible:
I owe Lady Gaga an apology.
Until last Sunday’s National Equality March, I spent the better part of two years writing off the poker-faced pop tart as another “Just Add Water” gay icon. You take one part schizopherenic fashion sense, two parts insta-anthem dance floor hits, stir in an “is she or isn’t she” intersex non-scandal, and all of a sudden every gay man is acting as if she is more essential to our movement than Frank Kameny and lube combined.
And if you know me at all, you know this doesn’t wash. Most of the traditional gay icons have nothing to do with my life, and are instead caricatured amalgamations of some of our worst stereotypes. Its like thirty years ago someone decided that gay men respond well to bawdiness and feather boas and we haven’t looked back since. Meanwhile, truly vital artists like Karin Dreijer Anderrson, Little Dragon and The Sounds don’t get the community-wide attention they deserve.
However, much as dislike the artistic output of artists like Bette Midler and Cher, it is hard to dispute the fact they they have always been on the frontline when it comes to standing up for the gay community. So much of what we seek comes down to visibility – for the right to exist as ourselves in public spaces – and I like that the old guard celebrity fag hags are loyal and vocal to the men who buy their music. It doesn’t mean I’ll be any more comfortable at a piano bar, but I can understand why they are so revered.
So imagine my surprise when, after this Saturday’s National Equality March, a self-described music snob like me fell head over heels in love with Lady Gaga. It’s not because her songs play endlessly at my gym or a guy once screamed “I’m GAY! I MUST hear Lady Gaga” at me when I was DJing.
It’s because she stood up for the queer community in a way that most queer artists won’t. Many important people gave impassioned speeches last Sunday, including Judy Shepard, Lt. Dan Choi and Cynthia Nixon. But it was Lady Gaga that got the most reaction from the crowd. She publicly declared her allegiance to the community, said that being up there on The Mall speaking was the most important moment of her career and screamed, “Are you listening?” so loudly at Barack Obama that he probably was.
Music is like fire in the sense that people gather around it. A thousand volumes of impassioned text won’t impact the world 1/8th as much as three minutes of a well-written pop song. So to hear a rising superstar both admit they were queer at the upswing of their career (unlike, say, Lance Bass) and put their money where their mouth is on equalty rights won Lady G my respect forever. Of course, she doesn’t need my respect when the rest of the world already loves her. But I am in need of queer mainstream celebrities who I can give my respect too, and finding one in an unlikely place has been making me rethink some other things.
Like the flipside of this article, which is the fact that so many queer musicians that have found wide acceptance in the straight indie communities tend to stay quiet on the subject of gay rights. There are exceptions to this – Beth Ditto, The Blow’s Khaela Maricich and Antony Hegarty don’t overly straightwash themselves in concert- but I feel like many other tunesters take an “I’m a musician, not a gay musician” stance that just furthers the idea that being queer is something to be covered up.
I hate to pick on one musician in particular here, but I probably should in the name of specificity. So I’ll go with Ed Droste. As frontman of psych/folk revivalists Grizzly Bear, he has seen a near-meteoric rise in prominence among fans of indie music in the last two years. He is a frequent fixture in the queer press, but I have never seen him do anything but preach to the choir when it comes to speaking out for gay rights.
At this you might say, “But Zack, he’s a musician, not an activist.”
And I’ll respond that he doesn’t have to carry picket signs onstage or interrupt an encore of “Two Weeks” to rim his drummer onstage, but artists like Droste have unparalleled opportunities to reach the breeders. Has he ever implored a sold-out audience to vote for Marriage Equality in Maine or Washington? Did he use his recent Letterman appearance to open the eyes of a national TV audience to the inequality that gay people face everyday? He might do these things, but lord knows I’ve never gotten wind of it.
A high-profile musician can make big waves in one or two sentences. A high profile musician can mention their same-sex partner as casually a straight one mentions their spouse. The number of people he alienates will be far outweighed by those he galvanizes.
I used to take a lot of pride in the fact that my gay icons were along the lines of Ed Droste, not Lady Gaga. But how can I keep pledging my devotion to people that accept our admiration without giving us anything back? I’ve talked to many queer musicians who are happy not to be pigeonholed with the likes of Elton John, whose flamboyant showmanship has nothing to do with their more nuanced music. But Elton John has also donated massive amounts of money to AIDS Charity and showed the world there is nothing to be ashamed of in being publicly gay. Will the current crop of casually-out indie musicians follow his example?
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