Still Here, Still Queer
A Totally Random Smattering of LGBTQ Highlights – and One Giant Lowlight – from 2016
Love Is a Drag Reissue from Modern Harmonic
For over 50 years, a mystery has burned like a dim ember in the shadows of queer music history. In 1962, an enigmatic LP entitled Love Is a Drag appeared, seemingly out of thin air. No artist or producer were listed, merely a coded disclaimer: “For Adults Only, Sultry Stylings by a Most Unusual Vocalist.” When JD Doyle—an archivist of queer music and history—stumbled upon the record, he was taken with its contents: 12 classic love songs, sung by a man to other men.
He played the songs on his Queer Music Heritage radio show for decades before Hollywood photographer Murray Garrett finally reached out to bring their surreptitious origin to light. He revealed that the voice Doyle had celebrated for years belonged to straight Big Band singer Gene Howard, who had teamed up with Edison International Records producer Jack Ames to recreate a Greenwich Village performance Garrett once witnessed, in which serious love ballads replaced the froth and camp that defined most of the era’s gay acts. Together, they brought Love Is a Drag to life through the faux imprint, Lace Records, and the record received acclaim from heavy-hitters such as Frank Sinatra, Liberace, and Bob Hope.
Howard’s deep, resonant voice and alternately swinging and swooning sensibilities saunter through renditions of George and Ira Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” and bluesy “Show Boat” ballad, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” transporting modern listeners back to a sweetly transgressive moment in time. Now being reissued by Modern Harmony on gold vinyl, Love Is a Drag is a most fascinating relic.
“TRANNY: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout”
By Laura Jane Grace with Dan Ozzi
A cliché, sure, but a true one: Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace needs no introduction. Her band’s Sept. 16 release, Shapeshift With Me—released via their own label, Total Treble—is a heartstring-busting record that builds upon the groundwork laid by 2014 revelation, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. But, for the real diehards out there, the must-have gem of 2016 will be her memoir, out now through Hachette Book Group.
“It was a fortuitous stroke of luck that Laura Jane and I worked on a book called ‘TRANNY’ over the same year in which North Carolina passed their discriminatory HB2 law, stripping transgender people of their protection under the law, and in which Caitlyn Jenner accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award,” coauthor Dan Ozzi says. “For large pockets of Americans, this was the first year in which they were confronted with transgender issues and actually had to think about them. So, to be working with a major publisher on a book that largely dealt with these issues felt like a huge responsibility. Laura and I took great care in laying out the feelings she had over gender confusion for readers as plainly as we could, so that anyone could pick the book up and understand.”
“Ultimately, I doubt the asshole you went to high school with who posts on Facebook about not wanting his daughter in the same bathroom as ‘some pervert who dresses like a woman’ is going to read it,” he admits, “but maybe, years from now, his daughter will, and she’ll understand.”
Judas Priest’s “Battle Cry” Live Album/DVD/Blu-ray—and return to the studio!
Despite all the pomp and circumstance—and leather—metal has not always been the friendliest community for queer folks. In a 1998 MTV interview, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford challenged fans’ perceptions of sexuality and masculinity by coming out as gay. While those sporting black bandanas in their back pockets likely shrugged and said, “No shit,” the metal community at large was shook. Luckily, they didn’t stay shook for long. Halford’s openness combined with his fans’ unconditional support played their part in paving the way for today’s far more inclusive metal scene, which boasts the monstrous talents of artists like Otep Shamaya, Life Of Agony’s Mina Caputo, and even more polarizing figures like former Gorgoroth vocalist Gaahl.
However, speaking of Halford’s legacy only in past tense is a sin. Priest ain’t dead yet, having returned to the boards this year to craft their 18th studio album, set for release in early 2017. To tide fans over in the meantime, Priest released “Battle Cry” on CD, DVD, and Blu-ray via Epic Records on March 25, a live showcase of their 2015 performance at Wacken Open Air in Germany while touring in support of 2014’s still-surprisingly-kickass Redeemer of Souls. Despite having reigned as metal gods for almost half a century, the band crush the set, with Halford providing enough costume changes and eye-popping stage antics to rival a season finale of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” A must-have for all Priest fans, not just those of us who have used “But Rob Halford…” as a trump card to avoid getting hate-crimed.
The Rise and Resignation of G.L.O.S.S.
For those of you who missed it—all three of you—the Olympia, Washington, political hardcore band, G.L.O.S.S.—or Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit—massively shifted the discourse of the scene with their five-song demo in January of 2015; their five-song 7” follow-up, Trans Day of Revenge, in June of 2016; their decision not to sign with Epitaph Records in early September; and their seemingly sudden disbanding in late September. Probably too much has already been said about all of the milestones in their short career, but one important facet of their story has been largely overlooked: G.L.O.S.S.’s eventual fate was very likely our fault.
We, the press, and we, the members of the scene, were wanton contributors to the band being damned if they did and damned if they didn’t, lionizing, demonizing, and generally othering them at every turn.
Alongside the overtly transphobic, misogynistic, and transmisogynistic detractors, others dismissed G.L.O.S.S. as a “gimmick band” merely exploiting their identities for fame and profit. Apparently, identity-specific political punk songs are only valid if they’re penned by Standard Issue Punks™ whose identities are normalized as the default and, thus, rendered invisible to many in the scene. These individuals tore down the band’s musical prowess as often as they did the legitimacy of their politics, finally proving that musical taste and human experience are definitively objective, goddamnit before—one can only assume—high-fiving one another.
On the other side of the fence, there were fans and critics who pedestalized G.L.O.S.S., prioritizing their political importance over their humanity or subjective artistic merit. These individuals insisted that everyone revere the band uncritically and on principle, often following up their ultimatums by attempting to dictate the terms on which others could engage with their musical output. They further fanned the flames of sensationalism by wielding “bigot!” as a handy cudgel against anyone who deigned to dislike or disregard the band’s work for legitimate reasons such as musical taste.
This intense polarization created a new subclass of complainers, who were neither decriers nor disciples at the outset, but who eventually grew suspicious of the band’s omnipresence. It has become de rigueur to believe that only that which is important to you personally is worthy of discussion, so many of these emboldened skeptics began a campaign to discredit the band as “attention whores” and “manipulators,” both “deceptive” and “inauthentic”—with the free square, that’s basically transmisogyny bingo—who sought to belie a perceived lack of talent and influence by orchestrating the media circus that surrounded them.
The media—which, last time we checked, was not controlled by a shadow council of scheming queers, femmes, and trans folks—chugged along in the background, happily exploiting the whole fracas with varying levels of magnanimity.
In essence, G.L.O.S.S. the band encountered the same double standard in music that G.L.O.S.S. the people—and so many others—encounter in life: they were not allowed to exist without justification. Punk records decrying broken systems and violently opposing harmful ideologies are released every day to little scrutiny. Public and private announcements intended to dispel rumors and keep fans informed rarely garner much criticism. A band breaking up for the betterment of their members is usually not seen as a political betrayal. Nothing G.L.O.S.S. could have done differently would have changed the outcome of their short tenure, because they weren’t the problem. We were. And we will continue to be until we learn from our mistakes, make amends, and strive to recognize and respect one another’s humanity.
God Emperor Trump
Fuck this. Fuck them. You are not overreacting. Don’t stop resisting. Don’t stop working. Take care of yourself. Watch out for each other. Don’t give up. We love you. We need you.