Is the metal community unjustly judged as Homophobes?
This topic has been discussed in the background but it’s about time it’s brought to the forefront. The LGBT+ community has been causing media storms recently with their discussions on gender. Specifically, how young is too young to let your child transition.
Unfortunately, there’s always been a stigma about metalheads, from satanic rituals to just wanting to beat the crap out of each other in moshpits. It’s not particularly hard to see why people may perceive us as homophobic, however, there are twats in all music scenes. So, why do we get the short end of the stick and unjustly labelled as homophobes?
So, let’s start in the 70s. Subgenres started splitting off left, right and centre. Now, some bands were arguably more macho than others but, that doesn’t mean that they all didn’t – at one time or another – wear tight leather trousers with long hair, thrusting their pelvis to the beat of their songs. Probably the most macho I can think of from that time was Motorhead’s Lemmy. With a fag in his mouth and a bottle of Jack at his feet he was the epitome of a macho man. Alternatively, you have the likes of Judas Priest. Everyone and their grandmother knows Rob Halford loved to sport the bondage leather daddy look with a side of chains and whips. And who could forget that KISS probably had the campest look alongside Judas Priest. With their teased hair, tight spandex outfits, makeup and big platform heeled boots to match. To me it’s surprising that the LGBT community didn’t feel very welcome considering how over sexualised things were beginning to be.
The 80s saw a rise in glam metal bands like Motley Crue, Twisted Sister and Pretty Boy Floyd. These were the bands that took the androgynous feminine look to a whole other level. The hair - bigger, the clothes - tighter, the colours – brighter, makeup – bolder! And let’s be honest here, some things could have been better left to the imagination on the pants front. However, even with this dress sense we were still labelled as homophobic. Different genres of metal hadn’t progressed as much as others may have liked. Not only this but there was the birth of Queercore where many punk bands decided to take their fight as LGBTQ+ people out into the open – and they’re still present today although it’s evolved into Queer Hardcore.
Jumping into the early 90s, bands like Guns N Roses were at forefront and made a big mistake in their song One in a Million. With the lyrics “Immigrants and faggots/They make no sense to me/They come to our country/And think they’ll do as they please/Like start some mini Iran/Or spread some fuckin’ disease.” This infuriated one group of people whilst this lyric pissed off another: “Police and n******, that’s right”, strange considering that mother is African-American. You could argue that he performed a song that slams his own ethnical background.
Then you have people at the forefront of metal like Dave Mustaine. Who once said “I’m not gay. So, no.” on the subject of legalising gay marriage. He’s since tried to come back from this statement but this left stains the public couldn’t forget. However, Guns N Roses and Dave Mustaine aren’t the only ones to have made these mistakes in our community.
Even today looking back through the news or interviews there are band members that call things they dislike “gay” or people they don’t like “faggots”. This may not seem offensive the average person that it doesn’t effect, but for those in the LGBTQ+ community, such words have caused some serious upset.
However, on a much brighter note there are more bands today openly supporting the community. One such band at the forefront of this was Slipknot in 2016. Corey Taylor not only openly opposed the now President Trump throughout his campaign, once elected Taylor posted to look after those of ethnic minorities and in the LGBTQ+ community as they need us most. When North Carolina released the HB2 law, there was a huge outcry throughout the world about how it was taking away rights from the transgender community. In that moment many bands decided to remove North Carolina from their touring schedules to prove that they were against the new law. Slipknot thought of doing the same before Taylor stated “…This law flies in the face of those values. We believe that regardless of who you are, or who you love, you shouldn’t have to face hatred at home or in your community. Our fans in North Carolina deserve better, so we decided not to cancel. We don’t care where you pee – just please flush. It’s pretty simple, really.”. It is a testament to how well the band handle themselves and how much support they are willing to give to the community.
Nowadays there seems to be an influx of people in the community who are out and proud but do those in bands feel they can be open in the same way? I interviewed many people from all walks of life and it pulled up some interesting results. 93.33% stated they don’t believe that the metal community is homophobic 90% of which were metal fans themselves. 96.76% of those also said that the genre has progressed over the years. 90% stated they were pro LGBTQ+ with 9% indifferent and 1% anti LGBTQ+. When asked who they felt was the most accepting subgenre of metal 25.56% came back with other saying most of the genres were accepting, second to this was glam metal at 18.89%. When asked who they felt was the least accepting ‘other’ was at the top with 30.34% - these answers mostly consisted of they didn’t feel anyone was less accepting than another with the next being black metal at 20.22%. Glam was picked as more accepting because of the way they present themselves whilst others felt it wasn’t the music genre that should be judged for it, it’s the individual. When it came to the answers about those that were least accepting it was due to the genre being stuck in its past habits. Lastly when asked what they did when they experienced homophobia most people said they challenged those who did so, but 54% stated they hadn’t witnessed it at all. That’s nearly split down the middle for those who had never even witnessed any kind of homophobia. Those that stated they had witnessed were also quick to point out that the homophobia didn’t come from metalheads either.
I interviewed Adam Gregory (festival director of Bloodstock Open Air) to see what his experience and thoughts on the subject were (these are not Bloodstocks views) and singer Reneé Phoenix (formally of The Explicits and Fit For Rivals) of Pink Fly:
1. Do you believe that the metal community’s attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community has changed between when you became a part of it and now?
Reneé: I haven’t noticed that much of a change. I do feel there’s a narrow lane you have to drive in within the hard rock community. From my perspective, the metal community seems more hetero-normative. Adam: My opinion is that over the 18 years being involved with our festival, we have seen an acceptance for all walks of life, this is far more evident with the Metal community than most due to the acceptance of sub cultures within the genre, that said, I have also been witness to individual cases where this is not the case, although these are extremely rare. Taking a snapshot from 2001 to now, I would say overall very much yes.
2. Do you think that that area of the community was always accepting or not?
Reneé: Generally speaking, no. During my time in Fit For Rivals, we played A LOT of hard rock festivals. I was the only out lesbian in sight. It was both liberating, yet alienating. My friend came along during a run to do merch and she was also a lesbian, it was nice having someone there who understood what I was going through. I’m not what everyone expects me to be. All the other girls are wearing cat suits, heels and shaking their tits while I’m just...myself. I’d classify myself as pretty androgynous but leaning more toward the tomboy side of things. You couldn’t catch me dead in a dress. I felt bad for being myself. Adam: In the main I would say the Metal community has been far more accepting than most due to being persecuted themselves by the pop cultures for their own lifestyles over the years.
3. Do you believe that certain areas of the metal community were more accepting? For example: the attitudes between black metal fans and glam metal fans.
Reneé: Overall I feel the Alternative/Pop crowd is the most accepting. I feel like there's less queer visibility in the metal and hard rock community. Adam: In their own rights, most sub genres of metal fans have their own quirks to bare and the old adage of not throwing stones in a greenhouse comes to mind generally, personally I don’t see a division of tolerance differences between metal sub cultures.
4. Do you think that metal fans care about gender orientation or sexual orientation?
Reneé: I’m sure there are people who do and those who couldn’t give a shit and just want to listen to the music they enjoy without a backstory. Every fan is different. Promoters and labels tend to want to stick to a format they know will sell. To put it into perspective, Joan Jett isn’t ‘out’. A lot of people just assume she is, but she never addresses it head on. That right there should tell you the fragility of gender and sexual orientation in conversation and marketing. Adam: Generally no, take our own stand on the Sophie Lancaster foundation and the attitude we have to continually support this cause, it’s an accepted mind set with the Metal world to be tolerant of all and sexual orientation should not and does not play a part, I think there will always be individuals who have an issue personally, it’s down to whether they choose to be vocal about it and whether the community reacts to the individual being vocal or not.
5. Have you ever encountered homophobic behaviour in the community? If so how did you react?
Reneé: Absolutely. From being degraded on my choice of clothing, my speech, my hair, everything even to my eyebrows. I don't fit into a box and a lot of people don't know what to do with that in terms of marketing. There are so few gender non-conforming artists within the community and I wish there were more David Bowie's around.
Adam: Personally not in Metal no, I have seen it within my extended family (by Marriage) when someone daughter came out as Gay, she was immediately targeted by her immediate family as “something is wrong with her”, I had a long chat with her and gave her comfort and support, told her to be who she is in her heart and be happy with herself regardless of others opinions.
6. Do you think that band members feel comfortable about being openly homosexual or transgender etc., in comparison to how (for example) Rob Halford may have felt?
Reneé: My band was on the fence just because of how these record labels were with it all. They were cool with me as a person, but I definitely felt pressure to keep my full self a secret. I remember when I was first pushing to market to the LGBTQ community, the publicist at the time thought it best to tell everyone I was bisexual which was not and is not the case. Stupid things like that are such an eye roll.
Adam: I think its slightly different for bands based upon their careers as a group of people, they may not wish to affect the overall perception of the band with their fans, I applaud people such as Rob Halford who did come out and embraced who he was, it made no difference to their standing and today are bigger than ever, which should show others that it is ok to be who you are and it should be embraced.
7. Do you know anyone who is either openly homosexual within the community or non-open about it? If not – have they ever said why?
Reneé: Within hard rock, no. Alternative artists, yes absolutely but they’re open about it and seem to not care as much. Like I said before, hard rock and I’m assuming metal as well, is a narrow lane.
Adam: I do know a few people who are and some are open and some aren’t, the ones who aren’t generally are not fazed about the public perception but more about their own immediate families, this does tend to be the biggest stumbling block.
8. Can you name any open LGBTQ+ band members?
Reneé: None that I have personally worked with… we did a show with Against Me! With Laura Jane Grace and she was lovely to speak with. A true breath of fresh air.
Adam: Other than Rob Halford, I wouldn’t want to really name anyone else as some I know aren’t public about it.
9. Do you know of any anti-LGBTQ+ bands?
Reneé: Yes, but I’d rather not throw anyone under the bus. Boys can be the worst with homophobic slurs. I don’t take offense to it most of the time because if I did I’d drive myself insane. I’ve rationalized it by circumstance depending on if I know the person and if they’re just joking around or actually anti-LGBTQ.
Adam: Not within the Metal community no, I think any band who openly took that stance, wouldn’t have many fans within the world of Metal.
10. Do you know of any pro-LGBTQ+ bands who actively go out to support them?
Reneé: Tegan and Sara are wonderful with this, but again, they’re Alternative/Pop. Within hard rock or metal… I haven’t seen it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist?
Adam: Not that I have personally dealt with, to be honest, making it an open issue probably creates more of a problem than not, just accepting it as routine and a normal part of life means not necessarily shouting about it from the roof tops, my view is whether you are gay, heterosexual or anything else, doesn’t play a part in who you are as a person, your own actions and how you treat others defines who you are and sexuality should not play a part, the sooner as a whole we all stop thinking about it as a stigma then the better it will be and sexuality will become just as normal as anything else.
11. Do you believe that the metal community receives a bad and unjust reputation for being homophobic?
Reneé: It’s pretty justified. I've seen a lot of fragile masculinity and it's time to change that.
Adam: I haven’t once heard the Metal community described as Homophobic, if anything, we are classed as one of the more accepting genres for individual culture or preference, if this has been banded about, it would be by a very select group of narrow minded individuals.
What’s interesting about these answers is that they come not only from two different perspectives but people who live in two different countries. To my knowledge Adam is based here in the UK whereas Reneé is based in Florida, USA. From the answers provided it wouldn’t be completely unfair to say that maybe the homophobic portion of metalheads are in the USA? Considering it is now Trump’s America and the laws passed have been stripping people’s rights away I wouldn’t call it entirely unwarranted to say so. Reneé was right in her answers though. It’s time for things to change and for people to be entirely welcome within our community. No matter who you are.
Is the UK living in an ignorance is bliss culture? Or are we really unjustly judged? I would say that homophobia is unfortunately still writhe in all communities. Some may seem like they are more homophobic than another, but do people really go in and do all the investigations or do they just see one incidence and decide to pin it on everyone? The metal community in the research of this has solidified themselves as one of the most accepting communities there is. In terms or fans and professionals and we really hope that this stigma will fade. Everyone is welcome here.
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