Gender, Sex and Rock n’ Roll

With the recent celebration of National Coming Out Day, Sophia Simon-Bashall takes a closer look at the treatment of LGBTQ+ musicians by the music industry and even their fans.

It can be said that he music industry is one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly areas of popular culture today. Legendary musicians such as David Bowie and Freddie Mercury are amongst the most lauded of queer icons, adored by all, regardless of sexuality or gender expression. Similarly, current artists like Frank Ocean and Olly Alexander of Years & Years are applauded for being open about their sexuality and representing the queer community. However, it can be argued that the music industry is not entirerly as open to others. Much like in the wider world, queer women do not receive the same treatment as queer men.

Last week, coinciding with Coming Out Day, Miley Cyrus revealed to the world that she is pansexual – someone who is attracted to any gender, including people who identify as transgender or non-binary – explaining that “I don’t feel straight and I don’t feel gay”. This is a simple enough statement, and one would think that in 2016 – when public coming outs are mostly described as ‘brave’ and ‘inspiring’ in the media – it would not cause a stir. Unfortunately, the singer’s expression of her identity has been met with a wrecking ball of a backlash. Twitter has been full of people questioning ‘is Miley Cyrus actually queer?’ Many have suggested that her coming out is merely a publicity stunt, ‘to stay relevant’.

Plenty of queer women in the public eye have had their identities invalidated over and over. The singer Halsey – who is openly bisexual – regularly receives harassment in regards to her sexuality, and has been accused of ‘pretending to be bisexual to get more album sales’. As Halsey herself put it to Nylon Magazine earlier this year, if being queer potentially boosts an artist’s popularity, then “that’s a pretty wild development in the music industry.”

Her wry comment is interesting, because whilst it’s true that queer artists do harness support from the LGBTQ+ community, many others are put off by the simple fact of that artist’s identity – particularly if they happen to be a woman.

Another widespread response to Miley Cyrus’s coming out has been to attack her. Slurs have been tweeted at an alarming rate; people have called her ‘disgusting’, while many have simply said that ‘nobody cares’. This kind of attitude is unacceptable.

Anyone who’s been to a Tegan & Sara concert knows that men don’t turn up for women making music about loving women. Why? Because not only can straight, cisgender people find it uncomfortable to listen to queer experiences but, as a result of society’s rigid masculinity, men are made to feel isolated and unable to relate to women’s experiences. This minority status and such differing identities to what is considered to be the ‘norm’ in modern society – creating almost a ‘double difference’ so to say between straight, cis-gedenered men in comparison to queer women -stops artists like the lesbian pop duo growing their audience. It is a sad reflection that in the 21st century queer culture is seen to be something alien, and queer individuals are made to feel like an ‘other’, rather than being accepted for their true identities. Despite the struggle LGBTQ+ people have to deal with on a daily basis, some people strangely believe that an artist would lie about their identity in order to make money and maintain their fame.

There is nothing inherently wrong with not being a fan of Miley. There is even nothing inherently wrong with critiquing aspects of her coming out statement – for example, she implied that bisexuality adheres to a gender binary, which is a problematic misconception and hurtful towards the bi community, as it simplifies the nuances of many of the people who identify as bisexual. But this is a moment of honesty and vulnerability for Cyrus, and hurling abuse at her is wrong. It is wrong to use her mistakes as a reason to deny her experiences, to dismiss her identity, and add to the stream of homophobic and misogynistic backlash that she has received. It is wrong not to show support for Miley, as it also serves as a painful reminder to queer women everywhere that to live our lives with honesty and freedom means facing harassment, ignorance, and dismissal.

Sexism and homophobia are still rampant problems both in the music industry and beyond, which means queer women get the worst of both worlds. Nobody’s perfect, but dammit, we can do better.

Sophia Simon-Bashall

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