As City Paper’s music writer, I’m not used to writing anything this close to the front of the paper. But it’s Pride week and as one of the gay™ employees here, I wanted to talk a bit about my experiences as a queer journalist/person in this city.
I’m a gender-fluid pansexual person which means my preferred pronouns are they/them and I date/fall in love with anyone across the gender spectrum. I usually just refer to myself as queer. I’m also a pop-culture addict who spends a lot of time consuming music (duh), movies, TV and social-media trends.
It was through pop-culture consumption that I first realized I was into girls. This was long before college when I discovered the world of gender and sexuality as spectrums. I initially came out to my parents as bisexual in high school, but my suspicions about my romantic and sexual interests came up much earlier; it started with a crush on Meg, the animated female lead in Hercules with a husky voice and independent spirit.
In middle school, I heard the song “Teenage Dirtbag,” by Wheatus, and I was convinced that the singer with the high voice was a girl. I genuinely believed that it was a lesbian love song about unrequited love for a straight girl, and I was obsessed because I was a young gay with unspoken crushes on 80 percent of my straight friends. These days I have “Boyfriend,” by Tegan & Sara, actual queer women, to fill that void.
This has been a big year for visible queerness. Moonlight won Best Picture at the Oscars; a queer-centric podcast called Nancy from WNYC hit the airwaves; Orange Is the New Black writer Lauren Morelli and OITNB actress Samira Wiley got married; and Lena Waithe, of Master of None, continued to be and portray a complex queer woman of color (long live the soft stud!), just to name a few victories.
That being said, there’s bullshit in pop culture and music journalism, too. Kristen Stewart and Stella Maxwell will be photographed holding hands and kissing in public, and tabloids will write captions like: “gal pals having fun.” They aren’t “pals,” bucco, they’re lesbians, and they are in love.
Music journalists sometimes have a nasty habit of glorifying queer artists for their queerness alone, with tragic implications when a queer band sometimes turns out to not be the safe and honest icons they were made out to be.
It’s such a fine line to walk, because queer visibility in music is so important. Just like it was important for me to see a punk femme like Maura Weaver, from Mixtapes, playing guitar onstage when I was in high school, it is important for young, and old, queer folx to see themselves onstage so they know that they are welcome in that world too.
That’s one of the many reasons why artists like Aye Nako, Mykki Blanco, Thin Lips, Cayetana, Julien Baker, Angel Haze, Adult Mom, Worriers and Frank Ocean (and many more who exist and thrive out there!) are powerful and valuable. But representation works only when it’s consistent and dependent upon a band’s ability and art, instead of well-placed tokenism here and there.
When I need to for criticism’s sake, I can shed my rainbow-colored glasses, but the reality is that I live every day as a queer person and the way I move through the world is shaped by that. I inherently look for queerness in television, movies and music because I’m hungry to see a validation and reflection of my own experience. And when I’m not in my cozy world of music and visual art, I have to combat a world that doesn’t believe my gender fluidity is real, a world that sexualizes me as a femme person, a world that devalues me because of who I am and who I love.
That’s why Pride month and visible celebrations of LGBTQIA humanity are so important. By taking up space and asserting our right to bliss, we show the world around us that we are worthy of love and respect. It encourages a world in which queer people can live their truth both on and off the screen. Then young LGBTQIA folks won’t have to read between the lines to see themselves reflected in pop culture.